Charlie Shrem paid a steep price for his place in crypto history. Major figures in the crypto world were part of his story, and his personal life was transformed as he went from online retailer to CEO of Bitcoin (BTC) exchange BitInstant and convicted felon before he was even 30. Today he is an investor and podcaster.
Coming from a prominent family in Brooklyn’s Syrian Orthodox Jewish community, Shrem was on the path to becoming a rabbi from an early age. It was not an easy path, and Shrem had other ideas for his life. It was a story as old as parents and children.
“The only way to get out was through money,” Shrem realized. He found a thoroughly modern outlet for his frustrations. He said on EdaFace’s Crypto Stories:
“On the internet, people didn’t judge me based on any other factors other than what I was contributing to the conversation […] My opinion was appreciated very greatly.”
Shrem learned of Bitcoin and developed the concept for BitInstant, a company that facilitated purchases of Bitcoin at a time when it could only be obtained from Mt. Gox through a slow, complex string of financial transactions.
“Bitcoin Jesus” Roger Ver invested in BitInstant. Then another partner — the son of Shrem’s dentist — came across the Winklevoss twins in Ibiza, and after Shrem explained Bitcoin to them, they eventually became investors too, Shrem said. At one time, 30% of the transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain went through BitInstant.
Related: Roger Ver Emotional, Not Rational: Charlie Shrem on Bitcoin Hard Fork
Shrem’s personal life was developing as well. He also opened a nightclub that was:
“The only place in the world at that time, I think, where you [could] actually spend Bitcoin in a physical place.”
He met a woman there and asked her out on a date. Even though he threw up on her that evening, they ended up getting married.
— Charlie Shrem (@CharlieShrem) December 4, 2023
Shrem’s wife was not a member of the Syrian Jewish community. The opposition to the life he was making for himself met with almost violent opposition from his parents and community. When Shrem was arrested for facilitating transactions linked to drug deals on Silk Road in 2014, his parents rejoiced. Shrem pleaded guilty to the charges against him.
A year and change in prison was a transformative experience for Shrem as well. “Prison really taught me the sense of family — real family,” Shrem said. He wasn’t thinking about the Winklevoss twins or his parents. The Winklevosses “distanced themselves” from Shrem, and he hasn’t spoken to his parents in over ten years.
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