Erik Finman made a bet with his parents that if he turned 18 and was a millionaire, they wouldn’t force him to go to college. Thanks to his savvy investments in bitcoin and the current all-time high valuation, he won’t have to get his degree.
“I can proudly say I made it, and I’m not going to college,” Finman said.
He currently owns 403 bitcoins, which at the current $7,700 a coin puts his bitcoin value at $3.10 million. He also has smaller investments in other cryptocurrencies, including litecoin and ethereum.
Bitcoin is very volatile, and the value could decline rapidly. A technical analyst told CNBC he believes bitcoin will only go up to $8,800 before the value recedes, while others think it may reach $100,000 in a decade.
Finman thinks its best days are still ahead. “Personally I think bitcoin is going to be worth a couple hundred thousand to a million dollars a coin,” he said.
Bitcoin and the blockchain technology it is built on allow people to cut out the middleman, Finman explained. For example, an open source blockchain ride-share platform would allow users to power the service on their phones using peer-to-peer technology without a central hub. It would allow the drivers to get more money by cutting overhead costs, he added. It could also create the next evolution of the internet, one which wouldn’t be reliant on servers.
The first time, he turned $1,000 into $100,000
Finman began investing in bitcoin in May 2011 at the age of 12, thanks to a $1,000 gift from his grandmother and a tip from his brother Scott.
Though he’s close with his family — which he calls the “Elon Musk version of the Kardashians” — growing up in “small town” Idaho outside of Coeur d’Alene wasn’t easy. Finman was especially frustrated with his high school teachers, and begged his parents to let him drop out at 15.
“(High school) was pretty low quality,” he said. “I had these teachers that were all kind of negative. One teacher told me to drop out and work at McDonald’s because that was all I would amount to for the rest of my life. I guess I did the dropout part.”
Surprisingly, his parents — who met pursuing their Ph.D.s at Stanford — agreed. Finman sold his first bitcoin investments at the end of 2013, when they were valued at $1,200 a piece.
With the $100,000 Finman launched an online education company called Botangle in early 2014 that would allow frustrated students like him to find teachers over video chat. He also used the funds to move to Silicon Valley, did some fun things like meet Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian and traveled.
“I really liked Colombia,” he said. “It was fun, but a little sketchy. Some interesting stuff happened. I was held up at gunpoint there, which is pretty scary, but I have this emergency button I programmed in Android that puts you on speaker but turns off audio automatically and dials [a local emergency number].”
“Maybe I’ll turn that into an app,” he added. “It’s handy.”
It was hard getting people to take a 15-year-old tech entrepreneur seriously, Finman admitted. He recalled being called in to interview with a “really, really high-up” unnamed Uber executive, who instead of listening to his Botangle pitch discouraged him and told him he would never win the bet with his parents.
Eventually he found a buyer for Botangle’s technology in January 2015. The investor offered either $100,000 or 300 bitcoin, which had dropped in value at that time to a little more than $200 a coin. He took the lower cash value bitcoin deal because he believed it was “the next big thing.”
“My parents asked ‘Why don’t you take the more cash?”‘ Finman explained. “But I thought of it more of an investment.”
Since then, Finman has been managing his family and his own bitcoin investments. He’s also kept busy on other projects, including working with NASA to launch a rocket through the ELaNa project. One thing he won’t do is go back to school.
“I never got my GED, and I don’t see the value in it,” Finman said. “The purpose of that would be to get another education level and get a job. I had to learn through running a business. Instead of writing essays for English class, I had to write emails to important people.”
Although the rest of his family has degrees — his brother Scott went to Johns Hopkins at 16 and now has an enterprise software company, while his other brother Ross went to Carnegie Melon at 16 for robotics and is now pursuing his Ph.D. at MIT — he’s happy learning about the real world from experience.
“The way the education system is structured now, I wouldn’t recommend it,” Finman said. “It doesn’t work for anyone. I would recommend the internet, which is all free. You can learn a million times more off YouTube and Wikipedia.”