Have your parents ever controlled your finances? Asking you to hand over that money your aunt gave you as a birthday present, tears in your eyes, your hands in a tight fist, heartbroken and fuming at the injustice they are meting out to you? You were 11 but somehow your parents refused to acknowledge that you’re grown, and ready to take on the world with your growing piles of cash.
“We have sponsored you up to this point!”, they’d say, as you realise that they would forever blackmail you for the fact that they had you, without permission.
Well me too!
We are in this together. I endured this for 18 long years of my life, 18 painful years.
You might also be surprised to know that this injustice we both despise, happens to be the beginning of the world’s largest cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, or as I called it then, a tiny bit of coin.
“How?”, you may ask, how is it possible that an 18-year-old boy became the brain behind the complicated code and mathematical algorithm millions of systems now use. Well it’s all very complicated, and you might be very surprised at what you’re about to find out.
My name is Anok, and this is the story you’ve all been waiting for, the story of Bitcoin.
It all started when I reached the age where I could access alcohol from the local shops. Yes, alcohol, the devil’s juice. I had finally grown some beard, grew into my face and had come a long way from the insecure shy kid I was in my pre-teens, I was ready to face my parents and request my independence in a cinematic and dramatic fashion like a James Bond movie. I wrote the script and chose my outfit, but as I approached my parents with my grand request, I was faced with stern faces asking why my neighbours had reported that I had scared their dog, trying to sneak out of the house the previous night.
Needless to say, my cinematic vision had a very melancholic ending.
Even though my plan at freedom didn’t work, I had had enough of their micromanagement and constant surveillance on everything I did. Throughout my life, I have always tried to impress them, I gained top grades in every single subject at school, I tried to help out with my dad’s business, followed all their rules and was the most perfect kid anyone could ask for.
Okay, maybe I’ve exaggerated a bit.
I did sneak out a few times to house parties and started dating a girl who later broke my heart and left for India, against my parent’s wishes, you know, normal teenager stuff. But all of this rebellion didn’t affect my performance at school, I was a nerd and a very popular one at that.
I had many friends in school, but after year 10, I had grown very close to 3 other guys in my class. We were perfect together and inseparable, they were on the same level of idiocy as me and balanced out my lackadaisical free-spirited approach to life. When we weren’t devising a plan on how to dominate the world, and causing mischief, overbearing parents and girl troubles were the subjects of our many conversations.
Mat, Osa, Anok and bright.
The inseparable 4.
It might interest you to know that Bright’s real name is actually Toshi, but after years of taunting him and calling him to shit, he had called a meeting. At first, we thought it was something to do with his on and off girlfriend, who we had become increasingly tired of, but instead, our friend voiced his frustration at being called this embarrassing nickname by other students in school.
No one calls him to shit except us! No one taunts our friend except us! So we decided to lead by example and call him Bright instead, one of the many English translations of his Japanese name. This didn’t really help matters, as our classmates began to call him light bulb, but it was better than the previous nickname he was dubbed.
Even with his many demons, Toshi was incredibly intelligent and someone we all looked up to. Even though he was the same age as us, he was more level-headed and what you could refer to as the quintessential loverboy. He wore his heart on his sleeve and was known to be one of the most hardworking students in our year.
With all of these qualities came a degree of sensitivity, and whilst we made jokes about our situations with our parents, Toshi was struggling emotionally with the increasing academic expectations and total control his parents had over his life. It was clear to us all that he was fighting a losing battle, and no matter how much he had performed extremely well even in national competitions, his parents didn’t seem to acknowledge his efforts.
He had to keep up this unrealistic image, until one fateful day.
It has always been customary for me and the rest of the boys to sneak out and meet at our local laundromat to go to house parties, Toshi either fast asleep or playing computer games. But we were surprised to see Toshi, dressed in very colourful clothes, alcohol in hand ready to accompany us this time. At first, we encouraged him to go back home, as we had first-hand experiences of the terrible consequences he faced whenever he broke the rules, but somehow on that day, we all decided we were all old enough to make our decisions.
Something we would later regret.
The night went well, we drank, sang, played games and danced. We made the most of that night knowing fully well that we might be in serious trouble the next day.
As you’ve probably already guessed by now, we were right.
Toshi’s parents very quickly found out that he had sneaked out, our parents are well acquainted with each other and decided to give out the same punishment to all of us. The punishment? No pocket money for a month, no outings, no tv, which to us at that time meant, no life.
How evil! I remember we called a meeting a day after these punishments started, each of us stuck between defiance and regretting our actions. Then Toshi lived up to his new nickname, and had a light bulb moment.
What our parents didn’t know was we had saved up some money we were planning to use to purchase some game DVDs, they were the talk of the town at that time in 1992 and we knew even a mere mention of their prices to our parents would land us in hot soup. Instead of using this as pocket money however, and risk our parents finding out and stealing from us again, we decided to buy a lot of alcohol.
Now you might be wondering, what sense does this make?
Well back then, you had to pay an entrance fee to get into a house party or illegally enter a club in town. But if you arrived with a bottle of alcohol, and a poor attempt at being an adult, you’d be let in. Somehow alcohol had become the alternative currency to getting into house parties and these kinds of clubs. A new system of exchange had been created at this point, one we didn’t even realise the power of.
So Toshi had suggested, eyes bulged out and a slight smile, why not use alcohol as our own personal currency for everything we needed at school, one which our parents had no use for? So we set out to the shops, Osa being the oldest had just turned 18 and he was just as excited as the rest of us, at the prospect of not paying extra to older boys in colleges to score us some booze. We cleaned out the alcohol aisle with our secret stash, stored the bottles in Osa’s basement and this is where it all began.
News spread very quickly in our school, and more and more people would show up to house parties with alcohol. Little by little money as an entrance fee began to decrease, until people who showed up with it were branded as losers and weren’t allowed in anymore. People joined us in buying illegal lunch that wasn’t available in the cafeteria with alcohol. One time, Mat offered a tired, overworked and underpaid teacher a payment of alcohol in exchange for releasing all of the students from detention. It was a win-win situation for him, he got to go home early, with a bottle of red wine for relaxation.
Our alcohol currency had become this widespread network that both students and teachers were involved in, that is until once again, we got into very serious trouble.
Every year we had a government company called ONSTED come to our school, they would rate our school by cleanliness, academic ratings and student feedback. Our school had always been the best in our borough, and our principal made sure never to let us forget it, reminding us every morning during assembly. He was a very funny short man, and everyone loved him.
On this particular visit however, ONSTED representatives had stumbled upon a lot of students drinking alcohol in class during one of their unsupervised free lessons. Needless to say, this drastically reduced our score and was placed in large bold letters in front of our yearly report.
Dr Reece, our principal, was pissed.
He called an emergency assembly for our year and threatened to suspend the entire cohort if someone didn’t speak up on how so much alcohol got on school grounds. It wasn’t long before fingers were pointed at us. Unsurprisingly, we were immediately kicked out of school.
That day was very eventful, we realised that the consequences with our parents were going to be severe. The letters had been sent and they had been notified immediately, so we hung around school for a long time hoping time slows down so we didn’t have to see their angry and disappointed faces. Eventually, it got dark and we had no choice but to go home to our nightmares.
As expected, my parents were incredibly disappointed and refused to speak to me for days, whispering to themselves and arguing every night. I felt terrible as I was used to verbal approaches when it came to retribution, so their silence created a different type of heartache I couldn’t explain. My friends were also silent, their parents had taken a different approach and banned all of their means of communication.
5 days of hell later, my parents informed me that Mat and I had been accepted into another school about 45 minutes away from my previous one, and Osa had been sent to live with his extended family in Japan. They looked incredibly sombre and I could feel deep in my bones that there was another news, something worse, something tragic. My parents sat me down, and with the most sympathetic tone they could muster, they confirmed my fears.
Toshi was found dead, he had killed himself.
I couldn’t believe my ears and at first, I felt completely numb. Nothing made sense. I could see the movements in my parent’s lips as they tried to console me, but I suddenly became deaf to their words. I remember storming away as soon as the we-are-always-here-for-yous were over and for days I questioned my sanity and wondered why I found it so hard to cry. The numbness didn’t wear off for a couple of years.
I knew being kicked out of school had to be the breaking point for Toshi, I knew his parents would have reacted stronger than mine did and I knew he was disappointed in himself and regretted the whole thing. But I would have never guessed that my sweet, shy, creative and incredibly intelligent friend would take his own life. I wished I had been there that day, I wished I had spoken to him and told him we would come out of this as we had always done in the past.
But it was too late, and all my thoughts and words were met with an echoing and haunting silence.
Months turned into years, Mat and I dealt with the news in very different ways. His introversion had taken a turn for the worse, and he had become even more reclusive. My parents later moved to India and I was left with the heavy responsibility of managing the family business. When I wasn’t doing this, I was obsessed with the fast-rising growth in technology to occupy the emptiness I felt.
We were still very close, but we never really spoke about Toshi’s death, we never drank and we responded to all party invitations with a resounding no. We even decided to skip the reception part of our weddings as every gathering reminded us of him. Osa, on the other hand, was thriving as a software developer in Japan, we had seen him on the news a couple of times and were incredibly proud of his achievements. We spoke once, sometimes twice a year, our now busy schedules taking all of our free time.
Then in the year 2006, everything changed, when Osa decided to move back to our town.
Years had passed but he hadn’t changed much, his smile still as big as ever and he was wearing his favourite style of trousers, khaki. I remember picking him up from the station with Mat, we all hugged each other until passersby began to stare, wondering when we would get out of our 3-man embrace.
It was the first time I cried since Toshi’s death and that night became the first time we all drank in 14 years. We spent the night sharing funny stories about Toshi, and how much we hated our new jobs, comparing incomes and whose kid took after our collective mischief the most. The topic later shifted to a new project Osa had been working on.
A bit of coin.
At first, he shared very little details about it, speaking through his teeth and mumbling as if he was scared to disclose a top government secret. Osa had always been the loudest and most extroverted one of the group, he is usually very excited to share whatever crazy idea he had come up with. But this time Osa was quiet, Osa was restricted, Osa had become a man of very few words.
After a few more meetings and a few more beers, we later realised that his reluctance was due to the fact that this new project was one that was so close to our hearts, it might break it. Osa had been working on a more software-oriented version of Toshi’s alcohol currency idea.
At first, he told us that his growing fame in the press was starting to take a toll on his finances, this project was for a bit of coin on the side he said. But from the moment he decided to let us in on it, it was clear from the passion with which he spoke that this was a project that was as important to him as it would later become important to us, we were going to scale up Toshi’s idea. We were going to make the world’s first cryptocurrency, a bit of coin.
After all, money from 1992 was worth pennies now but for some reason, the currency which we had created in the form of alcohol, was now regarded as vintage and actually cost more to buy than it was before. Money is a currency whose value is bound to reduce overtime but this currency we’d be developing had a chance to increase in value.
So we worked in a tiny room together for 3 years after this, 16 hours a day barely taking breaks, coding and calculating, researching and collating, learning new things as we went along. It was as if a strong force was behind us, guiding our every move as we got closer and closer to our goal.
After many accusations of cheating from our wives and a lot of sleepless nights, finally, on the 1st of January 2009, we had completed the world’s first technology that allows for a new currency to be used in the purchase of services. We decided a bit of coin was not a suitable name, it was too long. We needed something punchy, something more powerful and eventually shortened it to Bitcoin.
Bitcoin! Bitcoin! Bitcoin!
We all shouted in increasing intensity, as we danced around the room toasting glasses of wine with a feeling of intense satisfaction that can’t be explained. We had created Toshi’s legacy and it felt so good. After we finally calmed down and relaxed to soak in our accomplishment, we realised that the release of our technology would require a creator’s name.
To us credit wasn’t so important, Bitcoin is an idea with many stories of hard work, pain, love and broken dreams attached to it. Bitcoin is an idea with many people involved, our old classmates, our parents, Dr Reece our old principal, people who let us into clubs in exchange for alcohol, the teacher who exchanged release from detention for a bottle of wine.
Bitcoin is Toshi’s legacy, and Bitcoin has become the single most important event to ever happen in each of our lives, a transformative point in history and the beginning of a new era. The more people try to unravel the mystery, the more they’ll come across stories of people who it could potentially be, the reasons for their choices would be a reflection of what bitcoin means to them. Ultimately, the relatable characteristics of potential inventors is a reflection of the researcher’s definition of bitcoin, and why it was created.
And if Toshi had been looking down at us in that moment, he would be proud of the revolution we had started.
With that in mind, we decided to come up with a name that was a combination of all of our names, a name people would spend years and years deciphering, a name so familiar but hard to decode. The names of 4 mischievous boys from a small town.
After hours and hours of what seemed like a never-ending game of scrabble, Osa screamed, jolting us all out of our brainstorming session.
I’ve got it! I’ve got it!
His time in Japan had paid off.
And that’s how Mat, Osa, Anok and Toshi was rearranged to become Satoshi Nakamoto, the mysterious character, who you all know as the creator of Bitcoin.