Inside the 'Crypto Castle,' where young Bitcoin entrepreneurs party and plot the future of money

In the brightly lit kitchen of the Crypto Castle, a three-story home in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighbourhood, young tech workers drink from Solo cups and wax poetic about Bitcoin.

“I don’t think you can be in this house for two hours without being evangelized,” says Jeremy Gardner, a resident and seasoned entrepreneur working on Bitcoin technologies.

His roommate, Viviane Ford, perks up. With eyes wide, she says she bought bitcoins within a week of moving in and calls it “the best investment I’ve ever made.”

Bitcoin is a new kind of payment system in which people use digital currency, also called bitcoin, to buy things and send money. There are no banks. Transactions get recorded on a digital ledger called a blockchain, which allows users to stay anonymous.

Some folk buy bitcoins in the hopes that they will go up in value. On January 2, Bitcoin reached a three-year high after its value passed $1,000, up about
140% from the beginning of 2016. Still, the currency has yet to catch on widely. The software is complicated, the risk of being hacked is great, and it’s not popular enough to be practical.

But as I learned on a recent visit to the Crypto Castle, where roughly a dozen cryptocurrency entrepreneurs have called home since the Castle’s founding in 2015, it’s hard not to get excited about Bitcoin when you’re among its biggest fans.

Here’s what it’s like to eat, sleep, drink, and work at the Crypto Castle.

2016 was a pretty great year for the tenants of the Crypto Castle. As the value of Bitcoin rose, they got richer, Gardner explains as he swirls a glass of liquor with his finger.

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Jeremy Gardner.

Not everyone who lives here works in the Bitcoin space, though any one could pitch you on its merits. Some entrepreneurs moved in simply because they needed a place to crash.

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Ford, head of operations at self-driving car technology startup Comma, says she 'lived in a legitimate closet for two weeks' before discovering the Crypto Castle.

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Viviane Ford.

It offers prices that can't be beat in the nation's most expensive rental market. Tenants split the monthly rent of $8,100. Gardner guesses the home is worth $3 million.

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In 2015, Gardner, then director of operations at Augur, a market forecasting tool that runs on the blockchain, surveyed the city to find a house-slash-office for his startup.

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When he found a three-bedroom home in an upscale neighbourhood -- located a half-hour drive from Silicon Valley -- he forked over the $20,000 deposit. The Crypto Castle was born.

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The house has since become a 'landing pad for anyone doing cool stuff for the industry,' Gardner says. Most residents and guests, who sleep in bunks, are in their early 20s.

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Gardner turns 25 this month. He likes looking young. 'Everyone wants to invest in the next Mark Zuckerberg, the next big thing,' he says.

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One roommate, Alex Voto, runs a research lab at the Palo Alto-based Institute for the Future that forecasts how Bitcoin might impact the social, economic, and political spheres.

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As you move through the house, it becomes clear this is no ordinary residence.

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Anyone who wishes to become a full-time resident must take a copy of Gardner's favourite reading material, 'Bitcoin: Introducing the Future of Money.' A stack sits at the front door.

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The fridge wears Bitcoin startup stickers like badges of honour.

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The kitchen comes stocked with two beverages: Soylent (a chalky-tasting meal replacement beverage backed by venture capital) and booze. Lots of booze.

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A few tenants say living among so many motivated tech workers can be tiring. Ford remembers coming back from a run one Saturday and being bombarded by her coworkers.

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Until recently, her company, Comma, ran operations out of the basement. Founder George Hotz, a Silicon Valley wunderkind, built his first self-driving car in the garage.

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Hotz also lived in this closet. 'The work-life balance just didn't exist,' Ford says.

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Aaron Power-Bearden, an equities trader and a Bitcoin enthusiast, says he enjoys the late night talks in the living room. 'Mostly it's about finance,' he says. In the Crypto Castle, no one needs to travel far to find smart, like-minded people.

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Power-Bearden also likes ordering hot wings, a weekly ritual for the gang.

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One house guest tells me the last time he was at the house, a random guy grilled him a hot dog. 'Two weeks later, I found out it was the cofounder of Oculus,' he says.

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Not all the residents of the house, which Gardner calls a 'hangout place' for Bitcoin evangelists, actually work at Bitcoin-related companies.

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But they're bonded by a belief that Bitcoin is the future. In 2016, they made bets on the value of the virtual currency by the end of the year, Ford says.

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As the price of Bitcoin soars into 2017, they're all winners.

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