Dear Valued Customer,
Enclosed, please find the Wired Magazine article, "Meet Patrick Byrne: Bitcoin Messiah, CEO of Overstock, Scourge of Wall Street". It concerns the decade-long battle Overstock has waged to expose Wall Street mischief.
The backstory is as follows: Overstock went public in 2002. Between 2002 and 2005 I found myself mingling with various Wall Street bankers, hedge funds, and journalists, and began to form an impression (and hear) of unsavory activity. I made it my hobby to study it, and in 2005 I went public about what I had learned. For several years thereafter, the New York financial press derided and distorted my claims, often to the point of appearing to engage in a cover-up. When in 2008 what I had been saying became indisputable, Wall Street went silent about this episode. The enclosed Wired article recounts that history, and explains how it is related to Overstock's recent decision to accept Bitcoin.
I understand that you may not be interested in tales of corruption in Wall Street and Washington, DC, and if so, please simply enjoy the coupon above. However, if you read this piece from Wired, which effectively ends a cover-up regarding the Battle of Overstock versus Wall Street, I think you will understand why I chose to share this article with 41.7 million of my closest friends.
Your humble servant,
Patrick M. Byrne, CEO
"Scourge of Wall Street"
Patrick Byrne says the zombie apocalypse is coming, and there's one thing that can save us: bitcoin.
He tells me this during a phone call from his car, a black Tesla Model S that's winding its way through the mountains above Salt Lake City, on its way to Byrne's home in the Utah ski country. Byrne is the CEO and chairman of Salt Lake's Overstock.com, one of the world's largest online retailers with more than $1.3 billion a year in sales, and he's about to place an enormous bet on bitcoin, the digital currency that exists only on the internet.
In the estimation of many leading economists, bitcoin is a fatally flawed idea shaped by people who don't really understand how money works. But Byrne is an unorthodox thinker, a three-time cancer survivor with a PhD in philosophy who's never been afraid to fight for what the rest of the world sees as complete madness. Though he runs a company that's publicly traded on Wall Street, he spent much of the last decade accusing Wall Street's biggest brokers of widespread corruption not to mention Wall Street hedge funds, analysts, reporters, and government regulators arguing in the most grandiloquent terms that their greed would eventually bring the country crashing down. It's no surprise that his maverick career would collide with the equally iconoclastic bitcoin. It's as if his whole life has been leading to this.
As he drives to his mountain cabin, Byrne reveals that his company is a week away from accepting payments in bitcoin, and he sees this as a small but important step toward a financial revolution the world so desperately needs. He has long warned that our economy is hurtling toward another massive recession what he calls the zombie apocalypse and he believes bitcoin can shelter us from the fallout.
If the digital currency reaches its true potential, he tells me, it might even avert this apocalypse all-together. "Someday, either zombies walk the Earth or something close to that," says Byrne, the son of the man who built the GEICO insurance empire, Jack Byrne, and a protege of Warren Buffet, the most successful investor in the history of Wall Street. "Bitcoin is the solution."
In recent months, countless others have floated bitcoin as a panacea for the world's financial ills. But like Marc Andreessen, one of the founding fathers of the web browser, who has also put his weight behind the digital currency, Byrne brings more than highfalutin metaphors to the table. The 51-year-old has proven that, beneath his wonderfully entertaining and often perplexing way of describing the world, he has a knack for seeing where things are going before others do.
The problem with the modern economy, Byrne says, is that it rests on the whims of our government and our big banks, that each has the power to create money that's backed by nothing but themselves. Thanks to what's called fractional reserve banking, a bank can take in $10 in deposits, but then loan out $100. The government can make more dollars at any time, instantly reducing the currency's value. Eventually, he says, laying down a classic libertarian metaphor, this "magic money tree" will come crashing down.
But bitcoin is different. It's like online gold: The supply of the digital currency is controlled by software running across a worldwide network of computers, and its value is decided not by the feds or the big banks, but by the people. "It can make our country more robust," says Byrne, a disciple of the Austrian school of economics, which holds that our economy should rest on the judgments of individuals, not a central authority. "We want a money that some government mandarin can't just whisk into existence with a pen stroke."
Zombies. Magic money trees. Mandarins. As Byrne admits, it's a ten-dollar answer to my ten-cent question about his plans for the future of Overstock.com, and although I know the man well, I can't help but wonder how much of this is just him calling attention to himself. But a week after this phone call, Byrne will make good on his promise, as Overstock becomes the first major online retailer to accept payments in bitcoin, letting you buy everything from patio furniture to smartphone cases with the fledgling digital currency. And the following month, during Overstock's quarterly earnings call, he will reveal that he has personally converted millions of dollars into bitcoin. The Overstock CEO is placing more than one big bet on an unpredictable future, but Byrne has proven himself prescient before about the internet and the media as well as the economy.
It's only natural that Overstock would be the first big-name company to embrace bitcoin, and you can bet that Byrne is serious about pushing the digital currency into the everyday world. On one level, Overstock is your basic bargain retailer, a company that will sell you just about anything on the cheap. But under the leadership of Byrne who's not only a doctor of philosophy but a onetime amateur boxer this is also a company that's seven years into a lawsuit that accuses venerable investment banks Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch of a "massive, illegal stock market manipulation scheme."
At times, his battles with Wall Street have left him a lonely figure, belittled by the establishment. For years, large portions of the financial press questioned his sanity as he so vehemently and so colorfully claimed that some of the biggest names on Wall Street were complicit in a scheme to drive Overstock and other companies out of business using a loophole in the stock market. But after the financial crash of 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission moved to close that very hole. And in the years since, Overstock has established itself as a profitable business, even as Byrne continues his crusade against Wall Street.
"He's not just an opinionated jerk, though it sometimes sounds that way," says Bill Hambrecht, the investment banker who helped Byrne take Overstock public in 2002 using what's called a Dutch auction, a method that loosens the influence of the big Wall Street banks, preventing them from taking their typically enormous cut of an IPO. "He puts us on a little bit, just to bring attention to the issues. But he has brought attention to them, and though he has made some wrong calculations, he's hung in there, and he has built a really good business something I don't think he's gotten proper credit for."
Adopting bitcoin is the next step along this same road. As Overstock embraces the digital currency, Byrne predicts it will spur other big names to follow its lead, including rival Amazon, and push the world toward a future where bitcoin is a true alternative to the dollar. But, looking further down the road, as he is wont to do, he also believes that the very public, math-driven system that underpins bitcoin can remake Wall Street, eliminating the market loopholes he has railed against for so many years.Read the full article on Wired.com ›