The Assorted Teachings of Dogecoin

In 2013, two friends who met in a chat room created Dogecoin as a joke. Named after a meme of an expressive dog, it was meant to mock the self-serious cryptocurrencies of the time, many of which never took off. The joke did, though, and it spawned a community of enthusiasts who kept it alive for years — at a negligible price.

Then came 2021. A boom in retail trading and cryptocurrency investments, spurred in part by boredom and the arrival of stimulus checks, led people back to Doge.

On Jan. 1, a single coin was worth $0.0054. At one point in May, its value jumped to more than $0.74. (As of this writing, its price was hovering around $0.40, with a market capitalization of $49 billion.)

For new Dogecoin holders looking to make a buck, it’s been quite the ride. For those who bought the currency when it was virtually worthless, perhaps as a long-forgotten joke, things have been substantially weirder. Here are some of their stories, and what they’ve learned from this moment (so far).

Dogecoin, Lost and Found

Richard Lenz, a 31-year-old project manager for a hazardous waste removal company in North Ridgeville, Ohio, bought his Dogecoin in March 2014, after a subreddit for NASCAR fans banded together to sponsor the driver Josh Wise using cryptocurrency. (Mr. Wise ended up racing in a Doge-wrapped car.)

“Within a year I was done,” he said. “This was like, literally, just a joke.”

Then, a couple months ago, Mr. Lenz started seeing headlines about Dogecoin’s price surging. He also started getting nervous: He knew he’d stored his coins on his old computer’s hard drive, but he wasn’t sure where that drive was.

“I started looking for it a month, two months ago, and couldn’t find it,” he said. Somewhere, he had $10,000 worth of Dogecoin, then $40,000. “My father was kind of upset,” he said, a feeling that intensified as the price climbed.

Mr. Lenz resigned himself to the fact that his coins were gone. “If God wanted me to have the money, I would have had the money,” he said. Then, on May 7, the day before Elon Musk was slated to host “Saturday Night Live,” he found the drive and sold his coins immediately, for around $70,000. (After “S.N.L.,” where Mr. Musk joked about the currency, the price tumbled.)

Mr. Lenz gave a chunk of the money to his parents and plans to help pay for his sister’s wedding. As for the rest? “I am not kidding you when I say I YOLOed it,” he said, on shares of the hedge fund manager Bill Ackman’s SPAC, Pershing Square Tontine Holdings.

A “Feel-Good” Crypto Community

When the pandemic hit, Vickie Richards, a 58-year-old shipping and logistics professional in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, stayed busy and employed. But a nonprofit organization she helps run, which assists small police departments in acquiring, training and supporting K-9 units, needed help.

She started looking for new ways to raise money and thought back to when she’d been approached, years before, to join a Bitcoin multilevel marketing company. She ended up on Reddit, reading about cryptocurrencies. Dogecoin appealed to her.

“It was incredibly inexpensive,” Ms. Richards said. “Even more, I started to watch the way people interacted with each other.” On subreddits for Bitcoin and Ethereum, she noted, “there was too much negativity.” Doge, she said, “is more of a feel-good-type community.”

She bought her coins when the price was $0.04, investing personal funds she had earmarked for donation to her nonprofit. She has continued buying in small increments and currently has about 35,000 coins.

“I am going to hold it for quite a while,” she said. “I would like to see it in a year.”

The Tides Have Turned

Heath Durrett, a 35-year-old from eastern Oklahoma, spends his workdays performing X-rays on oil pipeline welds, looking for flaws. For him, Dogecoin has been both an investment and a conversation starter. “Money is always fun to talk about,” he said.

He bought the currency when it was priced around $0.05 and regularly trades stocks on Robinhood, so he’s used to fluctuations in price. “I never risk what I can’t afford to lose,” he said.

Just because Dogecoin is sort of silly, Mr. Durrett said, doesn’t mean it’s meaningless. “Don’t get me wrong, trying to convince someone to use U.S. dollars to buy something that’s not worth anything — but if they do it will be worth something — doesn’t always end in agreement,” he said.

He’s taken with some of the theory — or at least the memes — surrounding Dogecoin. “For a long time I’ve been angry at the people who manipulate the market for their benefit,” he said. “We have let the market dictate how the world is run for too long. Now I’d like to think that the tides have turned more to the public.”

“We Are Going to the Moon”

Erik van der Zanden, who is 30 years old and works in student affairs at Leiden University in The Hague, is active on the Dogecoin subreddit, sharing inspirational memes and arguing with “paper hands” users, nicknamed for their unwillingness to hold.

“First of all, we are going to the moon,” he said in a refrain common among Doge investors. “We keep motivating each other constantly. We are nearly reaching $1. We are setting our targets higher, to $10.”

If Dogecoin gets to $30, he says, he’ll be a millionaire. His unusual confidence in Dogecoin derives, he said, from the strength of its community.

“Reddit is the home base for Dogecoin, and we currently have about 1.7 million ‘subshibers,’” he said. (The term refers to the mascot of Dogecoin, a shiba inu.) “This is growing every day with tens of thousands of new members, and as long as this community keeps growing, I am of full confidence that we will reach the moon.”

“In Crypto, We Get to Be Maniacs”

Jade T. Hunter-Kettner credits her interest in Dogecoin to a long life online. “I saw the internet being born,” she said, describing her time on dial-up bulletin board systems in the 1980s. “This stuff is the next permutation of that.”

Today, Ms. Hunter-Kettner is married and middle-aged with grown children in Fort Collins, Colo., where she runs her own business: an industrial nondestructive testing firm. Dogecoin reminds her of her youth. “I like to say we’re at the days of the 300-baud modem, putting the phone over the receiver to get the transmission,” she said.

She started buying cryptocurrency last year. (“I’ve been frustrated trying to get my 18- and 20-year-old sons onboard,” she said.) A major draw is feeling like she’s part of something culturally significant. Making money would be nice, but she’s not depending on it.

Her investments — she picked up GameStop and AMC during the “meme stock” frenzy — have a personal significance, too. “After feeling so beat up emotionally, after the last presidency, the way the pandemic was not taken care of properly, then I come up with a brain tumor diagnosis, and now I’m going blind? Are you kidding me?” The community around Doge, she said, “is a refuge against that hellscape.” In crypto, she said, “we get to be maniacs.”

“Money Is Basically Fake”

“I’m not one of the anarchist crypto people,” said Aaron McCray, a multimedia designer for a major financial firm who lives in Detroit. “But I think one of the reasons I got into it is that I realized money is basically fake and made up of nothing.”

Mr. McCray doesn’t claim expertise in finance, but he did spend years as a competitive online gambler. “You’re playing your odds, and you’re weighing your risk,” he said.

Dogecoin’s vibe sets it apart from his other cryptocurrency holdings, he said. It’s a bit more of a gamble and fills the space that poker, DraftKings and PredictIt (which he’d used to bet on election results) once did.

His Dogecoin holdings have increased in value lately, but so have his other crypto holdings. In recent weeks, he said, “it’s really outpacing what I make in income.”

He’s unloaded some of his Dogecoin already and has a sell point for another chunk. He plans to hold at least half of what he has.

“I think it does have a bit of a future,” Mr. McCray said. “Doge is not something that most people get into for the meaning behind it,” he said. Still, he’s curious to see what happens. If Dogecoin tanks, no big deal. He’d rather be a part of it than not.

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