Every morning around 10:30 a.m., Susan, a mom in her mid-30s, drops off her 4-year-old son at school in South London and heads to a nearby “greasy spoon.” Sitting at “her table” in the corner, wearing an oversized wool sweater and glasses with bright green tortoise-shell frames, she orders her usual cup of milky tea and chocolate croissant and fires up her laptop. She’ll stay here until her son gets out of school, eyes fixed on the fluctuating numbers and graphs on her monitor, buying, then selling, then buying again — repeat ad infinitum.
A few months ago, Susan was a care worker at a primary school in North London, working with children with learning disabilities for less than $9 an hour. But in October, with the toll of long hours, unpaid overtime and an excruciating commute on public transport, she quit. Since then, she claims to have made more than $5,000, or as she says, “More money than I’d ever earned in my life!”
The source of her riches: Bitcoin.
“I don’t wake up sweating, afraid or stressed anymore,” she says. “Bitcoin [trading] has given me a new lease on life.”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve probably noticed that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies like Litecoin, Ethereum and Ripple have become big deals. Once the sole province of the deep web, internet libertarians and tech startup guys, crypto has entered the mainstream. In fact, it’s become so mainstream that banks and hedge funds are looking at ways it can be used to finance pension plans, healthcare and college education. Not surprisingly then, this boom in popularity has been — for the moment at least — incredibly lucrative. To wit, in 2016, you could buy a bitcoin for less than $500; today, one bitcoin is worth more than $11,000.
Susan’s entry into the world of cryptocurrency happened one night when she was heading home from work. On the bus, she overheard two women talking about a conference aimed at helping stay-at-home parents to start trading Bitcoin. “It sounded too good to be true,” Susan says. “Normally, I’d have ignored it, and just worry about if my son had done his homework. But something came over me, and I wanted to find out more.”
A couple of weeks later, Susan joined a WhatsApp group called “Crypto Mums,” a collection of eight women, mainly in the U.K. (though one lives in Texas), between their late 30s and 50s, most of whom are mothers to young children. The group was created by a mom in Grantham, a small town in the north of England, who found out about cryptocurrency through her teenage son. Like Susan, she is a single mom, and she worked as a cashier in a Sainsbury’s supermarket before becoming a full-time crypto trader.
Most of the moms in the group had worked in low-paid administrative jobs in offices, schools and supermarkets, only to leave after discovering cryptocurrency trading could lead to a more comfortable life. For them, making money from cryptocurrency served as a means of attaining financial independence. At the same time, the group functions as a support network for the mundane aspects of looking after young children. So in between chatter about crypto markets from the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, the moms talk about everything from 6-year-old Billy’s debut as Peter Pan in the school play to 3-year-old Jessica’s potty training.
As Susan finishes her croissant, she sets up what she calls her “battle station.” On her laptop, she runs a blockchain tracker, the infrastructure that shows the value of each individual cryptocurrency transaction in U.S. dollar value, and BlockSeer, a program that looks like a family tree, but shows the movement of bitcoins within a blockchain in real time. Susan also has two smartphones — one that tracks the value of her “bitcoin wallet” investments (a record of her crypto transactions), and another that’s a family phone she uses to send pictures of her son to his grandparents. Susan tells me this is a standard setup for anyone trading cryptocurrencies.
When I ask her about the role of the Crypto Mums group in her daily investment tracking, she tells me that’s only part of its purpose. “The group is there to vent! We give advice to each other when there’s problems or when one of the other mums is stressed. Even things like wine recommendations, what to cook on a budget or what shows are good on the telly that week. It’s about 60 percent crypto and 40 percent chatting about normal mums stuff.”
“None of us are competing against each other,” she continues. “We’re all there to make money, of course, but we all want to help each other make money. We know that money is going to go into paying for our kids’ education or to buy them clothes or a football kit — things we couldn’t afford doing other jobs or living off [government benefits].”
As bitcoin investing becomes more accessible, it’s given a way for offshoot communities and subcultures to form. In most cases, these tend to be male-dominated — e.g., according to a 2013 survey, around 95 percent of Bitcoin users are male. In some crypto communities, though, there are fears that this gender imbalance has undue influence over the currency’s goals and ambitions. Galia Benartzi, a technology entrepreneur at cryptocurrency platform Bancor, told Fortune in December that bitcoin would struggle to survive — let alone replace any existing financial system — if it didn’t represent the gender balance of global societies. “We have an opportunity to rebuild the financial system,” she said. “Are we really going to do it with all guys again?”
One group that’s emerged from this conversation is Crypto Mom$, a U.S.-based online community founded in 2014, before the cryptocurrency boom. Their mission: “To increase women’s participation in cryptocurrency” by providing how-to guides, video tutorials and an online forum to discuss all things crypto — as well as general conversation topics like politics and pop culture.
A cursory look at its forum immediately distinguishes it from other cryptocurrency groups, which tend to focus on the minutiae of crypto trading and rants about the true meaning of libertarianism. On Crypto Mom$, however, the leading conversation is about maximizing the composition of cryptocurrency investment savings plans: specialist savings arrangements, consisting of DNotes, a currency which, according to its inventor Alan Yong, is “for everyone, irrespective of financial standing — from the poor to the super rich; from the unborn to the most senior. It must deliberately attempt to include and assist women to help close the gender gap.”
Cryptomoms also have become an emerging culture on YouTube and Facebook. Their accounts and groups tend to have smaller followings compared to larger crypto channels such as “Crypt0,” “Project Life Mastery” and “Ivan on Tech.” Not to mention, they’re a different kind of channel altogether. There’s an innocence to them; they’re shot on ordinary cell phones with grainy, shaky footage and are largely devoid of special effects, graphics or charts. For the most part, they’re just middle-aged moms, filming from their kitchens and front rooms, looking excited by their ventures into cryptocurrency.
In one video, a mom in a blue dress sitting outside on a summer day talks to her son about apparently making profits of $18,000. Laughing to the camera, looking slightly embarrassed, she says that she had made money with Bitcoin despite “not really knowing how it works” and having had to employ her son to “teach her how it all works.” The video has less than 500 views, but has been shared several times on a number of private Crypto Mom Facebook pages, possibly as an example of the kind of content that could attract new members and investors.
“I don’t think any mum goes into this with any big goals,” Susan says when I ask her about the gender imbalance in the crypto community. “But we do recognize that it’s difficult for women, especially older women who didn’t grow up on the internet, to make it in the community. That’s why groups like ours are so important. We keep it women-only, and members tend to be mums, or around the age where you’re in your late 30s, early 40s — the age when you’re supposed to have settled down, but really, you’re just tired. Tired by looking after your kids, looking after a house, paying bills, rent and more.
“We can help each other out in all sorts of ways,” she continues. “Sometimes that might be through an investment tip or checking each other’s balance books. Sometimes it’s about showing new members how Bitcoin works, what a blockchain is and where to get started with cryptocurrencies.
“Other times,” Susan says, taking a break from looking at her screen, “help and support can just come from a normal conversation with another mum about the ordinary things in life. It’s just nice to have someone to talk to, when there’s no one around to support you or help you out.”
Case in point: She showed me a WhatsApp message from another mom named Karol, a newcomer to the Crypto Mums WhatsApp group, who lives in Aberystwyth, a coastal town in Wales. Karol was worried that her daughter was getting bullied at school, but she was struggling to speak to her about it. So, while eating breakfast in her greasy spoon and watching her bitcoin investments, Susan spoke to Karol for more than an hour via Facebook Messenger about the ways she could help her daughter. All the while, she provided her with links on identifying bullying and numbers for counselors and online resources she could use to help her daughter open up.
“I’ve never met Karol,” Susan tells me, “but I still see her as a very good friend.
“We’re all good friends who look after each other and want the best for each other,” she adds, laughing. “I don’t think you’d see that in the majority of bitcoin forums!”