In August 2018, John Kim sold his house and gave the proceeds to his wife. Earlier in the year, he had sold his profitable business and put his life savings into cryptocurrencies. Then he got in his van, emblazoned with the Litecoin logo, and set off on a one-man campaign to raise awareness and adoption of his favorite cryptocurrency among the masses.
In the past two years, he’s given away thousands of dollars in Litecoin and persuaded restaurants and bars throughout the United States to accept it as a fast and easy means of payment.
John Kim: 100% committed to Litecoin. Image: John Kim
“They called me a Litecoin evangelist. But I'm really a simple man with a simple plan. I believe the best way to get people into crypto is to show them an example and let them experience it for themselves,” Kim told Decrypt on a recent call from Texas, where he is weathering the coronavirus storm.
He’s still homeless, has been criticized for being foolhardy and reckless, and admits that cryptocurrencies played a big part in the breakup of his marriage. But Kim has no regrets; he told us why his story will have a happy ending.
Giving it all up for crypto
Kim, 43, said he grew up in Dallas, Texas. He left high school without a diploma and worked in a series of low-paying jobs until he was able to start his own business with $10,000 borrowed from his father.
By 2018, he had a chain of nine cell phone stores, and was the number two dealer in the Oklahoma area, he said.
Together with his wife, Kim had begun to invest in Bitcoin and Ethereum in 2017, and became increasingly drawn into the cryptocurrency world—much to the consternation of his family and friends.
Kim with his son Jaedin, "Litecoin Evangelist Jr." Image: John Kim
Litecoin, in particular, attracted his attention. The cryptocurrency is the fifth largest by market cap and was designed to be quicker at processing transactions than Bitcoin. Its creator is Charlie Lee, a MIT graduate, ex-Googler and a former head of engineering at crypto exchange Coinbase, who is revered among his millions of supporters.
The two struck up a correspondence on crypto Twitter, when Kim offered to defend Lee from critics angry that the latter had sold his LTC holdings at peak price. (Lee has stated that he did this to aid decentralization and prevent conflict of interest.)
“I told him about my background,” said Kim. “I didn't live such a great life. I messed up a lot when I was younger. I don't know anything about the technical side of blockchain [but] if you give me one chance, I swear I will find a way to not let you down,” he said he told Lee. (Lee verified the exchange, but added no comment.) “I just poured my heart out on direct message, not even knowing who was going to answer me back. And then he answered. He said, ‘you got it.’”
That was all the encouragement Kim needed. He sold his business and went all-in on cryptocurrencies. His goal: to be a Litecoin evangelist to the world. Meanwhile, his marriage began to unravel.
“There was no way that she was going to dare to go on this crazy journey with me. It wasn't even a question,” said Lee on his wife’s reaction. “A lot of people tried to give me advice, like marriage and family first, but my wife knew, even when she [first] met me, that I’m either all in or all out. I don't do the whole middle thing. That's how I was able to take 10 grand and build 15 businesses.”
In Kim’s mind, going all-in on cryptocurrency presented the only opportunity to change the trajectory of not only his own life but the lives of his two sons. “When you don't have education and you don't have a degree, you have to out-hustle everyone because you don't have much to work with. Everybody's already started the race. You have to catch up,” he said.
With the money from the sale of their family house, his wife opened up a Korean barbecue restaurant in a neighboring state. “And she's doing OK,” said Kim. “But right now, she doesn't like crypto because she felt like crypto took me away from her. So she doesn't own any crypto.”
Living the Litecoin life
And Kim’s mettle was to be tested sooner than he thought. LTC dropped to lows of $22 not long after he set out on his mission (its all-time high, in 2017 was $400), and Kim, now broke, experienced some dark moments.
It was at these times, he said, that the Litecoin community came through, paying for a room in a hotel, or offering a spot on a couch.
Outside the crypto space, he was derided as irresponsible and foolish. Yet he stuck to his guns. He appeared as Lee’s personal bodyguard at the cryptocurrency’s inaugural 2018 convention, visited thirty US cities in 30 days for one promotional tour, and completed several more.
When he decided to go to Asia, Kim didn’t ask for money from the Litecoin Foundation—set up to administer the development of the cryptocurrency—or the Litecoin community, he simply tweeted his intention, and then the following week he was in a first-class seat to Asia, courtesy of the OKEx crypto exchange and travel website Travala (which gave him funds so he could pay in crypto at hotels.)
His 13-year-old son, Jaedin, aka Łitecoin Evangelist Jr, is one of the few who never doubted his father’s mission, said Kim. He gives his sons (his youngest, Jaemin, is three) LTC to spend on ice cream at Baskin Robbins, games at GameStop, and movie tickets at the AMC Movie Theater.
Litecoin has earned a reputation for adding new features and rapidly integrating retail payment apps like SPEDN, which will let merchants accept payments from customers’ phones at over 40,000 locations.
These days Kim is equally invested in BTC, LTC, and AMP, the token for Flexa, developers of the SPEDN, which partnered with the Gemini crypto exchange for the project.
“My whole goal is to take a complex matter and simplify it,” said Kim. “I think 99% of people don't have the time or the intellect or the opportunity to understand the intricacies of a blockchain. Action speaks louder than words. So I send them a little bit of Bitcoin, or Litecoin. And right there, they're sold.”
Large-scale tours are impossible with coronavirus but Kim still travels locally and presents a weekly podcast called ‘FunkyCrypto’, alongside retired MMA fighter Ben Askren. The collaboration came about when Kim saw that Askew was following Lee, and flew out to the Olympian’s home in Wisconsin to ask him to become an official member of the Litecoin community.
The Toyota of crypto
In recent weeks, a bull run has seen LTC’s prospects rise, alongside a host of other altcoins. At time of writing, LTC’s price is $88, but Kim’s work is far from done. He predicts a repeat performance of 2017, when Litecoin started the year at $4 and went up 10,000% to $400. Next year, said Kim emphatically, Litecoin will hit three digits—at the very least. “I call Litecoin the Toyota of blockchain and crypto,” said Kim, who claims that the network has never experienced any downtime.
And further enhancements are coming. This summer, a new testnet launched implementing Mimblewimble, an opt-in privacy and fungibility feature developed in collaboration with privacy project BEAM. Fungibility, where coins can’t be ‘tainted’ by what they’ve been used for in the past, is a major selling point.
Like many in the industry, Kim is excited by PayPal’s plans to integrate cryptocurrencies, announced in October. Alongside this, he points to the $400 million investment in Bitcoin made by Microstrategy CEO Michael Saylor, which many consider has opened the floodgates for institutional investors.
“I think 2021 will really be the year where I prove everybody wrong and I'll be humble about it, but I’ll make sure my kids are taken care of for the rest of their lives,’ he said. “I made my promise to the local community, the Litecoin investors, that I will not stop until we get back to an all-time high and Charlie is exonerated and then I may just disappear.”
Kim, meanwhile, is enjoying the moment. He recently released his first music video, which features a good dollop of his infectious, irreverent, but good-natured humor, as well as guest appearances by Charlie Lee and other Litecoin luminaries.
Whether LTC reaches triple digits or not next year, one thing is for sure, per Kim, “I know nobody is willing to go as far as I'm going to go to show the world.”
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