A version of this article originally appeared on Motherboard France. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
For several months now, PepeCashMillionaire has lived on a yacht moored at the Bowen Island Marina just outside of Vancouver. In a manner of speaking, he's rich: With his Rare Pepe deck—virtual cards he's acquired thanks to his cryptocurrency activities—he's managed to make a living.
"I definitely got my 27-footer directly thanks to the major rise in Rare Pepe and Pepe Cash price from spring thru summer 2017," he told Motherboard in a Twitter DM. The rise "made it possible for me to be self-employed selling Pepes and trading Pepe Cash nonstop off the boat all fall and winter."
When we telephoned him for this interview, he introduced himself as "PepeCashMillionaire," his sometimes alias on Instagram and Twitter. He also identifies himself as MartyMcFly on Instagram (he bought the yacht used, he said).
Rare Pepes are digital assets in the form of collecting cards. Created by artists and built into the same blockchain as Bitcoin, they're intended to be traded or sold for Pepe Cash, the cryptocurrency for fans of Pepe the Frog. The sector is specialized but alive: At present, over 1,500 different Rare Pepe cards exist. A little more than 600 are listed in the Rare Pepe Directory.
Rare Pepes are distributed in limited quantities. Some cards exist in 100,000,000 copies, whereas others are unique. Their price varies according to their degree of rarity and popularity, which is clearly on the rise: In January 2017, the HOMERPEPE card was sold for the equivalent of $500. One year later, it was sold to a new owner who paid the Pepe Cash equivalent of $38,500 for it.
Naturally, this poses several questions. Are Rare Pepes gadgets or prophets? Are they really worth millions of dollars? What's your life like when your pockets are overflowing with Pepe Cash?
MOTHERBOARD: How long have you been doing this?
PepeCashMillionaire: In August 2016, I just impromptu quit my job. Why? Because I had a secure job in an office and my life was great, except I felt that it was the end of the world. Everything was determined and I knew exactly what was going to happen. There was no spontaneity in my life: come in, punch the clock, and beat it. So I quit. And for six months, I don’t think I made any money off Bitcoin—I got chopped around and lost seven coins in one go. It was a complete fucking nightmare. Until the Pepes that I had bought for nothing started going up 20x. All this money that I’d put into Bitcoin and gotten wrecked on all got outweighed by this insane rise on the Pepes, and then I got really deep into it in about May 2017—[that's] when Pepe Cash was moving from under a cent to 10 cents, so I was really involved in the day trading on that. It was actually really easy.
I’m intrigued by your nickname. When you say you say you’re PepeCashMillionaire, are you a millionaire in PepeCash or a millionaire in dollars?
As a joke, six months ago I started calling myself “PepeCashMillionaire” because [the markets say] that my Pepe Gold Bar’s now worth $350,000, and [there's] one that’s worth $400,000 and [another] that’s worth $5 million. So that’s funny, right? It’s just funny numbers and it’s just a joke. It’s not real. And then in December, I sold less than one percent of my [Rare Pepes] for half of my yearly salary at my programming company. I don’t do math very well, but if you can sell 99 times more than what I sold, then the math actually adds up to the full amount of the virtual valuation. My only problem is that there isn’t enough interest to move it all at that price. So my whole theory now is to reduce my living expenses as much as possible and stay involved—very socially in the scene—because like it always does, it’s going to explode one day in x amount of months—and then I’m just going to be scrambling to sell this stuff at a high enough price.
PepeCashMillionaire's life aboard his yacht.
What does PepeCashMillionaire’s life look like? What’s your average day like?
I do this quick check in the morning to make sure there’s been no surprises, that everything’s on track, and if so, I literally go and live my life. Maybe I’ve got some couchsurfers coming over; I’ll clean the place up and get the bunks ready. Or maybe I’ll go see my dad on a Tuesday and go to a craft beer thing at 2 PM. And I just do it. I now feel like I have an obligation to maintain my wealth, to further it, to not miss on opportunities. I keep my money safe.
How long do you hope to live like this? What’s your end goal?
Where do I want to be in five years? I want to have a yacht on every continent. I want to have friends I’ve made through couchsurfing taking care of all those yachts, so I can fly anywhere in the world when I have some crypto-conference or some business meeting about some cryptos or Pepes, and I can stay on my own boat and go sailing after the meeting is done with some friends who I’ve invited. I don’t want the mansions, I don’t want the cars. I want floating houses I can take sailing wherever I want. I want to grow our scene. I’d love to be rich in life in 10 years. I’d want enough to pay for my stuff—I don’t need much more. If I can pay for three boats around the world, I’m very happy—as long as we have a community of hundreds of thousands of people expressing their political dissent through these memes that can’t be muted, that can’t be banned, that people are just making and trading.
How does Pepe Cash relate to political dissension? You’re aware that Pepe carries a heavy liability in that arena.
Most Pepe cards are pretty benign, but some other ones are a bit more racy, like touching on themes that are a bit more taboo. Sure, the original artist is just expressing themselves and there doesn't have to be any validity in that, but I think the value is in its immutability. You can't erase that type of political graffiti. There's a card called Killary Pepe ( Editor's note: a reference to the conspiracy theory that asserts the Clintons had their political opponents assassinated). And you can say, "oh, she's got a gun, you're incentivizing violence"; I could write an editor and have that pulled from a magazine. But you can't pull it off the blockchain. That's what I have faith in.
In 100 years, people are either going to find or still be having these Pepes, and they're going to study it in such intricate terms—they're going to do analysis, like "How did this meme come from here?" or "What's the political ethos against this movement?" There's going to be so much in-depth research into this that it's going to become its own field, like a kind of meme archaeology. It sounds silly, but you're going to be able to trace social trends and constructs through the memesphere.
It’s my understanding that the “Rare Pepe” system could also be of interest to artists and the art world?
Yeah, and did you see there was the first Rare Pepe auction in NYC?
Bitcoin, blockchain-verified digital signatures? I’m sorry, you can be the best artist, mathematician, or crypto-genius in the world, and you will never be able to duplicate a certified Rare Pepe or memory chain card or blockchain-based art because you won’t be able to have that asset, to send it or receive it. You won’t have the private key for that Bitcoin transaction. So you can now make art in a digital way and then encase it digitally, where—sure, you can make a GIF or a JPEG of it, but that’s understood to be just like stolen art. The only way you can buy this one of one issue of Homer Simpson—which sold for $40,000 in New York—which is stupid, but the guy buying it drives Ferraris, so he doesn’t care about the $40,000—he just wants the one out of one Homer Pepe; the only one in the world. Someone could copy that GIF or that JPEG and email it, but they’ll never be able to show proof of ownership by either moving that asset or showing that they control the private key.
Why did you open the Museum of Modern Pepe?
Anytime there’s something new and it’s art, it’s usually shunned. The Campbell’s Soup cans by Andy Warhol, right? Those were considered garbage when they were painted, and then they were sold for a million dollars each and then they turned up in the Museum of Modern Art. And that’s when it clicked for me. When I was in San Francisco, I’d go to the MoMA and watch digital art installations. So I just decided, we need our own Museum of Modern Art for Pepes, so why not make the Museum of Modern Pepe?
So we brainstormed the Museum of Modern Pepe, and we thought: why don’t we just pick 50 Pepes, just pick a short list, of the most—not so much the most valued ones, but really the most artistically unique and valued ones, the showcase of our scene. So that was the idea.
What’s the point?
If you think about it, everyone’s always in the world, everyone’s got computers, everyone’s online. Well, why do you need to go to a museum? Why do you need to go to an art auction? Why do you need to go anywhere, except with your laptop on the back of your boat to attend a virtual auction and pick up your virtual art, and then flip it virtually and sell it for more money later maybe or keep it, and then never get off your boat? Why don’t we look at life in that kind of way? This whole thing about going somewhere to make money, in an internet age, just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. I want to go places to be social with people, but I don’t want to go places to work. I want the money to come to me. It’s very selfish and egotistical, but why not?