A conversation between the two men featured in the crypto world’s most famous memes.
GiveBitcoin, a new service allowing people to gift Bitcoin to friends and family, brought two of the Bitcoin community’s icons together to discuss the images that made them go viral, what it’s like to become famous without saying anything, and their love of Bitcoin.
Some background: Bitcoin Sign Guy (who prefers to remain anonymous) became one of the crypto world’s most famous memeswhen, in July of 2017, he photobombed US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen by holding up a legal pad that read “Buy Bitcoin” from his seat behind her as she testified to Congress. CoinDesk anointed him “Most Influential in Blockchain 2017”and a hero for bitcoiners: “He hijacked the spotlight from the world’s most powerful central banker to promote a stateless cryptocurrency.”
Two years later, Bitcoin Bag Man experienced a similar fate. His name is Alex Riley and he works for Fielding & Nicholson, a London-based suit shop. The photo of him that became iconic showed him walking next to a Deutsche Bank sign while carrying a tote bag that said “Bitcoins.” Many believed Riley was one of the thousands laid off in the bank’s recent staff cuts. The story was more complicated than that (Riley was there to take measurements of employees at the bank but is a Bitcoin advocate). Nonetheless, the picture went viral(it was seen in Financial Times, Daily Mail, Fortune, etc.), with many viewing it as a telling symbol of the clash between traditional and modern finance.
On July 12, we brought Bag Man and Sign Guy together for an intercontinental video chat. Below is the transcript (condensed and edited). Video located at the top of this page.
GiveBitcoin: What’s it feel like to go viral over an image that came out of nowhere and then, all of a sudden, blew up on the internet and in the Bitcoin community?
Sign Guy: It was nothing I expected. I thought that my image would be just a small memento that I would screenshot on the Fed C-SPAN live-cast. The only real people that watch that type of thing are investors and people in finance. And so it’s not like it’s visible much beyond that, so I really did not expect it at all. How about you, Bag Man?
Bag Man: Pretty similar. I went to do a fitting [at Deutsche Bank], I didn’t even understand that there was going to be a load of job cuts at Deutsche Bank, came outside, and the picture was snapped. And then I did kind of mutter to my colleague, I said, “Oh we’re probably going to be in the news now.” And then lo and behold I get an email from my client in New York saying, “Hey, you’re in the Financial Times.” And I was like, “What?” So I checked it out and we were on there, in one of the reports. And then next thing you know, I get pings coming in from all my friends and colleagues, “You’re in the Daily Mail, you’re in Bild in Germany, you’re in The South China Report.” And then the next thing was the cryptosphere, and they were saying, “Oh, you’re being dubbed as the Bitcoin bag guy now.” And so I went online and checked out Twitter. I haven’t used Twitter in years. I posted a tweet about me where I took pictures of me and the bag at JP Morgan and Credit Suisse. And it got over a thousand likes.
Sign Guy: What everyone really wants to know is: Were you into Bitcoin? I mean how did you come to have a bag that said Bitcoin? And so you’re also a tailor, so do your clients like Bitcoin?
Bag Man: Basically what was in there is my gym kit. And a Noam Chomsky book was in there for some reason.
Sign Guy: Noam Chomsky, man!
Bag Man: Some light reading. My friend gave it to me. I’d just got back from holiday and I’d never heard of the guy, to be honest.
Sign Guy: That’s too good.
Bag Man: I take [the Bitcoin bag] with me because it’s always a good conversation starter when I’m seeing clients. It just kind of creates a nice rapport and a flow. I think the bag’s quite cool myself as well.
I take [the Bitcoin bag] with me because it’s always a good conversation starter when I’m seeing clients. It just kind of creates a nice rapport and a flow.
Sign Guy: Yeah, it’s a handsome bag. If you want a Bitcoin related book to bring as a conversation piece, I’ll send you The Bitcoin Standard, by Saifedean Ammous, a good friend. But yeah, so guys just get measured on the trading floor I presume?
Bag Man: It’s not necessarily the trading floor. Basically, bankers generally have a pretty tough time. They work quite long hours. You know, they work from 7 or 8 AM until 10 or 11 PM. Even longer a lot of the time; so shopping isn’t on the priority list. I think most guys don’t like shopping to be honest. So we found a business model where they’ll take 15–20 minutes out their day, they’ll meet me in a meeting room and I take my cloth books and then I’ll go away, make the suit, and then come back for the fitting, which takes another 20 minutes.
Sign Guy: Yeah, I totally get why that’s a great service to offer.
GiveBitcoin: You say the bag is a conversation starter. What’s the reaction like from the bankers that you work with? What sort of conversations does it lead to?
Bag Man: It’s fairly mixed. Some will tell me I shouldn’t go near it and it’s quite risky, like gambling. Others show an interest and ask me questions and want to know about it. I don’t know if many of my clients are into Bitcoin, I maybe have two or three of the younger clients that are into it. So, it gives me a platform to then sort of tell them why I like Bitcoin and why I like crypto.
Sign Guy: Why do you like Bitcoin?
Bag Man: I started investing in tech stocks around 2017. I was making some money and I thought, “Oh, you know what? I’m not very good at saving, I’m really good at spending money.” But my mum’s always told me to save. And I said, “You know what, I’m not going to save it, I’m going to spend it on stock, on retail, on margin trading.” So I started going into it a bit and I put some into PayPal, and Palo Alto Networks, and some other tech stocks that are quite cheap now, if you look at the price now. Then all of a sudden, there was a lot of noise around Bitcoin. My friend was getting into it, he just downloaded Coinbase. He was telling me, “August 2017, something’s going to happen. You need to get into it.” So there was quite a bit of noise, and I started to trade it on margin to begin.
Sign Guy: On what exchange, BitMEX?
Bag Man: It was on a British one called Trading 212, I believe. And there was no sort of regulation on it, so I could buy 20 Bitcoin with 1,000 pounds.
Sign Guy: Yeah. You got 100X?
Bag Man: Yeah, exactly, it was crazy. So I lost a lot of money. I got wrecked a few times. I lost 800 pounds in a day once. It was silly, really. I was new to it. So then I decided to invest properly, I downloaded Kraken. My friends were like, “Oh, you need to get some Ripple,” so I bought 1,000 pounds of Ripple in October 2017. I got 17,000 pounds pretty much overnight. So I put more money into crypto.
Sign Guy: Oh man, you’re fully infected.
Bag Man: Fully infected now.
Sign Guy: Fully infected by the Bitcoins now. So, what’s your current view between Bitcoins and altcoins? Are you still a shit-coiner as they say, or have you gravitated more toward Bitcoin?
Bag Man: I bought Bitcoin last summer, when it hit 5,600. And then I saw it was 6,000, I wish I just kept a hold of it now. But yeah, my risk appetite is quite high so I did a lot of shit-coins. It’s a bit addictive, isn’t it?
Sign Guy: Yeah. It’s sort of a test for people to be willing to hold for longer. But yeah, most of my crowd in Bitcoin is Bitcoin maximalism, sort of long Bitcoin only. And they treat it really as a monetary evolution, rather than as a technological evolution.
Most of my crowd in Bitcoin is Bitcoin maximalism, sort of long Bitcoin only. And they treat it really as a monetary evolution, rather than as a technological evolution.
Bag Man: I see it both ways.
Sign Guy: Has this impacted your sales? Do you have a lot of new orders from bankers who want to get a suit from the Deutsche Bank bag guy?
Bag Man: The views on our website tripled. We have a lot more inquiries, phone calls, and appointments. I think we have taken maybe two or three orders? It is quite a long process, but yeah, definitely. I think we’ve got someone in Zurich who owns a blockchain company, and their whole office wants suits so my colleague’s flying to Zurich next month. So, yeah, it’s been good for business.
Sign Guy: Do you accept Bitcoin?
Bag Man: Yes, of course.
Sign Guy: What are the hottest suit trends these days?
Bag Man: I like to have fun, I don’t like to do just corporate suits. Obviously, most of my clients work in a corporate setting, so it will be navy or gray, that’s the general rule. And then, I like to do summer suits, so maybe sort of a sand beige color, a biscuit beige color. Unstructured jackets, sort of maybe a nice roping in the shoulder, it makes it look smart. And I like colors like pastels, light blue. I have a white linen suit.
Sign Guy: Very nice.
GiveBitcoin: Sign Guy, do you see parallels between what Bag Man is describing as his experience? Any similarities and differences in what happened for you after your image went viral?
Sign Guy: Well, the first similarity right off the bat is that I was also wearing a colorful suit when it happened. I was in a seersucker and wearing a pink tie just to sort of convey my disrespect to the Federal Reserve. That I wouldn’t dress, as you say, in the corporate uniform for them. But, I think there is perhaps a parallel. Just the power of images, the power of memes; the picture is the story. You see the banker leaving Deutsche, he just got laid off, but he has the kernel of his future in his hand: the Bitcoin bag. So, even if that narrative does not tell the true story, it captivates the minds of market participants.
The first similarity is that I was also wearing a colorful suit when it happened.
Bag Man: Absolutely. And this conveys a little bit of your personality…
Sign Guy: Yeah, I mean, Bitcoin is playful, Bitcoin comes from the outside. Like Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park, it finds a way into the conversation and it keeps popping up in these “serious” financial settings. It’s growing harder and harder to not talk about it. In fact, yesterday the Chairman of the Federal Reserve called Bitcoin a store of value and Trump tweeted about it as well. I just find that incredible, that Bitcoin is officially in the room, so to speak. So, yeah. I guess I’m thrilled about that, and I hope that there’s more people like you to continue inserting Bitcoin into situations from extreme angles.
GiveBitcoin: How do you think your lives are going to change, or will they, based on the aftermath of all this?
Bag Man: Obviously, being in the papers I’m getting sort of looked at walking down the street. I’m sure it won’t last, obviously, sort of a fifteen minutes of fame. I’m still going to take the bag with me. Now, I’ll probably entertain crypto Twitter and if I see an opportunity to get a snap, I will continue to share those.
Sign Guy: One thing that I hope, maybe this is silly, but as we evolve toward Bitcoin, I don’t want the suit to be lost. It has a bad reputation as the uniform of the corporate shell, but I think it can be a beautiful thing, and I want people to appreciate the traditionalism of a suit. It’s like you have sound money, you also need a sound outfit. You need the fashion that will last through the ages. So this is my plea to all Bitcoiners. Please, go buy a suit. And especially from Bag Man.
Bag Man: There’s a stigma attached to a suit, isn’t it? It’s corporate. But if you go in to see a tailor, you can actually have a lot of fun with it, like say the seersucker outfit you wore. The interesting question for me is how did you feel when you were wearing it that day at the Federal Reserve?
There’s a stigma attached to a suit. It’s corporate. But if you go in to see a tailor, you can actually have a lot of fun with it
Sign Guy: It felt good. It was a subtle act of defiance, I suppose. But also very comfortable given the heat of Washington D.C. I think that there was a press conference with a few Senators or Congressmen about Bitcoin outside, and apparently it was 90 degrees and they were all wearing dark black wool. They forgot their seersucker at home.
Bag Man: If you usually just buy off the peg, you’re not really educating yourself about what to wear in what conditions. So seeing a tailor can definitely help you out.
GiveBitcoin: Any final words to share before we part ways?
Sign Guy: Great to meet you, Bag Man.
Bag Man: Likewise.
Sign Guy: For my next suit, I’ll give you a call.
Bag Man: All right. Bitcoin only.
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