Do Kwon, a trash-talking entrepreneur from South Korea, called the cryptocurrency he created in 2018 “my greatest invention.” In countless tweets and interviews, he trumpeted the world-changing potential of the currency, Luna, rallying a band of investors and supporters he proudly referred to as “Lunatics.”
Mr. Kwon’s company, Terraform Labs, raised more than $200 million from investment firms such as Lightspeed Venture Partners and Galaxy Digital to fund crypto projects built with the currency, even as critics questioned its technological underpinnings. Luna’s total value ballooned to more than $40 billion, creating a frenzy of excitement that swept up day traders and start-up founders, as well as wealthy investors.
Mr. Kwon dismissed concerns with a taunt: “I don’t debate the poor.”
But last week, Luna and another currency that Mr. Kwon developed, TerraUSD, suffered a spectacular collapse. Their meltdowns had a domino effect on the rest of the cryptocurrency market, tanking the price of Bitcoin and accelerating the loss of $300 billion in value across the crypto economy. This week, the price of Luna remained close to zero, while TerraUSD continued to slide.
The downfall of Luna and TerraUSD offers a case study in crypto hype and who is left holding the bag when it all comes crashing down. Mr. Kwon’s rise was enabled by respected financiers who were willing to back highly speculative financial products. Some of those investors sold their Luna and TerraUSD coins early, reaping substantial profits, while retail traders now grapple with devastating losses.