Long before Elon Musk, Mark Cuban or the millions of Robinhood traders entered the world of dogecoin, there were true believers like Gary Lachance.
This is their story.
Lachance is dressed up like a tiger. Or at least a bit like a tiger. He’s wearing “tiger shoulder pads,” dark sunglasses and he’s sitting in front of a wall of boom boxes. A giant image of The Doge is to his left. On our Zoom call it looks like Lachance is in a science fiction film.
“I’m not even joking. The Doge just gets me so inspired,” Lachance says in a voice that is slow and deliberate, deadpan, and you get the feeling that when he says, “I’m not even joking” he’s still kind of joking.
The boom boxes behind him? They’re from his passion project, “Decentralized Dance Party,” aka “The Party Revolution,” that he launched before “decentralized” was cool – way back in 2009. Using FM transmitters stuffed in a backpack, a DJ can send music to hundreds of boom boxes, and Lachance marches his parties to random city streets, buses, subways. These are flash mobs of goodwill and joyous energy.
Lachance discovered dogecoin in its earliest days, in 2013, and he saw it as the ideal match for his party revolution. He was mesmerized by the logo. “I kept looking at the Doge all day, and I realized, ‘Man, this is not getting old,’” he says. “The more you look at it, you see there’s something so perfect and funny about this pose.” He calls it the modern day Mona Lisa.
In terms of memes, this is “maybe the strongest brand in the world,” says Lachance, who once organized a “CampDoge” at Burning Man. Lachance personifies the playful, upbeat, even goofy spirit of the Doge, especially in the beginning. Ask anyone: Those early days were just flat-out fun. The “Shibes” threw in-person “DogeParties” at venues like comic book stores in Los Angeles, where actual Shiba Inus roamed the crowd. “You could tip the dogs and the money would go to a dog charity,” remembers a woman named Pinguino, who has been active in the Doge community since its inception. “We had DJs, talks and people would bring mining gear.”
In one early New York Dogeparty, they made a large paper mâché head of the Doge and gleefully marched to Wall Street and plopped the head on the bull statue. “It was a bizarre mix of people,” says another old school member of the community, whom we’ll call John Doe, or “Doge Doe,” as he asked to remain anonymous. “You had 70-year-old cypherpunk programmers, a bunch of 15-year-olds and all these dogs, and a bunch of Occupy Wall Street people.”
These were not crypto millionaires. Pinguino was a designer at a movie studio, and she remembers others who were in lawn care, marketing and mechanics. “Like, pretty normal jobs,” she says. They weren’t rich, but they loved to give. And give and give and give. They flung their doge across Reddit and Twitter, delighting in the easy generosity. “If you had 100,000 doge, it looked like you were really rich,” says Pinguino. “It felt awesome, and it was fun to hand out to people.”
A tip-bot on Reddit and Twitter encouraged you to zap someone dogecoin if you liked their joke. With DogeRain, they would “make it rain” by tagging a list of people in a tweet, send each person some doge, and then everyone tagged would do the same and fling doge to others, paying it forward. “I would say in the early days, the community was focused on generosity,” remembers Billy Markus, the co-founder of Dogecoin, who created the coin in about two hours. Markus is no longer an official developer but he’s still active in the community, writing open letters encouraging Shibes to embrace “Joy, kindness, learning, giving, empathy, fun, community, inspiration, creativity, generosity, silliness, absurdity,” and the ethos of D-O-G-E – Doing Only Good Everyday.
And back in 2014, there was a ton of Doing Only Good Everyday. Take the “paper wallets.” Pinguino passed these out to strangers – a slip of paper with one side showing a public key, the other side a private key. It’s folded so the private key is hidden. She loaded the wallets with random amounts of dogecoin (often from her own stash), ranging from 10 doge to 98,000 doge. She went to a Barnes and Noble and slipped the wallets into books. Or she’d approach a stranger and say with a smile, “Here, this might be worth something some day!”
The Shibes generously gave to each other, they gave to strangers, they gave to charities. They donated to a charity that raised service dogs for kids with autism. They sent pizzas to the homeless. Most famously, in 2014, the Shibes raised enough doge to allow the Jamaican bobsled team to attend the Olympics. They raised $30,000 to build water wells in Kenya. Pinguino is especially proud of this real-world impact, citing studies of how it helped the local women. With the doge-funded wells, “Women had more time to spend on education. They weren’t spending two hours a day carrying water over their heads.”
Then there was the NASCAR sponsorship. Much wow. Thanks largely to the exuberance of a teenage Redditor, they rallied behind an underdog NASCAR driver (“or underDoge”), raised enough doge to sponsor his car, and wrapped the car in the image of the smiling Shiba, much to the bewilderment of the NASCAR world. “We held a NASCAR watch party at like 10 a.m. None of us were NASCAR fans but we wanted to see our coin race around the track,” says Pinguino. “It was just really funny.”
But in some ways, even in the beginning, dogecoin was more than just fun. It had some sneaky benefits. Pinguino enjoyed introducing people to crypto at LA meetups, showing how it worked. Doge was good for this. “Bitcoin was a little bit intimidating for people,” she says. So she switched to teaching with dogecoin, which “fared way better for anyone who wasn’t super technical, and for a lot of women, too. They were just more open to learning with dogecoin.”
Part of that is due to the ultra-low price. The most effective way to demonstrate how crypto works is to actually see it in action, says Pinguino, but that can be tricky when sending and receiving bitcoin. “It’s psychological. With bitcoin, there’s the idea that you’re sending something expensive and valuable, when you didn’t know what you were doing.” If BTC has a price tag of $30,000, as Pinguino puts it, you’re thinking, “Oh, I better not f**k this up. But with dogecoin, you’re sending a penny over and a penny back.” She held workshops where she gave everyone in the room 10 dogecoin, and they practiced slingshotting it around the room.
The theory of doge being the “people’s currency” has deep roots. “GoodShibe,” who wrote a series of doge-inspired Reddit posts called “Of Wolves and Weasels,” jumped into Dogecoin the day it launched. “I saw the logo, and immediately I thought, this is everything,” GoodShibe tells me. He found it inclusive. Whereas he found the bitcoin crowd (particularly the libertarians) to be a touch intimidating, he felt welcomed by the goofballs of Doge. Added bonus? Mining. When Doge launched in December of 2013, Goodshibe knew he had no hope of properly mining bitcoin – his feeble laptop was outgunned. But his “horrible, crappy, tiny little video card” could crank out 10,000 dogecoins per day. “It was fantastic,” he remembers. “It meant that any person could strike it rich. I think that’s what led to a lot of the early excitement in the community. Literally anybody could mine this thing.”
And now, so many years later, those “paper wallets” of Pinguino’s have suddenly become in demand. “In the last three months, everybody I know has come out of the woodwork, and they’re trying to find their wallets,” Pinguino says, laughing. Someone did find that 98,000 doge wallet, worth over $30K at the time of publication. Curious, Pinguino recently tallied up all over her old transactions, wondering how much dogecoin she gave away over the years.
She ballparks the figure at 2 million dogecoin.
The cost of this gratitude is not lost on her. But she doesn’t hesitate. “It was worth it,” says Pinguino. “We had so much fun.”
Alas, the Doge-verse was not all fun and games. Scammers, hucksters, and charlatans have long plagued the crypto-space, and the Shibes were a juicy target. As Doge Doe sees it, the scammers looked at the community and said to themselves, “Oh, here’s a large group of mostly young, goofy people throwing money around?” So they pounced. Doge Doe still has a sour taste from the “epic series of pump and dumps,” the fraud, and threats of 51% attacks.
“I saw the space being overrun by opportunists looking to make a buck,” wrote Doge’s other co-founder, Jackson Palmer, who has distanced himself entirely from the cryptocurrency. Even the Shibes who are still active have painful memories. “In one of our biggest scandals our tip-bot died and took all the funds with it,” remembers GoodShibe. “Tipping was really one of the huge life-bloods of the community. Once the tipping started to die down, and other projects came up, people got pulled in other directions.”
In perhaps the most infamous scandal, a user who went by the alias Alex Green first charmed the Shibe community by showering them with Doge – giving and tipping generously – and then enticed them to invest in his new project, an exchange called “Moolah.” Alex Green was soon revealed to be a grifter named Ryan Kennedy, Moolah went belly-up, and Kennedy (presumably) pocketed much of the funds, and later (years later) turned out to be a sex offender who went to prison. “The Dogecoin community has been left picking up the pieces,” reported Vice’s Kaleigh Rogers in 2015. “Many have abandoned the currency altogether, others are more suspicious and less generous with their coins. They chased their tails trying to figure out who or what was to blame.”
Many continued to carry the torch, like Gary Lachance’s 2018 “DogeCon” in Vancouver, which promised “four days dedicated to the teachings of the Doge.” And since the 2018 Chinese New Year was Year of the Dog, naturally the Shibes celebrated the Year of the Doge. But even the Shibes were slowed by the Crypto Winter. The meetups dwindled. “Once we hit the huge bear market, it just wiped out a lot of the energy,” says GoodShibe.
And maybe in some other parallel universe, this would be the end of the story.
Flash forward to the summer of 2020. “Go invest in Dogecoin, make me rich,” posted @karimhemdan12T on Tik-Tok, part of a wave of Tik-Tok influencers who tried to pump the price of doge. The price briefly doubled. But even after the surge from Tik-Tok, in January 2021, the price of dogecoin was still less than a penny.
And it might have stayed that way, and still lurked on the fringe of the crypto world, without sudden interest from an unlikely corner of the internet: the Subreddit “Satoshi Streetbets,” the crypto-offshoot of WallStreetBets.
”Everybody holding dogecoin, upvote this to get it on the front page,” ordered one Redditor. “We determine the exchange rate, let’s get this bitch to $10.” Just as WallStreetBets pumped the price of Gamestop, the new Shibes on Satoshi Streetbets vowed to send Doge to the moon. Just ask DeathEater101, who posted that since he lives in a third-world country, the exchange rate, ahem, “f##ks me in the ass daily,” and pledged that if doge goes to $1, ”I will donate 75% of it to my local orphanage and share the receipt here. And the rest goes to my mom for raising such a f##ktard may she be able to do better in next life. 🚀🚀🚀🚀 Doge to the moon bitches 🚀🚀.”
The price soared, more newbs flocked to doge, which boosted the price even higher, which enticed even more newbs to flock to doge, and the virtuous cycle continued.
Which brings us, finally, to the most consequential new Shibe. Why all the sudden interest in doge? I asked this of Redditor “CryptoNoob,” who posts in the dogecoin subreddit.
“Well I’ve got to say it was Elon Musk,” he tells me over Reddit chat. “Every time he tweets it goes up. … So I thought, jump on the train and make some money. Couple of weeks in I really like the community it has created. So I’m in it for the long haul.”
CryptoNoob believes in doge so much, in fact, that on May 18 he posted on Reddit, “So I recently lost my job last week. A lot of my stress could be solved if I cashed out but you know what … I’M NOT F**KING SELLING.” (In a credit to the Shibe Reddit community, most advised him to sell if he really needed the money.)
Musk’s embrace of doge is one of the stranger twists in a very strange space. Why is he into doge, and not other “serious” coins? As he tweeted on May 24, because “Doge has dogs & memes, whereas the others do not.” If bitcoin mining could be powered by Elon Musk’s tweets about Doge, the energy crisis would be solved. It’s impossible to keep track of them all. He jokes that he’s the “CEO of Dogecoin,” he wants to send a doge-fueled satellite to the moon, and most infamously, of course, to the heartache of jilted bitcoin HODLers, he is now “working with Doge devs to improve system transaction efficiency. Potentially promising.” And this appears to be more than empty rhetoric. As Doge developer Ross Nicoll told Decrypt, Musk will occasionally send the devs direct messages that spur the team into a “flurry of activity,” and Nicoll added, “I can honestly say he’s improved the higher transaction throughput.”
In some ways, it’s easy to see why Musk and Doge are buddies. Musk adores goofy humor. He oozes memes, he garnishes Tesla announcements with references to “Spaceballs,” and he calls his company that bores underground tunnels “The Boring Company.” Musk is a better cultural fit for Doge than, say, Bill Gates. Many Shibes welcome him. “He’s somebody who gets, or at least wants to get, what’s going on,” says GoodShibe. “And I think he’s intrigued by at least the idea of what dogecoin represents.”
Some Shibes go further, ecstatic that Musk is leading the charge. “Elon Musk appears to be treating Dogecoin like one of his own companies,” Doge enthusiast “@itsAllRisky” tweeted on May 25. “He’s actively marketing Doge, engaging with the community, and using his engineering and leadership prowess to contribute to Doge development. With Elon as ‘Doge CEO,’ we are in good hands!” Musk himself replied just a few hours later, as he so often does: “Please note Dogecoin has no formal organization and no one reports to me, so my ability to take action is limited.”
Doge’s co-founder, Billy Markus, is fine with Musk’s involvement. “He seems to enjoy the absurd,” Markus says, and believes that Musk appreciates that Doge evolved from “joke origins into something with real adoption and potential to make a big impact in the world.” Gary Lachance agrees. “He gets it,” says Lachance in his slow and deliberate voice, even observing that Musk has the same halting speech pattern as himself. “I feel like we’d be great friends whenever we meet.”
But does Doge need a figurehead? Lachance is pro-Musk, but he’s wary of one person — any person – eclipsing the spirit of Doge itself. Monikers like “the Dogefather” make him uneasy. “The Doge is at the top,” says Lachance. “I don’t want to use the ‘religion’ word, but we’re just interpreting the Doge. And I can’t speak for The Doge. But my interpretation is that it’s this amazing avatar that inspires silliness and goodwill and community. I’m rallying behind The Doge.”
Pinguino seems conflicted about Musk. “That is complicated,” she says after a long pause. She acknowledges that many in the community look up to him – even idolize him. And yet. “It seems bad when somebody can just crash a cryptocurrency with one sentence,” she says. “Having the power to shoot it up also gives you the power to shoot it down.” In the end, she says that maybe “Doge is probably better off if he didn’t really get involved.”
The 'One Direction' paradox
Before the start of 2021, says Markus, the dogecoin subreddit had roughly 100,000 members.
It now has 2 million.
And it’s a different crowd than back in those carefree days of tip-bots and “making it rain” doge. Markus acknowledges that most of the newcomers are there to make money, but he’s still encouraged by their positive energy. “Nowadays, I feel like the community is going through all the phases of being new to cryptocurrency,” he says. The first phase: “being intoxicated by the potential of rising value,” then “finding interest in the space and learning more,” and finally “trying to find a greater cause to attach to.” He likes that some of the newer Shibes are working on getting dogecoin accepted by more merchants and charities, like the American Cancer Society.
A dissenting take: “90% of the people who have gotten involved in Doge in the past year are pushing a button and watching a graph,” says Doge Doe, who has been around since the early days. “They’re not tipping. They’re not spending it, they’re not learning about cryptocurrency. They’re just investing in it like a stock.” He notes that in the glory days, the Doge community raised $30K to build water wells in Africa when the price was a fraction of a cent. And now, after the value has skyrocketed? “If there was an actual commitment to Doing Only Good Everyday amongst the majority of people involved, there would be awesome stuff happening all the time.”
Pinguino, GoodShibe and Lachance all have a sunnier perspective on this newer army of Shibes, even if they concede it’s not as giving-happy as way back when. “For the people finding doge now, sure, it’s the monetary aspect, but it’s also the fun aspect,” says GoodShibe, and he clearly has a point. Even if the vibes are mostly “to the moon, much wow” Doge Reddit and Doge Twitter are undeniably fun. New memes pop up by the second. The Doge’s smiling face is everywhere – wearing a spacesuit, driving lambos, chilling at hair salons. And I’m stunned to find myself starting to understand Lachance’s observation that the more you look at the Doge’s serene face, the more you see something new … Why can’t it be the modern Mona Lisa?
Even the posts about naked speculation are laced with humor. “All I want is to become financially independent within three months by holding a small amount of crypto and checking its value every four minutes,” posts one Shibe.
And you’ll still find whiffs of that old charitable and giving spirit, like a user who asks to “send a prayer to my buddy Elvis. … He is fighting a nasal tumor and will be going under some test to prep him for radiation. Send all your good vibes,” or uplifting news stories, like “a teenager who makes tiny bow-ties for shelter dogs to help them look spiffy and get adopted.”
Many Shibes now have ambitions for the coin that are grander than just memes and speculation. Others – and not just Elon Musk – are taking the project more seriously. For example, you can now use dogecoin to buy Dallas Mavericks merchandise and tickets. This could have more significance than you might initially think. In 2019, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban experimented with letting fans use bitcoin to buy tickets. It flopped. “I wanted to see how many people wanted to use it as a currency. Next to nobody did,” Cuban told me back in January.
So why is he now trying the same thing with doge? “Because of its popularity and PR value,” Cuban tells me over email. “The community is amazing and so strong and committed to doge that it was the obvious place to start.”
The way Cuban sees it, “Bitcoin HODLers would never spend their BTC on merch or tickets. To them it would be stupid when they see it going up 10x over time.” He figures that doge owners, in contrast, think that “spending it supports the community,” and that “they realize that the more utility doge has the more merchants will take it, the more doge will expand.”
That might be true. But it also seems true that there’s less of the boundless tipping, giving, and goofy slinging of dogecoin than in the early days. No one’s handing out paper wallets. The tip-bot is no more. Because if you’re HODLing dogecoin and hoping it cracks $1, then why would you spend it? GoodShibe, for example, started selling virtual books that you can buy with dogecoin. He made some early sales. People spent their Doge. A month after he launched the site, the price of doge skyrocketed, and he says “we haven’t sold a thing since.”
Ironically, doge now shares the same paradox that has long vexed bitcoin. The more doge increases in value, the less people are prone to spend it. And the ease and fun of spending doge – tipping, giving, making it rain – is what lured so many Shibes in the first place. It could be a victim of its own success.
I’ll call this the “One Direction Paradox.” This is an absurdly obscure reference to Stephen Colbert’s take on a 2011 song from the boy band One Direction, “You don’t know you’re beautiful.” Stick with me here. For those lucky enough to have never heard the song, it goes, “You don’t know you’re beautiful, oh-oh, that’s what makes you beautiful.”
As Colbert pointed out, “The lyrics are incredibly complex. You see, the boys are singing, ‘You don’t know you’re beautiful. That’s what makes you beautiful,’ but they’ve just told the girl she’s beautiful. So since she now knows it, she’s no longer beautiful.” It’s the doge paradox. The delight of spending doge is part of what made it valuable, but now that it’s valuable, it’s no longer delightful to spend.
But maybe that’s … okay? Lachance is aware of the criticisms of doge – that if doge somehow goes sideways it could taint the entire space and jeopardize other blockchain projects, particularly bitcoin. “I can understand that,” he says. “A lot of them [bitcoiners] have good intentions.” But the way Lachance sees it, the spirit and energy of the Doge community is more powerful than any tech. Network effects are real. Brands matter. Even vibes matter.
“All of these cryptos are open-sourced,” reasons Lachance. So if Coin X or Coin Y have certain technological features that are more appealing than doge’s? No sweat. “You can take all those elements and just plug that into doge, which has the most beloved brand.” Then he adds, more bluntly, “Who wants to hold litecoin vs. doge? Which is more fun?” Most people enjoy talking about memes, dogs, and jokes more than they do nodes, hashrates and block sizes. Maybe it’s as simple as that.
“It started as a joke, and that’s the beauty of it,” says Lachance. “But 60 billion [dogecoin’s recent dollar market cap] is not a joke. That’s a lot of people voting to be involved in this.”
In the end, like always, Lachance cares less about the money than the “teachings of the Doge”: Embracing playfulness, inclusivity, goodwill, acceptance, even absurdism.
I ask Lachance to sum up the Tao of the Doge in one sentence. He pauses. Thinks. Chooses his words carefully.
“Silliness is next to godliness.”
UPDATE: This article has been updated. The correct phrase is “Doing Only Good Everyday.”