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Crypto entrepreneur to pay $4.6 million for charity lunch with bitcoin skeptic Warren Buffett

Key Points
  • Cryptocurrency founder Justin Sun had the winning $4.57 million bid in the 20th-anniversary charity auction to have lunch with Warren Buffett.
  • Buffett has been a notable and outspoken bitcoin critic — calling it everything from "rat poison squared" to a "delusion" that "attracts charlatans."
  • Still, Sun says even the most successful investors of all time "can sometimes miss a coming wave," pointing to Buffett's investments in Kraft Heinz and general aversion to tech investing.
Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
David A. Grogan | CNBC

A cryptocurrency entrepreneur will pay millions to have lunch with one of the most notable bitcoin skeptics out there: Warren Buffett.

Justin Sun, founder of cryptocurrency TRON and CEO of file-sharing company BitTorrent, had the winning bid at $4.57 million. In an open letter posted on Medium, Sun said he would invite other blockchain industry leaders to dine with the legendary value investor in New York.

When asked for comment, Buffett laughed out loud and told CNBC's Becky Quick he was looking forward to the lunch.

Sun said in the letter that he was "a long-term believer (and certainly a big fan) of Buffett and his long-term value investing strategy," adding that "the long-term value investment strategy and cryptocurrency, in my eyes, are one in the same."

Based on his comments since 2013, Buffett would probably disagree with that characterization of cryptocurrency. The Berkshire Hathaway CEO has labeled the world's first and largest digital currency everything from "rat poison squared" to a "delusion" that "attracts charlatans." Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger has called it a "turd," and said at the annual shareholder meeting that trading cryptocurrencies is "just dementia."

They are in good company — Jamie Dimon and Bill Gates, economists Nouriel Roubini and Robert Shiller, and the fund managers Ray Dalio and Howard Marks have all questioned bitcoin's legitimacy. Buffett and others have been less critical of bitcoin's underlying technology blockchain, which has use cases aside from cryptocurrencies.

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Still, Sun said even the most successful investors of all time "can sometimes miss a coming wave."

"Buffett has admitted he overpaid for a big investment in food giant Kraft Heinz, while failing to realize the potential of the likes of Amazon.com Inc.; Alphabet, the parent of Google; and even Apple, " Sun said in the letter. "Buffett has said repeatedly he looks to invest in businesses in which he thinks there's a long-term competitive advantage. We in the blockchain industry have a lot to prove in that regard."

Sun started the digital token Tronix, better known as TRON two years ago. The cryptocurrency is now the 11th largest by market capitalization and is worth roughly $2.5 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.com. In January 2018, it was worth as much as $16 billion, according to the industry website. Bitcoin and most other cryptocurrencies have come crashing down from all-time highs hit around late 2017.

The proceeds from the lunch go to the Glide Foundation to help the homeless in San Francisco, where the software file-sharing company BitTorrent is located. While some winners have chosen to stay anonymous, Berkshire investment manager Ted Weschler and Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn have won in previous years. Sun's bid is the highest on record for the charity's 20-year history.

"I see this as a win for the entire blockchain community," Sun said. "We in the community know we have a long road ahead of us to educate the mainstream on blockchain's value and proper use cases. Rather than trying to get rich quick, we aim to counsel everyone that investment should be about vision and execution."