Crypto may be feeling a bit down this year, but it's had quite the upward climb over the years. Sure, the cryptocurrency market's volatility can be a wild ride, but for patient investors, it can also be a source of opportunity.

In fact, if you had the foresight to invest in Bitcoin (BTC -0.13%) back in 2015, you'd be sitting on a pretty impressive stack of cash right now -- even if your first Bitcoin buy was tiny. Let's take a look at just how much you could have made by taking a humble chance on Bitcoin a few years ago.

Why 2015?

Call me nostalgic, but I'm going back to my own toe-dipping start in the cryptocurrency waters.

I had my first taste of Bitcoin on March 4, 2015. One Bitcoin was worth $587 that fine Tuesday morning. As a fun little experiment, I decided to skip a couple of premium cappuccinos that week, grabbing $20 of Bitcoin instead. So I signed up for a Coinbase (COIN 4.23%) account, completed the numerous digital security steps, linked up a bank account, and walked away with 0.0335 Bitcoins.

The steady flow of caffeine never stopped or even slowed down, of course. I hardly even noticed the cost of that Bitcoin bite since it was such a small fraction of my personal budget.

That tiny sliver of a digital coin has seen some neck-bending volatility in roughly eight years. At Bitcoin's all-time peak value of $68,991 per coin, my experimental investment of $20 was suddenly worth $2,311.

That was about 13 months ago, in early November of 2021. An inflation-powered market retreat from high-risk investments such as Bitcoin has weighed on the cryptocurrency since then, amplified by several scandals in the crypto sector. Bitcoin prices have plunged in this unstable market. Today, my old Jackson bill of Bitcoin is hovering at a total value of roughly $560.

What's up with the tiny investment?

Back in 2015, I didn't really understand how Bitcoin worked or what it could do. The game-changing promise of an ultra-secure, digital-transaction ledger on a global scale was lost on me. Finer points, such as Bitcoin's strictly limited supply, low transaction costs, and independence from global and national money management regimes, also went over my head.

It all feels natural and sensible to me now. Things were different in 2015.

Let's be clear. I wasn't really investing in Bitcoin in 2015. I had not yet collected any evidence that this newfangled class of digital assets would have any staying power or that Bitcoin should continue to lead that sector for years to come.

So I saw it as a gamble on a new idea that was making some people very excited, while others shrugged it off as another tulip mania, That's why I committed only a small amount of money to this project in the early days. Losing it all would not have been a personal tragedy, only a minor inconvenience. Larger stakes followed later but only after I had built up a solid understanding of the bigger cryptocurrency picture.

The unexpected success of my Bitcoin experiment

In hindsight, I wish I had kicked more money into that first Bitcoin buy. A larger buy would have made a more significant difference, of course. Bitcoin prices are up 28-fold over this sample period, which works out to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 53.3%.

A fairly modest buy of $100 back then would be worth $2,800 today and that's after the bloodcurdling drop Bitcoin prices saw over the last 13 months. A more enterprising investment of $1,000 would have grown to $28,000 by now -- enough to buy a mid-range new car.

Investing in new and unproven ideas can be a way to potentially earn high returns. Still, it's important to understand that it also involves taking on a higher level of risk. This means that there is a chance that you could lose some or all of your investment.

However, suppose you believe in the potential of a risky idea, such as Bitcoin in 2015 or 2022, and have done your due diligence in researching and evaluating it. In that case, a small investment may still be worth considering. This is because a small investment has the potential to turn into a much larger one if Bitcoin proves its real-world utility and continues to grow in the long run.

Bitcoin has become a helpful portion of my portfolio, and I expect this asset to deliver more value in years to come, but I'm not betting the proverbial farm on this so-called digital gold. It is important to carefully consider the potential risks and rewards before making any investment decision, and you should diversify your portfolio in order to mitigate risk.

The word Cryptocurrency is written on a highway that leads up to a huge question mark in the sky.

Where is Bitcoin going from here? Image source: Getty Images.

Balancing Bitcoin's potential risks and rewards

In the end, it's fine to place a small bet on Bitcoin -- or any other cryptocurrency you want to understand better -- just to see where it goes over the years. Having just a little bit of skin in the game can motivate you to learn more about the thing you own. As your knowledge grows and the market develops, you can either cash in your gambling chips and walk away or turn them into a serious investment later on.

The road to success is often paved with risk. Just make sure you have a good map and a sturdy pair of shoes.