When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, global governments and central banks kicked into gear with economic stimulus to protect consumers and businesses from the impacts of the virus and social restrictions.

The trillions of dollars in fresh money flowing through the economy led to distortions in financial markets, as investors loaded with cash piled into fast-growing assets looking for returns. The cryptocurrency sector became a hotbed for speculation, and the value of all tokens in existence rocketed to more than $2.9 trillion by late 2021.

The star of that show was an obscure dog-themed meme token called Shiba Inu (SHIB -3.00%), which delivered one of the greatest gains in financial history during that year. But exactly how much would early investors have made? 

Had you invested $100 in Shiba Inu on Jan. 1, 2021, I'll show you the mind-blowing amount you'd have today -- despite the token, and the broader crypto sector, plunging in value during the past year or so. 

Two people laughing as money falls down on them from above.

Image source: Getty Images.

Shiba Inu has struggled to find staying power

It is estimated that almost 22,000 different cryptocurrencies have come to exist, but outside of the majors like Bitcoin and Ethereum, the overwhelming majority have faded into irrelevance. That's mostly because they have no utility, so there's little reason for mass adoption among consumers and businesses, which means it's hard for them to sustain any value.

Shiba Inu is no exception, but it does have a passionate community behind it, including developers who continue to create new use cases. There's no denying, however, that when it was introduced in 2020 as the supposed Dogecoin killer, its surging gains drove most of the attention and not its usefulness as a currency. 

In fact, as of this writing, a mere 732 merchants accept Shiba Inu as payment for goods and services. Considering there are more than 333 million companies worldwide, the token has a long way to go, though its lack of progress in nearly three years of existence doesn't inspire confidence.

The token is entering a new era

Shiba Inu developers are gearing up to release Shibarium, which is a Layer-2 blockchain solution that will reduce transaction costs and payment friction. The original blockchain is built upon the legacy Ethereum network, which is clunky by comparison, so the community is optimistic Shibarium could drive more adoption.

Additionally, a Shiba Inu metaverse is in production which will introduce a new use case for the token. Users who own plots of virtual land will be able to rename them for a price paid in Shiba Inu tokens, which will be burned to help reduce its enormous supply

While these initiatives sound exciting, investors should temper their expectations about their impact on Shiba Inu's value in the long-term. The metaverse might very well be the future of social connection, but it's still an unproven technology today with limited demand. And even if Shibarium makes Shiba Inu a more viable payment option, consumers probably won't take it up unless they can spend it at their favorite stores day-to-day. 

Nonetheless, some of Shiba Inu's earliest investors probably aren't sweating those details.

Here's how much $100 invested in Shiba Inu on Jan. 1, 2021 would be worth now

Strap on your seatbelt, because you're about to be blown away. On Jan. 1, 2021, Shiba Inu tokens were trading hands at a price of $0.000000000077, and today they trade at about $0.00001114.

That's a gain of 14,467,432%. In dollar terms, had you invested $100 on Jan. 1, 2021 and held on until today, you'd be sitting on an absolute fortune worth almost $14.5 million.

But believe it or not, that's after Shiba Inu tokens plunged in value by 87%. If you had a crystal ball and sold your tokens on Oct. 28, 2021, when Shiba Inu hit an all-time high price of $0.00008841, you'd have cashed in a mind-boggling $114.8 million!

Where might Shiba Inu head next? Despite a broader crypto comeback so far in 2023, I'd still bet that over the long term Shiba Inu's trajectory is to the downside. That's because it has very little utility, and the initiatives developers are working on at the moment probably won't generate enough widespread adoption to move the needle. When it comes to the potential for another life-changing rally, Shiba Inu might be more bark than bite.