“Money isn’t a material reality – it is a psychological construct.” – Sapiens
I woke up this morning to a surprise $25,000 in my Coinbase Pro account. Five months ago, I transferred 222 Ethereum Classic (ETC) to this account because of lower fees and I forgot about them.
Now you can start to understand what all the excitement is about. Anybody who had held crypto for at least one year will have a similar story. Returns of 10x. Everyone thinks they’re a genius in an UP market.
My first touchpoint with crypto was in 2013 at an informational session given by the nerdy engineers at Airbnb. It piqued my interest, but I didn’t do anything with it nor did I understand what it was in any detail.
Fast-forward eight years and people, including the crypto experts, still can’t explain in simple terms much of the crypto world.
Even though I’ve been involved with crypto for a long time, I never really understood what it was myself. When I asked my crypto expert friends, their answers were unsatisfying. These experiences plus the 8-month bull run we’ve been experiencing inspired this article.
I will attempt to explain what bitcoin is and why it is useful, as well as other things like its riskiness and future potential.
Here is my very first bitcoin transaction in 2013:
That $0.89 is $60 today. An annual return on investment of over 800%. LOL.
Fast forward to the summer of 2017 and I found myself living in a coliving situation in Lisbon, Portugal full of crypto enthusiasts.
As I had just paid for my housing months earlier in Las Palmas, Spain with Bitcoin, I was ready and a little more able to learn more about the weird world of crypto.
These guys were enthusiastic. Super enthusiastic. I took note.
A few months later, I watched a documentary. Unfortunately, I can’t find the name, but this documentary communicated to me, in soft non-technical terms, how valuable Bitcoin was because of how scary it was to the government.
This was all I needed to know.
Soon, I sold all my traditional stock investments and put 100% of my money into Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin.
While that turned out to be a fantastically profitable idea, don’t congratulate me just yet.
Because in December 2020 and January 2021 I sold about 80% of my cryptocurrencies.
I did the math this morning and had I held until today I would be $392,000 richer.
Don’t feel too bad for me, though. I did sell for a handsome profit. And, to be crystal clear, I still believe 100% in Cryptocurrencies, probably more now than then.
UPDATE: I recently made my first crypto purchase of BTC at $34,000 since my selloff.
My assumption was that of trying to time the market (never a good idea) plus I thought I could use the money to buy an apartment in Medellin, Colombia which I still have not purchased. A frustrating story for another time.
Over the past eight months I’ve taken a few deep dives into cryptocurrencies in order to understand what it really is, what is its future, and how could things go wrong.
By the end of this article, I hope I’ll be able to communicate in as clear a way as possible what the world of cryptocurrency really is today and what it could be tomorrow.
I want to start by comparing the world of crypto to something that is familiar to us all: banks, or the current financial system.
Banks are an accounting system. That’s it. They simply keep records of inflows (deposits, income, loans) and outflows (expenses, interest payments, etc.). It’s a record of transactions (pluses and minus).
Banks are an accounting system run by humans and private.
Cryptocurrency is the same exact thing. That is to say, cryptocurrencies or the blockchain are an accounting system. However, there is one big difference: it’s public. The information on the blockchain (ie the accounting system) is publicly accessible.
Cryptocurrencies are an accounting system run by code and public.
The only other difference is in the complexity of each system. The traditional financial system (ie the banks) is tremendously built out and complex. The crypto markets are still in the process of being built with new functions like Defi, explained below, being released often.
If cryptocurrency is the internet, it’s 1995.If cryptocurrency is the internet, it’s 1995. Click To Tweet
Bitcoin is the most popular, valuable, and oldest cryptocurrency. It’s often referred to as digital gold.
To understand Bitcoin, you first have to understand cryptocurrency. This is the broadest term and the label for all digital currencies including popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Dogecoin.
Crypto is short for cryptography which is the decentralized system used to verify and record transactions on the public blockchain.
Each cryptocurrency has its own public blockchain. Think of the blockchain as an accounting system, or record of transactions.
For me, public is the keyword here. The current financial system is private. This is a BIG difference between cryptocurrency and traditional fiat currency used in the traditional banking system (ie the one that you’re already familiar with).
The other keyword is decentralized. Decentralized is the opposite of the current centralized banking system. Our current banking system is centralized because there are centralized powers (the FED, central banks, IMF, etc.) that make all the decisions that affect everyone else.
To be clear, crypto or Bitcoin is not synonymous with decentralized.
While Bitcoin and crypto were created with the intention of total decentralization, there exist apps and companies that are centralized (one source making decisions for the rest) and it’s possible for any cryptocurrency, including Bitcoin, to become centralized if people or groups take over a majority of Bitcoin holdings or start cooperating together in a majority situation. I go over this risk more in the section “Crypto Questions For The Experts” section below.
Bitcoin was developed in 2009 as an alternative to the traditional banking system by an unknown person named Satoshi Yakamoto.
You can think of bitcoin as an investment or a currency or both.
You can pay for things and services with Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies). For example, you can directly hire and pay a freelancer with Bitcoin.
If you can’t pay directly with Bitcoin there are numerous services that allow you to indirectly buy Airbnb gift cards, things from Amazon, etc. with your Bitcoin.
I use Bitcoin and cryptocurrency interchangeably in this guide. If you read the above section, you know the difference. But, to the average person, a crypto coin is a crypto coin.
There are many use cases for cryptocurrencies. But, let’s start with the big benefit of blockchains, the bedrock of cryptocurrency (read above section to learn more about what a blockchain is): no government or corporate censorship.
There’ve been instances of someone trying to raise money for a cause that PayPal or GoFundMe deems unworthy and restricts the user’s account. Not possible on the blockchain.
Pissed off the Government? Whistleblower? They can freeze your assets/bank accounts. Not possible on the blockchain. Bring outside the fiat financial system has huge benefits in these situations.
But, arguably the most useful feature today is simple money transfers and access to bank accounts.
Think of the times when you had to transfer money to anyone. It takes time to set up the transfer, costs money in fees to complete the transfer, and usually includes delays.
If you are sending money internationally, all three of these issues increase (delays, fees, and setup).
With crypto, all three of these problems are fixed. The fees are extremely low, the delay can be as short as seconds, and all you need is their public address (something that looks like this 1BvBjSEYstWhtqTFn5Au4m4GFg2xJaNVN2).
Transfers apply to everyone around the world. If you’re living in a first-world country, you typically don’t have issues opening bank accounts and accessing financial services.
This is not true for most of the world. Much of the world has no or limited access to sufficient banking services. Seventy percent of worldwide transactions are completed with cash.70% of worldwide transactions are completed with cash. Click To Tweet
Let me provide a personal experience.
My Spanish teacher lives in Antigua, Guatemala. I’d like to continue taking online classes with her no matter where I am in the world.
Today, this simple idea is tremendously difficult to accomplish because the current banking system makes it tremendously difficult to pay Ana, my Guatemalan Spanish teacher.
Paypal, the easiest solution, does not allow Ana to open an account. Even if it did, we’d still have delays and fees.
While Ana has a Guatemalan bank account, my banks don’t allow me to convert USD to GTQ, the Guatemalan currency. Even if they did, it would come at a commission of 10%+ and delays.
I can use Western Union, a popular money transfer company, but that requires Antigua, the city in which Ana is living to have a Western Union branch. Plus, it requires two trips to a physical location. Plus, the commission charge is upwards of 20%. I simply don’t want to do this.
In the end, what I did was send money to Ana’s friend, who has a PayPal account. We have to trust Ana’s friend, in addition to inconvenience her. PayPal took a 5% commission off the top to transfer USD to GTQ. There was also a fee simply to use PayPal to make the transfer. Then Ana’s friend had to withdraw this money, including other fees and commission, in addition to the inconvenience of having to go to an ATM and meet Ana somewhere to give her the money.
Wow. All for a simple transfer.
This is all solved if Ana opens an online crypto banking account which she owns and has unlimited access to. I could instantly transfer Ana some Bitcoin with a tiny fee.
Speaking of bank accounts, say goodbye to overdraft fees and interest charges. In the digital currency world, you can only send/spend what you have in your account.
This ease of transferring money should not be understated and applies to all people on Earth plus all businesses.
Today, if you want to do business in another country, you have to go through their banking system.
It just took my 2-months and lots of time and gathering of documentation to open a bank account in Colombia to purchase an apartment. Plus, I had to pay $1,500 simply to transfer my money from US Dollar to Colombian Peso.
Crypto fixes all of this. I am my own bank.
Let’s not forget shit governments, or simply just governments.
If you live in countries with shitty governments like Venezuela or Argentina…excuse me, if you live in a country with a government (yes, it’s meant to be that general, this applies to everyone) then you can make your own decision about what currency you want to hold in order to offset some risk that comes along with that government mishandling their finances which directly affects your money, future, and quality of life.
Don’t agree with Brexit? Transfer your money to the digital world and your government no longer can make significant decisions that greatly affect your wealth.
Or, let’s say you were living in Venezuela in 2015 and had a net worth in Venezuelan Bolivars of the equivalent of $1,000,000 USD. Today that would be worthless due to hyperinflation. Imagine that.
That’s not to say digital currencies cannot become worthless. They can. The value of money, including gold, is people’s perceptions and acceptance of it as a form of payment.
If the world didn’t believe gold was valuable, it wouldn’t be. If the world lost the belief that the US Dollar is stable, it wouldn’t be. Just as has happened to numerous currencies in the recent past (two discussed above).
The idea of currency is simply a shared imagination by many people, kind of like religion.
This is mostly a silly question, but you’ll undoubtedly find this argument online.
Bitcoin, like all money ever created in the history of the universe, does not have intrinsic value.
Does it matter? No.
Currency has value only to the extent that you can use it, whatever it is, to exchange with someone else for something else.
In the days of barter, if you owned an apple tree and needed new shoes, you’d have to find a shoemaker who likes apples.
But if everyone accepts and uses cowry shells or dollars or gold, trade becomes more efficient.
The utility of money is simply what you can do with it. You can do a lot with dollars, more than you can do with Colombian pesos so it’s more valuable.
Over the past decade, and especially the last eight months, the exposure that cryptocurrency has received is valuable because it exposes otherwise uninterested people to it.
With an increase in its utility (ie the things you can do with it) comes an increase in value. This is one of the reasons I sold initially. I attributed the initial increase in value simply to headline news articles without a corresponding increase in utility.
The longer Bitcoin stays in the public spotlight, the strong (and more valuable) it gets.
Bitcoins value, and any cryptocurrency value like Dogecoin, comes from how many people are familiar with it, are using it, are creating companies dealing with it, etc.
“The sum total of money in the world is about $60 trillion, yet the sum total of coins and banknotes is less than $6 trillion. More than 90 per cent of all money exists only on computer servers. Accordingly, most business transactions are executed by moving electronic data from one computer file to another, without any exchange of physical cash. Only a criminal buys a house, for example, by handing over a suitcase full of banknotes. As long as people are willing to trade goods and services in exchange for electronic data, it’s even better than shiny coins and crisp banknotes – lighter, less bulky, and easier to keep track of.” – Sapiens
Listen very clearly, the government has demonstrated with their actions that they are extraordinarily terrified of Bitcoin and digital currency.
This is the main reason why I sold all my traditional stocks (at a loss) in 2018 and went all-in with cryptocurrency.
But this comes with a problem because, at the current moment, the government’s resources are limitless. That means they have the smartest people on their side.
With the smartest people in the room and unlimited resources, they have at their disposal various strategies to do with bitcoin what they wish, including making it nearly obsolete.
Of course, they could regulate it. If they regulate it, that would do much harm to the industry because most people are law-abiding citizens and will obey these regulations.
It’s easier to follow the crowd and obey regulations rather than oppose them. It’s human nature.
It will also raise the already high bar for anyone who had an interest in understanding and getting involved in the world of crypto.
They could go directly after individuals, as they already have, with extraordinarily unjust punishments. That would do much harm to the current innovation that is making the world of crypto so interesting.
They could come up with some kind of a smear campaign to ruin its reputation. They’ve done this numerous times in the past. Think marijuana, Sadam Husein, Vietnam, China, bitcoin, etc.
They could infiltrate the world of crypto and covertly take it over. Or, the existing powers that be can do the same. Do we think the enormously rich and powerful banking system is sitting back in a wait and see strategy? No.
No, that is not happening. More likely what is happening behind the scenes is them figuring out how to gain control of the new system and profit and benefit from it just as they are doing in the current system.
While none of this could bring bitcoin to zero, it doesn’t have to. If only 1% of the current users continue using crypto money after the governments’ covert campaigns, it’s over.
That’s the bad news. There’s also good news.
What the crypto world has going for it right now, is that the current rendition of experts, believers, and crypto company founders are also some of the smartest guys in the world. They are mission-driven much more than profit-driven. They envision a different future. And, they would not help the government destroy its potential.
This is doing wonders for cryptocurrencies, having very smart people contribute their brainpower towards improving the network, the usability, the variety of services, etc.
However, this will change.
I’m not sure when, but this will change.
Think of it like a startup. Let’s say Airbnb circa 2007 when they were founded. The first employees were the founders, undoubtedly huge believers in the idea.
The next employees, I’m sure, were also big believers in the idea. You had to be in order to take such a big risk with your future income. Airbnb succeeded, but most startups fail.
I was the 700th employee. I was/am a big believer in the company, but I already knew many were there for the reputation, resume-boosting company, and future earning potential.
After Airbnb grows enough and matures and hires their 2,000th employee, that employee probably doesn’t have much of a passion for the vision of Airbnb. The job that 2,000th employee was hired for is probably just a job. Building maintenance. HR. Payroll. Or, in Airbnb’s case, a chef.
The world of crypto has to get too big to fail by the time we arrive at people entering the crypto space motivated by a job or profit, rather than the vision of changing the centralized global financial system.
This is why bull runs over the past year are so important in bringing recognition and acceptance to the crypto world.
In 2007 when Brian Chesky, Airbnb founder, told people about his crazy idea, he got some advice to keep his day job. In 2021, as a multi-billionaire, we know his crazy idea got enough recognition and acceptance to be hugely successful.
Those are the biggest risks as I see it. However, there are innumerable other risks which I will mention below as they are all theories, but things you should be thinking of before you invest.
When you enter the crypto world, you are your own bank. This is as powerful as it is scary. When I sold a lot of my cryptos a few months back, I was relieved because I was carrying around with me hundreds of thousands of dollars.
What if I lost it? What if I was robbed? What if I forgot my password? What if I transfered something incorrectly and lost the money forever? Etc. That’s big responsibility that many people might not be comfortable with. I think this is a smaller risk as there are already solutions in progress.
It’s a human creation. Just like fiat money, also made by humans, it can be fucked with by humans.
How? That part I don’t know. But, I hear in caps IT CAN’T BE HACKED. Or the blockchain has never been hacked. False. It can be. And it will be. Of course. C’mon. See the next section.
The notion of it being decentralized is semi-false. While technically Bitcoin is decentralized and many companies, miners, and protocols are decentralized, many are not. But even those that technically are decentralized could become centralized if a few of the major players join forces. It’s called a 51% attack.
Recently, I learned about some kind of inflation bug in Bitcoin which allowed for the unlimited creation of bitcoins. LOL. The code had to be rolled back in 2010 to correct this coding error.
Supposedly it could’ve happened again, but an honest engineer figured it out and reported the problem.
This engineer is first-generation. His goals are change rather than profit. That will change with time and so will the risks.
For me, the ultimate question is whether or not cryptocurrency is better than the current system. So far, the answer is pointing towards yes.
This article was spawned by the unsatisfactory answers I received over the past years from claimed crypto experts plus my own inability to understand.
Most of my questions I was able to answer over the past eight months of research, but there still remain some that I’m hoping a crypto expert can provide a complete and succinct answer to.
At the very least these are topics that future crypto users should be thinking about for a full understanding of how the ecosystem works.
The notion of limited supply as it relates to Bitcoin or any coin is shaky for me.
I understand there are only 21 million BTC that will ever be digitally minted. It’s been described as digital gold, a fixed supply guaranteeing an increase in value. Ok. Kinda. Except we mine about 3,000 tons of new gold every single year with no end in sight.
Regardless, Bitcoin is digital. For me, as for most people in the crypto space, Bitcoin or Litecoin or Ethereum or even Dogecoin doesn’t have much of a difference. They’re interchangeable.
As an investment, one will do better than the others, but it’s a gamble. As for spending, they’re identical minus some differences in fees and speed.
I don’t care one bit that Bitcoin has a limited supply. If there’s no more Bitcoin, I’ll buy any of the other dozens of other reputable coins currently (and dozens more in the near future).
The notion of it being unhackable is nonsense. It was made by humans and so it can (and will be) manipulated and fucked with by humans.
It reminds me of a quote from a Roman architect around 0 BC saying something to the effect that we’re currently at our technological limits as humans in terms of structure height and complexity.
He was assuming the world would remain fixed. Little did he know we now build straight to heaven.
Just because something is true today (bitcoin has never been hacked) doesn’t mean it’s going to be true tomorrow. Additionally, our world and knowledge are less complete today than it will be tomorrow. For these reasons, we don’t know the future and the hackability of bitcoin.
Just like we quote gold in fiat currency, we quote bitcoin in terms of fiat. If crypto is supposed to become the new money supply, it seems strange to me that we’re tying it to the US Dollar or the Euro or British Pound.
I’ve used crypto money to pay for a whole bunch of things. It works like this: it costs $100, now send us the equivalent of $100….in Bitcoin or whatever. Seems strange, no?
What are the biggest weaknesses of crypto? No one can answer this for me. I’ve made my own attempt above in answering this question.
The crypto bros are too bullish. But when I ask them what are the biggest weaknesses of the dollar or fiat currency, you bet they have a list ready to go.
This smells like trouble.
I know there are a lot of assumptions, and probably errors, in the above section, please clear them up for me and the readers in the comments second. Thanks a million bitcoin in advance!
For this section, I read a book titled How To Defi. DeFi is just the next addition to the complexity of the crypto world.
To be a true worldwide financial system, the crypto world needs to do everything that the traditional finance world already does.
Defi solves one of those problems: borrowing and lending.
Today, I can go to the bank and borrow a loan (sometimes). Defi allows this always. Defi also allows you (yes, you!) to borrow crypto based on your current crypto as collateral. Today, these loans are overcollateralized.
That means if you want to borrow $1,000, you’d have to commit $1,000 multiplied by some factor greater than one (say $1,500).
If that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry. Just know that there are many reasons (tax reasons being one) why someone would want to do that, but it’s outside the beginner scope of this article.
For me, the real interesting part of Defi is the lending side. I can lend my cryptocurrencies and earn interest upwards of 10%. It’s called staking.
For example, if I stake my USDC (a cryptocurrency based on the dollar and always at $1 per coin) then I earn an interest rate by committing my crypto to the network.
When I stake a cryptocoin, I cannot use that crypto coin until I unstake it which I can do at any time.
If I stake $1,000 of USDC at 10% interest for one year, I will earn $100. However, at any time and without penalty I can choose to unstake the USDC and I will keep whatever interest I’ve earned.
If you’ve ever taken a certificate of deposit at a bank, it’s very similar. Expect you can withdraw your money at any time and you earn a much higher interest rate.
If you are interested to buy and stake some cryptocurrency, I recommend you start with some of the more popular DeFi platforms: Celsius or BlockFi.
As an aside, question for the crypto experts, why does Coinbase give 0.15% on USDC while other platforms give 6%+ and upwards of 12.5% on Ledn?
A Crypto lottery is a cool, new feature coming out. Before I explain how it works, I first want to address something you’ll probably be sold right away.
“Crypto lotteries are no cost!”
You’ll often hear that crypto lottery is no-cost or free. This is partially true. While it’s true that if you commit $1 to a crypto lottery, you will get $1 returned if you don’t win. However, the cost would be what you could do with that $1.
In this case, you could stake that $1 and earn interest. We learned about staking in the above section. By playing a crypto lottery, you are missing out on interest that you could otherwise earn for a chance to win more.
As we know, interest in the crypto world is significant, upwards of 20%. I’m currently making 12.5% on USDC at Ledn. USDC is marked to the US Dollar so there is no more risk than the already mentioned risks above.
As for how they work, crypto lottery winnings are based on earnings related to staking a particular crypto coin.
A group of cryptocoin holders will all commit as much as they individually want of a particular coin to the network as a group stake. The earnings on that stake will be distributed to a winner. The more you stake or commit, the higher your chances of winning the interest for that lottery.
Winners are announced weekly or monthly depending on the platform and the coin.
If you’re interested in this, please check out PoolTogether.
Dogecoin is a cryptocurrency just like any other. However, unlike most cryptocurrencies which shroud themselves in technical, crypto slang, and complexities, dogecoin was created as a joke in 2013 by two IBM software engineers.
I believe the popularity of dogecoin has a lot to do with the fact that it was started as a joke.
It made the complex and confusing crypto world seem accessible to people otherwise befuddled by it.
People who never invested in any cryptocurrency have Dogecoin. Why? Because it was a joke. And by being a joke, it made it easier to buy. They’re going in with a different mindset.
This guy invested all of his life savings in dogecoin and is now a multi-millionaire.
UPDATE: he is no longer a millionaire as Dogecoin fell to around $0.30.
Should you invest in Dogecoin? If you want to, sure. Let’s be honest, most people are not thoroughly researching any of the cryptocurrencies they are buying just as most people aren’t thoroughly researching the USD before buying it.
If you have some extra cash and want to make an investment, go for it. Don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.
I don’t own any Dogecoin and recommend you purchase Bitcoin or Ethereum, but again, who am I to give you this advice? Dogecoin could go to $10 per coin while Bitcoin or Ethereum remain stagnant.
The easiest way to start investing in cryptocurrencies is to sign up for an exchange like Coinbase, Kraken, or Binance.
Coinbase and Kraken are US companies.
Binance is Chinese.
You can create an account quite easily. You might have to complete an extra step to verify yourself called KYC regulations (Know Your Customer). You will connect your bank account and can then make a deposit of fiat currency (USD, AUD, MXN).
After the deposit, you will click ‘trade’ or ‘buy’ with the ticker symbol of your chosen crypto.
The most popular cryptocurrencies are Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), and Litecoin (LTC).
Some other currencies that I am personally invested in based on research and information from trusted individuals involved in the crypto space are
If you have any questions about how to get started, please ask me a question publicly in the comments and not privately through an Instagram message. Thank you.
To conclude, crypto is risky. And the only question is whether the current system is better or worse than the new cryptosystem.
It’s risky for a variety of reasons. It’s new. It’s unproven. It’s volatile. There’s pending regulation.
I’m even in a WhatsApp group that talks about pumping new coins with influencer sponsorships. That’s sketchy. But when no one really knows what’s going on, this can happen. Fry Fest. Enron. Mortgaged-back financial crisis. Dot com boom and bust.
When I really started learning about Bitcoin in 2017/2018, I deeply believed in it. I still do believe in the world of cryptocurrency. But I would be naive to assume the Bitcoin I believed in from 2017 is the same as it is today.
It could be. Or not. I really don’t know.
That’s why I was so relieved after selling much earlier this year. Because I don’t know. No one does.
It’s risky. The higher the risk, the higher the reward.
I suppose it was riskier in 2017 than it is now so you can expect lower profits. The crypto bros would disagree. They’d say we’re just getting started. They could be right.
Don’t listen to anyone claiming this or that coin will double by end of the year or BTC will go to a million within 10 years. No one knows.
It’s a gamble with a huge upside, but also a downside.
I saw and I continue to see the value in it. However, the people who could most use it, simply don’t have access to it. Will that change? Maybe. No one knows.
I’m still invested in the crypto world and plan to be in the future. I also use my crypto to pay for things. There are numerous, highly valuable use cases for this stuff.
That’s today. Tomorrow the options are limitless. Everything is going digital. Tech is the future. We ain’t seen nothing yet.
My general recommendation would be to wait for a dip and invest some of your money into one of the more well-known crypto coins mentioned in this article. Put a little bit in every few months. It’s called dollar-cost averaging and it’s powerful.
Happy coining and I hope you’ll keep me up to date on how you progress in the crypto world.
“Why do I believe in the cowry shell or gold coin or dollar bill? Because my neighbors believe in them. And my neighbors believe in them because I believe in them. And we all believe in them because our king believes in them and demands them in taxes, and because our priest believes in them and demands them in tithes.” – Sapiens