There’s A LOT of confusion as to what crypto even is.
Some people think it’s a scam, maybe a pyramid scheme, but definitely not a form of money.
Some people think it’s the future and will inevitably take over the world.
Who’s right? I don’t know.
I know both perspectives have their flaws and biases built in, so this guide serves one main purpose:
Educate around the information, data, and trends we have available and present it in an easy-to-read manner.
Right now, in early 2022, crypto has a ~$1.7 trillion market cap — for comparison, the market cap of gold is about $11 trillion.
Gold’s been around for centuries, crypto’s been here for about a decade...
It’s too big to be ignored, yet too mysterious to be properly understood.
So before we dive in, it’s important to set the stage, clear some myths, highlight some truths, and lay out what the crypto world and this decentralized "metaverse" environment looks like right now.
And I think the best way to understand the crypto environment is through a visual:
Since cryptocurrencies are essentially just digital money, the foundation of blockchain vs traditional banking is one of the biggest differences to understand because everything in the digital asset space builds off of blockchain - and what blockchain could replace (or work in parallel with) has the biggest initial impact on the financial system.
But first, there are a few truths and myths that should be established to paint an accurate picture of what’s happening:
There’s no denying that digital currencies are here.
And being “here” doesn’t mean regular money is disappearing - or even should disappear.
Things can coexist.
It’s not always either / or.
And if you’ve heard that “crypto” is taking over the world, it’s important to mention that crypto isn’t really building a new economy.
The underlying technology (blockchain) that allows cryptocurrencies to exist is giving us the ability to make the existing economies more efficient and more productive through the use of digital currencies, more advanced technologies, and cleaner financial rails.
For a business, that could mean more profitability. For you, that could mean easier financial transactions (from daily payments, to getting a mortgage) and more control over your assets.
If you live in America and have easy access to a bank, your day-to-day life most likely won’t be drastically impacted by crypto adoption for some time (unless, perhaps, you’re investing in it).
But not all countries have the financial infrastructure that the United States does.
And even then, how great is the existing infrastructure?
You can’t access your money outside of banking hours and if we’re being honest, your money isn’t even at the bank.
They’re lending it out and earning much more than the .06% interest they’re paying you because they’re in the business of making money.
To understand the impact digital currency and decentralized finance could have, you have to be empathetic.
It’s bigger than you. It’s bigger than all of us.
Now, I’m not alluding to the idea that worldwide adoption of cryptocurrency is entirely inevitable and that crypto is the answer to every world problem.
I don’t believe that to be true.
But what I can do is share my thoughts, provide education, and curate the information we have available in a consumable way so you can begin to form your own opinions and perspectives about the technology and the impact it could have.
So, let’s get started, shall we?
I believe there are two general ways to look at crypto and the decentralized finance world:
As an investment, or as a movement - or both.
For most people, crypto is probably not something to be investing money in yet—depending on your situation, of course—because it’s so new and can be viewed as risky.
And in being responsible, you have to take care of your own financial foundations first, so I wrote this article:
But after that, your extra money should be spent or invested however you'd like.
I always preach "don't invest in things you don't understand" and frankly, I hope by the end of this guide you do understand crypto so you can comfortably invest in it. It's a fun space, there's unbelievable amounts of innovation taking place, but just like the internet bubble in the late 90s, a lot of crypto projects are going to crash and burn.
However, there will be projects and coins and new technologies that will come out on top and be clear winners. For example, Bitcoin and Ethereum are the two blockchain leaders right now, but there could also be another blockchain developed in the next decade that makes Ethereum obsolete just like iPhones crushed cassette players, CD players, and home phones when we thought the technology was revolutionary at the time.
Who knows 🤷🏻
And that's the thing. That's why I believe it’s still considered "speculative".
Yes, the individual tokens, coins, and NFTs that are available for you to invest in right now could go to $0, but I don't believe the technology will.
And before we dive in, I think there's a key distinction to make between the meaning of two similar words: cryptocurrency and digital currency. From my perspective, I view crypto as the existing, more decentralized assets. Digital currencies can be the US Dollar, but digital. With saying that, I mean that bitcoin doesn't have to be the world currency for the digital asset environment to exist.
Nonetheless, blockchain technology, digital assets, and digital currencies are here to stay.
They'll take many, many different forms over the years.
But they're here.
And technology doesn't go backwards.
To understand why crypto even exists it helps to know when bitcoin, the most prominent and truest cryptocurrency, was first introduced:
2008 - in the heart of a financial crisis that altered the lives of millions.
As hard working Americans saw the economy collapse, fueled by money-hungry banks and bankers, those same Americans also saw those same banks get bailed out by the government.
Unemployment skyrocketed, the housing market collapsed, the stock market tanked, and Wall Street was still lining their pockets throughout the process. That'd be like if the CEO of where you work ran the company into the ground, you lost your job and house, didn't get unemployment, and then the CEO gets another $10 million from his trust fund to start a new business like nothing ever happened.
Anyways, I digress.
People had recognized the problems with finance for years, but this time (2008-09) was different.
As we noted in the intro, one of the main problems cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology are solving is making the financial systems more efficient and more equitable - and because the underlying problem being solved is based around central banking, even Thomas Jefferson had concerns when the first central bank was created:
So, the digital solution to the existing economies and banking structures was first introduced into the world on October 31st, 2008.
Enter: The Bitcoin Whitepaper (10 min read)
The Bitcoin Whitepaper is like the cryptocurrency manifesto.
The anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto published it into the world and outlined their main goal:
A transaction system that doesn’t rely on third parties and prevents double-spending through a peer-to-peer network with public registration of all transactions that cannot be corrupted or reversed.
Now, that sounds very confusing, but don’t worry - we explain more about bitcoin and blockchain below in the next section.
But first, let’s highlight a few of the existing problems in the traditional finance and banking structure since crypto is aiming to solve them:
So the altruistic mission of cryptocurrencies is to solve some of the existing problems and create a new form of money and value transfer.
But what is money?
At its most basic form, money is just an exchange of value.
Before the first central bank was created, beans were money. Corn was money. Fabrics were money. Chocolate was money. Everything that was traded or bartered was “money”.
Of course, over time, money has evolved into many different forms.
Coins and paper money were introduced as a more efficient means of exchanging value and central banking aimed to stabilize the value so it could be used as a currency.
A common concern from many people is that cryptocurrencies don’t have any value, but let’s take a step back first - why does the US Dollar have value?
Well, because we’ve given it value. I hate to say it, but it really is that simple. The US Dollar is a meme. And no, the dollar is not backed by gold - we haven’t been on the gold standard since 1971...
We’ve collectively (and unconsciously) agreed that dollars and coins have value and can be exchanged for goods and services.
Now it has one of the strongest network effects in the world. That’s why the US Dollar won’t go away for awhile, if it ever does.
I wouldn’t be surprised if it just evolved into a digital form on its own blockchain or on top of an existing blockchain.
Nonetheless, crypto isn't an underground, nerd currency - it's a new form of money.
Remember: Money is just an exchange of value. Being issued by a government or being printed on paper isn’t a qualification to be considered “money”.
If we’re in the midst of a shift to operating in and getting value from a digital environment, shouldn’t transfers of value reflect the same digital nature?
So to sum up “why” cryptocurrencies are being created and adopted - the main reason is simply to make the worldwide financial systems more efficient and more equitable.
It’s not being created so early-adopter tech bros can get even more rich if bitcoin goes to $1,000,000. The price of bitcoin doesn’t matter. The price of NFTs don’t matter.
The existing financial infrastructure is on the brink of being rebuilt and replaced by better technologies than what they're currently using - that’s all.
To truly understand Bitcoin (or any crypto), you first have to understand blockchain.
But for starters, I like to think of crypto like math.
You started with learning the numbers and basic operations like addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication. With those 4 disciplines, you can generally solve any math problem.
The problems can get more complex, but the basics are still there.
In crypto, it's the same thing.
Everything in crypto is built off of blockchain.
Bitcoin and Ethereum are both blockchains.
Every NFT that’s been purchased this year can be verified on its native blockchain.
Blockchain is just a piece of technology that stores data.
Blockchain is almost like Apple’s iCloud, Amazon Web Services, or Google’s Cloud service - it’s a powerful technology that functions behind the scenes and we don’t really care how it works, we just need it to work for us when we use it.
And if you use the internet & have apps on your phone but don’t know what Amazon Web Services is or how it works, that will be the equivalent to understanding “blockchain” in a digital currency environment.
Having a deep understanding of how it works won’t be required to interact and use the things built on top of it (digital currencies, NFTs, etc).
But knowing how blockchain works can give some people a feeling of comfort knowing that the currencies and applications being built on top them are backed by legitimate technology.
So here’s a quick visual explainer of how it works:
In this example, the network can be anyone in the world with an internet connection.
That’s one reason you hear the term “decentralized” in the context of crypto.
Rather than, let’s say.. Wells Fargo, routing and settling your payments and transactions, anyone in the world can help in the process of verification so the payment can be made without the bank.
This is what the payment processing and settlement structure looks like behind the scenes in traditional banking:
The blockchain way makes a little more sense, right?
The traditional payment system is borderline archaic for how much technology it requires and how inefficient it is. Systems like this are what I’m referring to when I mention that blockchain provides “cleaner financial rails”.
Now, the fact that anyone can verify transactions doesn’t mean security is sacrificed either.
It means that the transaction has been verified through the hashing algorithm being solved by a node (a computer) connected to the network.
This verification process is also known as mining
That’s also one reason why blockchain is so secure. Once a transaction is verified it becomes part of the chain - which is irreversible.
Each piece of data (such as a transaction) is contained in a block and blocks include more than one piece of data. After a block is verified, it gets pushed back and a new block falls into its place and the process happens again.
The "chain" part of blockchain means there is an ongoing string of blocks (which contain every transaction and piece of data stored on the blockchain).
In general, data cannot be altered once a block is verified and added to the chain, which is also why it’s considered to be extremely secure.
So for example, every transaction made with bitcoin since it was first introduced can be verified on-chain and can be found on the public ledger.
In addition to that quick explainer of how it works—because you may learn in a different way that someone else does—here are two (2) different perspectives on explaining blockchain:
Knowing what blockchain is, it's then important to establish the difference between Bitcoin & bitcoin.
We’re using Bitcoin as the first example because many people believe that it has the truest blockchain and token structure (and I agree). We touched on the basics of blockchain, so the only thing you really need to remember about the difference between “Bitcoin” and “bitcoin” is that there’s a difference.
Bitcoin (with a capital “B”) refers to the Bitcoin blockchain.
Bitcoin (with a little “b”) refers to the cryptocurrency that you can buy and sell.
At its most basic form, bitcoin is just digital money (exchange of value).
But it has two key traits that separate it from the meme coins and whatever other crypto you may come across:
1. It has a limited supply of 21,000,000 coins (which helps drive its value, similar to gold)
2. It is the most widely adopted crypto and has the most liquidity
The easiest way to think about the bitcoin & blockchain structure is referencing the traditional banking structure in the US.
Central banks create and issue US Dollars - the Bitcoin blockchain generates bitcoin.
Now, since there's only ever going to be 21,000,000 bitcoin, how do they become generated?
In the mining graphic we showed in the blockchain section, people aren't going to hook up their computers and verify transactions for fun, so they have to be incentivized (just like a banker has to be incentivized with a salary to do their job).
That incentive is bitcoin.
For every successful block mined (verified), the miner receives bitcoin.
The incentive was designed to issue less and less bitcoin over time (aka halving) and the last bitcoin is set to be mined in the year 2140.
So far, ~19,000,000 bitcoin have been mined in roughly a decade and it's estimated that 1/5 of all bitcoins are lost.
So scarcity definitely comes into play when thinking about bitcoin and its value.
But the biggest thing to keep in mind when thinking about cryptocurrencies is where the value is coming from and how it's being created.
Is the value coming from its core fundamentals and use cases, or because of a potential price increase and amount of attention it's receiving..?
(Looking at you Shiba Inu - $SHIB)
So, what are some of the use cases for bitcoin?
If you’ve ever tried to send money back home, overseas, or used Western Union before—don’t hate me for showing you this video—but watch what a combination of the Lightning Network, Twitter, Strike's API, and bitcoin can do:
Now, how much longer before the technology is adopted at scale? I don’t know, but I would think it has to be sooner rather than later. If adopted, this would put Western Union and similar payment companies out of business if they don’t adapt. And we’ve seen innovative technologies eat closed-minded businesses before.
Uber & taxis. Netflix & Blockbuster.
The entire financial industry could very well be the third course of that meal.
But.. why does bitcoin itself have value?
Well, remember how money is an exchange of value and we’ve assigned value to the US Dollar over time?
Same thing here. The fact that it has a limited supply of 21,000,000 helps drive its value because of scarcity much like gold, but it has value because we’ve shown it does with our money and our attention.
If everyone stopped investing in it, it wouldn’t have value.
But that most likely will never happen.
Because it’s at its core it has sound fundamentals that provide solutions to existing problems, and it has such a strong narrative and belief system behind it - and now institutions and companies are adding it to their balance sheet and countries are adopting it as legal currency.
Bitcoin as a whole is the perfect brand story.
It was introduced in a time of chaos (2008-09), it positioned itself as a hero (which is necessary to every storyline), and it paints a villain that it’s trying to take down (central banking).
Anyone that truly believes in that storyline will never let it go.
And this simple fact of having a storyline is way more powerful than you may think.
To give you an idea of bitcoin’s history, here’s a timeline of its price action and significant events over the past decade:
It’s been an absolutely wild ride to say the least - and this chart doesn’t even take into account what happened during the pandemic.
If I invested back in 2013, I would’ve probably sold at that little bump in early 2014 and happily taken my profits.
But that’s neither here nor there.
Before we dive into other areas of cryptocurrency, I want to highlight some of the risks that sit alongside bitcoin:
Now that we have an understanding of blockchain and how it serves as the underlying structure for a cryptocurrency, we can explore Ethereum & Ether - another blockchain/cryptocurrency pair.
Ethereum is the second largest blockchain behind bitcoin and it’s native token - Ether (ETH) - is the second most popular cryptocurrency by market cap.
Created by Vitalik Buterin in 2015, his whitepaper highlights the details, mission, and vision for Ethereum:
Ether is similar to bitcoin is the sense that they’re both digital currencies, but Ethereum and Ether expanded on bitcoin’s altruistic mission by making money “programmable”.
What do I mean by programmable?
Essentially, the Ethereum blockchain has made it more possible to create an efficient, global economy through the use of decentralized apps (dApps) and smart contracts.
Those links will further explain what each term means, and we’re going to dive further into decentralization and smart contracts below in the Decentralized Finance section.
But for a quick overview, decentralized apps are used in tandem with smart contracts to automate different kinds of applications ranging from finance to gaming. From a user’s perspective, it’s not much different than a regular web-based app or game. On a global scale, decentralized apps and smart contracts create an opportunity for a borderless economy like we’ve never seen.
But that likely doesn’t mean much to you, right?
You’d rather know if it’s a good investment and if the price of ether is going to go up.
And that’s fair, but that’s not the point of this guide. Nobody can predict prices (and if you come across someone who says they can, run).
But remember at the beginning of this guide how I mentioned that cryptocurrency can be viewed as an investment or as a movement - or both?
That comes into play here.
You can definitely view ETH as an investment and you may even make money by investing in it and betting on its innovation & network growth, but its impact could be much larger than whatever returns you may (or may not) earn.
The introduction and adoption of smart contracts in a business setting will disrupt entire industries.
Because they provide a better way to transfer, hold, and execute complex data than has ever existed before.
Let the information on that chart sit for a little bit. Let your imagination run wild.
Think about how massive the adoption of this technology would be.
For a further, tangible example that has already happened, let's think about charitable donations. Right now, there's not really an easy way to transfer funds to charities worldwide and there's definitely not a way for the process to be seamless and transparent.
That is, until digital currencies were brought into the equation.
On August 16, 2021, Jack Butcher released an Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund NFT where all proceeds would be distributed to families in Afghanistan, with each NFT being roughly the cost of a family's emergency needs for one month. Each NFT was listed at .03 ETH and when the NFT was purchased, the funds were immediately directed to the charity's wallet (which can be viewed and verified by anyone), and then distributed to families in need.
Read: CARE Package NFT Project Delivers Urgent Humanitarian Aid to Afghan Families in Need
Watch: Jack Butcher Explain How the Donation Process Works
We dive deeper into NFTs later in this guide (here), but this single use case is an extraordinary example of what can be possible with digital assets.
We’ve never seen anything like this in our lives and being at the forefront of this potential digital shift is hard to imagine.
But with that said, even though in theory a lot of positive impact can be made, there are still risks to take into account with ethereum and ether - especially if you plan to invest in it:
Aside from smart contracts and decentralized applications, ether is the currency of choice for many crypto transactions - such as NFT purchases - but it has a fairly significant drawback that developing blockchains are aiming to solve: gas fees.
Gas fees are almost like taxes in the crypto environment as the fee is used to pay miners for verifying a transaction.
If you want to buy ether as an investment and never plan to transact with it, gas fees don't really affect you.
But because ether is designed to be transacted among many things, solutions are needed.
And one of those solutions is Polygon, an ethereum layer-2 solution designed to improve the network’s processing speed and overall, reduce transaction costs.
Additionally, one way Ethereum is aiming to solve the gas fee problem is by moving to a Proof of Stake consensus model rather than a Proof of Work, but this has not happened as of writing (January '22).
This is getting into the weeds and this information is not needed to have an understanding of ethereum, but it's worth highlighting. If you want to dive deeper into the technicals, view the Ethereum Technical Rabbithole.
If you're somewhat familiar with the crypto environment, you know that bitcoin and ether aren't the only cryptocurrencies.
However, so that this guide doesn't go too far off track from the main goal of helping you make sense of the digital asset environment, if you'd like to learn more about alternative cryptocurrencies, this is a quick summary:
Over time, as more alternatives mature and develop, I will expand this section.
So if blockchain is serving as the new financial rails and cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether can be used as money (because money is just an exchange of assigned value) - how do we actually own them and use them?
The easiest way to think about crypto wallets is like a combination of a bank account, Cash App, and an investment account.
Crypto wallets allow you to purchase and invest in crypto, send that crypto to anyone who also has a crypto wallet, or simply hold it just like a savings account at your bank.
Now, remember how we mentioned that banks aren’t actually holding your money? Well, that’s one of the key advantages of cryptocurrency.
When you open an investment account at a firm like TD Ameritrade or Charles Schwab and buy stocks, you also don’t truly own those stocks. TD Ameritrade has custody of them.
Wallets = Ownership
When done properly, crypto wallets are non-custodial (self-custody).
Self-custody simply means that you hold full ownership of the assets inside the wallet.
(There are custodial wallets too which would be similar to a normal investment account - such as the ones provided by Gemini, Coinbase, or other exchanges - but they don’t provide full ownership like non-custodial wallets do)
So overall, a crypto wallet is very similar to a regular wallet.
It's a place to "store" your owned cryptocurrency or digital assets, just like how a regular wallet holds cash and cards.
Now, stay with me here – wallets can be either “hot/soft” or “cold/hard”.
A hot (or also known as soft) wallet exists online and connects to the internet. This would be like Metamask, which can be installed as a Chrome extension, and is generally what people use to buy things such as NFTs.
Hot wallets are less secure than cold wallets since it's a software that lives online.
Some other quality soft wallets are:
A cold (also known as hard or hardware) wallet exists offline, usually on a device like a USB drive. These are more secure than soft wallets since they’re not connected to the internet and people tend to store valuable NFTs and hold large amounts of crypto on them for the long term.
Two of the most popular hard wallets are: Ledger & Trezor
So wallets can either be hot or cold, but there’s a second layer of attributes that are even more important: Non-custodial vs custodial
“With a non-custodial wallet, you have sole control of your private keys, which in turn control your cryptocurrency and prove the funds are yours.
While there is no need to trust a third party when using a non-custodial wallet, this also means that you are solely responsible for not losing your keys and requires that you take your own precautions to protect your funds.” - Gemini
Use cases: Buying NFTs and other digital assets, investing in decentralized finance, sending crypto to others, holding your crypto, buying crypto through the wallet rather than an exchange
“With a custodial wallet, another party controls your private keys. In other words, you’re trusting a third party to secure your funds and return them if you want to trade or send them somewhere else.
While a custodial wallet lessens personal responsibility, it requires trust in the custodian that holds your funds, which is usually a cryptocurrency exchange.” - Gemini
Generally, all custodial wallets are soft, since they’re essentially an extension of the exchange’s app.
Setting up a wallet can be complicated and there are a few key steps to follow to ensure your wallet and information stays private & secure, so this is a quick step-by-step guide on how to set up a MetaMask wallet (and most wallet set ups are very similar):
So, we now truly own our assets, we have a wallet that allows us to use those assets.. now we need a place to use them.
Enter: Web 3.0
Web3 is kind of like the internet we use now, but with a layer of ownership.
What does that mean?
We went from Web 1.0 in the 90s where large, centralized companies like AOL gave us information to read on their homepage, to Web 2.0 where internet users could begin creating their own content to publish (blogging, myspace, etc) - but their work was still on centralized platforms and sites such as Facebook and Twitter began curating that content and collecting users’ data without giving any value back to the users other than an account on their platform.
Now Web 3.0 is the beginning of a more immersive, ownership-focused, internet experience.
It’s commonly believed that web 3.0 will have no central authority and everything’s a free-for-all.
I don’t think this will turn out to be true. There will still be centralization and structure in Web 3.0, but with the creation & functionality of tokens, we can own pieces of platforms and digital assets we’re using and bringing value to.
Platforms extract value, protocols facilitate value.
The best way to think about the impact of web3 is to first understand one key term: Take rate
What is “take rate”?
To reference the Not Investment Advice podcast, the take rate is the percentage of value that platforms - such as Facebook, Twitter, World of Warcraft, or Fortnite - extract from their users.
Right now, those platforms don't have much competition on a macro level. Yes, other social medias and other games can be created, but they all follow relatively the same monetization and revenue structure.
But with the potential adoption of web 3.0, things change a little bit..
To help make sense of this, let's use a tangible example:
Facebook takes near 100% of the revenue generated on its app. You have a chance to create your own value and revenue on the platform (like starting a business and marketing it on FB) because they provide distribution opportunities, but the value Facebook receives from you being on the platform is not shared with you, or any of its users.
For comparison, Axie Infinity - a blockchain-based game - generated ~$1 billion in 2021 and only took 4.25%, per the Axie Infinity co-founder, referencing the game's 4.25% marketplace fee.
The rest of the value was distributed back to the game's players.
When code and protocols are the middlemen, rather than a fully-centralized company, minimal value needs to be extracted because there aren't 10,000+ person companies with shareholders to please, and the value can then be facilitated to where the value is being created.
Read Chris Dixon's thread: Going from Web 2 to Web 3 - “Your take rate is my opportunity”
We complain about "big tech" and how much money they make - well, this could be a viable alternative that also prioritizes user-owned data.
We've seen a slight version of the ownership-focused transition already begin to happen with the traditional game, Roblox. Users can buy and spend the game's native currency, Robux, but now qualified users can cash out those Robux for "real" money. This wasn't the case when the game was first created, but they likely recognized the power of distributed value and didn't want to lose their growing market share.
In my quote above - “platforms extract value” - I’m referring to their take rate.
It's no surprise that platforms such as Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook are now issuing creator funds to make their traditional revenue models look attractive for just a little bit longer before creators realize how much power they truly hold (because the value of the platform is measured by the retained attention, which is fueled by the content being created and shared).
Web 3.0 is aiming to create a layer of ownership through tokenization, which allows platforms to give value back to the creators who are ultimately creating the value.
So, we've created digital assets, they can be used in a web3 environment, and we have our wallets to hold those assets.
Wallets are key in a web3 environment because rather than logging into every website with an email & password and have different logins for every site, web3 could allow you to connect your wallet with one click and that wallet (because it has a unique address) serves as your "profile" across the the internet.
You can take your assets with you wherever you browse and while it sounds odd, remember that people were hesitant to pay with a credit card online or date online. Those assets may also be tokens that unlock content on certain sites when you connect your wallet, or a collection of event tickets so people can see which concerts you've gone to - the possibilities with digital assets are endless.
And you can have (and probably should have) more than one wallet so that your entire portfolio isn’t in your public wallet.
This ownership aspect is a subtle, yet powerful shift.
Will it change the world? Probably.
Will it change your day to day life right now? No, not really.
It could make things more convenient once the technology matures, but the adoption is just the natural technological evolution.
“Web 3.0” is hard to explain because it doesn’t fully exist yet and trying to sum it up would do it a disservice, and it’s just an arbitrary term. Almost like trying to explain the internet back when Amazon only sold books compared to what the internet actually is now.
So here are a few different pieces of content around web3 that can help you get a better perspective:
NFTs (non-fungible tokens) were the biggest topic to come out of the digital asset world in 2021, but I believe they’re also the most misunderstood.
Sure, you’ve seen headlines of Beeple’s NFT selling for $69 million or pictures of cartoon animals selling for millions.
But if that’s all you’ve seen, you’re missing an entire piece of the picture.
And that partial piece of the picture paints an extremely inaccurate picture of what the technology is actually providing us with.
Outside of the headlines, the idea of a token being non-fungible will change how industries such as real estate, finance, and healthcare store and transfer data.
We see the cartoon animal NFTs and think those are all that NFTs are. And it’s understandable, it’s still a new technology and it hasn’t fully developed yet. To reference Gary Vaynerchuk, remember when the top apps in the App Store were fake Zippo lighters and apps that made it look like you were drinking beer?
To see those two apps and say that all apps are solely those two things just doesn’t make sense - and that’s what’s happening with NFTs.
An NFT isn’t a genre of art, it’s a technology.
The idea of digital ownership is one of the most important concepts to understand regarding NFTs.
An NFT is just a digital asset where the ownership can be verified on blockchain.
But how can you tell who the owner is?
Remember how we talked about “wallets = ownership” in the last section? That comes into play here because every NFT you own is stored in a wallet.
And your wallet's public address is tied to whatever NFT you own.
In this example, you can see who the owner of the NFT is and you can verify the wallet address.
So let’s think of a real world example: If you’ve ever bought a car, you know how annoying the whole process can be. From the paperwork signing to titling the asset, it’s a pain. Now imagine if the whole process was digital. If the title to the car was an NFT, it could be transferred from Person #1’s wallet to Person #2’s wallet in a matter of seconds. Being digital could also remove the human error from misplacing documents and missing verification steps.
Does that start to put things in perspective on a bigger scale?
But if you’re still confused as to why the cartoon animals have “value”, there are a few reasons:
First, we care about what other people think. I can almost guarantee you’ve bought something to impress someone or to look cool in front of your friends. Digital assets can carry that same weight. If you own an exclusive NFT, you can show it off within your digital wallet, use it online, and signal that you’re apart of that NFT community.
Second, a lot of them don’t. A majority of the activity taking place in the NFT market is solely profit chasing. They don’t care what it looks like, they just hope it goes up in price. There’s no real value being created and that’s why a majority of current NFTs will go to zero.
Those NFTs will go to zero. Not the technology.
Then, different NFTs have different attributes. Some of them have real world benefits tied to them - for example, with the VeeFriends NFT, you get tickets to a conference and some provide access to meet Gary Vee.
That means the value isn’t only shown within the price of the NFT, but you get additional benefits stacked on top, which is going to be a powerful feature going forward as more creative use cases are discovered.
Millions of dollars have been spent on digital assets within the video game Fortnite. Players don’t own those assets and they can’t be transferred anywhere. But they’re still being purchased and used because people care about their status in the digital world just as much as the real world.
Now what if those in-game assets were NFTs and they had real value and could be bought and sold..
That’s part of the next phase of gaming we’re currently entering.
(And yes, gaming is a real industry now. It was valued at $300 billion in 2021, more than the combined value of its two entertainment competitors, music & movies)
Why do people care about being verified on Twitter or Instagram? Digital status.
NFTs can provide unlimited real world use cases, but a lot of the price action right now is being driven by speculation and status. A vast majority of the NFT projects that exist right now will go to $0 - and that’s okay.
It doesn’t change the simple fact that non-fungible tokens can prove digital ownership as we transition into a digital-first world.
And over time, NFTs won’t be “projects” anymore, they’ll just be embedded in society - like cell phones.
And maybe at that time they won’t even be called NFTs anymore.
Some additional reads & use cases:
At this point, we have all the tools to be our own bank.
Digital currencies that we own, ways to transact the currencies with Web 3.0, and a wallet to hold our currencies and digital assets.
Sounds great, but what about the financial structure that exists right now? How would that still allow us to freely use these things?
Enter: Decentralized Finance
The easiest way to understand decentralized finance is the removal of the middleman.
Banks are middlemen. Investment companies like Robinhood are middlemen. Visa is a middleman. Western Union is a middleman.
Now, these companies won’t immediately cease to exist.
They’ll have time to adapt before the world adopts the more efficient routes.
However, if they do fail to adapt, they’ll become a relic of an era eaten by technology - like Blockbuster, but with less fond memories.
Here’s a visual of traditional finance (TradFi) vs. decentralized finance (DeFi):
I’ve tried to come up with a simple explanation of decentralized finance other than the removal of the middleman, and I thought of it like this:
It’s people banking people, rather than banks banking people.
In decentralized finance, you could easily issue a loan to a farmer in another country who doesn’t have access to banking or lending services as long as they have an internet connection (which is becoming more accessible worldwide with the creation of Starlink).
This can be viewed as risky, but when the lent assets are bound by a smart contract that can facilitate the repayment of the loan, the risk is reduced by a massive amount (though smart contract risk does come into play).
That’s just one example of what can be possible in decentralized finance.
Here’s a chart showing the transition from traditional finance to DeFi that may help put things into perspective:
Will decentralized finance ever truly reach 100% adoption? Probably not.
But it doesn’t need to.
Does anything have 100% adoption?
There are people that still don’t have internet. It didn’t need to reach full adoption to have a significant impact.
And decentralized finance isn’t going to impact things that are already efficient. However, there are a lot of things that aren’t efficient whatsoever.
Remember that payment flowchart in the blockchain section?
If we’re operating in a digital global economy, money should be digital and global.
But let me guess, in the back of your mind, you’ve probably been wondering how any of this actually plays a role in your day-to-day life.
You can't make mortgage payments with crypto earnings and next to nobody accepts crypto payments.
And from that perspective, you'd be correct.
And I believe cryptocurrencies will exist alongside the US Dollar for some time, if not forever.
But think of some of the recent macro trends we're seeing.
There were coin shortages during the pandemic, more places are installing tap-to-pay functions.
Things are pointing towards a digital currency solution.
Is that solution bitcoin? Maybe.
Is it ether? Unlikely.
Will digital currency, in some form, be adopted in the next decade? Probably.
But nobody knows what the future holds, and digital currencies & decentralized finance may never replace every piece of the financial system and again, they don’t need to.
Cryptocurrencies & decentralized finance give people options, like we should have.
Like the internet did.
If someone wants to get their mortgage through a crypto lender because they don’t judge based on W2 vs. 1099 income, they should be able to do that.
And if you want to get yours through a traditional mortgage lender, you can do that.
Again, it’s not always either / or.
There will be people in the Midwest that never stop using cash. Small towns will be among the last to adopt or acknowledge crypto or decentralized finance because they don’t need it in their minds.
I know this because I’m from a small town, and I've talked to those exact people.
And they’re right. They don’t need it.
The traditional structure provides them with what they need.
And it may provide you with what you need.
But then you have to think about this evolution on a global scale..
Have you ever tried to send remittance to another country? It's laughable how bad the current financial rails are, and digital currencies can bridge this gap and provide much-needed solutions.
Any attention that meme coins and cartoon NFTs get is an aside from the core problems being solved by the technology.
Decentralized finance is best understood when listening to conversations and taking the time to think about the larger scale impact it will have, so here are a few great resources and places to start:
With a decentralized financial structure, the next logical step to stay on brand is decentralized companies.
Enter: Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO)
They’re not really autonomous anymore thanks to hack of the original “DAO”.
But DAOs are really just decentralized organizations, meaning there isn’t one person making every decision and in charge of what goes on.
They can have tokens, which are kind of like shares in a company, and those tokens can have voting powers to direct the future of the organization.
Some DAOs allow you to earn tokens through participation, or sometimes simply by showing up and being an early supporter.
Those tokens may be worth nothing if no value is created, or they could be worth enough for your grandchildren to never have to work - ya never know.
Here are two good resources that further explain DAOs and their potential impact:
DAOs won’t affect your day to day life for some time, unless you decide to work within one (which is a great opportunity for some who wants to learn more and work in the crypto space).
However, I wouldn't be surprised if a new wave of jobs created if DAOs reach wider adoption.
These are three DAOs doing it right and making an impact:
With everything we’ve covered, the main theme is digital. And we’re in the early stages of evolving into a digital-first world.
But a lot of people think the “metaverse” is just some silly online thing that nobody cares about.
Much to their surprise, we’re already well on our way to making the transition.
Roblox, an online virtual game, has over 202 million monthly active users and if you have kids, you might’ve guessed an even higher number as it’s reported over HALF of US teens under age 16 play the game.
Don’t underestimate the fact that every generation after them will grow up in the same digital-first environment as well...
So we have digital assets we own, a place to use them and transact them with Web 3.0, and now the metaverse can make those assets immersive and provides them more utility.
Now, before we start imagining a world like Wall-E where everyone is plugged in 24/7, we’re not there.
The metaverse we hear talked about right now can’t exist without the real world.
We won’t be like characters from Wall-E, at least for awhile.
The metaverse that is closest to adoption will only serve a few key roles, with one of them being ushering in the borderless economy.
We’ve seen work go near 100% digital in the past few years. What makes you think people will forgo that luxury and go back to old ways of life?
If you have a stable, well-paying job in America and you can get to work just fine and you want to get away from your family for 8 hours a day, your answer is going to be different than someone in a third-world country with a dicey economy who now has the ability to earn a living online through metaverse-based jobs.
(Yes, this is already happening too)
Again, empathy. You have to think outside of your own day-to-day life.
While we may think that the metaverse is decades away, there are already functioning virtual worlds - such as Decentraland, Sandbox, and Axie Infinity. For an easy comparison, virtual worlds and the metaverse are almost like the classic game, Sims - the 9th highest selling PC game of all-time.
At the basic core, virtual worlds simply provide a digital escape for people and a way to connect with online friends. They can have many different use cases, such as gaming or social experiences, but one of the most interesting is the merge of play and work. Because work is essentially just a creation of subjective value that you get compensated for, if we're evolving into a digital world, wouldn't it make sense that value being created is in digital form rather than physical? The metaverse could be the place where the lines between work and play ultimately become blurred.
Virtual Real Estate
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about metaverse real estate but if you think we’re evolving into a digital-first world, it makes sense that virtual real estate will have and hold some value. This is one of the most undeveloped aspects of crypto and I’m not going to spend too much time on it, so here are two good resources if you’d like to learn more about it:
Metaverse Real Estate Explained (video)
The Metaverse Land Rush is an Illusion (blog)
Brands in the Metaverse
The metaverse isn’t just a place for digitally-native people to hang out and it’s definitely nowhere near the level of quality it needs to be yet for any sort of adoption. But it’s going to become a new way to participate in society and engage in commerce. Some of the world’s biggest brands recognize this and are already positioning themselves:
Okay, so we’ve covered most of the technical aspects of crypto - but how do you actually invest in it?
There are a few simple ways:
1. Through a centralized exchange (which would be like buying stocks on Robinhood)
2. Through a decentralized exchange
3. Or through your crypto wallet
Remember how we talked about how decentralized finance is going to remove the middleman?
Well, the middleman is still here in some capacity. Exchanges are centralized crypto companies that allow you to buy and sell digital assets.
Setting up an account is almost identical to opening a bank account or investment account online.
The nice thing with most exchanges is that you can send your crypto to your own non-custodial wallet so you then have full ownership and control.
Some of the most popular exchanges in the US:
If you want to stay true to the core decentralized theme of crypto, you may skip the centralized exchanges and hop into a decentralized exchange (DEX). These exchanges are not regulated and have no oversight. Crypto-native investors love this aspect, new investors may shy away.
The decision to use a decentralized or centralized exchange is personal and neither one is necessarily right or wrong.
Some of the most popular DEXes:
• Crypto assets need to be built into an estate plan just like traditional assets
Cryptocurrency taxes are a grey area right now, but transactions are taxable and will most likely be subject to capital gains when exchanged or sold at a profit. If you swap tokens, cash out to US Dollars, or purchase an NFT with crypto, those are all generally taxable events.
Here are some guidelines highlighted by Coinbase:
In my opinion, to think that crypto will be what everyone uses in their day-to-day life within the next 5-10 years is laughable.
True wide-scale adoption of crypto as a currency will be throttled by price instability and regulation for some time.
And we’re still early enough that we haven’t reached a point of no return - yet..
From a different perspective, the adoption of a digital US Dollar or existing stablecoin could make sense and could happen quickly if done right.
But after reading all of this, I’d like to impose the question - is money even real?
Money isn’t anything other than an exchange of value.
So we as humans have assigned value to pieces of paper and coins - making them money, by definition - and placed trust in central and federal banks to be responsible for managing that piece of value?
The more you think about it, the more that almost everything - meaning money, economics, politics, allllll of it - seems irrelevant.
I don’t know if cryptocurrency is the answer, but there’s no question that plenty of problems exist in this world that are ripe for disruption.
It’s what we do as humans. We innovate and iterate until a better solution exists.
And better is subjective.
Maybe a more accurate adjective would be efficient.
But without standing on an even taller soapbox, it feels as if the direction we’re heading is almost pre-historic - or so far into the future that we never return to a pre-digital way of life.
I mean, how far can technology continue to expand and innovate before it eats everything, and we become part of it?
Banks and governments exist and were originally formed because we needed direction and central authority. At the time, hundreds of years ago, we didn’t know what being under their power would be like. But now, we’ve seen the problems they can cause (though they do also provide solutions and direction) and maybe governments and central banks aren’t the answer.
Maybe money isn’t the answer.
Maybe there is no answer.
I mean after all, what’s the point of life?
Why do we care about innovation or political parties or investments or money?
What if we just.. existed? And became more present? And lived intentional lives?
Whatever the currency of the future looks like, I know one thing to still be true:
Nobody will remember the number in your bank account or wallet, and nobody will care about that investment you made 100x on (or lost 100x on).
The only thing that matters at the end of the day is that the people close to you love you and care for you, that you reciprocate it, and that you show empathy to everyone.
A future where we prioritize people over profits and empathy over ego, that’s the future I want to be apart of - regardless of our currency of choice.