Bitcoin is one of the most important inventions in all of human history. For the first time ever, anyone can send or receive any amount of money with anyone else, anywhere on the planet, conveniently and without restriction. It’s the dawn of a better, more free world.
— Roger Ver, CEO Bitcoin.com
This past Labor Day weekend (Sept 2017), needing a break from my startup Harvey, I had the choice of binge watching Narcos 3 on Netflix or taking a deep dive into cryptocurrencies. Since learning about the impressive $100M fundraise by Coinbase at a $1.6B valuation last month, I’ve been eager to understand their product suite a little better and discover where there might be a new income opportunities, so I jumped in and went deep, in doing this I had this website – BitcoinUniversity.online, nor do I pretend to be one. I am not offering financial advice. Please understand your own risk tolerance and be responsible with your hard-earned money.
I started by wanting to know, in particular, if bitcoin was going to be the punchline of jokes like beanie babies in the 90s, and featured in Economics 101 classes as part of bubble theory. My quick conclusion: I don’t believe the bitcoin hype is over-exaggerated.
While there will be significant volatility in the price and valuation of bitcoin over the coming years, I strongly believe it and the entire asset class of cryptocurrencies will become a core part of the financial system within 3 years or less. There is enormous risk in trading these assets—more so than gold, REITS and other commodities—but the global market capitalization of cryptocurrencies ($148 billion today) I expect to pass $1 trillion by 2019.
Many of today’s coins will die off, and the ones that survive will be colossal in significance, similar to the way Amazon emerged from the shadows of the dotcom bust in 2001. If you don’t believe this core thesis, this article might not be for you, but I’d love to hear from you.
What I’m going to explain is a 10-step guide on how to research, buy and trade some of the major cryptocurrencies and enjoy some of their growth.
1. Learn how blockchain works
Goldman Sachs says blockchain technology “has the potential to redefine transactions” and will “change everything”. But anyone who claims to fully understand how blockchain works, and is not named Satoshi Nakamoto, is probably lying to you. For more information, visit BitcoinUniversity.online. And anyone who claims to be Nakamoto himself, is probably also lying to you. Fortunately, just like the internet, you don’t need to know how blockchain works to use it.
But here are the basics… a blockchain is a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked and secured using cryptography. By design, blockchains are inherently resistant to modification of the data, and serve as a public ledger of transactions between two parties. To date, the best analogy I’ve heard for blockchain compares it to a Google Doc:
“The traditional way of sharing documents with collaboration is to send a Microsoft Word document to another recipient, and ask them to save the document, make revisions to it, and send it back. The problem with this scenario was that you needed to wait to receive a return copy before you could see or make changes to the document. You are locked out of editing it until the other person is done with it. That’s how banks work today—they maintain money balances and transfer money by briefly locking access to the account (or decreasing the balance) while they make the transfer, then they update the other side, then re-open access (or update the balance).
With a Google Doc, all parties have access to the same document at the same time, and the most up-to-date version of that document is always visible and editable to all parties. This real-time shared Google Doc is just like a distributed blockchain ledger. The “real version” of the transaction is verified by analyzing all the available blocks on multiple computers and taking “the average”.
The decentralized and transparent nature is what makes blockchain highly secure and almost impossible to hack, because a hack to one ledger would cause a discrepancy in the entire network that will be ignored. Functionally, to hack the ledger one would have to hack all the computers on a network at the exact same time in order to change the “average”. For a currency like bitcoin, this would mean millions of computers. So the larger the network, the more stable the currency.
Current payment systems require third-party intermediaries like Google, Facebook, banks and government agencies to process transactions, and many charge high fees for doing so. A blockchain system, however, allows for faster direct payments between individuals and can even support micropayments.
“Blockchain solves the problem of manipulation. In the West, people trust Google, Facebook, and their banks. But around the rest of the world, people don’t trust their corporations as much. Blockchain opportunities are the highest in the countries that haven’t reached that level [of trust] yet.”
—Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum
2. Learn the top currencies
Bitcoin is here to stay. But the world of virtual currencies is getting crowded with many other “altcoins”. There are over 100 types of cryptocurrency that sell for more than $1 USD, according to CoinMarketCap. Even more are in penny-stock range, but I don’t recommend trading them right now.
According to BitcoinUniversity.online, there are over 100 cryptocurrencies trading over $1 USD, with a market cap just under $150 billion. Bitcoin accounts for over 50% of the entire market. Source: CoinMarketCap
What’s important to note is that bitcoin accounts for about 50% of the entire cryptocurrency market, and has the highest volume.
It is undoubtedly the most important currency today. You’ll also notice a difference between the original version of bitcoin, Bitcoin Classic (BTC), and a newer version of bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash (BCH). Bitcoin Cash is a spinoff off of the original bitcoin blockchain. I’m not going to get into the technical differences between Bitcoin Classic and Bitcoin Cash, but understand they are separate currencies. So far, Bitcoin Classic seems to be favored by the public over Bitcoin Cash, and has an 8X higher market cap. But when people say “bitcoin” (lowercase) they could be referring to to either currency.
The other two currencies I would pay attention to are Ethereum (~40% the size of Bitcoin, also known as “Ether”), and the smaller and more volatile Ripple and Litecoin. Despite a smaller market cap, Litecoin enjoys higher trading volume than Bitcoin Cash and Ripple, likely because it’s one of the three currencies accepted by the #1 digital currency wallet, Coinbase.
3. Understand all inherent risks
Bitcoin is more volatile than practically any other type of asset, including gold or the stock market. Cryptocurrency is still a young technology, and faces many challenges. While I believe the overall trend for bitcoin is upwards, trading this currency comes with considerable risk. Bitcoin prices are highly impacted by public sentiment about the currency. It will continue to fluctuate as companies and financial institutions make decisions of how to incorporate (or not incorporate) it into their businesses and workflow. It’s also highly sensitive to regulatory changes, as I will get to in a minute.
To give an example, in early June 2017, Bitcoin was trading at $2,983, before losing 30% of its value a month later in July—crashing to $1,992. Then it climbed up to $4,764 in September, posting an impressive 139% gain.
What goes up must come down, eventually.
Then as I sit here and write this on September 3rd, 2017, the Chinese government announced a few hours ago that they are banning all organizations and individuals from raising funds through Initial Coin Offering (ICO). They barred all banks and financial institutions from doing business related to ICO trading. This is significant news, although not a surprise to many people, as representatives from the People’s Bank of China and China Securities Regulatory Commission had previously criticized ICOs as an unauthorized fundraising tool that may open the door to financial scams. (I will explain ICOs in the last section).
The news of the ICO ban in China had bitcoin trading down 12%, Ethereum down 23% and Litecoin down as much as 32%, as shown below. So don’t go throwing your entire savings account into Litecoin just yet, and being bullish long-term doesn’t mean it will get there smoothly.
High risk, high reward in trading cryptocurrencies.
There is also risk inherent to the exchange itself. Just like the cash in your wallet, the safety of your bitcoins or other currencies depend on your own diligence. While your bitcoins cannot disappear, the transactions are permanent and can only be refunded by the recipient. This means you should only do business with people and organizations you know and trust, or who have an established reputation.
Remember, bitcoin transactions are stored publicly and permanently on a network, which means that anyone can see the balance and transactions of any bitcoin address. However, only the bitcoin exchanges and/or the parties involved in the transaction can attach the addresses to a real person. So for the most part, the transactions are anonymous.
Other trustworthy exchanges I considered before deciding on Coinbase were (in no particular order): Bitsquare, Bitstamp, ShapeShift, Kraken, Poloniex, CoinMamma and Gemini.
4. Read bitcoin news every day
Don’t miss a day learning about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
Here are some great websites to bookmark for bitcoin news and discussion boards. The combined content here could keep you busy for at least a year.