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. 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.
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.
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.