Your 101 guide to crypto. Get up to speed in 5 minutes.
Crypto is short for "cryptocurrency" and used to describe crypto assets like Bitcoin. While Bitcoin is the most popular crypto asset, there are a bunch of others like Ethereum and Dogecoin. It's a new and budding field. In this starter kit, we provide a foundation to build your crypto knowledge.
What is crypto?
Crypto is internet money. Some crypto assets were created to be a decentralized world currency (Bitcoin), while others were created to be a decentralized world computer (Ethereum). Frankly, it's easy to get lost because the field is moving so quickly.
- Cryptocurrency describes digital currencies that serve as a means of exchange, stores of value, and units of account. Examples of cryptocurrency are bitcoin, litecoin, stellar, monero, and zcash.
- Crypto asset broadens the definition of cryptocurrency to include digital commodities like computing, storage and bandwidth. Ethereum is largely responsible for expanding the definition of crypto assets.
- Cryptography is the security component that allows users to trust one another, and a network, without relying on a centralized gatekeeper (like a bank). This is important because gatekeepers, in certain cases, wield abusive decision-making power.
- 2008: Bitcoin is created by Satoshi Nakamoto
- 2011: Altcoins, crypto assets other than Bitcoin, are created for the first time (i.e. Litecoin)
- 2013: Thailand and People's Bank of China ban Bitcoin, price fluctuates from $13 to over $1,000
- 2015: Popular crypto assets Ethereum and Tether are launched
- 2017: Japan legalizes Bitcoin as a payment method, price tops $10,000
- 2021: Visa allows crypto payments, Bitcoin price surpasses $50,000 for the first time
A blockchain is a database that records transactions in chronological order. It gets the name because transactional data is chunked into "blocks" and these blocks are "chained" together over time. Blockchain itself is not a crypto asset nor is it that useful.
The addition of decentralization to a blockchain is what makes the transaction history irreversible and this feature is why Bitcoin and other crypto assets are valuable. Once sufficiently decentralized, no single party can change the transaction history. It's permanent. (You'll hear people say "immutable" to describe this concept in crypto. It's a computer science term.)
Blockchain's first real world application was Bitcoin 🤯
The most useful podcasts, Twitter accounts, articles, and books I came across while building my understanding of crypto.
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How do I use crypto?
Most of crypto's uses today replace existing banking services like payments, lending, and trading. Decentralized finance or "DeFi" is what crypto people call it. A new use case to keep an eye on are non-fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs are digital collectibles minted on a blockchain so there's proof of ownership. Example.
Historically it's been difficult for creators to capture value from the internet, but with NFT's creators gain the capability to make money when their work is bought and sold. The ownership of a unique, on-chain token (an NFT) for an off-chain asset (like a song) has the potential to give creators a direct connection to fans, and this new relationship may change the way creators, fans, and platforms work together in the future.
While digital payment networks and NFTs are growing quickly, the primary use case for crypto has been Bitcoin. Bitcoin allows you to use money without trusted third parties, otherwise known as gatekeepers. Send and receive money unrestricted by anyone, anytime. Use Bitcoin and enter a new financial world where you can be your own bank.
You can also use Bitcoin today to enhance your investment portfolio. As an asset class, Bitcoin is somewhat uncorrelated to stocks, real estate, and other traditional investments -- with the best performing return over the last 10 years. Counterintuitively, by adding Bitcoin to your portfolio you actually decrease the overall risk of the portfolio while increasing returns.
In the future there will likely be more popular ways to use crypto, but Bitcoin is the killer application today.
This short list provides a sense of the most popular ways crypto is used. From exchanges that can't arbitrarily halt trading (see Uniswap) to an open storage marketplace (see Filecoin), crypto is ushering in a new era of the internet that's available to everyone. Go to our crypto assets page for a longer list of use cases.
How do I buy crypto?
Crypto exchanges are used to buy, sell and convert one type of asset (i.e. US dollars) into another type of asset (i.e. bitcoin). The process in crypto is similar to how you buy and sell stocks. Here is one way to do it.
Create a Coinbase account: Coinbase is the most well known US exchange to buy and sell crypto. They have a simple interface and easy-to-follow step by step guides.
Tip: Download the Coinbase mobile app. I check the mobile app 10x more frequently than the website. There are other Coinbase apps like Coinbase Wallet and Coinbase Pro, but you want the Coinbase app to simply buy bitcoin for the first time.
Buy Bitcoin: Link your Coinbase account to a bank account, debit card or PayPal account. (The bank account method via ACH is recommended.) Then go ahead and buy some bitcoin. You don’t need to buy in whole numbers of 1, 2, or 3 bitcoins. You can buy fractions of a bitcoin (i.e. purchase 0.005 bitcoin, which is the equivalent to $250 US dollars, as of February 2021). Although funds will appear in your account within minutes, purchases typically take one week to complete.
You can do more with Bitcoin now than ever before. As you explore the capabilities of crypto, I recommend checking out the following products because they serve as a bridge between the old and new financial worlds.
How do I store crypto?
Wallets are used to store your Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other crypto assets. There are two types of wallets, hot and cold, and it's important to understand the benefits to both. The amount of crypto you own and your technical aptitude will determine the type of wallet best for you. There is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Hot Wallet: Easier to use, less secure. A hot wallet is connected to the internet via your phone, computer, or tablet. When you buy crypto using an app like Coinbase, your crypto is automatically held in a hot wallet within the Coinbase app. In this case, a third party has custody of your crypto (Coinbase). It's similar to how a bank has custody of your money in a checking account. Crypto held in a hot wallet is easier to access and use. Furthermore, you don’t have to worry about losing the recovery phrase or a physical hardware device.
Cold Wallet: More secure, but harder to use. A cold wallet is not connected to the internet and typically comes in the form of a hardware device. Most people don’t use cold wallets because of the added complexity and cost (hardware devices typically cost between $50 to $200), however they provide important security benefits. For example, cold wallets keep your crypto safe even if your computer is hacked. Over the past 10 years multiple exchanges have been hacked, and the people that left their crypto on these exchanges (in hot wallets) ended up losing it.
Ready to get started?
Go to our security guide. We document a simple, do-it-yourself security setup. We'll walk through moving your crypto from a third party exchange to a secure hardware device that you own and manage. Become your own bank.
If that's too much, request an invitation for our Starter Kit($500 or 0.025 BTC or 0.4 ETH). We'll get you everything you need and provide step-by-step instruction. The Starter Kit is currently a beta product open to US-based residents.
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Hardware Wallet 🔒
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- Supports BTC, ETH, and more
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