Welcome To The World of Crypto
Hello and welcome, curious human who wants to learn more about getting started with cryptocurrency!
If you're a very early beginner just poking around and wanting to know more about this "thing you heard of from a friend or seen in the news", then congrats! You're in the right place.
My goals for this guide and how you’ll benefit:
- Warmly welcome you to the world of cryptocurrency and blockchain
- Empower you to sort through the overwhelm by explaining a few basics in simpler terms
- Point you to some useful resources for education and investing in cryptocurrency for beginners
- Ask you questions to help you think about your own unique journey
I know that it can be overwhelming. Heck, even I'm overwhelmed still, a few years in. There's a lot of noise out there, and much of it seems either: 1) too technical or 2) kinda scammy (let's be honest).
Who am I?
A non-technical crypto & blockchain enthusiast who happened to find out about cryptocurrency back in 2015. Mainly I'm a real human. Professionally, I'm a writer, empowerment coach, entrepreneur, and marketing comms consultant. I'm super passionate about empowering others and creating impact at scale.
What got me into it?
My then-date, now-husband. I loved the way he tried to explain Bitcoin to me while flirting over dinner, and well, the rest is history. Since then, I've been a big believer in blockchain and its potential to move humanity forward.
What about you?
My guess is that you're mainly interested because you've heard of crypto recently through news headlines or someone you know. Bitcoin prices have skyrocketed in 2021 (all-time-high at over $41,000 per Bitcoin at time of this writing), and major companies like PayPal, Visa, and Square have hopped on board too.
But you may have also noticed that crypto prices fall as quickly as they rise. Though it's not as Wild West as it was a few years back, you've still got to hold onto your hats cowboy or cowgirl.
And here’s where I must note the disclaimers:
- This is NOT professional investment advice. While I'll talk about investing in crypto from my own point of view, if you do choose to invest, you need to do it in a way that's aligned to your own goals and preferences.
- The world of crypto can be a bumpy ride. Buckle up! 😉
- This is not meant to be an in-depth nor technical guide. There are endless online resources that go deeper (and I'll include good starting points for you with links to curated resources)
This is YOUR journey. I'm just here to greet you at the door.
While you might not need to know nitty gritty technical details to understand crypto, it's important to have a basic foundation. Knowledge is power, my friend.
What is cryptocurrency?
A digital currency secured by cryptography. It is a store of value and medium of exchange, created electronically via blockchain technology.
What makes cryptocurrency so cool:
- Many cryptocurrencies are decentralized. This means that transactions on a peer-to-peer network of computers are verified and records are maintained by a decentralized system, rather than by a centralized authority. It's in the hands of its users.
- Due to its underlying technology, it is nearly impossible to counterfeit or double-spend.
- Its supply is not determined by a central bank nor government (unlike traditional analog "fiat" currencies like the dollar, euro, yen, etc.)
- To date, there are thousands of different cryptocurrencies, but the most well-known with the largest market size are currently Bitcoin and Ethereum.
For a high-level overview of cryptocurrency, please read Investopedia's explanation here.
What is blockchain?
Blockchain is technology in which blocks of information are chained together in a shared digital record.
Think of the blockchain as a shared memory. It is what remembers the different transactions. Without memory and who paid who, cryptocurrency like Bitcoin doesn't work. That is why the blockchain is important and enables cryptocurrency.
What makes blockchain technology so useful (below applies to public blockchains):
- It is secure and less likely to get hacked because it leverages cryptography
- It is immutable. That means the data is un-deletable/un-changeable
- It is transparent and trustworthy. It can be audited by anyone who is in the system
- It can be used as a shared, public ledger to record information and transactions
- It is open for anyone to join and participate
- It can be on a public decentralized network (no one person, government, or authority owns it), yet you can have a private key to access your own data
- It enables transactions to be sent and received from anybody in the world
- "Blockchains combine the openness of democracy and the Internet with the merit of markets." -Naval
What is Bitcoin?
Bitcoin (BTC) is a decentralized digital currency that is built on blockchain technology. It enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world.
- Bitcoin is the first established cryptocurrency, and the most well-known. It's market cap is currently ~600 Billion USD
- In 2008, Bitcoin was first mentioned in a white paper by the mysterious pseudonymous "Satoshi Nakamoto". In 2009, Bitcoin software was made available to the public and the Bitcoin blockchain was created. Read more on the history here.
- There is a limited supply. In total, only 21 million Bitcoin will ever exist. Here's why.
- It is considered "digital gold" because of its store of value and needing to be "mined" (the process by which new Bitcoins are created)
- There is an extremely well-organized "Getting Started" guide on Bitcoin.org that walks you through the different steps of how to use and accept Bitcoin.
I can also recommend following Andreas M. Antonopoulos, who is a longtime expert and excellent educator in the Bitcoin and blockchain space. He has a "Bitcoin For Beginners" video series.
What is Ethereum?
Ethereum is a global, open-source platform for money and decentralized applications. Ether (ETH) is the cryptocurrency of Ethereum apps.
- It is the second most-popular cryptocurrency by market cap, currently ~150 Billion USD
- First mentioned in a white paper by Vitalik Buterin in 2013, it was created with other developers and launched publicly in 2015
- It's not just a currency. As explained by Ethereum.org,
- "Ethereum is a technology that lets you send cryptocurrency to anyone for a small fee."
- "It also powers applications that everyone can use and no one can take down."
- "Ethereum builds on Bitcoin's innovation, with some big differences. Both let you use digital money without payment providers or banks."
- "But Ethereum is programmable, so you can also use it for lots of different digital assets. This also means Ethereum is for more than payments. It's a marketplace of financial services, games and apps that can't steal your data or censor you."
- If Bitcoin is an app for money, you can think of Ethereum as an app store. In the Ethereum app network other developers can build apps, using the features and functionality of blockchain technology.
What about other cryptocurrencies?
There are literally thousands of other "altcoins" (ie, cryptocurrencies other than Bitcoin). Some have great promise, value, ambitions and intent. However, unfortunately some are scams that don't bring value (some people call them "shitcoins"). You can take a peek at the variety at CoinMarketCap and do your own research in which cryptocurrencies you want to get involved in.
Can cryptocurrency or blockchain be used in real life by real people?
Yes! Though mainstream adoption has been relatively slow, there are multiple use cases.
Now, more and more people are becoming aware of the power of using crypto and blockchain.
Here are some top use case examples:
- Sending peer-to-peer electronic cash, even internationally. You could send crypto via your phone to your cousin in another country. While there might be varying network fees for that, they would receive what you sent almost instantly. (Especially when compared to slow bank transfers).
- Financial empowerment for citizens, especially in developing countries where inflation rates are high, national currency is unstable, and there's government corruption.
- Smart contracts. These are self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement between parties being directly written into lines of code. These contracts can then be leveraged in healthcare, media, real estate, governance, and other industries. Here's a peek into 25 blockchain use cases.
- Using your crypto to buy things in the real world. For example you can exchange your crypto for gift cards to major retailers on Bitrefill. Or buy items on Amazon via Purse.
For more real-world context and stories, I highly recommend reading the book, "Blockchain Revolution" which explains how blockchain is changing money, business, and the world.
And to see how Bitcoin is impacting real human lives in countries like Argentina and Uganda, please check out our short documentary series BitcoinFilm, a volunteer-run project that I'm a part of.
Investing in Crypto
Lately, there's been lots more mainstream interest in crypto investing. At the Bitcoin ATM (yes, these exist!) in our neighborhood, the shopkeeper said that even grandmas are buying Bitcoin now. What was once seen as sketchy has now become more popular.
Disclaimer: Once again this is NOT professional investment advice as you are responsible for your own investments. I am just sharing my personal thoughts in response to the top three frequently asked questions from friends.
FAQ #1: "Where do I start if I want to invest in cryptocurrency?"
This is a loaded question. It really depends on where you are in life, what your goals are, where you live, etc. However, here's what I can say:
- Educate yourself. And since you're reading this, you're already on your way. Knowledge is power, not just for financial empowerment, but because the space is really growing and will disrupt existing archaic systems globally.
- Learning about the big picture impacts of cryptocurrency, it's why, and ideology behind it, can help keep you more calm and think long-term.
- There are heaps of investment resources and so-called "advisors" out there. Some are legit, some are shady. Be wary of where you get your resources. And do your own homework before choosing which crypto to invest in.
- "How to Invest in Cryptocurrencies: The Ultimate Beginner Guide" by Blockgeeks covers buying crypto, storing crypto securely, and other important considerations.
- If you want to buy first on an established exchange with your money as a total beginner, you might want to take a look at Coinbase, Blockchain.com , Kraken or Bitstamp. These are few of the big ones.
- You can start small with what you're comfortable with. It's possible to buy a fraction of Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency. Even if it's $500 worth, at least now you have skin in the game and are more motivated to learn.
I started really small. In 2015, my now-husband gave me $5 worth of Bitcoin. Then I kinda forgot about it. A year later, I started investing and put in automatic weekly buys of as low as $75 on Coinbase for tiny fractions of Bitcoin. And when I felt like I learned enough to take bigger risks I bought more and added other cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and Litecoin.
I am a long-term investor and NOT a crypto trader. My strategy has simply been to buy a little and hold it. In crypto slang terms I "HODL" hehe. Could I make more profits by trading? Sure. But I honestly don't have the mental energy nor balls to do that. And it's paid off as now my modest crypto portfolio has given me some financial freedom.
You may try a very different approach. I can't advise on what's best for you.
For example in my case, I want financial freedom that allows me to focus on my overall health, happiness, well-being, family, and legacy. I want to have enough assets in my portfolio to cover a few years of basic living expenses and self-fund my passion projects. I don't want to have to trade time for money and burn out working anymore. I've burnt out three times already in the past (def not fun) and work-life balance is super important to me now.
In my case, I was admittedly terrible at saving money in my bank anyway, so I figured I might as well invest bit by bit at the chance of gaining. Back when I started, crypto was even riskier and less established, but I wanted to try having my money work for me by investing long-term. Overall in life I am comfortable with taking educated risks. That said, I'm the type to invest in more established cryptocurrencies, whereas some of my friends have the balls to day trade some newer ones.
In my case, I never invest more than I'm ready to lose. This helps me not freak out about day-to-day price fluctuations.
For example, in Germany, there are no capital gain taxes on selling crypto if you hold your assets for over one year. Whereas in the US, crypto gains are subject to capital gains taxes if you sell no matter how long you hold.
In my case, I have diversified my overall portfolio by investing in a retirement fund and a bit of real estate. If any one thing goes south, I have other options beyond crypto. As for income I am an entrepreneur and can scale my businesses as needed for income.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach here. That's why it's up to you to research and decide what fits your unique situation and lifestyle.
FAQ #2: "Am I too late to the cryptocurrency game?"
- As my husband Jacob says, "If you think of it in terms of education, then it's really never too late to start educating yourself. Blockchains are here to stay and they will change the world. It's like the invention of the book. We shouldn't hold ourselves back from reading books just because other people have already started reading and we feel late to the game."
- As my friend Savannah Peterson mentions here, "We're now in the technical trough of realization where we'll see how this technology will actually benefit us. Which means if you're just learning about blockchain for the first time this year, or this month or today, you're perfectly on-time."
- To put things in perspective, people asked about being late when Bitcoin was at $1,000. Then people asked again when it soared to $20,000 in 2017. It dropped back down to the $5000 range in March 2020, and is now in the $30,000 range at the time of this writing.
- For some, it is a hot time to invest in crypto. For others, there is FOMO for not getting in sooner. Some are still skeptical and wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole because of the roller coaster ups and downs. And others patiently wait to "buy the dip" (when prices drop again).
Only you can define what "late" means. You have to decide for yourself if or when to get in.
FAQ #3: "Is cryptocurrency risky? What about scams and hackers?"
- To put it into perspective, have you ever believed that something like your job or business was "secure", and then you lost it? 2020 has shown us that there's a lot of uncertainty in the world. Investing in crypto can be a tool for self-empowerment and reclaiming your personal agency.
- If you invest in crypto, it's helpful to think of it as a relationship. You have to maintain it, put time into it, educate yourself on it, grow with it. If you think you can just get in and out like a one night stand to get rich quick, well then good luck to you.
- If you don't maintain it, you could lose it. Seriously. If you forget how to log in to your account, lose a paper or hardware wallet and don't have backups, then you can't access it and it's gone. I know people who have lost thousands of dollars worth of Bitcoin because they couldn't remember their own passwords.
- Yes there are scams and hackers, but that's also true for current financial systems, and current state of the internet. If anything, getting into crypto has helped me become even more aware of security and privacy issues in the regular world.
- That said, you do have to be mindful of security risks and protect yourself via secure passwords, two-factor-identification, different wallets, etc. Binance provides a beginner's overview of "How to Secure Your Cryptocurrency"
- There are a lot of mainstream misconceptions about Bitcoin and its risks. Anthony Pompliano's interview here with Daniela Cambone articulately clears some of them up.
For me, investing is a part of my long-term strategy to reduce overall risk in my life by diversifying my income streams. Investing in crypto is just one stream.
I hope that you found this welcome guide helpful. While it might feel like there's a lot to navigate in crypto, I'm happy that you stopped by to check out this new world and educate yourself on the basics.
A lot of people just think about crypto in terms of investing, but there are so many possibilities for it to change the way we live and work beyond that. There's a growing community of people who want to leverage it to do good, so don't let a couple of bad apples discourage you.
- Blockgeeks - Blockchain education portal with articles, guides, courses
- Bitcoin.org - Full of user-friendly resources and information on Bitcoin
- Investopedia - Simplified financial information for investing overall (beyond crypto)
- Coinmarketcap Latest cryptocurrency prices by market cap
- Coindesk - A leader in crypto and blockchain news and information
- Let's Talk Bitcoin - Podcasts, articles, forums to give voice to crypto & blockchain
- Bitcoinfilm.org - Human stories of Bitcoin's impact on society, told through short films
Connect & Share
Kindly note: You might have a bunch of questions at this time, which is so exciting! However, I have limited capacity to answer individual questions because I am entering a new chapter of life as a first-time mom who's also writing a memoir on self-worth and grief. That's why I've built this welcome guide to make my knowledge more scalable. I kindly ask that you empower yourself to continue your own research. 🙂
However, I'd LOVE for us to stay in touch in other ways:
Staying connected: I regularly share nuggets of wisdom publicly on social media and would love to connect with you there! Find me all over @jennmchoi (Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube)
Welcome to the world of crypto and blockchain. And cheers to designing a life + work you dream of!
With love and light,
Don’t want to miss out on more empowering life tips & inspiration? Then be sure to subscribe to my newsletter here.