Cryptocurrencies have taken centre stage, what with the crypto market cap currently reaching $1.7 trillion and over 18,000 tokens.
Globally, venture capitalist have invested $30 billion in 2021 in various crypto or Web 3.0 start-ups, and corporate institutions, such as MicroStrategy, Square and Tesla, have all accounted bitcoin in their balance sheets.
The crypto revolution began with the advent of bitcoin in 2008, and since then, it has unfolded in four distinct cycles. In the first cycle (early 2010), the early adopters were computer scientists and cryptographers. In the second cycle (2013-15), alternatives to bitcoin emerged, such as Ethereum, and venture capitalists and retail investors alike entered the market. As we moved into the third cycle, i.e., 2017-18, the cycle started to be characterised by initial coin offerings (ICOs) and the cryptokitties boom.
At present, we are in the fourth cycle, which is witnessing the rise of crypto native technologies, such as NFTs, DAOs and DeFi. With every new cycle, there is innovation in crypto infrastructure, and web applications built on top.
Do Cryptocurrencies Have Staying Power? Are They Worth The hype?
Cryptocurrencies are inherently complex to understand, as they operate at the intersection of computer science, maths, history, cryptography, economics, finance, and human psychology. One needs to look beyond the price volatility and unsustainable high yields to gauge the true power of blockchain technology.
Bitcoin challenged our assumptions of money. The launch of Ethereum in 2015 was an “AWS moment” in crypto, enabling developers to build complex applications for real world use cases. A case in point being when Ethereum settled over $11.6 trillion in transaction volumes surpassing Visa (second largest payment processing company), in 2021. Over $4 billion worth of loans have been issued on Compound, one of the top lending/borrowing protocols, and without the involvement of any centralised financial intermediary.
However, before we dive further, it is important to understand the challenges with centralised institutions. Trust is one of the core foundations of our modern economy, with our minds being trained to trust centralised intermediaries, such as banks, insurance companies, and tech giants, despite multiple instances wherein our trust was breached.
Examples being the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica breach, the 2008 financial crisis, and the banking scams in India, among others. That said, the present system doesn’t allow individuals to bypass these institutions. There is an imbalance of power with benefits accruing at the top of the chain to very few stakeholders, but with the risk being spread to a wider population. So, there is a prevailing notion worldwide of decentralisation being the way forward.
A famous statement by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of ‘Skin In The Game’ seems apt. “Decentralisation reduces large structural asymmetries. If we don’t decentralise and distribute responsibility, it will happen by itself, the hard way: a system that doesn’t have a mechanism of skin in the game, with a build-up of imbalances, will eventually blow up and self-repair that way.”
The key theme that is underpinning crypto network is that they are community-owned decentralised networks without any central authority responsible for governance and control. These networks seek to provide option to all network participants (users, creators, developers, investors) to:
- Skin in the game – accountability, economic incentives align with their contributions
- Level playing field – to build new applications and monetise without risks of censorship and high take rates charged by centralised entity
- Choice to exit current centralised system – tinker and experiment with different business models in an emerging alternative decentralised system.
Keeping this in mind, it is inevitable to say that crypto will disrupt multiple sectors and redefine how we trade and invest in financial products, how we work and earn (rise of DAOs), how we socialise, interact, and how we build on the Internet.
That said, one cannot debate the fact that investing in cryptocurrencies, DeFi, and NFTs is risky. We are still in the early days of crypto, and many crypto projects and tokens might not survive the crypto winter. This phase is akin to the dotcom boom-and-bust period.
The crypto industry will also go through various innovation cycles until its potential is truly discovered. Crypto founders and developers are working on challenging problems related to scalability, interoperability, governance, and consensus, which will drive mainstream adoption. Positive move by governments in developed countries, such as the US, Canada, and Australia to regulate this space and not place an outright ban will propel innovation in this space.
Exciting times lie ahead in India for crypto, as there is an emerging vibrant community of enthusiastic entrepreneurs, developers, investors, and learners. Crypto is certainly here to stay.
The author is AVP, Investments at Gemba Capital
(Disclaimer: Views expressed are the author’s own, and Outlook Money does not necessarily subscribe to them. Outlook Money shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly.)