How I Make a Living in the Crypto Gig Economy

Seth Benton

I wanted to work in crypto. No, I had to work in crypto. Once you’re too far down this rabbit hole, anything else pales in comparison. Sit in an office making real estate websites while the revolution passes me by? Uh-uh. But how… Especially in this brutal crypto winter, with the easy money of 2017 vaporizing into the Ether from which it came. In this article, I share some details of my journey to making a living in crypto, hoping to share some useful info for others on their paths.

It took about five months, but I’ve been paying the bills (with crypto) since October 2018.

Crypto Winter 2018

Note: this article only covers what I tried in my journey. There are many more ways to make money in crypto. For a more exhaustive list, this article is a pretty good.. Also, this Medium piece, which was the inspiration for my article.

Mining

I knew I’d long missed the easy money CPU/GPU mining. But why not at least earn a trickle while I pursued other income? I’m on a MacBook Pro, so my options were limited (all the best laptop miners are for Windows). The only real option was MinerGate. For roughly two and a half months, I mined Monero. In order not to destroy my two thousand dollar computer for pennies, I set the miner to use only a single core (of 7). To save electricity, I only mined while using the laptop. In total, I earned drumroll* ….0.001527597 XMR, or ~$0.07 at the time of writing.

Mining earnings (2.5 months)

Conclusion

Mining is for the big players now. If you’ve got some GPUs and really believe in a coin, you can mine and hope for a price increase. Depending on where you live, buying in with electricity could be cheaper than buying with fiat on an exchange. And many miners will tell you, they made their biggest profits while mining in a bear market (and HODLing). But don’t kid yourself. You’re giving them your money for now.

Microtasks

Like mining, I knew this wasn’t going to pay the rent. But it’s an interesting trend, why not explore it. The site I used was Earn.com — a startup recently acquired by Coinbase for an eye-popping $100 million. It works like this: read a summary of some project, perform a small task (sign up for their email list, follow them on Twitter or Telegram, etc.) and get paid $1–2 in Bitcoin.

I felt a little conflicted about this. Projects are now valued by the size of their “community”, which is of course gamed, by things like this. To defend my ethics and mental real estate value, I came up with a process. I would skim the description of every project that came my way, filter out scammy/unethical projects (to Coinbase’s credit, there were none), do the tasks as quickly as humanly possible, then unsubscribe within a few days so as to not skew the metrics too much. I would also track the time each task took to the second so I could share this data with the community (hey).

In the end, I did eight tasks, earning a total of $11 (in BTC). The average time per task was seven minutes, earning me an hourly rate of *drumroll*…. $11.66/ hr.

Conclusion

I would actually work in crypto for $11/hr for the right project. But I’d need more than one hour per three months. The user experience was a glimpse into the future though, IMO. When the Lightning Network and other scaling solutions hit, I envision a Cambrian explosion of micropayments-based business models, with many projects paying you for your “education”. The current deal for millennials and gen Z (a lifetime of debt slavery and a job you hate for a piece of paper) is ripe for disruption.

Trading bots

Trading Bots were my big hope. Rent-a-bots seemed like a scam (or not effective in the bear market). But I thought I could write my own. My background is in electrical engineering (with an emphasis in digital signal processing), I like math, and I had just enough engineering skills to pull it off.

The idea was, I’d take the $10k in “risk capital” (money you can lose and stay solvent) which I’d saved from working a job I hated, bang out a couple bots, and let that passive income fund my other work in the space (writing perhaps?). All I needed was some “alpha”, as they say, an edge.

It didn’t take long to find. I noticed that the price of BTC and Ethereum would reliably have rapid drops downward, almost always followed by a bounce. Even in the bear market.

Buy The Fucking Dip (BTFD) strategy

If I Bought The Fucking Dip (BTFD), with algorithmic precision (specifically, when the price crashed down ~8% in a short amount of time), I could nearly always sell the beginning of the bounce and make a nice, low risk profit. A month of tweaking later, I had a robust enough algorithm that was not only backtesting well, but “paper trading” profitably too (i.e. making money when simulating trades on live incoming data). Yes!

With my bot making a solid %8–10 a month in simulated live trading (I could be paying my bills with this now!), I raced to deploy it live. Here came reality. I learned the difficulties of running servers in the cloud. About the messy complexity of real markets, order types, slippage, latency, High-Frequency Traders (HFTs), the Coinbase API going down, etc. Bugs would surface when the bot was trading. It was a full two months before the bot was finally working well enough to trade real money. But, it was profitable! I made a little over a hundred dollars in the first couple weeks. Started to scale it up slowly, giving the bot more money. Then, as I’d feared all along, the market started shifting…My bot was still making profitable trades, but trading less and less often. Volatility was going down…Before long, the bot stopped trading at all. I wasn’t the only one, apparently, buying these fucking dips. Shit.

My regular savings dwindling, I searched for dips in other alts. I found another juicy target. NEO on Binance. It dipped even more predictably than BTC or ETH. I coded up an integration to Binance and within a couple weeks I was back in business. The returns were a steady ~%6–8 per month for a few weeks. I started slowly ramping up the strategy, my passive income airplane starting to take off just as the runway was ending (my savings drying up). Then, this happened.

NEO crash

The mortal enemy of the BTFD strategy: a major drop that doesn’t bounce. My bot’s stop loss should have cut my losses, but it didn’t. Instead, it continued to trade the downward spiral, losing more and more money. Out with friends, I didn’t check the bot until the next day. By the time I stopped the bot, I had been wiped out. A post mortem showed that my bot had tried to sell. But because the crash was large enough, and the market illiquid enough, there had been no other trader willing to buy my coins for several minutes, confusing my bot’s logic and making it trade randomly.

I hadn’t lost too much money total, but I was officially out of risk capital. Even if I got high returns from here on out, my spending would slowly eat it up.

Conclusion

I learned a lot, and had a lot of fun. But beware this siren song. For a while, lack of liquidity and regulatory issues kept most of the professional traders and Wall St. quants at bay, allowing amateurs to make some coin. But the pros have been there for some time now…With advanced tech, machine learning, HFT, etc. There are still opportunities. Maybe in small cap pump and dumps. Maybe arbitraging DEXes or something…But, trading, I learned, is a job. A hard one. Not a magic money machine. And if you don’t have enough capital to trade, it’s not worth your time anyway.

Bounties

I didn’t end up doing bounties. But they seem promising, so here’s some research I did:

Bounty sites:

  • Gitcoin.io: this one seems the most promising. Well funded, open-source focused, great UI, and seems to have a steady stream of bounties coming in, paid in (mostly) liquid cryptos. My only worry is that, being bootstrapped by Consensus (pure speculation), one day the mostly ETH-focused bounties might dry up. Hopefully not.
  • Bounty0x: a pretty cool crypto project. They have interesting tokenomics, where you can earn crypto for performing bounties or resolving disputes around them (being a “sheriff”). Most of the bounties are just low-paid marketing microtasks though (e.g. follow us on Twitter, like and comment on this YouTube video, write a short blog, etc.), and mostly paid in ICO tokens. So you could be working for shitcoins you can never sell anyway; the micro-scale crypto equivalent of people getting paid only in stock options during the dotcom boom.
  • Bitcointalk.org: OG Bitcoin forum that apparently still does a lot of bounties. Didn’t look into it too much, but it but seems legit.

There are also a handful of other sites I’m leaving out. This blog lists a few more.

Conclusion

While I’m excited about bounties in general, and think they’re exploring interesting new modes of permissionless work, they just don’t pay the rent (for now). Kinda like mainstream freelancing sites like Upwork, you presumably have to work free-to-cheap to build up a reputation before making any meaningful income. It could be a good way to gain experience though, and perhaps find a company that just hires you.

A “Job”

The horror!!! I was really trying to avoid this. But with my “risk capital” gone, and savings dwindling, and the city where I live not cheap, desperate times called for desperate measures. While I was applying to whatever “blockchain” jobs popped up (not many), going to Bitcoin meetups, I kept hearing about Decred. Heard they were “hiring”. I looked it up and was surprised I’d never heard of it in my near two years in crypto. It was a solid project, started by some early Bitcoin devs that had become disillusioned with, among other things, the lack of sustainable funding for development. In Decred, 10% of the block reward goes to fund development, and two years after launch, there was some $12 million worth of DCR (Decred’s coin) sitting in the Treasury…. frugally saved for crypto winter. For me?

The “employment” model was risky, but appealing. No applications. No degrees. Just show up, start contributing, and, if they like your work, they invite you on as a part-time contractor to start. Basically, an actual functioning “DAO” (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) — though they’d rebranded it a Decentralized Autonomous “Entity” (DAE). As I researched the project, light bulbs began going off one by one. The whole thing made too much sense…The project was focusing on the things that made crypto valuable in the first place (decentralization, censorship resistance, permissionless, DAO), with some good new ideas around hybrid PoW/PoS.

As I continued searching for jobs, I fell farther down the Decred rabbit hole in parallel, learning and interacting with the community (which I was digging), with an eye to becoming a contractor.

I had been transitioning to development over the last couple years. But most of my professional experience is as a technical writer. I figured documentation was my best “in”. For about eight weeks, I helped with documentation anywhere I could, with the idea of eventually contributing code.

One day, I grew frustrated and angry. I’m doing all this work for free!! I used to get paid $72/hr for this! Instead of stewing, I took a deep breath, made a list of the work I’d contributed, and just asked in a public chat channel if I could become a contractor, linking to my work. Minutes later, I had my answer: yes! Within an hour I was officially in the DAO. (Note: about a week later, someone from the project did reach out asking if I was interested in becoming a contractor). I’ve been in the DAO ever since. About six months now… I’ve even started contributing a little code. Like this python code that is used to analyze voting data from Decred’s governance system Politeia. Below is a cool data visualization another contributor (@RichardRed0x) made of a recent vote on how to spend treasury funds.

Voting data for proposal Website for the Decred Community

Conclusion

So far so good. I can’t say it’s been all smooth sailing. The DAE is still new, and the process of becoming a contractor was fraught with a bit more uncertainty than I was used to. I’ve taken a large pay cut, and get paid in DCR, which is volatile enough that it can cause further pay cuts if the price drops before I can sell it for USD. But so far it’s totally worth it. It’s paying the rent. The community is awesome. I’m stoked about the future of the project and the DAO. Especially the DAO. And I can honestly say, I am working in crypto. Not some bullshit marketing machine. I’ve got a front-row seat to the revolution, working with some incredibly talented people, and no day is boring.

And this, my internet friends, is how I came to make a living in the crypto gig economy. For those that made it all the way through, thanks for reading and good luck out there!

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