Recap: Intro to Crypto

Saurav Risbud
Textbook Ventures
Published in
8 min readJul 17, 2021

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A few weeks ago, Textbook Ventures held an “Intro to Crypto” event to discuss the emerging fields of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. You can catch the recording of the event here.

We also wanted to share some of the key takeaways from the event and expand on some basic concepts in this blog article.

🗣 Our panel

Tristan Frizza: Tristan has a background in computer science and worked as a machine learning scientist at Atlassian in Sydney and Silicon Valley. He is now working on his own DeFi startup building a decentralised exchange on the Solana blockchain

Karen Cohen: Karen is the Deputy Chair of Blockchain Australia and is the founder of Emerging Tech Talent, an HR, ER and Operations Consulting business. She is affectionately known as “block-mum” in the Australian blockchain scene.

Michael Cotton: Michael is the co-founder of Meld Ventures, a VC dedicated to backing the next wave of blockchain entrepreneurs, and Meld Gold, a company revolutionising how gold is bought and sold. He is also the co-founder of Algomint- a project that aims to allow assets to move between different blockchains seamlessly

🤯 What is blockchain and crypto?

Blockchain is an example of distributed ledger technology. As the name suggests, a blockchain consists of linked ‘blocks’. Each block contains some data, a hash and the hash of a previous block. The data depends on the type of blockchain. For example, the Bitcoin blockchain contains the sender, receiver and amount of Bitcoin transacted. A hash is a string of characters that is unique to the block- a kind of fingerprint for the block. If the data in the block is changed, the hash will also change. Including the hash of the previous block creates a chain- if one block’s hash changes, all the following blocks will also change, making it easy to detect tampering.

However, due to the speed of computers, it is possible to change a hash and then quickly recalculate all other hashes. To prevent this, the Bitcoin blockchain use a mechanism called proof-of-work. It is based on the science of cryptography (hence cryptocurrencies!), using mathematical equations that are so difficult that only powerful computers can solve them. While hard to solve, mathematically, it is easy to check if the solution is correct, allowing for blocks to be verified. However, this computational process requires time, with the Bitcoin blockchain taking around 10 minutes to add a new block. (Note- proof of work is one example of a ‘consensus mechanism’- i.e. how blockchains determine if a block is valid. There are other mechanisms, most notably proof-of-stake.)

The last feature making a blockchain secure is its decentralised nature. Rather than one centralised entity managing everything, blockchains use a peer-to-peer network that anyone can join. When anyone makes a new block, this has to be verified by everyone in the network. All the nodes have to reach a consensus on whether a block is valid or not before it is added to the chain. Therefore, to tamper with a blockchain you would have to tamper with all the nodes and redo the proof of work for each, which is infeasible.

Cryptocurrency is just one use case of blockchain- the public ledger records how the currency flows between users. What makes it valid is that each user has trust in the ledger, due to the qualities of blockchain discussed above. Bitcoin was just the first cryptocurrency- there are now literally thousands of others.

There are also a wide variety of use cases of blockchain outside of cryptocurrencies. For example, you can create something called “smart contracts” on the Ethereum blockchain. These are self-executing pieces of code hosted on a blockchain-based platform. They execute when a particular condition is met. One use case is in insurance. For example, a smart contract in agriculture insurance can automatically pay a farmer if 30 days go by without rainfall.

For a more in-depth explanation of the workings of cryptocurrencies, the below video from 3Blue1Brown covers the topic in a clear and visually beautiful manner.

💡What led the speakers to a career in crypto?

For Tristan, his interest began during the bull run in Bitcoin in 2017 and he then became involved in learning the engineering side of things. He built a blockchain using Java at university and then began to learn Solidity- the programming language that the Ethereum blockchain uses. Since then it has always been in his mind to build a blockchain/crypto startup.

Similarly, Michael heard about Bitcoin from a friend and was blown away by the potential use cases of blockchain and delved deeper into the technical side of the blockchain world.

For Karen, she came from a HR background and was asked to help with the HR needs of a blockchain company. From there, it was a baptism of fire understanding how the ecosystem works and becoming the Deputy Chair of Blockchain Australia.

🛠 What are some of the different types of crypto projects?

Michael:

We’re still in a very experimental stage of crypto. Within the traditional financial system, there are huge limitations on what you can do. Cryptocurrencies offer a blank slate. There is a broad spectrum of crypto. On one end, you have crypto kitties- where you could buy a blockchain cat and make the cats mate to produce another blockchain cat. At the other end, we have really sophisticated financial products like yearn.finance. Different tokens have different value. Crypto kitties had this ‘gamified value’ and Dogecoin is essentially just ‘meme value’.

📈 What is DeFi and where is it going?

Tristan:

DeFi stands for Decentralised Finance and refers to the world of financial applications that are built on blockchain networks. DeFi has really started to kick off- last year we had a “DeFi summer” where a lot of protocols blew up such as yearn.finance and Compound doing lending and financial derivatives. This has allowed people to see that there is real value in crypto and blockchain, as there is still scepticism over its value as a global transaction network, competing against the likes of Visa and Mastercard.

People are now building really complex products that aren’t feasible in traditional finance. There’s a concept called perpetual futures that are futures contracts without a set endpoint. Automated Market Makers (AMMs) are also becoming huge, allowing you to swap between tokens. Uniswap is an example of an AMM. Rather than having to swap with a counterparty, you can swap with essentially a piece of code that gives you the necessary payout.

What’s cool is that a lot of this is open-source- you get the community building it. This also leads to composability- where different protocols can talk to each other. I can borrow from Compund to trade on a different platform and then repay a loan elsewhere without any friction.

🤔 What are NFTs?

Tristan:

NFT stands for non-fungible token. This is in opposition to a fungible token like Bitcoin. 1 Bitcoin can be interchanged with another. Our regular dollars are also fungible- you can swap one $20 bill for another $20 bill.

Non-fungibility means you can prove you have the only copy of something.

For example, if you have a baseball card that has been made into an NFT, it has a digital signature that proves that you have the only authentic version. This concept has blown up in the art world to prove ownership of particular artworks. (Note: this podcast from Planet Money covers NFTs in a really clear manner).

Michael:

NFTs were originally designed for things like contracts and proof-of-identity- things that you want to be immutable and singular. This is still a valid use case but has been drowned out by all the art hype. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have value in the art world. It can enable a photographer or digital artist to monetise their work by proving authenticity. There are even more cool use cases in music where songs can be embedded in the hash code of a token. This can then be used to play music through your phone alone- giving you unique ownership.

💹 Is crypto experiencing a bubble?

Michael:

This is not the first boom in Bitcoin, but the difference is that the value has increased dramatically with each boom. There’s a combination of factors that have contributed to the most recent boom. During lockdowns around the world, people had more time on their hands and could spend more time looking into crypto. At the same time, governments around the world began to print money, leading to some loss of trust in fiat currencies.

It’s hard to say whether it is a bubble or not given the volatility of the market and how new it is.

With regards to crypto’s growing popularity- when more ‘mainstream’ individuals enter the world, this in turn makes the technology more mainstream, creating a virtuous cycle. For example, Silvio Micali is considered one of the grandfathers of cryptography and one of the finest mathematical minds in the world, and his work on the Algorand protocol adds legitimacy to the space.

💼 How should I learn more about careers in crypto?

Karen:

It can be a frightening journey and an opaque industry. However, the best place to start is to meet and talk to people in the space. There are always events hosted on MeetUp and everyone is welcoming of people looking to learn about the space. Gitcoin is also a great platform that gamifies learning, allowing you to pick up ‘bounties’ when you complete tasks. At the moment, there is a lot of watching of the space with limited involvement. But once you get involved it really sucks you in.

There’s also been an explosion in opportunities. In 2017, we tried to create an Ethereum Bootcamp for blockchain developers but it was hard to sell and employers weren’t interested. Now, we’re seeing a lot of positions for blockchain developers and lots of new startups emerging that need people to build and grow them.

Tristan:

The barrier to entry is lower than traditional tech. Since crypto is new, people don’t care as much about your background and CV. The whole community is based on being open- crypto Twitter is a great place to start. A lot of the crypto protocols are also open-source, meaning you can contribute to projects without having an insane technical background. No one is really an expert in topics like DeFi.

I knew very little about the space going into 2021 but have been able to learn a ton online and launch my own startup.

Michael:

If you have nowhere else to start, take a look at the really successful projects like Ethereum, Solana, Bitcoin etc. Look for who the founders are and look at podcasts that they’re on as well as their socials. From here, you’ll learn what tech and products excite you and go from there.

🤓 Resources to learn more

Below are some recommendations from our panel and audience members to learn more about blockchain and crypto:

Want to learn about more exciting industries in the tech and startup space? Be sure to follow Textbook Ventures’ Facebook page and subscribe to our newsletter to discover more awesome content and events plus opportunities with amazing VCs and startups.

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Saurav Risbud
Textbook Ventures

Trying to write down my thoughts. Support my writing by signing up to Medium: https://sauravrisbud11.medium.com/membership (I will get a portion of your fee)