Jan. 18, 2022

Check in on the cryptopunks in your life

Check in on the cryptopunks in your life

Bitcoin down? Might want to call your grandma. And your uncle. And your 7th grade math teacher.


At some point over the last couple of years, crypto has evolved from a conversation exclusive to the internet’s deepest depths into a conversation exclusive to nowhere and no one. Today, the mainstreamification of crypto is real.


But this isn’t your dad’s index fund we’re talking about. Crypto, for all its rather sudden mass appeal, remains an unregulated and vividly volatile prospect. So it’s time to check in with the crypto experts to hear what they think is going on.


Today on Thinking Is Cool, hear from three deeply intelligent cryptocurrency and web 3 experts about the future of pricing, the doubts that keep them up at night, and the future direction of the crypto conversation in a post-NFT world.


Annika Lewis of Gitcoin, Jackson Dame of Rainbow, and Bobby Thakkar of posting a lot of web 3 stuff on Twitter all weigh in. Listen now and send to the people in your life who are always asking “what’s going on with bitcoin” because this is what’s going on with bitcoin.


Hello everyone! It’s me Kinsey Grant, your host, and I’m jazzed to welcome back to Thinking Is Cool, the show designed to make your next conversation better than your last. I say that at the top of every episode, but I want to tack on an addendum today. During this season of life and content creation, I’m focused really hard on leaning into and pursuing curiosity. I want this show to be something that moves you away from complacency and pushes you toward curiosity.


So in that spirit, I’m going to be telling more stories and asking more questions that are inspired by, quite frankly, my unbridled curiosity. Today, that curiosity is inspired by my bullshit radar. So without further ado, you know what I’m about to say: Nothing is off limits. Everything is on the table. Take it anywhere. And remember, thinking is cool and so are you.


*Fade out intro music*


The other day, I was scrolling through Twitter and I realized it had been a solid several minutes since I read a tweet that wasn’t about crypto. Seriously, these cryptocurrency, web 3, DeFi is the future types have a serious penchant for online signaling.


It got me thinking about my own journey understanding the cryptocurrency world. I started covering the space at my first journalism job because I was the youngest person in the newsroom and they figured that qualified me to cover potentially paradigm-shifting tech. This was back in 2017, when the biggest stories about bitcoin were 1) that it might hit $20,000 and 2) that JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon was, perhaps as unsurprisingly to you as it was to me, a big old bear. All of my coverage, which I’ll admit was elementary at best seeing as I was only a couple of months into this whole reporter shtick, centered around price action and institutional interest. 


I obsessed over the price of bitcoin and bitcoin alone. I wrote about it every single day. If the CEO of a major bank or Warren Buffett made any comment about crypto, it was a story for me.


But then I left that job and I abandoned my beat. I started covering everything, which meant that I had bid farewell to stories about bitcoin moving 3% in price. Recently, due just about entirely to this show and the people it’s brought into my life, I’ve gotten back into the crypto stories that should be told. I’ve tried quite a lot to tell them in a way that serves all of us well—that’s why I released a bitcoin episode in season 1 of this show and more recently interviewed web 3 investor Gaby Goldberg to continue that conversation and to simply learn more. There are so many angles to come at this story from, but I think curiosity is what’s proven the most fruitful in terms of volume of learning for me.


And the biggest learning is that stories themselves have shifted. Considering cryptocurrency is no longer about tracking price or getting a quote from some crusty old white dude with a giant net worth. The stories are instead about gigantic shifts in technology, access, finance, creativity, ownership, and so much more. Ahem, probably nothing. This isn’t just a business beat anymore. It’s a revolution.


Or so…that’s what I’ve come to think. And if I’m being totally honest, which I am, I think that because I rarely look at the price of any given cryptocurrency these days. I’m more interested in talking to the very people I mentioned a moment ago who are crusading into the deepest parts of the internet in the name of decentralization and innovation.


Does that mean I’ve forgotten that beneath all of these life-changing protocols are assets that are volatile in a historical fashion? …Yes, yes it does mean that.


So today, I want to spend some time getting the update. Several times over the last couple of months on this show, we’ve considered the enormous kind of 30,000-foot implications of crypto. And we’re not abandoning that today, but instead we’re pairing that large-scale futurecasting with the reality of what’s really happening—prices and all.


Today, it’s time to check in on the cryptopunks in your life. 


Over the last week, I put out some calls to the cryptopunks in my life to ask them several questions: what’s exciting right now? What’s risky right now? What’s testing your conviction right now? What does inflation mean to you?


And starting now, I’m sharing what they had to say. Let’s take a moment to meet our experts, the crypto-pilled folks I’ve met online and now get to call friends. Or at least Twitter friends. You know what I mean. So without further ado,


Meet Annika Lewis.


ANNIKA: I work at a company called Gitcoin in web three, where we focus on building and funding public goods, mainly in the digital realm. So I'm all about funding early stage projects and thinking about new mechanisms for that. In a prior life, I worked in finance, both as a VC and also at a fortune 500 bank. Um, but now I'm all things went three all the time and excited to be here to chat.


Meet Jackson Dame.


JACKSON: I work in the sort of web three crypto and Ft ecosystem at a wallet company called rainbow.


Uh, we are an Ethereum wallet and it's, uh, we're one of the most like friendly sort of, uh, accessible apps for newcomers and beginners to come into the space, really geared towards. Not as geared towards, uh, making sort of, uh, a product that is focused on crypto native people. It's more focused upon, uh, onboarding lots of new folks who are just getting started in this.


So I'm the content community manager there. And my goal and focus is a hundred percent on writing educational content, hosting a live Q and a sessions on Twitter. Um, and generally just being a part of the community to be able to listen and hear what our users and feedback. Um, and then my spare time, I'm also very much, uh, personally, uh, buying and collecting an FTS, crypto, all that kind of stuff. Defy. It's something that I do in my free time as well.


Meet Bobby Thakkar.


BOBBY: CEO of. Um, Ampersand, and I lead our experimental division. So we, we launched different products, uh, crypto projects, usually one every month or two. Um, and we love playing around and having a good time with innovative tech.


Now you know their voices. So…let’s get to the good stuff. With each of these experts, my biggest question was general sentiment. Truth can be stranger than Twitter, and truth is what we’re after here.


Let’s start with Annika, whom I asked pretty point blank: What’s the temperature in your corner of the crypto world these days?


ANNIKA: It feels like the temperature is fluctuating massively day-to-day right now, which is a really interesting time to be in, do use the seasons analogy. I feel like we've come out of this like super, super hot summer and some people think we're on the brink of perhaps skipping fall.


A very, very terrible winter. Um, given what's been happening in the market in the last couple of weeks, I actually saw a tweet this morning where someone put it very eloquently and kind of reflects a lot of what I'm seeing, which is a lot of crypto OGs really worrying about right now and whether or not we're entering another crypto winter and what that might mean for builders in the space.


Um, whereas at the same time, a lot of institutions. Up to the promise of web three and getting really excited. Um, and it's super bullish. So we're kind of at this interesting junction where, you know, there's this sort of concerned market sentiment around what's going on from macro economic standpoint. Um, there's a lot of excitement as people have woken up to web three and the promise that it.


KINSEY: Yeah, I think that is a really interesting point to make that, um, you know, the old saying is one man's trash is another treasure, but I think that like one man's crypto winter could be a big opportunity for people to, to get into the space who maybe previously didn't feel ready or feel, um, equipped to do so.


So when we consider the fact that we might be skipping fall, we might be going straight to winter here. What would that mean for the builders that you talk about, about working with, what does that mean for them? Does that meaningfully. Sometimes does that impact their growth strategies? What does winter really mean aside from watching prices go down?


ANNIKA: Yeah, I think it's a double-edged sword for builders. I think, you know, for someone like me, who's relatively new to being full-time in the space. It's exciting in a way, because it means that a lot of the noise that comes with having a really hot summer and people who are just in it for a quick buck might disappear.


It's down to other builders who are in it for the longterm are long-term greedy and are just really there for the right reasons. Um, so that piece is exciting to me in a way about moving into a winter where perhaps the super set of people that are interested in being involved just looks a little bit different on the flip side, you know, like any market downturn, um, it's concerning from an early stage funding perspective.


If there's just less capital out there and moving into the space, less builders can actually pick up and build and, and it can slow innovation down. So it does concern me from that perspective. Um, but from the builder perspective, there is also that kind of excitement about people being in it for the right reasons.


And I know you might be wondering, the answer is yes: I did at that point in our conversation make a long-winded and shockingly extended metaphor involving the Bachelor franchise. I’ll give the condensed version here, because I think it holds up.


Investing $250 in Ethereum because your nextdoor neighbor told you they bought and sold the crypto with a 47% return is like going on the Bachelor to become Instagram famous. It’s certainly a means to an end, but it might not be the right end. In the case of the Bachelor, going on for the wrong reasons means forgoing the possibility of true love. In the case of crypto, investing for the wrong reasons means forgoing the possibility of cryptocurrency being more than just an asset class and becoming an instrument for changing so much about the ways we log on, communicate, form groups, get paid, and so much more. 


But…just as a decade’s worth of traditionally hot people have gone on the Bachelor to cultivate luxurious lives as LA-based lifestyle influencers, people are still gonna invest in crypto to make a quick buck.


With that, it’s time we talked about pricing. Back to that conversation with Annika.


KINSEY: I'm curious to hear your perspective when we talk about the price of, let's say you're the big ones we think about Bitcoin and Ethereum. These prices obviously shift quite a bit. Um, I was looking right before we got on this call, uh, over the last 12 months, Bitcoin is up almost 30% in price, but it's down.


13% over the last month we see these fluctuations happen. We see big swings happen. What is the pricing mean for you as somebody who works with builders? You know, obviously you want to go beyond just the number that we can apply to some of these assets, but I'm curious to hear what the impact is of pricing and how much you actually keep track of it daily.


ANNIKA: Yeah, that's a really good question. And I think it looks very different for all sorts of people in the space, but I'll provide my perspective as someone who works within a Dao. Right. And so for us, we manage a treasury that's comprised of our token of all sorts of other tokens. Um, and it's, it's kind of, you can think about it.


Like if somebody's managing their balance sheet, um, where traditionally, you know, there's a number of things that those types of companies would allocate their assets into, whether it's past. You know, real estate, whatever else that may be. Um, and for us, with our treasuries being in these assets that are so volatile, it can have a big, you know, even paying employees, paying down employees in these types of tokens.


So we have to be very thoughtful about treasury management and that in the context of DAO's is becoming a much more hot topic these days, especially as folks start to see very acutely, um, what's happening in the market, kind of deplete their treasuries. So. I think about personally, when I think about these, these prices in the context of, of my work.


Um, but I also think about it, you know, more generally as a consumer and just markets and demand and just find it really interesting to see, um, see how volatile my conviction in say, Ethereum doesn't fluctuate that much on a day-to-day basis, but just to see that, you know, that's how the market views, it is just assigned to me of how early we still are in this whole.


You’ll hear that a lot when you talk to crypto folk—we’re still so early. And we are, but I think it’s worth drawing attention to the fact that so many more people are interested in crypto today than they were just last year. Everyone and their boyfriend’s mom wants to know what crypto to buy. Literally. And that interest becoming more widespread has an impact on pricing. Jackson explained why.


JACKSON: I look at a lot more in terms of like the day-to-day usage, like how many transactions are going through, uh, you know, every single day because, um, it, you know, it just constantly is going up. And which to me is a signal of, there are just every single day and more and more people.


Onboarding into webs three, who are inevitably having to do transactions on the Ethereum blockchain to, to, to join a community, to participate in this NFT game. And they might, they're probably not coming for a Sirium they're coming for all these experiences, but at the end of the day, what's under to get all our, the  transactions, which, you know, cost Ethereum to.


So, you know, inevitably I think that does impact price. Like I think that there, you know, the more people you are onboarding and the more people are coming into it, the more people are buying it.


Bobby echoed a similar sentiment, and he explained that all of those new users might contribute to volatility in the short term, but long-term…well, I’ll let him explain.


BOBBY: Yes, people complain about the volatility, but you have to remember, this is a more individuals are participating in this product than almost any other asset class in the world.


Um, And how we can combine, compare that as like the law street bets stuff like game site and see all these token, like all these stocks were kind of like manipulated by a consensus group of people. And there weren't, market-makers there to like make the volatility low. Whereas in the regular traditional stock market, we look at investments that are pretty like stable and that's because you have massive hedge funds and market makers are arbitrary, merging like these markets and making them more stable for everyone.


Right. Like those participants who are not in the crypto space. And I think this year, like, I mean like every year, this happened last year and multiple people predicted this for January last year was you're going to see more and more hedge funds move into this. Uh, this year is also the first year you're gonna see financial advisors start wrecking.


Uh, you diversify at least 5% of your, uh, like your assets into Bitcoin or any, some like blue chip crypto. And all of those activities are, is what's going to push the price of crypto, but also make it more stable over time. Right? Um, as these assets just appreciate over time and grow into larger and larger assets, it's going to be harder to move them.


It's much easier to move a million dollar token than it is. $5 trillion Bitcoin market cap token, right? Like you have the big, well to move those. Um, and I mean, crypto and all these, like we were, all of crypto is equivalent to the value of apple today. And so like, we need to get crypted to the value of like the S and P 500 to see the same amount of volatility.


It comes back to that ultimate takeaway…we’re still so early. Every time I say that, I think about the five years I’ve spent following crypto and unraveling complicated ides and it makes me need a drink, which, by the way…time to hear from my very good friends at Massican. 




Thanks as always to the fine folks at Massican for being some of Thinking Is Cool’s biggest cheerleaders and weekend enablers. Love it.


Now, before that break, we were talking about volatility. It’s often identified as one of the biggest inhibitors to mainstream—like really mainstream—crypto and web 3 adoption. But as today’s experts have explained, that’s show biz baby. 


That, of course, doesn’t mean that there are no other risks that need to be mitigated in the crypto world. So what else is worth paying attention to? Here’s what Bobby said.


BOBBY:  I think the other thing is anyone can create anything. I can create a token. I literally created Bob token three hours.


Um, and I can go show that to a ton of people. I can actually just airdrop it to people's wallets. And like, if you interact with that content, I could like scam something out of your wallet, right? Like there are a lot of risk in crypto and it's just because that's the permissionless transparency aspect of it.


Let’s next get Jackson’s POV…the human one.


JACKSON: I've talked about this a lot on Twitter with folks and colleagues in the industry.


Like we do still have a major problem of like diversity inclusion in the space. Um, it's, it's definitely getting better every year. Like I think there has been a tendency, like my experience as a non-binary person on Twitter in this space. I, I, I struggled with. I know that there's lots of, uh, lots of underrepresented people in this space who are actively building companies, working in these spaces, doing amazing things.


And for us who are here, uh, it is frustrating at times because we often, uh, when you see like crypto bros, it's all over the headlines. We like the space gets dismissed, even though there are actually like diverse people here are ready, doing things. Um, which is frustrating at times, but it is a real issue still.


Like the, like we do need to get a lot better in that regard. I do think it is a, an inherent risk to this space. 


It’s something that Gaby Goldberg, who you might remember from my continuing the conversation episode back in December, brought up: If crypto and web 3 can’t address and avert the shortcomings of earlier financial and technological systems…then this might all be for nothing. 


These new ecosystems need to be more equitable. They need to create space for marginalized groups, for women, for people of color, for everyone. And, importantly, they need to cater to people from all types of socioeconomic backgrounds. Jackson explains more here:


JACKSON: Like when I first got started, I still was not able to do very much myself. Like I was very limited in what I could do. Um, and so I think, um, you know, and that's, you know, I think that's why, you know, as the biggest conversation in the, if you're in community is right now is how can we scale this and to make all these fees and stuff go away and be a lot easier to use. And I think that's honestly the number one issue right now.


When I think honestly about the biggest hurdles to crypto-pilling everyone, they seem at times insurmountable. We’ve had lifetimes to make existing financial systems better, and we’ve almost 100% of the time failed to do so. It makes me wonder if the enormous promise that the crypto community has insisted is real…might not be real. What if this is all just aspirational? What if we’re wrong about what the future looks like?


I asked, and here are the answers.


KINSEY: Is your conviction that this is the way of the future ever tested? 


ANNIKA: Is it is my conviction tested? Hmm, that's a good question. I think it has been tested for time, but I think the more data points I believe. The stronger it gets. So for example, when I first got interested in blockchain in 2016, when I was in New York working for a fortune 500 bank, thinking about what this technology could enable, um, yeah, my conviction was, you know, grew when I first learned about the technology and then got tested when we actually tried running a proof of concept and it failed miserably because it was 2016 and I was like, there's no business applicability here.


I can see the future. It's just not ready for prime time. And I see all these maximalists getting so excited about it, but there's no utility. So that was one stream of my conviction being tested in the five-year since then, you know, as like more conviction, conviction has been tested in ways like that, where I've seen it, perhaps fail from a user experience perspective where I've seen tech move more slowly than I thought.


But again, gradually over time, just as the innovation has played out in the space. And as I've seen the glimmers of what I know are likely to be ahead, um, my conviction just grows stronger than ever.


I asked the same question of Jackson—is your conviction ever tested? And I think it’s important to note that Jackson was brand new to crypto in general—like, had to google what the blockchain is—in 2020. And now Jackson is a celebrated expert who has put in the work, and I think it really shows.


JACKSON: there are moments where I'm like, I don't know if this is actually going to win out. Like there's very legitimate criticism around, you know, kind of like the speculative nature of it all. You know, there are lots of scams out there. There, there are people who have legitimate concerns about the environment.


Like all these things are very legitimate things that people need to be talking about. And I think like weighs on me because, you know, I think one of the biggest conversations we've seen in the NFT space, there's a lot of pushback. The gaming community as, as gaming companies are trying to introduce NFTs into the space.


And while I don't think that like the gaming community is really seeing the full picture of it at the moment. I do think that like their criticism is that they have the experience of an internet that didn't work well for them. And these companies sort of exploiting them in a lot of, a lot of ways. So like their skepticism is very natural.


And I think if we don't have some level of skepticism, And belief that we need to hold these platforms to a higher standard. I think if we don't have that, like I think that we could end up like seeing a web, like I don't, if we don't have those kinds of levels of criticism, I don't think that web three is going to continue to go in a better direction.


So I think that that's good in the long run. And, um, so yeah, I, you know, I don't have a hundred percent conviction that web three is going to solve everything and this is going to be the next best thing. But I'm hopeful. It has a shot at it. I think maybe I'm just willing to like bet a little bit of my money and my career, at least on trying to be a part of it.


I guess that’s the biggest takeaway for me as I pursue this curiosity: You can make a bet on something without handing your whole self over to it. We’re dynamic, and we can exist and invest in multitudes, and we should.


For some, crypto is the way of the future. It’s the promised land and it’s your livelihood and it’s a new way of being. For others, it’s an inflation hedge. Okay, fine, I asked about inflation because it’s important and blah blah blah here you go.


KINSEY: When I say inflation, what word comes to mind for you?


ANNIKA: Quantitative easing. That's a very macroeconomic nerdy way of saying it, but I mean, yeah. Inflation is obviously a huge topic right now. Um, it's actually the reason I, you know, quantitative easing and the fear of inflation is the reason I really got back into crypto in earnest in 2020, we were talking earlier about people who look at crypto from just an asset class perspective, and then perhaps leading this.


When this bear market comes, I was one of those people. That's kind of how I came back into the space was like, I'm really worried about the future of the U S dollar from a quantitative easing perspective with COVID heading and all the money being printed. I want to look at alternatives. Alternate stores of value of real estate was one precious metals were one, crypto was another, and then it wasn't until I actually went down the rabbit hole of understanding all of the utility of crypto that I got excited about it.


So TLDR like inflation and. Into the space in the first place. Um, they're very real, uh, I think, you know, there's a lot of issues with our current Fiat currency system and I think inflation will persist. Um, but yeah, I think, uh, I think crypto will, will change the game in terms of how we think about that in the future.


I asked Jackson about inflation, too.


JACKSON: The immediate thing I always think about is the line that everyone in the crypto space always sort of parrots intuitively is, you know, oh, it's a hedge against inflation or whatever. And I, you know, as much as I would love to believe that myself and, you know, maybe that has people, some people, I think it's.


I think outside of the United States, that is very, very true. And in some countries, um, I, I don't know if I really think it's that, uh, big of a hedge at the moment. Like it's I know me personally, like I I've just seen it. It fluctuates and it's still so tied to sort of like the macro environment still, uh, that like.


I dunno. I, I think that, uh, I think that crypto is definitely like something in the long-term that could be that, but like in the near term, I don't know, like I'm very much, uh, I I'm, I'm very much more conservative on it.


So there you have it—I hope these experts have shown you exactly what the temperature is in crypto these days. I’m learning more and more that it’s about more than just following the price of a couple of assets. It’s about, if you want, immersing yourself in the secondary layers of these stories. The parts that have to do with big ideas and human ones. That’s where the richness really is. There’s so much to learn and think about, and I hope you’re ready to hop to.


I’ll leave you with this, from Bobby, which has to do with where all of you come in.


BOBBY: I think a lot more people are going to start earning crypto instead of having to buy into it. I think everyone kind of looked at. Looking at all of these products as like different tokens and, um, it's, it's cool.


Like there's so many different tokens for so many different things. And I think some people criticize like, oh, we shouldn't tokenize everything and put a dollar sign next to that. Like that would suck. But I think there's definitely a balance in there where more people are going to earn crypto this year or possibly going into next year, then the buying into it.


So instead of you looking at as like an investment and buying into it, you were as an individual, not going to. Values on the network and to earn tokens for that value that you provide on the network and exchange. Um, so that means you do sides, design work, or like if you participate in a project or a group call, if you earn your we're getting rewarded tokens for all these activities that you're doing on chain.


Um, and that's how you're going to actually get money to like do stuff in the crypto world.


Go forth and get in your cryptographic bag. Thanks so much for listening. I’ll see you next week with a fun one. I’m Kinsey Grant and remember, thinking is cool and so are you.