The Innovative Investor’s Guide to Bitcoin and Beyond
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Chris Burniske’s Perspective
Chris Burniske joined ARK as a Next Generation Internet analyst in August 2014, covering big data, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and cryptocurrency. After ARK became the first public fund manager to invest in bitcoin, Chris transitioned to the role of Blockchain Products Lead. He now collaborates with the ARK business development team and performs deep-dive research on the cryptocurrency and blockchain space. Chris regularly speaks at conferences and has contributed to CNBC, Bloomberg, WSJ, USA Today, the Guardian, and other media outlets on topics relating to Bitcoin, Ethereum, and more.
About Jack Tatar
Jack Tatar is a former writer for The Balance who covered investing and bitcoin. Tatar is currently Managing Partner with Doyle Capital Management, which invests in early-stage cryptoasset companies. He is also a contributor to Forbes. Specifically, editing the newsletter “Forbes CryptoAsset & Blockchain Advisor.” Finally, he is the Chair of the Cryptoasset Working Group for the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance. Tatar was a licensed financial advisor for many years with a large wealth management firm.
“Since then, people have downloaded the open-source software that is Bitcoin, studied its blockchain, and released different blockchains that go far beyond Bitcoin. Blockchain technology can now be thought of as a general purpose technology, on par with that of the steam engine, electricity, and machine learning.” – Chris Burniske
Chapter 1: What Is Bitcoin?
“Blockchain technology came from Bitcoin. In other words, Bitcoin is the mother of blockchain technology. Bitcoin, with a capital B, is a platform that carries upon it programmable money, known as bitcoin with a lowercase b. The technological foundation to this platform is a distributed and digital ledger referred to as a blockchain. In January 2009, when Bitcoin was first released, it embodied the first working implementation of a blockchain the world had seen.”– Chris Burniske
Bitcoin is a digital currency created in January 2009. Following the housing market crash, Bitcoin developed from ideas set out in a white paper by the mysterious and pseudo-anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto. The identity of the person or persons who created the technology is still a mystery.
Bitcoin offers the promise of lower transaction fees than traditional online payment mechanisms and is operated by a decentralized authority. Unlike government-issued currencies, there are no physical Bitcoins. Instead, people just have balances kept on a public ledger that everyone has transparent access to. That, along with all Bitcoin transactions, is verified by a massive amount of computing power.
Bitcoins are not issued or backed by any banks or governments, nor are individual Bitcoins valuable as a commodity. Despite it not being legal tender, Bitcoin charts high on popularity and the concept has triggered the launch of hundreds of other virtual currencies. These currencies are collectively referred to as alt coins. As Bitcoin is electronic only, it is known as cryptocurrency unpacking. The etymology of the word cryptocurrency is actually quite interesting. The first part of the word, crypto, means hidden or secret. Hence, Bitcoin is hidden or secret money that you can spend.
In practice, however, it’s not quite as secretive as the name implies. Instead, it’s simply a form of electronic currency that you cannot physically hold. Subsequently, the process of spending Bitcoin is not particularly complicated. Balances of Bitcoin tokens are kept using public and private keys, which are long strings of numbers and letters linked through a mathematical encryption algorithm used to create them. The public key, comparable to a bank account number, serves as the address published to the world and to which others may send Bitcoins. The private key, comparable to an ATM pin, is only used to authorize Bitcoin transmissions. Bitcoin keys should not be confused with a Bitcoin wallet, which is a physical or digital device that facilitates Bitcoin trading. Bitcoin wallets allow users to track ownership of coins.
Chapter 2: What Is a Cryptoasset?
“Human ingenuity often surfaces when it’s most needed, and now, a new technology is emerging that returns to the decentralized ethos of the original Internet with the potential to revolutionize our computational and transactional infrastructure: blockchain technology. Every second, millions of packets of information are transacted between humans and machines using the Internet, and blockchain technology is forcing us to rethink the costs, security, and ownership of these transactions.”– Chris Burniske
Cryptocurrency vs Fiat Currency
Bitcoin Is Not Physical
“Microsoft provides Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) for developers within its Azure cloud platform.”– Chris Burniske
Most of our finances are online these days. Our paychecks arrive in our bank accounts through an electronic direct deposit. We check our balance using banking apps. We pay our bills online. We send money to friends using apps like Venmo or PayPal. In each of these cases, we don’t put our hands on physical currency. Rather, we simply move numbers around online. However, this does not mean these transactions involve cryptoassets. The primary difference is that no businesses will accept Bitcoin as legal tender. Hence, Bitcoin differs from Fiat currency.
Fiat currency is the term that we use for the traditional forms of money used daily. For example, cash and the money that’s in your bank account both fall under the category of Fiat currency. Fiat currencies differ from cryptocurrencies. Fiat currency is controlled by the government. Therefore, the cash in our wallet and the money in our bank accounts have value because the government says they do. As the government doesn’t regulate Bitcoin, it also isn’t recognized by the government. Bitcoin is a perfect example of how the government uses its authority to control our finances and our choices. Fiat currencies only hold value because everyone has been made to believe they do. Cash is nothing but a printed piece of paper that our society has imbued with value. If our reality was twisted and our government suddenly said that Pinto beans were legal currency, we would all pay with Pinto beans and believe they had value.
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin don’t rely on government-controlled channels. Consequently, this has given rise to the popular misconception that Bitcoin is unsafe. In the interest of impartiality, the authors accept that some illegal operations can benefit from the availability of untraceable funds. For this reason, Bitcoin is very popular on the dark web and can be used in any number of illegal activities. For example, Bitcoin has been used in prostitution, the drug trade, and the production and purchasing of child porn. However, the author also observes that Fiat currencies can be used for all these illegal activities.
Therefore, crime isn’t really the government’s primary concern when it comes to Bitcoin. Instead, they’re concerned that if Bitcoin could become a mainstream choice of currency. If this happened, the banking system might become obsolete. However, Bitcoin could become a traceable currency if the government accepted it as legal tender. The authors explain that Bitcoin is a relatively poor choice for conducting illegal business online. Forensic analysis of the Bitcoin blockchain has helped authorities to arrest and prosecute several criminals.
It’s also impossible to conceal your financial trail by using Bitcoin because every new transaction is recorded and becomes part of the blockchain that characterizes your Bitcoin wallet.
Bitcoin Is Electronic
Cryptocurrencies are systems that allow for secure payments online, denominated in terms of virtual tokens. These tokens are represented by ledger entries internal to the system. Crypto refers to encryption algorithms and cryptographic techniques that safeguard these entries. Examples of these techniques are elliptical curves, encryption, public-private key pairs, and hashing functions. These techniques are adopted by Bitcoin miners. This name may make you think about the California gold rush, where miners raced out West with their pickaxes and their gold dust pants. However, the authors highlight that this is an excellent analogy.
People hoped gold would be the currency of the future. Many people cherished the same hopes for Bitcoin, and mining for Bitcoin is more or less the same process as mining for gold. The only difference is that the process has now been digitized. Instead of human-led mining, Bitcoin mining is carried out by supercomputers. Just as people sifted through rocks and silt, hoping to find a few nuggets of gold, these supercomputers sift through complex electronic code to find the details of Bitcoin transactions. Each new transaction, also known as a block of code, is added to a public record called a blockchain. Then, Bitcoin miners perform a similar function to banks or credit card companies.
Upon verifying a transaction’s authenticity, supercomputers add the transaction to the blockchain. You and other Bitcoin users can look up that record to confirm that the transaction was safe, secure, and verified. This prevents something called double-spending, which occurs when a block or Bitcoin transaction is duplicated. Although we don’t have this problem with cash or in the money in our bank accounts, Bitcoin transactions can be copied because they are basically just strings of computer code. If you can duplicate your Bitcoin, you can then spend money and hold onto the original at the same time. Obviously, that’s not ideal.
Therefore, Bitcoin miners exist to verify transactions and prevent duplications. Bitcoin might not be regulated by the government. Still, it has its own rules, regulations, and safety nets that are in place to keep users safe. Bitcoin has its own advantages and disadvantages, just like any other form of currency.
Chapter 3: Should You Invest in Bitcoin?
“Such rapid changes in price are almost always fueled by mass speculation and not fundamental growth. Behavior changes slowly, and many of the use cases put forth by cryptoassets will require the mainstream to adapt to these new platforms. Speculators, on the other hand, move quickly.”– Chris Burniske
The authors believe that Bitcoin is the future and you will regret not investing at this relatively early stage. They believe that Bitcoin will eventually gain enough traction to supplant the traditional banking system. This takeover will be extremely profitable for those who invest in Bitcoin early on. The authors liken the future of Bitcoin to the invention of the internet, email, and companies like Google. All of these were new, scary, and unpopular at one time too. Despite this, they soon rose to dominate the market.
Once trailblazers like Google and Facebook reach the pinnacle, this is when everyone wants to invest. However, at this point you will have lost out on the opportunity to make substantial profits. People will always be jealous of the visionaries who saw potential in these newfangled ideas long before they became mainstream.
How to Invest
The authors offer an outline of how you buy bitcoin. Essentially, Bitcoin can be purchased using Fiat currency, just like any other investment. However, you should be warned that this investment doesn’t come cheap. Therefore, the authors suggest you take some time to think about what you want to do with your cryptocurrency and whether the investment is worth it to you. Additionally, Burniske and Tatar also advise you to watch the market for a while first and familiarize yourself with the cryptocurrency market’s rises and falls before investing. With that said, he also cautions that Bitcoin comes with the same risks as any other type of financial investment.
There’s always a chance you could lose your money and be left with nothing. This is why it is especially important that you take your time and familiarize yourself with the Bitcoin market before investing any money of your own. Once you feel comfortable knowing what you’re doing, you can invest in your own way. The authors observe that Bitcoin’s inherently versatile nature makes it extremely profitable and flexible. Therefore, it is perfect for new investors. However, like all investments, you have to take some risk to reap the rewards.
Final Summary and Review of Cryptoassets
Cryptoassets aim to tackle every question ever asked about cryptocurrency. Cryptoassets have unique characteristics that have to be considered when investing. Therefore, Burniske and Tatar decided to provide an investor’s guide for one of the fastest-growing sectors. Subsequently, Cryptoassets offers tips on navigating the future bubbles, helps you understand the importance of cryptoassets for our future, and helps you effectively value cryptoassets.
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