How to understand cryptocurrency and why it’s popular


Think of cryptocurrency as the first taste of virtual money, available to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

  • We’re in the unregulated, risky, experimental phase — with more than 10,000 different digital currencies available globally with minimal government rules or oversight.
  • And very few people are buying stuff with it — yet.

Why it matters: Crypto is no fad. It will change how, where and what people buy and sell. But, right now, it’s mostly like trading in risky stocks over the internet, trying to pick the long-shot, long-term winners.

What’s happening: Cryptocurrency is the single biggest financial discovery and transformation in generations. Some of the world’s smartest young minds aren’t going to law school or Goldman Sachs — they’re going into crypto.

  1. It’s already a $2 trillion trading market, roughly the size of Microsoft.
  2. Young people are into it. Nearly half of millennial millionaires have at least 25% of their wealth in crypto, per CNBC.
  3. A surge in Bitcoin’s value can mint thousands of millionaires — and some billionaires — overnight. But that wealth can disappear as quickly as it came if a cryptocurrency crashes.

What crypto isn’t: Blockchain.

  • Blockchain is the technology behind your cryptocurrencies — like the internet is the tech behind your email. Newbies often confuse the two.
  • Think of blockchain as a massive public database shared by everyone and controlled by no one, so it can’t be tampered with. It keeps track of every transaction of a specific currency, such as Bitcoin.

What crypto is: Brady Dale, author of Axios’ upcoming crypto newsletter, calls it “money that is native to the web.”

  • “You know when you’re buying something online, and you have to reach for your credit card at checkout? Well imagine you had money that just lived in your browser, ready to use at any time.”
  • No, there’s nothing you can touch or feel. No coins or bills. Just a record of it on the digital database we mentioned.

Its value is driven mainly by demand, and hype — the more popular it becomes, the more it’s worth.

  • This isn’t much different than what drives stock prices and betting lines in sports. But you’re betting on an idea — that there’s a future for crypto — instead of a sports team with actual players or a business with actual financials.
  • So you can make money or lose money, just like in stock markets or gambling. But with fewer regulators watching you — or watching out for you.

Don’t be careless: Crypto news site CoinDesk has a guide on how to spot the scams, including how to reach out to their in-house experts for help. If you plan to invest, at least go in eyes wide open.

Why pay close attention? Look at crypto as your front door — and front row — for an unfolding virtual world where digital possessions will be similar to physical ones, virtual experiences similar to actual ones.

🏁 Editor’s note: This article appeared first in Axios Finish Line, a new newsletter in the Axios Daily Essentials package.