Posts from crypto

Digital Art Frames

I have a Samsung Frame in my home office. I think I posted a photo of it here at AVC once before. But for those who did not see that post, here it is:

I’ve had it for something like three years and I change the digital art on it from time to time.

Digital Art has been tricky to purchase and own and the business models around it are a bit challenging.

I think NFTs might change that. If artists can get paid for the “original” or a “limited edition” and then make copies free or near free, then I think the digital art market could explode.

My partner Albert posted about NFTs a week or so ago and made an important point that I think is a bit lost in all of the hype/mania about NFTs right now:

This is what NFTs do for digital content. They let someone assert “I am the Louvre” (for that piece of content).

This is not a fad. It is a fundamental and profound innovation.

https://continuations.com/post/645017712412786688/a-word-on-nfts

Go here and read the entire thing because “the Louvre” is a bit out of context in that quote. His point is that crypto/blockchains allow for someone (or a group) to own the original(s) and everyone else to own copies that are as good as the original.

And that is the kind of thing that could make owning digital frames really awesome.

#art#crypto#non fungible tokens

Crypto and Climate Continued

I wrote about crypto and climate earlier this month and suggested that the narrative that crypto is bad for the climate is not as straightforward as many make it out to be.

Over last weekend (a beautiful one in the northeast), two of my partners wrote on this topic.

My partner Albert took a similar approach as I did in my post and outlined many reasons that crypto and climate are not at odds with each other. He went further than I did in my post and it is worth reading his, even though they are similar.

My partner Nick went out on a limb and compared Bitcoin to a battery. He used that analogy to be provocative. He took some heat for doing it, but I think it was worth it because you sometimes have to stake out a provocative position to get people’s heads to turn a bit on something.

This is the key part of Nick’s post:

Which brings us back to crypto mining. Crypto mining converts electricity into value, in the form of crypto assets (BTC, ETH, etc). Those assets, like the aluminum produced in Iceland, can then be moved, transferred and transformed. But unlike aluminum, which must be physically shipped to its final destination, crypto assets are programmable, and can move there instantly via an internet connection.

So, if we think of Bitcoin as a battery, what can we do with it?  The key properties of Bitcoin’s battery are: 1) always on and permissionless (no need to find customers, just plug and go) and 2) naturally seeking low-cost electricity: it will always buy when the price is right.

https://www.nickgrossman.xyz/2021/bitcoin-as-battery/

We have been addressing this topic (crypto and climate) for multiple reasons. First, because we believe the narrative in the mainstream media is too simplistic and we would like to see it evolve. And second because we know that there are many entrepreneurs out there that are working with crypto to help address the climate crisis and we would like to meet them.

Nick and Albert’s posts last weekend opened the floodgates on the latter point and we are now talking to a number of very interesting projects as a result.

#climate crisis#crypto

News Moments

There are these news moments that we remember vividly forever. The plane flying into the World Trade Center. The mob breaking into the Capitol. Reagan at the Berlin Wall. Just writing the words, I can see the images in my head.

Our portfolio company Recount Media is all about these moments. Recount captures them quickly and concisely and shares them on social media and other digital platforms so that the world can see what is going on around them.

Today, they are trying an experiment that I am quite interested in. They have taken one of their most-viewed news moments, one they published exactly one year ago today, and they have minted it into a one-of-a-kind digital news moment and are offering anyone the opportunity to own it.

The auction is going on here and I just placed a bid. My goal is not to win this auction, although it is possible that I could. If I do, I will contribute it to a DAO that would allow group ownership.

Recount explains why they are experimenting with NFTs here. I particularly like this line:

So as we approached the one-year anniversary of the Calendar, our first runaway viral video, we thought it would be fun to celebrate that breakthrough in a manner that itself is an expression of our relentless aspiration to rethink how journalism works — its form, function, and economics — in this moment of intense fluidity and flux in digital media.

One of the challenges with digital media is the limited business models available to news organizations. You either sell ads or subscriptions, or both.

Who knows whether minting news moments can help stimulate new business models, but it sure can’t hurt to try. Sticking to the old ways of sharing the news and making a business out of it is not interesting to me. Coming up with new ways of sharing the news and making a business out of it very much is.

#crypto#Current Affairs#digital collectibles#entrepreneurship

Crypto and Climate

I keep reading that Bitcoin, Ethereum, NFTs, etc are a climate issue.

It is true that proof of work mining which secures the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains uses electricity to do that work. And certainly there are carbon emissions associated with that electricity consumption.

However, it is not as simple as that for the following reasons:

1/ Proof of work miners are constantly seeking the lowest cost of electricity to mine with. That leads them to electricity sources like geo, hydro, solar, and wind. There is a meaningful financial incentive to mine on clean energy in many cases.

2/ The Ethereum blockchain is moving to proof of stake and moving away from proof of work. Many other popular blockchains, like the Flow blockchain that powers NBA Top Shot and other NFT experiences, already use proof of stake. Proof of stake consensus uses vastly less electricity to secure the network.

3/ There is a narrative that much of China’s Bitcoin mining happens on coal powered electricity, but I have read that most of it happens on China’s overbuilt hydro capacity.

4/ Proof of work mining can stimulate the buildout of clean energy capacity because it can produce immediate monetization of that capacity.

It is time for the crypto industry to study this issue carefully and provide real data. I would like to see carbon emissions from proof of work mining measured over time and projected into the future.

#climate crisis#crypto

Digital Art

My friend Seth is an entrepreneur and an artist. I have two of his paintings hanging in my office in NYC. His latest work is taking photographs of the sunset every day at Venice Beach and then training an AI model to turn it into a 30 second video. The work is published in a MP4 video. Therein lies the challenge. Anyone can copy an MP4 video so how does he make this work unique?

He turns it into a “non fungible token” or NFT.

I have written about NFTs a lot here at AVC over the years, most recently on how our portfolio company Dapper has used them to invent a new kind of basketball trading card.

But NFTs are also a very powerful tool for digital artists to bring scarcity/uniqueness to their work. And we are seeing a fair bit of activity starting to happen in and around digital art and NFTs.

Seth minted an NFT of his work and listed it for sale yesterday and then tweeted this out:

I saw that tweet and placed a bid on it this morning. If you would like to do the same, you can do that here (you will need a Metamask wallet holding Ethereum).

There is still some geekiness/wonkiness about digital art NFTs (like needing a Metamask wallet and Ethereum) and I expect that will go away in short order and the experience of buying NFT art will be more like the experience of buying a rare Luka Doncic Holo MMMX card on Top Shot which requires none of that.

Crypto technology has many uses and is absolutely not limited to speculating on meme coins. In fact, the emergence of real utility (vs speculation) is the single most important thing that needs to happen for crypto to live up to its potential (and current market values). I think NFTs and digital art is likely to be an early example of that utility emerging.

#art#crypto

The Revenge Of Retail

A number of people have been asking me what I think of the Game Stop situation. This is not really my world. I don’t trade stocks, we hold them. I don’t use Robinhood, though I have an account thanks to my friend Howard. I don’t hang out on Reddit, though I visit it from time to time.

So I have not paid enough attention to this one, but it certainly is fascinating. The generational aspect of this is important. Boomer hedgies getting crushed by young folks self-organizing in social media. It feels like a moment where you realize that the power structure has shifted and things won’t be the same.

The financial system in the US, and in other developed countries, is a rigged system and has been for a very long time. Only big institutions can get into hot IPOs. Only rich people can invest in startups. Many of these rules are designed to protect “widows and orphans” but all they really do is make the rich richer and keep those without money out of the game.

Not anymore. Whether it is crypto (Coinbase) or day trading (Robinhood), the retail investor now has the tools to get into the game and win the game.

The new startup investing is buying into the Ethereum crowdsale. Had you done that in the summer of 2014, you would be looking at roughly 1,000 times your money right now. And that crowdsale was launched by a team led by a 20 year old. Though the SEC and others would like to impose the same rules on crypto that protect the rich and keep out everyone else, that has not happened and I pray that it won’t.

The new hedge fund is the Robinhood army self organizing on Reddit. They can move a stock more easily than the largest hedge fund.

There will be calls to regulate this “madness.” But it is the same madness we have always had. It is just a different crowd in charge.

I do worry that this Game Stop short squeeze will end badly and not only the hedge funds will get hurt. Markets can be brutal. But regulating markets to protect the small investor is not the answer. As we can see, the small investor is often a lot smarter than the large investor.

What we need to do is stop printing money to stabilize the economy. And start addressing the real economic issues that exist on main street, not wall street. Monetary policy is not the answer. Fiscal policy is. That won’t stop more Game Stops from happening. They are a by-product of markets. But it will get the money to where it is needed versus where it is just gameplay.

#crypto#Current Affairs#economics#stocks

Trading Cards, NFTs, and Crypto

I have written about our portfolio company Dapper‘s NBA Top Shot game here at AVC a few times now. Think of NBA Top Shot as digital trading cards. It is more than that, but that’s a simple way to think about it.

I tweeted this out today:

I don’t like to sell crypto, but I do like to trade crypto for crypto. I got all of our Ethereum by swapping Bitcoin for it a few years ago, for example.

NFTs (non fungible tokens) are a different kind of crypto asset. They are digital assets like art, trading cards, etc that are issued on a blockchain and as a result are rare, unique, and easily traded.

NFTs, like Bitcoin and Ethereum, can increase and decrease in value over time.

Rookie cards have been traded for as long as there have been physical trading cards. They are a way to speculate on an athlete and their career. This Steph Curry rookie card is listed for $150,000 on eBay right now.

So my purchase of the Tyrese Haliburton moment is a bet that Tyrese is going to have a long and successful NBA career. Hopefully, he will be an all-star someday. That would make my moment increase in value. Will it increase in value more than the 3.33 BCH that I parted with to buy it? Well, that remains to be seen.

#crypto#Sports

Smart Contracts On Bitcoin

While Bitcoin is the gold standard in crypto, Ethereum has been the innovator, bringing new ideas, particularly smart contracts, to the table. Smart contracts allow developers to easily build things on a blockchain and we have seen a proliferation of new things built on the Ethereum blockchain as a result.

But what if you could do all of that on Bitcoin?

Enter Stacks 2.0 which launches on its mainnet today. USV has been an investor and supporter of the Stacks team since they first got started about five years ago and are large holders of the Stacks token.

Stacks makes Bitcoin programmable, enabling decentralized apps and smart contracts that inherit all of Bitcoin’s powers.

Stacks 2.0 also includes the Clarity smart contract programming language which is a significant improvement on the Solidity language that is used for Ethereum smart contracts.

So if you are a crypto developer who likes to try new things, check out Stacks 2.0 on the mainnet. It goes live today.

#crypto

How Not To Regulate Innovation

The Secretary Of Treasury, in his last month in office, is giving us a textbook case of how not to regulate important technology innovation. The issue is “unhosted wallets” and how regulated exchanges and other “hosted wallets” interact with them.

Let’s start with why this is important. Our current financial systems are old, creaky, expensive, and do not serve enough people. According to a 2017 survey by the FDIC, 25 percent of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked. That is close to 100mm people, mostly black and brown. This is a big deal. This is a piece of the structural inequity that exists in the US and around the world.

Technology can, will, and should change this. When a bank account can simply be a wallet on our phone or computer, it should be massively less expensive and much easier for anyone to have one. And when that wallet can connect to any other wallet or bank and send, receive, sell, buy, etc, as easily as a browser can connect to AVC.com, then you have the architecture for an open financial system that is several orders of magnitude less expensive and more available than what we currently have.

What I have just described is how blockchains and cryptocurrencies work today. You can download a cryptocurrency wallet onto your phone, you can send some Ethereum to it from your Coinbase account in the cloud (called a “hosted wallet” and/or “exchange”), and then you can send that Ethereum to anyone else using any other crypto wallet. All of this is built upon open protocols in the same way that the web was built on open protocols. It is completely and totally interoperable, like the web or email, unlike our current financial system.

The crypto sector is building a new financial system, that requires much fewer “middlemen” taking a piece of the transaction, that anyone can adopt and use by simply downloading some software onto their phone, and that is secured with state of the art technology.

But the Treasury Secretary and his advisors are concerned about bad actors using this new open global financial system to do bad things. That is a legitimate concern, but it turns out that only about 2% of transactions that go between regulated exchanges and hosted wallets and unhosted wallets are “illicit” according to Chainalysis.

So in late December, the Treasury Department issued a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking to make the rules around sending cryptocurrencies to unhosted wallets much more restrictive than cash.

The notice of proposed rulemaking is a long-standing approach to regulating new things. But this notice of rulemaking is not like any other. It was shortened to 15 days from the customary “at least 30 days and often much longer” and it was issued in late December making comments due yesterday. That means that comments were due over two holiday weeks in the midst of a global pandemic. And then the Treasury Department intends to wade through all of those comments and issue a rule before it leaves office in a couple of weeks.

That is madness and no way to regulate an issue at the very heart of a new open financial system that is poised to open access and massively reduce the cost of financial services for everyone.

One can only come to one conclusion about the Secretary’s intentions here and it is that this was done intentionally to stifle debate and discussion and jam bad regulation through on his way out of the door.

USV and many others in the tech sector, venture capital sector, and crypto sector have issued comment letters opposing this rulemaking. Our comment letter is here:

I hope the Secretary and his advisors come to their senses and realize that this is no way to regulate important new technology. This would be a terrible legacy to leave office with.

#blockchain#crypto#policy#Politics

What Is Going To Happen In 2021

Hi Everyone. Happy 2021.

Today, as is my custom on the first day of the new year, I am going to take a stab at what the year ahead will bring. I find it useful to think about what we are in for. It helps me invest and advise the companies we are invested in. Like our investing, I will get some of these right and some wrong. But having a point of view is very helpful when operating in a world that is full of uncertainty.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. The Covid Pandemic will end in the developed world in 2021. I think we will see the end of the Covid Pandemic in the US sometime in the second quarter. I believe the US will work out the challenges we are having getting out of the gate and will be vaccinating at least 40mm people a month in the US in the first quarter. When you add that to the 90mm people in the US that the CDC believes have already been infected, we will have well over 200mm people in the US who have some protection from the virus by the end of March. By the end of the second quarter in the US, anyone who wants to be vaccinated will have been able to do so. All of this will be aided by at least two additional approved vaccines in the US in January and new and improved protocols, like emphasizing the first dose over the second one.

The second half of 2021 will be marked by two conflicting trends. First, we will see people returning in droves to offices, restaurants, bars, clubs, gyms, stadiums, concerts, parties, travel, theaters, and anywhere that they can be social with others, ideally many others. I personally cannot wait to do all of that when it is safe to do so.

But ironically, this mass socializing trend will not materially and/or permanently change many behaviors we adopted in the Covid Pandemic. I believe that we will continue to want to work from home, exercise from home, shop from home, watch first run movies from home, order in, livestream, and all of the other new behaviors we learned to enjoy and perfect in the last year.

Where all of this shakes out will be the big reveal of 2021 and will impact many tech companies and many tech stocks. As I wrote yesterday, I think the trends that were accelerated in 2020 will not reverse in 2021, although the slope of the adoption curves will likely flatten a fair bit.

While we are out mass socializing, we will also be picking up the pieces of our world that was shattered by the pandemic. In the US, we have racial equity issues that are longstanding, real and demanding to be addressed. We also have an economy that is in tatters. And we have sectors of our economy like retail, commercial real estate, carbon based energy, and more that will never be the same. The restructuring of our economy and government and corporate balance sheets and income statements that have been blown wide open will take a decade or more to work out.

Sitting above all of this is an atmosphere that is getting warmer by the day. As I wrote in last year’s looking forward post:

The looming climate crisis will be to this century what the two world wars were to the previous one. It will require countries and institutions to re-allocate capital from other endeavors to fight against a warming planet.

https://avc.com/2020/01/what-will-happen-in-the-2020s/

At USV, we have begun that reallocation of capital and we will be investing heavily in companies and technologies that can help the world address this existential threat. I believe that many of our colleagues in the venture capital world will do the same because not only does the world need this investment, it will generate fantastic returns too. Climate will be to this decade what cloud was to the last one.

The twin terrors of the Covid Pandemic and the Climate Crisis will drive the great US migration of the 21st century and we are already experiencing it. We will see it accelerate in 2021. If, because of what we learned in the Covid Pandemic, a good job no longer requires someone to live in a low lying flood-prone city like Miami or NYC or a city that is burning like SF or LA, we will see many people in the US choose to leave those places and adopt new homes that are less impacted by the climate crisis. We call this “adapting to the climate crisis” at USV, and this will be a huge investable trend for many years to come.

I believe that governments will respond to all of these economic challenges by continuing to print fiat money without restraint and by taxing and regulating innovative new companies to protect old and dying companies. This will lead investors to continue to allocate capital to new forms of money (crypto) and new ways of creating and financing innovation (decentralized projects and organizations). We are already seeing that happen in the finance sector, with breakout projects in decentralized finance in 2020 like Compound, Yearn, and Uniswap (a USV funded project). We will see this approach accelerate in 2021 and expand into areas beyond the financial sector. The idea of financing and executing innovation inside of a global decentralized autonomous organization is such a powerful idea and one whose time has come.

As I go back and re-read this post, I am struck by how obvious and unprovocative all of these predictions are. Either that means that I am not getting far out enough on the curve to see things before everyone else does, or it means that the trends that will define 2021 have been building for years and are finally coming of age. Maybe it is a bit of both.

In any case, 2021 will be a year of returning to normal, but it will be a new normal and not like one we have experienced before. Adapting to change is my mantra for 2021. Happy New Year everyone.

#climate crisis#crypto#Current Affairs#economics#entrepreneurship#life lessons#VC & Technology