Axios Crypto

A multicolored cube.
April 20, 2022

Get ready. Today's newsletter is something many of you have been asking for — sort of. I've had many emails seeking a recommended primer to read to better understand crypto, and I will put a list of those together one day.

  • Yes, but: They aren't going to really help. To understand this stuff, you need to do some crypto'ing. That's what follows.

🚨 This is not financial advice. If you don't have the money to start (or don't want to spend it) — don't. Nothing here is going to make anyone rich anyway. This is about learning.

This newsletter was edited by Pete Gannon. It is 1,254 words, a 5-minute read.

🕰 1 big thing: Understand crypto in $100 time

Illustration of a wooden block with the words: "Ceci n'est pas un bloc." after Renee Magritte's "The Treachery of Images" painting.
In appreciation. Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

No one can swim without getting in a pool, and no one understands swimming if they haven't swum.

To wrap your head around blockchain technology, you need to do some stuff — there's just no substitute. That doesn't mean you have to continue doing it, but if you want to get it, you have to try it.

  • Cryptocurrency is an asset, though, and to use it, it must be bought. But you can do a few illuminating things with roughly $100.

Be smart: Please don't do any of this if you don't have $100 in discretionary funds.

  • We repeat: This is not financial advice. Nothing here is going to make anyone rich anyway. This is about learning.

Why it matters: Learning crypto is in no small part un-learning. Both web2 and web3 appear on websites and look similar, but web3 works fundamentally differently.

  • You have expectations about how technology should work that you don't even realize you have. Those expectations will get underfoot as you navigate web3.
  • So you just need to start hitting those expectations head on.

Here's a course of practice to get started. Five activities, in 10 steps, that require about $20 each:

Warning: These instructions don't deal with every little twist and turn. You're going to need to work some stuff out along the way (that's part of the joy of learning).

1️⃣ Do your own research: The two biggest blockchains are Bitcoin and Ethereum, but the two have very different cultures. Bitcoin is more about freedom. Ethereum is more about utopia. These are wild generalizations.

2️⃣ Pick one. That's your team for this exercise (you don't need to stick with it). Now, join an exchange such as Kraken, Coinbase, FTX or Binance — one that permits withdrawing crypto, for step 4.

  • You'll have to endure some invasive know-your-customer stuff, because you're about to spend $80, and the Feds need the seller to be sure it's not for terrorism.
  • Once you’re through the surveillance system, buy $80 worth of BTC or ETH (whichever you picked). There will be some kind of fee, alas.

3️⃣ HODL. Look at the amount you bought. As I write this, $80 is 0.0020 BTC. Split your number in quarters and decide now that you are going to sit on $20 worth (say, 0.0005 BTC) in this exchange account for... three years?

  • Make a note in your phone's reminder app for three year's time. Include your exchange password in it and the amount of crypto you bought (not the dollar value). Email me then.

👏 2. Onto the blockchain

Illustration of binary code falling into a wallet
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

All of that was basic web2 stuff. Prepare for web3. It gets stranger from here.

4️⃣ Withdraw. Now you need to set up a wallet. A wallet is software for holding cryptocurrency yourself. Exodus and are easy ones to start with. They will work on your mobile, and they will do ETH or BTC. So, let's transfer half of your crypto to your new wallet.

  • Be smart: As you set up the wallet, it should tell you some information to keep track of. Don't neglect this step — take it seriously.
  • This is a big piece of the unlearning I was talking about! There are fewer safety nets in web3, by design.
  • The wallet's makers just made the software, but they don’t have your funds. This ~$20 of crypto is now entirely your responsibility (probably a bit less because of transaction and platform fees — such are blockchains).
  • Quick take: Believe it or not, as long as you keep track of how to access it, this $20 in your wallet is much more secure than your $20 on the exchange. It’s completely in your control.

🔭 3. Surprises await

Illustration of a smart phone wearing glasses
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

5️⃣ Explore. Now that you have $20 on a standalone wallet, find your address where you're holding the coins. Now look at that address on a block explorer: Etherscan for ETH or BlockCypher for BTC.

  • The big picture: You should see your funds at the address you just created. Think about how crazy this is! You've never visited this website before, right? Yet, it can see your funds. This is because blockchains are public databases.
  • The explorer can’t spend your balance, but it can read it. Interesting, no?
  • Block explorers and wallets are interfaces for those databases, but there can be many interfaces! This is what is meant by "decentralization."

6️⃣ Collect. Now you should buy a non-fungible token (NFT). There are many cheap ones for sale on eBay. These aren’t good NFTs, but that’s not the point. You can buy these with a credit card, but you will need the right kind of wallet to hold it, and it won't be a Bitcoin wallet.

  • Search for "Polygon NFTs." Pick one you like that costs around $20. Then get a wallet that works with Polygon (it has its own blockchain).
  • Make sure when your wallet is set up that you enable Polygon on it, because it will default to Ethereum.

Be careful about setting it up and keep track of all the things it asks you to keep track of.

  • Send your new NFT to your new wallet.
  • Once you buy your NFT, copy your wallet address, then go search for it on OpenSea. Like before, you'll see that OpenSea can see which NFTs you have. Same reason.

😈 4. Risk on

Illustration of a man tightrope walking on an upward trending line.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

7️⃣ Degen. Now, trade some of your BTC or ETH for an altcoin. Two that are widely available and well suited to our purposes are ATOM, for the Cosmos blockchain, or SOL, for Solana (this choice is much less meaningful than ETH v. BTC).

  • Swap $40 of your remaining BTC or ETH for one or the other. (You're a trader now!)
  • Create yet another wallet for whichever blockchain you picked. Keplr is good for Cosmos. Phantom works for Solana. Follow the steps just as carefully as before.
  • Send all $40 of ATOM or SOL to your new wallet.

8️⃣ Get stablecoins. This will be the weirdest part. You've heard about stablecoins, right? Buy some now on a decentralized exchange (DEX). Open up a DEX and swap some coins. Use Osmosis for Cosmos and Raydium for Solana.

  • On Solana you can buy USDC (use the "Swap" page). On Osmosis you can buy TerraUSD (use "Trade"). Either way, trade half your assets into a stablecoin, so you should come out with about $20 in stablecoins and $20 in your original coin (you'll pay some fees for the trade, but it should be pennies).
  • Now you've made a trade on a decentralized exchange and a centralized one.
  • What's the difference? The decentralized exchange was “non-custodial,” meaning that your ATOM or SOL were always in your possession until the moment you swapped them, like a baseball card, for your stablecoins.

🏁 5. You did it!

Illustration of the Axios logo on a disco ball.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

9️⃣ HODL an alt. Now you have $20 of a coin that has much less of a track record than ETH or BTC. Sit on it, too.

  • Make a note about how to find it again with a reminder to look in three years. Resolve now not to sell these tokens till then. Forget about them! But then look later.
  • What will happen? I have no clue.

🔟 Enjoy the ride.

  • What's next? That's it. You have begun. 🎢

If you managed all this, you understand web3 much better now than you were ever going to by reading even the most open-minded explainer in the New York Times.

Welcome to the blockchains.

Honestly, if you just make it to the part where you withdraw some crypto to a standalone wallet, you did great. Let me know how it went: [email protected]. Back to the normal newsletter tomorrow. —Brady