Special thanks to motherpredicate for the discussion that led to this blog post.
The accelerated timelines of crypto are both a benefit and a hazard. Crypto does not operate on software startup timelines, and it shouldn’t - but the assumption that it does is the root of crypto’s problems.
Crypto was a hyper-niche novelty from 2009-2012, and nobody expected it to catch on the way it did. Those early players who held on to their tokens made a massive amount of money (yet the vast majority sold early on). The legendary tale of the individuals who made 10,000x by being early to Bitcoin is still an unconscious (and sometimes conscious) thought that still dictates many actions in the space.
Whether we like it or not, crypto is still driven by financials. The core driver of many participants is to look for “the next Bitcoin” or “the next Ethereum,” thereby treating the space as a whole as a lottery ticket. The truth is, the space has matured enough to where there probably won’t be a “next Bitcoin” or “next Ethereum,” but the expectation of history repeating itself still drives many of the core actions in crypto.
Those who wanted to make a quick buck caught onto this mentality early. For every project building something innovative, there are five others that build based on the “buzzwords of the week” without ever delivering anything, then launch a token to cash out as soon as possible. In 2018, ICOs sold promises through whitepapers, raising millions of dollars. In 2021, it was “Ethereum killers” and NFTs, this time raising exponentially more in funding. The extraordinary innovations crypto has brought are a double-edged sword - they bring massive amounts of freedom but enable grifters to flourish.
Human psychology, especially in markets, is an entire field of study in itself. Add a dash of 24/7 permissionless global markets, and you get crypto. Crypto turns up the “human psychology” dial to the maximum, amplifying market irrationality and creating incredibly explosive narrative-driven hype cycles.
Software is hard to build, especially in crypto. “Move fast, break things” does not apply when operating with billions of dollars of user assets. While crypto is software, the development process is more analogous to hardware development: requiring prototyping, stringent security processes, and safety review. Not engaging in a slow pace of development that ensures resistance to failure is a recipe for hacks once protocols grow beyond a certain TVL.
This timeline misalignment allows for the worst of those who build in crypto to dominate the information space, as they can (and do) ship faster and ride the narrative of the month. In the best case, they quietly exit after making their money. In the worst case, they explode spectacularly, losing billions of dollars of user assets, putting yet another black mark on the industry.
The internet is around 40 years old. Crypto is still in the BBS era, but people are selling it like the broadband era and making a killing doing so. We’re not ready for mass adoption quite yet, but with Layer 2s maturing, ZK rollups becoming mainstream, and account abstraction gaining traction, crypto is making solid progress toward solving the problems it has long promised to solve. The only thing that can kill it is public sentiment.
Will crypto shrug off the reputation it’s garnered?
That’s up to us.