How to Not Quit Crypto like Immediately
It's hard to be a Degen tbh
I quit my job to go full-time Crypto Degen and almost gave up on it two weeks later.
It’s Day 2 of my 30 days of Stream of Consciousness Essays - START TIMESTAMP 0940 EST - and we’re diving into a topic near and dear to my heart (and anxiety). How to Survive and Not Quit Crypto because of panic. If you found this and don’t know what Degen means, then this is probably for you. If you do know what Degen means then you’re probably a degenerate and this might be helpful for you too.
Web3 is a phenomenally interesting ecosystem that is full of incisive brilliance, intentional idiocy, unbridled ambition, unbelievable pessimism, and every permutation of those adjectives and nouns. It’s likely the most interesting place to be if you think you’re smart, like imagining a super weird intersection of code + economics + game theory + psychology + finance + philosophy + political science + art, love playing & winning games, like money and the concepts that underpin it, and need an IV drip of memes into your bloodstream. It’s also not for the weak or fainthearted because it’s full of scams right now and the small fact that it could all just be…wrong. lol. I mean it probably isn’t imo, but still totally could be. It’s TBD, but fortunately there’s still a ton of money to be made (and lost) while the world figures that part out.
If you don’t know wtf I’m talking about start by watching this a16z video before reading the rest of this essay. 2X speed is probably fine. Andresson Horowitz has a pretty good (but slightly dated) “Crypto Startup School” series which I recommend watching.
In short, with Web3 AKA Blockchain AKA Bitcoin we’ve reinvented databases, but in a less efficient (for now), BUT in a way that relies much less (or not at all) on trusted intermediaries to validate and commit transactions to a financial ledger that manages a “currency” and “account balances” of some type. It’s basically not needing the U.S. (or any) Federal government to say “hey this is money and it’s not fake so it’s cool to buy stuff with it”. That hasn’t ever happened before. The only other thing you really need to get to understand this essay is that Ethereum takes that insight of decentralization and applies it to computation so you can make programs that don’t need to be (actually explicitly CAN’T be) managed by Facebook (Meta lol) or Microsoft or any other of the 6 websites that the internet has turned into. That’s cool. and weird. and it changes how we can think about building useful applications for the internet.
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Seeing this fascinating world exploding with charts like this showing the Market Cap per Week of assets in the Crypto ecosystem start to explode made my businessmoneyguy spidey senses tingle too hard to ignore. Almost $3 Trillion like overnight? That sounded (and still sounds) a lot like the famous "Jeff Bezos started Amazon because he saw web usage was growing at 2300% per year” and I wanted in.
I had spent a lot of my two years at HBS commiserating (bitching) with fellow likeminded tech leaning folks about how cool it would have been to be part of the birth of the internet where the entire economy got rewritten of the course of a decade or so. While I’ve changed my mental model about that (the internet perpetually being reborn faster and faster is for a future essay), this felt a lot like that. It’s super hard to see history from inside of history, but I could connect some dots into the future that at the very least felt like a pretty wild catalyst for big changes.
So I looked around at my startup which had just been acquired, saw what our earnout targets were, and could feel the oppressive, relative certainty of the next 3 years weighing on my shoulders like a tungsten cube. E-commerce is…fine. I mean it’s important, super underpenetrated (still less than 20% of all U.S. commerce which is pretty weird for non-Boomers to think about), and lucrative, but man it’s so slow. It’s way faster than building a store, but it is a grind to build something big and enterprise sales cycles are so slow.
So I quit.
I forfeited most of my earnout (some partial upfront liquidity so I’m fine for a few years don’t worry) and said “By golly, Crypto is where I’m going to make my mark” and I quit.
Panic Sets In
I spent the next two weeks after transitioning all my duties laying the foundation for studies, research, networking prep, etc etc. I made charts and calendars and to do list and planners and all the things a good little MBA is supposed to do to learn stuff you don’t know yet.
For context, I wasn’t a complete n00b. Like many tech bros turned crypto bros I used to mine Bitcoin on my local machine back in like 2010 when you still could. Classic lost hard drive scenario, but not too catastrophic like this poor guy. I had also kept up with the surface level of the industry so I know the general history from the classic Bitcoin Whitepaper to the birth of Ethereum to Mt. Gox hacked to the ICO Bubble to DeFi summer and of course the NFT buildup of the past few months. So I had as good of a foundation as someone can have I think without actually being in it.
So with all my planning done, I started reading and learning and reading and finding more things to read and reading and learning and panicking a little and reading and getting more emails about crypto and reading and learning and finding White Papers and reading those and learning and got a Twitter account and scrolling and reading and learning there and I found out about Discord and tried reading and lurking and adding more and more channels and learning and found out about Telegram and Whatsapp and Mirror and tried to catalogue each of these things and 500+ newsletters, chats, discords, and news aggregators later I just completely lost my mind.
By the end of the first week I was taking a lap around the block every 90 minutes or so to calm down the tinges of hyperventilation that started to set in. It’s too much. It’s really too much to follow. Seriously. I’m a super diligent guy, I work very hard, I have good discipline, and am pretty fast on the uptake for learning new things and it’s just too much.
So I straight up had to have a conversation with some people I respect who have been in the space for a few years and reorient myself. They pointed out that many of the people who are “winning” in the space aren’t experts at everything Crypto. They’re great at the thing they’re great at, but they’re not all knowing buddhas that have a thoughtful opinion on everything in the entire Web3 ecosystem. They probably don’t have a thoughtful opinion within their sub-ecosystem like DeFi or NFTs. Also, many of the “winners” aren’t particularly brilliant, they’ve just been around a long time (for the space). This gives them a compounding credibility as everyone looks to their opinion because what passes for “ancient wisdom” in the Crypto space is the person who was like 3 months earlier than you.
In all seriousness, the winners have figured out (or lucked into) being niche at scale where the internet has let you take your one thing and share it with exactly the people that can get value from it. I got this edition of James Clear’s newsletter (which you should definitely subscribe to) that shared that idea around the time of this mental breakdown and it really cleared my head.
I realized that the everyone is just trying to figure it out (or VERY IMPORTANTLY just shill their own bags) and it led me to switch up my approach.
I decided to validate my own opinions and focus on fundamental knowledge. I’m still spread too thin, I still try to read too much, I still worry that I’m not learning fast enough, but I trust my opinion now in a meaningful way on all but the most deeply technical topics. This is the only way I think you can survive (at least for me). It sounds pretty banal, but once you tell yourself “Hey, I read the white paper and my brain usually works good so let’s just form a tentative opinion about this topic” it takes a HUGE chunk of the pressure off yourself to have the BEST opinion about everything that comes your way. Until we can multithread our brains consistently, you have to take advantage of the 80/20 Rule to just get through your Twitter feed.
And let’s be super real here
Most people haven’t read the white paper for whatever new DeFi protocol they’re using.
The corollary to this is that if you read the white paper you’re probably the most informed person in any given conversation on that topic
Some people have definitely read the white papers, which is awesome and you should listen to them, but this First Principles thinking is honestly super rare in general and even rarer in the ultrafast moving Web3 world.
Try it out. Forgive yourself for wanting to learn it all and not being able to. You’re not failing, you’re just doing the best you can ← although if you’re not doing the best you can then be better. Be honest about that. You owe it to yourself because your time is your most valuable asset so if you waste it that’s on you.
Okay. Longer than I was expecting, but pretty cathartic to be honest. I want to be clear that I’m not a Crypto Expert and frankly I don’t know if anyone is, but I feel good that I know some things. I hope this resonates with someone else out there who’s excited, but worried they made the biggest mistake of their career to join a Web3 company. You probably didn’t. I mean, ngl, it totally could be, but not because you’re not capable of being GREAT at what you’re doing. Just for the macro thesis reasons.
I hope this added value to your day.
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