From the beginning we wanted Learn Crypto to be a useful resource for anyone starting to learn about crypto. This might sound straightforward, but it isn’t. Crypto is a broad subject, that can be approached from many angles and pitched at varying levels of understanding and interest.
In order to guide our mission, and understand the key questions around exactly what users want to learn about crypto, we decided to do the most sensible thing. Go and ask.
We conducted ten in-person interviews with people who were either completely new to crypto, or early in their learning journey; all had expressed an interest in learning more.
Through open-ended discussions we asked them what they thought crypto was, whether they felt it was relevant to their lives. We tried to understand the things they felt were confusing about crypto, as well as learn about their relationship with money and what it meant to them.
This group was diverse geographically, with participants from Brazil, Turkey, Estonia, Hong Kong, Ukraine, Russia, United Kingdom, Finland, Italy and Belgium. (Certain regions were noticeably missing Africa/Middle East which we’ll try and rectify with follow-ups).
Key themes emerged across all the in depth interviews, which we used to create the following short online survey, to which we received over 1,000 responses.
The relevant themes from the interviews along with the survey results, have been used to determine who Learn Crypto. Here's what we learned.
We can summarise the findings from the person-to-person conversations and the survey responses under these key themes, which we dig into further below:
From the 1,078 respondents to simple survey 86% replied Yes to the simple intro question: Do you want to learn about crypto? If this translates worldwide (age adjusted) there is clearly a desire to know more about this magical internet money.
Surveys, such as Harris Polls conducted in the USA, produced similar results. Respondents weren't asked their age, but the expectation is that the younger the respondent, the more likely they are to be interested in crypto.
Those who agreed to the in-person interviews were pre-qualified in terms of their curiosity, but all showed a genuine desire to understand ,more. All were aware of cryptocurrency to varying degrees but none were actively using crypto as money.
The interesting initial observation was they way they described first coming across crypto and what purpose hey thought it served?
The most common intro to crypto was as a speculative asset, such as through a friend that had mentioned that it was a great way to make money.
“What I was thinking was, this is a great investment method. There is a great opportunity for growth.”
"I use it mostly as an investment tool"
There was noticeable excitement in conversations around the potential for price increase, several interviewees mentioning how they came to hear about Bitcoin when the price was ‘booming’ in 2017, but equally sharing disappointment of the long bear market that followed.
“I have friends and relatives who actually got burned trying to speculate on Bitcoin. More people were discovering it [in 2017] as a financial asset and speculating with it and a few months later it collapsed”
“I started trading on Coinbase. Migrated to other exchanges. Got my hands burned a few times trying to trade.”
The influence of the speculative aspect varies along cultural lines and risk appetite. Hong Kong and Brazil being two countries where getting ahead through personal investments seems to be part of the fabric of society. So crypto naturally fell into the category of speculative asset.
“To Hong Kong people it is the same as stocks. People just want to know how the price goes up or down.”
The conversations we had, and survey responses received. were illuminating, while at the same time reinforcing common ideas about why it is so hard for technologies, like crypto, to take root.
The majority of the interviewees had recently sent money overseas, with familiar tools like Paypal and Transferwise mentioned multiple times. Though many had experienced frustration in using those tools - the user experience, cost and speed - it hadn’t occurred to them to consider using crypto instead.
The biggest reason was that they stuck to services that they had become familiar with, and more importantly, because these were services already used by their friends and family - the recipients of the cross-border transfers.
Our interviewee from Hong Kong summed it up: “People are satisfied with what they have now.”
This illustrates the difficulty of a new technology replacing the existing; it needs to be a whole lot better to push people out of comfortable habits and to generate what is called a ‘network effect'.
Email struggled to get going at first because it was only worth getting an email address if everyone else had one. Network growth is slow at first, but rises exponentially as described by Metcalfe’s Law which says that network’s value is equal to the square of its users. So having 16 users is four times as valuable as having eight.
Crypto being used as a medium of exchange - money - isn’t at that point yet, as underlined by the interviews. But this can be taken as a positive sign for adoption - described as bullish - because we are still in the early days; crypto networks aren’t yet at a tipping point for them to replace existing payment rails.
The adoption challenge is to move people from speculators to users, and during conversations there was an attempt to explain where crypto value comes and bridge this to use cases, such as money transmission. This is a key message we want to get across with Learn Crypto.
Here, we come up against the ‘network effect’ problem again, but also the simple truth that to the average person, how money actually works isn’t important. Even for interviewees from those countries where local conditions were ripe for a hedge against inflation e.g Turkey, there wasn’t necessarily the awareness expected.
I prefer not to save money in [Turkish] Lira...Everyone in Turkey is always aware of the problems with the Lira. They keep their money in Euro and usually buy Gold
And for one interviewee, time spent in a country suffering rampant hyperinflation made her think about money, and the privilege of leaving in the west, but the link to crypto wasn’t obvious.
“I lived in Botswana in 2007, Zimbabwe was 20km away. I was 21yrs old and it made me think about money. I talked to locals and the people I lived with. Now I am lucky to live in a country with a stable government.”
In another conversation, there was scepticism that money is even the core problem, and as a means to an end isn't that relevant. Bitcoin however refers to both a currency (small 'b') and a monetary system (big 'B'), inclusive of an economic model
“Venezuela has an economy problem, not a currency problem”
This touches on one of the biggest tensions within crypto. Does it have utility if all people are doing is investing as a get-rich-scheme? This is backed up by the response to our first question in the simple survey, which underlines that people seem to be most interest in short-term financial benefit. No surprise there.
We asked the following question “What would you like to learn about crypto” with five options. These options were chosen based on the one-to-one interviews, rather than being plucked out of the air.
As you can see, 46% wanted to know how to earn crypto. This is encouraging, because clearly the respondents see it as having value, but equally concerning as when a lack of understanding of a complex technology and a desire to acquire come together, it generates fertile territory for excessive risk-taking and scammers.
This specific point led to the inclusion of our section about earning, which includes a very clear focus on the awareness of risk, as well as articles about common crypto scams.
In the early days you could earn 5 BTC just for clicking a button - that is a fact - because it was hard to spread the word. With BTC at $60k it gets plenty of headlines and earning free crypto is a very popular pursuit, but it is a grind fraught with scams.
% of survey respondents who wanted to know how to earn crypto
If in general people find out about crypto through stories of the 'number goes up' variety, without necessarily learning anything about how it works, we shouldn't be surprised if they are confused about where that value comes from. Especially given that none of those interviews - quite understandably - spent any time thinking about how existing money and payments system work or derive value.
The survey clearly showed that crypto is confusing, full stop. The most common response to the list of things that were confusing about crypto was 'all of the above - 43%. The most confusing single response was is where the value of this speculative asset comes from at 16%, Though not a clear winner, it was backed up by comments from the interviews:
'Why is it just a bunch of numbers and people believe in it? It's not gold, it's super abstract. Why do people believe in it?'
“I still struggle with the question, why. Right now there are 1,000s of currencies. Why SHOULD i choose Bitcoin or Ethereum, over BRL [Brazilian Real] I have no incentive to change. I make my money in BRL and can invest it, I am happy. Bitcoin can drop in value and I lose money.”
One of our more circumspect respondents summed up nicely the importance of offering an answer to the why question, in order to get people think about the how:
“When I know the why, I can investigate the how. I only invest in assets where I understand how they work.”
This logic has been applied directly to the Crypto Basics section of the Knowledge Base which deliberately starts with a long form explanation of why cryptocurrency exists, and why it has value, before moving on to how it work.
So if price, and stories of the ‘number goes up’ variety, get people in the door, that isn’t such a bad thing, so long as it inspires a meaningful amount of people to dig deeper. The conversations show evidence of this, as does the survey data where knowing ‘how crypto works’ was the second most popular answer with 36%.
“I bought mainly altcoins thinking one might do the same as Bitcoin.....but later came to understand more and see it is a global currency”
“Until I understood what the purpose of Bitcoin was and what it did I got bored every single time it was mentioned….. this Satoshi guy or Bitcoin Pizza guy.”
Despite the majority of those interviewed and surveyed showed a clear desire to learn more about crypto, some weren't convinced.
As important as knowing what people want to learn about crypto, is also knowing why people aren’t interested.
Of the 15% of survey respondents (about 150 people) who replied negatively when asked if they wanted to learn about crypto, the most popular response from almost a third of respondents was ‘I have no need for it’
“I never really understood why I should be interested in using the currency itself”
“When I got a bonus paid in crypto I would sell for money I understand.”
This again highlights the fact that most people spend very little time thinking about how money works, where it comes from or derives its value. They simply take for granted because it serves its purpose and then stick with what they know. I doubt many people ponder the inner workings of contactless payment when buying milk at their local supermarket.
Only when there is a specific trigger, the most obvious being the constant and dramatic erosion of its value - as citizens in Argentina or Venezuela might testify - do we question the role of money. For those of us privileged enough to be living in countries with relatively stable economies the idea of being a starving billionaire is impossible to grasp.
Yet we are like frogs in a boiling pot, except it isn’t the temperature that is imperceptibly rising to slow cook us, but the stealthy creep of inflation, eroding the value of the money we’ve worked so hard to accumulate.
The sceptics aren't necessarily a lost cause from Learn Crypto's perspective; after all scepticism with existing money is what drives people to learn about Bitcoin.
“If there was a real possibility for Bitcoin to take away the power of money from the state, they would simply not allow it to happen.”
Trying to push a complex message about economics and inflation isn’t likely to change that. So we address those who are unconvinced with our Why Crypto section, which tries to use eye-catching data to capture attention.
The other important observation to come from interviews was that though people were curious to learn, many wanted an option of short answers, alongside long form content.
“I never read the whitepaper. I got the TLDR version.”
We directly borrowed the TL;DR idea with a section of short answers to the most common criticisms of bitcoin, myths and misconceptions, while providing short summaries in the cryptocurrency Knowledge Base for those who understandably want the short version.
The final survey question was an attempt to gauge in just a few words, exactly what people think Bitcoin is. The intent here was to then contrast the common descriptions with the other responses.
As you can see, the most common definition of Bitcoin was as some form of currency or money, either digital or virtual. This is an accurate representation, but may explain explain the level of confusion shown elsewhere in the survey, because the money/currency we are used to certainly doesn't behave like Bitcoin.
There were a significant number of 'I don't know' and 'I have no idea' responses, which underline the significant number of people who can't really say what Bitcoin actually is, even though 86% of this group wanted to know more about it.
Some scepticism was evident from descriptions of it simply as 'a bubble' or referencing 'volatility' but there were very few mentions of key characteristics, such as scarcity, decentralisation or anonymity.
The most endearing response was the single respondent who described Bitcoin simply as 'Happiness'. It certainly has the power to improve people's lives, and Learn Crypto is here to spread a positive, but realistic message, to help new users understand what is clearly a difficult subject to grasp.