Is it too late to invest in cryptocurrency? Am I too late to the crypto party? Has the Bitcoin ship sailed? These are questions I’m sure we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or another - and particularly when the bigger picture has been one of a general uptrend in prices over the course of 2021. The question is, is that the fact - or at least, the only fact - that should be governing your decision-making? Let’s dive in and see whether it’s too late to buy crypto in 2021.
A shift away from price-dominated analysis
First things first, if you base your decision-making purely on current price action, there’s a statistical probability that you’re going to end up missing out in the long-term.
Timing the market (trying to jump in and out at the perfect times) is a notoriously difficult and generally unsuccessful idea. What we do know is that, going back all the way to crypto’s early days, people have been trying to second guess when to buy and sell and, often, getting it agonisingly wrong.
Caption: musings about price and when to buy/sell are hardly a new phenomenon. NB: the value of this particular holding would, at time of writing, be around $86.1 million USD, or £65.8 million GBP.
Over the past decade, Bitcoin has delivered a 7-figure ROI - but also fifteen ~30%+ drawdowns counting until May 2021, some of which have extended over multiple years. Unless you happen to be an extremely experienced (and lucky) trader, time in the market has generally been the most reliably profitable path for the average market participant (at least in the case of the most established and fundamentally sound assets)*.
Now, if you happen to agree with that analysis, then the questions you have to answer are less to do with the price of the market at a given time, but rather your evaluation of the fundamental value and long-term prospects of the market you’re looking to enter.
Which brings us onto...
Network effect and adoption curves
Cryptocurrencies are essentially decentralised networks. The more participants they have, the stronger and more useful they become - aka network effect. Think of a phone network. If there’s two of us, I can ring you and you can ring me. Three of us, now we each have two other people we can call. Up it to four, and that’s three conversation partners apiece. Every time someone joins the network, everyone on the network benefits - and those benefits accelerate rapidly over time as the network grows. Accordingly, one way to assess the value of a cryptocurrency is to examine the strength and size of the network it has built.
So what about crypto adoption rates in general? How powerful are the networks in this particular ecosystem, and how quickly are they growing? Well, we know that the rate of technology adoption has been steadily increasing full stop. And indications are, crypto may be outpacing them all. For example, this oft circulated chart from Global Macro Investor aims to visualise the adoption of cryptocurrency against the other biggest technology hitter of recent history, the internet.
As you can see, current growth in total crypto users is estimated to be outstripping the pace of growth we saw in internet users in its early days - and, in equivalent terms, puts crypto today at around the 1997 mark in internet adoption. And of course, we all know what has happened with the internet since then - good and bad.
To put it into some sort of context using Bitcoin as the point of reference, observers have suggested that, whereas the internet took 7.5 years from 1997 to reach the billion user milestone, on its current growth trajectory Bitcoin alone is on course to achieve that 1 billion mark in just 4 years, or by roughly 2025.
This supports a thesis of massive global expansion in cryptocurrency adoption, with blockchain data platform Chainalysis reporting a 880% - almost a 10x - increase in worldwide adoption in 2021.
It also chimes with the data we have relating to the health of crypto’s two biggest networks, Bitcoin and Ethereum, which both continue to add addresses (new additions to the network) at a rapidly increasing rate.
All of which to say, adoption figures and accumulating network effects for crypto’s biggest players point to a critical mass of adoption - and provide one potentially useful lens to aid in your analysis and decision-making.
Therefore, question 1 in answering that ‘too late to buy crypto’ conundrum: do I believe that, from here forwards, the user base and combined value of the ecosystem I am buying into is more likely to strengthen or to decrease over time?
Crypto and its evolving use cases
Quite aside from user adoption, we need to consider underlying use cases. After all, one of the questions most often asked about cryptocurrency is what exactly it’s used for and where it gets its value.
Now in its early days, you could reasonably define crypto as a money trend. Bitcoin was developed as peer-to-peer electronic cash existing beyond the realm of government monetary policy - see our Bitcoin intro guide here for the full lowdown. The point being, a relatively narrow and self-contained focus on an open, decentralised, permissionless form of money.
Look at the landscape today and the situation is very different. Heading into 2022, decentralised finance is a multi-billion dollar industry (intro guide here). NFTs are a multi-billion dollar industry (intro guide here). In short, the crypto ecosystem has expanded and continues to grow around decentralised applications (as pioneered by Ethereum) and an interlinking array of increasingly specific use cases. This is no longer purely a money trend, it’s a technology and tech application trend, and this is transforming both crypto’s appeal (from investor and user standpoints) and the horizon of what it means to talk about crypto. The same themes are still there - decentralisation, open systems, individual inclusion and empowerment - but the breadth and scope is on a completely new level.
Just a few examples of current and growing areas of interest: decentralised systems of governance (DAOs); gaming and decentralised virtual worlds (the famous ‘metaverse’); decentralised social media & communities; and infrastructure and tooling for a whole ecosystem of blockchain-powered decentralised applications and web technology (internet browsing, file storage, computing, hosting, identity verification, graphics rendering, video streaming) referred to under the umbrella of Web 3.0. And as builders continue to flood into the ecosystem, the use cases are limited only by our imagination.
Therefore, question 2 in answering the ‘too late to buy crypto’ conundrum: do I believe that, from here forwards, the use cases of the ecosystem I am buying into are more likely to strengthen or decrease over time?
Finally, let’s think for a moment about the balance of market dynamics. 2021 was the year that the ‘institutional investor’ narrative really took hold. A widely circulated report by Fidelity Digital Assets revealed that over half of institutions surveyed globally are currently invested in digital assets, while more than 90% of institutions interested in digital assets expect to have allocations by 2026. Various banks and wealth managers including JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, have rolled out funds offering crypto exposure - often at the request of their wealthy clients. And while the crypto markets remain volatile, cyclical, unpredictable and prone to bubble-like behaviour, what we can say for sure is that the scale of the numbers has changed, and that market access has widened.
This year, the crypto markets have broken the $3 trillion mark; FTX, a single crypto exchange, closed a funding round of $900 million at a valuation of $18 billion; and global venture capital investment into crypto companies surpassed $27 billion. At the same, market accessibility has greatly increased, with a wide range of popular apps bringing in crypto integrations, and the launch of the first bitcoin futures ETF in the U.S. offering new investment routes.
Therefore, question 3 in answering the ‘too late to buy crypto’ conundrum: do I believe, from here forwards, in this market’s ability to continue to attract investment, add new market participants and achieve market growth in the long term?
When the hype runs high, it always pays to ask the fundamental questions… Do I see the evidence of adoption and growth? Do I understand and value the problems the technology is aiming to solve? Do I see the possibility for long-term market appreciation?
And as ever, those answers are highly nuanced and reliant on individual judgements and risk tolerance. Yes, we might be where the internet was in 1997 - but we know what happened with dot com companies around the millennium. Yes, there is an ever increasing array of use cases for crypto and blockchain technology - but many remain experimental, emerging visions for the future. Yes, we are seeing unprecedented money flows in the crypto markets - but nobody can say how long it will last or how it will end.
Ultimately buying into crypto means buying into a fundamental thesis - that decentralised systems can deliver solutions to problems that the existing system cannot; that usage and adoption will continue to grow as a result; that this technology can change the paradigm not just of finance, but of culture, ownership and the future of the internet itself.
Whether you believe that is a personal decision. But it’s never too late. In fact, it might just be the beginning.
How to get started investing in cryptocurrency
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*Though beyond the scope of this particular article, inherent volatility may be mitigated by strategies including dollar cost averaging, among others - the underlying point being that this should come after an informed choice has been made about the fundamentals of the investment decision.