OG Status in Crypto Is a Liability

Tenure in crypto yields more respect than it should.

CoinDesk Insights
Mar 8, 2021 at 6:49 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 12:22 p.m. UTC

"Bitcoin is rapidly becoming the crypto version of Australian wildlife. We separated ourselves, blocked all cross-pollination, and now there's an isolated gene pool producing weird versions of everything." 

So security researcher and Summa founder, James Prestwich, contended in a tweet thread last summer.

Is bitcoin complacent? An austere monolith? A hermit kingdom? I don't know. Bitcoin is probably fine, but underlying Prestwich's hot take is a larger point that's relevant beyond BTC: a lengthier crypto tenure does not equate to greater wisdom.

In the crypto culture, there's a strong tendency for folks to flex about when they bought in. For me, I feel like the right date marking the beginning of my blockchain journalism is September 2015, when I wrote enough about Imogen Heap's music-rights tracking project to become curious.

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But the allure of greater vintage is so tempting here, so I can date it to December 2013, when I first started following Charlie Shrem, a scrappy young Brooklyn, N.Y.-based tech entrepreneur, though truthfully my interest in bitcoin was really only ancillary then, going no further than the fact that it counted as "tech."

Tenure yields respect; not as much respect as heavy bags, mind you – but in absence of bags, time counts.

But it shouldn't count for that much. In fact, having watched this space roughly as long as the Ethereum blockchain has existed, I'm happy to go a step further: tenure can be a liability.

Tenure is, in particular, a liability for those who have dipped out and come back. But some who never left remain stuck in ancient ways.

Time is not data

One way to measure how much data can be gathered in a particular time period is by counting people. Of course we can't count people in crypto very easily, but we do have counts of active wallets, which is a decent proxy (noting, obviously, that many crypto users have more than one wallet — as they should).

So let's say you were super early to the space, say from late 2011 to early 2015. You lived in a world that had only a little over 10,000 active bitcoin wallets and faded out when there were under 200,000. There were zero ethereum wallets.

Now let's compare you to a relative newbie. Say they showed up in early 2017, before the BTC price really started sailing high but close enough that you could smell a change in the air. There would have been 500,000 active bitcoin wallets and 20,000 or so ethereum wallets.

If they stuck around for roughly the same amount of time, they would have the opportunity to meet vastly more people, watch vastly more experiments and learn vastly more lessons. There's just more going on now.

And lest we assume these new arrivals are just random, it's worth noting how many blockchains have healthy and growing developer communities.

These days, more people show up for the first time in one year than were ever present early on. Framed like that, it's crazy to presume perspectives gleaned in those hazy bygone days are inherently superior to more recent ones. This isn't some fantasy story about lost and forgotten magicks. This is technology.

One of the chief blind spots that I see in the OG's is dismissing anything that's new. There's the Bitcoin Maximalist and the Ethereum Maximalist. The two are largely caricatures, though. Many bitcoiners grudgingly accept Ethereum is here to stay and vice versa, but there's still a knee-jerk attitude of not just skepticism, but dismissal of any new coin or consensus mechanism.

Moar chainz

"Scam" and "s**tcoin" get thrown around much too flippantly, which diminishes the charge's impact when it actually should stick (and often enough it should).

For anyone who left and missed the mid-2010s, this is understandable. The space was awash in cash grabs then. But the quality of new blockchain architects has changed: Polkadot is not equivalent to TrumpCoin. Tezos is a more thoughtful piece of software than Bitshares.

Once upon a time, most new cryptocurrencies were lame forks of bitcoin (or forks of forks) with some marketing slapped on. Auroracoin, anyone? Remember potcoin? Dogecoin.

But that's simply no longer true. Today, many new blockchains are initiated by talented, well-resourced teams. No doubt many of them will fade off into obscurity, but so do many startups. Startups are afforded the benefit of the doubt and new blockchains by well-intentioned creators should be, too.

When they do fail, there are lessons to be learned for the whole industry. Old heads who dismiss them out of hand will miss out on those lessons.

Not every OG has failed to adjust their thinking to the modern reality. For example, consider Boost VC. In 2014, it promised to back 100 bitcoin startups. In 2018 we reported that it hit its goal, but the firm also changed the terms of its pledge. It had funded 100 crypto startups, not just on bitcoin.

Boost co-founder Adam Draper explained at the time that it just wasn't kosher in 2014 to talk about anything but bitcoin, but times changed and Boost changed with it. Not everyone has. Later in his thread, Prestwich wrote, "Our Core Dev ivory tower is now sitting next to a small skyscraper, and it's past time we walked out and asked the neighbors what they're up to."


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