The great early crypto companies look different from the great early internet companies.
The great early internet companies were built on valuable datasets of human activity.
These datasets’ value scaled super-linearly relative to the number of humans they were measuring. The marginal benefit per user increased with the dataset’s size.
If there's one thing I've learned over the past couple of years, it's that one synchronous block-space will not be sufficient for all of the applications we'll eventually see on-chain.
This wasn't as obvious in 2018, when the possibilities weren't as fleshed out. Last year's DeFi summer and this year's NFT summer have cemented the fact that there's a lot of application design space to play with. And the rise of non-Ethereum Layer 1s this year have further drilled in that block-space is in very high demand.
Given that we're likely to live in a multi-chain world and applications on different chains will want to communicate with one another, it's valuable to understand how the connective tissue between chains will work. I want to explore one angle of this in an abstract sense, without necessarily picking on a single project
Maximal/miner extractable (MEV) value is the topic du jour in crypto.
It affects projects at all parts of the stack and there's been a rush over the last few months to form opinions about it across the ecosystem. This rush has created a simplicity in thinking that hides a lot of nuance.
It's probably not just the case that 'MEV good' or 'MEV bad.' Or even 'all MEV inevitable' or 'all MEV mitigable.'
I've written before about how crypto feels different than other industries I've worked in. I want to pull on a different facet of that thread. Today, I'm thinking through the challenges of 'keeping up' in crypto.
It's a common experience for those of us in this industry and it's a shame that it isn't put into words more frequently. It seems to come up in conversations with colleagues frequently, usually in the form of anxiety. There are so many things going on at all times in crypto. And it feels like the ground is constantly shifting; the base assumptions of how each layer of the 'stack' works are in flux.
I think this is sorta what makes crypto crypto. The fact that the protocols we're building are transparent and permissionless to build on means that every edge of every system we're building is exposed to the world's ingenuity at all times. It's inevitable that a crypto ecosystem is constantly in flux relative to (say) a web app system or a piece of traditional financial infrastructure.
It's the price we pay for permissionlessness. And it'll ultimately be how (if?) crypto wins. The systems we work on evolve organically at a frightening pace.
Something fun about the growth of a new industry is all of the new job descriptions that pop up to support it.
I was lucky to be around for the hyper-growth of the current era of big internet companies and saw some of this firsthand.
I remember as an undergrad in 2010 being surprised to hear that Uber was hiring math PhDs to work on optimizing logistics networks at large scale. A year or two later, it became clear this was an early instance of the 'data scientist' job. Given all of the new places where web-scale data was now available, there was a new market need for statisticians to make sense of that data.
Around the same time, I remember being confused when a classmate listed 'growth hacker' as the title of his internship the previous summer. What was this new role that wasn't quite 'marketing', 'business development', or 'engineering'? As it turned out, the rise of massive internet platforms meant that ambitious, technical, savvy people could add massive economic value to a company by focusing on growth marketing
As a physics undergrad, one of my favorite books was Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman. In it, the author imagines a fictional version of Einstein in the weeks leading to his publication of the theory of special relativity.
Special relativity was paradigm-shifting in part because it totally screwed with the contemporary conception of how time 'worked.' Einstein showed that an entity's perception of time changed depending on how fast that entity was moving (see here for more specificity). It's still a mind-blowing result to ponder and it's easy to imagine how thinking about it really screwed with Einstein's head.
In the book, Einstein is plagued with dreams about different versions of the world, each supposing a different tweak on the rules of time. In one version, time flows more slowly the farther one is from the center of earth. People in this world strive to live on mountaintops and status is conferred to those that live 'higher' than others. In another, cause and effect sometimes happen in reverse order. In this world, scientists feel helpless and artists feel joyous. People mostly choose to live in the moment. In yet another, time is a sense, like taste or touch. Those with more 'refined' palates experience events with more motion and temporal details than those who are 'time-deaf'.
This meta-perspective, of imagining possible futures based on slight tweaks to the rules, seems timely for crypto. We're sitting at an interesting inflection: 2020 showed us that smart contracts are interesting (DeFi Summer), but there are many possible ways the protocol layer might shake out. New layer 1s, rollups, application-specific chains, and various other structural components could play a part and this has implications for what crypto feels like 10 years from today.