Cryptocurrency was once an obscure way of handling money that seemed almost like a ponzi scheme or something bound to crash. Now, it’s everywhere. The digital money based on blockchain technology passed 100 million worldwide users in February and has seen growing interest in Austin and across Texas.
Austonia talked to investors Sam Feldman, who started Austin’s crypto billboards, and Jon Gregis of crypto community ATX DAO, about how they got into crypto and steps they recommend for people who want to get involved.
Both say they understand that people feel intimidated, but that the best way to get it is by diving right in.
“If someone has like 100 bucks to invest in Bitcoin, or if they’re comfortable with more, I think it’s very hard to learn about this in a way that’s just conceptual,” Feldman said.
If you’re crypto-curious, here are a few tips to get started:
Decide what you want to get out of it
Ethereum\u2019s Dr Gavin Wood (@gavofyork) presents on \u201cEthereum: So now we\u2019ve built it, WTF is it?\u201d #blockchain #futurepic.twitter.com/DA7pugKCWO— Ethereum (@Ethereum) 1447412268
Crypto can seem elusive, and there are some basic concepts you’ll need to understand. One is blockchain technology. A blockchain is a digital ledger that’s used to record information such as transactions and NFT ownership. You’ve likely heard of some blockchains like Ethereum. This network is the second-largest by market cap, behind Bitcoin. This tech is decentralized, meaning there are no intermediaries like a bank.
With that, the next thing you should know is that there isn’t a one size fits all approach to getting started in crypto.
So, pick something that interests you. Do you want to be a day trader? Or perhaps you’d like it for transactional purposes, which Bitcoin is fit for. Maybe you’d be suited for building applications or becoming a blockchain developer through Ethereum.
But any route you go, you’ll have to be patient with becoming truly authoritative on it. Still, Feldman is excited to see what Austinites getting involved will bring.
“Crypto is something where it does take a few years, I would say, to be really comfortable with it,” Feldman said. “The earlier we start, the more well equipped this city is going to be for this next tech revolution.”
Feldman says the resource he uses the most is Twitter. Even his website, marketcap.guide, has a dedicated spot for top tweets, with posts from crypto leaders like a partner at VC firm Placeholder and Web3 accelerator DeFi Alliance.
Gregis is wary of relying too much on social media, however.
“There’s just so much information out there that for someone to use only YouTube or only Twitter… you’re only probably getting one side of the story,” Gregis said.
He suggests finding Telegram group chats or joining meetup groups like Ethereum Austin if you’d like to get in the developer space or smart contracts. The group hosts regular events on topics like game theory and NFTs for social impact.
What to invest in
Staking your $MIOTA to get $SMR and $ASMB tokens is a breeze ! Withdraw your #IOTA tokens from your preferred exchange, send them to your #Firefly wallet and start #staking . The #Firefly Wallet will guide you \nhttps://firefly.iota.org/\u00a0\n@shimmernet @assembly_netpic.twitter.com/Rm6zfTkNG7— IOTA (@IOTA) 1640257219
When Gregis started out around 2013, he was writing cashier's checks to buy Bitcoin. Those days are gone, and you can now easily get started by making an account on a crypto exchange like Coinbase or Binance. Once you're on these platforms, you'll be able to exchange U.S. dollars or other currency for digital assets.
Now that you have the tools to buy and sell crypto, you can go for the most mainstream ones like Bitcoin or Ethereum. But you may have an interest in meme crypto, like Dogecoin. When it comes to these types, experts say they could do well, but it may not work in your favor in the long term.
Then there's more advanced crypto, such as IOTA. Part of the process is signing up for Coinbase and buying Bitcoin. And then you can sign up for another service that will then allow you to convert your Bitcoin to IOTA.
Now, whether IOTA and others like it are a good investment, you'll find mixed opinions, and it's likely you'll need to do your homework to see what is best for you.
A safety step Gregis has taken is keeping everything in “cold storage,” which is a space that isn’t connected to the internet.
“It’s far too easy to get your funds stolen, or if you keep your money on an exchange or even if you keep your money on your computer,” Gregis said. “I’ve heard so many horror stories of people getting their crypto stolen because they don’t do it securely.”
Gregis’ cold storage is a ledger in the form of a USB drive. This way, nothing can come out of the wallet and no transactions can take place without the password-protected ledger. And if you’d like to go a step further to protect your funds, Gregis suggests associating the USB with a mnemonic passphrase. That way, even if somebody steals the USB or it’s misplaced, you can use the passphrase to buy another ledger and keep your money.
“It’s not like a traditional bank where they’re holding it for you. There’s no custodian,” Gregis said. “You are the one that’s controlling your money or your crypto so learn all the problems that could occur if you don’t.”
Think long game
A common mistake people make when starting out is following hype or feeling like crypto is fraudulent because they lost money, Gregis says.
It’s also easy to lose sight of the potential. One day, around the time Bitcoin started hitting close to the $1,000 mark, Gregis asked his friend, who first told him about crypto, what had happened with his money. The friend responded that he had sold about 15,000 Bitcoin for a coffee maker, a move he regretted.
Gregis mentioned that In early December the market had been going through a recent dip, leading some people to switch out. It’s important to keep in mind that you might lose money right away, he says. And yet, you could still make money in the long term.
“If you’re going to get into crypto, really get into it. Don’t be a fair-weather fan,” he said. “If you believe in something, stay there long term because there are too many people that put blind speculation and think they’re going to make these insane returns.”
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Austin is way past its days as being known soley for live music.
With the unprecedented migration of Californians, city dwellers and more into the U.S's newest "boomtown," the city has quickly transformed and built on its preexisting "weird" reputation to become a city of many identities.
Here are just a few things Austin has become known for this year.
TechSISU claims their C31 cinema robot is the easiest to use and cheapest on the market. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
While Austin is a hub for live music, wanderlust travelers and wacky sports, it’s gained the most attention for its recent rep as the nation’s next Silicon Valley.
Startups and big tech like Dell have long called Austin home, but Elon Musk led a migration from California to Austin when he moved Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, The Boring Company and his foundation to the capital city. In October, he officially announced the new Tesla headquarters would be at the site of the new gigafactory that is completing phase 1 of construction this month.
And while Tesla's relocation has dominated EV news in the capital city, another Austin startup is currently working on extracting precious lithium from Bolivia to boost the electric vehicle industry.
Some companies have revolutionized local issues: Austin startup ICON has helped create affordable homes with 3D printing technology in Austin and even teamed up with NASA, while robots have seeped into everyday aspects of Austin life from surgeries to grocery shopping.
The surge in tech has brought in droves of talent and even fueled Austin's hot housing market during the pandemic. A U.K. study recently found the city to be the best place to move to in the world, while a LinkedIn study found that Austin leads the country in tech migration. And tech salaries are following—the city saw that Austin's average tech salaries are nearing that of California despite vastly different costs of living.
Jiu jitsuJiu jitsu greats including Crag Jones (in leopard print) have opened gyms in Austin. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
This summer, Austin became the unlikely site of Brazilian jiu-jitsu beef as Danaher Death Squad, a famed professional crew of grapplers, split into two after a decade of working together. Formerly located in New York and Puerto Rico, the group's two new sects located separately in Austin, a burgeoning "Mecca of jiu jitsu."
Legend Gordon Ryan teamed with coach John Danaher to form a new studio, aptly named "New Wave Jiu Jitsu," in North Austin, while former teammates Craig Jones and even Ryan's brother, Nicky Ryan, opened an elite studio with the tongue-in-cheek title "B-Team Jiu Jitsu."
The B-Team is using their renowned and wacky sense of humor to attract the "Olympians" of the sport from all over the world, while New Wave's Ryan is training for big-name titles as New Wave's studio construction is underway.
While the two gyms haven't announced any rivalry bouts yet, they're both training for the WNO World Championships in 2022. And coupled with dozens of jiu jitsu gyms in the metro and Austin-based jiu jitsu media site Flo Grappling, the fast-growing sport is quickly taking off in Austin.
PokerAustin's poker house scene continues to flourish through a loophole in Texas gambling laws. (Palms Social Club/Facebook)
What happens in Vegas may not always stay in Vegas anymore.
Private poker houses in Austin and Dallas are quickly gaining steam where Texas Hold ‘Em got its name.
Austin is quickly becoming a hub for poker thanks to a loophole in Texas’ gambling law that allows poker games to be played in private residences. Instead of taking a cut from the pot like traditional gambling ventures, private poker houses don't make money from the results of a game; instead, they get their revenue from membership and hourly fees.
One poker house, Texas Card House, used to stand alone in Austin like a small town saloon; now, around 20 are found around town.
Texas Card House was founded in 2015 with just five tables and has since expanded to include a Youtube channel with over 30,000 subscribers and regular visits from big-time poker players like Brad Owen and Doug Pope.
But they no longer hold a “royal flush” on Austin poker culture: The Lodge, based just up the road in Round Rock, is the largest poker house in Texas, and interested Austinites can find anything from poker lessons and beginner pots to $15,000 buy-ins in the Texas capital.
Crypto and NFTs
One crypto-art curator is merging physical pieces by local artists with digital NFTs. (Apollo the Curator)
Everybody who's somebody knows what an NFT is by now—at least, that's what Austin's most crypto-hip population tends to say as the once-mysterious trend grows in popularity in the city.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, were a mystery to the general public when self-proclaimed "Crypto Queen" and former girlfriend to Elon Musk Grimes sold $6 million crypto art in early March. The tokens usually take in the form of digital art or collector's items and serve as a "certificate of authentication" that can't be hacked using cryptocurrency Ethereum.
The tokens have since broken into mainstream culture, at least in the tech verse, as anyone from University of Texas athletes to local artists began cashing in on the craze. Draped high above Austin city streets, Sam Feldman, founder of crypto explainer marketcap.guide, created billboards that double as NFTS available for sale with positive mantras like "Bitcoin is a peaceful revolution."
Austin NFT whiz Apollo the Curator has brought local artists into the scene by combining in-person art competitions and physical pieces with a digital copy of art. Meanwhile, late Austin artist Daniel Johnston's iconic "Hi, How Are You" art has been sold as an NFT and local country singer Parker McCollum has created a fan club NFT product.
Popular sports venues, including Formula 1 track Circuit of the Americas and the University of Texas' Campbell-Williams Field, have also joined in on the movement.
And after a name, image and likeness bill was passed this summer to allow collegiate student-athletes to capitalize off of their reputation, UT athletes like football star Bijan Robinson and local business NiftyHorns are selling digital trading cards in the growing NFT market.
SoccerAustin FC matches are just one of many ways to get your party on in Austin. (Austin FC/Twitter)
Austin’s futbol fandom gained national attention when MLS team Austin FC became the city’s first professional sports franchise this year. Despite a season with just nine wins, fans consistently flooded the team’s brand-new Q2 Stadium with a sold-out crowd of over 20,000. Hundreds regularly flocked to away games across the country, and many more stuck to watch parties at home at local bars and restaurants.
But the most steadfast soccer fans will argue that Austin has always been a “soccer city.” In 2019, the city was the world’s No. 1 market for the Women’s World Cup TV ratings, and fans were rewarded with a U.S. Women’s National Team match to christen the Q2 pitch back in June.
Since then, the stadium has seen two appearances from the U.S. Men’s National Team and national teams from Mexico, Chile, Jamaica and Qatar, each in front of sold-out crowds.
And behind the scenes, teams like women’s semipro club FC Austin Elite, the University of Texas’ soccer team and even a Liga Verde Austin FC supporters’ league have kept the soccer spirit alive and well in Austin.
Austin saw its first Major League Pickleball season this November. (Major League Pickleball)
Austin FC may have been the city’s first major league team, but it was Major League Pickleball that became Austin’s first professional sports league as they launched this year.
Founded in the 1960s, pickleball is a racquet sport that resembles life-sized ping pong. Less intense than tennis and easy to learn, the fast-growing sport has quickly spread in Austin for its inclusivity and supposed addictive qualities.
Professional pickleballers, some of whom train in Dreamland’s Dripping Springs full time, went head-to-head at the venue in November in front of enthusiastic fans for the MLP’s first season.
The sport can be seen at 20+ parks and rec centers around Austin, including popular pickleball hangouts like Bouldin Acres. And Austin will soon be host to Texas’ largest pickleball venue as Austin Pickle Ranch opens its 32-court multipurpose venue early next year.
Street skating and roller derby converge in pandemic-era Austin. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
Austin invented a new era of roller derby in the early aughts as the first-ever professional flat-track roller derby league, Texas Rollergirls, was founded in 2003. Channeling the funky nature of Austin and unapologetic girl power, the league transformed into a popular form of wacky entertainment, complete with outlandish names like "Shutem Up Buttercup" and halftime band performances.
The Rollergirls' influence quickly spread beyond Austin, helping create new leagues around the world and inspiring a documentary. And even though the pandemic forced bouts to be canceled, many athletes stayed on their wheels and went "full circle" as they took to outdoor skating.
Skate parks, once reserved for mostly-male skateboarders, saw an influx of roller derby athletes, trick skaters and newbies around the city as quarantine raged on. Spurred on by viral TikToks, the sport grew across the country—but especially in Austin, where roller roots run deep.
Texas Rollergirls has been postponed from in-person events since February 2020 but is hoping to resume operations in early 2022 if COVID conditions allow it.
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Crashing business meetings, weddings and all kinds of gatherings dressed in their holiday best, drag queens with Austin entertainment delivery service Extragrams are bringing the holiday spirit right to your door.
As the first holiday season during the COVID pandemic loomed with no end in sight in late 2020, Austinite Kerry Lynn had more than visions of sugarplums dancing in her head.
Lynn, an event planner who has worked in entertainment, was looking for a way to show her mom love for her birthday that summer while quarantining was at its peak. Instead of a material gift, Lynn wanted to give her mom a boost of human connection during isolating times and decided to send over a musician to give a surprise performance at her door.
From there, a new business idea was born. By fusing her love for old-timey holiday telegrams with the needs of quarantined people and performers who had lost a chance to work during COVID, Lynn created Extragrams—a service that brings the over-the-top joy of drag queen performances straight to a loved one's door.
Extragrams founder Kerry Lynn started the drag queen entertainment delivery service after looking for a gift for her mom during the pandemic. (Extragrams)
"I've always just loved the idea of creating these kinds of random acts of fabulousness into people's lives... and the idea of being able to gift something that wasn't material but was kind of like a memory," Lynn said. "Being able to send this epic entertainment to someone with music and this whole spectacle, it allowed them to feel like they were connected in a way because they were sending this experience that they all got to be a part of... it felt really special."
At first, Lynn was unsure if professional drag queens accustomed to large, adoring crowds would settle for performances in front of just a few people. But she soon received the opposite reaction.
"Performers, they want to perform, they want to share," Lynn said. "Almost all the queens that I reached out to were super interested and really supportive and gung-ho about it."
Since July 2020, what Lynn once thought was a temporary pandemic pursuit has transformed into a multi-faceted business.
"It really was like, 'Okay, the world is burning. Let's just do this,'" Lynn said. "I tried to be smart about it from a business standpoint, but I really was just thinking of it in the moment."
Lynn's passion project soon "spread like wildfire," Lynn said, as people began booking performances for graduations, birthdays and other occasions while miles apart. News of the service began circulating through local media, viral TikTok videos and word of mouth.
@extragramsatx Singing telegrams but make it EXTRA! ##dragqueens ##specialdelivery ##makeitfashion ##congrats
♬ original sound - Extragrams
In a time where people were forced into solitude and bombarded with bad news, queens have spread joy to anyone from nurses overburdened in COVID units to CEOs in need of holiday cheer. As pandemic restrictions shifted, Extragrams did too—Lynn said the company has become a sort of "drag queen agency" and gone on to perform for larger events.
But whether queens are surprising a backyard party with a twerking contest or joining quarantined grads in caps and gowns, Lynn says the shock and joy are universal.
"I really do feel like I have the best job in the world because we just get to surprise people with drag, right?" Lynn said. "We get a lot of people who cry because it's powerful. It just feels so celebratory when someone shows up in like that huge spectacle just for you."
And even as the threat of omicron looms over yet another pandemic holiday season, Lynn said the on-demand drag queen service will continue to adapt and bring joy to those who need it most—all while staying "extra."
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