Getting started with Bitcoin, blockchains, and cryptoassets by@sbmckeon

Getting started with Bitcoin, blockchains, and cryptoassets

Stephen McKeon HackerNoon profile picture

Stephen McKeon

Assoc. Professor of Finance, Grant and Suanne Inman Scholar

Friends and family often ask me where to begin learning about Bitcoin and blockchains. With the recent rise in prices, these requests are amplifying in lockstep. I imagine many of you have had a similar experience.

I’m always happy to respond because it’s important for people to become educated before investing, but these responses take time and time is scarce. I started compiling a list so that I could respond efficiently.

This list is not meant to be comprehensive, it’s curated. That means I’m leaving out a ton of important content. I’m doing so because newcomers often report feeling initially overwhelmed by the volume of information in this space. I’ve tried to lay it out in a step-by-step format to make it more approachable. It’s a recipe for a base-level foundation of knowledge, from which you can continue to build.

Here’s what I would have done to get started if I were to do it over again…

>>If you have less than one hour…

Video description of blockchains (26 minutes)

Written description of blockchains (16 minutes)

Why ledgers matter (14 minutes)

>>Next three hours

Start with the “Beginner’s Guides” on CoinDesk. There are 43 different topics, but they’re short, <5 minutes each. If you’ve completed the two items above then you can get through these quickly. Read all of them, particularly those from “What is Blockchain Technology?” to the bottom. (2 hours)

Watch Banking on Bitcoin on Netflix to get some historical context.(1 hour)

>>Next ten hours: Podcasts

Hashpower, by Patrick O’Shaughnessy, is a three segment podcast that contains a wealth of information. It is the highest density podcast on this topic that I have have found and features some of the most knowledgeable people in the space. It is a masterpiece. Listen to all of them. If you have time, listen to them twice. (3 hours)

Listen to this Tim Ferriss podcast. Nick Szabo and Naval Ravikant are two of my favorite thinkers: (1.5 hours)

Subscribe to Unchained, a podcast by Laura Shin, and listen to some past episodes. I listened to all of them, and learned something from every single episode. It’s almost impossible to choose a “best of” list, but here are a few that were particularly memorable: (5.5 hours)

Jerry Brito and Peter Van Valkenburgh (Coin Center)

Emin Gun Sirer (Cornell)

Brock Pierce (Blockchain Capital)

Olaf Carlson-Wee (Polychain capital, formerly 1st employee at Coinbase)

Elizabeth Rossiello (BitPesa)

Chris Burniske (Placeholder Ventures)

>>Next ten hours

It’s time to read Satoshi Nakamoto’s seminal whitepaper. (1 hour)

Introduction to forks. The Ethereum Classic fork or Bitcoin Cash fork are examples. (1 hour)

If you wish to purchase bitcoin or ether, open an account at an exchange like Coinbase or Gemini. A couple notes: i) This is not investment advice, invest only what you can afford to lose entirely. ii) Setup two-factor authentication immediately. Do not use text message as the authentication method, apps like Google Authenticator or Authy are safer. By the way, you should really set up 2FA on your Google account too. iii) If you have a meaningful proportion of your wealth invested, you will want to look into a hardware wallet, but that is beyond the scope of this guide. (1 hour)

There are thousands of other blockchain tokens beyond bitcoin. Dive into tokens with Brave New Coin’s gentle introduction. Then, go to Smith + Crown (a token research firm), pick out a couple recent token sales and read the S+C analysis. (2 hours)

Read through Linda Xie’s beginner guides to several prominent projects (3 hours):

As of this writing, Coinbase trades three cryptoassets: bitcoin (BTC), ether (ETH), and litecoin (LTC). If you wish to expand beyond these three you can open an account on an exchange like Poloniex or Bittrex to trade many others, but they don’t accept fiat currency like USD, so you have to buy BTC or ETH at an exchange like Coinbase first, and then transfer it to your other account. You’re probably also going to want to download Blockfolio at this point to keep track of everything. (Disclaimer: (i) This is not investment advice, (ii) I am not endorsing these exchanges, just using them as examples, here is a longer list by volume and here are descriptions of a few of them. (iii) Never invest more than you are willing to lose in totality) (1 hour)

When evaluating a token for the first time, here is a framework to organize your thoughts:

Spend some time investigating various data sources: OnChainFx, CoinMarketCap, CryptoCompare, Brave New Coin,, CoinGecko, Bitcoin Block Explorer. (1 hour)

>Hours 24–50

For a deeper dive, enroll in this MOOC taught by Andreas Antonopoulos and Antonis Polemitis (12 hours):

There are several other free courses such as one from Princeton at coursera (broken down into 60 sessions on YouTube), one from Stanford at coursera, and several at udemy.

The regulatory environment is complex and evolving. Coin Center is the master on this topic, read as much of their work as possible. If you have tax questions, here is a place to start that inquiry.

Work through Nick Tomaino’s reading list, especially Nick Szabo’s articles. Dan Romero also has a nice list here that is not too technical.

Read these two books:

  1. Cryptoassets by Burniske and Tatar. The book works through cryptoassets from an investor’s perspective and provides some historical perspective.
  2. The Internet of Money by Antonopoulos

I’m also looking forward to The Truth Machine by Casey and Vigna

>Bonus section: Academic research

I’d be remiss to conclude without a few cites to academic work in economics on this topic:

Catalini, Christian, and Joshua S. Gans. “Some simple economics of the blockchain.” No. w22952. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2016.

Wang, Sha, and Jean-Philippe Vergne. “Buzz Factor or Innovation Potential: What Explains Cryptocurrencies’ Returns?” PloS one 12, 2017.

Yermack, David. “Corporate governance and blockchains.” Review of Finance 21.1 (2017): 7–31.

You’ve only just begun. For a more comprehensive list of resources, check out Jameson Lopp’s page.

Staying up to date

After completing everything above, you will know more than the vast majority of the general public, but your information will quickly become stale if you don’t stay current. Here’s a subset of what I follow:

Twitter. Crypto twitter is very active. Here are a few accounts to start following. Keeping this list short was the most difficult part of the entire post because it omits many important people, I’m doing so for brevity. I tried to choose people with different viewpoints. To see a more comprehensive list, go through my follows. Once you start tracking these accounts you’ll see who else is active and can branch out from there:

Medium. Home of longer format articles. These are a few people that influence my thinking. Again, this list is absurdly short, but it’s a start:

Podcasts. Listen to them regularly. Here are a few:

Slack. Join the CoinFund slack channel and subscribe to a few of the subchannels that look interesting to you. It’s a repository of dialogue on numerous cryptoassets.

Many token projects maintain their own slack channels. The best way to find them is to simply google “[project name] slack” like this.

Newsletters. Delivered straight to your inbox. Here are my favorites:

Token Economy, Week in Ethereum, Multicoin Capital, CoinDesk, DAR

Reddit. So many subreddits that I won’t even try to list them all. Just start here: or here.

I’ll update this post with new content occasionally.

Enjoy your trip down the rabbit hole!

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