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How cryptocurrency works – basic vocabulary and concepts

(FINANCE) Cryptocurrency is a concept that dates back a decade, but as it becomes newly mainstream, many are struggling to catch up – knowing the basic concepts can get you up to speed.

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One of the most exciting things to arise out of new technology is the idea of better ways to optimize and improve concepts that we already find in the real world. None of us should be surprised when that includes currency.

With cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Litecoin, Dash, NEM, Ethereum Classic, Monero, and Zcash (to name a few), it may be hard for the average consumer not to just keep up, but to know what’s going on in this revolution in our modern day economy. Knowing how crypto works makes you a better consumer, as well as investor in your future. Let’s get started with the basics.

What is a cryptocurrency?

To ask what cryptocurrency is, one should also contemplate what modern day paper or coin currency is. At its most basic, all currencies share this core trait: you can exchange a unit (or units) which has predetermined value for either goods or services. Whether it’s dollars, Yen, the gold standard, or Dogecoin, all of these currencies allow you to complete basic transactions.

Where cryptocurrency is different, is how these transactions are completed and how cryptocurrencies are processed.

How does crypto differ from common currencies?

Cryptocurrency allows you to send money directly peer-to-peer (p2p) electronically instead of operating through third-party systems like banks or governments.

The technology that makes this happen is called Blockchain. Blockchain technology is the primary difference between the dollars in your wallet and the virtual currencies in your crypto wallet. The Litecoin School of Crypto uses a great analogy to explain how blockchains work:

“In its simplest form, blockchain is data. It’s a list of recorded information called “blocks” strung together in a chain. Think of blocks as folders stuffed with information i.e. how much Litecoin was sent, who sent it, and who received it. The great thing about blockchains is that it’s public and anyone in the world can see it.”

How does a normal crypto transaction work?

Here’s an example using the fictional cryptocurrency, bitquarters: Karen owes Jamal 10 bitquarters for her movie ticket, so she’s going to pay him back. Karen first requests the transaction through her digital wallet. Because of the nature of cryptocurrency, she can’t send him bitquarters she doesn’t have (there is no “overdrawn” account status in crypto, like modern banks), so it’s a good thing she just got paid!

When Karen initiates the transaction, she uses her private key to virtually “sign” it. When a transaction is completed, an individual will “sign” their transaction with their private key – the reason why cryptocurrency is called as such is because of encryption, after all. The requested transaction is sent via peer-to-peer (p2p) sharing to a network of computers called nodes. These computers validate Karen’s key and verify the transaction.

After the transaction is verified, it is added to the blockchain, the virtual ledger, that all bitquarter users have access to. After that is finished, in only a matter of seconds, Jamal is paid!

What is this cryptocurrency “mining” thing I’ve been hearing so much about?

Mining is a vital part of the cryptocurrency transaction. Miners are the only individuals in the crypto process that can confirm transactions. Their job is to take a transaction, to verify that it is legitimate, and spread them p2p in the network.

To make it a part of the public ledger (the blockchain) every node has to add it to its database. Because mining takes a computer’s energy and electricity to perform, miners are rewarded with small amounts of cryptocurrency per transaction (like how you pay to pull money from an ATM). However, to prevent fraudulent transactions, a computer must solve an encrypted puzzle in order to add it to the blockchain.

What are other important crypto terms I need to know?

Address: the only piece of information that needs to be used for a transaction, similar to a user name or email address. Each transaction uses a different address.

Block: a unit of data in the blockchain that holds and validates transactions. A blockchain is where all blocks of transactions reside.

Double spend: the action of trying to spend cryptocurrency to two different recipients simultaneously. Mining as well as the blockchain prevent malicious actions such as this from taking place.

Cryptocurrency is held up by some as being the currency of the future, while many others think that due to over-speculation, that it will be a investment bubble with irrevocable consequences for brick and mortar institutions. Regardless of any market forecasters perspective on cryptocurrency, the technology is here to stay and knowing the basic vocabulary can help you understand where things are going.

Don’t be intimidated by all of the language around this concept – if you choose to dive into the crypto waters, you’ll learn as you go along. If you invest in stocks, you know a specific concept and vocabulary list, and crypto functions differently but is just another finance mechanism, both of which can be overwhelming but learning the parts necessary to your goals is all that matters.

PS: If you’re more of a visual person, there’s a short video available that has circulated that explains Bitcoing well, and applies to crypto in general.

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Alexandra Bohannon has a Master of Public Administration degree from University of Oklahoma with a concentration in public policy. She is currently based in Oklahoma City, working as a freelance filmmaker, writer, and podcaster. Alexandra loves playing Dungeons and Dragons and is a diehard Trekkie.

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Business Finance

Yes, cryptocurrency pricing has been manipulated

(FINANCE) Research shows that some cryptocurrency value has potential to be manipulated by fraudulent bots. Welp.

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Yes, cryptocurrency price can be manipulated, thanks for asking. A new research paper in the Journal of Monetary Economics dove into how bad actors may be controlling the Bitcoin (BTC) ecosystem, and found that one person may have pushed Bitcoin from $150 to $1000 in 2013. One. One person.

Researchers Neil Gandal, JT Hamrick, Tyler Moore, and Tali Oberman published “Price Manipulation in the Bitcoin Ecosystem,” a paper describing how fraudulent activity likely influenced trading activity leading to increased BTC-USD exchange rates in 2013.

Their paper specifically analyzed suspicious activity on the (since shut down) Mt. Gox Bitcoin currency exchange. Mt. Gox used to be the hotshot for crypto exchange, with over seventy percent of worldwide bitcoin transactions taking place on its platform.

Late in 2013, the USD-BTC exchange rate spiked from around $150 to over $1000 in two months. There was also a period where over 600,000 Bitcoins valued at $188 million were acquired fraudulently.

Former CEO Mark Karpelès worked super hard to cover up the fraudulent activity, but Mt. Gox eventually met its Mount Doom and shut down in 2014.

According to the research, on days where suspicious activity took place, the exchange rate rose an average of four percent a day. Analysis shows that the exchange rate declined on days without suspicious trading activity.

Price manipulation was due in part to how thin the crypto market was in 2013. At the time, only around 80 cryptocurrencies were around compared to over 843 today. This made the market more susceptible to price manipulation.

Fraudulent activity was primarily attributed to Markus and Willy, two bots that appeared to be performing valid trades. However, the bots didn’t own the bitcoin they were using, so all the trades were fake.

When Mt. Gox was hacked and millions of dollars of Bitcoin were stolen, it was due to bots creating fake trades and artificially increasing BTC pricing.

The high volume of trades signaled heavy trading activity, driving up the exchange rate on Mt. Gox. The platform profited greatly from transaction fees from legitimate, non-bot trades. But even without fraudulent activity, exchanges were higher on days these bots were active.

Although it’s alarming that bots potentially jacked up prices, better security systems are set in place for crypto exchange now.

Blockchain keeps users responsible by keeping a record of anyone who changes or updates any element of a crypto transaction.

So while theoretically crypto pricing can still be manipulated, it’s a bit more difficult with the checks blockchain puts in place to identify all users and activity. It’s still worth staying vigilant though, because even with blockchain in place, cryptocurrency markets are not regulated.

This story originally ran on January 22, 2018.

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Business Finance

First impressions matter – how to win over investors immediately

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Impressing investors is nerve-wracking, but these tips can help you to nail your first impression.

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Going in for your first pitch meeting with investors can be nerve wracking—especially if you haven’t yet met these investors in person. Fortunately, if you land a solid first impression, you can set the right tone for the meeting, and make the rest of the presentation a little easier on yourself.

But why are first impressions so important, and how can you ensure you make one?

Let’s start with a recap of the benefits of a strong first impression:

  • A reputation framework. Our brains are wired to make quick judgments about our surroundings. Accordingly, we tend to judge people based on our first interactions with them, with little opportunity to change those initial judgments later on. If you strike investors as a smart, likeable, and capable person early on, they’ll see your pitch deck in a whole new light.
  • Memorability. First impressions stick with people. If yours stands out from the other entrepreneurs pitching these investors, they’ll be more likely to remember you, specifically, and therefore may be more likely to eventually fund your project.
  • Personal confidence. If you know you’ve nailed the first impression, you’ll feel more confident, and as you already likely know, confidence makes you a better public speaker. You’ll speak more deliberately, more passionately, and with fewer mistakes.

So how can you make sure you land this impression?

  • Arrive in a nice vehicle. Show up in a luxury vehicle, or at least one that’s been recently detailed, sends a message that you’re already successful. This isn’t a strict necessity, but it can speak volumes about what you’ve already achieved, and how you might look when you drive to meet your future clients.
  • Dress for the occasion. Along similar lines, you’ll want to dress nicely. You don’t need to have ridiculously expensive clothes, but you should wear standard business attire that fits you properly and has no signs of wear. It’s also a good idea to get a haircut, shave, wear tasteful makeup, and make other small touches that improve your overall appearance.
  • Smile. Smiling is contagious, and it instantly makes you more likable. Don’t force a grin (or else you’ll look like a robot), but do flash a genuine smile as often as appropriate during the first few minutes you meet your prospective investors.
  • Use your investors’ names. When you speak to your investors, try to address them by name as often as possible. People love to hear the sound of their own names, so it might help you win their favor. As an added bonus, it will help you reinforce your association with their name and face, so you eliminate your risk of calling someone by the wrong name later on.
  • Warm up with something personal. It’s tempting to get down to business right away, especially because your investors’ time is limited, but in most cases, it’s better to warm up with something personal—even if it’s only a few lines of a conversation. Tell a funny joke you heard earlier in the day, or share an anecdote about how your morning has been going. It makes you seem more personable and charismatic.
  • Find a common link. If you can, try to find something in common with each of your prospective investors. You might comment that you got your tie at the same place they did, or that you use the same type of pen. Look for subtle clues about their personalities, lifestyles, and hobbies, and forge a connection through those channels. People disproportionately like other people like them, so the more commonalities you can find with your prospective investors, the better.
  • Watch your posture. Your posture says more about you than you might think. Keep your back straight with your shoulders back, and walk confidently with your hands out of your pockets. This is crucial for projecting confidence (and feeling it internally as well).

If you can land a great first impression, you’ll set the stage for a killer presentation—but don’t think you’re out of the woods yet. You still need to make sure you have a fantastic pitch deck in place, and enough knowledge on your startup idea to handle the toughest investor questions. If this is your first pitch, don’t worry – it does get easier – but the fundamentals are always going to be important.

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Business Finance

How to invest in any cryptocurrency without the IRS hunting you down

(FINANCE) Paying taxes on your cryptocurrency investments doesn’t have to be a headache with this simple tool.

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As the 2018 tax season approaches, those of you who took a chance on cryptocurrency may be wondering: Do I have to pay tax on my digital investments? Sorry, but yes you do.

Although tax laws are constantly changing, especially in the wild west of cryptocurrency, fear not. Token Tax is the one tool to rule them all, and can help you report cryptocurrency taxes.

In this past year, cryptocurrency investment has skyrocketed. The total market cap rose over 1000 percent, even breaking a record and climbing over $600 billion in December.

Coinbase, the most popular online platform for buying and selling digital currency, gained one million users in one month alone.

Cyrptocurrency’s increasing popularity led to changes in IRS rules.

Although cryptocurrency investors were previously able to use the “like-kind” tax code exemption, the IRS now says digital investments must be taxed as short and long-term capital gains.

Back in 2015, only 802 Americans reported Bitcoin related gains and losses. At the time, cryptocurrency could technically be categorized a property instead of income. The 2017-18 year should show a greater increase in reports due to the new IRS regulations.

It can be difficult to determine how to report your taxes, and many other available tools victimize you with information overload. Understanding your tax liability is no fun at all, but it’s not something you’d want to get wrong unless tax jail sounds exciting.

The newly minted Token Tax does the work for you, integrating directly with Coinbase’s API to import all your investments in an easy to read format that’s directly exportable to the IRS. Kraken, Bittrex, and GDAX are also securely integrated with the platform.

Using FIFO, Token Tax calculates your tax liability and displays it in an easy to read interface. You can then export a fill-out 8949 form directly to your accountant or the IRS for review.

Creators Alex Miles and David Holland Lee say they believe Token tax “could be the TurboTax for crypto.”

Even though Token Tax is still in test mode, not even beta, it caught our attention by winning first place overall in Product Hunt’s Global Hackathon.

If you have invested in cryptocurrency and want to get ahead of the curve for tax season, check out their demo and see for yourself.

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