Everyone in this space talks about how cryptocurrency has the potential to change the world. Key examples given are countries such as Venezuela with hyperinflation and broken payment systems, or the unbanked of Ghana, or politically targeted organizations like WikiLeaks. These reasons are often given as justification for using cryptocurrency, both to those groups represented in the examples, and to the average first-world person who shares none of the same concerns. The fact is, most of the developed world has no compelling reason to switch to using cryptocurrency as they’re mostly very satisfied with the payments systems they have right now. Thankfully, though, there is one way to get them to actually switch.
General benefits and niche industry use aren’t enough to make everyone else switch
One of the hardest sells I’ve attempted in recent times is to pitch cryptocurrency to businesses and users primarily for its hard and measurable benefits. Lower fees, instant settlement, better security, no chargebacks, it doesn’t matter. Nearly everyone in the developed world gets paid easily and can spend their money everywhere without too much trouble. Businesses have it a little harder, bearing the brunt of the infrastructure costs and transaction fees, but even this is not significantly worse than what it would be like if they used cryptocurrency instead. Generally speaking there are still quite a few benefits, but they’re just too slim to make a compelling argument for users and businesses to switch.
Now, there are a few key industries where the spread is much thicker, such as the cannabis industry, online gambling, fitness supplements, cross-border remittances, and other areas where the hard advantages of using cryptocurrency may be enough to warrant a change. However, the general populace that doesn’t partake in these narrow economic corridors will not change their entire way they transact because of this. Even people who will, for example, buy their weed with Dash because they save money won’t also use it to pay their rent where they don’t stand to save.
No one needs to use crypto… but they want to
While trying to pitch cryptocurrency, I put aside my personal reasons for using it to focus on the more seemingly objective, rational, and mainstream-appealing benefits. Big mistake. It turns out that the “benefits talk” is nowhere near as exciting as the “cool talk”: it’s exciting and fun to use. In my case, it was exciting because of ideological reasons and because of the different and innovative nature of the underlying technology, and it was fun to send and receive digital tokens run by a decentralized infrastructure with ease and without restriction. More importantly, using cryptocurrency feels free, a stark contrast with the serious, over-regulated, highly-permissioned, and controlled financial world. Using crypto feels as effortless as sending a message or leaving an online comment. It doesn’t feel like money in that there isn’t that gravitas and stress associated with the typical financial experience.
In my experience, this intangible, loosely defined experiential benefit is what got people excited by crypto and wanting to switch. Sure, all the benefits of fee savings, instant settlement, no middlemen, etc. were important points, but they all fed into this general excitement to use something new and revolutionary, and not an excitement to save money and transact more efficiently.
Businesses switch to get ahead of the curve
Merchants, with their settlement time worries and several-percent transaction fees, stand to gain the most from using cryptocurrency. However, while businesses I talked to saw these as important elements, they didn’t really get their attention or push them any closer to accepting it for payments. What did, however, get them going was FOMO: fear of missing out. In the short term, merchants wanted to take crypto payments to attract new customers excited to be able to spend it, and in the long term to adopt a new payment technology generally regarded as the eventual “future” before being left behind by the times.
Notice that this is a hard value proposition based on a soft one: Get more customers now, lose fewer later, is a very hard and practical benefit for a business. The reason for the new customers, however, is the very soft “because they’re excited by it” reason.
Come for the fun, stay for the benefits
Now while all this fun and excitement is enough to get people to start using a new payment system, they won’t stay long-term unless it makes sense. If it remains cheap, easy, and frictionless to use, people who start using crypto, and can spend it on most things, will continue to do so. Particularly once a wave of businesses starts accepting it to attract a wave of newly-inspired users, the network effects should be strong enough that the advantages start to compound. At that point of critical mass, only a madman would turn back to the antiquated, struggling, centralized payment networks of yesteryear.
This is the decentralized digital currency revolution. Anyone can send value freely without using any other service or company, without restriction, without censorship, without control. Pure freedom. And using it feels like that: freedom, the way money is supposed to be. That’s worth getting excited about. Pass on the joy, it’s contagious. Just remember that the inherent benefits of the system will have to one day cash the check that the excitement writes.