Laura Shinn has been in the crypto game for years. She knows this complicated beast inside and out, and is considered an expert in her field. Her podcast, Unchained, is a go-to for personal finance enthusiasts.
So you wouldn’t know that this obsession started by accident, when an editor at Forbes sensed she was bored with her usual finance beat. “So, in 2011, I was covering personal finance. And I was still covering that in 2015… I was pretty bored, frankly.” They offered her a story that was a little out of the box – the Forbes FinTech 50 List, she leapt at the chance – and found her new passion. “I took that one and became obsessed, at that point.”
And we were so glad for that obsession, since Laura recently stopped by The Mission Daily to help us crack the crypto code.
Let’s start off with the basics, shall we?
What is Bitcoin, Anyway?
We’ve all heard the term, but what is it, and what does it do? “So, Bitcoin is actually two things. If you’re reading an article, you might notice that sometimes the writer will capitalize Bitcoin and other times they’ll have it lowercase – the reason for that is, at least in some publications, Bitcoin with a capital B is the “network”… and that is the network that enables you to send additional asset – in this case, a bitcoin – from yourself to somebody maybe all the way in China.. and to do that in ten minutes while paying little to no fees and not having to use a bank. If you wanted to do a payment that was a million dollars, you could do that in bitcoin, again, for very little money and again, just as fast. But there’s literally no way you could do that in the banking world, right?
“For international wire transfers, especially if you’re moving even between more obscure corridors, it can even take longer than a week and be even more expensive. But even just from here to China, which probably is a pretty popular corridor, that can still take a week, and you wouldn’t actually know how much you’re going to pay in fees in advance because there are all these middlemen along the way that take their little cut. So, it’s not until the money arrives, and the person says to you, ‘Oh. Well, you were going to send me a million, but I only got like 999,000 and whatever in change’, do you realize how much it cost.”
“Bitcoin with a lower case “b” is the currency. That’s the token that’s native to the Bitcoin network. You can use it as digital cash or electronic cash – I literally mean cash. So if you lose the keys to your Bitcoin it is gone. There is no bank of Bitcoin where you can call and be like, ‘Hey, can you restore my bitcoins?’ Or if somebody hacks your bitcoins, you can’t call them and be like, ‘Can you reverse that transaction?’ That does not exist. Bitcoin digital asset has a fixed supply of 21 million units, so a lot of people are also treating bitcoin like a digital gold because of this scarcity that it has. What’s very interesting is you can think of the Bitcoin network as this ledger. And that the bitcoins, that are a part of this ledger, are almost like grabbing a little piece of real estate. It’s like, there’s only going to be 21 million units.”
Staying Up To Date on All Things Crypto
Staying ahead of the crypto game isn’t easy (obviously). So how does Laura keep ahead of the curve in order to give her listeners the best insight? She likens it to her music-playing days. “When I’m prepping for a podcast, it reminds me a little bit about when I used to perform music when I was, play an instrument when I was younger because beforehand, you just would visualize how everything should go, like, “Oh, I need to take a breath there so that I have enough in my lungs to sustain that note.” Or, “I want to get really soft there,” you just have a visualization of how it should go. So, when I do the podcast, I like to already be able to predict what the person’s going to say when I ask certain questions. And then if they don’t say certain things, maybe I’ll jump in and explain. So, anyway, all I’m trying to say is that at that point, I do deep dives on whatever I’m covering.”
Another tactic? Twitter. “Crypto Twitter is extremely active. I always see there what people are talking about. I subscribe to a number of really good newsletters and I go through and kind of read what do these other people that I respect, what are they highlighting as what they think is important?” She doesn’t just scroll anyone, of course. As a journalist, Shinn learned how to vet only the best sources, and those skills have transferred over to her crypto research. “I can always figure out who the good sources are. You sort of know when you’re talking to somebody if they’re saying things that you haven’t heard before and if they have something new to offer versus if it’s somebody where, yeah, you’ve kind of heard this before.”
So. We read everything. We subscribe to Laura’s podcast. But… then what? How can we learn to trust cryptocurrency enough to place our hard-earned cash into this system? According to Laura, we’re getting there: “Some of the things that are happening now that could probably legitimize the space more are that we are seeing the regulators and law enforcement come in and deal with some of the criminals. That’s been happening for quite a while, frankly. Probably one of the most famous examples of crime happening in the Bitcoin space was with Silk Road, which was an online drug marketplace. And it was the first of its kind. And the reason that it was enabled, the reason that for the first time ever, you could literally just click a few buttons on your computer and then have illegal drugs shipped to your house through the postal service was because Bitcoin finally existed. That was this digital currency that enables you to transact outside the banking system. “Aside from these governmental actions, I think the other thing that would help legitimize this space frankly is just the developers who are working on this, creating something that people actually really use. And when I say that, I mean beyond just for speculative reasons. And we are seeing a lot of glimpses of people finding practical applications for this. Nothing really used on a wide scale yet.”
So, what’s the bottom line? Laura says that while the crypto market is still in flux, the average consumer’s approach to it doesn’t have to be wildly sophisticated. In fact, it’s pretty simple: “whatever normal personal finance rules or philosophy that you follow for managing your money, that would apply here.”
For more about crypto, the market, and all kinds of insider info, check out our full interview with Laura here