Rule Breaker’s Guide to Cryptocurrencies, Part 2: The Foolish Take on Bitcoin

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In this Rule Breakers podcast, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner recruited Fool analyst Aaron Bush to help him with Cryptocurrencies 101. Turns out that a fair number of his listeners wanted more. So this week — with bitcoin trading at more than twice the level it was for the previous episode — he brought Aaron back for a more advanced encore.

In this segment, they try to answer the core question for all investments as it relates to cryptocurrencies: to buy or not to buy? If you do, then make sure to seriously consider all the risks they pose to your money.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Dec. 6, 2017.

David Gardner: Let’s next go to Jimmy Simons’s email. He starts with, “Dear David. Knowing your love of defining and categorizing investing terms and ideas, I was more than a little disappointed with the RBI podcast on cryptocurrency with Aaron Bush.”

Aaron Bush: I try my best, but I guess I can’t win over everyone.

Gardner: You’ve got a lot of props here, and that’s part of the reason we had you back. Jimmy goes on. “Granted cryptocurrency and blockchain technology is a difficult, technical topic to attempt covering on a podcast. My main concern,” Jimmy writes, “is that (1),” and he’s got two — “(1) cryptocurrency and tokens were not well defined in the podcast in regard to Foolish investing, and (2) a balanced view of cryptocurrency was not presented — i.e., many downside risks and issues were not mentioned.” Aaron, could you speak to those two?

Bush: We probably didn’t talk about that enough, to be fair.

Gardner: And it’s my fault, because I’m the host, so if we’re not getting to the bottom of terms, this is on me. Jimmy, I take this very personally, what you’ve done to me with this email, saying that we’re not good enough. That we didn’t do a good enough job for you. Didn’t you listen to all the other people who said it was a great podcast, Jimmy?

But being serious about this, Aaron, I think you’ve done a nice job once again this week and a couple of months ago just defining cryptocurrency. We talked about tokens in that Oct. 18 podcast more than we did here, tokens which basically create some scarcity and, therefore, can drive more value in support of cryptocurrencies. We talked some about that.

But Jimmy’s asking in the context of Foolish investing — Foolish investing, which, I hope, everybody has a much better handle on who’s never listened to this podcast. But a couple of our basic foundation points would be that we’re thinking five-plus years forward. We’re looking to invest in things that we support. That we believe in. That we think the world will be better for as these things grow to the moon over the following five or 50 years. And I guess there’s something there as well, about making sure that you’re diversified and that you understand some of the downside, which Jimmy’s asking about in his second constructive criticism. But how do you frame this up against Foolish investing?

Bush: Well, I think it’s very important to be transparent about the risks that are included in this. And so I think he has a great point in saying that this is a very risky endeavor. As I mentioned, this is like seed-stage venture investing. Many of these projects simply will not pan out despite their best efforts. The ecosystem is currently filled with bad actors and people just trying to take advantage of people. The regulatory environment is unclear. I think, just as technology improves, there’s always going to be a war against hackers. There definitely is risk here.

But in my opinion, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is worth avoiding. It means that due diligence is extra important. And I think that we can bring a Foolish mindset into how we look at and analyze these, not as speculations but as real investments.

Gardner: Aaron, the way that new blockchains can form, I’m seeing these days initial coin offerings. It’s almost like there’s going to be so much more of all this than we already think. And it’s kind of like when you and I talked in October, I likened this to trying to explain the internet to a Viking, where, let’s just say it’s 1995 and we’re talking about what the internet is going to be. And the Viking is not really understanding what computers are, but we’re talking about it ahead of a lot more stuff. And so much has happened.

If we just think about e-commerce — which is only one, if you will, cryptocurrency within the internet blockchain metaphor — and you just think about all that this is going to be, and you can understand why there would be some room for some bad actors and some players coming in. But I think a lot of this is well motivated. A lot of it won’t work out.

It’s kind of like your friend who says, “You know, Aaron, I’m starting a blog and I hope you’ll check out my blog and maybe click on the ad there.” And a lot of people are going to start blogs here, and not all the blogs are going to work out. And some people are just going to stop their blogs because they’re like, “I can’t keep this up,” or, “Why am I tweeting when I’m eating lunch?” So I mean, there’s going to be some of that, right? Inevitably there will be a lot of creative destruction, but coming out of that are some big, foundational things that you and I have been talking about.

Bush: Right. And I think a decent analogy is that where this crypto ecosystem is right now, it might be similar to where the internet was in 1994, something like that. It’s imperfect, but I think right now we’re seeing the infrastructure stage. And so a lot of new organizations coming out with applications that might not have the infrastructural support needed to fully make their dreams realized yet. As an investor, I’m interested in a lot of the infrastructure plays going on here, and then later, it will lay the foundation for all the new, exciting applications to come.

Gardner: OK, we have a few more questions to go to, and even though I was making a joke about Jimmy Simons being a critic of this show, it was a constructive criticism, and I absolutely appreciate that. You and I can probably never underline enough some of the risks here, and how if something can double in two months it can also get halved in two months. And I just want to make sure everyone has clarity around that, and I think we’ve spoken to that, so thank you for that note.

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