This year’s crypto cycle saw new all-time highs, euphoria, and mainstream media lip service to the latest crypto trend. Sadly, crypto is no more present in most people’s daily lives than it was in 2017. What slowed its progress for four years?
In 2017, I joined Crypto.com (then known as Monaco) as its first Chief Marketing Officer. It is now one of the world’s largest crypto service providers and fiat-to-crypto gateways.
Payments are less of a focus, and many crypto adoption projects have sidelined. While decentralized finance (DeFi) and nonfungible tokens (NFTs) have gained popularity, they currently unable to help the real world.
The situation reminds me of the mobile industry before the iPhone and Steve Jobs’ revolution. Despite the buzz, the end-user was not benefiting from the stacking of technology and features.
I co-founded the Mobile Marketing Association in Asia and served as its chair in 2009–10. People misunderstand that Apple did not “invent” the smartphone.
From zero to hero with one idea
If you ask random strangers what makes the iPhone so popular, you’ll get a dozen different answers. Some say it was apps and the App Store. Gorilla Glass and touchscreen for others. It was 3G (the first iPhone didn’t have it), Wi-Fi, camera, comfortable size, sleek design…
Of course, they all helped. But keep in mind that all of those features were available on other phones. Nokia used Symbian, which had a large app ecosystem. BlackBerry, for example, released BBM, the proto-WhatsApp/iMessages, in 2005, which was quite advanced for its time. Palm and others made “pocket computers” with stylus touchscreens. In terms of design, Motorola’s Razr wowed everyone.
The iPhone’s unique innovation was the multi-touch capacitive screen. The iPhone introduced gestures, on-screen QWERTY keyboards, and the basic smartphone design, but nothing was new. As Steve Jobs put it, “an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator… not three separate devices.” This is one device,” — a feature-rich, easy-to-use device. The rest is history.
Crypto as a means, not an end
When discussing crypto adoption, we must consider the average person’s utilitarian viewpoint. Most people prioritize cost and utility over idealistic concerns. In general, people buy food based on taste and price. Electric cars struggle because they are more expensive and have many practical disadvantages.
Most people will not believe that crypto can provide financial freedom and decentralization. The main reason people invest in crypto now is price gains, not utility. It is useful for applications like cheap global value transfer. However, using crypto for payments has many practical drawbacks, most of which are related to existing financial infrastructure. The user experience of using crypto to pay for things has been terrible, with complicated fees, long confirmation times, and difficult units.
Crypto’s “multi-touch capacitive screen” reframes it as a means, not an end. The average person cares about what crypto gives them, not about crypto itself. They will listen if you promise them Lambos and moons, but only so far.
Wouldn’t it be great if crypto could cut out the middleman between you and your money, allowing for (almost) free money transfers, foreign exchange, and interest rates that normal people can only hope to pay, not receive?
The average person would be intrigued.
Our strategy: a refundable membership fee that grants access to a suite of useful financial, travel, and lifestyle services via mobile and web apps, as well as messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram. We acted in two ways: removing any product friction and making it extremely useful to everyone. Like the original iPhone.
Of course, the road ahead is long. But if more crypto projects thought outside the box and focused on utility rather than speculation, we might be able to return to the mainstream adoption path we started on in 2017.