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Sam Hickmann

Sam Hickmann

3 months ago

What is headline inflation?

More on Economics & Investing

Theresa W. Carey

Theresa W. Carey

3 months ago

How Payment for Order Flow (PFOF) Works

What is PFOF?

PFOF is a brokerage firm's compensation for directing orders to different parties for trade execution. The brokerage firm receives fractions of a penny per share for directing the order to a market maker.

Each optionable stock could have thousands of contracts, so market makers dominate options trades. Order flow payments average less than $0.50 per option contract.

Order Flow Payments (PFOF) Explained

The proliferation of exchanges and electronic communication networks has complicated equity and options trading (ECNs) Ironically, Bernard Madoff, the Ponzi schemer, pioneered pay-for-order-flow.

In a December 2000 study on PFOF, the SEC said, "Payment for order flow is a method of transferring trading profits from market making to brokers who route customer orders to specialists for execution."

Given the complexity of trading thousands of stocks on multiple exchanges, market making has grown. Market makers are large firms that specialize in a set of stocks and options, maintaining an inventory of shares and contracts for buyers and sellers. Market makers are paid the bid-ask spread. Spreads have narrowed since 2001, when exchanges switched to decimals. A market maker's ability to play both sides of trades is key to profitability.

Benefits, requirements

A broker receives fees from a third party for order flow, sometimes without a client's knowledge. This invites conflicts of interest and criticism. Regulation NMS from 2005 requires brokers to disclose their policies and financial relationships with market makers.

Your broker must tell you if it's paid to send your orders to specific parties. This must be done at account opening and annually. The firm must disclose whether it participates in payment-for-order-flow and, upon request, every paid order. Brokerage clients can request payment data on specific transactions, but the response takes weeks.

Order flow payments save money. Smaller brokerage firms can benefit from routing orders through market makers and getting paid. This allows brokerage firms to send their orders to another firm to be executed with other orders, reducing costs. The market maker or exchange benefits from additional share volume, so it pays brokerage firms to direct traffic.

Retail investors, who lack bargaining power, may benefit from order-filling competition. Arrangements to steer the business in one direction invite wrongdoing, which can erode investor confidence in financial markets and their players.

Pay-for-order-flow criticism

It has always been controversial. Several firms offering zero-commission trades in the late 1990s routed orders to untrustworthy market makers. During the end of fractional pricing, the smallest stock spread was $0.125. Options spreads widened. Traders found that some of their "free" trades cost them a lot because they weren't getting the best price.

The SEC then studied the issue, focusing on options trades, and nearly decided to ban PFOF. The proliferation of options exchanges narrowed spreads because there was more competition for executing orders. Options market makers said their services provided liquidity. In its conclusion, the report said, "While increased multiple-listing produced immediate economic benefits to investors in the form of narrower quotes and effective spreads, these improvements have been muted with the spread of payment for order flow and internalization." 

The SEC allowed payment for order flow to continue to prevent exchanges from gaining monopoly power. What would happen to trades if the practice was outlawed was also unclear. SEC requires brokers to disclose financial arrangements with market makers. Since then, the SEC has watched closely.

2020 Order Flow Payment

Rule 605 and Rule 606 show execution quality and order flow payment statistics on a broker's website. Despite being required by the SEC, these reports can be hard to find. The SEC mandated these reports in 2005, but the format and reporting requirements have changed over the years, most recently in 2018.

Brokers and market makers formed a working group with the Financial Information Forum (FIF) to standardize order execution quality reporting. Only one retail brokerage (Fidelity) and one market maker remain (Two Sigma Securities). FIF notes that the 605/606 reports "do not provide the level of information that allows a retail investor to gauge how well a broker-dealer fills a retail order compared to the NBBO (national best bid or offer’) at the time the order was received by the executing broker-dealer."

In the first quarter of 2020, Rule 606 reporting changed to require brokers to report net payments from market makers for S&P 500 and non-S&P 500 equity trades and options trades. Brokers must disclose payment rates per 100 shares by order type (market orders, marketable limit orders, non-marketable limit orders, and other orders).

Richard Repetto, Managing Director of New York-based Piper Sandler & Co., publishes a report on Rule 606 broker reports. Repetto focused on Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, E-TRADE, and Robinhood in Q2 2020. Repetto reported that payment for order flow was higher in the second quarter than the first due to increased trading activity, and that options paid more than equities.

Repetto says PFOF contributions rose overall. Schwab has the lowest options rates, while TD Ameritrade and Robinhood have the highest. Robinhood had the highest equity rating. Repetto assumes Robinhood's ability to charge higher PFOF reflects their order flow profitability and that they receive a fixed rate per spread (vs. a fixed rate per share by the other brokers).

Robinhood's PFOF in equities and options grew the most quarter-over-quarter of the four brokers Piper Sandler analyzed, as did their implied volumes. All four brokers saw higher PFOF rates.

TD Ameritrade took the biggest income hit when cutting trading commissions in fall 2019, and this report shows they're trying to make up the shortfall by routing orders for additional PFOF. Robinhood refuses to disclose trading statistics using the same metrics as the rest of the industry, offering only a vague explanation on their website.

Summary

Payment for order flow has become a major source of revenue as brokers offer no-commission equity (stock and ETF) orders. For retail investors, payment for order flow poses a problem because the brokerage may route orders to a market maker for its own benefit, not the investor's.

Infrequent or small-volume traders may not notice their broker's PFOF practices. Frequent traders and those who trade larger quantities should learn about their broker's order routing system to ensure they're not losing out on price improvement due to a broker prioritizing payment for order flow.


This post is a summary. Read full article here

Sam Hickmann

Sam Hickmann

4 months ago

Donor-Advised Fund Tax Benefits (DAF)

Giving through a donor-advised fund can be tax-efficient. Using a donor-advised fund can reduce your tax liability while increasing your charitable impact.

Grow Your Donations Tax-Free.

Your DAF's charitable dollars can be invested before being distributed. Your DAF balance can grow with the market. This increases grantmaking funds. The assets of the DAF belong to the charitable sponsor, so you will not be taxed on any growth.

Avoid a Windfall Tax Year.

DAFs can help reduce tax burdens after a windfall like an inheritance, business sale, or strong market returns. Contributions to your DAF are immediately tax deductible, lowering your taxable income. With DAFs, you can effectively pre-fund years of giving with assets from a single high-income event.

Make a contribution to reduce or eliminate capital gains.

One of the most common ways to fund a DAF is by gifting publicly traded securities. Securities held for more than a year can be donated at fair market value and are not subject to capital gains tax. If a donor liquidates assets and then donates the proceeds to their DAF, capital gains tax reduces the amount available for philanthropy. Gifts of appreciated securities, mutual funds, real estate, and other assets are immediately tax deductible up to 30% of Adjusted gross income (AGI), with a five-year carry-forward for gifts that exceed AGI limits.

Using Appreciated Stock as a Gift

Donating appreciated stock directly to a DAF rather than liquidating it and donating the proceeds reduces philanthropists' tax liability by eliminating capital gains tax and lowering marginal income tax.

In the example below, a donor has $100,000 in long-term appreciated stock with a cost basis of $10,000:

Using a DAF would allow this donor to give more to charity while paying less taxes. This strategy often allows donors to give more than 20% more to their favorite causes.

For illustration purposes, this hypothetical example assumes a 35% income tax rate. All realized gains are subject to the federal long-term capital gains tax of 20% and the 3.8% Medicare surtax. No other state taxes are considered.

The information provided here is general and educational in nature. It is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal or tax advice. NPT does not provide legal or tax advice. Furthermore, the content provided here is related to taxation at the federal level only. NPT strongly encourages you to consult with your tax advisor or attorney before making charitable contributions.

Liam Vaughan

Liam Vaughan

3 months ago

Investors can bet big on almost anything on a new prediction market.

Kalshi allows five-figure bets on the Grammys, the next Covid wave, and future SEC commissioners. Worst-case scenario

On Election Day 2020, two young entrepreneurs received a call from the CFTC chairman. Luana Lopes Lara and Tarek Mansour spent 18 months trying to start a new type of financial exchange. Instead of betting on stock prices or commodity futures, people could trade instruments tied to real-world events, such as legislation, the weather, or the Oscar winner.

Heath Tarbert, a Trump appointee, shouted "Congratulations." "You're competing with 1840s-era markets. I'm sure you'll become a powerhouse too."

Companies had tried to introduce similar event markets in the US for years, but Tarbert's agency, the CFTC, said no, arguing they were gambling and prone to cheating. Now the agency has reversed course, approving two 24-year-olds who will have first-mover advantage in what could become a huge new asset class. Kalshi Inc. raised $30 million from venture capitalists within weeks of Tarbert's call, his representative says. Mansour, 26, believes this will be bigger than crypto.

Anyone who's read The Wisdom of Crowds knows prediction markets' potential. Well-designed markets can help draw out knowledge from disparate groups, and research shows that when money is at stake, people make better predictions. Lopes Lara calls it a "bullshit tax." That's why Google, Microsoft, and even the US Department of Defense use prediction markets internally to guide decisions, and why university-linked political betting sites like PredictIt sometimes outperform polls.

Regulators feared Wall Street-scale trading would encourage investors to manipulate reality. If the stakes are high enough, traders could pressure congressional staffers to stall a bill or bet on whether Kanye West's new album will drop this week. When Lopes Lara and Mansour pitched the CFTC, senior regulators raised these issues. Politically appointed commissioners overruled their concerns, and one later joined Kalshi's board.

Will Kanye’s new album come out next week? Yes or no?

Kalshi's victory was due more to lobbying and legal wrangling than to Silicon Valley-style innovation. Lopes Lara and Mansour didn't invent anything; they changed a well-established concept's governance. The result could usher in a new era of market-based enlightenment or push Wall Street's destructive tendencies into the real world.

If Kalshi's founders lacked experience to bolster their CFTC application, they had comical youth success. Lopes Lara studied ballet at the Brazilian Bolshoi before coming to the US. Mansour won France's math Olympiad. They bonded over their work ethic in an MIT computer science class.

Lopes Lara had the idea for Kalshi while interning at a New York hedge fund. When the traders around her weren't working, she noticed they were betting on the news: Would Apple hit a trillion dollars? Kylie Jenner? "It was anything," she says.

Are mortgage rates going up? Yes or no?

Mansour saw the business potential when Lopes Lara suggested it. He interned at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., helping investors prepare for the UK leaving the EU. Goldman sold clients complex stock-and-derivative combinations. As he discussed it with Lopes Lara, they agreed that investors should hedge their risk by betting on Brexit itself rather than an imperfect proxy.

Lopes Lara and Mansour hypothesized how a marketplace might work. They settled on a "event contract," a binary-outcome instrument like "Will inflation hit 5% by the end of the month?" The contract would settle at $1 (if the event happened) or zero (if it didn't), but its price would fluctuate based on market sentiment. After a good debate, a politician's election odds may rise from 50 to 55. Kalshi would charge a commission on every trade and sell data to traders, political campaigns, businesses, and others.

In October 2018, five months after graduation, the pair flew to California to compete in a hackathon for wannabe tech founders organized by the Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator. They built a website in a day and a night and presented it to entrepreneurs the next day. Their prototype barely worked, but they won a three-month mentorship program and $150,000. Michael Seibel, managing director of Y Combinator, said of their idea, "I had to take a chance!"

Will there be another moon landing by 2025?

Seibel's skepticism was rooted in America's historical wariness of gambling. Roulette, poker, and other online casino games are largely illegal, and sports betting was only legal in a few states until May 2018. Kalshi as a risk-hedging platform rather than a bookmaker seemed like a good idea, but convincing the CFTC wouldn't be easy. In 2012, the CFTC said trading on politics had no "economic purpose" and was "contrary to the public interest."

Lopes Lara and Mansour cold-called 60 Googled lawyers during their time at Y Combinator. Everyone advised quitting. Mansour recalls the pain. Jeff Bandman, a former CFTC official, helped them navigate the agency and its characters.

When they weren’t busy trying to recruit lawyers, Lopes Lara and Mansour were meeting early-stage investors. Alfred Lin of Sequoia Capital Operations LLC backed Airbnb, DoorDash, and Uber Technologies. Lin told the founders their idea could capitalize on retail trading and challenge how the financial world manages risk. "Come back with regulatory approval," he said.

In the US, even small bets on most events were once illegal. Under the Commodity Exchange Act, the CFTC can stop exchanges from listing contracts relating to "terrorism, assassination, war" and "gaming" if they are "contrary to the public interest," which was often the case.

Will subway ridership return to normal? Yes or no?

In 1988, as academic interest in the field grew, the agency allowed the University of Iowa to set up a prediction market for research purposes, as long as it didn't make a profit or advertise and limited bets to $500. PredictIt, the biggest and best-known political betting platform in the US, also got an exemption thanks to an association with Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Today, it's a sprawling marketplace with its own subculture and lingo. PredictIt users call it "Rules Cuck Panther" when they lose on a technicality. Major news outlets cite PredictIt's odds on Discord and the Star Spangled Gamblers podcast.

CFTC limits PredictIt bets to $850. To keep traders happy, PredictIt will often run multiple variations of the same question, listing separate contracts for two dozen Democratic primary candidates, for example. A trader could have more than $10,000 riding on a single outcome. Some of the site's traders are current or former campaign staffers who can answer questions like "How many tweets will Donald Trump post from Nov. 20 to 27?" and "When will Anthony Scaramucci's role as White House communications director end?"

According to PredictIt co-founder John Phillips, politicians help explain the site's accuracy. "Prediction markets work well and are accurate because they attract people with superior information," he said in a 2016 podcast. “In the financial stock market, it’s called inside information.”

Will Build Back Better pass? Yes or no?

Trading on nonpublic information is illegal outside of academia, which presented a dilemma for Lopes Lara and Mansour. Kalshi's forecasts needed to be accurate. Kalshi must eliminate insider trading as a regulated entity. Lopes Lara and Mansour wanted to build a high-stakes PredictIt without the anarchy or blurred legal lines—a "New York Stock Exchange for Events." First, they had to convince regulators event trading was safe.

When Lopes Lara and Mansour approached the CFTC in the spring of 2019, some officials in the Division of Market Oversight were skeptical, according to interviews with people involved in the process. For all Kalshi's talk of revolutionizing finance, this was just a turbocharged version of something that had been rejected before.

The DMO couldn't see the big picture. The staff review was supposed to ensure Kalshi could complete a checklist, "23 Core Principles of a Designated Contract Market," which included keeping good records and having enough money. The five commissioners decide. With Trump as president, three of them were ideologically pro-market.

Lopes Lara, Mansour, and their lawyer Bandman, an ex-CFTC official, answered the DMO's questions while lobbying the commissioners on Zoom about the potential of event markets to mitigate risks and make better decisions. Before each meeting, they would write a script and memorize it word for word.

Will student debt be forgiven? Yes or no?

Several prediction markets that hadn't sought regulatory approval bolstered Kalshi's case. Polymarket let customers bet hundreds of thousands of dollars anonymously using cryptocurrencies, making it hard to track. Augur, which facilitates private wagers between parties using blockchain, couldn't regulate bets and hadn't stopped users from betting on assassinations. Kalshi, by comparison, argued it was doing everything right. (The CFTC fined Polymarket $1.4 million for operating an unlicensed exchange in January 2022. Polymarket says it's now compliant and excited to pioneer smart contract-based financial solutions with regulators.

Kalshi was approved unanimously despite some DMO members' concerns about event contracts' riskiness. "Once they check all the boxes, they're in," says a CFTC insider.

Three months after CFTC approval, Kalshi announced funding from Sequoia, Charles Schwab, and Henry Kravis. Sequoia's Lin, who joined the board, said Tarek, Luana, and team created a new way to invest and engage with the world.

The CFTC hadn't asked what markets the exchange planned to run since. After approval, Lopes Lara and Mansour had the momentum. Kalshi's March list of 30 proposed contracts caused chaos at the DMO. The division handles exchanges that create two or three new markets a year. Kalshi’s business model called for new ones practically every day.

Uncontroversial proposals included weather and GDP questions. Others, on the initial list and later, were concerning. DMO officials feared Covid-19 contracts amounted to gambling on human suffering, which is why war and terrorism markets are banned. (Similar logic doomed ex-admiral John Poindexter's Policy Analysis Market, a Bush-era plan to uncover intelligence by having security analysts bet on Middle East events.) Regulators didn't see how predicting the Grammy winners was different from betting on the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Who, other than John Legend, would need to hedge the best R&B album winner?

Event contracts raised new questions for the DMO's product review team. Regulators could block gaming contracts that weren't in the public interest under the Commodity Exchange Act, but no one had defined gaming. It was unclear whether the CFTC had a right or an obligation to consider whether a contract was in the public interest. How was it to determine public interest? Another person familiar with the CFTC review says, "It was a mess." The agency didn't comment.

CFTC staff feared some event contracts could be cheated. Kalshi wanted to run a bee-endangerment market. The DMO pushed back, saying it saw two problems symptomatic of the asset class: traders could press government officials for information, and officials could delay adding the insects to the list to cash in.

The idea that traders might manipulate prediction markets wasn't paranoid. In 2013, academics David Rothschild and Rajiv Sethi found that an unidentified party lost $7 million buying Mitt Romney contracts on Intrade, a now-defunct, unlicensed Irish platform, in the runup to the 2012 election. The authors speculated that the trader, whom they dubbed the “Romney Whale,” may have been looking to boost morale and keep donations coming in.

Kalshi said manipulation and insider trading are risks for any market. It built a surveillance system and said it would hire a team to monitor it. "People trade on events all the time—they just use options and other instruments. This brings everything into the open, Mansour says. Kalshi didn't include election contracts, a red line for CFTC Democrats.

Lopes Lara and Mansour were ready to launch kalshi.com that summer, but the DMO blocked them. Product reviewers were frustrated by spending half their time on an exchange that represented a tiny portion of the derivatives market. Lopes Lara and Mansour pressed politically appointed commissioners during the impasse.

Tarbert, the chairman, had moved on, but Kalshi found a new supporter in Republican Brian Quintenz, a crypto-loving former hedge fund manager. He was unmoved by the DMO's concerns, arguing that speculation on Kalshi's proposed events was desirable and the agency had no legal standing to prevent it. He supported a failed bid to allow NFL futures earlier this year. Others on the commission were cautious but supportive. Given the law's ambiguity, they worried they'd be on shaky ground if Kalshi sued if they blocked a contract. Without a permanent chairman, the agency lacked leadership.

To block a contract, DMO staff needed a majority of commissioners' support, which they didn't have in all but a few cases. "We didn't have the votes," a reviewer says, paraphrasing Hamilton. By the second half of 2021, new contract requests were arriving almost daily at the DMO, and the demoralized and overrun division eventually accepted defeat and stopped fighting back. By the end of the year, three senior DMO officials had left the agency, making it easier for Kalshi to list its contracts unimpeded.

Today, Kalshi is growing. 32 employees work in a SoHo office with big windows and exposed brick. Quintenz, who left the CFTC 10 months after Kalshi was approved, is on its board. He joined because he was interested in the market's hedging and risk management opportunities.

Mid-May, the company's website had 75 markets, such as "Will Q4 GDP be negative?" Will NASA land on the moon by 2025? The exchange recently reached 2 million weekly contracts, a jump from where it started but still a small number compared to other futures exchanges. Early adopters are PredictIt and Polymarket fans. Bets on the site are currently capped at $25,000, but Kalshi hopes to increase that to $100,000 and beyond.

With the regulatory drawbridge down, Lopes Lara and Mansour must move quickly. Chicago's CME Group Inc. plans to offer index-linked event contracts. Kalshi will release a smartphone app to attract customers. After that, it hopes to partner with a big brokerage. Sequoia is a major investor in Robinhood Markets Inc. Robinhood users could have access to Kalshi so that after buying GameStop Corp. shares, they'd be prompted to bet on the Oscars or the next Fed commissioner.

Some, like Illinois Democrat Sean Casten, accuse Robinhood and its competitors of gamifying trading to encourage addiction, but Kalshi doesn't seem worried. Mansour says Kalshi's customers can't bet more than they've deposited, making debt difficult. Eventually, he may introduce leveraged bets.

Tension over event contracts recalls another CFTC episode. Brooksley Born proposed regulating the financial derivatives market in 1994. Alan Greenspan and others in the government opposed her, saying it would stifle innovation and push capital overseas. Unrestrained, derivatives grew into a trillion-dollar industry until 2008, when they sparked the financial crisis.

Today, with a midterm election looming, it seems reasonable to ask whether Kalshi plans to get involved. Elections have historically been the biggest draw in prediction markets, with 125 million shares traded on PredictIt for 2020. “We can’t discuss specifics,” Mansour says. “All I can say is, you know, we’re always working on expanding the universe of things that people can trade on.”

Any election contracts would need CFTC approval, which may be difficult with three Democratic commissioners. A Republican president would change the equation.

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Gill Pratt

Gill Pratt

6 months ago

War's Human Cost

War's Human Cost
I didn't start crying until I was outside a McDonald's in an Olempin, Poland rest area on highway S17.


Children pick toys at a refugee center, Olempin, Poland, March 4, 2022.

Refugee children, mostly alone with their mothers, but occasionally with a gray-haired grandfather or non-Ukrainian father, were coaxed into picking a toy from boxes provided by a kind-hearted company and volunteers.
I went to Warsaw to continue my research on my family's history during the Holocaust. In light of the ongoing Ukrainian conflict, I asked former colleagues in the US Department of Defense and Intelligence Community if it was safe to travel there. They said yes, as Poland was a NATO member.
I stayed in a hotel in the Warsaw Ghetto, where 90% of my mother's family was murdered in the Holocaust. Across the street was the first Warsaw Judenrat. It was two blocks away from the apartment building my mother's family had owned and lived in, now dilapidated and empty.


Building of my great-grandfather, December 2021.

A mass grave of thousands of rocks for those killed in the Warsaw Ghetto, I didn't cry when I touched its cold walls.


Warsaw Jewish Cemetery, 200,000–300,000 graves.


Mass grave, Warsaw Jewish Cemetery.

My mother's family had two homes, one in Warszawa and the rural one was a forest and sawmill complex in Western Ukraine. For the past half-year, a local Ukrainian historian had been helping me discover faint traces of her family’s life there — in fact, he had found some people still alive who remembered the sawmill and that it belonged to my mother’s grandfather. The historian was good at his job, and we had become close.


My historian friend, December 2021, talking to a Ukrainian.

With war raging, my second trip to Warsaw took on a different mission. To see his daughter and one-year-old grandson, I drove east instead of to Ukraine. They had crossed the border shortly after the war began, leaving men behind, and were now staying with a friend on Poland's eastern border.
I entered after walking up to the house and settling with the dog. The grandson greeted me with a huge smile and the Ukrainian word for “daddy,” “Tato!” But it was clear he was awaiting his real father's arrival, and any man he met would be so tentatively named.
After a few moments, the boy realized I was only a stranger. He had musical talent, like his mother and grandfather, both piano teachers, as he danced to YouTube videos of American children's songs dubbed in Ukrainian, picking the ones he liked and crying when he didn't.


Songs chosen by my historian friend's grandson, March 4, 2022

He had enough music and began crying regardless of the song. His mother picked him up and started nursing him, saying she was worried about him. She had no idea where she would live or how she would survive outside Ukraine. She showed me her father's family history of losses in the Holocaust, which matched my own research.
After an hour of drinking tea and trying to speak of hope, I left for the 3.5-hour drive west to Warsaw.
It was unlike my drive east. It was reminiscent of the household goods-filled carts pulled by horses and people fleeing war 80 years ago.


Jewish refugees relocating, USHMM Holocaust Encyclopaedia, 1939.

The carefully chosen trinkets by children to distract them from awareness of what is really happening and the anxiety of what lies ahead, made me cry despite all my research on the Holocaust. There is no way for them to communicate with their mothers, who are worried, absent, and without their fathers.
It's easy to see war as a contest of nations' armies, weapons, and land. The most costly aspect of war is its psychological toll. My father screamed in his sleep from nightmares of his own adolescent trauma in Warsaw 80 years ago.


Survivor father studying engineering, 1961.

In the airport, I waited to return home while Ukrainian public address systems announced refugee assistance. Like at McDonald's, many mothers were alone with their children, waiting for a flight to distant relatives.
That's when I had my worst trip experience.
A woman near me, clearly a refugee, answered her phone, cried out, and began wailing.
The human cost of war descended like a hammer, and I realized that while I was going home, she never would

Full article

Aaron Dinin, PhD

Aaron Dinin, PhD

8 days ago

I put my faith in a billionaire, and he destroyed my business.

How did his money blind me?

Image courtesy Pexels.com

Like most fledgling entrepreneurs, I wanted a mentor. I met as many nearby folks with "entrepreneur" in their LinkedIn biographies for coffee.

These meetings taught me a lot, and I'd suggest them to any new creator. Attention! Meeting with many experienced entrepreneurs means getting contradictory advice. One entrepreneur will tell you to do X, then the next one you talk to may tell you to do Y, which are sometimes opposites. You'll have to chose which suggestion to take after the chats.

I experienced this. Same afternoon, I had two coffee meetings with experienced entrepreneurs. The first meeting was with a billionaire entrepreneur who took his company public.

I met him in a swanky hotel lobby and ordered a drink I didn't pay for. As a fledgling entrepreneur, money was scarce.

During the meeting, I demoed the software I'd built, he liked it, and we spent the hour discussing what features would make it a success. By the end of the meeting, he requested I include a killer feature we both agreed would attract buyers. The feature was complex and would require some time. The billionaire I was sipping coffee with in a beautiful hotel lobby insisted people would love it, and that got me enthusiastic.

The second meeting was with a young entrepreneur who had recently raised a small amount of investment and looked as eager to pitch me as I was to pitch him. I forgot his name. I mostly recall meeting him in a filthy coffee shop in a bad section of town and buying his pricey cappuccino. Water for me.

After his pitch, I demoed my app. When I was done, he barely noticed. He questioned my customer acquisition plan. Who was my client? What did they offer? What was my plan? Etc. No decent answers.

After our meeting, he insisted I spend more time learning my market and selling. He ignored my questions about features. Don't worry about features, he said. Customers will request features. First, find them.

Putting your faith in results over relevance

Problems plagued my afternoon. I met with two entrepreneurs who gave me differing advice about how to proceed, and I had to decide which to pursue. I couldn't decide.

Ultimately, I followed the advice of the billionaire.

Obviously.

Who wouldn’t? That was the guy who clearly knew more.

A few months later, I constructed the feature the billionaire said people would line up for.

The new feature was unpopular. I couldn't even get the billionaire to answer an email showing him what I'd done. He disappeared.

Within a few months, I shut down the company, wasting all the time and effort I'd invested into constructing the killer feature the billionaire said I required.

Would follow the struggling entrepreneur's advice have saved my company? It would have saved me time in retrospect. Potential consumers would have told me they didn't want what I was producing, and I could have shut down the company sooner or built something they did want. Both outcomes would have been better.

Now I know, but not then. I favored achievement above relevance.

Success vs. relevance

The millionaire gave me advice on building a large, successful public firm. A successful public firm is different from a startup. Priorities change in the last phase of business building, which few entrepreneurs reach. He gave wonderful advice to founders trying to double their stock values in two years, but it wasn't beneficial for me.

The other failing entrepreneur had relevant, recent experience. He'd recently been in my shoes. We still had lots of problems. He may not have achieved huge success, but he had valuable advice on how to pass the closest hurdle.

The money blinded me at the moment. Not alone So much of company success is defined by money valuations, fundraising, exits, etc., so entrepreneurs easily fall into this trap. Money chatter obscures the value of knowledge.

Don't base startup advice on a person's income. Focus on what and when the person has learned. Relevance to you and your goals is more important than a person's accomplishments when considering advice.

Modern Eremite

Modern Eremite

2 months ago

The complete, easy-to-understand guide to bitcoin

Introduction

Markets rely on knowledge.

The internet provided practically endless knowledge and wisdom. Humanity has never seen such leverage. Technology's progress drives us to adapt to a changing world, changing our routines and behaviors.

In a digital age, people may struggle to live in the analogue world of their upbringing. Can those who can't adapt change their lives? I won't answer. We should teach those who are willing to learn, nevertheless. Unravel the modern world's riddles and give them wisdom.

Adapt or die . Accept the future or remain behind.

This essay will help you comprehend Bitcoin better than most market participants and the general public. Let's dig into Bitcoin.

Join me.

Ascension

Bitcoin.org was registered in August 2008. Bitcoin whitepaper was published on 31 October 2008. The document intrigued and motivated people around the world, including technical engineers and sovereignty seekers. Since then, Bitcoin's whitepaper has been read and researched to comprehend its essential concept.

I recommend reading the whitepaper yourself. You'll be able to say you read the Bitcoin whitepaper instead of simply Googling "what is Bitcoin" and reading the fundamental definition without knowing the revolution's scope. The article links to Bitcoin's whitepaper. To avoid being overwhelmed by the whitepaper, read the following article first.

Bitcoin isn't the first peer-to-peer digital currency. Hashcash or Bit Gold were once popular cryptocurrencies. These two Bitcoin precursors failed to gain traction and produce the network effect needed for general adoption. After many struggles, Bitcoin emerged as the most successful cryptocurrency, leading the way for others.

Satoshi Nakamoto, an active bitcointalk.org user, created Bitcoin. Satoshi's identity remains unknown. Satoshi's last bitcointalk.org login was 12 December 2010. Since then, he's officially disappeared. Thus, conspiracies and riddles surround Bitcoin's creators. I've heard many various theories, some insane and others well-thought-out.

It's not about who created it; it's about knowing its potential. Since its start, Satoshi's legacy has changed the world and will continue to.

Block-by-block blockchain

Bitcoin is a distributed ledger. What's the meaning?

Everyone can view all blockchain transactions, but no one can undo or delete them.

Imagine you and your friends routinely eat out, but only one pays. You're careful with money and what others owe you. How can everyone access the info without it being changed?

You'll keep a notebook of your evening's transactions. Everyone will take a page home. If one of you changed the page's data, the group would notice and reject it. The majority will establish consensus and offer official facts.

Miners add a new Bitcoin block to the main blockchain every 10 minutes. The appended block contains miner-verified transactions. Now that the next block has been added, the network will receive the next set of user transactions.

Bitcoin Proof of Work—prove you earned it

Any firm needs hardworking personnel to expand and serve clients. Bitcoin isn't that different.

Bitcoin's Proof of Work consensus system needs individuals to validate and create new blocks and check for malicious actors. I'll discuss Bitcoin's blockchain consensus method.

Proof of Work helps Bitcoin reach network consensus. The network is checked and safeguarded by CPU, GPU, or ASIC Bitcoin-mining machines (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit).

Every 10 minutes, miners are rewarded in Bitcoin for securing and verifying the network. It's unlikely you'll finish the block. Miners build pools to increase their chances of winning by combining their processing power.

In the early days of Bitcoin, individual mining systems were more popular due to high maintenance costs and larger earnings prospects. Over time, people created larger and larger Bitcoin mining facilities that required a lot of space and sophisticated cooling systems to keep machines from overheating.

Proof of Work is a vital part of the Bitcoin network, as network security requires the processing power of devices purchased with fiat currency. Miners must invest in mining facilities, which creates a new business branch, mining facilities ownership. Bitcoin mining is a topic for a future article.

More mining, less reward

Bitcoin is usually scarce.

Why is it rare? It all comes down to 21,000,000 Bitcoins.

Were all Bitcoins mined? Nope. Bitcoin's supply grows until it hits 21 million coins. Initially, 50BTC each block was mined, and each block took 10 minutes. Around 2140, the last Bitcoin will be mined.

But 50BTC every 10 minutes does not give me the year 2140. Indeed careful reader. So important is Bitcoin's halving process.

What is halving?

The block reward is halved every 210,000 blocks, which takes around 4 years. The initial payout was 50BTC per block and has been decreased to 25BTC after 210,000 blocks. First halving occurred on November 28, 2012, when 10,500,000 BTC (50%) had been mined. As of April 2022, the block reward is 6.25BTC and will be lowered to 3.125BTC by 19 March 2024.

The halving method is tied to Bitcoin's hashrate. Here's what "hashrate" means.

What if we increased the number of miners and hashrate they provide to produce a block every 10 minutes? Wouldn't we manufacture blocks faster?

Every 10 minutes, blocks are generated with little asymmetry. Due to the built-in adaptive difficulty algorithm, the overall hashrate does not affect block production time. With increased hashrate, it's harder to construct a block. We can estimate when the next halving will occur because 10 minutes per block is fixed.

Building with nodes and blocks

For someone new to crypto, the unusual terms and words may be overwhelming. You'll also find everyday words that are easy to guess or have a vague idea of what they mean, how they work, and what they do. Consider blockchain technology.

Nodes and blocks: Think about that for a moment. What is your first idea?

The blockchain is a chain of validated blocks added to the main chain. What's a "block"? What's inside?

The block is another page in the blockchain book that has been filled with transaction information and accepted by the majority.

We won't go into detail about what each block includes and how it's built, as long as you understand its purpose.

What about nodes?

Nodes, along with miners, verify the blockchain's state independently. But why?

To create a full blockchain node, you must download the whole Bitcoin blockchain and check every transaction against Bitcoin's consensus criteria.

What's Bitcoin's size? 

In April 2022, the Bitcoin blockchain was 389.72GB.

Bitcoin's blockchain has miners and node runners.

Let's revisit the US gold rush. Miners mine gold with their own power (physical and monetary resources) and are rewarded with gold (Bitcoin). All become richer with more gold, and so does the country.

Nodes are like sheriffs, ensuring everything is done according to consensus rules and that there are no rogue miners or network users.

Lost and held bitcoin

Does the Bitcoin exchange price match each coin's price? How many coins remain after 21,000,000? 21 million or less?

Common reason suggests a 21 million-coin supply.

What if I lost 1BTC from a cold wallet?

What if I saved 1000BTC on paper in 2010 and it was damaged?

What if I mined Bitcoin in 2010 and lost the keys?

Satoshi Nakamoto's coins? Since then, those coins haven't moved.

How many BTC are truly in circulation?

Many people are trying to answer this question, and you may discover a variety of studies and individual research on the topic. Be cautious of the findings because they can't be evaluated and the statistics are hazy guesses.

On the other hand, we have long-term investors who won't sell their Bitcoin or will sell little amounts to cover mining or living needs.

The price of Bitcoin is determined by supply and demand on exchanges using liquid BTC. How many BTC are left after subtracting lost and non-custodial BTC? 

We have significantly less Bitcoin in circulation than you think, thus the price may not reflect demand if we knew the exact quantity of coins available.

True HODLers and diamond-hand investors won't sell you their coins, no matter the market.

What's UTXO?

Unspent (U) Transaction (TX) Output (O)

Imagine taking a $100 bill to a store. After choosing a drink and munchies, you walk to the checkout to pay. The cashier takes your $100 bill and gives you $25.50 in change. It's in your wallet.

Is it simply 100$? No way.

The $25.50 in your wallet is unrelated to the $100 bill you used. Your wallet's $25.50 is just bills and coins. Your wallet may contain these coins and bills:

2x 10$ 1x 10$

1x 5$ or 3x 5$

1x 0.50$ 2x 0.25$

Any combination of coins and bills can equal $25.50. You don't care, and I'd wager you've never ever considered it.

That is UTXO. Now, I'll detail the Bitcoin blockchain and how UTXO works, as it's crucial to know what coins you have in your (hopefully) cold wallet.

You purchased 1BTC. Is it all? No. UTXOs equal 1BTC. Then send BTC to a cold wallet. Say you pay 0.001BTC and send 0.999BTC to your cold wallet. Is it the 1BTC you got before? Well, yes and no. The UTXOs are the same or comparable as before, but the blockchain address has changed. It's like if you handed someone a wallet, they removed the coins needed for a network charge, then returned the rest of the coins and notes.

UTXO is a simple concept, but it's crucial to grasp how it works to comprehend dangers like dust attacks and how coins may be tracked.

Lightning Network: fast cash

You've probably heard of "Layer 2 blockchain" projects.

What does it mean?

Layer 2 on a blockchain is an additional layer that increases the speed and quantity of transactions per minute and reduces transaction fees.

Imagine going to an obsolete bank to transfer money to another account and having to pay a charge and wait. You can transfer funds via your bank account or a mobile app without paying a fee, or the fee is low, and the cash appear nearly quickly. Layer 1 and 2 payment systems are different.

Layer 1 is not obsolete; it merely has more essential things to focus on, including providing the blockchain with new, validated blocks, whereas Layer 2 solutions strive to offer Layer 1 with previously processed and verified transactions. The primary blockchain, Bitcoin, will only receive the wallets' final state. All channel transactions until shutting and balancing are irrelevant to the main chain.

Layer 2 and the Lightning Network's goal are now clear. Most Layer 2 solutions on multiple blockchains are created as blockchains, however Lightning Network is not. Remember the following remark, as it best describes Lightning.

Lightning Network connects public and private Bitcoin wallets.

Opening a private channel with another wallet notifies just two parties. The creation and opening of a public channel tells the network that anyone can use it.

Why create a public Lightning Network channel?

Every transaction through your channel generates fees.

Money, if you don't know.

See who benefits when in doubt.

Anonymity, huh?

Bitcoin anonymity? Bitcoin's anonymity was utilized to launder money.

Well… You've heard similar stories. When you ask why or how it permits people to remain anonymous, the conversation ends as if it were just a story someone heard.

Bitcoin isn't private. Pseudonymous.

What if someone tracks your transactions and discovers your wallet address? Where is your anonymity then?

Bitcoin is like bulletproof glass storage; you can't take or change the money. If you dig and analyze the data, you can see what's inside.

Every online action leaves a trace, and traces may be tracked. People often forget this guideline.

A tool like that can help you observe what the major players, or whales, are doing with their coins when the market is uncertain. Many people spend time analyzing on-chain data. Worth it?

Ask yourself a question. What are the big players' options?  Do you think they're letting you see their wallets for a small on-chain data fee?

Instead of short-term behaviors, focus on long-term trends.

More wallet transactions leave traces. Having nothing to conceal isn't a defect. Can it lead to regulating Bitcoin so every transaction is tracked like in banks today?

But wait. How can criminals pay out Bitcoin? They're doing it, aren't they?

Mixers can anonymize your coins, letting you to utilize them freely. This is not a guide on how to make your coins anonymous; it could do more harm than good if you don't know what you're doing.

Remember, being anonymous attracts greater attention.

Bitcoin isn't the only cryptocurrency we can use to buy things. Using cryptocurrency appropriately can provide usability and anonymity. Monero (XMR), Zcash (ZEC), and Litecoin (LTC) following the Mimblewimble upgrade are examples.

Summary

Congratulations! You've reached the conclusion of the article and learned about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency. You've entered the future.

You know what Bitcoin is, how its blockchain works, and why it's not anonymous. I bet you can explain Lightning Network and UTXO to your buddies.

Markets rely on knowledge. Prepare yourself for success before taking the first step. Let your expertise be your edge.


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