I became interested in Crypto in early 2017. While in college, a friend offered to sell me $100 in Bitcoin for a discount. At the time, I didn’t know what it was all about but it seemed like a good deal, however, after seeing it increase in value, I figured I should learn more about it. I spent the next 6 months learning everything I could about the industry and managed to land a job working at a family office VC fund that was very active in the space. I spent about a year and a half working there helping manage venture investments and a liquid token portfolio. I began formally working in the crypto industry again in December 2020 when I joined Cumberland.
There are several trends that I think will emerge in 2022, particularly advancements in DeFi, Web3 business models, and scaling solutions.
Within the world of DeFi one area of interest is the introduction of permissioned DeFi protocols and the potential for undercollateralized and unsecured lending. Development in this space that can tie in recourse to decentralized protocols are necessary next steps for furthering the competitiveness of DeFi vs. traditional market product offerings. We have already seen successful products using this model with institutions. For example, Maple Finance has facilitated over $500 million in undercollateralized and unsecured loans to large trading firms in crypto. Expanding this to individuals seems like another important step, though it will likely rely on partnerships with on-chain identity providers to bring some form of social or financial recourse.
Another important trend in DeFi is the introduction of new building blocks that facilitate the development of protocols that were not previously possible. One area I am excited about is interest rate swap protocols and the design space that unlocks. With the introduction of interest rate swap protocols, DeFi applications can start to construct yield curves and introduce various related products like expiry future protocols, more sophisticated structured products, and hedging mechanisms for fintech platforms that source yields from DeFi but take on fixed rate interest liabilities by offering users fixed rate yields. Other new use cases may be driven by the development and adoption of layer-2 scaling solutions, bringing a variety of more complex and latency-sensitive applications to the market. We are already seeing this trend emerge on layer-1’s like Solana that support fast, inexpensive, and low latency transactions as well as on layer-2 solutions like Starkware, zkSync, Arbitrum, and Optimism.
Finally, I think we will see continued growth in the “real world asset” sector which includes companies like Centrifuge and Credix. The real-world asset sector of DeFi is focused on bringing traditional (non-crypto) assets on-chain to democratize access to financing opportunities and allow for non-crypto assets to be used as collateral on platforms like MakerDAO and Aave. The introduction of on-chain assets that are uncorrelated to the broader crypto market is an important development to the quality of collateral assets that can be used within the DeFi ecosystem. Other areas that have been explored for years, though never quite took off, such as security tokens and on-chain securities, may finally find product-market fit in 2022 as a result of growing institutional participation and potential regulatory clarity coming out of the SEC.
Another fascinating area of the digital asset market is the development of disruptive Web3 business models that seek to disrupt centralized incumbents through disintermediated structures that significantly reduce CAPEX and OPEX. One example of this is Helium, which has built out a low bandwidth network for IoT devices and which currently has over 400,000 hotspots and significant coverage in nearly all major US cities. Helium also announced plans to roll out a 5g network as well. Due to the design of the network, OPEX and CAPEX is worn almost entirely by the end users who purchase, maintain, and operate the hotspots. Hotspot owners are compensated with tokens from inflation as well as spending by users of the network.
One of the other Web3 platforms with existing real-world use cases is Render Network, which has built a decentralized cloud for GPU compute power primarily focused on rendering jobs. Due to the economics of GPU cloud solutions, the Render network can offer more computational power than leading centralized providers at a far lower cost. The GPU network they have built is also operated, maintained, and funded by individual users with idle GPUs, driving the Render Networks CAPEX and OPEX requirements to near zero.
Overall, I envision several incumbent business models to be disrupted by decentralized counterparts that offer significant cost savings as a result of protocol-based automation, outsourcing of hardware and operational costs through token incentives, and network effects.
Scaling solutions are a very hot topic right now and arguably the most important aspect of the market currently. Wide-scale adoption of protocols on Ethereum have driven gas prices for basic DeFi transactions into the $100+ range in times of high demand. The pricing of gas (transaction fees) is quite simple and ultimately comes down to demand for block space versus supply of block space.
Newer layer-1 protocols such as Solana, Avalanche, etc. offer significantly lower transaction fees than ETH by offering a larger supply of block space, though they generally have less users and thus less demand for block space. The more scalable blockchains are not immune from high fees, and could feasibly see gas prices in the $100+ range as well if the demand for block space exceeds the supply; it just will take much more demand due to the increased supply of block space.
Ethereum is currently the focus for nearly all research and development for layer-2 scaling solutions with various scaling methods being built. These solutions broadly fall under two categories, validity proof solutions (typically zk-rollups) and fraud proof solutions (typically optimistic rollups). In the near term, the roll out of these scaling solutions could introduce off-chain execution environments secured by Ethereum’s layer-1 security, while having significant reductions in gas fees, transaction latency, and overall throughput.
For me the most exciting aspect of the current scaling solution race is the long tail of possibilities that emerge from the development of “modular blockchains”. Right now, all blockchains are monolithic blockchains - meaning execution (E), security (S), and data availability (DA) are all controlled on the same chain. Layer-2 solutions start to separate execution layers while relying on the underlying blockchain for security and data availability. Where things get really mind-blowing is the concept of multi-layer blockchains with separation of all three elements (E, S, and DA). While roll-ups use on-chain data, solutions like Validiums (off-chain data) and Volitions (hybrid on-chain/off-chain data) could lead to the emergence of multiple data availability layers being made available to users. As I am by no means an expert on this topic, I would recommend reading the Medium Blogs and Twitter pages of @epolynya , the Starkware team, Matter Labs team, Arbitrum team, Optimism team, and the many others leading the charge on this tech.
The infrastructure bill itself doesn’t seem to bring any immediate changes to the crypto space. The crypto-related changes in the bill are primarily focused on tax provisions which go into effect in January 2024. The most impactful change is the loose language in the bill over reporting requirements for “brokers”, with the provision’s definition of a broker being very broad. Concerns seem to be focused on how this loose language is applied and whether the IRS goes after entities that fit the broker definition but are unable to collect KYC information such as non-custodial wallet software providers, validators, etc. While the infrastructure bill certainly opens up a further grey-area of potential risks, it is still unclear how it will be applied.
Want to hear more real-time updates from Nate? Follow Cumberland on Twitter at @CumberlandSays.
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