a16z Podcast: Cryptocurrencies, App Coins, and Investing in Protocols

Most of us have probably heard of bitcoin and ethereum — but did you know there were 15 new cryptocurrencies launched this past month alone? How then do we know which protocols to invest in — not just as a developer or user, but as an investor? Because, let’s face it, open source software and services need resources not just to survive but thrive.

General partner Chris Dixon talks about this dynamic between open vs closed in this episode of the a16z Podcast with Olaf Carlson-Wee, founder of (a16z investment) Polychain, a new kind of hedge fund that invests directly in cryptocurrencies at the protocol layer. But what does that actually mean? Instead of investing in the companies that are building on top of these protocols, Polychain invests in the protocols themselves — in much the same way that you could have invested in domain names instead of early internet companies like Amazon in the early days (which most people actually didn’t have access to do). Imagine if you could have bought equity in Linux!

As people create application-specific tokens for these protocols (also known as “app coins”) to crowdfund and share equity in these networks, it’s actually “bringing capitalism into open source” — and could even one day lead to less centralized platforms and a web owned by users. It’s also creating a whole new asset class… but whatever you do, do NOT try this at home!