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#98 – Prices matter (a little) more now

description: The meme of the baby holding up a protest sign full of scribbles.  The tweet reads: 'my crypto twitter feed in a bull market'.  Image source: Corey Hoffstein's Twitter feed, 2024/03/06.  Yes, I'm still calling it 'Twitter.'

To the moon (and, maybe, back?)

Bitcoin has reached $69k. We haven’t seen a number like that since its peak in November 2021.

And who knows? It may have pushed to $70k or $75k by the time you read this.

The price may also have fallen. That’s the thing about asset prices: they move around. And when it comes to crypto, asset prices can move wildly.

This is when readers will remind me of something I said last week, after Bitcoin had crossed $60k. I pointed to a segment I’d written for the sole purpose of reusing whenever a crypto price crossed some threshold:

Because when it comes to investments, only three numbers matter:

1. The price at which you got in.

2. The price at which you got out.

3. How much you managed to sell as you made your escape.

The unrealized gains and losses in between are good for casual conversation, but little else.

I stand by that assessment. And here, I’ll expand its scope:

With a price of $69k, Bitcoin’s market cap – the total number of tokens multiplied by the current token price – exceeds $1.3 trillion. And according to website CoinMarketCap, that brings the market cap of the entire crypto ecosystem to about $2.6 trillion.

That is unrealized money, the amount people would theoretically get if they were to all sell off their crypto in an instant. That scenario makes the math very neat but is in reality not possible. Selling takes time; prices can move while you try to sell; and you can only sell if you can find a buyer. Still, people rely on unrealized figures as a way to calculate their financial health. So there’s that.

The Bitcoin ETFs make this even more interesting. And a little more real, since they connect Bitcoin to the traditional finance (tradfi) space. A person can hand money to an investment manager, who applies some of that directly into Bitcoin ETFs. Or maybe they put that money into another vehicle that, in turn, holds Bitcoin ETFs. Add enough layers of abstraction and a person may not know that they hold any connection to Bitcoin.

At least, they won’t know until the next Crypto Winter hits. That’s when they open their retirement statement to learn that they are among those so-called Crazy Kids Who Trusted Their Hard-Earned Savings To Fake Internet Money.

Financial journalists acknowledged that the last crypto winter was real. But they also compared crypto tokens to the toxic assets of the Great Financial Crisis (the 2008 mortgage meltdown). Despite the wall-to-wall press coverage, they noted, relatively few people were feeling the crypto burn. The digital money-like thing was isolated from the mainstream investment space.

Thanks to the Bitcoin ETFs, that is no longer the case.

All of which is to say: my earlier point about unrealized gains and losses still holds. Now it holds for a larger group of people. Many of whom are unaware they’re in the blast radius of the next Bitcoin price drop.

Vision Pro endurance runs

The initial wave of Vision Pro reviews were first-blush takes, based on just a few hours’ time with the device. Those have given way to the extended test drives. Samuel Axon (Ars Technica), for example, worked with his for a week. And Joanna Stern (WSJ) has built on her initial review after spending a month using it across a variety of scenarios.

I would like to think that tech journalists are competing on Vision Pro endurance runs. (I can’t wait to see the inevitable “I spent a year in my headset” articles.) That would double as a convenient excuse to hold onto the fancy toys for a while.

But in all seriousness, I know that they’re performing a valuable service. Spending all of this extra time with the device will accelerate the wider learning curve, for all of “what works,” “what’s missing,” and “cool use cases we hadn’t thought of.” We can expect to see all of that reflected in future headset models.

Stern’s article, in particular, drives this point home. Her monthlong review included working in the Vision Pro during a rail commute. Some of what she experienced – having to place the battery pack on the adjacent seat, switching out of VR to hand the conductor her ticket – points to a possible future world in which there are no such issues. It also reminds us that the Vision Pro feels ahead of its time, a futuristic idea that we can only approximate with present-day technology.

The general consensus of these extended test runs is that the Vision Pro is the start of something new. So that’s a plus.

But, just so you know: people can tell when you vape during a call.

Short-circuit those returns

We’ve already seen virtual models and real-world models creating digital versions of themselves to send on photo shoots. The fashion industry is growing that scope to include everyday shoppers. Why not let your digital twin “try on” a garment so you can see how it’d look on you?

This may strike you as frivolous, but the reason behind it is very practical: returns are expensive for online merchants. You’ve no doubt seen the articles about that. Everything from breakdowns on what returns cost to why many sites have ended their free returns programs.

This is especially challenging for anyone selling clothes. Compared to the in-store sequence of “see, try on, buy, take home” the online experience reorders that to “see, buy, take home, try on.” That last step can lead to a new one called “ship back to merchant.”

A virtual try-on can bring online shopping closer to that in-store sequence of events, thereby reducing returns.

Early data suggests that digital twin fit predictors can increase customer confidence and decrease returns. Deepgears, which provided the tech for the [YOOX Net-a-Porter] pilot, says the brands that have used its tech see an average 25 per cent decrease in return rates and a 28 per cent in conversion on the items that offer the digital mannequin option. Companies that use Zyler see an increase in browsing time, higher engagement and a 10 per cent reduction in returns, according to the company. John Lewis’s rental service offers virtual try-on using Zyler: the retailer saw a 10 per cent reduction in online returns, and says that 38 per cent of sales happen after a Zyler visualisation.

The catch? Building that digital twin requires, well, that the avatar be your twin. It has to match your measurements. People are understandably hesitant to relinquish that data to a merchant. The Vogue Business article I linked to notes that the companies are taking steps to gain shoppers’ trust. Whether that holds up in the end remains to be seen.

My take? What the PR person giveth, the privacy policy taketh away.

Because of course Worldcoin

Worldcoin is back in the news!

But did it ever really leave? Block & Mortar has covered the eyeball-scanning project co-founded by Sam “OpenAI” Altman in issues 57, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 77, 93, and 96.

This time around? Spain has told Worldcoin to knock it off.

That adds to regulatory attention from Spain’s EU neighbors Germany and France, their no-longer-EU neighbor the UK, plus Kenya and Argentina.

How many countries have to get mad at Worldcoin before the project drops the “world” from its name? Asking for a friend.

In other news …

The wrap-up

This was an issue of Block & Mortar.

Who’s behind Block & Mortar? I'm Q McCallum. I've spent the past two decades in the emerging-tech space. And I'm very interested in web3 use cases.

Credit where it's due. Big thanks to Shane Glynn for reviewing early drafts. Any mistakes that remain are mine.

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Privacy statement: I don’t share/rent/sell your personal info. Seriously.