What are Cryptocurrencies and How Can You Make Money With Them?

Josiah Nang-Bayi, MD
14 Min Read

Cryptocurrencies have exploded in popularity in recent years. These digital or virtual currencies utilize sophisticated cryptography to enable secure peer-to-peer transactions online without third-party intermediaries like banks. The decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies has spawned an innovative new financial system powered by blockchain technology.

But what exactly are cryptocurrencies, how do they work, and can they make you money? This comprehensive guide provides an overview of cryptocurrency basics, their various applications, and different methods for potentially profiting in this emerging landscape.

what are cryptocurrencies

What is a Cryptocurrency?

A cryptocurrency is a digital currency that utilizes cryptography to validate and secure transactions. Cryptography refers to techniques like encryption that allow communicating parties to verify each other’s identity and enable transactions in a trustless manner.

Here are some key attributes that define cryptocurrencies:

– They are digital mediums of exchange like traditional currencies

– Transactions are verified through cryptography

– Transactions occur peer-to-peer without intermediaries 

– The supply is controlled through advanced algorithms

– They utilize decentralized networks based on blockchain technology

Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency, created in 2009. Today there are over 10,000 different cryptocurrencies and the total market value is $1.72 trillion as at 3rd January, 2024. While complex under the hood, cryptocurrencies provide a simple medium of exchange online between parties.

how do cryptocurrencies work

How Do Cryptocurrencies Work?

Cryptocurrencies operate on distributed networks built on blockchain technology. Blockchain creates an immutable decentralized digital ledger of transactions distributed across countless nodes (computers) in a peer-to-peer network. Here is a quick overview of how transactions occur:

1. User initiates a transaction request to send cryptocurrency to another wallet address.

2. The requested transaction is broadcast to the blockchain network of computers (nodes).

3. Validator nodes receive the request and utilize algorithms to confirm the transaction and user identities are valid.

4. Once validated, the transaction is combined with others in a cryptographically secure structure called a block.

5. The new block is added to the existing blockchain in a decentralized, immutable manner.

6. The updated blockchain with the new transaction block is distributed across nodes.

7. The transaction is complete and the coins exchange wallets.

This decentralized verification and immutable recording allows direct transactions without middlemen. The parties remain pseudonymous for privacy. Different cryptocurrencies utilize varying technical methods for security, verification, and more. But in general, transactions are facilitated through an advanced peer-to-peer system.

Why Do Cryptocurrencies Have Value?

Cryptocurrencies have value for several key reasons:

Utility: They provide digital payment utility for transactions online or in the real world at merchants accepting crypto.

Scarcity: Most cryptocurrencies have a limited or capped supply that is algorithmically controlled. This scarcity creates valuation through supply and demand dynamics.

Authentication: The immutable ledger technology verifies authenticity and prevents double spends or counterfeits. This provides confidence in the currency.

Trust: Distributed blockchain networks allow transactions without third-party intermediaries or central banks requiring trust in those institutions.

Security: Cryptography and decentralized networks make cryptocurrencies very resistant to hacking or manipulation.

Transparency: Transactions are publicly verifiable on the transparent blockchain ledger yet parties remain private.

Portability: Cryptocurrencies can be moved or accessed worldwide with an internet connection enabling mobility.

Innovation: The programmable nature of cryptocurrencies allows for groundbreaking capabilities and functions.

While often complex and abstract, these characteristics imbue cryptocurrencies with intrinsic value that translates to real-world utility and price. The blockchain technology enabling this new paradigm continues advancing as well.

Major Types of Cryptocurrencies

There are thousands of cryptocurrencies in existence today with new ones launching constantly. While diverse, we can categorize major cryptocurrency types as follows:

Coins: Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Litecoin primarily utilized as mediums of exchange and value storage. They operate on their own standalone blockchains.

Tokens: Tokens rely on an existing blockchain ecosystem like Ethereum and represent access rights, utilities, or ownership. Tokens power smart contracts and decentralized applications. Egs: Uni, DOT, LINK

Stablecoins: Stablecoins maintain a pegged value to an external asset like the US dollar to reduce volatility, functioning as digital dollars. Egs: USDT, USDC

Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs): CBDCs are digital currencies proposed to be issued by central banks for legal tender. They are centralized rather than decentralized.

Altcoins: Altcoins refers to alternative cryptocurrencies launched after Bitcoin. This includes coins, tokens, forks, and other variants.

Memecoins: Memecoins are cryptocurrencies that achieve popularity or notoriety based on viral social trends, memes, hype, and community engagement. Egs: Dogecoin, Freecoin,

There are also important categorizations between public, private, and consortium blockchains each cryptocurrency utilizes with tradeoffs between decentralization and efficiency. Overall, cryptocurrencies enable functions far beyond just digital money.

Major Cryptocurrencies

There are now thousands of cryptocurrencies, but these standout options have dominated market share in the blockchain space:

Bitcoin (BTC): The first and most well-known cryptocurrency accounting for ~40% of the total crypto market cap. It operates on a proof-of-work blockchain.

Ethereum (ETH): The second largest cryptocurrency enabling smart contracts. Ethereum has become the most widely adopted blockchain.

Tether (USDT): The most popular stablecoin pegged to the US dollar to reduce volatility. It maintains a value of around $1.

Cardano (ADA): Cardano is a proof-of-stake blockchain focused on scalability, sustainability, and accessibility.

Binance Coin (BNB): The native token of the Binance cryptocurrency exchange used for transactions and reducing fees.

XRP (XRP): XRP is the cryptocurrency of the Ripple payment network and is focused on facilitating global bank transfers.

Dogecoin (DOGE): DOGE is a memecoin that reached a market cap in the billions due to social trends and celebrity promotion.

There are also innovative smaller cryptocurrencies across decentralized finance (DeFi), the Metaverse, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), gaming, and more that present opportunities.

Pros and Cons of Cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrencies provide groundbreaking benefits but also have some notable drawbacks to consider:


– Secure immutable transactions without third parties

– Accessible to anyone globally with internet access

– Very low transaction fees and fast settlement 

– Transparent ledger balances and transfers

– Resilient to hacking, counterfeiting and manipulation

– High portability and 24/7 access

– Can be programmed for advanced functionality

– Emerging real-world utility across many use cases


– Extreme volatility makes pricing unpredictable

– Complicated technology has a steep learning curve

– Lack of institutional support and government regulation

– Energy-intensive mining and concerns around sustainability

– Cybersecurity failures and thefts still occur despite protections  

– Anonymity enables criminal activities in black markets

– Scams, pump and dumps, and misleading data are pervasive

While innovative, cryptocurrencies still have risks and obstacles to overcome as the technology matures. However, countering limitations is an active area of development.

Ways to Make Money with Cryptocurrencies

Now that you understand the basics of what cryptocurrencies are, we can explore methods for actually generating income through cryptocurrency. Here are some of the most popular tactics:


The most straightforward approach is buying and holding cryptocurrencies as investments hoping to sell at a profit down the road just like with stocks or other assets. Top cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum have offered huge returns, especially over long holding periods. High supply scarcity supports price appreciation.

Choosing promising projects early with solid technology and adoption potential is key. There are also opportunities in decentralized finance (DeFi), NFTs, the Metaverse, and more. Extensive due diligence is required in this volatile market with high risks attached. Tools like dollar cost averaging (DCA), diversification, and portfolio tracking help manage risk and returns.


Staking involves holding funds to support blockchain network security and operations. It functions similar to earning interest on savings. In exchange for staking cryptocurrency holdings, you earn more as rewards. Returns typically range from 5-15% annually. Leading staking networks include Solana, Polkadot, and Tezos.


Cryptocurrency mining is how new coins are created while processing blockchain transactions using specialized computing hardware. Successful miners earn newly minted coins as rewards for their work. However, mining has become very resource-intensive, requiring robust costly equipment and access to cheap energy to be profitable today in most contexts. The development of smartphone operatable mining apps however is becoming a new trend.

Yield Farming

Yield farming maximizes returns by using cryptocurrency holdings to provide liquidity for lending platforms and decentralized exchanges. Providing liquidity earns fees, interest, and governance tokens as yield. Strategies like “staking LP tokens” can amplify APYs but also come with added complexity and risks.


Trading cryptocurrencies for profit is possible but extremely difficult, requiring substantial technical and analytical expertise. Short-term trading is also very high risk. Most amateur traders lose money attempting to time the volatile crypto markets. Options like social copy trading allow mirroring skilled trader strategies to mitigate risk and complexity.


Airdrops give away free cryptocurrency or tokens as promotional stunts, rewards for loyalty, or community incentives. Keeping up with blockchain projects conducting airdrops can result in free valuable crypto holdings. However, many airdrops have little long-term utility.


There are increasing opportunities to take on jobs and freelance gigs in the cryptocurrency industry itself. Roles like blockchain developers, crypto analysts, smart contract coders, miners, bloggers, marketers, designers, support agents, and more provide specialized services to crypto companies and projects. Salaries can be generous.

Creating Coins

Ambitious entrepreneurs can also generate income by creating their own cryptocurrency projects – whether through forking existing coins or developing entirely new chains and tokenomics. However, successfully launching a crypto project requires advanced coding skills and deep knowledge of distributed systems, economics, marketing, and compliance. The failure rate is exceptionally high.

Getting Started with Cryptocurrencies

If you feel ready to begin cautiously exploring cryptocurrencies after learning the landscape, here are some tips:

– Start by further educating yourself about blockchain technology and crypto market dynamics.

– Open an account on a mainstream exchange like Coinbase, Kraken or Binance to buy and sell major cryptocurrencies.

– Consider setting up a cold hardware wallet like Trust wallet, Superex, Safepal wallet for storing cryptocurrency assets more securely.

– Make small experimental trades and purchases to get firsthand exposure to using crypto.

– Interact with various blockchain communities and DeFi platforms to deepen your understanding.

– Try fields like crypto mining, staking, blogging or design on the side if interested.

– Stay up to date on crypto news, regulations, taxes, scams and new opportunities.

DIY research, education, and experience equip you to navigate this complex landscape more effectively and maximize any crypto pursuits. Commit to continuous self-education.


Cryptocurrencies represent a disruptive new paradigm for financial systems, transactions, ownership, and value exchange powered by blockchain technology. While often abstract and complex, the possibilities enabled by programmable digital money are vast. Cryptocurrencies offer inherent utility and practical applications today from trading and remittances to anti-inflation savings accounts, decentralized finance, tokenization of assets, and beyond.

Navigating the risks and traps inherent in an emerging unpredictable market requires diligence. But just small prudent exposure provides learning.

Furthermore, new income streams enabled by cryptocurrency innovation offer lucrative potential. Through thoughtful analysis, strategic application, and adopting best practices, cryptocurrencies can become a valuable asset class in a diversified portfolio and a powerful tool for unlocking new opportunities.

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Josiah Nang-Bayi, MD is a medical doctor by profession, an author, a financial literacy and digital assets enthusiast, an entrepreneur and a growing philanthropist.
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