The following is a syllabus I drew up for a 4cu independent research during my last semester at Babson.
Independent Research Proposal: Productizing Cryptocurrencies
Student: John Capecelatro
Faculty Advisors: Professor Charles Winrich, Professor Steven Gordon
The purpose of this independent research is to explore the burgeoning realm of cryptocurrencies to further understand what opportunities exist for building a technology business in this space. Beginning with Bitcoin in 2009, cryptocurrencies have, like other modern fiat currencies, have provided a medium for transactions. Unlike other currencies, however, cryptocurrencies are based on cryptography and their values are derived from different algorithms that determine how many units of the currency will be produced. This form of currency is considered to be distributed, decentralized, largely anonymous, and digitally secure. Research — in the form of blog posts, theses, interviews (phone and in-person), and programming projects — will provide ample exposure to the history of cryptocurrencies, the factors leading to their recent prevalence, the risks and opportunities of their use, and the swath of market opportunities that exist around their presence. Based on collected research, two projects will be built: a Bitcoin wallet on a Raspberry Pi, as well as a larger prototype of a cryptocurrency-centric product — including mockups and code.
Context (problems to be investigated):
During the fall of my sophomore year, I decided to immerse myself in the technology startup community in Cambridge. In this community, I discovered a large group of supportive, intelligent, and motivated entrepreneurs using technology to address any number of opportunities they had discovered across a number of different markets. After completing an internship during the spring semester of my sophomore year in which I helped launch the Startup Institute, I decided to take a leave of absence for the entirety of my junior year.
After spending the fall in London working at a venture capital firm and learning a bit more about the fundraising side of technology entrepreneurship, I moved to San Francisco where I completed a three month apprenticeship to learn to web development. The time spent learning to build web applications helped illuminate the expansive number of opportunities available to those who possess such a skill set. Whereas I had originally imagined such power would be directed at seemingly important problems, what I saw instead was its use in building disappearing photo apps. Moving forward, I resolved to direct my evolving skill set in web development towards more meaningful problems.
During my time in San Francisco, the advent of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies had begun to captivate a savvy audience of early adopters. In the intermittent time, companies like Coinbase and Circle have raised millions of dollars to address various areas of the cryptocurrency market. I became fascinated by the perceived value that bitcoin and similar currencies possessed - both as a value store like other modern currencies, but also as an important development in computer science that could have applications outside of the financial realm.
Since returning to Babson in the fall, I have been excited to watch bitcoin become an extremely popular — if sometimes notorious — financial instrument in the small circle of early technology adopters and beyond. This excitement has helped fuel a desire to spend meaningful time researching a still-nascent technological development that holds implications for the way we think of security and currency in the future. As I think about my career path moving forward, I see my continued growth as a web developer being inspired by the evolution of bitcoin and a desire to build products in this space. Ultimately, the goal of this independent research is to glean enough information to build a minimum viable product that addresses one or more market opportunities identified during the course of study.
Required Materials & Course Assignments:
Found below is a breakdown of the various mediums by which the independent research will be conducted.
Hardware & Software - below is a list of the technical tools to be used during the product building portion of the independent study. As described above, these tools will be used to build a minimum viable product that addresses an opportunity in the cryptocurrency market identified by this independent research.
Raspberry Pi (affordable computer chip used for building software, hosting applications on an independent server, and a number of other uses)
Raspbian (proprietary software developed for the RPi)
Electrum (for Bitcoin wallet and backup)
Ruby on Rails (framework for building scalable web applications)
Reading - below is a selection of pieces that have come out in the past several months and years on cryptocurrencies. It is worth noting that very few books have been written on the subject as it is so new. A large portion of this independent research will involve continued observation of news sources to incorporate the continued publication of news articles and blog posts on the subject.
Original Bitcoin Whitepaper
Blog post: “How the Bitcoin protocol really works”
Book: Bitcoin Primer
Book: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World
Thesis: “Design and security analysis of Bitcoin infrastructure using application deployed on Google Apps Engine.”
New York Times articles:
The Bitcoin Mines of Iceland
Bitcoin is Evil
Bitcoin, Nationless Currency, Still Feels Governments’ Pinch
Disruptions: Betting on a Coin With No Realm
The Economist articles:
Bitcoin Under Pressure
The Bitcoin Bubble
Bits and bob
Other news articles:
Could Bitcoin be used as an ultrasecure notary service?
Bitcoin is Good
A framework for pricing bitcoin
Bitcoin: What is it good for?
Bitcoin is money, Bitcoin is a bubble
The Bitcoin Central Bank’s Perfect Monetary Policy
Interviews - these three people are those I’ve identified as being prominent in the discussion around cryptocurrencies and have either founded or invested in companies in the space. I chose a combination of investors and founders, as I feel perspectives from sides of the table are useful in crafting a holistic understanding of the opportunities and challenges that exist in the space.
Jeremy Allaire - Circle
Fred Ehrsam - Coinbase
Marc Andreesen - Andreesen Horowitz
Involvement of the Advisor(s) - Both advisors will provide guidance and feedback around the area of research, as well as the project proposal and minimum viable product. Professor Winrich will focus specifically on the construction of the RaspberryPi bitcoin wallet, whereas Professor Gordon will assist with the web development component of the research. A schedule for meetings during the course of this independent research is to be determined shortly.
1. Raspberry Pi-powered Bitcoin Wallet and related code - This deliverable represents a manageable combination of research and product building that can be accomplished during the first half of the independent research. While bitcoin wallets exist in various forms currently, there is still an ongoing conversation around which combination of tools is most useful for securely storing bitcoins and/or other types of cryptocurrencies. Completing this portion of the research will provide a meaningful introduction into an evolving product in the cryptocurrency market, how it is built (drawing on curriculum completed in a previous course: Electric Technology (Science B), and what market viability such a product has moving forward. Included in this deliverable will be several written pieces on determining which tools to use for a Bitcoin wallet, how to construct one on a Raspberry Pi, and any other pertinent topics.
2. Product proposal - This deliverable will be a five page paper in addition to exhibits (i.e. mockups of web interfaces and user flows) outlining a market opportunity identified during the course of the independent research, how the product seeks to address the opportunity, and ultimately a go to market strategy for building and launching the product.
3. Minimum viable product (MVP) - This deliverable will be the culmination of the independent research. Given the course of the independent research, this MVP will represent a first attempt at building a product to solve an identifiable problem in the cryptocurrency market. It will consist of a hosted web application (using Heroku for web application hosting) built with Ruby/Rails and common front-end languages. Application source code as well as a functioning website will comprise this deliverable.
Conclusively, it is worth noting that the ultimate objectives for the course of this independent study are to have a completely functional Bitcoin wallet mounted on a Raspberry Pi, as well as a prototype for another cryptocurrency-oriented product. Given the time constraints of this independent research, if a prototype is not completely functional by the end of the semester, all finished design mockups and code — in addition to a document outlining the progress of the prototype, known issues, and an action plan for the remainder of the build — will be turned in for grading consideration.