THE BLOG
07/16/2016 02:48 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2017

How To Buy Your First Bitcoin Or Ethereum

What a difference a couple years can make! As I wrote here recently, some of my media colleagues in 2014 wanted to hear nothing about Bitcoin or cryptocurrency and I was effectively shunned from some of the shows I'd gotten used to guesting on.

Today? Not a day goes by that someone isn't emailing me or DMing me on Twitter, desperately asking how to buy Bitcoin. How to get in. How to store it. You know, the newbie questions.

Man, it really got me down for a while - being told I was promoting something bad and trivial, when I knew in my heart (and the math clearly corroborated) that cryptocurrency is not bad, is not trivial, is not a fad - it's a very big emerging idea. One of those big ideas that could change everything in the years ahead. Bitcoin is a big deal.

HOW TO BUY A BITCOIN

When friends ask me how to buy Bitcoin, I usually just direct them to my friend invite page on Coinbase so they get some free Bitcoin as a bonus. Coinbase has more than 4.1 million customers in 32 supported countries. They're US-based, backed by some tech heavyweights including Marc Andreessen's VC fund, and in the couple of instances where I've had trouble, their support was always fast and cleared things up.

WHAT ABOUT ETHEREUM?

Ethereum has skyrocketed in name recognition and usage since it launched a year ago, but it is still collectively only worth less than one tenth of Bitcoin's market cap - as I file this, Bitcoin is worth $10.41 billion, while secondplace cryptocurrency network Ethereum is worth $972 million.

The currency used within Ethereum, Ether (ETH), is mined and traded much like bitcoins are. Ether can be bought on Coinbase by going to exchange.coinbase.com after you're logged into your account: that page lets you trade Bitcoin in your Coinbase account for Ether (you can also deposit fiat currencies there), or trade your Ether back into Bitcoin. If that's too confusing, it has been reported that Coinbase will be adding an Ether direct buy feature to their platform later this month, making it easier for non-pro cryptocurrency users to get hold of the currency.

HOW DO I STORE MY BITCOINS AND ETHERS?

A number of excellent options here. Some users prefer to store their Bitcoins on a hardware wallet, such as the Bitcoin Trezor from Satoshi Labs (Trezor's team are reportedly working on hardware wallet support for Ether, too).

Another popular option for storing, sending, and receiving Bitcoins is the free Electrum wallet software for Mac, Windows, and Linux. (An Android version of Electrum is now also available.)

What about for Ether? At the moment, the official wallet / browser Mist is a popular option for the desktop, while the Jaxx.io smartphone wallet app for Android and iPhone is becoming popular among Ethereum casual users as well. The snappy Jaxx mobile wallet also works with Bitcoin.

I'M SO EXCITED, BUT SCARED!

It's okay. Cryptocurrency is a new and exciting field when you first look into it - even several years into researching the industry, I learn new things every day.

While it's true that cryptocurrency markets can be very volatile, and less forgiving, than traditional fiat currency markets - it's also true that crypto is incredible to be a part of in these early years. Even with the volatility and uncertainty, there's something very efficient and fair about cryptocurrency.

The source code for Bitcoin and Ethereum is out in the open: experts review and add to it constantly.

Millions of people already use digital currencies including Bitcoin and Ether. Although it's a brave new world, many of us are taking the leap and building this new economy out - not only because it benefits us more than the fiat economies we have no control over, but because it is truly fun.

When you buy your first Bitcoin, you join this strange club. Where this all goes in the end, no one can tell with certainty yet. But in the meantime, you can follow my musings over on Twitter and watch my weekly interviews with leading cryptocurrency experts over on the YouTube channel.

Full disclosure: Not financial advice, provided for educational purposes only. Not intended as a recommendation to buy or sell any cryptocurrency or asset. At time of publication, I do hold some bitcoins and ethers in my long term portfolio.