Despite a blanket ban on cryptocurrencies in China, the country’s web3 space is still enticing for many young graduates who are seeking their first pot of digital gold.
When Michael, a third-year university student in the country, put out the word that he was organizing a web3 study group, there were 200 new signups in just a matter of days.
Michael’s group meets every Sunday evening, with members conversing with each other on Twitter Spaces. Their talks cover technical breakdowns, industry trends, popular web3 projects, and presentations of fresh business ideas. At times, they exchange hundreds of messages each day.
Web3 is a continuation of the World Wide Web’s evolution that incorporates decentralization and token-based economic structures. This is made possible using blockchain technology that utilizes open ledgers and cryptocurrency. One consequence of web3 is that every user is also a partial owner of any project whose tokens they hold.
“I’d feel out of touch if I didn’t understand web3,” Michael said. “My friends and I often say that the biggest windfalls of the mobile internet era went to those who are now in their 40s or 50s. For my generation, career and wealth-building opportunities are in web3.”
Michael and his study group’s members aren’t alone. Many people in China, still in their 20s, are racking up experience in crypto and NFT investments. They utilize DeFi (decentralized finance) tools and participate in GameFi projects that blend gaming and elements of DeFi. The teams that develop new web3 projects tend to be younger and have no shortage of ideas about how to change the ways people connect and transact with each other over the internet.
Out with the old, in with the new
“Working for a tech company as a programmer isn’t cool anymore. It’s another conventional path. The smartest graduates are all starting web3 businesses,” said Kevin, a computer science graduate of the University of British Columbia.
That’s precisely what Kevin and his friends are doing. “Some work with NFTs, some work in GameFi, and others are building web3 social platforms. As far as I know, there aren’t that many people who want to start a conventional internet business,” he said. “More money is being invested into web3 than other areas, and these investors prefer younger entrepreneurs.”
Take Shawn Pang (Pang Shunxin) as an example. After Pang graduated, he turned down a job offer from a top consulting company in Toronto, instead branching out to link up with Zheng Xiaoming and establish Matterverse, which provides hosting services for e-commerce businesses in metaverse environments. Just one year later, Matterverse raised a multimillion-dollar seed round.
“For our final project at school, we built a piece of software to digitally transform the renovation industry in North America. Later, we realized that we could use the metaverse to make this more immersive and take it to a larger market,” Pang said. After he and his team spent more time learning about web3 concepts, they felt like they were standing on the cusp of a new internet.
Pang recruited more people to form a team dedicated to building metaverse technology. Most of his staff members are under the age of 27. They created a cloud-native hyper-realistic metaverse editor. With advanced color rendering protocols and a smooth virtual experience, Matterverse has provided services to many luxury brands, fashion labels, and real estate companies.
Pang is a believer in co-creation and joint governance, so he formed a DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) for Matterverse. He often hosts discussions on Discord and Twitter to unpack industry trends and popular projects.
“Web3 is a totally different way of operating compared to the current internet. Since young people don’t have the experience of working in conventional internet companies, it’s easier for them to develop a pure web3 way of thinking,” said Danny, an investor who focuses on this space.
“An example is the way DAO members run projects. They believe that these organizations should be egalitarian and jointly governed. They won’t operate like traditional companies, in which upper management dictates plans to their subordinates,” said Danny. “This is a process of conceptual change, and young people play a vital role.”
As of April 2021, more than 90% of cryptocurrency holders were aged between 18 and 40, with millennials and Gen Z particularly interested in purchasing and trading crypto assets, according to data released by Stilt. More than 80% of Gen Z respondents said they would consider careers in the web3 space in the future.
“For the last couple of years, nearly all my friends have been talking about cryptocurrencies and NFTs. You must keep up with these trends if you want to be involved in these conversations and fit in,” Kevin said.
The ‘Bill Gates’ of web3
“Bill Gates founded Microsoft when he was 19 years old, after dropping out of college. Mark Zuckerberg did the same for Facebook, and Vitalik Buterin co-founded Ethereum at the same age. As technology advances, it will be young people who lead the way,” said Danny.
Inspired by Buterin, crypto enthusiasts who are still in their late teens or early 20s are pouring their energy into the web3 space. Some have even become notable names within the industry.
In February, crypto-focused venture capital fund Paradigm announced that a research engineer who goes by Transmissions11 will join the firm. Their new team member was still a student attending high school.
Transmissions11 is already leaving his mark in the web3 space. Not only does he publish acute observations, Transmissions11 is also researching ways to optimize on-chain transaction fees known as gas.
At roughly 15 years old, Transmissions11 has already been involved in the creation of a handful of DeFi protocols. His real-life identity remains a mystery.
“In the future, there will be more young web3 talent like Vitalik Buterin and Transmissions11, just as many young entrepreneurs emerged to follow in the footsteps of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. They will be even younger than the trailblazers of the mobile internet era,” Danny said.
Remaining a believer during a bear market
Although web3 believers are experiencing a crypto winter right now, with tokens losing much of their value compared to all-time highs just months ago, many remain enthusiastic about the web3 space’s prospects.
“It’s good for the industry to shake out the speculators. When things calm down, it will be the right time to slowly build projects,” said Kevin.
In the eyes of true believers, web3 is not a fragile system that can collapse because of a single setback. In fact, it constantly evolves. Many reference Bitcoin’s status more than a decade ago, when it was the heart of the crypto industry. That changed soon after Ethereum’s emergence in 2015. New blockchain networks and business models have been developed over the past two years, building out the web3 ecosystem in many directions.
Common applications and platforms now have web3 counterparts—instead of Google Drive, AWS, and Dropbox, there are Sia, Filecoin, and IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) for cloud storage. Instead of Google Chrome and Safari, there is Brave. Instead of YouTube and Medium, there are DTube and Mirror.
While many of these web3 platforms have yet to gain users to the scale of their web2 counterparts, the first stage of a migration is taking place. A report released by Crypto.com in January suggests that there may be 1 billion crypto users around the world by the end of 2022.
“When we look back many years later, we may find that this was a time of revolution for the internet. Many people who are at the center of it don’t realize that they’re already part of this change,” said Kevin. “More will join us in the future.”
With web3 emerging as a significant sector within the global tech scene, and with participation dependent on a new mindset, some mid-career tech workers feel uneasy.
“I feel like I’m getting old and can’t grapple with the new concepts. Whenever I come across articles about web3, I feel like I’m peering into a world that is significant but irrelevant to me,” said Alex, an engineer who has worked at Google for nearly seven years. “I keep thinking that watching people in their teens or early 20s use web3 tools is like our grandparents wondering about our TikTok habit. There is a promising future in web3, but we are being left behind.”
This article was adapted based on a feature originally written by Deepmind and published on Guixingren (WeChat ID: guixingren123). 36Kr Global is authorized to translate, adapt, and publish its contents.