Commoditized Trust

Feb 5, 2022

A bank sells many products, but the most important product it sells is trust. Trust that your money is safe. Trust that you can withdraw it when you want. We buy the household items from the same well-known brands because we trust that we're getting the advertised quality.

When Airbnb launched its rebrand back in 2014, Brian Chesky wrote this (emphasis mine)

We used to take belonging for granted. Cities used to be villages. Everyone knew each other, and everyone knew they had a place to call home. But after the mechanization and Industrial Revolution of the last century, those feelings of trust and belonging were displaced by mass-produced and impersonal travel experiences. We also stopped trusting each other. And in doing so, we lost something essential about what it means to be a community.

Airbnb is also in the business of selling trust. Trust that your rental will be available and up to par when you arrive. Trust those short-term renters won't trash your place (and if they do, that Airbnb will fix it). Airbnb commoditized this trust that was only held by hotels before. Then, they competed on pricing, branding, and other things.

Crypto has gotten around the trust monopoly in part by decentralization. Permissionless networks allow anyone to participate, but the toll is a high cost of ownership – securing your wallet, auditing the code, and even sending your transactions.

Trust hasn't gone away entirely. Users inherently trust centralized services like Coinbase or the Ethereum Foundation. They trust the developers of smart contracts, the deployers of validators, and other points of the system. And trust is a powerful tool that can create real value out of seemingly nothing.

Trust can create value. I think the old ways of building trust and using trust to create value will inevitably come to crypto in the form of centralized services and known brands.