In a little over a decade since Bitcoin first hit the $1 threshold in 2011, cryptocurrency has gone from being a niche product used by a few computer experts to becoming a mainstream investment class, with a market cap of over $2 trillion as at March 2022. While Bitcoin is still the sector’s leader (and makes up almost $1 trillion of that entire market cap), however, roughly half of the market’s value is spread across countless smaller cryptocurrencies.

It may be commonplace to think of some of these essentially as “mini Bitcoins,” but the truth is that different cryptos have differing functions, and there are myriad reasons why they appeal to specific investors. Here, we’re going to take a look at five of the popular favorites among investors.

1. Ethereum

Bitcoin is increasingly thought of as an asset to be held and traded rather than spent. Many investors will shiver when you mention the name Laszlo Hanyecz –– the programmer who made the first “real-world” BTC purchase when he spent 10,000 Bitcoins on two pizzas in 2010. At the time of this writing, that amount of Bitcoin would be worth in excess of $438 million.

Ethereum, on the other hand, is very much a cryptocurrency for doing. It is in fact a whole blockchain ecosystem that can be utilized to power secure digital contracts. To give an example of how this can work, the mushrooming NFT market has led to many new buyers investing in Ethereum to purchase digital artwork. Some folks also use the platform to securely buy furniture from Overstock.com.

Ethereum is comfortably the second-largest coin on the market, with around 23% of the total market cap. Trading at about $3,100 per coin as of this writing, it is believed by some experts to have the potential to reach some $10,000 in value by the end of 2024.

2. Dash

We looked at Dash previously in our infographic covering 27 interesting cryptos. Forked from the Bitcoin protocol in 2014, Dash was subject to a lot of pumping and dumping in its infancy, but overcame early struggles and ultimately gained a strong enough cap ($4.3 billion) to become one of the top-12 cryptocurrencies by 2018.

Dash –– annotated from the phrase “Digital Cash” –– makes private, peer-to-peer transactions quick and cheap. It’s become very popular in certain situations where it’s proven to be particularly useful –– such as Venezuela, where instability and hyperinflation in the fiat currency (Bolivar) have given rise to crypto as an everyday payment mechanism.

3. Dogecoin

With more column inches and bandwidth devoted to it than any other crypto outside of Bitcoin, Dogecoin now deserves to be thought of as more than the “meme” cryptocurrency it was at its inception.

First and foremost, its profile has led to its being held by a large number of people, which in turn makes it easily tradable. Secondly, every time Elon Musk tweets about it, the price rises –– maybe not “to the moon,” as proponents call for, but still in such a way as to make a great many people a lot of money. And thirdly, Dogecoin is actually very easy to use as a method of payment for goods if one decides it’s not going to be a long-term investment; businesses from the Dallas Mavericks to Newegg accept Dogecoin.

4. Litecoin

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that asserts, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” That saying –– particularly as it relates to Bitcoin –– calls Litecoin to mind.

For the most part, people looking to buy Litecoin have done so because it has a reputation as a faster, simpler, and more affordable Bitcoin. At the time of this writing, Litecoin is trading at around $112 per coin, which some investors simply find to be more palatable than the $40,000-plus numbers Bitcoin tends to be at these days. Despite its lower value though, Litecoin has typically fluctuated in a similar pattern to its behemoth big brother. This affords investors the opportunity to buy a more meaningful amount, as opposed to a fraction of a fraction of a single Bitcoin.

It’s notable that transaction fees are a fraction of those connected to Bitcoin, too: Litecoin executions will rarely exceed a few pennies, whereas Bitcoin transaction fees are more typically in the tens of dollars.

5. Ripple

Similarly to Dash, Ripple facilitates quick, cheap transactions. Unlike Dash though, a primary use of Ripple has been in partnerships with traditional banking institutions to facilitate cross-border payments. Specifically, Ripple is currently being utilized by the likes of American Express, PNC Bank, and Banco Santander.

With all 100 billion Ripple tokens (also known as XRP) being minted at launch in 2012 –– and 45 billion currently in circulation –– this cryptocurrency has remaining tokens yet to be released before demand really starts to outstrip supply. That, alongside its entirely practical real-world uses, means Ripple ownership and circulation are still likely to swell moving forward.

In a market where new cryptos are launched seemingly every week, it might pay to do some homework on altcoins. Many will fizzle out as quickly as they launch. Assets like the ones outlined above have staying power however, and the more informed you are about them the more likely you’ll be to succeed with crypto investment.