Back in the nineties, opportunity was everywhere. To become a millionaire, all you had to do was open a dictionary, close your eyes, and place your finger on a word. Add "dotcom" to the end and some investor somewhere would throw a giant pile of money at you to own a few shares.

Or that's the myth anyway. The reality was a lot tougher. Sure, there was a lot of easy money floating around, and many of us who were there were quick to catch it. But raising funds for projects was never simple. Investors still wanted to see business plans. They still wanted to see good product ideas. They might have been too confident about the ability to match those ideas to large online audiences but the money was never really easy--or free.

And the longer the dotcom boom continued, the more expensive the money became. Investors became more choosy. They looked harder. They asked tougher questions. And as reality set in, they gave less money.

That's the position the cryptocurrency world finds itself in at the start of 2019.

Look at a graph of funds raised by ICOs in 2018 and the line has a clear direction: downwards. Crypto companies brought in more than $1.5 billion in January 2018. By November, that figure had drifted down to less than $160 million. The decline in crypto values represents only around half of that collapse. The other half is a result of greater caution among potential investors.

The pattern is similar to what happened to IPOs at the start of the millennium. Between 2000 and 2004, the value of dotcom IPOs fell from $96.9 billion to $15.4 billion. Once investors started looking more closely at the business ideas behind those dotcoms, they became a lot more selective about who they gave their money to.

But they didn't stop investing. They just got better at investing. The year after IPOs bottomed out, the amount they raised had tripled. In 2017, venture capitalists put nearly $84 billion into tech companies, almost returning to the dotcom peak.

Cryptocurrency is undergoing a similar process. The initial euphoria has worn off. Investors have learned that there's money to be lost in this space and not just won. Now when a company announces the ICO of a business idea built on the blockchain, they look closely at that idea and they assess its marketability. They review the team and the competition. They ask whether the same thing couldn't be done without a blockchain.

They don't assume that if it's got a blockchain it's going to be worth billions. They look for good, commercial ideas with plenty of opportunity, and they support them. The rest have to work a lot harder.

The result should be an environment that looks a lot like the current Internet. Weak ideas and poor teams won't make it off the ground. A host of small companies will be striving to make it big. And there will be plenty of giant corporations making enormous sums of money.