Jun 14, 2021 • 9M

Ep 26. Bitcoin 2021: First impressions (Part 1 of 2)

Beware of the dangers of a single story

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Some say Crypto is a scam. Others swear it's a breakthrough technology. But which is it? Join us, as we explore Crypto in real life (IRL).
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This is a special edition of the 5x5 Crypto News focused on the Bitcoin 2021 conference.

Entrance sign at the Bitcoin 2021 conference

Last weekend, I attended the Bitcoin 2021 conference in Miami. I’m new to this space so I figured it would be a great way to learn and connect with others. This is an attempt to capture some of my thoughts. This is the first in a 2-part series. This piece will focus on general observations, the next piece will address some of my learnings. 

First things first, I did not know what to expect. Bitcoiners have been caricatured in the media as cultists and speculators. Others see them as innovators and technologists. Would I fit in? 

Secondly, this conference was focused on bitcoin only. This meant that ethereum and other projects in the crypto sphere would not take center stage. Would I be surrounded by only the most fervent bitcoin maximalists? My sense is that multiple blockchains and projects can win. 

Well, I am SO glad that I went. I continue to find growth and delightful experiences by putting myself out there and taking a risk to venture into unfamiliar terrain. I left the conference with new friends, new ideas, and increased confidence in the future. 

Much has been said about the conference. A lot of the media focus has been negative. Some folks have latched onto the most colorful and sensational elements. Remember that 50,000 people traveled to Miami with 12,000 attending the conference while others participated in a smorgasbord of satellite events. A handful of loud voices should not define a community. In the words of Chimamanda Adichie, “...beware, there is danger in a single story”.  

Masked up and ready to go

Observations

1. Is Miami the crypto capital?

Mayor Saurez has been wooing the crypto community to Miami. I met a 26-year old crypto hedge fund manager who relocated from New York City during the pandemic. He shared that everyone in the luxury high rise he lived in worked in crypto and they were mostly 25-30 years old. He was enjoying the networking, lifestyle and lower cost of living in Miami. While the city has made strides, the talent and funding pools still pale compared to NYC and SF. As the country emerges from the lockdown, will Miami continue its crypto rise? 

2. Diversity: What brings you here?

Bitcoiners traveled down a variety of paths yet converged on the same destination. Motivations ranged from ideology to profit seeking, efficiency to innovation. I enjoyed this diversity of thought. I liked engaging with everyone from libertarian ideologues to pragmatic opportunists and bitcoin maximalists to blockchain agnosts. At times it felt like an intellectual playground. If you are a curious person, there is space for you within this big tent. 

3. Diversity: Who is not in the room?

For the first time in my life, I had to wait 10-15 min to use the men’s restroom. In contrast, there was never a line for women’s restrooms. Bitcoin operates at the nexus of technology, economics and philosophy. These sectors have less gender and ethnic diversity than the US population. Unsurprisingly, the conference demographics was not representative of the general population. It’s important for all communities to have a seat at the table as new technologies are being developed and deployed. Again I say, there is room for you within this big tent.

4. Hey stranger, do you want to be my friend? 

I came to the conference by myself. I struck up many random conversations and I ended up meeting people from all over the US and across 4 continents. Y’all are friendly! I found strangers quickly became friends as people were generous with their time and resources. Thank you! We debated ideas. We talked about our personal hopes and aspirations. The next challenge will be staying in touch. Any ideas?

5. What are you working on?

Everyone is a founder. It was inspiring to meet so many folks betting on themselves and building the future they want to see. One of my favorite conversations was with an entrepreneur starting a VC focused on investing in black and African crypto startups. If you are interested in investing in the VC, I would be happy to make introductions.

In addition, I also had more vulnerable conversations with founders who were struggling and questioning whether to pivot. I learned that the crypto bull run has made many folks independently wealthy. They could self-fund their startups without raising money but some were missing external input. This helped reinforce the idea that investors don’t just bring money but insight. Their feedback could be invaluable while launching and scaling a business. 

Closing thoughts

Overall, I am really happy I went. Knowing what I know now, I would do it again. That said, I am unsure if I will go to the next bitcoin conference. My tickets were pricey but I met many folks who travelled to Miami just to attend the satellite events without going to the conference. Sure if I got affordable tickets, I might go again but I think one could get significant value just from attending the satellite events. I am also really curious about going deeper into DeFi (decentralized finance) and other parts of the crypto ecosystem. I would be open to attending a conference on that.