A friend recently shared a funny but true comment. “If I went to a crypto event every night of the week, I still wouldn’t make it to half of them,” he remarked. Working in the soaring NYC Fintech scene, I know his remarks not to be hyperbole, but truth. A quick search on Meetup for “blockchain” shows 18 events in NYC over the next two weeks, and that’s over a 2-week spread that includes the Thanksgiving holiday.
Growing my career in the digital advertising industry, I always resisted conferences and events. Something about the overexcitement of “pixel pushers” didn’t motivate me to be my social self, and I was quite the pusher of pixels. I attended events like AdWeek, CES, E3, SXSW, Cannes, and many more. It’s not to say that these events didn’t contain great and smart people; they absolutely did. But my experiences in the early days of the small and large scale blockchain event circuit is remarkably different. Most of all, the people are different.
These are not just people that think they’re changing the world. They may just be.
Having been a student of blockchain for two years and a crypto holder for not much longer, I thought I’d share some highlights and perspective from my recent experiences on the crypto conference circuit.
People are starved for knowledge
This is truer than anything if you attend events not catered to the crypto traders or those who work in the blockchain industry. A brief stroll around events with titles like “Blockchain: An intro to…” or “ICOs and Cryptocurrency. What are they and how do I...,” and you will find an abundance of professionals who (likely) have all the answers in their high-powered day job, but feel completely confused by a technology that could be disrupting it.
People are looking for explanations and answers, many of which do not yet exist.
I find this thirst for knowledge to be my favorite part of this evolution. It is a sign that people know there is something to be excited about, yet they just can’t determine what exactly it is. Many blockchain veterans will look down on these people. They’ll ask them questions like “so, what’s your opinion on public vs. permission based networks,” knowing very well that these people don’t own a wallet that isn’t the product of anything but animal skin. This behavior is anti-blockchain: It’s not peer-to-peer.
Crypto-elitism reeks of central authority and is one of the things in the way of scaling this amazing technology.
Instead of alienating newbies, I arrive to “crytpto 101” events early, scouring the room for people with little experience. I find non-users and point them to the app store for a Jaxx wallet, handing over a few bucks worth of ETH to welcome them to the party. I am quite sure that Jaxx owes me at least a branded stress ball by now.
Beware the (many) Charlatans
This brings me to my favorite term, “Blockchain expert.” Let me be clear. I have been studying this space furiously for two years. I get paid to advise corporations on blockchain technology, to help blockchain startups grow, and I never refer to myself as an “expert.” Frankly, unless you are a contributor to Bitcoin Core or the Ethereum Project, have a PHD in Distributed Computer Systems, or are an elite developer at a leading blockchain startup, steer clear of referring to yourself as an “expert.”
At your average blockchain event you will find many speakers and panel attendees sharing opinions with conviction. Just like the level of scrutiny that is now being applied when evaluating ICO leadership teams, that same lens should be used when evaluating self-proclaimed blockchain experts. Over the next 12 months, we will see the masses climb past the 101 level of blockchain knowledge. I’m curious to see how these experts position themselves when they lack the newbies to contrast themselves against.
“All I know is that I know nothing” -Socrates
More talk and fear than action
The brief history of blockchain is filled with quite a few hiccups. The 650,000 bitcoins lost in Mt. Gox, the fallout from Silk Road, and the infamous DAO hack. Most recently, we’ve seen the Parity wallet “hack” and numerous lawsuits against the Tezos team. It is quite possible to attend a blockchain event and hear about all of these tragic events within the first 20 minutes. If you’ve been around the crypto scene long enough, you tend to shrug these things off. If you’re new to the scene and were looking to learn how to be involved, I fear that an ignorant narrative that highlights these mishaps is doing more to hurt the community than to help.
Yes…people should know about all of the calamities mentioned above, however not to the extent that newcomers are alienated. If this thing is going to happen for real, we need these people! My concern is that that “hack” headlines do more to drive attendance at Meetups than benefit the evolution of blockchain. Crypto nerds may have developed the thick skin to accept the drama that comes with this evolution, but rookies need to be eased in.
Fact is, there is no reason for fear. Fear should be measured by an individual’s tolerance for risk. Instead of newbies being frozen by fear, they should own $50 worth of bitcoin, send $10 to a friend, and swap another $10 out for ETH (or an altcoin of their choosing). Experiencing the speed of the platform and ease of shifting throughout the crypto-ecosystem will generate some of the confidence with which crypto-bulls operate.
The best (and worst) is yet to come
At the recent “Blockchain for Wall Street” conference Mark Smith, CEO of Symbiont, argued that “we are nearing the trough of disillusionment in the blockchain industry, and that’s a good thing!” In their hype cycle, Gartner describes this as the period in which interest wanes as experimentations and implementations fail to deliver. That means that of the thousands of companies formed through token sales, and the hundreds more formed through VC funding, we will begin to see many break down. Investors will lose money, individuals will report losses (if they report anything at all), and founders will fail. But as the co-founder of Symbiont expressed, this is a good thing.
For technology that is truly transformative, the Trough of Disillusionment is followed by the Slope of Enlightenment. This is when we begin to see a popular understanding of blockchain, genuine usage at a retail level, and a growing community of available experts. That is what we all want and it requires casting doubt on unproductive fear, welcoming newcomers with eagerness, and an admission that we know nothing.