Consensus, the blockchain industry’s conference of the year, hadn’t even begun its general session when registration lines started snaking through the length of the New York Hilton Midtown’s ground floor lobby, multiple times.
It was illustrative of the crypto industry today: an oversold event that would devote the next three days to discussion and debate on distributed and decentralized systems — funny, if it wasn’t so frenzied.
A conference that began as a small 400-person event in 2015, when CoinDesk was still billing itself as an outlet for bitcoin (not blockchain) news, Consensus has turned into the place for crypto enthusiasts, crypto curious and the crypto hangers on. Top-billed speakers include James Bullard, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Square CEO Jack Dorsey and Amber Baldet for three days of discussion about everything from the bitcoin mining boom to content monetization and neutrality to decentralized car networks. CoinDesk planned this year’s event for an audience of about 4,000. There are about 8,500 in attendance, which translates to about $17 million in ticket sales.
If crypto is the future of finance, it just looks like old finance: a gold rush of people looking to make money as fast as possible. As hedge funds have moved closer to crypto assets, many are realizing there’s more to cryptocurrency than just magic Internet money.
— Marc Hochstein (@MarcHochstein) May 13, 2018
Veterans of the space have become skeptical of hype and buzz. On Monday evening, Amber Baldet, JPMorgan Chase’s ex-blockchain lead who left the bank last month, took the stage to finally unveil her new venture, Clovyr, a decentralized application store. Then she invited her panel, Consensys’ Joe Lubin and Jimmy Song, a partner at Blockchain Capital, to come up — and immediately asked for their hot take on her pitch.
“I didn’t see anything other than buzzwords,” said Song, a bitcoin maximalist, dismissing it as “magic blockchain dust.”
And yet so many of this year’s first-time attendees have come wide-eyed and optimistic and eager to pitch their startup and hand out as many business cards as possible — to whom doesn’t seem to matter.
There’s also a stand selling crypto jewelry.
— Rob Marvin (@rjmarvin1) May 14, 2018
And there was a sardonically staged Bankers Against Bitcoin protest outside the hotel.
But the content curated for the mainstage is becoming even more sophisticated — and gender diverse — and new players aren’t by any means pulling the industry back from the progress it has made over the past four years.
The pendulum is swinging back to the “crypto” space. The enthusiasm at CoinDesk’s inaugural event in 2015 came largely from crypto-enthusiasts. In 2016, the conference was filled with mostly bankers — on and off the main stage — talking about financial applications for private blockchains. Last year’s attendees brought a pretty balanced interest in private blockchain networks for highly regulated industries as well as a rebound in interest in public blockchain networks.
Between last year’s conference to this week’s, now part of an entire “Blockchain Week” sponsored by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, crypto assets and cryptocurrencies have come into the mainstream and brought thousands of new players whose naivete is felt strongly at the event.
“As we’ve seen enterprise come back [saying,] ‘OK, maybe it’s not all really BS,’ we’ve also seen the establishment going ‘maybe this crypto asset space could be legitimized,’” Simon Taylor, blockchain practice lead at challenger consultancy 11:FS, said in a conversation with CoinDesk editor-in-chief Pete Rizzo.
Crypto has a lot of growing up to do, but it’s come a long way in four years. There’s a lot of excitement from obviously new attendees and industry participants not just from Silicon Valley and Wall Street but enterprise and government institutions across the U.S. and the world.
The hype and the buzz aren’t likely to die down if only because different industries jumping on the crypto train are all doing so on different timelines. But the industry’s business leaders (and “thought leaders”) have laid solid groundwork to help newcomers navigate it well and responsibly. Even with the crowds and the density of a rush-hour subway car in New York, the Lamborginis parked in front of the hotel and the sea of men in dark suits. There seems to be a saturated market just for blockchain conferences, but the turnout at Consensus is usually a good sign of the times.