One hundred and fifty people attended Bitcoinference, a half-day event devoted to cryptocurrencies, on Thursday (March 20th) in Mountain View, California.
The sellout event, held at the offices of incubator 500 Startups, consisted of a keynote speech, two panel sessions, a networking session and an 'unconference' portion – the latter melding a traditional event agenda with increased attendee social interaction.
Several speakers during the formal session of the event expressed concern about negative news related to bitcoin in recent weeks. But it was perhaps Zeroblock co-founder Dan Held that expressed the best sense of cautious optimism for the remainder of the year:
"2014 is when you're going to see the amateurs get shaken out of the market and the people with really good dev teams start taking over the process."
500 Startups partner Sean Percival kicked the event off with an attention-grabbing stunt. Attendees were told to look underneath their seats, where they found envelops containing paper wallets – most worth $5-worth of bitcoin.
After that, the first guest on the agenda was Dan Held, a Product Manager at Blockchain.info. Held's Zeroblock mobile app was purchased by Blockchain.info late last year in an all-bitcoin acquisition.
Sean Percival hosted a Q&A session with Held, who predicted that bitcoin's price over the course of this year would rocket:
"I'm pretty optimistic about the price – to the moon," Held said, with a joke more often associated with dogecoin.
Held also brought up Zeroblock's recent recent acquisition of market visualization provider RTBTC. Zeroblock is planning to bring additional cyrptocurrencies to RTBTC's charting and trading at some point down the line, he said.
Women in bitcoin
Next up was a discussion moderated by TechZulu co-founder Amanda Coolong and titled the "51% Attack Panel: Changing the Ratio for Women in Bitcoin". The session featured bitcoin investor Arianna Simpson, BitGive Executive Director Connie Gallippi and Spelunk.in founder Pinguino Kolb.
The majority of the panel said that their experiences as women within the bitcoin sphere had been generally positive. Arianna Simpson, though, talked about how it has been a bit of bumpy road personally, something that she described in a blog post back in January.
Bitcoin for now is a predominantly male pursuit, but mass adoption will change that, they said. What has happened with technologies such as social networking is a good example of women bringing technology to critical mass. Furthermore, said Kolb"
"[Bitcoin] is fun. It's the internet of money."
The global scope of bitcoin is what really excited Gallippi. Her company BitGive charitably donates bitcoin for public health and environmental issues.
"For profit or nonprofit, it blows open a whole global marketplace," she said.
An investors' forum was next up on the schedule. Called "Mining VC Panel: Fundraising for Bitcoin Companies", the panel consisted of Boost VC CEO Adam Draper, angel investor Brock Pierce and Freestyle's Principle Joyce Kim.
The VC panel was moderated by Dave McClure, founding partner of 500 Startups.
It was interesting to hear the perspectives from different angles of bitcoin investment: a fund (Kim), an accelerator (Draper) and an angel (Pierce).
Joyce Kim, who runs a seed fund called Freestyle Capital, told the audience that whether it is bitcoin or some other technology, startups need to have good leaders in order to thrive:
"You need great founders to take anything anywhere."
Brock Pierce said that he has invested in 12 crytpocurrency startups already this year. His investment portfolio consists mainly of bitcoin and altcoin companies, he said, and he sees good things ahead in terms of the regulatory environment, saying:
"The US has been more positive than I expected."
Adam Draper of Boost VC reiterated his recent commitment to funding 100 bitcoin startups over the next three years. At over 30 startups per year, Boost will have to cast a wide net.
Draper sees exciting prospects ahead in altcoins, such as dogecoin, which he described as "fascinating".
Dave McClure quipped that dogecoin might be bitcoin's best advertising strategy:
"Dogecoin is the best marketing for bitcoin ever."
After the more formal sessions, Bitcoinference broke into 'unconference' mode. Anyone interested in hosting a session was welcome – with a board set up for three time slots in three different rooms.
The sessions were fairly informal and niche in nature.
The unconference portion turned the idea of the passive conference-goer on its head. The first portion of Bitcoinference was noticably short on Q&A time, and this unusual session gave attendees ample time to network and share ideas in a informal setting.
"The unconference is the ideal format for an emerging industry like bitcoin", Sean Percival told CoinDesk, adding:
"Several attendees stopped me to tell me that [unconference] was the best networking and knowledge sharing they've ever experienced at a bitcoin event."
Some of the popular unconference sessions included "Startup Opportunities Beyond BTC" and "Dogecoin to the Moon!".
About 500 Startups
500 Startups occupies an entire 12th-floor building space in downtown Mountain View.
The company has accelerated over 200 startups in the past year, according to Percival, and recently announced that it will begin accepting bitcoin startups into the program.
Percival will be running 500's upcoming incubator class, with a small number of bitcoin startups taking part.
A former MySpace executive who has worked on marketing projects for Blockchain.info, Percival says that 500 Startups plans to accelerate 10 to 20 bitcoin startups per year going forward.
The startups they select must have a solid track record of working on projects within the cryptocurrency community, Percival told CoinDesk.
Bitcoinference was held in conjunction with 500 Startups' Commercism conference – a full day event focused on exploring ecommerce topics. Commercism is being held today, March 21st, at the Microsoft Conference Center in Mountain View.