Walking into the San Jose Convention Center this weekend, at first you might mistake the crowd for just another programming conference. Almost all-male attendance, mostly wearing open-collared shirts with jeans or khakis, with the occasional Tshirt. But then, you'd catch the wild glimmer in an eye, or a vintage hat, or a head of wild long hair, and you would realize that while this was a technically sophisticated crowd, this was no mere programming conference. The more than 1,000 Bitcoin enthusiasts who converged on San Jose were an impassioned bunch -- some fired with the excitement of getting in on something big the ground floor, others lit up by a more ideological passion for freedom from government or from the existing financial system.
They came, they swapped stories of working for bitcoins and sought advice on getting their first round of venture funding. They learned from the first round of Bitcoin entrepreneurs, who in turn expressed amazement at being surrounded by over a thousand peers, when just a couple years ago they'd felt like they were alone in the wilderness.
A few of the most interesting points that came up over the weekend:
- Bitcoin companies must take regulatory compliance seriously. Nothing could have underlined that more emphatically than the seizure of Mt. Gox funds just before the show began, and a panel of attorneys and Bitcoin startup veterans newer entrepreneurs grasp what steps they'll need to take to become compliant.
- More and more goods and services can be purchased with bitcoins. Throughout the weekend, attendees and presenters shared that they had purchased or sold travel, lodging, cupcakes and electronics for bitcoins, or accepted bitcoin donations to their charities. On the show floor, attendees bought magazines, Tshirts and other goodies using bitcoins from their digital wallets. Or if they hadn't brought their bitcoins, they fed $20 bills into Lamassu Bitcoin Ventures' ATM and got some.
- Mainstream investors have heard of Bitcoin. At one panel, funded entrepreneurs shared how presentations used to begin with an explanation of what the cryptocurrency is -- but not now.
- Bitcoin can be fun. From the presentation titles, you'd think that the Bitcoin investor or enthusiast thinks only about getting rich or achieving total liberty for all humans, with no time for anything so fanciful as joking around or dancing. Not so. Throughout the two days' programs, attendees heard a band calling itself Zhou Tonged sing their love for Bitcoin both in rap style and the vintage rock sounds of Billy Joel (they want to hold their bitcoins for the longest time); chatted with models advertising NEFT brand vodka, which made its US debut at the show, and watched the trailer for the upcoming Bitcoin documentary. Judging from the demand for water bottles and coffee at Sunday morning panels, there may have even been some fun times after hours at the conference.
- Despite all the talk of buying, selling and spending bitcoins, when asked what they do with their bitcoins, the most common answer from all attendees was: "Hold them." Many attendees said they made an effort to spend bitcoins whenever possible to support the nascent economy and to promote bitcoins -- but many said they immediately bought new bitcoins to replace the ones they'd spent, so as not to reduce their holdings.