The Story of DESK: How CoinDesk Built Its Social Token

CoinDesk’s Consensus-focused tech experiment involved a litany of third parties to help make DESK sing.

AccessTimeIconJun 6, 2022 at 7:37 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 5:22 p.m. UTC
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When Consensus 2022 kicks off Thursday, behind the scenes, a complex choreography of wallet identity checks and payment swaps will work to keep DESK, CoinDesk’s social token, circulating through a crowd expected to top 15,000 attendees.

“This is probably the largest crypto media experiment so far. No organization of CoinDesk’s size has done it before,” said Jenil Thakker, CEO of Coinvise, a startup that builds tokenization and community experiences for brands, including CoinDesk.

CoinDesk is rebooting DESK for this year’s Consensus – the media and events company’s first in-person conference since 2019 – in an effort to bring crypto-savvy conference-goers closer to the brand, while also getting hands-on with the tech.

Part experiment, part revamp, DESK will make its debut at the conference in Austin, Texas, Wednesday. There, it will (the organizers hope) become an airline miles-esque rewards program that Consensus attendees can earn by engaging with panels and talks, and then spend on anything from swag to drinks to non-fungible tokens (NFT).

“It’s a tokenized festival experience that’s designed to reward you for the depth of your engagement as you go throughout the festival,” said Luke Layden, CoinDesk’s program manager for DESK. “You will be rewarded for your curiosity.”

CoinDesk’s tech experiment brought on a litany of third parties to help make DESK sing. The token’s transactions will be fee-free using Biconomy, a firm that aims to simplify Web 3 for everyday users. Biconomy’s service allows third parties to pay on-chain computation, or gas, fees, on users’ behalf; in this case, CoinDesk is that third party footing the bill.

DESK will also have a dedicated marketplace for NFTs developed by NFTify; the token will exist as an in-conference payment option on Flexa’s transaction rails; and it emanates from a mint contract set up by Coinvise.

The vision for DESK

Conference cryptocurrencies aren’t entirely new. ETHDenver has for years given attendees iterations of set amounts of tokens as a form of a meal ticket. But CoinDesk’s vision for DESK is larger.

It starts with DESK’s acquisition experience. In-person conference-goers will start amassing the social token by checking in at various panels. It's sort of like a treasure hunt in which the booty gets better the more you pay attention to the map. DESK owners can turn their tokens into grub at food trucks, or swag at booths, or NFTs online.

“It’s just a matter of [the merchant thinking] ‘I want to accept crypto instead of cash,’'' said Trevor Filter, co-founder of Flexa, builder of DESK’s payments rails. “And so you just choose a different button with the point-of-sale terminal [where shoppers normally swipe a card] and then out comes the QR code for the customer to scan.”

Filter’s company will help the merchants accept DESK while still taking home cash they can use. For most cryptocurrencies, Flexa accomplishes this by swapping, say, the customer’s bitcoin for dollars that the merchant can deposit in their bank. DESK isn’t like most cryptos, however.

“Because there’s no public market or exchange that gives us a fair market value for those tokens,” Flexa has to work 'directly with CoinDesk' on the transaction, Filter said. “It’s the same that we would do with an airline miles provider, for example. This is the first time that we’ve made a conference token spendable on our network."

He sees the project as an “experiment” with upside. If it works well, he can use DESK as a proof-of-concept for pitching hotels and airlines on the evolution of loyalty points.

Origin of DESK

It’s not the first time a crypto thingamabob called DESK has reared its head at Consensus.

Last year, CoinDesk’s COVID-19-era ZoomCon gave DESK to virtual attendees. They too could use the engage-to-earn token on swag purchases and not much else. Built on the Rinkeby testnet, DESK 1.0 was at best crypto-lite: a tease at what CoinDesk conference coins could be.

The new DESK, by contrast, is a real-life crypto token. It lives atop the Polygon mainnet. It has an initial issuance of 5 billion. It was built following the ERC-20 token standard, and its holders – there are already nearly 6,000 – can do with their DESK as they please. So long as they don’t trade DESK on exchanges; that’s against the terms of service.

“Because it’s a non-monetized social token, DESK’s value does not come from its value on secondary markets,” Layden explained. “It comes from the value that we provide.”

CoinDesk’s value proposition for DESK holders is something akin to Disney Dollars: It has value within the brand ecosystem but is valueless everywhere else. Like airline miles, it rewards committed users with an alternative means to access in-house perks. Unlike airline miles, it lives on a public blockchain where transactions are irreversible and beyond the issuer’s control.

“It’s an experiment of ours to basically eat our own dog food and see the current state of blockchain tech,” Layden said.

CoinDesk is itself looking to DESK as a big bet, Layden said. He hinted at future potential integrations on the website and beyond. For now, the focus is on Consensus.


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CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Danny Nelson

Danny is CoinDesk's Managing Editor for Data & Tokens. He owns BTC, ETH and SOL.

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