Last month, over 600 people congregated in Las Vegas for the Inside Bitcoins conference, including yours truly. The critical mass of bitcoin pioneers and thought leaders was stunning, and I wrote about the top ten movers and shakers I had the chance to meet in person.
This past weekend, nearly twice as many people attended the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami, and the attendees continued to wow me with their enthusiasm, creativity, and raw intelligence.
As I flew back to Boston, I realized that the conference’s palpable energy stemmed just as much from the quality of the ‘average’ attendees as it did from the high-profile presenters and exhibitors.
Forget celebrities; let’s talk about ten who represent the ‘average’ people you will meet in bitcoin.
I arrive in Miami for the pre-conference cocktail party on Friday night, and one of the first people I meet is Charlie. He’s 42, but he looks 30, and is as easy-going as they come. We share a few stories before the invariable question of “How long have you been in bitcoin?” pops up, and he nonchalantly says that he purchased “a bunch” when bitcoin traded for $4.50.
Today, he considers himself retired, travels the world and doesn’t worry about a whole heck of a lot.
Incredibly, Charlie is not unique in this crowd. Dozens of paper and actual millionaires, hackers, entrepreneurs, legal experts, miners and journalists mingle at the roof deck party in the Clevelander Hotel in Miami Beach this first night.
It is an eclectic mix of individuals with vastly different backgrounds and interests, but a common passion for cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
Entrepreneurs and hackers
There’s David, an entrepreneur who loves “beekeeping as much as bitcoin.” He and his seven year old son have made all-natural honey since 2011, which they only sell in exchange for bitcoin. In fact, the whole operation is completely cashless (aside from taxes), as David’s packager, web-designer and sugar suppliers are all paid in bitcoin.
Then there’s Gary, a man determined to sell his ’93 Mercedes Benz 300 CE Convertible at the conference in order to demonstrate how easy, inexpensive and trustless bitcoin transactions can be. I will see him again the very next day grinning from ear-to-ear in front of the conference hall having just successfully auctioned the car for 9.25 BTC.
Finally, there’s Kevin, a baby-faced engineer interning for wallet service provider Blockchain. He’s won several hacking competitions related to cyber-security and has been thinking about applying for an NSA scholarship to help defray the costs of Penn State, but he’s here now because he knows that he too might strike digital gold if he stays in the industry.
Some needed diversity
I am also pleasantly surprised to see that the community is evolving beyond the “white males club” many complain about. Although the first person that most attendees see on Friday is a stunning blonde model clad in little more than gold body paint (which certainly annoys some), the other females at the conference aren’t just wives and girlfriends.
The women on the BitPay team are sharp and counter (or let’s be honest, correct) the technical criticisms I have of their product.
Rena, the co-founder of New York’s MintCombine incubator, talks about bitcoin’s likely regulatory path and her motivation for incubating young bitcoin enterprises. And Beth, a former NASA engineer and current Virgin Galactic astronaut trainer who helped assemble the international space station, tells me about her mining rig (“just a few Jupiters”).
Even during conversations with actual ‘plus-ones’ like one Emily, it’s still refreshing to hear someone tease her “good ole boy” finance colleagues for not understanding bitcoin and investing in the currency as aggressively as she has.
Our gold-painted greeter, Maili, also becomes a bitcoin convert on Friday night. When one person suggests she try collecting tips in bitcoin, she tells him she will put a QR code on her professional website.
My experience tells me that would be smart. The bitcoin community is as generous as it is passionate.
When I made the last minute decision to attend the conference, I foolishly underestimated how crowded Miami Beach would be during mid-January and struggled to find a hotel room.
Yet after one blast email and fifteen minutes, I had a host. Jeffrey, a fellow writer, conference presenter, and entrepreneur (his Liberty.me IndieGogo campaign recently eclipsed the $100k mark) splits his hotel room with me for two nights.
We meet for the first time when I knock on his door.
At another point in the conference, I ask Tim, the Bitcoin Seattle meetup organizer, for a stick of gum and extend my hand. Instead of the gum, he hands me a bitcoin-engraved silver coin.
When I explain that I had only meant to ask for some gum, he shrugs and says, “That’s ok. I like your writing. Consider it a tip.”
Driving the future
For every Jeremy Allaire, Brian Armstrong and Barry Silbert, there are ten equally passionate people you don’t know like Tim, Rena and David who make the industry so vibrant and exciting. And you may only meet them at large conferences like this one.
They are having so much fun tackling some of the biggest challenges in bitcoin, it is hard to see them abandoning the movement anytime soon. Every single one of them understands how risky bitcoin is, but they see today’s risks as tomorrow’s opportunities.
They are certain that the community will persevere through any hiccups and produce new crops of Allaires, Armstrongs and Silberts. They just aren’t worried about a whole heck of a lot.
Ryan Galt is a blogger, entrepreneur and freelance opinion writer for CoinDesk. His opinions do not necessarily reflect CoinDesk’s. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on twitter @twobitidiot.
Conference image via Shutterstock