DENVER — The organizers of this year’s ETHDenver have a good problem to tackle now that the world’s biggest Ethereum conference has wrapped: What to do with its first modest profit.
For the first time in its history, SporkDAO LCA (Limited Cooperative Association), the Colorado collective that owns ETHDenver LLC and a handful of other Ethereum-focused entities, made enough surplus cash from its flagship conference that it might even return some of the money to members of the decentralized autonomous organization (DAO).
In an interview, Conference Chief John Paller told CoinDesk the “back of the napkin math” indicated ETHDenver 2023 is around to $500,000 to $1 million in the black. That’s no small feat given this year’s edition was the largest, most expensive production in ETHDenver’s six-year history and one that happened during the throes of a bear market.
The surprising surplus means that SporkDAO’s members – conference attendees, sponsors, speakers and volunteers who opted into joining this “decentralized autonomous organization” and receiving its $SPORK tokens when they secured their tickets – could receive a slice if SporkDAO’s nine-person board decides to do a “distribution,” Paller said.
In the past, ETHDenver “was profitable, but only to the extent that we had enough runway to get to the next event,” Paller said. The organization’s board now has the right governance in place to manage the money, either paying it out to $SPORK-holding members or reinvesting it into future conferences, he said.
Crypto conferences are multimillion-dollar affairs that pump revenue and name recognition into the dozens of organizations that stage them annually. Nearly all of them are managed by centralized entities: crypto “protocols,” media companies, investment firms and others. ETHDenver, which this year attracted 20,000 people, is the only one of its size owned by a DAO.
After losing $700,000 in last year’s far smaller edition, ETHDenver’s unpaid nine-person board retooled their planning for this event, board member Dani Osorio said. That included hiring a chief operating officer and “skeleton staff” who could manage planning and raise sponsorship dollars year round. It worked.
Getting cash from top sponsors is critical for staging an event that’s free for the vast majority of attendees. As long as you’re a member of SporkDAO (you opt into membership when claiming a ticket and have to renew once a year), your attendance is on the house. You can attend ETHDenver without being a member, but you have to pay $599, Paller said. Some companies took this option rather than having to think about what it would mean to join a DAO.
DAO or something else?
SporkDAO LCA isn’t technically a DAO, though there’s not really a set-in-stone rule defining what is and isn’t this anti-centralization form of distributed governance. Still, the ethos of a DAO is a community-owned and governed organization, and for now Paller said Colorado’s cooperative laws provide the closest legal fit for SporkDAO to “eat its own dog food” as it moves more and more power to the community.
“We call it a digital co-op,” Paller said. “We do call it an ‘event DAO’ if we want to pander to the Web3 folks just so they understand. Because Web3 people like it. They like ‘DAO,’ but nobody else gets it. You have to kind of be able” to speak to both.
DAO or not, the organization does have a crypto token that could be poised to accrue value for its owners who belong to SporkDAO. SPORK is an incentives token that provides potential exposure to the rewards of all SporkDAO endeavors, including the conference and also bets made by the collective’s early-stage startup incubator, Bufficorn Ventures.
Wholly owned by SporkDAO LCA, Bufficorn Ventures writes small checks to “really, really early” crypto companies to help them get going, Paller said. Bufficorn has easy access to this pre-seed landscape given its proximity to ETHDenver’s builder community, hackathons and speakers, some of which have become rocketing successes after attending the conference. The future returns of Bufficorn Ventures’ investments could also be distributed to patrons, Paller said.
“Obviously, not all of them are going to be successful,” Paller said of the startups into which Bufficorn plans to invest. “But when they're successful, the people holding SPORK tokens become benefactors of that. So if I'm a sponsor who put 30 grand [into ETHDenver] and I get a bunch of SPORK tokens back for that patronage – now I kind of look at it as an investment.”
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