Inside Bitcoins Conference

Jim H
By Jim H on Wed, Jul 31, 2013 - 3:07pm

Michael Krieger reports from the Bitcoin Conference in NYC;

Yesterday was an absolutely amazing, jam-packed day at the Inside Bitcoins Conference in New York City, and I want to start out by thanking MediaBistro for putting it on and for having me as a media partner. 250-300 people attended the event, and roughly 30 of them took it to the next level and paid for their ticket in bitcoin.

The event kicked off with keynote speaker Charlie Shrem, founder and CEO of BitInstant. For those who aren’t familiar with it, BitInstant is one of the more convenient ways to acquire bitcoins for cash. Incredibly, he is a mere 23-years old and started the company while still enrolled at Brooklyn College. He shared his experience of pitching venture capital firm after venture capital firm, and his subsequent rejection by each and every one of them. He eventually convinced his mother to seed him the $10,000 needed to start the company.

Shortly after the speech, I was able to chat with Charlie in the hallway and he couldn’t have been nicer. He immediately pointed to my “Bought with Bitcoin” shirt and told me he wanted one. The shirt’s in the mail man.

Regulatory Panel
From there, the conference proceeded with a perfect mix of both subject specific panels and individual speakers. On the panel discussing regulatory issues, a really interesting debate emerged that I had not read about previously. It revolved around whether under the recent FinCEN guidelines on virtual currencies, bitcoin “miners” are considered money transmitters and thus require registration as such. Neither side could find agreement on the issue, which highlights just how much of a wild, wild-west type environment it still is.

CEO Tony Gallippi of BitPay was a huge highlight for me. Not only have I recently integrated BitPay on Liberty Blitzkrieg to sell my Bitcoin shirts, but it was the company’s stunning growth earlier this year that got me obsessed with the entire topic. Back in late March, BitPay had 4,000 merchants and was adding them at a mind-boggling rate of 1,000 per month. Fortunately for them, they continued on that pace and Tony reported 8,000 merchants had signed up as of yesterday. Amazing.

Mr. Gallippi also made a particularly significant point about BitPay that I hadn’t even considered, one which represents a huge positive for any merchant using them. He noted that companies can avoid potentially burdensome accounting and reporting requirements since the merchant doesn’t legally hold any bitcoins themselves unless they want to.

However, the most powerful thing Tony covered was his discussion on some of the ways that banks are already going after merchants for accepting bitcoin by shutting down their bank accounts in retribution. Even more interesting, Tony sees the biggest future concern being that payment companies like Visa and MasterCard will threaten to pull their services from merchants that also accept bitcoin. Since merchants might get 95% of their revenue via the conduit of these payment companies, they would probably quickly kick Bitcoin to the curb. I think his foresight on this issue, as well as the fact he is already rallying people to prepare for it, makes him an even more impressive CEO and leader in the space than I thought.

Adam B. Levine – YouTube is Broken
Adam has a quick and interesting mind, one that hits you like a hurricane the moment he starts speaking. I was really excited for his talk, since he was focused on what I think is one of the biggest business problems on the web today. This has to do with the inefficiencies of website monetization. As a guy that runs podcasts, his particular area of concern was youtube. He demonstrated that by placing a QR code within videos to allow bitcoin donations, he was able to earn multiples of what he could via traditional ad networks. This really impressed me, mainly because such a small percentage of the population has ever owned a bitcoin.


Adam has many other ideas about how to improve monetization on the web for content providers, and I hope to discuss some of them with him later today when he interviews me for his show: Let’s Talk Bitcoin!

The Final Panel – Bitcoin Needs “Adult Supervision”
The last panel of the day consisted of a fireside chat between Shakil Khan, Head of Special Projects at Spotify | Founder of Coindesk and Marc Hochstein, Executive Editor at American Banker.

If you were in the audience and have thin skin, you may have been put off by Shakil’s tone. He was adamant about how there was too much idealism in the room and not enough business experience. He kept saying that many of the Bitcoin entrepreneurs needed “adult supervision.” While his tone was admittedly unnecessarily condescending, his overall points were valid and valuable for all of us that care about Bitcoin. In a nutshell, I would summarize his main point as follows: When you are threatening the banking cartel (central banking, as well as commercial and investment banking), you are taking on the most ruthless and powerful forces in the world. Be aware of that when you enter the space and be smart about it, or you will fail. I can’t say I disagree with that.

As someone who founded Coindesk, he is obviously passionate about crypto-currencies in general, and he was simply trying to be as honest and blunt as possible.

Satoshi Square
Over the past several weeks, I had read snippets about these open air Bitcoin exchange markets popping up around the world and, while I had been meaning to look into it, I never did. When I heard Charlie Shrem mention that the most recent one in NYC consisted of 40 people with $10,000 worth of bitcoin exchanged, it really peaked my interest.

As one of the many people frustrated by the concentration of liquidity as well as the service issues at Mt. Gox, these open air exchanges represent a wonderful transition point to alternative exchanges, as well as a way to meet other people interested in the currency. For New Yorkers, these meet-ups occur in Union Square on Mondays from 5-7pm. For more info take a look at this article.

In every way possible, yesterday was an incredible experience for which I am extremely grateful. The people were great, the setup was perfect and I can’t wait for the next one!

In Liberty,

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