Consensus ended with a short, half-day of sessions on Wednesday, but the energy and number of participants was not diminished in the slightest. In fact, you might have thought that they were giving jobs away for free by the number of bright, young (and some old) faces that bustled at the afternoon job fair. Unlike a run-of-the-mill industry conference, where attendees linger more as a sign of duty, those at Consensus were energetic and boldly inquisitive. If only one in a hundred does well, that will be 85 new crypto millionaires out to make the world a better place.
The day began with what I assume to be “pay-to-play” corporate announcements and concluded with two fireside chats, one featuring Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and concluding with Jack Dorsey of Square and Twitter. In this report, we’ll cover that as well as a wrap up on general items and impressions from Consensus 2018.
Views from successful venture capital and technology players
The fireside chat led by Paul Vigna of the Wall Street Journal and featuring Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and Balaji Srinivasan from Coinbase was notable for the level of enthusiasm displayed by Wilson and Srinivasan. Vigna began by posing the Buffett question, namely the heaps of scorn that Warren Buffett has heaped upon bitcoin. Wilson noted that Buffett is a value investor who looks for cash producing assets while crypto assets are currently venture investments and, further, one where the value accrues to the token, not to cash. Srinivasan noted that new methods of valuation might be a good idea in these cases. Wilson agreed that some of the current valuations will look inflated in retrospect, while with others you may say, “I can’t believe I bought that for a dollar.”
On the topic of whether or not the new token economy of ICOs, airdrops and the like will displace venture capitalists, neither Wilson nor Srinivasan seemed overly concerned. Wilson noted that ventures turn to them because they want access to their network, expertise, and market cache, while Srinivasan commented that the model may change but there is still room for the old as well as the new, just as there is with old and new media. Old media has been challenged by change, but it is still around and it’s still important.
Other pithy comments included:
- We’ve gone from the era of the dorm room start up to the era of dorm room denomination – Srinivasan
- The next Nasdaq will be a crypto native – Wilson
- The internet will be the world’s largest stock market – Srinivasan
- Be on the lookout for the iPhone moment for Dapps (decentralized applications that run on a blockchain or other peer-to-peer network) – Wilson
The final session was a one-on-one conversation between Elizabeth Stark of Lightning Labs and Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Square and co-founder and CEO of Twitter. The conversation was something of a letdown because it lacked the enthusiasm of the previous panel and therefore suffered by comparison and because little or nothing was said about Lightning, the network that is being overlaid on top of blockchain – specifically bitcoin – and has the potential to dramatically improve the throughput bottlenecks that hinder wider bitcoin utility and adoption. That being said, Dorsey displayed the calm and quiet demeanor that has served him well since he dropped out of college and became a billionaire. He has been widely quoted as saying he believes that the internet is going to have its own form of currency and he hopes it will be bitcoin. However, he also said that he is trying to be mindful of being too quick to make definitive statements when it may be better to linger in “I don’t know” a while longer. Given that we are so early in the development of the crypto-asset age, that may well be the best advice.
This and that
Looking back, there were a number of interesting facts, figures, and trends of note at Consensus. For example:
- There were a staggering number of sponsors for Consensus, so many in fact that it’s hard to fathom how their investment got them any attention above the din. In all, there were 203 listed sponsors in all and 5 title sponsors: bloq, Deloitte, Ledger, Octagon Strategy, and SONM.
- Similarly, there were 10 different roundtables sponsored by the likes of IBM, Perkins Coie, and KPMG and 32 demos from crypto-wannabes scattered across the three floors of the hotel that Consensus occupied. It was impossible to take it all in, particularly when it is not at all clear what paths or protocols will ultimately come to predominate. If Consensus was a feast then these sessions were the appetizers and dessert, and there was simply too much to be had with the main meal to take in the sides. Besides, my brain might have exploded from TMI.
- I barely scratched the surface in this email on some of the interesting investment theses put forth by a number of blockchain hedge fund and venture investors as well as my own thoughts on the Song / Lubin debate about the future of enterprise blockchain. Hit me up if you’d like to discuss.
- Speaking of that, there is no word yet on the Jimmy Song / Joe Lubin blockchain bet. Song put it out there on Twitter (Hey @ethereumJoseph, what grand vision of Blockchain are you willing to put your bitcoins behind? 8:51 AM – 15 May 2018) but it doesn’t look like Lubin has responded yet. Stay tuned.
Names to watch in cryptoland
Looking back through my notes, some names stand out either because they were mentioned in a positive light on multiple occasions or they made a particularly strong presentation. Here, in alphabetical order, are ten names to keep an eye on. Let’s check back in a year and see if any of these have been particularly impactful.
- Augur: Augur is a decentralized oracle and prediction market platform founded in 2014 and built on the Ethereum blockchain.
- Circle: Circle was founded in 2013 on the belief that money should work like the internet — open, secure, free, everywhere.
- ConsenSys: ConsenSys is a global formation of technologists and entrepreneurs building the infrastructure, applications, and practices that enable a decentralized world.
- Ethereum Enterprise Alliance: The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance connects Fortune 500 enterprises, startups, academics, and technology vendors with Ethereum subject matter experts.
- goTenna: goTenna is a Brooklyn, New York-based startup that designs and develops technologies for off-grid and decentralized communications.
- Ledger: Founded in 2014, Ledger is a leader in security and infrastructure solutions for cryptocurrencies and blockchain applications.
- Messari: a distributed crypto data library that they hope will turn into the EDGAR database of the industry.
- Omniex: a yet to launch crypto-asset investment platform.
- Polymath: is developing the ST20 token standard to simplify the process of creating and investing in security tokens.
- Stellar: Stellar is a platform that connects banks, payments systems, and people. Integrated to move money quickly, reliably, and at almost no cost.
I left Consensus with the clear wish that I had attended the 2017 session because I lacked context on what I was witnessing. I found myself sliding toward being a bitcoin maximalist on day one, a crypto skeptic on day 2, and completely worn out on day 3. Now, I sit with the feeling that the energy and promise of blockchain is a force that will change the world. If only I knew how. It’s even hard to imagine what Consensus 2019 will look like.