The Blockchain Connect conference, which took place on Friday, Jan. 26 in San Francisco, did not get off to a strong start. However, the content of the panels, talks, and informal meetings that took place that day arguably delivered for the 1500 attendees.
The event, hosted in part by media company SV Insight, was designed to unite Blockchain communities in the US and China and attracted more attendees than the organizers -- or rather the venue itself -- could handle.
Yi Lu, Chief Growth Officer and one of the founders of SV Insight, admitted that the number of people who actually attended was overwhelming, stating, “[the] content is very good...But we didn’t expect so many people, it’s totally too many people.”
The venue, a classical European structure leftover from a 1915 art exhibition, has a theater meant to hold about 900 patrons. 1500 tickets were sold for the event.
Lu added that there were an additional 800 people on the event’s waitlist who did not receive tickets.
The ticket discrepancy meant that many of the conference attendees, who had paid from 500 to 1000 dollars for the event, were not allowed into the theater to hear the speakers in person and were forced to watch from the “overflow room,” which was unheated and had a bad sound system.
Strict room occupancy standards, enforced by the Fire Marshal and a number of security guards, often stranded conference attendees in whatever room in which they found themselves.
A massive open room that doubled as the overflow room and an exhibit space was filled with booths promoting Blockchain-based companies, including BlockShow, Cointelegraph’s partner Blockchain event company, offering steeply discounted tickets to their next event.
Those lucky enough to initially be seated in the theater were able to hear a range of panel discussions, with topics spanning from the problems of token valuation and Blockchain investment strategies, to scalability and the language of math.
Charlie Lee and Tim Draper set the tone
Litecoin creator Charlie Lee unexpectedly opened the conference as the first keynote speaker, after the virtually present venture capitalist Tim Draper’s pre-recorded introductory video failed to start.
Lee’s opening talk centered on explaining the details of his latest idea, first announced earlier this month, for a new kind of fee market for Litecoin.
During the Q&A after his talk, Lee discussed what he sees as the purpose of altcoins, but also made a point of noting Bitcoin (BTC)’s “gold standard.” status, dominance as a first mover and superiority in terms of security and decentralization, twice declaring: “Bitcoin will be the king of crypto for as long as I can tell.”
China and the US connect
Blockchain Connect set out to bridge the gap between Blockchain and crypto communities in the US and China, countries which are both large players in the industry.
SV Insight’s Lu called China and the US “powerhouses” in Blockchain, stating that the conference was intended to set a tone for the future of Blockchain. When asked if there was a possibility for a similar conference to be held in China, a country that had banned crypto exchanges and ICO funding in September 2017, Lu was positive but not overly optimistic:
“If we got a chance, and if the policy was allowed, we would definitely do that [hold an event in China.]”
Perhaps because of current regulatory situation in China, Blockchain Connect’s American location was an attractive place for Blockchain experts to gather from the two countries.
Kavita Gupta, Founding Managing Partner at New York-based ConsenSys, said that one of the main reasons she agreed to be a panelist at the conference in San Francisco was the ability for her to meet with companies from China and Singapore “in [her] own backyard:” She noted:
“[This is] one of the first initiatives to bring Asia within the US economy, because Asia is one of the biggest pillars of what token economics is, even after China banning it [...] all the companies which we invest in, in the US, we want to take them to the exchanges in Asia [...] We want to build that ecosystem for our companies.”
China’s regulation, revisited
The final panel discussion on the conference focused particularly on China’s current regulatory environment, offering a fresh take on the topic. The panel’s three participants, all of whom are based in China, noted that the Chinese government actually has a positive, bullish outlook on Blockchain tech long term, and that the bans on trading and ICOs are likely temporary, preemptive measures put in place to bide the government some time.
Yu Lang, the founder and CEO of the platform VeChain, told the audience the September bans were implemented in order to “give more time to regulators to find the right way to regulate.”
Another panel participant Eric Gu, CEO of Metaverse, marketed as China's first open source public Blockchain, pointed out that the ICO ban was based on an inability to fully understand the market, saying:
“[from the government’s perspective] we can’t distinguish between Ponzi schemes and good projects, so we need to shut them all down for now.”
Gu also stated that the reason the government was trying to bide time with bans before rolling out clear regulations in the crypto space was the simple fact that the Chinese government did not want to set any examples in the industry, but would rather “follow other governments’ lead.”
Blockchain in academia
As part of a research project at UC Berkeley, conference panelist and Computer Science professor Dawn Song is currently building a platform that will incorporate various AI and Blockchain applications, including in healthcare and smart building with IoT technologies.
In conjunction with two other professors from the University’s business and law schools, this semester at Berkeley, Song is also teaching a “first of its kind” interdisciplinary course on Blockchain. Commenting on the student demand for the course, Song stated:
“It’s extremely popular. We’re limited by room capacity, so it’s 70+ students. But it’s a 4:1 ratio, so basically for every four students applying, we can only select one.”
During a period when a Cointelegraph reporter was trapped in the overflow room, she conducted an interview with regional manager Chris Cagle from the South Bay Work Investment Board (SBWIB) and Dr. Jose Navarro Martinez, an associate professor of economics at Cal State Dominguez Hills, about Blockchain in academia.
The two men have partnered for a study, set to be completed in June, on identifying potential career pathways for businesses working with Blockchain, from aerospace to healthcare management. The study will highlight tools that would make both high school and college students more attractive candidates for Blockchain-based companies.
When asked about the specifics of how Blockchain college-level instruction could look, Cagle said:
“They [students] could major in business, and get a certificate in Blockchain.”
The study will also explore the possibility of accessing federal funding that would subsidize training costs, making this type of program available to lower income students.
SV Insight has their own Blockchain education course as well, with 180 students learning Blockchain software development. There were more than 10,000 applicants to the course, which has a selective 10 percent admission rate.
A space for risk
Blockchain Connect took place the same day Cointelegraph broke the story about the massive hack of the Coincheck exchange, in which user funds totalling over $500 million in XEM -- losses larger than those during the infamous 2014 hack of Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox -- were stolen from a low-security hot wallet.
Just after the story came out, Cointelegraph got the chance to speak with Charlie Lee. Lee’s first comment was about the story, joking, “It wasn’t me.”
Lee’s perspective on the risk associated with investing in cryptocurrency -- and opting to leave your funds on a third-party service, like Coincheck -- was straightforward and to the point. “It’s the nature of the game,” he said, adding that:
“Freedom of money means that you have full control of your money, and if you give your control away to the exchange, they can easily lose it.”
Eric Meltzer, partner at INBlockchain Capital, took a similar view on customer risk during a panel on new crypto trends. In reference to investing in today’s crypto market, Meltzer said he thinks it is important to let investors learn lessons from the market the hard way, stating bluntly:
“You have to let people get wrecked.”