TokenFest and the Blockchain/Crypto Culture
As a student of blockchain and an enthusiast, and because we are adding it to our feature set at UCXmarket (www.ucxmarket.com), I was excited to attend TokenFest Boston. The show was mid-September at the Seaport World Trade Center and was publicized as “The Premier Enterprise Conference and Expo for Blockchain”. Upon entry, the show “floor” was the first thing attendees saw, and it was well organized, with a kind of nightclub vibe. Dark colors were the backdrop, with booths arranged in aisles and along the perimeter of a large ballroom space. This wasn’t a SEMA magnitude show, mind you, but it was buzzing nonetheless. What immediately struck me was that the energy was manifest. It gave me the sense that the room was full of storm chasers, all watching the figurative “cash-nado” build while trying to guess the places where it would touch down so they could harvest some of the green. The atmosphere had a unique feel, as if everyone in the room was in on some giant secret and they were all really, really happy about it.
I enjoyed walking from booth to booth to speak with the myriad of founders and entrepreneurs representing services like token marketing, digital wallet technology, and blockchain based peer to peer lending companies. The venues for presentations and panels, which ran pretty much constantly, were deeper into the building. Here the show was packed with perspectives from some real hitters in the business. I saw some very qualified and well-informed panelists talking about topics like the “State of Tokenization”, “Capital Raising in the Age of Blockchains”, and “Governance, Regulation and Enforcement Update”. Most importantly, the show gave me a chance to get a feeling for what’s new or trending, at least topically, in the space. There’s obviously too much to try and adequately mention here, but TokenFest was full of great and better-conceived companies looking to leverage a new way of doing things. Two examples are Soluna, a renewable energy company married to and powering the blockchain or Steem/Steemit, a platform that brings blockchain, social media, and crypto together for the purpose of creating a sustainable outsourcing ecosystem based on the gig economy.
Without the opportunity to get to the show to experience it (a big shout out to https://tokenfest.io/ for hooking me up with a ticket), it would be hard to understand the sheer volume of activity in this space. To say that this environment (i.e. the world of blockchain and crypto) is a kind of gold rush of human economic ingenuity does not even get close. Maybe if the wild west of old was transported off-world to an alien planet, where there was zero gravity and the laws for what might get you on a “Wanted!” poster changed every day, that might be a little closer. Of course, that sense of limitless possibility, and pushing the boundaries is definitely part of the excitement, and in a weird way, the “charm” of the movement.
It’s also pretty hard to argue that part of the motive for developing cryptocurrency in the first place must have been to create a paradigm that keeps big government’s greasy mitts (at least related to unnecessarily opaque regulation, manipulation, taxation and spending) just out of reach of the type of control it typically enjoys. However, based on the presentations I saw on regulation, we will have to see how that works out. The sense I got was that none of it is going to work efficiently without some serious compromise and collaboration from multiple parties and stakeholders. And yet, one thing remains simply undeniable, and that is that they need to get it right, because blockchain has the potential to change or impact almost everything on the planet that can or should be bought, sold and/or recorded. The not so hidden theme underneath it all is that this movement is largely about removing any need for trust in any type of transaction. That is the essential promise behind blockchain. When done correctly, it means you can’t get hosed.
If you get past that mind-bender, and start your foray into the world of tokenization, where individual entities or companies seek to create their own currencies based on some underlying product, service, or ecosystem-it just keeps getting interesting. Most intriguing to me is that some of the token offerings are only ideas and the actual products or services don’t even exist yet. The token offerings are essentially a fundraising mechanism. Think of it as a sort of crowdfunding on methamphetamines, and with different incentives at work in exchange for the initial investment. It begs a lot of questions. How many kinds of tokens could or should there be? How specifically do they gain or lose value? What are the risks to investors, and how are they communicated? If I am interested, which one(s) should I buy? What happens if I change my mind- how and where can I get out? The good news is that most of the people I spoke with had answers to these questions, even if the answers still lack some clarity. That seems to be because sustainability is front and center here, not of any one particular cryptocurrency, or blockchain based company, but of the spirit of the idea itself.
At the end of the day, TokenFest was a uniquely valuable and inclusive experience. There was far too much to try and absorb in two days, but it was a great way to try to catch up. Ultimately, I walked away with a sense of wonder about the precipice we are now standing on, created by the amalgamation of simultaneous economic and technological change. And, blockchain is coming, and at scale, so if you haven’t, you might want to do a little homework. For those of us who are farther along, I thought it would make sense to report on a few specific topics that were trending at the show, things that were common in the conversations I heard or was involved in. I am a bit of a cynic, and when I looked at my notes from the show, there were a few things that clearly stood out as material challenges for blockchain and crypto. The first two are more commercial issues, whereas the last is a broader economic issue. In a follow-up piece, I will do a more detailed exploration of all three, but for now, I will just lay them out:
- Asset Value Dislocation After Token Sales
- Blockchain “Native” as Table Stakes
- Wealth Inequality…Now Available in Crypto
Look for my follow up piece — Part II: 3 Controversial Topics Trending In the Tokenization/Crypto World.