The 2021 Bitcoin Conference, Part 1: Berkshire and Burning Man

Blog #291

If you mixed the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting and the artsy, alternative Burning Man event together in a blender, the results may end up looking a lot like the 2021 Bitcoin conference in Miami. The overall experience was amazing. The content, speakers, and candid conversations were fantastic and filled my soul; however, the actual execution was a total train wreck. We waited nearly three hours in the hot Miami sun just to get in. Once inside, more long lines of people waiting to enter the main hall to hear the speaker snaked around everywhere. It seemed that timing and infrastructure were woefully disregarded and under-communicated.

Okay, enough bitching. Now on to some stories, observations, and my general thoughts…

It took a little processing for me to fully embrace that this was unlike any other conference I had ever been to – and I have been to a lot! The main difference was that not only was this a conference, but a significant gathering of an established, growing movement. These bitcoin enthusiasts created a full-on movement! In some form or another, crypto technology is here to stay, and regardless of the reasons for attending this conference, almost everyone there had a deep-seated passion. This passion is driven by excitement, fear, anger, greed, frustration, curiosity, confusion, and often, a cocktail of many of these at the same time.

Do not be confused: the genie has been let out of the bottle and will not be put back. I had multiple conversations with a wide-ranging and diverse set of people. There was diversity in gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political beliefs, language, economic, geographic area, age, and spirituality. There were Americans, Russians, Argentinians, English, Japanese, Chinese, etc. No place felt underrepresented. There were people covered from face to toes with tattoos, hoodie hipsters, suit-wearing financiers, moms, students…the list goes on. Outside, a halfpipe skateboard ramp was set up, where Tony Hawk skated after he spoke. There was a DJ spinning rave music with insane videos, live sumo wrestling, in-depth technical speakers, high-profile businesspeople, free ice cream, hot weather, poor bathroom facilities, and an assortment of food trucks. Yes, this was a complete assault on the senses. All wrapped in the frenzied energy created by a mythical character, Satoshi Nakamoto, who created the algorithm designed to empower individuals to take control of their own financial lives and to remove the government and big business from that control structure.

Take a few breaths to let that sink in.

One of my biggest takeaways is gaining an understanding that this group of people is a tribe unto themselves. Calling themselves “Bitcoiners”, all traditional stereotypes, political correctness, and concerns of offending others seemed to melt away and was replaced with a true sense of curiosity, candid conversations, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Of course, this wasn’t the case for every conversation, but it did happen in the vast majority of conversations that I was in or heard. I was utterly amazed and found it to be incredibly refreshing.

I discussed this with a group while sitting at a picnic table under a palm tree. Looking around, there was a gay white man; a Japanese, now-US citizen corporate banker (also a liberal Democrat); an “old guy” farmer from Illinois (a hardcore Republican); a single mom from England; and me (the token middle-aged white guy). It was “f***ing” awesome. (Sidenote: Bitcoiners seem to love cursing, even on the big stage when being recorded for the world to see. I was comfortable in this setting.). We dove into all sorts of taboo and normally untouchable topics. We openly teased each other. We disagreed, but listened and strived to understand. We respectfully challenged one another and did not always agree.

This was the magic part: no one tried to change anyone else’s mind and never did anyone get publicly shamed or chastised. Nobody’s feathers got ruffled. There was an immense respect even though much of these conversations would have put the PC crowd into cardiac arrest. The other interesting thing is that we talked about all sorts of topics that had nothing to do with blockchain – in some cases, not anywhere near it. My Japanese friend had attended a high-end preparatory school where he had experienced a ton of racism. He looked at me and said, “This [referring to the conference] is what I thought America was supposed to be.” I think that says a lot. We had discussed all that was taboo, and it was okay. In some bizarre way, this conference had created a tribe that was more important and bigger than race, political beliefs, and all those other hyphen-defining monikers that divide us.

One of my primary objectives in attending the conference was to learn about the culture of this industry. I learned that it was not only an industry, but a movement backed by a tribe like none I had ever seen.

In my next two posts, I will dive more into my tactical observations and thoughts, particularly around debt, the long-term validity of blockchain technology, leadership, the future, and other little pieces that tickle my fancy.

Keep Smiling,

Kris

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