Blockchain Infrastructure Conference Reflections

I’m feeling refreshed and restored after attending last week’s inaugural Blockchain Infrastructure conference. My gratitude to long time and values-aligned friend Dan Hwang for organizing and inviting me to it.

The conference took place at the Austrian National Library, which proved to be not only a beautiful but also an intentional and thoughtful venue for the conversations that happened.

Crypto Conference History and Perspective

The first crypto event I attended was the ENS Community Workshop in 2017. That was followed by a string of others over the next couple of years. Highlights included a small roundtable organized by Placeholder VC and my first Devcon in 2018. Along the way there were team workshops and other community conferences.

Back then I looked forward to these get togethers. They presented opportunities to connect with values-aligned crypto colleagues and community members. I felt like I was stepping into a curious, expansive, optimistic and open-minded world.

Most importantly, the majority of participants took decentralization seriously. It was the reason we were there.

My conference experience changed over recent years. They became bigger. Pay-to-play became the norm.

Decentralization theater ruled, with large centralized institutions using their paid-for speaking slots to tell the audience how they were “investing in decentralization”. More recently the mention of “decentralization” became an eye-roll.

At one of them, the head of one of the largest staking as a service providers, who I met a year or so earlier, made sure to reassure me, after coming off the stage he just paid to share with some big banks, that he “still” believes “small validators” like Chainflow are important.

Gee, thanks 🙄

At another, my colleague, Othman, fresh out of school and attending one of his first crypto conferences, was at a VC happy hour. When asking a particular VC about values and decentralization, this VC broke into condescending laughter about “values”, before quickly changing the subject.

Baptism by fire 🔥

“Crypto” also became replaced by the “web3” narrative, which I believe has something to do with the shift. These conferences started feeling more like the high-budget telecom and Internet conferences I attended in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

All show and no go.

It’s become harder and harder to find the values-aligned people that were so easy to connect with in earlier years. What felt like energizing and motivating experiences quickly left me feeling dejected.

One happy exception was last years Nebular Conference in Paris. That one left me feeling inspired again, which is why Chainflow decided to sponsor it this year too.

Breath of Fresh Air

It’s for these reasons the Blockchain Infrastructure Conference felt like a breath of fresh air. Having known Dan for quite some time now, I didn’t think twice about attending when he invited me.

I didn’t even ask to see and agenda or invite list, as I believe good people attract good people and know Dan cares deeply about decentralization, as well as using crypto as a force for positive change in the world.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

The attendee list felt like the right size. Not too big or not too small. People from protocols, validators and infrastructure providers, who could and often do, view each other as competitors, cooperated in positive ways.

Attendees showed up with an open mind and approached conversations with curiosity. The balance of presentations and workshops allowed attendees to learn and contribute. The venue, as Dan suspected, brought a complementary energy to the conversations.

The fast-talking Silicon Valley VC noise was noticeably absent. People listened to each other, rather than talking at one another. I reconnected with old friends and connected in new ways with others.

I was reminded that there are still values-aligned people in crypto that feel passionate about using crypto to facilitate positive change in the world. I left feeling hopeful and inspired again.

I’d like to extend my gratitude to Dan for organizing and inviting me, as well as to the other participants for making this happen.

See you next year 🙂

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