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This week history was made in Las Vegas when, for the first time ever, digital currency entrepreneurs prominently showcased themselves at Money2020, the largest payments and financial services technology conference in the world. CoinX, Bitpay, Kraken, Blockchain.info and Coinbase had booths on the expo floor and a lot of digital currency investors and entrepreneurs were in attendance, notably Nejc Kodric and Damijan Merlak of Bitstamp, Stan Stalnaker of Ven/Hub Culture, Gabriel Sukenik of Coinapult, and Meyer “Micky” Malka of Ribbit Capital. See photos below.
As expected, the event was largely dominated by traditional players, and only three of over one hundred panels were directly related to Bitcoin and virtual currencies, which qualifies as a drop in the ocean. However, the words “bitcoin”, “ripple”, “digital” and “currency” were heard everywhere both in and out of the formal sessions, especially in connection with two other key words: regulation and disruption.
Here are a few things that stuck in my mind:
- In the panel “Bitcoin & Beyond: Math-Based & Virtual Currencies”, masterfully moderated by Financial Times correspondent Stephen Foley, Marc Brulé, CFO of the Royal Canadian Mint demonstrated how forward-thinking and entrepreneurial a country can be. Also, Jered McKenna, CEO of Tradehill and Chris Larsen, CEO of Ripple, elegantly addressed Foley’s challenging questions and left the audience excited about the future of payments.
- The “Bitcoin 101” panel, featuring Tony Gallippi, CEO of Bitpay, Fred Ehrsam, co-founder of Coinbase, Roger Ver, investor at Blockchain.info and Megan Burton, CEO of CoinX, was attended by over 300 people, a third of whom openly expressed interest in integrating Bitcoin in their businesses. Unfortunately, the panel did not really honor the commitment expressed by the title, and many people left scratching their heads, and even resenting Roger Ver’s rather emotional remarks.
- In the regulation-focused panel titled “Math-based & Virtual Currencies: Legal & Regulatory Frontiers”, Constance Choi, General Counsel of Kraken, stressed the importance of adopting high compliance standards on an industry-wide basis, and Patrick Murck, General Counsel of the Bitcoin Foundation underscored Bitcoin’s resilience after the recent Silk Road bust.
- In the “The Future of FinTech Venture Capital” panel”, “Micky” Malka, Managing Partner at Ribbit Capital and recently elected Bitcoin Foundation board member, was the only of five prominent venture capital investors on the panel that saw promise and is actively investing in the digital currency.
- In the panel “The Latest eCommerce Value Chain Explored”, none of the panelists, all senior executives of Signifyd, Shopify, Chase Paymentech and Digital River, believed that Bitcoin would disrupt anything within the next three years. The reasons? Massive adoption, regulation and incumbent entrenchment represent huge hurdles to overcome.
Bitcoin was mentioned and commented on in at least a quarter of the nineteen panels and keynotes I myself attended. I heard a few derisive comments on it in the two latter panels above and among some audience members, but in general, I perceived a respectful, wait-and-see, attitude. The buzz, of course, seemed to be more positive and pervasive when approaching the oversize CoinX booth, located at the very center of the expo floor, and the Bitpay/Blochain.info corner, which was crowded every time I went past it.
Bitcoin’s coming of age may or may not be a long ways away, but if any informal estimate can be gleaned from my own observations, I don’t think I exaggerate when I say that this event was clearly the digital currencies’ official coming out party, and a significant milestone in the evolution of the industry.