Bitcoin Miami – “The Largest Finance Conference in the World”
When one thinks of finance, Bitcoin is usually not the first thing that comes to mind. However, from April 6-9, over 35,000 people flocked to Miami,Florida for the Bitcoin 2022 conference, which turned out to be one the largest finance conferences in the world.
Attendees of the conference included a wide array of crypto enthusiasts ranging from bitcoin miners/developers, traders/investors, professional athletes, ‘TradFi’ Wall Street workers, regular people looking to educate themselves, and everything in between. Tickets for the conference ranged from $1,100 to $21,000 and could be paid for in cash or, of course, Bitcoin. There were over 300 sponsors, including firms like Galaxy, Crypto.com, eToro, SoFi, MasterCard, EY, KPMG, and the title sponsor, Cash App, which provides a way for individuals to purchase goods and services using Bitcoin.
Prominent Themes of the Conference Included Institutional Adoption, Sustainable Bitcoin Mining, and the Macroeconomic Environment. The conference featured five different stages, each with its own theme. Besides the main stage, we spent a majority of our time at the Enterprise Stage which held events around institutional adoption and how enterprises are developing in the Bitcoin industry, the Open Source Stage–tailored for Bitcoin developers, and the mining Stage. It was eye-opening to see the diversity of talent that has already entered the space and the companies they are growing. We learned about the many layers on top of Bitcoin that people are using to build and scale businesses. We were fortunate to hear from numerous CEOs and developers regarding the progress they have made so far and their plans for the future.
Some of the highlights from each stage are included below:
One panel that we found interesting as MBA students was, “Building and Scaling Bitcoin Businesses”. It featured prominent leaders like Lule Demmissie (U.S. CEO of eToro), Brian Schroder (CEO of Binance U.S.), and Jason Lau (COO of OKcoin). Each panelist reflected on their path to leading a Bitcoin-focused company and the challenges they face in what is still an emerging industry. All of the companies represented in the panel have already seen rapid growth since inception and see no signs of slowing down.
Another panel that directly related to our MBA education was, “Building Bitcoin Products for Retail”. It was exciting to learn about how companies design retail bitcoin products specifically for the retail market. Will Reeves (CEO of Fold Inc.) explained how his company’s partnership with VISA came about and the mechanics behind how his company gives Bitcoin to customers every time they swipe their card.
Open Source Stage:
As MBA students, our technical knowledge of how cryptocurrency protocols function is somewhat limited. Since this stage was dedicated to the development of the Bitcoin protocol and its subsequent layers, we took full advantage of the opportunity to soak up as much knowledge from the supercoder speakers as possible!
Several of the panels on this stage revolved around Bitcoin’s Lighting Network, specifically, “The Future of Lightning Development,” “Tradeoffs of Lightning Implementation,” “Lightning Payments: The Future of Commerce,” and “Lightening Privacy: Concerns & Solutions.” For reference, the Lightning Network is a second layer added to Bitcoin’s blockchain that allows off-chain transactions( i.e. transactions between parties not on the blockchain network). Its main purpose is to make Bitcoin payments faster and cheaper while increasing Bitcoin’s overall scalability.
In one of the most anticipated moments at the conference, Jack Mallers (CEO of Strike) announced that it will be bringing Bitcoin Lightning payments to Shopify and NCR, which is the world’s largest POS supplier. This development is game changing for the industry and is worth following.
The Mining stage was filled with panels discussing the evolution of Bitcoin mining from every angle. Bitcoin mining is the process by which new Bitcoins are entered into circulation via a reward for confirming transactions on the network which acts as network security. Hot topics included, “Public Policy & Bitcoin Mining,” “Geopolitical Risks of Bitcoin Mining,” and “Mining Bitcoin with Renewables.” Bitcoin mining is currently a controversial topic due to its energy usage. It was great to hear from experts in the industry who can articulate the nuances in the energy debate and prove how Bitcoin mining can actually help the development of renewable energy and create more reliable power grids.
Memorable Moments–Financial Market Leaders Share their Thoughts on Bitcoin’s Future
A much-anticipated event on the main stage was “The Future is Bright” fireside chat with Michael Saylor (CEO of Microstrategy) and Cathie Wood (Founder and CEO of Ark Invest). These legends of the Bitcoin industry laid out the current Bitcoin landscape from a macroeconomic, regulatory, and capital markets point of view. Wood confirmed her firm’s prediction that each Bitcoin will be worth $1 million by 2030.
Saylor commented that he is seeing increased momentum for Bitcoin’s Lightning Network.“Every tech entrepreneur, every exchange will have to include Lightning, if it wants to be viable,said Saylor.
Both panelists voiced how they think the evolving regulatory environment will be a bullish catalyst for Bitcoin adoption in the future.
Another headliner event we attended on the main stage was a panel made up of billionaires, including Orlando Bravo, Dan Tapiero, Ricardo B. Salinas, and Marcelo Claure. It was incredibly valuable to hear all of their opinions on the asset and how they arrived at their conclusions. Salinas recounted how he experienced hyperinflation firsthand in Mexico and compared it to Bitcoin’s deflationary nature and programmatic monetary policy. Tapiero addressed the possibilities of Bitcoin adoption mentioning his belief in strong institutional adoption followed by sovereign wealth funds and eventually central banks.
Bravo highlighted how Bitcoin helps create sovereign individuals. “When we send money to people in Ukraine and use Bitcoin, that money’s getting there and absolutely not Russia, nobody can stop that money from getting there,” said Bravo.
Several Georgetown alumni presented on stage throughout the week, including Michael Moro (CEO of Genesis). We attended his panel, “Bitcoin: An Institutional Asset.” Moro touched on how bank regulators are currently preventing banks from being able to trade Bitcoin. He outlined how banks offer synthetic exposure to Bitcoin to avoid regulator scrutiny.
Current Georgetown University Law professor Neal Katyal was featured in a fireside chat, “The U.S. Constitution and Bitcoin.” Katyal spoke about how he doesn’t think Washington has an understanding of how important technologies such as Bitcoin are to the economy and our national security. He emphasized that the best path forward for the industry is to be open to some level of regulation.
The second day of the conference kicked off with a keynote panel led by Serena Williams, Aaron Rodgers, and Odell Beckham – three of the most celebrated athletes in the world. Each of them provided insightful commentary on how they are starting to see celebrities and athletes embrace Bitcoin. Aaron Rodgers and Odell Beckham have become some of the first professional athletes to take a portion of their paycheck in Bitcoin through a partnership with the Cash App. Both spoke highly of this decision and how they are encouraging more of their teammates to follow in their footsteps. Aaron Rodgers, who notably just signed a new contract paying him over $50mn peryear, speculated that it is only a matter of time before a professional athlete signs a contract denominated in Bitcoin. Serena Williams echoed much of Aaron Rodgers and Odell Beckham’s sentiment about the potential in this space and talked about how she has been looking to invest in more digital currency-related start-ups through her family office investing arm, Serena Ventures.
One must-attend event was led by several prominent ‘On-Chain’ Bitcoin analysts such as Will Clemente and Dylan LeClair. Much like technical analysts who look at momentum indicators and moving averages to predict stock moves, On-Chain analysts measure blockchain statistics to forecast potential price moves. Due to the transparent nature of blockchain, On-Chain analysts can get even more insight and analyze stats like transaction volumes, miner rewards, and wallet/exchange inflows or outflows. The panelists provided incredible insights such as how large price moves are often predicated by large token holders moving money out of wallets and onto exchanges.
Expanding Our Network
While 35,000 people attended the Bitcoin Miami Conference, it is estimated that another 15,000-20,000 people came to Miami the week of the conference for the massive amount of networking events that surrounded the conference. A few of the events we had a chance to attend were hosted by some of the industry’s largest players like Ripple, Circle, and Digital Currency Group at amazing venues such as Joia Beach and the Versace Mansion. Having an opportunity to interact with senior members of these organizations, in a more social setting outside of the hustle and bustle of the conference itself, was very rewarding and provided us with amazing networking opportunities.
One of the best parts of the conference was walking through the Expo Center. With over 300 sponsors, there was always a ton of buzz with sponsors at the exhibit hall talking about the dramatic growth in their companies and all of the jobs they were recruiting for. Outside of some of the really cool SWAG the sponsors were handing out, it was awesome to see firsthand how some of their products worked. For example, we had the ability to actually walk into an Antbox, which is a massive container that can store up to 600 Bitcoin mining rigs and retails for nearly $90,000!
In conclusion, attending Bitcoin Miami 2022 was an unforgettable experience. The conference turned out to be a ‘who’s who’ of the crypto space and it was amazing to rub shoulders with everyone there. Even though Bitcoin is down roughly 40% from its all-time highs, the buzz for Bitcoin and other digital currencies has never been stronger. It is clear that Bitcoin is here to stay and that we are still in the early innings of this digital currency revolution, and it is a privilege to be a part of it.
Thank you to the Psaros Center for Financial Markets and Policy for allowing us to have the opportunity to represent Georgetown!
Bryan Bacskai & Chris Matturri