The following is an excerpt from an interview with Bitcoin Market Journal’s John Hargrave and Ryan Colby, founder of the upcoming cryptocurrency conference Token Fest.
What was your blockchain origin story, Ryan? How did you get involved in this exciting space?
In the early spring of 2017, I started acquiring Ether, really sort of poking around the whole cryptocurrency space, exploring tokens, and doing a lot of reading.
After I read the Tapscott book Blockchain Revolution and saw Ethereum start to spike up from $33 to $150, I said: “Wow. There’s something really special. Something’s going on. I need to really start to learn more about this.”
Most people got into this space through bitcoin, but for you, Ethereum was the gateway drug. What is it about Ethereum that holds so much promise, in your mind?
From my research, it seemed like there were over 89 key enterprise players who had basically signed on to building out on this platform. So it had, at least from what I could see, a rapid adoption and really was the blockchain platform getting the most attention and the most momentum. I think that’s still the case.
How did you go from acquiring Ether to founding Token Fest?
Given my background with IDG World Expo in Boston and my history of producing trade shows and executive-level conferences, one of the first things I did was to research what premium networking experiences were out there to attract industry thought leaders and B2B executives. Surprisingly, I really didn’t see too many shows that were in an authoritative, market-leading position for blockchain.
So the lightbulb went off for me and I started seeking out unique venues that would enhance the revolution that we’re going through in finance and blockchain. The rest is history. We started out with a little vision to do 12 tabletops and maybe 50-75 executives; seven months later, we’re looking at 105 exhibitors, over 1,000 attendees, and 60 sponsors.
For token investors, what specific need in the conference space are you filling?
After attending many events, I didn’t really see an event that was providing a boutique networking experience where an executive can meet with a CEO in a comfortable location with fine wine, beautiful furniture, entertainment, top-notch food, and basically an environment that facilitates partnerships and collaborations within the blockchain space.
What I saw instead was a lot of cookie-cutter conferences producing shows every two or three months, overselling tickets, and filling the capacity of venues where people were uncomfortable and actually angry that they couldn’t even get in, even sometimes after traveling from overseas to attend the event.
That’s why we decided to really invest in the space. Instead of just selling conference tickets, we’re investing in the overall experience. With everything from speaker experience to media and publicity to special projects and networking to an ICO token competition with a dedicated technology theater, this event is pretty special. I think attendees will quickly see that we are different from the other events in the space.
Who are you targeting? Is your ideal attendee an investor, ICO entrepreneur, or whale?
Looking at the registrations, we definitely have a nice mix.
We have high-powered attorneys who are practicing law in the space from some of the largest, most respected firms out there.
We have hedge fund managers who are running crypto hedge funds and looking for up-and-coming opportunities in the ICO market.
We have angel investors, accredited investors who are looking to get in and understand how to actually invest, what to look for, and how to approach this market.
We have ICO entrepreneurs, people who are in the social entrepreneurship launching verticals and looking at different markets. We have a lot of overseas attendees. I think the last I checked we have 38 separate countries coming in for the first event.
We have a lot of enterprise folks who are looking to find out how blockchain affects their industries. They’re asking: “If I’m the president of a bank or the senior vice president of a logistics company, what does it mean to me? How can I actually start to utilize blockchain in order to innovate within my company?”
Hyperledger is going to be one of the vendors embedded in our show and will have a pretty big speaking presence on our main stage. We’re talking a lot about enterprise, so I would say enterprise and the investment focus is going to be a heavy component to our show.
Let’s talk about speakers. Who’s the biggest speaker you’re personally looking forward to hearing?
I’m very excited to hear Peter Diamandis, one of the leading technology futurists in the world. I believe he was an advisor to Elon Musk. He’s got a company called Planetary Resources that mines asteroids. This guy is somebody you want to listen to. He is an amazing speaker and he’s doing some incredible things. I’m very excited to hear what he’s going to talk about for blockchain.
I’m also excited about Tim Draper, who is always an amazing speaker. I like Tim’s focus because, if you listen to his messages, at this point in his life he’s really about changing the world. He’s all about “Hey, look the world is about to change. Get ready, it’s coming!” And I love that. His talks are always just spot on. I know he predicted the price of bitcoin almost down to the dollar ten years ago, so he’s obviously a super interesting character and one of the first bitcoin billionaires out there.
It’s interesting that you got into it just a year ago, and now you’re running this huge conference and attracting these enormous names. Would you agree that the great thing about this space is you really can get up to speed and find a way to add value and become an expert relatively quickly?
For the entrepreneurs out there, it’s never been a better time.
Personally, I missed out on a lot of things. I missed out on the domain name rush back in 1995. I missed out on a lot of the stock market moves. I told my wife: “I am not missing out on the crypto move. This is the next big one.”
The blockchain ledger system itself is here to stay. It will affect just about every industry; it’s just a matter of how quickly it will do that. That’s why I’m excited to plant my feet and stay here. If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s never been a better time.
What was helpful for you as you got into the space and gained proficiency? You mentioned the blockchain book, but what else do you think would be helpful for novices in the space?
I think that you want to model successful people.
You want to study the best practices of authorities in this space. Look to the companies that are doing the successful ICOs, doing it legally and with compliance, raising lots of money, keeping their investors happy, and rolling out platforms and product releases on time.
What I’ve looked for in this industry is the people that you associate with and the people who have reputations at stake. They’re not going to invest their time or their reputation with a company that’s sub-par. So I think it definitely pays to follow where the authority is and to follow who’s involved in what projects and why.
That is certainly something we consider in our research when we’re looking at ICOs and emerging tokens. We have a vetting process to distill the highest probability opportunities, and I think that’s the approach you need to take in this space.
Token Fest is an emerging ecosystem. It’s providing information, but it’s also serving as a distiller of quality tokens, quality companies, and the best ideas. I think that’s where we’re going to add a lot of value. When people buy a conference ticket to go to the show, what are they really paying for? Number one, to come and meet people and make relationships. Number two, to discover the best ideas.
We sort through hundreds, if not thousands, of companies. We talk to them every day. They’re our exhibitors, they’re our presenters, and it’s an exciting time. It’s like the internet gold rush all over again.
It sounds like you’re positioning Token Fest as having pre-vetted or vetted a lot of these projects. Can you share some of the criteria you use?
We’re certainly not a research analyst firm by any stretch, but we do talk to a lot of people. What we try to do is find the most interesting applications for tokens and create almost a piece of art where you have all these different companies looking to do all these different things in a unique way.
Some will fall flat and others might be extremely successful, but at least it’s going to be super interesting. We try to validate the concepts. What are the infrastructure plays? What are the companies that are really solving a major problem vs. looking for a solution? It’s not an exact science. There’s just so much at play.
All that being said, what conferences do is to bring people together. They bring those conversations, those fireside chats, those “Hey, what have you been doing over the last three months?” over a glass of wine. That’s invaluable.
So I think the cross-communication you can get at these types of events is incredibly valuable. I think that’s really why you’ll see that show after show after show, every single one has been sold out — max capacity, standing room only, and even some where the Fire Marshal comes and shuts things down because of the large crowd.
Events like ours serve a huge need. People are craving this stuff and I’m excited because we’re what’s next.
Given how new this space is and how little information there is, do you think the face-to-face meeting with other people is highly important?
I really think it’s necessary. The blockchain is becoming a potential disruptor for venture capital and funding, and it’s really important to look people in the eye and get a feel for who they are as people.
One thing we invested in is an app called Brella. It’s a strategic networking app that we provide for all of our attendees. Everybody coming to the event downloads the app, sets up a profile, and can actually book a 15- minute appointment with other people at the show at a specific highboy table.
We’ll have dozens of high tables where people can actually search you out, see your picture, see your profile, and see from your bio what you’re interested in. They can see what you’re looking for, what solutions you provide, and then you can go ahead and book yourself a dozen super high-utility appointments in advance of the show.
I’m very excited to see how that rolls out, and I have a feeling it will be very valuable because it intelligently matches people. So let’s say you go in and set up a profile that you are a crypto investor. That will automatically intelligently match you with some of the ICO entrepreneurs who are providing something in which to invest. Or if you’re an attorney, you might want to be networking with people who need legal advice.
When you go to a show with a thousand people, you can’t meet with everybody, but if you come out of that show with 20-25 new relationships, that’s absolutely huge. You can’t even put a value on that because if just one or two of those deals turn into collaborations or partnerships or sales, the results are amazing. That’s why I’ve always been a huge fan of face-to-face networking because I really feel that, for the money, it’s the best thing going.