Whilst in Uganda it struck me that EthDenver was taking place towards the end of March. I have always wanted to attend a blockchain conference. The industry attracts hyper intelligent individuals working at the cutting edge of technology. I have always been very aware of the adage that 'if you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room', and I wanted to proactively find a room where I was perceived to be a complete idiot. Nailed it.
I was somewhat reticent because I am very conscious of the fact that I have shit that I need to get sorted back in Manchester. Bouncing between places provides fantastic opportunities and experiences but if it is to avoid.. yeh, that's not healthy. Fortunately, I'm self aware. I weighed it up and concluded that this was too good a business opportunity to miss. Right again. Nailed it.
I turned up in Denver and thought about my approach. I've only ever been to one conference before (ICANN 2014). Back then I was fairly quiet and introverted. The content was fairly boring and I wasn't the type to take advantage of the potential opportunities to network. Fast forward 9 years and there is a sea change difference in my personality. Back in 2021 I realised that people are fairly open to conversing and that most people are nice. There seems to be a general societal view that talking to people without prompt is.. weird, but it turns out everyone wants to talk but they are constrained by fear of perception. So I gamified the trip - I would during my 12 days in Denver try to connect with 100 different people. Simple. 12 days, 100 people, go.
On the first day I discovered Telegram selfies. I was chatting to the guys from Reclaim protocol. We had common interest areas. They wanted to connect. We exchanged Telegram accounts. Then they asked for a selfie.. um.. OK. Turns out that this is a thing. It's fairly simple and neat. It's super hard to remember faces and to connect faces to names. Take a selfie. Problem solved. 12 days later I had 49 individual Telegram connections and multiple chats connecting me with groups of people interested in specific subject areas. That is not 100. Damn, I suck. But well.. not really. I absolutely connected with more than 100 individuals. It just turns out that socialising is fucking exhausting. I had to get selective with the people I connected with because there were too many great people.
In my time in Denver not one single person rejected a brazen "Who are you?", "What are you doing?", "Where do you work?". I'm unsure if this is something to do with the people in the industry or if this is people more generally but.. really.. it seems like people are bottled up bursting with enthusiasm to talk.
OK. Thats a lie. There was one guy on the bus from Union station (which I was taking to South Boulder Creek parkrun). To be fair, I should have read the room. My "Where are you getting the bus to today?" was met with "Don't be doing strangers dirty like that. I don't talk to strangers.". The execution was hilarious. You probably had to be there. But even in this case he apologised a few seconds later.
I'll take a detour. So yeh, on both Saturdays I was in Denver I went over to South Boulder Creek to do parkrun. This is 1/2 parkruns in the state of Colorado. It was about an hour away, and kinda an effort given that I was meant to be at a conference but it was totally worth it. The other one is 4 hours away. Someone told me because of the roads it'd probably be quicker to drive to Utah if I wanted to do a different one :)
On the first weekend I just bounced around with one of the core team who happened to have done Comrades (small world), and was going on to do Two Oceans (hmm..). Everyone was super friendly and chill, and they were very welcoming in driving me for post run bagels afterwards. There had been a freak weather storm the week before so the route was snowy and icy as hell. In the UK it would almost certainly have been cancelled, but in a ski town, snow is somewhat common place. The -12 degree temperatures were suboptimal.
Since arriving in Denver I'd been feeling a little worse for wear. It was only after the run that someone mentioned the altitude and it finally clicked why Denver is nicknamed the 'mile high city'. Not only is it high up, but the air is dry as hell. It's like existing in a dehumidifier - your lips, mouth, and lungs are sapped of any moisture. Complete joke.
The second week the snow had cleared up and I knew the route so I opted to run it fast. That said, it was very much apparent that even a week in the altitude still had a massive effect. Running an 18:05 was pretty brutal.
During the course of the trip I kept up my running. On each of the Sundays I did a casual 20 miler. I ran down the Cherry Creek trail in one direction on the first weekend, and then the other way on the second. I did them without water (because I'm a twat) and I survived (albeit barely). The first week there was an incident under a bridge, but we will leave that there. The second week no issues. 20 miles at sub 3 marathon pace at altitude without nutrition or water. Cue realisation that without the pressure of any races on the horizon I got fit as hell.
On the Tuesday I complete Track Tuesday as prescribed by Val. Why? Well the hotel had the most mesmerising rooftop running track. It would have been rude not to..
Unfortunately it's a small track so doing 3 mins @ 3k pace, 3 mins @ 5k pace, 90 secs off.. x8 involved a lot of turns. Stomach issues, altitude, air made this rough as hell. But I got it done. Again, that session is much tougher than a Yasso 800 which was always my marathon test session.
I also did various casual runs around the city, just running in random directions (as usual). I recall some particularly impressive views around Denver Zoo, running towards the city with the mountains in the background. Overall, I basically did 2 super solid 50 mile weeks in Denver whilst attending a conference. It makes sense on reflection why I was so exhausted.
The hotel also had a swimming pool so I did a swim because apparently I'm doing a full distance triathlon. Unfortunately the pool was tiny so my hour long swim was probably 46,000 lengths. They also seemed to have accidentally filled the pool with Denver's whole supply of Chlorine. My skin was burned off in the hell hole of a swimming pool.
The first week of the conference was the hackathon. The Buidl Week. In principle I had intended to find a team and build something, but in practice I simply didn't have enough time and/or didn't bump into anyone who had a sufficiently exciting proposition to motivate me to bother. Instead I networked with the other teams and found out what they were building.
WittyPixels was also a fun experiment in social motivations.
But.. in terms of actually top tier conceptually awesome projects there was an anonymous social lending concept that was incredibly cool. You could essentially loan money to selected friends in your contact list anonymously. Only if they did not repay you would you find out who had borrowed the money. I think the product was called Krypto Kredit, but I can't find out much about it. Apparently most hackathon projects disappear into nothingness after the event - a real shame. With a behavioural economics background I was obviously going to love this..
In terms of subject areas of interest I was intrigued to learn more about:
I went to a number of talks on each of these subject areas over the course of the conference and concluded that I need to stick to my lane. The problem with blockchain is that everything is cutting edge, and everything is incredibly conceptually complex. I consider myself to be somewhat intelligent but a lot of these talks went straight over my head.
There was a massive variance in quality between talks, and a lot of it was very hit and miss. Similarly a number of product teams were researching in similar areas or building near identical products. You kind of got a gut instinct who the winners would be, and who the people were who were intentionally blurting out buzz words in an attempt to distract from their products lack of substance.
Alongside the main conference talks there were a number of side events.
- I attended a ticketed 'Pizza and Margerita' networking event where the lack of ticket checks meant that the 50 intended attendees became hundreds.
- I went to WalletCon to learn more about DIDs and was incredibly disappointed (having had a depressing bowl of hotel oats an hour before) to find out that they had put on a somewhat ridiculous breakfast spread. The talks were good XD
- I went to a Hedera networking event at Barcelona wine bar. Free wine and incredible food. Whilst I wasn't necessarily that interested in Hedera, the quality of the event made me intrigued and I went ahead and found out more. I guess thats why they do these events..
- I went to the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) events..
So.. ENS is my area. The thing that I am interested in. My domain name background makes it somewhat unsurprising that I am fascinated by the protocol and its potential in the future. I never give investment advice, and I am very much middle ground on the investment thesis for ENS (see below) but.. in my opinion ENS is inevitable.
The ENS Labs team put on an event with a free bar (at a microbrewery) and an open taco truck. Then the ENS DAO put on an event at The Cooper Lounge in Union Station. I attended both events and was finally able to put faces to names of individuals I had communicated/worked with and/or generally been aware of online for a number of years.
My interest in ENS is very much that of a developer. I think the problems and challenges of building a decentralized naming system are both necessary and incredibly interesting. I am absolutely against the Twitter speculators who have registered brand names/trademarks/generally terrible names as investments and shill them incessantly whilst complaining that ENS Labs don't spend enough of their funds on proactively marketing the protocol.
OK, admittedly the DAO treasury does hold close to $1 billion (at the time of writing) but my view point is that usage and network effects are the pre-requisities of a successfuly naming system. ENS already has significant network advantage over other protocols (as indicated by the number of individuals sporting .eth domain names on their name tags) with 1st party integrations with huge products (like Metamask, Etherscan, The Graph etc).
All that said (and in the interest of transparency), I have a portfolio of generic ENS names purchased as investments that accounts for a significant portion of my net worth. I don't need to shill them - I just build.
Fun fact. I registered 262.eth because I'm a marathon runner (a marathon is 26.2 miles). Probably worth at least $25,000 right now.
Anyhow, go register one.
During the course of these events I was able to network extensively and learn more about the DAO. I have never been particularly interested in governance because I perceive it to be overly complex, and a time sink. That said, discussion with active participants has motivated me to investigate further and to get more involved. At the end of the day, the success of the protocol requires altruistic time investment from interested stakeholders. I am as bad as a speculative shill if I don't take part in governance and then complain about the direction.
The ENS DAO meetup was also the event at which I met Richard Moore (more commonly known as ricmoo), the esteemed developer of ethers.js - a library that I use every day that has saved me hundreds of hours of development time and powered scripts and software that have earned me hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I was chatting to a guy. He was a super cool dude. We were chatting about some interesting technological problems for an hour or so. I randomly said 'What's your name, we've been chatting for ages and I don't know who you are'. He turned his badge around. Fanboying ensued.
The other core element of the conference was the tradeshow esque product booths where companies attempted to shill their offerings by giving you free things. Metamask/Infura had a cool booth, but realistically everyone knows them, and they don't need to market themselves. They had an escape room as part of their booth. You either had to prebook to get a place or enter (and win) a competition. I entered and won. You had to have teams of 2-4. I hadn't attended with anyone but fortunately I had met lots of people..
Over the course of the remainder of the conference I bumped into Ric (see above) on numerous occasions. On one occasion we caught up and hacked on our respective projects for a few hours in the main conference hall. All of a sudden a group of individuals turned up who later identified themselves as being the team from the Ethereum Foundation that was working on EIP 4337 (Account Abstraction). Accompanying them was Pedro Gomes from WalletConnect. They had come to chat with Ric about what they were working on. I then.. free of charge.. got to eavesdrop on discussion about one of the most technologically significant developments in the blockchain space.. between a group of the most intelligent people in the space for a number of hours. Like, holy hell.
But Ric wasn't the only super cool individual I bumped into.
Names redacted for privacy but you can use this like an industry quiz and try and work out who.
- In the queue for coffee I started chatting to a woman who is the head of the biggest company in the blockchain space.
- On the free bus between the various hotels I chatted to an incredibly interesting woman (who also happened to be a marathon runner) who is the chief of staff at another big player.
- I chatted to the head of a well known venture capital company, and she requested advice from me (imposter syndrome trigger) on how to find good developers. She also told me I was the most social developer she'd ever met. Winner.
My point here (and the takeaway) is that in this industry there is no ego. Everyone is happy to play on the same field, and people are happy to engage with anyone regardless of status, gender, race, wealth etc (obviously this should be the case in all arenas). By being friendly, open, and interested you can meet incredible people at the top of their game. Reflecting on it, it makes absolute sense - there are many people in the industry who go below the radar. Being in any way judgemental will cost you opportunity.
Whilst wealth is clearly not the be all and end all, I also found it incredibly intriguing having the knowledge that you were in billion dollar rooms. That is to say there is a lot of money in blockchain, and a lot of individuals/companies have made vast sums of money over the years. I recall chatting to a founder of a DeFi protocol and having the thought 'This is one of 3 founders. They raised $200 million dollars'. Over the course of the conference I only met one individual who openly stated that his interest in blockchain was purely speculative. For the most part everyone who had attended was genuinely interested in development. It was a curated environment of incredible people. It just so happens that many of them are also incredibly wealthy.
To close out this section.. during the closing ceremony the EthDenver team invited people to come up in stage to describe to the audience why they had come to EthDenver, what interesting experiences/stories they had had or how one spelt Vitalik's middle name. In return you would get a shirt. I was having a bit of a down moment - I was feeling completely exhausted (it being the end of the conference) and I was very much in my head about life stuff. But.. I heard the call out and my thought process was 'this is something I don't want to do, would absolutely never do, and am terrified of doing. Lets do it'. So off I went and got in the queue. I got on stage and mentioned..
- How I'd come to EthDenver quite impulsively
- How I hadn't met many/any Brits - where y'all at?
- How everyone had been incredibly friendly/welcoming
- Everything that I've mentioned above including my meeting with Ric
I got my shirt, but that was never really the point.
As I got off stage a guy ran towards me and asked if he could have a chat with me. We went to the side and he mentioned how my getting on stage had inspired him to be more forward in approaching individuals. It's a small victory, but it really made my day having done something scary, and helping someone out in the process. It's kind of like complimenting someone.. it costs literally nothing, but can absolutely make their day. I added another connection to my Telegram, and we kept in touch over the following few days. When I was leaving he messaged to say he'd actually connected with Ric himself during the early hours of the morning at the after party XD.
On the subject of the after party. That was fairly good. Again I was moping and considering going back to the hotel. I had chatted to some super interesting people for hours earlier in the evening and was completely socially fatigued. But then I found a free bar.
They also had a make your own snowcone setup (as you do). Unfortunately it was a run powered hamster wheel and my leg was temporarily borked from my long run/being on my feet for 12 days.
There were fun games like free claw machines. Unfortunately however when you put a bunch of hackers in a room things tend to get out of hand..
The side events at the conference were to an extent a massive dick slinging contest premised on who could provide the most unnecessarily gratuitous spread of food. Great for the attendees :)
The organisers also had a deal with My Ether Wallet and zkSync (event sponsors) to offer free food to attendees from the food trucks on site. This was using BuidlBux, a token built on zkEra taking advantage of the newly deployed Account Abstraction contracts on their network. It was great promo in principle but the event WiFi was absolutely terrible - it simply didn't work, and it made the event (and by association the sponsors in question) look incredibly amateurish. I mean.. no working WiFi at a tech conference.. really..?
But, I'll let zkSync off because they were super cool people and the stuff they have built is impressive. They also gave me some mega swag on the precondition that I model it for them. I was going on a hike with my friend Michael and his partner Eva and had come to the conference massively underdressed. They were picking me up directly so negotiating an arrangement for some high quality swag was necessary. This was also somewhat indicative of blockchain.. the swag was like Patagonia or something. Some super high quality brand.
So yeh. I went on a hike with Michael and Eva. Michael had previously lived in Boulder so knew the trails well. It didn't hit me until afterwards when we were having dinner at an incredible Italian that mountain lions and stuff like that are actually things here. I only learned this when I mentioned that I enjoyed trail running in the evenings and Michael gave me the necessary warnings.
I've connected with Michael semi regularly over the past months. He is an incredibly successful tech entrepreneur, and an all round super nice guy. His partner Eva is awesome too. It was great to hang out in person, and super cool to see their dynamic. They very much go for the Radical Candor approach to communication and it visibly works well for them. I learned a lot.
On the final day of the conference I ended up at a side event around Account Abstraction. I had been hacking on my sandbox for working with the ENS Name Wrapper over the course of the week and was getting somewhat annoyed by the continued issues I was encountering. Failing to get what I wanted to done, whilst also trying to discern how to use the Tokyo Marathon tracking app meant that I paid zero attention to the talks in question. Add in my general life exhaustion and I was beyond done. At the end they provided attendees with free Mexican food. I grabbed some and then intended to go back to the hotel and mope. Instead I somehow managed to motivate myself to go and chat to a group sat around the nearest table and an hour later we were on our way into downtown Denver for another free networking event. They had free pub food (and drinks) but at this point in the conference I was actually fed up of free food and turning it down.
Prior to heading to the airport I had been chatting to a woman in the hotel lobby who ran a woman's travel group in Pennsylvania. She gave me loads of incredible travel recommendations. We also ended up discussing food (as you do), and she mentioned that her favourite restaurant whilst in Denver had been Chez Maggy - high end French. I had been contemplating lunch so visiting on my way seemed like the logical choice. It was magical. Plus they actually made a good Bloody Mary.
I was chatting to a guy called Kenny the night before and when I mentioned that bubble tea was my one athlete nutrition weak spot he recommended I try out the Milk Tea People. On the way to the airport I did. Everything was organic, and hand made in front of you. It was like subway-style bubble tea that tasted fucking magical.
I'm tired. This is long. It's turned into a ramble :P
I considered filling my suitcase with Bob's Oats and Hot Pockets on the way back and leaving my clothes behind. These things are like goldust (hard to find) in the UK.
Denver is a pretty liberal city. Marijuana and Mushrooms are legal (as far as I understand). Everyone was smoking on the streets and on numerous occasions random people offered me mushrooms. I fortunately have no interest in Marijuana - it gives me crippling anxiety. OK, it exacerbates my crippling anxiety XD. And mushrooms.. Koh Phangan 2009.. memories. But realistically.. as nice as everyone was drugs are no longer my really my vibe.. especially on a business trip. Regardless, I found it super intriguing how chill everything was.
Along the same lines I found the level of bag check security to be somewhat uneccesary. In completely skipped my mind that guns can legally be carried in the US. Like.. we all live in the bubbles of our own worlds. I can totally see myself getting eaten by a mountain lion.