There were the requisite tech and blockchain celebrities. There were T-shirt-clad developers looking to pitch their companies and investors seeking the blockchain equivalent of Amazon. There was a woman playing acoustic guitar and another attendee carrying a skateboard through the Los Angeles Convention Center.

At the second Crypto Invest Summit, there was blockchain advocacy in the air and no one wanted to leave the party.

“We’re on the cusp of something that can change the world,” said investor Tim Draper, who stuck around after his scheduled conference appearances to sign copies of his book, “How to Be the Startup Hero.” Even at the end, diehards could be seen roaming the exhibition hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center as exhibitors tore down their displays.

These scenes have repeated themselves over the past 10 months at similar events in the U.S., Singapore, Lithuania, Thailand and Brazil.

Call this the year of the blockchain extravaganza.

“I learned the most about what higher-level investors are looking for, seeing what is influencing their decisions,” said Nick Saponaro, a co-founder and developer for the Divi Project, which has created what he said is a user-friendly crypto wallet. “But what they’re all saying [is] the same stuff. It’s about the user experience.”

“It’s about putting the blockchain experience” on a user-friendly interface and making it undetectable, he added. “It’s good to see that everyone is on the same page.”

But he said conferences such as Crypto Invest, which ended Wednesday, need to do more to educate those attending because their background in blockchain varies. Don’t assume that someone knows something, he said. “You might alienate them if you’re not willing to explain what something is.”

Crowds for the Car

Everyone loves a shiny new car, and those attending this conference were no exception. The most striking exhibit in the exhibition hall was a red Lincoln MKZ sedan. But not just any MKZ: The Los Angeles-based company Autonomy purchased the car to test its blockchain-based driving system.

Autonomy’s George Grama spent more than $800,000 outfitting the vehicle with sensors and other equipment that collect 300,000 pieces of data on an ongoing basis. Grama told ThirtyK the blockchain system can pinpoint the car’s location anywhere in the world within three centimeters.

He considers his company a rival to the MOBI consortium that includes Ford, Renault and Toyota, which is working on automotive-related blockchain initiatives. The Hungarian-born Grama said he admires MOBI, which he calls “a validation of what we’re doing” at his own company.

Meanwhile, his car has not yet received clearance for road testing, so Grama and his crew can only take the car for slow spins in parking lots. Grama said he chose the Lincoln because its control panel and cockpit offered the best configuration for the wiring and other aspects of Autonomy’s blockchain setup.

He said he spent $8,000 on a mobile eye camera that sits atop the front windshield and provides sweeping visibility of spaces in front and to the side, $40,000 on a GPS system and $367,000 on sensors. But he says the technology isn’t cutting edge or costly compared to other cars. “Most Google cars are more expensive than this,” he said.

As for where the road leads for the blockchain car, “2019 will be a defining year for us,” he said.

Who Says ICOs Are Dead?

On Wednesday, investor Dan Morehead said rumors of a dead initial coin offering market are false. His firm, Pantera Capital, was receiving inquiries about approximately 50 ICOs a week, although that number has tailed off as cryptocurrency prices have languished and the ICO market has cooled.

Morehead said his digital assets fund has been buying into “one or two” projects “a month for a long time.” “One or two projects a month are interesting,” he said said. “You can’t have 50 genius ideas a month.”

Morehead likened the market’s recent path to “a cartoon of a snake eating an elephant.” He described it as “low and flat to May of last year. It bulged and it’s now back to flat.”

Regarding bitcoin’s (BTC) recent doldrums, he is confident that it will increase in value as people see its value. When “500 million people” find it useful, “then it will go up in value,” he said.

A Decent Turnout

Was the conference successful from a financial standpoint? Crowd Invest Summit co-founder and CEO of Goren Consulting Group Alon Goren told ThirtyK he was “happy with the turnout” and the event broke even.

Goren said his company, which also invests in projects, was looking to the long term. “We want to make money, but we’re early in the industry and we’re not trying to make a quick buck on this industry,” he said.

Asked about registrations, Goren tapped on his smartphone and the number 6,112 appeared on the screen. That was a larger number of registrations than at a similar summit in May, although a number of the attendees, including students from UCLA’s and USC’s blockchain programs, received free entry. “We want the industry to grow,” Goren said.

James Rubin
James Rubin has covered a range of business topics for such publications as the Economist Intelligence Unit, Forbes Insights and Adweek. His papers have been presented at World Economic Forum events. He was an associate editor at TheStreet and is the author of the "Urban Cyclist's Survival Guide."