Back on the Block

Like any new office of a reputable startup in the Berlin Blockchain scene, this one is in a hip part of Kreuzberg. The building looks deserted in the early evening, but the invite says "second courtyard, to the right." Once you walk through the second gate, an iron staircase leads to a large souterrain room with floor-length windows and whitewashed brick walls. There's a TV screen with a presentation at the front of the room, 50 chairs arranged in rows, and a small kitchenette at the back. The kitchenette is where most people are congregating, jostling to grab a beer - with and without alcohol. Hungry Meetup attendees are plundering towers of pizza boxes.

This evening is one of the hundreds of events that are part of  Berlin Blockchain week. The most important event of the year for Berlin's budding Blockchain ecosystem. It features Web 3 Summit as it's most important industry happening. There are lots of Meetups, Get-Togethers, Hackathons, and Build Sessions tagging along and hoping to attract an audience. Tonight, a new fund that invests in early-stage projects has invited three startups to talk about "The Road to Adoption." Of blockchain technology in the mainstream, that is. The " iPhone moment" is blockchain's holy grail. This was the moment when Steve Job's device catapulted location-based and mobile services from obscurity to the limelight. For blockchain, it's the moment when a yet unknown invention will trigger the mass adoption of blockchain technology.

I'm here to catch up with friends and to reconnect with an industry that I left a couple of months ago. The one thing that hits me when I walk in is the familiar smell: pizza, beer, and sweaty t-shirts. About 80% of attendees are men, which is low compared industry events I've been to in the past. Many of them are wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the logos of other industry events, startups, and hackathons. Which, in an industry with its share of "shills" and "shitcoins", is both a signal of personal clout and a badge of honor.

I forgot to take a picture of the pizza boxes. So, here’s a picture of manly backs instead.

I forgot to take a picture of the pizza boxes. So, here’s a picture of manly backs instead.

What strikes me, after my hiatus, is how intimate the event feels. Intimate, because the community is still small, and the whole industry tends to move around the globe like a traveling circus. This week it's in Berlin next week in Tokyo for Devcon. You continuously run into people that you've met before. I'm munching on my pizza and turn around to a familiar voice. It's Maex, who lives in Madrid and whom I worked with at Centrifuge - "Hey Lea!" he grins. René, a friend from SF who co-founded Celo, is chatting to someone from his team in Berlin. It turns out that the evening is hosted by Jascha from Hamburg, whom I met in Switzerland - the fund he started with his partner, Greenfield One, just moved into this office. I just didn't recognize the company name. 

Meanwhile, the presentations are underway. Celo is talking about conducting hundreds of interviews to understand user behavior in Subsaharan Africa, one of their target markets. The guy presenting for NEAR looks identical to his picture that he's put up as his first slide as if he just hopped out of the frame. Perfect for his presentation on a new Operating System. The audience is deeply engaged, asking hard questions. Adoption is a goal that matters to people in this room. They have a vision and are working hard towards it - without anybody knowing whether the iPhone moment is years or decades away. 

That's what I love that about the Blockchain space. It attracts some of the brightest minds I've had the opportunity to meet. And people are crazy passionate about the work they are doing. With last year's crypto winter you had to be - quite a few of the hangers-on have been swept away. Which creates a lightness, and fertile grounds for some real progress.

Author’s note: I haven’t posted to this blog in a while. Life got in the way, and I wasn’t sure if people were interested in what I had to say. However, in the last few weeks, I ran into a couple of people who told me to get back to it. So here we go! If you feel strongly about my writing, one way or the other - drop me a line!