10,000 crypto developers, traders, builders, VCs, and a few lawyers descended on Singapore this week for TOKEN2049, reputedly the world’s largest crypto conference. The conference hosted big name speakers such as Balaji Srinivasan, Chaoping Zhao, the Winklevoss twins, Jeremy Allaire, Rune Christensen and a who’s who of the crypto world.
Last year’s focus on DeFi and venture has given way to a focus on real world use cases, from Web3 gaming, Decentralised social media, tokenisation, data, digital ownership and stablecoins.
Regulation remained a central theme with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) led crackdown on the United States crypto industry contrasted with more positive developments in Asia and elsewhere. In particular there was renewed energy from jurisdictions like Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and the United Kingdom as Governments and regulators adopt a more tech and innovation friendly approach.
Putting financial speculation aside, a number of speakers refocused on the core values of Web3, what Balaji, the ex-Coinbase CTO and author of The Network State termed “internet values”, such as transparency, democratisation, technology, freedom and entrepreneurship. Riffing on this theme, Cameron Winklevoss noted that crypto embodies many American values, although America seems to have taken something of a detour.
There was a renewed focus on business fundamentals. Paul Veradittakit of Pantera Capital noted that we’re:
Not investing into crypto, we're investing into companies, blockchain is the technology layer
There was much discussion on infrastructure and easier user experience. Robbie Ferguson from Immutable emphasised the importance of easy Web3 onboarding, noting Immutable’s recent launch of its Passport wallet solution for gamers. Robbie was joined by James Tromans of Google Cloud who emphasised Google’s focus on building infrastructure and great user experience in Web3. Arthur Hayes of Maelstrom and Bitmex trumpeted AI's need for decentralised storage and his bullishness on data focused decentralised storage protocols.
The DeFi mood generally felt pretty somber, perhaps in light of recent US enforcement actions. Capturing the DeFi and macro zeitgeist, Paul Veradittakit noted tokenising the dollar (ie stablecoins) is the biggest thing happening in DeFi right now. In true Peter Thiel contrarian style, Joey Krug of Founders Fund opined that there is a lot more open things to build in DeFi.
On the subject of regulation, speakers called on the wisdom of the great philosophers and theorists, channeling a sense of Zen. Richard Galvin of DACM cited the vaunted crypto manifesto, the Sovereign Individual, which noted that old laws seldom resist new technology, and expressing his view that technological change is likely to outpace and bend regulation in its image. Tyler Winkevoss evoked Ghandi’s famous aphorism:
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
We’re in the fight phase he added.
On the question of US regulation, Brad Garlinghouse lamented the reported US$100m that Ripple has spent fighting the SEC in its battle to establish that the XRP token is not a security. His comment that his only regret being that he did not redomicile the company outside the United States from the beginning is a message that all regulators should consider given how mobile the blockchain industry is.
Cameron Winklevoss lamented the waste of public resources in regulators fighting the industry, a battle they are losing in some cases, rather than setting clear rules of the road for crypto which could embrace innovation.
MC Lader of Uniswap Labs observedthat the developer of the eponymous Uniswap decentralised exchange is looking to internationalise its products, adopting new platforms and languages, while maintaining its United States presence. Coinbase is doing the same by pursuing its new International business, focused on derivatives, while maintaining its compliance focus and fighting SEC enforcement actions.
NFTs and Gaming
On the topic of NFTs and gaming, Yat Siu, Hong Kong’s leading crypto identity, noted that his Web3 thesis remains consistent, the promise of digital ownership for gamers. Zedd Yin of Magic Eden cited the company's support for building consensus on creator royalties to help support the change for creators that Web3 represents. Alex Pack from Hack VC noted that Decentralised Social Media (DeSoc) continues to offer the promise of a whole new monetisation layer for the economy that fosters creativity and moves away from the winner take all Web2 model.
Diogo Monica of Anchorage Digital commented on shifts in market structure post the collapses of 2022, with many crypto market participants learning the lessons of past collapses and moving to a more disaggregated business model, noting the term “bankruptcy remoteness” had entered the lexicon among key concerns for crypto counterparties. Ouriel Ohayon of non-custodial wallet provider ZenGo, nevertheless noted that while it’s important for the crypto space to mature, which will require some changes to risk and market structure, blockchain must retain its open, transparent, permissionless and global ethos to build a new paradigm. Amy Zhang of Fireblocks added “You can’t fix people; you need technology and governance controls”.
While for some it may seem like crypto is at something of a cross- roads after 2022, the mood at TOKEN2049 2023 underlined the core focus on building technology that empowers people and makes life better. With so many in attendance, the bear market spirits remain high. As MinTeo of Ethereal Ventures noted:
As we’ve seen in past cycles, crypto always finds a way.
Or in the words of Sun Tzu;
He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout the ranks (上下同欲者胜).
By Steven Pettigrove and Michael Bacina