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Consensus has always sought to live up to its name. Launched in 2015 within the confines of New York City, this yearly event is “an annual conference hosted by Coindesk, a media and events company specializing in cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology that brings together industry experts, investors, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts to discuss the latest trends, developments, and challenges in the blockchain and Web3 space.” As the self-described “world’s largest, longest-running and most influential gathering of the many, differing elements that make up the crypto community,” Consensus 2023 took place in Austin, Texas, from April 26th-28th in the heart of the Lone Star State with over 12,000 registrations logged for the event. Full disclosure: This writer first worked as a brand ambassador during Consensus in 2022 and has a friendly, fascinated attitude toward this intellectual community.
As an enthusiastic, international, and largely-positive crowd assembled in the Texas state capital to network, educate, and party, a diverse, freewheeling, innovative, and technologically-advanced community came together as the name suggests to confront its differences, grapple with challenges including the recent bankruptcy of cryptocurrency exchange & hedge fund FTX, learn about the newest innovations in these disparate spaces, meet new business partners, and find common ground on how to best seize the opportunities their respective technologies offer.
For the uninitiated, the tech world and its terminology presents a very steep learning curve and to pretend to encapsulate the philosophy of over 150 companies that set up shop in the Expo Show Hall in the Austin Convention Center smacks of naivete. Following the height of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2021 over 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs during “The Great Resignation” and 5.4 million businesses were started that same year. As more people embrace the gig economy, perhaps it appears that Consensus attendees and exhibitors represent the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” of starting one’s own businesses during a tech correction as a spirit of entrepreneurship seemed to be on display at Consensus 2023.
Keynote speeches, panel discussions, and networking opportunities took place by day with speakers and participants representing a wide range of companies, organizations, and government entities discussing the latest trends and innovations, regulatory issues, investment strategies, and use cases. By evening, dozens upon dozens of side events occurred away from the Austin Convention Center that took place away in clubs and offices throughout the downtown area (shoutout to the Mohawk live music venue who inexplicably gave this writer admission to see the Warlocks & A Place to Bury Strangers for the Consensus-advertised “Austin Psych Fest” opening night party). Buzzwords that captured the Consensus zeitgeist included “digital assets,” “smart contracts,” and “decentralized finance” (DeFi) which could be found in employment listings on the Consensus job board (suggesting a “movement” away from concentrated or centralized power which in some cases advocates for a complex “de-dollarization” conversation).
While not all will agree exactly what decentralization means, whether it be banking, journalism, or even money itself, a “consensus” is defined as “a generally accepted opinion or decision among a group of people.” The chasm between “big media” (Comcast, FOX, Sony) alongside “big tech” (Google, Facebook, Twitter) and decentralized media & decentralized tech leaves more questions than answers. Nonetheless, if asked to read the room, the overall feeling was that people were seeking alternatives than what is currently available and in some cases, something daring.
Following a successful keynote at South-by-Southwest in March, the ebullient and witty William Shatner returned to Austin to not only prognosticate about the future of cryptocurrency but also to launch his line of “NFTs” (non-fungible tokens), or digital assets purchased with crypto or dollars, produced by Web3 and entertainment company Orange Comet.
“I’ve plunged into the world of NFTs and it’s mysterious and miraculous,” William Shatner shares. “I’ve teamed with a company called Orange Comet to present a very advanced and exotic NFT that will be coming out on May 25, 2023. I am excited to be on the cutting edge of this technology.”
Social entrepreneur Rhonda Eldridge, who spoke on a Consensus panel entitled “A Tale of Two Young Men: SBF, Tyre Nichols and the Problem of Exclusion,” similarly opines optimistically,
“I have been attending Consensus since 2018. In 2019 I was invited to apply for and was accepted as a DevCon Scholar [an initiative designed to provide an opportunity for individuals from underserved communities, unique circumstances, or developing areas to engage with the Ethereum cryptocurrency ecosystem] by someone I spoke with at Consensus when it was held in New York City. In conjunction with my non-profit, ‘Harness All Possibilities,’ I shared with them an Inaugural Youth Conference and Hackathon in The Bahamas which was a collaboration with 2 other non-profits. Completing a curriculum by the Consensys Academy (with the support of Ethereum Foundation), I continued through Covid lockdowns in 2020-2021 with virtual conferences supported by Consensus by Coindesk which facilitated registration and access by persons in underserved communities in the Caribbean to join virtually during this time.”
“In 2022 I came to Consensus with some of our learners [from the Blockchain Business School], budding software developers from The Bahamas and Cayman Islands, who shared having that experience with the wider decentralized community was epic and beyond what they could experience from a computer.”
“My takeaways from Consensus 2023 were that this year’s edition was relevant, insightful, and thought-provoking content in the context of what is congruent with real industry and human experiences in innovation impacting people, purpose, planet and profit. In keeping with the spirit of “Satoshi” [purported to be the originator of Bitcoin] who shared an idea to address an injustice fueled by the  global financial crisis, I feel Consensus 2023 remains cognizant of and intentional of why we are here…together creating something epic together. I left humbled yet hopeful!”
Consensus attendee Julie Lamb, founder of tech startup “NFT VIP,” conference chair of Hamptons Tech Week, advisor of Accelerator group “The Crypto Oracle Collective” (and a former Ford Fashion model to boot) shares,
“Right now we are in a bear market, so you have a choice: You either eat the bear or you let the bear eat you. Consensus ate the bear. As my friend 4-time Grammy-nominated music producer and Rolling Stone Culture Council contributor Larry Dvoskin says, “It feels like we are late to a party that hasn’t started yet.“
“There has been an explosion of conferences built around future technology or “future tech” and Consensus is among the leaders.” I feel like Consensus 2023 came at a really good time because people want to be the pioneers of this new digital age. These conferences have become a way for people to travel and connect with fellow like-minded explorers who are looking for the promise that is going to come from the revolution of future tech. Consensus had a very large “tradeshare” area with very large booth spaces where exhibitors really presented pre-pandemic booth buildouts.”
“I am a female founder of a tech startup called NFT VIP. We use blockchain, a chain of numbers that cannot be modified and is part of the public record which cannot be altered, to create immersive ticket experiences (utilizing tokens). Using blockchain is good for my personal ethos which is elevating women’s voices and helping to inform underserved communities using the power of future tech. It knows no age or demographic. How can Consensus elevate more women’s voices to bring them into the crypto conversation? Consensus could be more equitable and inclusive as I wanted to see more women in the audience. As for myself, I am currency agnostic. When you want to pay me for my consulting and services, pay me in ETH if you wish.“
In a demonstration that Web3 makes strange alliances moderated by CoinDesk Host Jennifer Sanasie, Grammy Award-winning music producer Andre “Dre” Lyon talked shop with Franklin Templeton Digital Asset Advisory Services Senior Vice President Sandy Kaul and Co-founder Lori Hotz of the Lobus “arts management platform created to provide artists, collectors, and advisors with management tools” discussing ways to build wealth for both investors and artists through digital assets.
In all, a very avant-garde week for the intrepid and bold seeking new frontiers. Consensus 2024 will be held again in Austin and tickets are already on sale for purchase: Consensus 2024 Presented by CoinDesk
Outstanding article! Very well written and it was almost like a “Dummies Guide to Consensus 2023” for me. Whereas, I was able to understand the landscape and the dynamics, bee after reading this article.
Thank you, John Alfone !