Diamond-handed crypto enthusiasts take the bull by the horns at Bitcoin 2023

The most prominent cryptocurrency shows its resilience at this year’s conference in Miami Beach

By Riley Kaminer

It wasn’t just those riding the mechanical bull installed in the Miami Beach Convention Center today that were taking the bull by the horns. Rather, the optimism about Bitcoin was universal amongst all the attendees Refresh Miami interacted with at this year’s edition of the cryptocurrency’s flagship conference

Organizers told us that the Bitcoin 2023 conference expects a total of 13,000 to 15,000 attendees – about half the attendance of Bitcoin 2022 – across the three-day event. The conference started today with an ‘industry’ day focused on the Bitcoin business community. The goals: to network, learn, and build together.

The crowd included a large swathe of the Bitcoin ‘maximalists’ or ‘maxis,’ as its die-hard supporters are known – focused on the cultural elements surrounding Bitcoin. Another major subset of the crowd was clearly focused on the technical side of the industry. But we also spoke to some newcomers who were interested in diving deeper into the ecosystem. Clearly, the allure remains, albeit to a lesser extent than last year.

Making sense of the banking bust

For Bitcoin fans, the recent collapse of traditional banks SVB and First Republic act as a point in Bitcoin’s favor.

Jan van Eck, CEO of asset manager Van Eck, which has $70 billion of assets under management, drew parallels between gold and Bitcoin as a way to hedge the risk of government monetary policy.

“The world can change really fast, and Bitcoin is a great thing to look at in people’s portfolios,” he said.

In a separate conversation, Wall Street veteran turned Bitcoin influencer Caitlin Long – one of the conference’s main draws – also noted that recent episodes have been “a gigantic advertisement for Bitcoin.”

L-R: Dylan LeClair, Caitlin Long, Mark Connors, and Ram Ahluwalia

“It’s not a shock that Bitcoin is up, in light of what’s happened in the traditional banking system.”

Mark Connors, the Head of Research for digital asset investor 3iQ, echoed these sentiments. He noted that the government had consolidated banks, which then overleveraged themselves – causing the global financial crisis. 

“It’s continuing,” Connors asserted. “In March, the Fed absorbed more banks, making this a multi-decade rollup.” It is in this context that the decentralized nature of Bitcoin might provide a competitive advantage.

Anxiety over regulation

If there were one main theme from today’s talks, it was that regulation poses an unknown threat to the Bitcoin community. There were different philosophies on how exactly to manage this lack of regulation. For instance, van Eck signaled that his firm plans to double down on its European presence, since legislators there seem more keen on providing regulatory guidance.

Experts were in consensus that regulators should act quickly. “We need action sooner, we need policy that’s not prohibitive, and we need education for the policymakers that are going to build the guidelines that are going to last for the sustainable future of Bitcoin,” asserted Mina Khattak, the senior director of crypto and web3 at Worldpay from FIS.

For Perianne Boring, founder of trade organization The Chamber of Digital Commerce, digital asset regulation proposed by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren “jeopardizes our American values.” 

Boring believes that Bitcoin and blockchain technology can advance US national security, economic security, and energy security. And broadly, she is optimistic that the Bitcoin crowd will prevail. “The pro-crypto army is bigger, more organized, and more sophisticated than any anti-crypto army I’ve seen on the ground in Washington, D.C.,” Boring asserted.

Builders continue to build

A buzzing expo floor showcased a wide range of professionals doubling down on Bitcoin – from nonprofits to lawyers to blockchain infrastructure providers and more. One row was devoted to a “Bitcoin Bazaar,” with small vendors selling wares as diverse as Bitcoin-themed children’s books and ‘shitcoin’ themed toilet wipes. And another section displayed Bitcoin artwork, much of it was available for purchase (in BTC, of course).

But startups played a protagonistic role at the conference. An international set of companies took part in ‘pitch day,’ or a continual series of pitch competitions across different verticals.

Miami startup Moon Mortgage was also in attendance. Brickell-based co-founder and CEO Aaron Nevin expressed his excitement about participating in the conference now as an exhibitor, after having attended for the last five years. 

“It’s like a big family reunion,” he told us. “This is the center of the crypto universe. It’s incredible to be here at Bitcoin 2023 – and to be in the crypto space.”

In April, Moon Mortgage announced a new product that enables users to borrow against the value of their crypto, in addition to a real estate mortgage product. Nevin said that we should expect more to come from this nine-person company as they continue to scale in the US.

The conference continues tomorrow and Saturday with keynotes from presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Vivek Ramaswamy and best-selling author Michael Lewis, as well as sessions about Bitcoin payments, self-custody, Bitcoin in the Global South, and more.



Riley Kaminer