On June 25th, high up on the 26th floor of the New York Times building in midtown Manhattan, the law offices of Goodwin Procter LLP hosted the latest ON21 Vision Series event. This instance, called “ON: BITCOIN INVESTING”, was specifically focused on Bitcoin and promised to present “some of the most insightful and practical thought leadership available, especially in the Bitcoin and Digital Currency sector” and was sponsored by the Harvard Business School Club of New York , MintCombine, and DoughMain.
The first phase of the gathering was an hour-long, catered reception that allowed early arrivals to meet and greet each other. Fortunately, I arrived nearly at the start and was able to spend a few minutes speaking with Roya Mahboob, one of the key players in the Bitcoin-embracing Women’s Annex Foundation that is spreading in and across Afghanistan, Egypt, Mexico, and Pakistan. To read more about the exciting work that she and others are doing in this area, check out this link. In our conversation about the expansion of Bitcoin throughout her homeland, she claimed that, “Bitcoin is good for people who are not familiar with banking.” meaning that there was less financial inertia to overcome in bringing people up to speed. She went on to say that even for those who are familiar with banking practices, “It is hard for females to be banked [in Afghanistan]. And it is easier to secure.” And here “secure” means not only from people who might wish to take money away from someone – she turned to Bitcoin when she found herself having to hand-carry substantial amounts of currency on the street – but also it is easier to keep hidden from family members who might have issue with women possessing wealth. This program has already grown to encompass 55,000 students, including over 6,000 who have received higher skills training, and aside from giving women more marketable skills, the programs have been found to be great for self-confidence building and even just establishing additional avenues of communications and understanding. It was great talking with her and of course we here at Spelunkin wish her good luck with her endeavor and plan to follow her progress in the years ahead.
I also ran into Gene Vayngrib, the CEO of of Tradle. Tradle offers Bitcoin traders, analysts, and fund advisors the opportunity to enhance their portfolio with a variety of auto-trading algorithms they developed that currently operate on the Atlas exchange. The site has been functoning in private mode now but they are expecting to go to public beta in about two months. As a part of a long series on “What now?” regarding Bitcoin investment for consumers, we hope to revisit them later with a more in-depth review of their services and results.
After an hour of getting to meet various excited people from all walks of life who were attending, the main event was called to order. A good count of the number of attendees was difficult to measure but a rough estimate of 65 would be reasonable. The first speaker was a representative of Goodwin Procter LLP, Steve Davis, a partner in Goodwin Procter’s Business Law Department. He then introduced Rik Willard, the Co-Founder and CEO of MintCombine and moderator of the event. Rik then introduced the three members of the panel: Marshall Swatt, the Chief Technology Officer of Coinsetter, Steven Nerayoff, a serial entrepreneur and Founder & CEO of Maple Ventures, an emerging technology Venture Capital company, and Dr. John C. Edmunds, Professor of Finance at Babson College.
In order to get the crowd up to speed with Bitcoin in-concept, the classic “What is Bitcoin?” video was played for the audience, after which a series of topics were brought up dealing with various aspects of Bitcoin and investment. Some of the notable quotes:
Regarding Bitcoin protocol security: “The day someone can hack the Bitcoin encryption system is the day that all e-commerce is hacked.” – Mr. Swatt
Regarding regulation helping or hurting Bitcoin: “The government still retains power. There will still be regulation…. There are industry incumbents that do not want Bitcoin to succeed…. The existing laws are like a round peg trying to fit into a square hole.” – Mr. Nerayoff
Regarding the current state of usability: “Cars sold around 1905 would sometimes break the arms of the operators who tried to start them. By 1910, this was fixed across the industry.” – Dr. Edmunds
At the end of this portion, lasting well over an hour, a block of time was dedicated for general Q&A. With much of the tone of the discussion focusing around the next step towards popular expansion and much of legally-risk-adverse Wall Street being shy about plunging in to the yet unregulated terrain of Bitcoin investment, I asked the panel about their thoughts about Benjamin Lawsky’s (hopefully) upcoming “BitLicense” regulations and what the panel thought the resultant effect might be. Mr. Swatt gave me the bulk of the answers, saying that despite the self-imposed “end of Q2” deadline that was then approaching, he was not anticipating seeing anything until the end of July. He also said that he was disappointed that there isn’t more leadership in this area and that this regulatory nebulous period was hurting the industry across the country.
Additional questions of varying levels of complexity were asked, reflecting a varying degree of knowledge and familiarly with Bitcoin and they all were answered fairly well by members of the panel. Then the panel format was disbanded and a post-event networking session was established where I spent a fair amount of time assisting a prospective Bitcoin investor (his stated purpose) in some of the tools, security measures, and existing consumer services available to help guarantee a positive experience.