The whining cords of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” echoed through Radio City’s dim, velvet-lined main stage, then disappeared into the darkness as the attendees of the third NFT.NYC conference entered the filter to take their seats. next track is “Give Me Everything” by Pitbull. It was a strange soundtrack that would be totally appropriate to the strange friction and crazy messages that permeate such conventions.
This year’s conference, perhaps the largest of the ever-growing circuit of NFT events to emerge around the world, comes at a difficult time. Since peaking in January 2022, the cryptocurrency market has been falling rapidly during what some experts describe as a crash. Yet the community put on a brave face, remaining optimistic, as the opponents said, “I told you so.” More than 15,000 attendees signed up for the conference, out of the nearly 5,000 attendees who attended last year, when the market was in a very different place.
For a market built on community excitement and willingness to take risks and airdrops, the survival of the scene depends on events like these, where people can promise each other that something very big is coming very soon.
‘The Place of New York NFTs’
“Many say to me, ‘Why don’t you go to Austin or Vegas?’ said. I said, ‘New York is the place for NFTs, New York has billboards in Times Square, New York has money markets, New York has art and culture, but most importantly, New York has people’ and that’s what Jodee Rich, co-founder of NFT.NYC, spoke during the keynote panel.
Also on the panel were the other two founders of NFT.NYC, Cameron Bale, a former employee of Rich’s, and Devin Finzer, CEO and founder of OpenSea, the world’s largest NFT marketplace. Rich, Bale and Finzer have been working together on NFT.NYC since 2018 when they came up with the idea for spaghetti bowls at Bar Pitti, and their ambitions have grown since then.
“Our event has always been about the community and that’s why we have 1,500 speakers,” Rich continued. “When we were asked to put the celebrities on stage, joyful they are famous. We say no more than yes to real celebrities because we really want this to be an event about people passionate about NFTs.”
At this point in the NFT market, it is clear in statements like this that the line between consumer and producer is almost non-existent.
Rich offers audience members NFT.NYC embroidered polo shirts (“Oh, joyfulShe threw her shirt at a man, shouted into her microphone, “Yeah, hello…”), and spent half the 30-minute panel clicking tweets about NFT.NYC that she thought were funny or inspiring. Every now and then, he paused to explain the joke behind whatever meme was beaming above his head.
Next came David Pakman, a VC with CoinFund, ready to assure the audience that the market is still in a strong position.
“You heard about the crash, the crypto crisis, it’s all a scam, it’s just a Ponzi scheme. Of course, none of these statements are true, yes, there are bad actors in every new ecosystem,” says Pakman. “But crypto and NFTs in particular have been operating a decisive amount despite the decline in asset prices over the past six months. We haven’t reached zero yet – it’s not over.”
Pakman showed the audience the best NFT collections and the billions of dollars worth of crypto invested in them. It also showed some graphs that convey an interesting tidbit: The average NFT consumer spends about $900 on an NFT.
“Let’s put that into perspective. Netflix users spend an average of $180 a year, Spotify is under $60, so we’re looking at NFTs as a consumer product and we’re very excited,” Pakman said. “We’re in a super upswing and we know you are too, or 15,000 people wouldn’t have gone to NYC to carry the torch.”
Losers and Winners
“All these VCs who panicked because they couldn’t make a million dollars in three minutes,” Louie C Rhymes, a self-described NFT rapper, said at a luncheon at Bond 45. ‘ but no matter what time it is, it’s time to build.”
“It’s time to build, regroup, and focus,” agreed Cipher founder Ezra Lezinger, better known as EZinCrypto, who wore a hat that read, “This is not financial advice.”
Regarding the general mood of optimism at the conference, Lezinger said, “The people who come here are passionate about their projects and communities, they don’t let the markets stop them.”
Rhymes and Lezinger pointed out that the only losers in this equation are those who speculate at the top.
Also on Bond54 was Matt Cheung, the entrepreneur who works with 13-year-old NFT millionaire Beyamin Ahmed behind the Weird Whales collection. (In the underground floor of the restaurant, Ahmet, wearing sunglasses, was shepherds off the table by his father, who said that Beyamin should be prepared for his speech.)
Cheung has a more sober view of things.
“I am optimistic and so are everyone I talk to,” Cheung said. “I’ve been working in traditional financial markets since ’99 – I’ve had market crashes before.” Of course, Cheung acknowledged that investing in crypto and NFTs is riskier than entering traditional markets, but said he was careful and strategic about his involvement.
Cheung, the founder of a financial mentoring program called Work in Fintech, said he encourages young people to avoid working with banks and seek fast-growing industries. Cheung, on the other hand, got into the crypto business six years ago when his daughter was born.
“I thought to myself: what will the world look like in 2035? I guessed: It will all be blockchain, automation and VR,” said Cheung. But these sectors don’t last forever either – they’re fine only as long as they’re in their exponential phase. “In 10 years this conference will be in Las Vegas and we’re all going to move on to the next thing.”