On December 10 and 11 MediaBistro, a company that specializes in hosting blogs, courses and events on various topics relevant to the tech industry, held their second Inside Bitcoins conference in Las Vegas, in a similar spirit to their existing Inside 3D Printing and Inside Social Apps events. The conference took place at the MGM Grand hotel, the second largest hotel in the world, and used one large conference room seating over 1000 people and an exhibition room to host the event. Over a thousand people were present, including many of the largest businesses in the Bitcoin space. Although this was only one Bitcoin event of many in these last few months, with LaBitConf coming immediately before it, the Cryptocurrency Conference in Atlanta immediately followd by the Ripple developer event at the Future of Money conference in Las Vegas in October and the Amsterdam conference in September, over 1000 people showed up at the event – almost as many as in the first major Bitcoin conference that started the recent craze this May in San Jose.
There were several prominent speakers at the event:
- Bobby Lee – Bobby Lee is the CEO of BTCChina, the largest Bitcoin exchange in China and now the largest Bitcoin exchange in the world. BTCChina has taken the world by storm in the past two months, with its transaction volume rising from fourth place under MtGox, Bitstamp and BTC-E to taking over first place, at the time of the conference holding a larger market share than all North American and European Bitcoin exchanges (counting MtGox even though it is based in Japan) combined. Bobby Lee spoke about the uncertain state of Bitcoin regulation in China since the recent round of Chinese regulatory announcements. Some argue that the Chinese government is only forbidding the banking system from participating in the Bitcoin economy directly and businesses could not denominate prices in BTC, while others claim that the Chinese government is forbidding businesses from accepting BTC outright, relegating the role of Bitcoin in China to purely serving as a store of value and method for buying online services from foreign and Hong Kong-based merchants; Lee took the latter position.
- Alan Reiner – Reiner is the CEO of Armory, a company building what is currently the most powerful and secure Bitcoin wallet including features such as a built-in elliptic curve point calculator, a paper wallet backup mechanism and offline transaction signing. Recognizing that such a wallet is of little use to the average user, Reiner has decided to make Armory target corporate users interested in securely managing large amounts of funds using complex configurations involving multisignature transactions and Shamir’s Secret Sharing for security. Armory recently raised a $600,000 investment round led by precious metals guru and Bitcoin advocate Trace Mayer.
- Jered Kenna – Kenna is the CEO of Tradehill, a Bitcoin exchange that was the second largest in 2011, shut down in 2012 due to regulatory and banking issues, and was revived in 2013 as a Bitcoin exchange for businesses and accredited investors. At its peak, Coinbase and BitPay used Tradehill as a sort of “exchange for exchanges” to sell the bitcoins that they receive from users and merchants. Now, however, Tradehill has unfortunately essentially shut down, as regulatory obstacles have prevented it from getting any banking relationships. Jered Kenna’s speech, however, was a very positive “state-of-the-union” address on the topic of Bitcoin in general.
Also of interest are the businesses:
- Lamassu – Lamassu was first formed by New Hampshire residents Josh and Zach Harvey in early 2013, with the goal of creating the first functional Bitcoin ATM to allow customers to buy bitcoins with cash. The company presented its first functional prototypes at the Bitcoin conference in San Jose in May, at Porcfest in June and at BTCLondon in July. Since then, Lamassu has been hard at work fortifying the machine on both the software and hardware level and making it easier to use. Very recently, Lamassu has started actually shipping out the machines to their first batch of customers at a price of $5000.
- KryptoKit – KryptoKit is a powerful, lightweight and easy-to-use Chrome extension that serves as an encrypted messaging app and a Bitcoin wallet. The application, built by Anthony Di Iorio and Steve Dakh starting November 2013, has attracted a large amount of media attention recently, with articles on both major Bitcoin news sites and even mainstream media websites. KryptoKit’s main advantage over existing platforms such as the browser-based blockchain.info wallet and the Enigmail encrypted email plugin is the sheer level of convenience that it provides; with KryptoKit, you can pay without even leaving the browser tab that you’re paying from, and the interface makes it easy for you to create and share a GPG key and seamlessly performs the encryption, signing, decryption and verification operations in the background. Although its interface is not perfect – the concept of sharing public keys, for example, is still not intuitive to most people – it is a massive step toward making a Bitcoin wallet and secure messaging app that is easy to use for the masses.
- Butterfly Labs – although the company had a rocky start when it first released its application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC)-based mining hardware in early 2013, it is now rapidly picking up, and has recently processed an order for $1 million worth of mining hardware.
- yBitcoin – yBitcoin is a company releasing another Bitcoin magazine, which handed out its first issue at the conference. However, yBitcoin’s magazine has a very different focus from Bitcoin Magazine; yBitcoin’s magazine is not intended to cover current events or update often, and does not target existing Bitcoin users; instead, it serves as an easy-to-read introduction to Bitcoin for those who have not yet had much exposure to Bitcoin. Issues of yBitcoin magazine will also be released for free; the magazine intends to fund itself with advertising revenue.
Altogether, the conference sent a clear message: the Bitcoin scene is getting big, fast. At the conference, one could spot not just prominent Bitcoiners, but also high-level executives of major corporations, individuals looking to buy large quantities of mining hardware, and investors walking around with millions of dollars ready to pour into whatever Bitcoin businesses they see as the most promising. Although the latest round of Bitcoin’s growth may have died down somewhat, with the price stabilizing around $400-$700 following news of serious regulatory difficulties in China, the groundwork is already quietly being laid for Bitcoin businesses to make the leap to the next level. The next few conferences are going to take place in Miami in January 2014, Berlin and the Philippines in February, Austin in March, and Toronto and New York in April. Hope to see you there!