In 2017, David Bailey saw his portfolio of companies make hundreds of millions in the speculative mania of 2017 and 2018, and then lose hundreds of millions of dollars. “We had really scaled up our organization,” he recalls. “We were in a wide variety of businesses that were not focused on Bitcoin.”
One day, he sat down with his CTO and co-founder and told them he wasn’t having fun anymore.
“If we’re going to lose all of our money, we better lose it for something that is worth losing it for,” he told them. “Say what you want about people that are out there scamming, but at least they go and have fun scamming and buying lambos and stuff.”
His portfolio of companies were burning money on things in which they didn’t even necessarily believe. “We made the decision as a company that, if we’re going all in on this technology, we’re going all in on what we have conviction for, and what we think philosophically at the end of the day, if we lost all of our money, was worth doing. And for us, that was Bitcoin.”
In 2018, his team made the decision to divest from every business they owned not directly focused on Bitcoin. With Bitcoin Magazine, they would not cover any projects unless they were Bitcoin-related nor would the businesses invest into any asset other than Bitcoin.
“It was a tough decision to make because so much of the ecosystem and so many of the business opportunities that exist are not Bitcoin specific,” said Bailey. Back then, furthermore, the fork wars had just happened, and the Bitcoin community seemed divided.
“The landscape in the Bitcoin ecosystem was very complex, fractured and tense,” said Bailey. “There were a lot of tense people who were very disgruntled about Bitcoin Cash or Bitcoin Core, etc.”
If they were going to be full time focused as an organization on Bitcoin, then they needed to try to help the Bitcoin ecosystem return back to the roots that made them passionate and excited about the technology in the first place.
They wrote a blog post announcing the pivot and launched a campaign called Make Bitcoin Fun Again. They also created the Bitcoin Conference, which was designed as a vehicle to expose people to Bitcoin culture, as well as the ideas that made the Bitcoin Magazine team passionate about the technology. The conference’s goal was to inspire people to see why the technology is more than just a speculative asset.
Many people who are now cryptocurrency enthusiasts weren’t involved in Bitcoin in the early days. For so many, they entered into the ecosystem through Ethereum or another altcoin. “The universe that they knew was very limited in that capacity,” said Bailey. “They had never really been invited to take a bite of the forbidden fruit that is Bitcoin.”
Going all in on Bitcoin represented a big change within their organization, said Bailey, suggesting some people in the organization were skeptical of the pivot. The conference, however, proved to be a major success.
The approach with Bitcoin 2019 was simple: It wasn’t meant to be a Bitcoin maximalist conference. While everyone was welcomed, the conference was to only be about Bitcoin. “We don’t care what your political views are, we don’t care what’s in your portfolio, and we don’t care what you do outside of this event,” said Bailey. “But, if you’re here, you’re here to learn about Bitcoin, you’re here to contribute to Bitcoin. It exposed a lot of people to a side of the ecosystem that they’ve never been exposed to before.”
Bailey sees the Bitcoin counterculture as a tool to evangelize the technology in a broader manner. “It’s very cool to see people who were altcoiners, and, after getting a taste of what Bitcoin is all about, dedicate themselves and their projects to Bitcoin,” he said. The conference was a big success, and will always have a special place in Bailey’s heart.
“That conference was one of the best experiences of what the Bitcoin culture is all about that I’ve been a part of in the past 10 years of this industry, and our team walked away from that event so jacked up about what had just happened,” he said. “It felt like magic. It was undeniably obvious to every single person at this organization that all we needed to do was focus on Bitcoin.”
They’ve been doing just that ever since, including placing their entire company treasury into Bitcoin.“It’s worked out for us and we wake up every day and the entire team here is truly mission driven to bring Bitcoin to the world,” he said.
Pivoting to a Bitcoin-only business model wasn’t really a validated business approach. “It’s not like Bitcoin companies were just crushing it at that point in time, either,” said Bailey. “So, it really was an ideological decision. And, it’s one thing to have an ideology and a philosophy in your head. It’s another thing to see that validated by the marketplace. And so, when we had this conference that was much bigger, much higher energy, with much more sponsor support than we could have really ever imagined, we realized how much untapped demand there was for the Bitcoin community to really return.”
The plan was to return for a Spring 2020 edition of the conference. But, mere weeks ahead of Bitcoin2020, the world was locked down. Bitcoin Conference organizers were left hanging. When COVID hit, and Bitcoin prices were tanking, it was “a very dark month” for Bitcoin Magazine and the conference.
“We had already paid out millions of dollars and expenses to vendors and contractors,” said Bailey. “We were only three or four weeks away from the conference happening, when we had to cancel it. We could have been financially ruined. We would have done whatever we had to do to make it through, but that was a sticky situation.”
The Bitcoin Community proved incredibly generous. “We ended up offering all attendees full refunds, but we asked if they would rollover their ticket to a future date,” said Bailey. “95% of people rolled their tickets over on the sponsorship side. We were just totally transparent with our sponsors about what was going on.”
That’s a testament to how relevant the conference had become for a lot of people as the de facto Bitcoin cultural event, according to a very thankful Bailey. People wanted to see it happen.
But, California state officials had other plans. At the risk of getting too controversial, Bailey lambasts the handling of COVID in California. “There has been so much propaganda,” he laments.
Bitcoin 2020 was originally going to be in San Francisco. “It became impossible for us to work with the City of San Francisco and so we moved to LA,” said Bailey. “We had a better spot. But, it was absolutely impossible to work with the County of LA and to work with the state of California. It was borderline totalitarian how they were acting.” The conference packed up and headed for the other side of the country to Miami, Florida.
“Miami is open for business,” said Bailey. “Go to another Tier One city with a similar population size, and it’s a completely opposite attitude and approach to how to handle COVID. How these two views can be held simultaneously, without there being any reconciliation between those views, I don’t know how that’s possible. If you look in LA, there [were] more people dying of COVID in LA than in Miami, and people haven’t been able to eat at restaurants in California for months.”
Bailey spoke with me from Nashville, Tennessee. “I can walk down the street at any restaurant I want,” he said. “People aren’t dying. It’s been eye opening to see how much politicization there is of topics that should be non-political.
He couldn’t imagine a better advertisement for Bitcoin than “to see the political stupidity of—even when there is a pandemic, and there actually is a health crisis going on—the complete lack of self-awareness or even interest in dealing with reality.”
If this is how officials act in a pandemic, he wonders what they’re doing with the peoples’ money. “Do you want these same people to control your monetary system? Are you out of your mind? It could not make the value of non-political math based money more clear than what’s happened with COVID policy around the world.”
Working with the City of Miami was a breath of fresh air for the Bitcoin Conference organizers. “They’ve been fantastic,” said Bailey. “It developed very quickly. The number one piece of feedback that we got on Bitcoin2019 is please do this conference outside of California. We wanted to have the conference in California, because it’s convenient for our the Chinese Bitcoin community. We want to tie the Chinese Bitcoin community and the western community more tightly together.”
Ultimately, the organizers had to find solid footing somewhere. The mayor of Miami had been making a really hard push to make Miami the Bitcoin capital of the world. “He’s got a lot of work to do on that front, but he was extremely receptive, and eager to work with us, set up calls and have his Comms Director working hand in hand with us, advocating for us on different levels of government, and getting feedback from the governor’s office about policy, regs,” said Bailey. “They’ve been awesome to work with.”
The conference made the jump from San Francisco to Miami quickly. “We made the decision in early January, and it was all able to come together in about 30 days,” said Bailey. “We couldn’t even get people to respond back to our emails in LA in 30 days. So that was a pretty awesome jump for us.”
The conference has been reworked to facilitate the new venue and city. “It’s causing us to shift a lot of our creative production plans for the conference, but it’s also given us a little bit more time and flexibility to work around, as well.”
Bailey says he is not sure if “conference” is the right word for Bitcoin2021. “It’s more like a festival,” he says. “Half-conference, half festival. We’re dealing with problems like how tall is the halfpipe going to be that Tony Hawk is going to skateboard on, how do we get a swimming pool on the back of a semi-truck, how much does it cost to fly in sumo wrestlers? This conference is going to be a spectacle.”
Bailey’s favorite part about Bitcoin is that it is the peoples’ money—“It’s the great equalizer.” This will be reflected in the conference. “We’re probably going to have fifty billionaires plus at this conference,” he said. “We’re going to have venture capitalists with anarchists. We’re going to have hedge fund guys with r/WallStreetBets yolo traders. We have the entire gamut that makes up what the Bitcoin scene is all under one roof.”
Bailey thinks that’s part of what makes Bitcoin so cool. “It’s for everyone equally,” he said. “And so a lot of people are going to be a little shocked by [the event], but it’s going to be Bitcoin in its full glory.”
He adds: “It will be the biggest Bitcoin event in history”
Listen to David’s interview with The GoldSilverBitcoin Podcast below: