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New York’s Biggest NFT Event Kicks Off Awkwardly as Power Players Try to Allay Crypto Doubts

The whining strings of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” echoed across Radio City’s dark, velvet-lined main stage as attendees of the third NFT.NYC conference entered to be seated, before melting away in the next track, “Give Me Everything” by Pitbull. It was an eerie soundtrack that would end up being totally appropriate for the awkward friction and manic messages that permeate this kind of convention.

This year’s conference, perhaps the largest in the ever-growing circuit of NFT events that have sprung up around the world, comes at a difficult time. Since its peak in January 2022, the cryptocurrency market has rapidly declined during what some experts have described as a crash. Yet the community has shown courage, remaining optimistic as naysayers say “I told you so”. More than 15,000 attendees registered for the conference, up from about 5,000 attendees last year, when the market was in a much different location.

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For a market that’s built on community excitement and a willingness to take risks and weather meltdowns, the survival of the scene depends on events like these, where people can promise each other that something huge is coming soon.

“New York is the perfect place for NFTs”

“A lot of people said to me, ‘Why don’t you go to Austin or Vegas?’ And I say, “New York is the place for NFTs, New York has the billboards in Times Square, New York has the financial markets, New York has the arts and culture, but most importantly, New York a people,’ and it’s you guys,” said Jodee Rich, one of the founders of NFT.NYC during the opening panel.

This panel also included the other two founders of NFT.NYC, Cameron Bale, a former Rich’s employee, and Devin Finzer, CEO and founder of OpenSea, the world’s largest NFT marketplace. Rich, Bale and Finzer have worked together on NFT.NYC since 2018, when they first came up with the idea over bowls of spaghetti at Bar Pitti, and their ambitions have grown ever since.

“Our event has always been community driven, and that’s why we have 1,500 speakers,” Rich continued. “When we are asked to put celebrities on stage, you are the celebrities. In fact, we say no to real celebrities more than we say yes because we really want this event to be an event for people who are passionate about NFTs.

It is clear in remarks like these that at this stage of the NFT market, the boundary between consumer and producer is almost non-existent.

That good start was quickly derailed when Rich put on a slightly odd show, which involved gifting audience members with NFT.NYC embroidered polo shirts (“Oh, youhe exclaimed into his mic as he tossed his shirt at a man, “Yeah hello…”), then spent half the 30-minute panel clicking tweets on NFT.NYC that he found funny or inspiring. Every once in a while, he would stop to explain the joke behind the meme that was playing above his head.

David Pakman, a VC with CoinFund, came next, ready to assure the audience that the market was still in a strong position.

“You hear about the crash, the crypto crisis, that it was all fraud, that it was just a Ponzi scheme. Of course, none of these claims are true, although yes, there are bad actors in every new ecosystem,” Pakman said. “But crypto and NFTs in particular are showing decisive activity despite falling asset prices over the past six months. We haven’t reached zero yet, it’s not over.

Pakman showed the public the best NFT collections and the many billions of crypto dollars that have been invested in them. He also displayed graphics that communicated an interesting piece of information: the average NFT consumer would spend around $900 on an NFT.

“Let’s put this into perspective. Netflix users spend on average, over the course of a year, around $180, Spotify is less than $60, so as a consumer product we watch NFTs and we’re very excited,” Pakman said. “We’re super optimistic, and we know you are too, otherwise 15,000 of you wouldn’t have traveled to New York to carry the torch.”

Those who lose and those who win

“It’s all these VCs freaking out ’cause they don’t make a million dollars in three minutes,” Louie C Rhymes, a self-proclaimed NFT rapper, said over lunch at Bond 45. “They like, ‘Time to build, ‘ but no matter what time it is, it’s time to build.

Cipher founder Ezra Lezinger, better known as EZinCrypto, who wore a hat that read “This is not financial advice,” agreed, saying, “It’s time to build, to regroup, to concentrate”.

Commenting on the conference’s generally upbeat vibe, Lezinger said, “People who come here are passionate about their projects and their community, they don’t let the markets stop them.”

The only losers in this equation, Rhymes and Lezinger pointed out, were those who bought at the top and speculated.

Also at Bond54 was Matt Cheung, an entrepreneur who works with Beyamin Ahmed, the 13-year-old NFT millionaire behind the Weird Whales collection. (Ahmed, wearing sunglasses in the restaurant’s basement, was guided off the table by his father, who said Beyamin needed to get ready for his speech.)

Cheung has a more calm view of things.

“I’m optimistic, and everyone I’ve talked to is too,” Cheung said. “I’ve been working in traditional financial markets since 1999. I’ve been through stock market crashes before.” Of course, Cheung acknowledged, investing in crypto and NFTs is riskier than entering traditional markets, but he said he had been careful and strategic in his involvement.

Founder of a financial mentorship program called Work in Fintech, Cheung said he encourages young people to avoid working with banks and seek out fast-growing sectors. For his part, Cheung got into crypto six years ago when his daughter was born.

“I said to myself: what will the world look like in 2035? I guessed: it’s going to be all blockchain, automation and VR,” Cheung said. But these sectors aren’t forever either – they’re only good while they’re in their early exponential stages. “Ten years from now, this conference will be in Las Vegas, and we’ll all move on to the next one.”

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