Blog // Toronto Coworking

Bitcoin Begins

Jeffrey Howard

(Scroll halfway down for the video)

Continuing our celebration of Camden Street's 7th birthday, I'm throwing back to one of my all time favourite events to take place here.

It was March 2015 and our Drinks & Demos nights had become a monthly staple in the Toronto startup community.

We had explored topics like venture capital, startup marketing, crowdfunding, sales and lots more. On this particular night we did a deep-dive into bitcoin and blockchain technology.

I assembled the best minds I could find. These included the late Gerald Cotten (Founder/CEO, QuadrigaCX), Anthony Di Iorio (Founder, Decentral), Alex Ianus (Software Engineer, Coinbase) and William Mougayar (Founder, Startup Management). I found the conversation fascinating.

In reflecting back on this pivotal event in Camden Street's history, it made me think about why I had wanted to host it in the first place.

Bitcoin had come across my radar many times in the years prior. I think the first time I heard about it was in 2010 while Neil and I were still living in Kingston, working on Konekt Magazine. 

A friend of ours had told us there was a way to make money simply by turning on your computer. All you had to do was install some bitcoin mining software, and that was it. Easy peasy.

Having just finished school, this was tempting. But to be honest, it sounded like a scam. Pass.

A few years later, in June 2013, I attended the Bloomberg Next Big Thing Summit in California. One of the debate questions was “Will bitcoin become a widely used currency?” In the months leading up to the conference, the price ($US) had gone from $13 to $220 and crashed down to $70. People were divided as to how something so volatile could be used for everyday transactions. I was once again fascinated, but not convinced.

Fast forward to late 2014 and a good friend of ours was starting a bitcoin ATM network here in Toronto. He wanted to know if we would be interested in having one at 20 Camden Street. We said sure!

We really didn’t think it would get any use but, to our surprise, a steady stream of people started coming in to buy and sell bitcoin.

Now it had my attention. So, in an effort to figure out what the heck was going on, I put together an event called “Bitcoin For the Rest of Us”. Looking back, it's scary how accurate some of the predictions were...

As you'll hear in the video, I was comparing the rise of bitcoin to the popularization of the Internet in 1993 (as punctuated by a hilarous clip of Peter Mansbridge). In other words... this was a big deal.

Here are some points that stood out from the panel:

• Bitcoin is all about freedom. It allows you to exchange value absolutely free and instantly, anywhere in the world, without the need for any government or third party involvement. Our panelists thought the future was going to become increasingly decentralized in this way.

• As awesome as bitcoin is, it is just ONE example of what is possible with blockchain technology. Everything from currency exchanges to business contracts to property ownership to marriage licenses can be verified on the blockchain. Bitcoin was just the beginning.

• As awesome as blockchain technology is, it lives in limbo without legal recognition. As Alex puts it, "Until we have legal recognition of ownership that's reflected on the blockchain, it doesn't have real impact outside the Internet." If a judge won't enforce it, it's a tough sell.

• Beware the hype. William wisely points out how similar the quick rise of bitcoin was to the popularization of the Internet, and ultimately the dot com crash. In his words, "Some people wanted the Internet to get where it was going a lot faster... we need to walk before we can run."

• Ethereum gets mentioned a few times. This is a decentralized, open-source blockchain, which Anthony had co-founded, but had not yet launched at the time of the recording. If you follow this space, chances are you've heard of Ethereum, as it's now the 2nd largest cryptocurrency in the world.

Be sure to watch the video as there's lots more insight.

So now it's 2021, Camden Street is seven years old, and people are as divided as ever about bitcoin.

Innovative entrepreneur Elon Musk recently disclosed Tesla added $1.5 billion of Bitcoin to the their balance sheet. They also said they would begin accepting bitcoin as payment for their vehicles. Big validation. 

Meanwhile, old guard tech titan, Bill Gates, is very skeptical, and recently issued a warning about the bitcoin mania

In response, Willam Mougayer (one of our 2015 panelists) tweeted:

"With respect for @BillGates, taking advice abt Bitcoin frmone who doesn't own Bitcoin is risky. There are new ways to make money, other than building software products. Crypto is building new financial products. Old worlds never like new worlds."

And remember our panelists talking about different way to reflect ownership on the blockchain? That exact thing is now happening with NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens). These are used to represent things like digital art, event seats, sports memorabilia, real estate, and lots more.

Just last month, Christie’s Auction House sold a piece of digital art for $69 million. Not too shabby.

It seems like our panel back in 2015 was right. Bitcoin was just the beginning. Makes you wonder... what's next?

Thank you 🙌
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