This week, I found myself at a rooftop party in New York City with crypto enthusiasts.
The DJs were two non-fungible tokens from the Bored Ape Yacht Club, created by Boston’s Big Night Entertainment Group and animated on a big screen. The dancers had images of NFTs on their outfits. There was an aerial acrobat and someone walking around with a snake.
Most people were in town for NFT.NYC, a 15,000-person conference designed to celebrate the industry. Crypto conferences of this size and extravagance tend to happen in cities like New York, Miami, and Austin, but not Boston as of yet.
The event I was at lasted until the early hours of the morning. Over the blaring electronic dance music, people talked about what brought them into crypto and exchanged contact information via Telegram, a messaging service that’s popular within the community.
To outsiders — including the investment bankers who arrived in suits only to be surrounded by T-shirts and baseball caps — the vibes might have felt a bit off.
In recent weeks, cryptocurrencies have crashed. The NFT market has been declining in value this year. (The NFT DJs “performing” at the party have lost about 75 percent of their value since Big Night purchased them last fall for nearly half a million dollars.)
But the crypto crowd is known for its relentless optimism. This week, there were few signs that the plunging market has dampened the mood.
The conference took place across a handful of hotels in Times Square, as well as Radio City Music Hall. Sponsors included Coinbase, which last week said it was laying off nearly a fifth of its staff.
“It’s awesome to see everyone here,” said Michael Krilivsky, who founded a company that lets people buy NFTs without crypto. He noted the conference “was planned before the market went down,” looking around at a room full of people who paid between $599 and $1,999 to be there.
Speakers talked about “Meaningful Use of NFTs in Healthcare” and “Revolutionizing the Future of Work with NFTs.” Startups filled the halls of the Marriott Marquis — I heard about a decentralized autonomous organization (called a “DAO” in crypto startup-speak) for pet insurance and a digital picture frame people could buy to display NFTs.
When asked about the macro environment, many reverted to common responses. They explained that it’s still the “early days,” or that a downturn is the best time to “build.”
Only sometimes did the positive outlook give way to a less rosy view.
One founder mentioned they planned to wind down their startup and return investors’ money, realizing the market they were in was too early. A dinner-club DAO gathered members in Brooklyn for a pizza party, noting that since its funds are held in ethereum, it has much less money to spend these days. An artist mentioned that the price of their digital artwork has dropped from $300 to $20 since February — and people still aren’t buying it.
But for the most part, there were few signs of pulling back, and the NFT-fest went on as planned.
“We haven’t hit zero yet,” crypto venture capitalist David Pakman reassured a crowd while on stage at Radio City Music Hall. “It’s not over.”