Staged Protests, Rented Lambos Show Bitcoin Hype Alive And Well

(Bloomberg) -- John Nouri makes a living renting out exotic cars for weddings, birthdays, bachelorette parties, and now … Bitcoin conferences?

Today he stood outside the Hilton Midtown hotel in Manhattan, guarding three Lamborghinis -- bright orange, navy blue and black -- that Broadway SuperCars had rented to BitMex for the day. Nouri declined to disclose how much the crypto exchange had paid, but said a rental like that typically goes for around $1,000.

The flashy cars that symbolize conspicuous consumption among Bitcoin true-believers had caused a stir earlier as they roared through the streets near the hotel. Another stunt came from an upstart mining company called Genesis Mining. The firm hired actors to portray aggrieved bankers who will lose their financial services jobs when blockchain takes over the industry.

The gimmicks show that the hype that surrounded Bitcoin as it burst on the mainstream last year remains alive and well even after the biggest digital coin fell more than 50 percent from its December peak of almost $20,000.

Genesis said the protest was a “fun way” to show how crypto can upend banking “if they fail to adapt to the new world we live in,” according to a blog post on its website.

A hundred feet away, MK Li stood in front of the revolving hotel doors with a sign that read “Help a fellow VC to pay for this expensive conference!” Sporting a pink button-down shirt with a purple bowtie, the conference goer was accepting donations in digital tokens -- a way to protest the hefty price he’d paid for a conference about a technology that was meant to eliminate the need for expensive middlemen.

Ticket prices ranged from from $1,499 to $2,999, suggesting that organizer CoinDesk Inc. raked in at least $12.8 million in revenue from admissions alone. There are also more than 100 sponsors such as IBM, SAP and Microsoft Corp.

Inside the hotel, several floors up, one peeved attendee said to another, “How is this not a fire-code violation?’’ The two stood in the doorway of a packed ballroom, straining their necks to get a glimpse of a presentation about Cryptogaphic Innovations.

The hype is real at Consensus, the biggest of about two dozen events that make up “Blockchain Week.’’ So far, the conference — which is expected to bring in more than 8,000 people this year — has featured flannels, business suits, cowboy hats and dreadlocks amid a standing-room only sea of crypto and blockchain enthusiasts.

Sima Baktas, who works for a blockchain startup in Istanbul, sported a T-shirt that said “Satoshi is Female,’’ -- a reference to the mysterious and still-unknown author of the original Bitcoin whitepaper. Nearby, a man wore a red sweater covered in pictures of dollar bills.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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