Crypto publisher Blockworks plans to host 5,000 attendees at an in-person event next spring

Illustration of a virtual conference waiting room.

Crypto-focused financial media company Blockworks is planning to host an in-person event for 5,000 people in spring 2022. That may sound like a pipe dream, with the COVID-19 Delta variant spreading across the globe and cases going up. But Blockworks co-founder Jason Yanowitz believes the rise of “DeFi,” or “decentralized finance,” is a topic interesting enough to draw thousands of institutions, investors and financial advisors to Florida for the event next year, called Permissionless. 

To be clear, Blockworks, an independent company that hasn’t taken any outside venture capital money, will not be going all-in on in-person attendance for Permissionless. Like other media companies, the publisher is adopting a hybrid approach and will live-stream the event for people to view remotely. That being said, Yanowitz called virtual events “over-hyped.” 

No one wants to “sit behind a computer for 10 hours” to tune into a conference, he said. “The main reason people go to events is for networking. DeFi is the single most interesting sector in crypto right now… and the best way to talk about [DeFi] is in person,” he said.

W. Joe DeMiero, CEO of experiential agency Hawkeye, said that while its clients are planning for large-scale in-person events next spring, “we anticipate most events will continue to have a strong virtual component, to meet attendees on their terms.”

The two-day Permissionless conference will feature in-person networking opportunities, panels, sessions, debates and roundtable discussions, in either Palm Beach or Miami. “The area around Miami has a really booming crypto scene,” Yanowitz said, who added that Blockworks did not choose Florida as the setting for the event because of its historically more lax COVID-19 restrictions.

According to Ethereum analytics company Dune Analytics, there are over 3 million people who participate in the DeFi industry, which lets people access savings, loans, trading and insurance online without going through a centralized company.

Attendees will be required to either upload proof of vaccination to a portal hosted by EventScan, or get a rapid COVID-19 test onsite at the event. COVID-19 precautions mean events are more expensive to run compared to pre-pandemic times, but it’s worth “lowering your margin 5% or even 10% so that attendees are really safe,” Yanowitz said. In the past, a venue for 3,000 people might be chosen for a 5,000-person event, to accommodate last-minute cancellations or no-shows, “but now you can’t take that risk,” he said. “We get a bigger venue that costs more money, and then the margin goes down a little, but people are more comfortable.”

Tickets to Permissionless went on sale on yesterday for $15.59. As of Tuesday evening, Blockworks had sold 500 tickets to Permissionless. Today, the ticket price jumped to $49 and will go up again to $99 on Sept. 1. “Then we’ll increase the price every two weeks to drive continued buying,” Yanowitz said. 

Yanowitz expects “high seven figures” of revenue from sponsorships and ticket sales to Permissionless. Since launching in May 2018, Blockworks has hosted about a dozen events, which make up less than 30% of the company’s revenue, Yanowitz said. To have a diversified media company, “we don’t want any part of our business to make up more than 30% of our revenue,” he added. Blockworks is expanding other parts of its business this year too, adding two more newsletters to double its portfolio in the second half of this year. The company plans to expand its team from 22 to around 35-40 by the end of the year, Yanowitz said, to help grow its events as well as newsletter, podcast and content businesses.

Blockworks hasn’t had an in-person event since it cancelled its last conference in March 2020, an event that was supposed to take place during New York Blockchain Week in May. But by the time it hosts Permissionless next spring, the publisher will have put on three in-person events in 2021: a summit in Bretton Woods, NH from August 11-13, an event in NYC in September and another one in London in November. 

The Bretton Woods event is invite-only and will host about 250 people, while the ones in NYC and London will have 600 to 700 people, according to Yanowitz. The Bretton Woods event will be limited to in-person attendees. As with Permissionless, the NYC and London events will be hybrid affairs. Each panel will be live-streamed, and virtual attendees will be charged 10% of the in-person ticket cost. Tickets for the Bretton Woods event are nearly sold out. Yanowitz expects to sell out all three events this year.

The biggest question attendees and advertisers ask Blockworks about its upcoming events is if there is a contingency plan if the pandemic comes roaring back, Yanowitz said. (Blockworks has worked with clients like Fidelity, Coinbase, Gemini and TD Ameritrade.) The plan? “If an event ends up getting pushed, there is no charge for the clients. We roll their sponsorships, and attendee tickets, into future events,” Yanowitz said. In other words, instead of moving advertiser money into newsletter sponsorships or podcast ads if an event shuts down, Blockworks will ensure advertisers get to sponsor another event in the next six to 12 months. 

“Audiences will dictate how they interact and consume experiences such as these — and this needs to be considered when designing and creating events and experiences. Some audiences can’t wait to be in the thick of things. Others will want to join in remotely,” said Jonathan Emmins, founder of media and marketing agency Amplify.

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