This post is long overdue, it’s been sitting in my drafts for more than 2 months. I was hoping to release it with videos of recorded talks, but since video production delay has been (and continues to be) unpredictable, I will just post my thoughts now and talks will follow.
Beirut Bitcoin Meetup, the first!
Success is of course relative; it’s when expectations meet outcomes. Since my return to the Middle East (and specifically Lebanon), my search for Bitcoin enthusiasts and adopters was not very fruitful. And as such, I was expecting a small crowd with limited knowledge of this technology. Clearly, I was wrong.
We had 100+ people RSVP, around 50/60 show up in person, and another 100 or so tune in and out of the live stream. The event lasted for 2 hours–only because it was cut short to allow a speaker to leave.
We started our event with one of the most concisely effective introductions to Bitcoin:
Surprisingly, most people didn’t get it. So, we then switched to prepared talks. I kicked things off with a Bitcoin 101: what is Bitcoin and why does it matter? The talk was inspired by a recent post I wrote for ArabNet. Dr. Saif Ammous, assistant professor of economics at LAU (Lebanese American University), followed-up with an introduction to how Bitcoin works, with an economic twist to it. And finally Ola Doudin wrapped up the presentations with a discussion of existing and future Bitcoin applications.
The most exciting part of for attendees was a “get your hands dirty with Bitcoin” experiment advertised at and before the event. We walked every attendee through the wallet creation process and “secretly” funded their wallets with 2 milliBTC (0.002 bitcoins). They now all had their own Bitcoin wallet with their first bitcoins. The second part of the experiment consisted of donating live to one of three organizations we had chosen ahead of time: AltCity to thank them for hosting us, the Bitcoin Foundation for their support of Bitcoin, and WikiLeaks, because “they’re cool”. The whole process was interactive, and involved attendees working together.
The second half of the event was a Q&A session. This is when my expectations were blown away. We were bombarded with an hour of intelligent and non-generic questions, so much so that we had to cut the session short to let our speakers head back home. Attendees were engaged, interested, and savvy.
Beirut Bitcoin Meetup, the second!
The second meetup was held at the beautiful coworking space coworking+961 on April 8. This one was completely casual: no presentations or prepared content. The purpose was to get a lively discussion going.
We had 20/25 people show up, which is not bad, and partly explained by last minute advertising and by the fact that it was barely 3 weeks after the first. I had intended to do an exercise with the crowd to get people warmed-up. But just a few minutes into the event, the questions started pouring in. So I let go of my “agenda” and we kept the conversation going for an hour.
This time, because the event was simply a casual discussion, I could more clearly identify the different types of audience. I can place them across two spectrums (or spectra, if I want to sound fancy): from skeptics to supporters, and from closed-minded to open-minded individuals.
There is really only one type of person that turns me off: closed-minded individuals (whether skeptics or supporters). Those people that are stuck in their ways, hearing but not listening, antagonizing not engaging, simply unwelcoming to ideas that challenge their beliefs. This is a general opinion of mine that applies in all settings (not just Bitcoin). I bring it up here because I see it manifest itself more often than usual in a Bitcoin-related setting, due to the many novelties that Bitcoin introduces.
That aside, I very much enjoyed the conversation. I find it especially great when attendees answer each other’s questions and concerns.
Beirut Bitcoin Meetup, the future?
It seems like there’s potential for Bitcoin in Lebanon, after all. It’s undeniable that the ecosystem is still tiny today. But the level of engagement displayed by the few today could be an indication of the general attitude Lebanon will have towards Bitcoin. After all, we do like to think of ourselves as early adopters and trendsetters in the region. All I’m hoping for is that the Central Bank and other authorities don’t stifle entrepreneurial initiatives (such as our Yellow) and consumer adoption with an overly negative position. Time will tell.
I’ve already started working on the third Bitcoin meetup, taking place on July 7th. This one will be about the Future! Register here to stay up to date. And shoot me a note if you have a cool venue to recommend.
As for the recorded talks, I will share them here as soon as they are available (including the experiment and the Q&A session).