Reflections on ETH Dubai

Reflections on ETH Dubai

The good; the bad; the DAO

Acknowledgements: This trip was possible thanks to the generosity of Developer DAO Sponsors: Ankr, Nervos, and Spheron. Aside from being DAO sponsors, one thing these three organizations have in common is that they are building meaningful tools for the Web3 ecosystem. D_D prioritizes partnerships with such organizations because we believe that they play an important role in advancing the field. Now, in addition to being important players in the blockchain ecosystem, Ankr, Nervos, and Spheron are contributing directly to our DAO’s goals of onboarding the next generation of Web3 developers. Thanks again to Ankr, Nervos, and Spheron!

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Thoughts from Dubai

Given about 72 hours to make the most of ETH Dubai, I have to say: I hope I someday actually get to see Dubai! Anyone who’s been to an ETH conference knows that there is an insane amount of programming going on within and outside of the official venue. Someday I will get the chance to check out the Burj Dubai, spice souks, and desert safaris. In the meantime, here’s what I learned/observed last week…

Dubai is Miami is… Zug?

There are some obvious similarities between Dubai and Miami: Skyscrapers, beautiful beaches, diverse peoples, etc. Now add to that, both cities have distinguished themselves as crypto destinations. I met a ton of conference attendees from Russia and India, followed by smaller cohorts from Indonesia, the Philippines, and China. One topic that came up between entrepreneurs and developers from any given country was “so…do you think you’ll move here?”

One perhaps counter-intuitive reason for this enthusiasm? Regulation. The UAE recently published a Virtual Assets Law to establish their position as a leading domicile for innovative crypto countries. In announcing the law, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum tweeted “The future belongs to whoever designs it.”

Crypto has a bad rap for eschewing regulation and frustrating financial authorities, but Dubai (like Miami) is taking big steps towards eliminating uncertainty - and risk - for blockchain startups. The trade off? You have to establish your business in Dubai and register with the relevant authorities. Based on the conversations going on during the conference, a lot of people see this as a reasonable trade-off.

It raises the question: what cities/countries will step up to establish themselves as the regional Web3 hubs. Europe has a number of leading candidates between Zug, Lisbon, Berlin, and a collection of crypto-friendly eastern countries. As for other global neighborhoods, it seems to be an open question. What will the blockchain capital of South America be? East and West Africa? Southeast Asia?

Overlap with Binance Blockchain Week

Surely no coincidence that Binance Blockchain Week overlapped with ETH Dubai. The contemporaneous conferences led to some insightful interactions. Worth noting, I didn’t get a chance to check out the Binance show, but luckily I did get to meet a number of people who I may not have met if the shows weren’t there at the same time.

The most obvious observation from this experience: the Binance and Ethereum communities have some very different culture and aesthetics. At evening events where both groups were present the Binance crowd was much more formal, wearing suits and designer clothes, whereas the ETH crowd was more nerds in hoodies (my people ✊). Like I said, I didn’t make it to the Binance show, but folks who did assured me that the contrast was even more clear at the official events. Based on these observations - and the event sites themselves - it seems like (at least for the Dubai events) the Binance ethos was characterized by VCs and start up flare, whereas ETH Dubai had a lot of technical talks from notable folks like Austin Griffith, D_D’s own Nader Dabit, and Diedrick Loerakker.

ETH vs East - The Global Divide

One other thing was made really clear by some of the attendees of the Binance event: Ethereum is not all that inclusive in a global sense. It’s no secret that the Developer DAO membership NFT’s have gotten pricey (as of writing, the floor is about $680). That may change once our $CODE token is released and, either way, the DAO is taking meaningful action to onboard deserving members through NFT sponsorship/fellowship/etc.. But that doesn’t solve the problem of ETH just… not being an option for some people.

Developer DAO does a great job of staying blockchain neutral once you’re in the Discord, but we have a long way to go before we can effectively onboard folks from places like Indonesia, where getting your hands on ETH - let alone an ETH denominated asset - isn’t a trivial thing. Even on a personal level, I came away from Dubai with a clear realization that I needed to spend more time familiarizing myself with other L1’s like Fantom, and Avalanche.

Practical innovation: “Looks rare”

Now, while it would be nice to be all high-minded about how ETH Dubai was more focused on developers and building cool stuff, I have to say, the common threads among most of the exhibitors were not what I was expecting. Compared to my experiences at DevCon and ETHDenver, this felt much more….commercial? For example, I can’t remember ever seeing “booth babes” at an Ethereum conference, but there was no shortage here. There were QR airdrops, promises of high APY, and even some celebrity marketing.

A few exhibitors stood apart:

Ankr - I promise I don’t say this because they sponsored my travel, but Ankr was the one exhibitor in the hall who was focused on showing off how many people are actually building on their platform. They had knowledgeable people in the booth and were showing off their APIs and RPC endpoints, AKA actually helping people develop cool apps.

Cartesi - Another group with an exciting product and knowledgeable people in the booth. I came away very interested in their Blockchain OS. I still have a lot more to learn but their goal of letting developers use familiar languages like Python to develop blockchain applications is something I’ve seen come up from a number of other promising Web3 startups in recent months.

Syscoin - This one caught me off-guard. I remember trading the Syscoin ERC-20 back during the ICO hype days. Well… three cheers for persistence. They have completely reinvented themselves as an EVM L1 with “Bitcoin security” (merge mining with BTC). It’s not the Syscoin I once knew and loved but I’m nonetheless impressed with how they’ve managed to carve out what could be a very interesting niche in the space between the top two blockchains on the planet.

D_D is having a moment

I was up until 3am on Wednesday evening because every time someone got up from my 4-top table, another person walked by and recognized D_D on my sweatshirt.

Them: “Developer DAO?! I want to join that so bad!” Me: “Well good news… Have a seat.”

This same dynamic played out with potential ecosystem partners throughout the week. Some people didn’t even seem to know what the organization was about when we started but knew it was “cool” and were even more certain of that when they found out about how our goals are to onboarding new devs to Web3 and creating public goods in the process. The whole experience leaves me very eager to get our grants, bounties, and mentorship programs cranking in earnest. Let’s give the people what they want!

The other side of this coin is that I see a real risk to DevDAO becoming DevRelDAO if we’re not careful. I’m really grateful that as a non-dev myself that I’ve been able to contribute to the organization, but once we are past some of the important landmarks leading us into Season 1 (e.g. governance token launch, foundation entity formation), it’s time to get really serious about the activities that will add value for current and aspiring devs. Many of those initiatives are already underway, so it’s not like we’re not on the right track, this is probably just me being over-eager.


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Many thanks again to Spheron, Nervos, and Ankr for making this experience possible! This was an invaluable experience that I will never forget and I look forward to bringing everything I gained in Dubai back to my work at Developer DAO.