Discover more from America 2.0 (by Gary Sheng)
My Rocky Mountain Revelations
12 unforgettable lessons from ETHDenver 2023—my favorite web3 conference so far
I had such a blast at ETHDenver 2023.
The two week trip taught me tons about building trust, being open to new opportunities, the importance of vulnerability, the value of improv skills, and more.
Here are my top 12 lessons, recapped:
You can build trust 10-25x faster in-person. Remote connection is not even close. I honestly feel like I made 25 close friends in a few days of intentional convening. The same outcome through Zoom could have easily taken many months. And even then, you’re usually connecting through 1:1 calls online versus a high energy in-person group session.
Be intentional but go in with a genuine open mind. It's helpful to come prepared with tentative answers to questions like "Why am I going to this conference?" and "What might success look like? But also just know that if you're surrounded by the right people, it's very possible that better ideas for projects to work on will emerge, replacing your previous ideas. The amount of inspiration I've gotten from hanging out with creative, impact-oriented people in Denver is ASTOUNDING.
There’s a better way to ask for help. An OK way to ask for help is "Hey, I'm working on this project and I need XYZ help. A better way to ask for help is to state your project-agnostic MASSIVELY TRANSFORMATIVE PURPOSE. You never know if there's a better way to make progress on that purpose if you're overly identified with a particular project. There were projects I was SURE I wanted to work on this year, but friends at ETHDenver helped me by reminding me that there was a better way to achieve my purpose (to level America).
Recognize that everyone is there to connect. This means that most people are open to chat with you. ETHDenver (especially Schelling Point) is always an incredibly self-selecting group of people who care about one or more of the following: open source software, planetary regeneration, community building, decentralized finance, and more. You never know if you’ll meet your next colleague, co-founder, investor, or friend.
Vulnerability is a superpower. Last week, I was in a private space with a handful of friends, and we co-created a safe space to talk about what was on my mind. The space was was welcoming that it gave me the space to realize that I had a lot of issues to work through, which I vocalized to the group. The authentic vulnerability I expressed in the group deepened my connection to everyone in the room. People respond to people who are real.
Ideas are not valuable on their own. They’re impotent without execution. Also, ideas that sound good almost always sound worse once you share it with close confidants who can tell you the truth of whether it’s a good idea or not, and who can riff with you to produce a better idea. For these reasons, idea protection is a losing game.
Improv and go with the flow. ETHDenver convenes tens of thousands of builders from around the world. You can try to plan your days all you want, but it's self-defeating. The best opportunities are spontaneous and come from being present and ready to seize them. Learning to go with the flow is essential because things will never go the way you plan. And if you look and feel frazzled, it will be hard for you to connect with people.
Late night hangs are a great tool for brainstorming and connecting. Some of my favorite times at the conference were between 12:30 and 2:30 in the morning. Whether you drink or not, your mind loses its inhibition in a really useful way for connecting and ideating with others. It's well known that many people have their best insights or breakthroughs while in a relaxed or dreamlike state.
Incorporate and support local spaces and places. Supporting mom and pop restaurants makes all the sense in the world. I hosted a couple of dinners in Denver. And both times I deliberately chose small, family-owned restaurants because I thought the families would appreciate the business and take better care of my guests. That hypothesis turned out to be true! We were treated so well by the restaurant owners, who truly appreciated our business.
Give without expectation. Once you start doing it, you realize that there is almost nothing that feels better than giving to people you believe in without expecting anything in return. The funny thing is that the people you really want to give to are the people who will help you when you need help. In this case, both you and the other person get so much value from the friendship, but it doesn't feel icky and transactional.
Really understand people so you can connect them with the right people. Everyone wants to connect with someone. Whether it's a future co-founder, employee, thought partner, investor, etc. If you take the time to really get to know someone, including their massively transformative purpose and unique superpowers, you can connect them with the right people that they may never forget (if they are an Infinite Game player).
Express your gratitude to the people who made your experience great. Finally, there are so many people who make a conference experience memorable and rewarding. These people include: service people, inviters, event hosts, event sponsors, panelists, event attendees, cab drivers, security guards, and everyone in between. Be sure to thank the people whose contributions made it possible for you to have the time of your life.
On that note, I would love to thank…
The Gitcoin team, who I am SO happy I was able to spend quality in-person time with. The Gitcoin team is full of the most soulful people I’ve ever met.
Beyond Thai, the mom and pop restaurant in Denver that accommodated two dozen of my web3 friends without too much notice. The food is delicious.
All the Uber, Lyft, and taxi drivers, who shuttled me and the other conference attendees from event to event.
Raz from Guild.xyz, who cohosted with me a really fun gathering of real-world multiplayer “game developers.”
John Paller and the entire ETH Denver team and all the volunteers. You made the last two weeks super special. The work doesn’t go unnoticed.
David Tran, who parted ways from the fun festivities of the Carnival of Brazil to spend a day with me at Schelling Point. Means a lot.
My LA crew (you know who you are), which united in Denver and made for some of the most meaningful conversations of my life.
SO many others who make web3 what it is.
Btw, here are some pictures capturing the amazing experience:
Anyway, I know a lot of you couldn't make it to ETHDenver, even though you may have wanted to, so I hope this recap post was helpful!
By the way, feel free to RSVP for a Twitter Space I'm hosting on Saturday where I'll bring others onstage to share what they learned as well.