The NFT space is difficult to sum up. It is a distributed carnival composed of loner artists, technologists and vocal promoters; major brands and kids with a bright, shiny idea. Some of these projects will have a brief future while others might help define how we treat digital ownership tomorrow.
Giving such a diverse group of leaders a voice is an arduous task for anyone. However, NFT.NYC is less than two weeks away. Its theme is “Diversity of NFTs” and its goal is to give a voice to the full breadth of the space. By necessity, it is going to be bigger than ever. From June 21 to June 23, the show is expected to include:
15,000 attendees
1,500 speakers from 42 countries
16 industries
10 stages
Innumerable new ideas
Jodee Rich, co-founder and CEO of NFT.NYC, spoke with Benzinga about his approach to creating a landmark event for the NFT space and provided a taste of what we can expect from the show.
Jodee Rich, NFT.NYC 
It must be a busy time. How are you feeling about preparations for the show?
I think everyone’s doing a great job. It’s towards the end of the busy time. We are about to release the program. 1,500 speakers and 300 sponsors have been approved progressively over the last few months. We paid for all the venues. The week before, hopefully, is quiet just dealing with exceptional things. And so far, so good.
How much has the show grown over the past few years?
For the very first NFT.NYC, we had 100 speakers and about 50 attendees. And then a few more came on the last day. So the first year was “What are NFTs and what’s possible?” The second year was, “This is what people have now done with NFTs.” 2021 was when the world woke up to NFTs and we had 600 speakers. And this year it’s 1,500.
We want to give the community a voice and put as many people on stage as possible. That’s really part of who we are. We select people for their thought leadership and their passion. We don’t care whether they’re a celebrity or not. We care about whether they have something to contribute to the community. So, we have a system in place for putting as many people on stage as possible. This year, we have 10 stages and 1,500 speakers. Next year, we may have 2,000 speakers. We love Times Square. We love the billboards. We love the feel of the city. We love that New York is a place for culture, art, fashion and money.
Were you surprised at the explosive growth of NFTs, or did it just confirm what you were expecting?
I don’t think we can ever predict what a marketing trend is going to be. That’s really tough. We can lean into technology that solves a problem. And that’s what we did five years ago. We own a technology platform called NFT.Kred, which is one of the most successful enterprise platforms for creating and distributing NFTs. Over four years ago, no one wanted it. No one knew what an NFT was. And the theme of the show this year is the diversity of NFTs. We think this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you talk to a taxi driver about NFTs, they will think it’s about trading or collectibles. But that’s just a very small part of many, many opportunities for this technology.
What separates NFT.NYC from other big NFT events?
Our goal is to put as many members on stage as possible to give the community a voice. Do you know of any other events that have 1,500 speakers? Other events try to sell tickets based on celebrities. That is not our thing. Our thing is acknowledging the thought leaders in the communities. And people understand that we’ve done that from the beginning. Our Twitter stream is all about the speakers, whether they’ve got 100 followers or 100,000 followers. It’s all about people with really cool ideas from 46 countries.
We’ve always said that we want to bring people with similar projects together. So we’ve gone to a lot of effort to make sure that we’re bringing people with similar ideas together on panels, in workshops, and in meetings. We proselytize to the broader community so that other people outside our space can come and understand what an NFT is, and how it may affect their industry. This year, we’ve been very successful because our brands track is huge. We struggled two years ago to get a single brand. This year, we have eight to 10 hours of brand tracking, which is fantastic.
It is an eclectic group. It’s an eclectic experience. A lot of this has been an experiment for us because no one runs a conference like this. No one runs a conference with 1,500 speakers. No one runs a conference where it’s in so many venues spread across so many city blocks. Another event that’s happening soon moved out of New York to another city. We don’t want to move to the Boston Convention Center, the Austin Convention Center, or the Las Vegas Convention Center. We want to stay in New York. We want to be a unique event —  part festival-part conference — that occurs in this amazing city.
Are you leading with arts and collectibles use cases?
Art and collectibles are about 35%. The other 65% is another of the 16 different categories. We asked the attendees what they’re interested in. We asked the speakers what they were interested in. And we published that in a blog post.
Who are you most concerned about giving a voice to?
Every single community member who has something interesting to say, we want to put them on stage. This year we had 3,500 applicants. So we had to say no to 2,000 people, not because they weren’t great — 90% of them were really great. We had to say no because we didn’t have more than 1,500 speaking slots. To experiment with solving that problem, we’re running in parallel an unconference — two stages where anyone can come along and talk for 10 minutes with an open microphone.
Is giving a voice to smaller creators a micro-audience marketing strategy to reach the avid supporters of these projects?
We have no interest in creating hype. We have no interest in marketing. We have 110% interest in putting community members on stage who have interesting things to say. If we do that job, downstream, there will be an audience.
Are there any speakers you are looking forward to this year?
One of the people who have inspired me most in this space from the beginning is a gentleman called Jehan Chu. He ran a conference called Nifty back in July 2018. Jehan is a real thought leader. And we’re going to be talking about dynamically compositing NFTs. Brendan Lynch from Ticketmaster is going to be talking about how NFTs have become an interesting part of their business.
Structuring the event more like a festival is unusual compared to most larger shows. Do you expect this bold approach to pay off?
I don’t think it’s bold. We are staying true to what really interests us, which is the application of the technology and the people who are doing that. We are not an events company. We are deeply rooted in the NFT space. We got together in August 2018 and talked about how we were going to spread the word and include the community. Our whole mission has been putting people on stage, bringing people together to share ideas, and then exposing this story to others. We are not a marketing company or an event company. We are a company that hopefully serves the technology and the community.
A steady stream of major brands has been getting involved in the NFT space. Do you expect that trend to continue?
I wouldn’t quite describe it as people looking for revenue streams. I would say it’s people trying to understand how NFTs fit into their business strategy. I’m the guy that 13 years ago wandered around Madison Avenue, explaining to people that they needed to build social media teams. And they all told me that Twitter was a fad. And I feel like I’m that same guy again, but with a slightly different conversation. I’m helping enterprise customers. My day job is to help enterprise customers build NFT teams. We’re helping people understand how NFTs can become part of their business.
Are you feeling the bear market as you go into this? Has enthusiasm dwindled? 
If you mean the crypto bear market, we have consistently distanced ourselves from crypto. The only intersection of NFTs with crypto is we both happen to use technologies based on blockchain. That’s where it ends regarding consumption and enterprise use cases. We’re worlds apart from crypto. We’re not a crypto conference and we’re not a web3 conference. We are an NFT conference in which some small part of the attendees trade NFTs. Our job is to help people understand that as far as we’re concerned, this is the tip of the iceberg of this technology. We have so much further to go.
So many shows compete to serve as the de facto voice and central focus for the NFT audience. The hype and headlines of Miami NFT Week and VeeCon come to mind, both heavily relying on headliners and entertainment value to attract ticket sales. But NFT.NYC is taking a different approach, putting the community first and depending on the content to attract an audience.
In future years, I could see NFT.NYC taking shape as something closer to Fashion Week or a film festival, where the focus is on the heart of the industry itself, providing insights into interesting individual projects, but also a more essential snapshot of the space as a whole.
We look forward to attending and reviewing the event. There is so much to see, that it’s hard to predict what insights we might find, but we certainly recommend packing comfortable shoes. There will be a lot of ground to cover, literally and figuratively.  Cover Image source: Twitter @NFT_NYC
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