It’s safe to say that digital currency is no longer a niche subject. Since hitting 4.9 million users in November 2016, Coinbase has nearly tripled its user base in the last year. Of course, Bitcoin’s meteoric rise is driving much of the recent interest, impacting hundreds of other digital currencies.
Until now, interest in Bitcoin and altcoins has been driven mainly by privacy fanatics, finance wonks, keyboard warriors, and early adopters of other technology. Now, the message about digital currency’s long-term value is finally being heard — even in the Heartland. In major cities, it can be easy to find large groups talking about the latest innovations, but where do you turn when you live in a smaller community? How do you generate interest in digital currency adoption when you don’t live in a top-tier tech hub? Here’s what I learned from my experience in Omaha, where I run Alpha BTC, growing a network of cryptocurrency kiosks and consulting on blockchain projects in the Silicon Prairie.
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The first step in driving conversation around digital currencies will, appropriately, be taken online. Whether it’s in a Facebook group, Slack or Telegram chat, Discord channel, or elsewhere, look for others who are already talking about digital currencies or blockchain and jump in. If your search for a local group comes up empty, take the initiative and create one. The average person outside of a major tech hub may safely assume that others in the area will be interested and that they’re just waiting for someone else to take the initiative. Inform yourself as well as you can, and take inspiration from other groups that have successfully created active forums. Examples of crossover between other existing parties may include libertarian groups, gold and silver aficionados, businesses that accept cryptocurrencies, and software firms.
In my experience, nothing has been a more powerful accelerator for local digital currency adoption than meetups. Meetups present a great first opportunity for people to transform online interest into action (other than investment), and a vital way to build and maintain real momentum.
In Omaha, we’re lucky to have a sizeable and active fintech community, which helped tremendously when we were launching a digital currency meetup. Individuals who work for larger institutions, such as First Data, NorthStar Financial Services, TD Ameritrade, Berkshire Hathaway, or Mutual of Omaha, bring with them an economics and technology background that translates readily into cryptocurrency. But the beauty of democratized money is that there are no prerequisites or barriers to entry, nor do you have to live in a major city to get a successful event off the ground. In smaller communities (particularly in the Heartland), people don’t think twice about driving between towns for a unique and valuable destination. Alternatively, some states with more rural communities are using technologies like Slack, Skype, and Discord to connect remotely on a more regular basis, with intermittent face-to-face events.
You don’t have to be a master event planner to arrange a meetup; the right camaraderie and content will keep people coming back. Mix up the format to include meeting at a coffee shop or a local bar, or on a local campus to attract more students. Get creative — if you hear of an industry personality traveling nearby, invite them to come speak. Keep the audience challenged, with topics chosen by audience members and volunteer speakers. Follow the examples of already-successful digital currency groups in other regions and reach out to organizers of relevant local groups for support and advice.
Reaching out to the broader community
For digital currency to really gain traction in your area, the message cannot stay within the confines of a special interest group. Out of necessity, and hopefully organically, one or a number people in the group should reach out to local business and tech leaders for insight and partnership.
Depending on the size of your community, being an ambassador for digital currency can take a number of forms (and many cups of coffee). But it comes down to networking, open invitations, and likely a bit of public speaking.
- Networking: There’s no trick to this one — if you want to make inroads into the broader community, someone needs to make the acquaintance of local leaders.
- Open invitations: Once your discussion group or meetup has hit its stride, invite every innovative business person you can think of in your community. Programmers, executives, customers who want to use digital currency to buy goods and services, business owners willing to accept digital currency, marketing agencies, and anybody who has already shown interest in learning about and adopting other innovative technologies, such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, drones, and so on. Search Meetup.com or Eventbrite for other keywords and try to build bridges to those communities. The earlier you can win influential converts, the better.
- Public speaking: Connect with other tech or business groups and offer to share what your group has been learning and talk about why they should get involved. Speaking to your local Chamber of Commerce can go a long way toward spreading the word in less populous areas. If you don’t like speaking in front of crowds, ask for a volunteer from within the community you’re building or expand your search to find someone from a nearby town who would be willing to come help out. In general, you’ll find the digital currency circles are very supportive of one another.
- Press: Reach out to your local mainstream and indie news sources, initially to see if they have an events page you can get listed on. But the conversation may peak their interest and they may want to expand their coverage of your efforts.
It may seem like a long shot that digital currencies could really take off in smaller cities, but I’ve found it’s not at all far-fetched. When we started in Omaha four years ago, only two of us were doing any sort of external outreach, and the typical Bitcoin meetup numbered 20 at most. There are now hundreds of folks buying and trading cryptocurrencies. The world is shrinking everyday and interest in digital currencies is growing quickly, like the price. Take the initiative to create an engaging forum and valuable connections, and the innovators, novices, and HODLers will come.
Edward Weniger’s vision is to increase exposure and recognition of the Midwest as a fintech hub. His firm, Alpha BTC, installed Nebraska’s first Bitcoin kiosk and built a Bitcoin arcade at AIM Infotec 2016. In addition to running events such as Block-a-thon Midwest, he co-hosts Proof of Podcast and is a founding member of the MidFin Alliance.
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