Nadya Venzhina discusses crypto event diversity, attendance life hacks, and web3 marketing
There’s a saying — if you aren’t present at major conferences, you don’t exist
Author: Sonya Sun
29 June 2023

About the background and career start

In the crypto sphere, I lead Cyber Academy, a community for web3 developers, builders, and everyone involved in web3. We generate a significant amount of educational content, organize events and streams, and provide summaries for these activities. As a result, a plethora of content for developers, primarily in Russian, is available in open-source. We maintain a website where we meticulously organize materials by tags, speakers, and topics. I have been engaged with this project since around 2018.
Actually, working in crypto was my first job after graduating from university. After completing my master's, I joined a start-up created by some acquaintances who were launching their crypto fund. They needed someone to foster community development. We initiated developer meetups in Kaliningrad, then Minsk, followed by Saint Petersburg. These endeavors eventually led to a community forming around our team and me. Even after the initial project concluded, people were still eager to attend the meetups, often inquiring about when the next event or hackathon would be.
Thus, the Academy emerged as an organization independent of that initial company. We continued hosting meetups and streams, now with a more technical focus, starting in Minsk, Kyiv, and Moscow. For several months, we hosted events every Thursday, rotating between the three cities. Each event featured three speakers, contributing to a large and diverse collection of content on the Academy’s YouTube channel.
Then, during the first bear market, we transitioned from hosting our events to aiding other companies in organizing theirs. This period involved a lot of travel and the hosting of various random events in cities like Berlin, Prague, and Paris.
In 2021, interest in the Academy spiked again during the DeFi Summer. After receiving a grant from the Ethereum Foundation, we increased the number of streams. However, in February, an unfortunate incident created a significant strain on us since our community consisted of three countries that had completely fallen out with each other. We are still uncertain about how to proceed.
Currently, we have relocated to Tbilisi and host meetups there. While these are not very frequent, they are of high quality. Tbilisi boasts a fantastic community of developers.
My primary profession is event management, with a focus mainly on web3 events. I also assist crypto companies in presenting at major conferences worldwide, handling various logistics, merchandise, side events, participation, and integrations. This is my part-time job; most of my time is devoted to the Academy. Previously, I worked as an event manager at 1inch, and I am currently employed at Fluence and zkBob.

About web3 marketing and community manager skills

One needs to be highly proactive. I can’t say that I was thoroughly prepared for anything specific. When the first events in crypto began, I had substantial support from acquaintances at a crypto fund. They suggested speakers, who were unknown to me, and thought it would be interesting to have them speak. My role was to organize everything stylishly and smoothly.
Crypto events have their unique culture. It was essential to align with the preferences of tech professionals: to chill on bean bags, sip beer in a laid-back atmosphere. There was no place for suits or lofty speeches; everything had to be casual and relaxed. Plus, there should be no lengthy ticket purchase and verification procedures.
Speaking of community management, having a marketing background can be beneficial when entering the crypto space with sound web2 knowledge. This knowledge is vital for marketing and audience engagement, with events being part of it. Engaging with the community becomes natural if you stay active on Twitter, observe, and notice what others are doing.
However, the exact role of a community manager in crypto remains somewhat undefined. It’s not like learning Solidity development from scratch. Community managers engage in various tasks: some create buzz and attract people to it, others provide support on websites, while some manage administration in Discord. I believe all these skills and knowledge will eventually consolidate into an article or a small book, providing clear guidance.
I personally feel a deficiency in marketing skills. For instance, when we decide to participate in conferences and the company deliberates on which events to attend, sometimes people ask me if we should attend a particular conference, and I honestly don’t know. I’ve always been brought in at the point where the decision to attend has been made and organizational hands are needed.

“I’m not adept at measuring metrics, KPIs, or working with the sales funnel. If I decide to improve any skills, it will most likely be web3 marketing. I’ve been carrying a book on the topic for a week and can’t find the time to start reading. It was written by Amanda, the founder of a crypto marketing agency called Serotonin. She worked at ConsenSys and launched various marketing initiatives for MetaMask. Apparently, other companies started seeking her expertise. Her company might be the only one in the market specializing in web3 marketing, and Amanda decided to encapsulate her experience into a book, which I bought in America.”

Currently, the Academy isn't generating much profit. It’s not exactly a lucrative project, more of an initiative. But because of the Academy, people started perceiving me as a community manager or someone adept at organizing meetups and hackathons.
I met the guys from 1inch at a cozy hackathon organized in Minsk by Fluence and myself, with about 40 participants during a bear market. Fluence wanted to hold a hackathon in Minsk due to the city's abundant developers and tech universities. They came with several partners and were looking for organizers on the spot. My colleagues and I decided to take charge. Anton and Sergey, who were then called 'crypto maniacs', attended the event. They only came up with the name '1inch' a year later when attending a hackathon in New York. When they were looking for an event manager, a mutual acquaintance working with them recommended me. I joined them during the COVID period in 2020 when numerous online events were happening. My task was to incorporate 1inch into various podcasts and streams. Then, as the pandemic subsided, and conferences resumed — initially in Lisbon, then in different locations every month. 1inch is well-known for their parties, which I was responsible for planning. I handled speakers, timing, and overall control. I worked there for a year and a half, leaving after the war began.
The efforts of event and community managers in web3 aim to elevate a project among developers, users, and attract investors. It’s primarily about brand visibility. There’s a saying — if you aren’t present at major conferences, you don’t exist. It’s crucial from an investor's standpoint.
However, attending conferences can be expensive. Establishing a project booth and securing speaking opportunities at a conference is not a start-up's game, except for local meetups. Once you have raised a pre-seed round, it’s vital to appear at such events for networking. It's a chance to find developers, partners, investors, and generally connect with influential individuals you might not encounter in everyday life.

About the benefits of conference attendance for projects

The value of conferences varies for each project. You can, of course, display a QR code at your booth with a prompt like, “To get a t-shirt or sticker, leave your email.” Then track how many users you attracted. However, this approach raises questions about the audience.
For 1inch, anyone attending a conference is a potential wallet or DEX user.
In the case of Fluence, the target audience is developers. Fluence needs to understand that the audience should not only possess the necessary skills but also have an interest in exploring their protocol. Consequently, the list of suitable conferences for them narrows essentially to hackathons.
Audit firms attend conferences in search of clients or auditors. Everything depends on the project and its objectives. But one thing I can confidently say — attending conferences will yield more benefits than staying at home.

If we are talking about ordinary users, conferences might not be the best tool for engagement. For attracting audiences, digital marketing, SMM, and contextual advertising might be more effective. When it comes to partnerships and investors, establishing valuable connections and collaborations, conferences can be quite helpful.

However, this is true only if you participate in them efficiently, not just by buying a ticket and passively listening to the talks. While listening to talks can be enlightening, all the content from conferences can be found online, both during and after the event, as everything is released as open-source. The most valuable aspect is to engage and network with others, even if you don't have any sponsorships or integrations and merely purchased a ticket.
When it comes to hackathons, participants get a chance to work on a project, possibly attract investors on the spot, and attempt to develop it further. For companies, it’s an opportunity to discover talented individuals.

About the benefits of side events and life hacks for attendance

I have a particular fondness for side events. These occur when a significant main event is unfolding, and around it, inevitably, various blockchain-related activities take form, like parties, breakfasts, and both open and closed evening gatherings.
You select a topic of interest, then check who among the potential partners knowledgeable in that theme is attending the conference. For instance, let's take Layer 2 (L2): you'd naturally want to discuss its challenges and development vector. You identify which L2 builders are present, reach out, and organize a meetup. The attendees are like-minded individuals, and you engage in in-depth discussion. This process helps you find potential event and project partners with whom you establish tight connections.
The organization of side events can greatly vary. Sometimes, the main event organizers set up a page like "Blockchain Week" listing all planned events for the week. By organizing your side event, you simply apply to have your function listed, making it visible for those deciding where to go.
Operating underground wouldn't make sense here. Being part of "Blockchain Week" means drawing from its audience, which requires getting listed on multiple event calendars. There are official Blockchain Week sites, and then there are individuals taking the initiative to promote various events. Main event organizers can't control this, as side events don't take place at the main venue. For a side event, you need to find separate spaces, like coworking spots or conference halls.
Always keep in mind that side events are often overbooked. You should register well in advance. As soon as you see the calendar, put your name down for everything. It’s easier to cancel later than to stand in lines hoping to get in. And remember, after actively attending parties and engaging in intense networking, you might not have the energy left for further interactions, so be selective.
Business developers engage in this process. They attend various events, establish contacts, collect business cards, and then sift through them. They are sort of like piranhas in this regard. Found some developers? They'll send HR. Identified potential marketing partners? They’ll alert the marketing department. That's if the company is large, of course.
To get into a side event, networking is key. For example, within the Academy, I have a vast network of contacts. I could ask any of them for a pass. However, this approach doesn't always guarantee success. It all depends on the situation, and naturally, the more people you connect with, the higher your chances. But lately, there’s been an influx of savvy individuals, and everything has become overly commoditized.

About major crypto conferences surrounding the Ethereum ecosystem

There’s Devcon, always impeccably organized. Its audience has a quirky vibe, creating an atmosphere of playful absurdity. You might even bump into Vitalik Buterin dressed in a unicorn costume. Overall, everyone there is laid-back, and the conference itself is well-orchestrated.
Then we have EthCC, held at the same venue every year. Essentially, they keep things straightforward without much embellishment. Despite its somewhat dreadful design and style, the event attracts a cool crowd. Organization-wise, nothing extraordinary happens there.
ETHDenver is another notable mention. It’s known for its goofy atmosphere, where Vitalik is spotted in a Bufficorn costume. This year, they aimed for expansion, securing a venue thrice the usual size, attracting around 3-5 thousand attendees. However, the organization left much to be desired, with even basic amenities like the internet not functioning properly. They simply couldn’t handle the load.
In 2021, ETHDenver was held online, designed in a Metaverse style, resembling The Sims: attendees created avatars and mingled, with name tags floating above heads. It was a one-time cool experience I haven’t seen replicated.
My favorites include Devcon, Ethereum Berlin, and pretty much anything happening in Berlin. The community there is not enormous, but it's awesome and hardcore, home to genuine crypto punks exuding a distinct atmosphere.
The Ethereum Foundation only organizes Devcon. Independent teams host all other conferences. For example, a separate team manages Ethereum Berlin, which also oversees DappCon, ETHBerlin, and a hackathon. They might request sponsorship from the Ethereum Foundation, likely receiving even more generous funding compared to other sponsors due to the Ethereum-centric conference. However, it’s far from a monopoly; anyone can organize an Ethereum-focused conference. Had we hosted Ethereum Saint-Petersburg, we would’ve sought funding from the Foundation as well.
Then there’s Ethereum Global, hosting conferences worldwide under its established brand, also sponsored by the Ethereum Foundation. They conduct 5-7 hackathons annually, both in various cities and online, essentially holding a monopoly.

Their events are always top-notch: with blazing-fast internet, developer needs met, delicious food served, attractive prizes offered, and high-profile partners invited. By the way, 1inch was conceived at a hackathon organized by Global. These guys are influential, hosting some of my favorite events. Even though their hackathons might seem templated, each attracts a unique audience.

People used to think that Ethereum Global organized all ecosystem conferences because events were named Ethereum New York City, Ethereum San Francisco, etc. Consequently, events like ETHDenver and ETHBerlin were thought to be connected to them, but they are organized by a different team. That’s why now Global's events are precisely named—Ethereum Global plus the city’s name.

Guide for First-Time Conference Attendees

If it's your first time attending a conference, it’s wise to have a mission instead of going without a specific purpose. If you have ample money and time, then go with the flow — mingle, socialize, and make acquaintances. By the way, you're almost guaranteed to meet Russian-speaking individuals to engage with.
However, it's even better to have a mission. For instance, you might attend with your project in tow, seeking feedback from everyone, or perhaps you are on the lookout for investors. Often, conferences have their internal apps or social networks where you can check who's attending and schedule meetings.

“If you know in advance who’s attending the conference, you can reach out on Telegram and arrange a meetup. Let’s say you represent a project, and they are an investor. Set an appointment right away. If you’re searching for a developer, that’s an even more fantastic mission. Simply visit all the stands, and effortlessly collect contacts.”

When I attended my first conference, my mission was to find individuals residing in Europe, involved in international projects, but who speak Russian. This explains why there are many speakers in the Academy—I was practically gathering them at conferences. The key is to attend with a goal, prepare in advance, and identify the people you want to engage with.
There’s no need to attend every single lecture, in my opinion. It's better to dedicate time to networking and enjoying some tasty food—free of charge, by the way. That’s my usual practice at conferences.
Side events are always overbooked—keep this in mind. Register for them well in advance. As soon as you see the calendar, get yourself on all the lists immediately. It’s better to cancel registration than to wait in lines, hoping to get in.
Remember, after actively attending all parties and engaging in intense networking, you might run out of energy to interact with people, so be selective. Business developers do this — they go everywhere, establish connections, collect business cards, and then sift through them. In a way, they're like piranhas. They find developers and refer them to HR, identify marketing partners, and forward them to the marketing department—assuming it’s a large company, of course.
I personally have never paid for a conference in my life; I consistently work at them. When you purchase a sponsorship package, it usually comes with 3-5 tickets. As someone who needs to be there, I always use one of these tickets. You can indeed pass badges around.
Sometimes we don’t tighten the bracelet too much so it can be handed off to someone else. When heading to a conference, we immediately organize a Russian chat for those attending, let’s say, EthCC in Paris. People write in the chat asking to borrow someone’s ticket or bracelet.

“Hypothetically, you can sleep until noon while someone else uses your bracelet to attend the conference from 10 to 12. But when you attend a conference for the first time, you won't have friends who can hook you up. After attending a few, you'll find people willing to help you out.”

Entering a side event with just one ticket is a real-life scenario. Regarding payment and overpayment—it’s tricky. At ConsenSys, the cheapest ticket is $1,500, which doesn’t even grant full access to all event activities. You might skip the first day of the conference because of this.

“To gain access everywhere on the first day, you need a ticket that costs $2,500. That’s unrealistically expensive for me. Consequently, the audience attending there is somewhat exclusive. If a regular developer goes, their company probably covered the cost. But not everyone can afford this—only investors. So, sneaking into ConsenSys without paying for a ticket is not an option. If you get caught with someone else's badge, both parties will face consequences.”

Everything is much simpler and more relaxed at developers’ conferences. You just need to register on time, often for free.
It’s always challenging to purchase tickets for EthCC because they are limited. Once they run out, there’s chaos in the chats: people write that they didn’t manage to get a ticket and are trying to find someone willing to sell theirs.
Volunteering is also a cool option. For instance, I signed up as a volunteer for Ethereum Berlin and had access to everything that regular participants did, plus I received volunteer merchandise. It’s not hard work — you need to accumulate 12 hours over the weekend. It’s very light-duty: manned the registration desk, sorted T-shirts, and that’s it. But as a result, you build your community. Even project founders sign up as volunteers simply because they can and want to.

About the boundless conference attendance for BizDevs

I’m not sure what the bare minimum is for business developers at conferences. The minimum is essentially whatever you're capable of. Ideally, one should attend various conferences with diverse audiences to avoid exchanging business cards with the same individuals at the same venues.
You'll definitely find distinct audiences in America, Europe, and India. With an influx of local conferences nowadays, audience overlap is becoming less common. While you'll encounter core teams and major projects everywhere, the audience generally varies from city to city.
It’s wise to travel to different cities and countries monthly, though this appears to be inherent in a BizDev's job — to consistently attend these conferences and observe. They’re not just networking; they’re also studying trends, listening to discussions, and noting the themes of side events.

In my view, business developers live on airplanes, and whether they enjoy this lifestyle depends on their stress resilience. I can't imagine a BizDev working from home. Sure, you can create chat groups and cold-call partners trying to connect, but conferences seem to facilitate this process much faster.

About major conferences surrounding other ecosystems

Interestingly, conferences that are well or poorly organized aren’t necessarily good or bad in terms of audience or vibe. Take Consensus, for example. It’s always impeccably organized with a strict schedule, a designated building for badge collection, and checklists for sponsors and participants. However, it's a corporate event where attendees show up in suits. You might encounter a law firm selling their services for running crypto companies under US law. It’s quite an odd and non-developer-friendly conference.
Dune Conference is excellent and not commercial at all. Their events are always modest yet elegant, a must-have for ecosystem enthusiasts. Everyone refers to each other as “wizards,” creating a cozy, laid-back atmosphere at every event.
Cosmos, for instance, has a conference called Cosmoverse, attracting avid ecosystem fans; some even show up in astronaut costumes. We once attended in Lisbon; no exorbitant prices, tickets were under $100.
Near has a fantastic momentum due to its vast ecosystem, though they struggle during bear markets. NEARCon in Lisbon was impressive.
Polkadot, however, is quite peculiar. They have their own crowd and community and have significantly distanced themselves from Ethereum. While Near and Cosmos try to connect to major events like EthCC or Devcon, Polkadot operates randomly.

Everyone is heading to Paris, but Polkadot's Decoded takes place in Copenhagen. It could be a strategic move, or perhaps they are missing something.

Polkadot's treasury spent $200K on food at one of the Decoded events. They allocate funds for these conferences from their treasury, providing open-source financial information. It's cool to have such transparency, but the bureaucracy is extreme: meticulous accounting and paperwork.
In 2019, there was an awesome conference called the Web3 Summit held in Berlin, where Gavin Wood spoke. It was organized by Parity Technologies. Everyone loved the Web3 Summits. However, they have transformed into Decoded, conferences solely dedicated to Polkadot, with a secluded community.
It’s quite challenging to communicate with Polkadot. We organized their conference in Tbilisi and noticed their organization was unusual, operating through proposals. In this respect, Cosmos is more straightforward. In short, the world doesn't revolve around Ethereum.

It’s essential to organize your own events if you can't attend others. There's no need to splurge on venues, beer, pizza, or speakers. Just gather for a crypto-breakfast or crypto-dinner. We meet every Saturday; some people show up, some don't, and a chat group is immediately formed, and people come.

Most crypto enthusiasts lack social interaction. For instance, I was in Moscow and magically gathered 20 people. I simply booked a table, and everyone showed up. This is way more beneficial than online events.
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