How fintech_devcon creates community and opportunity

My path to fintech_devcon was far from typical.

I could never have predicted where I’d end up—founder, CEO, speaker at fintech conferences. None of this was anywhere close to my radar when I was a kid, but here I am. This isn’t a brag, but I’m bringing this up as encouragement, maybe even inspiration. And to let you know that it is possible to find a supportive community, and to maybe even give you the courage to speak at fintech_devcon—because it’s a safe space for speakers from all backgrounds.

How I got here

It’s amazing how much our lives are determined by three words: community, proximity, and opportunity.

When I was growing up, my community—everything and everyone around me—told me what I could do and couldn’t do. There were only so many options in my neighborhood. There was no proximity to any real prosperity. I saw my mom selling and using drugs when I was a kid and, by the time I was 13, I was selling too. It seemed like my only opportunity, but it didn’t pay off. Long story short, I spent a decade incarcerated.

Those concepts of proximity, community, and opportunity really come into sharp focus when you’re incarcerated. Same things, same people, same problems, day in, day out. You’re literally trapped. So, for me, it became extremely clear that I had to make some changes. I had to create my own opportunity. I started reading and studying. Prison, I decided, was going to be a self-improvement program. I learned everything I could and made a business plan for a music label. I thought music could, and would, change my life—and in some ways it did.

Even after prison, while making music and launching records, I kept reading a lot of business publications and it really sunk in just how few entrepreneurs looked like me. It was disheartening.

Then I came across a blog post by Ben Horrowitz about how much hip-hop meant to him and how he saw it bring hope to the hopeless. It wasn’t the sort of thing you might expect from a technology venture capitalist, but it resonated with me. I saw common ground, so I reached out—and he messaged right back.

Fast-forward to now, I’m the CEO and Founder of Solvent, a super-neobank designed to lift up system-impacted individuals like me. I knew how to hustle, I just needed awareness and proximity to someone like Ben.

This is why fintech_devcon matters. It brings people together, sharing ideas and stories; it creates proximity, community, and opportunity.

How fintech_devcon is different

I’d been familiar with Moov for a while and I knew they were committed to sharing knowledge and making fintech easier to build. But before being asked to speak, I had not heard of fintech_devcon, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Over the course of the event, though, the experience and vibe really connected with me. I was extremely impressed by the number of talented programmers, leaders, and thinkers—and the breadth of the shared experience and expertise—that the event brought together.

I’ve attended and spoken at other industry conferences before, and some have been great experiences. But the big difference between fintech_devcon and other conferences is that fintech_devcon isn’t selling anything. At Money20/20, for example, you’ll see a lot of products and services being offered and ready to be bought. You’ll see a lot of demos of things that have already been built.

At fintech_devcon, you see how the product gets built—even how to build it yourself. I’m no engineer, but as a creator and visionary, I love how this community respects the craft and the builders, and how nobody’s hiding the keys to the kingdom.

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fintech_devcon is about sharing, so anybody can build something to uplift their communities. It’s about creating opportunities. All of this is why I’ll definitely be going back to fintech_devcon. But there are a lot of other reasons to attend and even speak, if you’re considering it.

Opportunities to learn

Technology is always evolving and it’s more and more at the forefront of the human experience and commerce. Even if you’ve been in fintech for years, even if you’re a guru, there’s so much innovation happening at a rapid rate that there’s always something new to learn. This conference will expose you to new ideas or teach you better, faster, and simpler ways of doing things. And let’s be real, you don’t know what you don’t know. Thinking back to my upbringing and how what I thought was possible really limited my options. Proximity to others, no matter how smart or educated or experienced you are, opens up new ways of thinking, new perspectives, and new possibilities.

For developers and product leaders, there are a lot of hands-on workshops and sessions designed to teach how to build different parts of fintech. For founders and visionaries, there’s deep insights into the hurdles of building fintech. You’ll definitely walk away with some new skills, fresh ideas, or both.

A chance to hear and be heard

If you have a story to tell or expertise to share, put it out there. Apply to speak at fintech_devcon. I guarantee there will be someone listening who needs to hear it.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that being a speaker at fintech_devcon was life-changing for me, both personally and professionally. It was a level-up in my career in several ways—from having a chance to convey the value prop of my startup to gaining deep, valuable knowledge and insight into financial technology. And having the chance to grace a prestigious stage with panelists who were much more experienced than I am gave me a boost of confidence. I feel like it made me a better and stronger leader and builder in the financial technology space.

Also, the opportunities to connect and network off-stage and outside of the sessions were extremely valuable. The conversations I shared with other speakers gave me a deeper view of the financial technology space, especially from a developer’s perspective. I even gained some new and valuable insights around what I’m building with my own startup. And, to bring it back to community, I created rich, meaningful relationships that will last far beyond the conference.

A little off-topic, but important for anyone thinking about speaking, I have to mention that the support and communication from the fintech_devcon team leading up to and during the event was first-class. One of the best experiences I’ve had as a speaker and engaging with event teams. If you’re interested, they’ll take care of you, even if you’re a first-time speaker.

Unique sessions

At a fintech developers’ conference, you’d expect sessions and workshops about building with APIs and artificial intelligence and data science—which fintech_devcon has plenty of. But you might not expect to see someone like me—hustler-turned-rapper-turned-fintech-CEO—sharing my story on a panel about the intersection of technology and financial inclusion. And you definitely wouldn’t expect to see Grammy-winner and Greenwood Co-Founder Killer Mike sharing his story on the fintech_devcon stage.

Even with all the amazing learning going on in the other sessions, Killer Mike’s keynote had to be my favorite. It was a free-flowing, authentic, transparent, and vulnerable conversation. He spoke about some really important and unexpected things. Whether you’re into fintech or not, it’s worth listening to. You can check it out, along with all the other sessions..

I’ll be back

All of this is to say, there aren’t any other conferences quite like fintech_devcon. And, going back to where I started, I truly believe that exposure and proximity are keys to opportunity and, ultimately, prosperity. That makes fintech_devcon an event worth attending and its community worth joining. Because we can go a lot farther together, sharing our knowledge and our experiences, and creating new opportunities where they’re needed most.

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