Passion is a trait not difficult to find among bitcoin enthusiasts. In my experience, however, few others come close to the passion and dedication of Will Pangman. His sincerity in wanting to spread the glory of bitcoin is incomparable.
Pangman is the Chief Communications Officer at Tapeke, a cryptocurrency personal finance platform; the founder of the Milwaukee Bitcoin Meetup, BitcoinMKE; and an active proponent of bitcoin education initiatives in tandem with the Bitcoin Foundation. Through all three of these roles, he has carved out a niche as a premier bitcoin outreach expert.
I chatted recently with Will about bitcoin outreach, education, and communication.
Joseph S. Diedrich: How did you get involved in the liberty world?
Will Pangman: I was fortunate enough to be raised in a home that valued libertarian philosophy. I encountered it at a very young age. I saw lots of sophisticated bureaucratic and political abuses up close. I saw the custody battle my parents were going through for much of my childhood. I saw the way that fathers and children were treated by the family court system. For example, why isn’t the guardian ad-litem repeating exactly what I told him? Why do I have to see five different child psychologists before the next hearing? In addition, my dad ran for state supreme court justice twice and state senate once. I helped him on his campaigns as much as a young kid could.
JSD: How did you get involved in the bitcoin world?
WP: I have been looking for something all my life that I could totally buy into. There were things about the liberty movement or the Libertarian Party or conservatism, all these kinds of sociopolitical movements or attitudes, that I couldn’t completely get behind. The thing that I totally immersed myself in as a teenager was Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. Even that didn’t cover everything that I was concerned about. Then I learned about bitcoin in the middle of 2012. I put it on my list of things that I needed to research and know about. There were endless months of sleepless nights learning about it. Bitcoin was the first thing in my life about which there was nothing I couldn’t fully get behind.
I was at a definite ceiling in my professional life. I was uncertain about what direction to take. I was dissatisfied. I wanted an industry, a field, a profession that I could immerse myself in fully. Bitcoin showed me that there was [an] arena that valued your merits and your hard work. You can find fulfillment financially, philosophically, and socially in this space.
JSD: When and how did you become involved with the Bitcoin Foundation and the Education Committee?
WP: I decided to start phasing myself into freelancing around this time last year. I wanted to have more professional freedom and have the ability to pursue bitcoin projects. In the middle of June, I started a bitcoin Meetup in Milwaukee. A couple months later, I was invited to get on a conference call with Charles Hoskinson, who’s currently the CEO ofethereum. At that time, he was chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation Education Committee. I joined the committee. Not long after, Elizabeth Ploshay became committee chair, and we’ve worked closely since, including on some best practices guides for new users.
JSD: There’s a very special project you’ve been focusing on. What can you tell me about that?
Last winter, Pamela Morgan of Empowered Law joined the Education Committee. She’s my partner on a project called BTC-EDU, which we recently proposed to the Board of the Foundation. We’re going to foster the growth of a network of student bitcoin organizations, especially on college campuses. We’ll network them together so they can function as a national charter organization much like Students for Liberty. We’re also going to create course material, curriculum guidelines, and professional development courses. To further the research of cryptocurrencies on college campuses, we’ll create a peer-reviewed journal and promote research projects conceived by, financed by, and supported by the Foundation and other bitcoin trade associations. The project is very popular among the folks we’ve shared it with. We’ll be launching all three parts in the fall semester for the 2014-2015 school year.
JSD: When did you start the Milwaukee Bitcoin Meetup?
WP: I started the Milwaukee Meetup in mid-2013. I saw many Meetups, including in Silicon Valley, Miami, and New York City, that were having lots of success and doing cool things.
JSD: What were your original goals? How have those goals been met, exceeded, or changed?
WP: I wanted to start the group because I figured there were lots of people who were closet bitcoin fans or users. I wanted to meet them. I had this burning passion to see bitcoin take more of a hold in the Midwest. I wanted talented people to get together. I thought we could create a social presence in the community. We could help people learn about bitcoin. We could educate people. Last summer, bitcoin was completely misunderstood. It still is, but much less so. If bitcoin is going to succeed, it’s going to have to take hold in smaller cities and communities. There’s no better town to experiment than Milwaukee. It’s a rust belt city. It’s not suffering nearly as bad as Cleveland or Detroit, but it has had its own struggles. Milwaukee was and is starting to take a healthy interest and attitude of curiosity towards the tech sector. I thought we could show people that it’s time to love bitcoin out in the open and show people that it’s harmless and altogether wonderful.
JSD: What has the Meetup in Milwaukee specifically accomplished?
WP: We’ve done Satoshi Squares in public, which were really cool. We’ve taken our group to social events like block parties and big events with street vendors and live music. During the summer in Milwaukee, there are large festivals down by the lake. There are lots of weekly concert programs that happen in the parks. We’ve operated vendor booths and set up information booths. People came by and asked us about bitcoin. Our membership skyrocketed after those events. We’ve also raised some money for charity. That expands our visibility. We share our meetings with the YouTube viewing world. We’ve invited bitcoin personalities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders into our meetings and broadcast live Hangouts on Air. Among our guests have been Austin Craig from Life on Bitcoin, Jeffrey Tucker, the ethereum team, and Michael Dunworth from Snapcard. Part of this was also to show the rest of the bitcoin world what kind of activity was going on in Milwaukee. That led to having some prominent names in bitcoin come and speak in person, including Andreas Antonopoulos and Jeffrey Tucker. Many of the people who came to these events were complete bitcoin virgins. They left with a lot more information and a lot better outlook and attitude toward this technology. We’ve also gotten some traction in merchant adoption, and I’d like to see more of that, as well.
JSD: What’s next for the Milwaukee Meetup?
WP: There’s a summer music series in Milwaukee called Jazz in the Park. About 1,000 to 4,000 people show up for that every Thursday. We’re going to take our Meetup outside and do man-on-the-street type activities. We’ll be giving bitcoin away, talking to people about bitcoin, helping them learn how to use it, and handing out information. We’ll be making videos and posting them on the BitcoinMKE YouTube channel.
JSD: Based on your personal experience, what advice do you have for other Meetups?
WP: Meetup.com costs money. Don’t be afraid to ask for donations from your own members. Another way we’ve monetized the Meetup, if you will, has been through informal trades. Walking into a place and saying, “Hey, we’d like to have an event here. I can promise you we’ll bring fifty people to patronize your bar. You’ll get that business if you allow us to use the space exclusively for, say, three hours of the middle part of the evening when you’re not otherwise busy.” They’re happy to do that. And that’s another way to demonstrate to business owners the kind of energy that bitcoin can bring. Afterwards they’re easy sells for bitcoin adoption. I think the secret sauce for having a successful Meetup is meeting once a week. That’s how you get your group established. Get out and do community activities right away. Contact other Meetup organizers, including me. We have 150 members, which is huge per capita. I’m happy to help anyone.
JSD: You work at a new company calledTapeke. What is your role there?
WP: I am the Chief Communications Officer at Tapeke. I handle PR, aspects of marketing, some copywriting, and general customer support.
JSD: What is Tapeke? What products and services will you offer?
WP: Tapeke is a personal finance application for your cryptocurrencies. We’re launching our open beta in about two months. Tapeke will give you a place to see all of your wallets and accounts in one place. You’ll be able to load all your public keys for all your wallets—cold or hot. You’ll be able to add data to them that can’t be embedded on the blockchain. It’s very secure. You’ll never share your private keys with us. RSA keys and backup passwords are all part of the package. There will also be rich data, analytics, and financial planning tools. What really sets us apart is our wonderfully-designed user interface. It’s gorgeous, intuitive, and fun. We’re delivering a user experience that’s not really available in other apps. And it’s 100% crypto. You won’t need to have a bank account to use the functions of the site.