VeeCon will bring celebrities, business leaders to NFT-ticketed summit in Indy

  • Comments
  • Print
Listen to this story

Subscriber Benefit

As a subscriber you can listen to articles at work, in the car, or while you work out. Subscribe Now
This audio file is brought to you by
Loading audio file, please wait.
  • 0.25
  • 0.50
  • 0.75
  • 1.00
  • 1.25
  • 1.50
  • 1.75
  • 2.00

Organizer Gary Vaynerchuk. (Photo courtesy of VeeCon)

If it’s May in Indianapolis and you want to see celebrities, Indianapolis 500 festivities typically are your best bet.

This year, however, a national tech-meets-pop-culture convention is bringing a head-turning starting grid of big names to town. VeeCon is scheduled for May 18-20, and the roster of more than 175 speakers and panelists includes actors Neil Patrick Harris, Drew Barrymore and Jessica Alba, as well as rapper Busta Rhymes and music producer Timbaland.

One individual, Gary Vaynerchuk, is behind the gathering that addresses the topics of business, marketing, entrepreneurship, innovation, ideas, creativity and competition. Vaynerchuk, known as Gary Vee, is the “Vee” in VeeCon, where guests of honor include Kraft Heinz CEO Miguel Patricio and Paramount’s international markets CEO, Pamela Kaufman.

It’s the second annual conference (the first was last May in Minneapolis) organized by Vaynerchuk, a serial entrepreneur who is known as a digital marketing expert.

He said his experiences as a public speaker at business conferences around the world influenced the founding of VeeCon.

“I thought, ‘One day I should probably throw a conference that I wish existed, that I would say yes to before I even finished reading the proposal in an email,’” Vaynerchuk told IBJ. “That’s what VeeCon is for me. It’s an opportunity to do what I’m excited about, which is looking at the current state of popular culture through the lens of business—both entrepreneurship and big business—with another layer of positive and practical perspective.”

Vaynerchuk, 47, has a track record of being an early investor in social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. He’s now focused on Web 3.0 and its components of artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain technology.

VeeCon speakers representing cutting-edge technologies include a popular digital artist known as Fewocious and cryptocurrency expert Jesse Pollak, head of protocols at crypto exchange platform Coinbase.

Crypto wallets are required to purchase non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, which serve as tickets to attend VeeCon. By definition, non-fungible tokens cannot be copied, and the ownership and authenticity of an NFT is established on a blockchain.

NFTs commonly are associated with digital objects in the form of visual art. In March 2021, Purdue University alum Mike Winkelmann, otherwise known as Beeple, set a record when a JPEG collage of his digital art sold for $69.3 million in an NFT auction at Christie’s.

Vaynerchuk draws simple depictions of animals and mints the artwork as NFTs known as VeeFriends. In May 2021, collectors purchased more than 10,000 VeeFriends tokens.

Made up of 268 animal characters ranging from Charming Cheetah and Empathy Elephant to Spiffy Salmon and Well-Connected Werewolf, VeeFriends NFTs serve as tickets for three editions of VeeCon—last year’s, this year’s and next year’s, although the dates for that event have not been announced.

About 7,500 of the NFTs are expected to be used for admission to the Indianapolis convention, according to city tourism agency Visit Indy.

“I wanted to create a collectible out of an NFT, but I also wanted to have a utility,” Vaynerchuk said. “It was a collectible that also had value in that you could go to this conference, and it was a three-year ticket.”

Attendees must own one of the NFTs and connect it to the VeeCon mobile app, he said.

“I think, in five years, owning a ticket that is an NFT—instead of a QR code, instead of an email confirmation, instead of a piece of paper, instead of a wristband—will become normal,” he said.

Nicholas Peoni

Nicholas Peoni, an architectural metal and woodworking specialist who owns Indianapolis-based Midwest Arch Solutions, minted his first NFTs as a hobby during pandemic lockdown. With plans to attend VeeCon, Peoni said the idea to use a VeeFriends NFT as a “smart contract,” or an automated action that’s coded into a blockchain, is impressive.

“I think the big deal with VeeCon is putting into practice smart contracts for a ticketed event,” Peoni said. “I think that’s going to be the future.”

Of course, it’s understandable to wonder about a future for the technology when cryptocurrencies and NFTs have taken noteworthy lumps during the past year.

In July 2022, the cryptocurrency market collapsed after Bitcoin tumbled in value. By the end of 2022, Sam Bankman-Fried, CEO of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, was arrested and accused of wire fraud, commodities fraud, security fraud, money laundering and violations of campaign-finance law.

According to a report published this week by cryptocurrency-focused publication, NFT art sales peaked at a cumulative $881 million in September 2021 and plunged nearly 98%, to $15 million, by last month.

The lowest-priced VeeFriends NFTs sold for the equivalent of $3,917.50 each when issued in May 2021. Earlier this month, that value had dropped to the equivalent of $1,931.95 on the cryptocurrency market.


Muhammad Yasin, vice president of marketing for Indianapolis-based venture studio High Alpha, said he’s confident that cryptocurrency, blockchain and NFTs aren’t going anywhere.

“If you look at it historically, these bumps aren’t abnormal,” Yasin said. “That’s what happens when you are driving in an innovative space: You run into road bumps. I think the community figures out how to solve those problems. Every time, you see it come right back up as those problems are solved. The ecosystem thrives off of that.”

Vaynerchuk said NFTs will endure as a meaningful technology.

“NFTs are like stuffed animals,” he said. “Stuffed animals continue to be an enormous business, but which stuffed animals people want ebb and flow. For four years, it was Beanie Babies. Now it’s Squishmallows. Squishmallows is a good business. I have a good feeling that, in 13 years, not every kid is buying Squishmallows, but stuffed animals will be winning. That’s what NFTs are. NFTs are going to be here forever. Which NFTs are valuable or are not valuable is a different story.”

Across the goal line

Morgan Snyder

Visit Indy pitched Indianapolis as a host city for this year’s VeeCon, said Morgan Snyder, Visit Indy’s senior director of public relations.

“We invited and hosted their key decision makers to Indy twice in September 2022 to present Indy’s compact convention campus and to scout possible event locations and host hotels,” Snyder said.

Vaynerchuk and his team selected Indianapolis in October.

Unlike most gatherings that use the Indiana Convention Center as a primary venue, VeeCon mostly will be staged inside Lucas Oil Stadium with no activities at the convention center.

VeeCon kicks off May 18, when Busta Rhymes will perform for attendees at TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park.

The NFL Scouting Combine deserves some credit for VeeCon’s landing in Indianapolis.

Vaynerchuk and his brother, A.J. Vaynerchuk, co-own a sports representation business, VaynerSports, with clients such as Major League Baseball player Justin Turner (Red Sox third baseman) and NFL players D.J. Reed (Jets cornerback) and Leonard Williams (Giants defensive end).

“Every year, I’m there for the NFL Combine,” said Vaynerchuk, who was born in Belarus and grew up in New York City.

At the 2022 edition of VeeCon, Snoop Dogg, Mila Kunis, Spike Lee and Eva Longoria were highlighted celebrities who participated at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

“With all due love for Minnesota, I think Lucas Oil Stadium is structured slightly better for what we’re trying to accomplish,” Vaynerchuk said. “Both cities share something that I know to be true, which is that the ‘Midwest nice’ thing is real. I expect the city to be very welcoming and warm, and I’m excited about it.”

High Alpha’s Yasin said tech credentials make Indianapolis a worthy host city for VeeCon.

“We may be ‘Midwest nice,’ but we are a tech powerhouse,” Yasin said. “When it comes to B2B SaaS, we have a long history here. It’s a great draw for people who are coming in to talk about that topic.”

Not uncharted waters

Before Scott Dorsey co-founded High Alpha, he co-founded email marketing software firm ExactTarget.

Dorsey is on the speaker and panelist list for VeeCon, an event that likely will remind him of ExactTarget’s Connections events of yesteryear.

From 2007 through 2014, ExactTarget brought together tech marketers in Indianapolis for the annual Connections convention.

Richard Branson attended in 2010, and other high-profile Connections participants included Michael J. Fox, Mindy Kaling, and Indianapolis-based author John Green.

“VeeCon will be the largest tech conference in Indy since the departure of Connections,” Yasin said. “We are thrilled to pass the baton to another visionary mind, Gary Vee.”

The end of Connections in Indianapolis was set in motion when Salesforce purchased ExactTarget for $2.5 billion in 2013.

New York City hosted the 2015 edition of Salesforce’s Connections, and Chicago has become the event’s consistent host in recent years. “Schitt’s Creek” actor Dan Levy will be the guest of honor when Connections convenes in June.

Meanwhile, VeeCon isn’t the only cross-sector innovation conference happening this year in Indianapolis.

On Aug. 29-31, a gathering named Rally will debut at the Indiana Convention Center.

Yasin is part of the steering committee for Rally, which was founded by Elevate Ventures. The event’s six areas of emphasis are software, health care, agriculture and food, hard tech, sports tech, and entrepreneurship.

For catching celebrities, however, VeeCon is the place to be.

“The culture piece is an interesting component to add to this,” Yasin said. “We build products in tech to support humans, and culture is a big piece of that. There’s an intersection there that’s missed in a lot of these types of events.”

Star power

Visit Indy’s Snyder said a combined 125 million social followers are connected to VeeCon’s speakers and panelists.

And VeeCon is expected to generate $7.1 million for the local economy, Snyder said.

Dorsey will speak on a VeeCon panel titled “Building a Modern Tech Company,” joined by Sarah Buxton, chief operating officer of blockchain gaming platform Gala, and Matt Vlasic, former CEO of entertainment merchandise company Bravado. Jasmine Maietta, former vice president of brand at Peloton, will moderate the discussion.

Aliyah Boston, the top draft pick of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, will be a VeeCon participant with newly established local ties. On Tuesday, Boston signed a brand deal with Adidas.

When asked to pinpoint a handful of must-see VeeCon participants, Vaynerchuk said different attendees will find different experiences.

Andrew Schulz, for instance, will offer aggressive comedy. Cesar Millan will discuss dog culture.

Vaynerchuk said Brett Yormark, commissioner of the Big 12 Conference; Carolyn Everson, former vice president of Facebook’s global business group; and Carla Hassan, chief marketing officer of JPMorgan Chase, are three participants to watch.

“Deepak Chopra and Daymond John and Drew Barrymore are going to have the star power,” he said. “Yet someone like Fewocious is one of the most important young artists in Web 3, and Guy Raz [host of NPR’s “How I Built This”] is one of the most important podcasters in the world.”

Vaynerchuk carries his own level of celebrity as someone who’s followed by 3.1 million profiles on Twitter and 1 million on the Clubhouse app known for its audio chat rooms.

He said his willingness to lend a hand is one reason people agree to be speakers and panelists at VeeCon.

“I’m a big ‘yes’ man,” Vaynerchuk said. “What I mean by that is, when people ask for something, if I can do it, I think it’s always a ‘yes.’

“I’m very fortunate to have a lot of great relationships and to have my hands in a lot of cookie jars as a businessman. I’ve been able to provide a lot of great value to a lot of great people.”•

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

4 thoughts on “VeeCon will bring celebrities, business leaders to NFT-ticketed summit in Indy

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news. ONLY $1/week Subscribe Now

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In

Get the best of Indiana business news.

Limited-time introductory offer for new subscribers

ONLY $1/week

Cancel anytime

Subscribe Now

Already a paid subscriber? Log In