What It's Actually Like to Work at a Crypto Startup
Working in the cryptocurrency industry in 2018 is like being the most interesting person at a party: Everyone is curious about you, everyone wants to learn more about what you do and everyone has questions.
It's one of those things that gets people talking.
There's good reason for this. To many outside of the industry, there's something enigmatic about crypto companies. Are cryptocurrency workers anarchists? Are they tech-obsessed bros who spend all their time in their basements? Or are they just an elaborate front that's really dedicated to funneling money to terrorists and drug dealers?
I get the confusion, because I was on the outside looking in just six months ago with my own assumptions about the industry. With 13 years spent in "big corporate," including a nine-year stretch in advertising and four years in financial services, I've had the privilege of building great products and working with very smart people. The advent of crypto assets and its supporting blockchain technology was rooted in an earnest and altruistic intent to solve big problems.
Crypto is an industry on the move.
I was intrigued and sought out an opportunity to get involved.
This industry is growing like crazy. According to the CEO of one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges in the world, the market overall is on track to exceed $1 trillion in value this year, despite recent losses, and that trend is expected to accelerate going forward. A full 30 percent of LinkedIn's list of the top 50 startups of 2018 are in the crypto space, and venture capital investment in blockchain and crypto companies is up 280 percent so far in 2018 versus last year.
Stereotypes or not, clearly something is happening here.
The truth is, a lot of my assumptions about life in the cryptocurrency industry were dead wrong. So, forget what you've heard. I'm now immersed in the world of crypto and loving every minute of it.
Here's what the industry is really like:
It's full of bright minds.
Startups attract risk takers and overachievers, people who want to do something impactful. Crypto startups, in particular, are attracting some of the top tech and finance talent in the world because the industry provides some of the best opportunities for innovation in their respective fields. On any given day in our office, there's a PhD mathematician contemplating trade algorithms, or an advanced blockchain book club being held about elliptic curve cryptography, and it's standing room only. Everyone's game is elevated, and it's fun as hell.
It wants legitimacy.
Coming from traditional finance, I was very impressed to see the amount of due diligence happening to bring integrity to this industry. This isn't the Wild West as it is often depicted; crypto is growing into its place in the mainstream and no one involved in this industry wants there to be questions about its legitimacy or its underlying technology.
It's bringing opposites together.
Crypto attracts both technical engineers in all of their hoodie-wearing glory and financiers who rock the Midtown Uniform. Sometimes, the subcultures of technology and finance can feel more like a stark divide. It's a challenge to overcome but also a great opportunity to find synergy in the convergence of advanced technology and financial services. Both sides are benefiting.
It cares about laws.
Crypto got a bad rap early on because some bad dudes did some bad stuff and it got a reputation as a lawless platform. Times have changed. Now, everyone who is truly interested in its sustainability is working tirelessly to advance the good that's happening here. Bitcoin continues to make inroads as a viable currency, exchange activity is stabilizing around a few well-respected projects and the market is growing. We're not all drug dealers, after all.
There's a cult of personality.
Early adopters of crypto and blockchains are true believers. They're motivated by higher purpose than just the financial gain that drives so many crypto speculators. The word "scam" is the dirtiest of four-letter words. There is a strong desire to establish an ubiquitous understanding of the possibilities of widespread crypto use and blockchain-based transactions. It's an energy and enthusiasm that is unlike any I've ever experienced in my career.
Despite these surprises, this has to be said: Yes, this industry is young and male. The lack of diversity and examples of blatant and implicit biases in crypto are well documented. Although it's difficult to measure, it's estimated that men hold approximately 85 percent or more of cryptocurrency wealth. Most products and marketing in this industry are geared toward men. As a result, crypto has perpetuated the wealth gap between men and women.
Diversity has a place at the table.
But, women and people of color are not unrepresented in this space and more are continuing to enter the industry. Crypto startups, given their progressive and innovative nature, have a unique opportunity to change the story line and deliver on its founding principle of democratized access to wealth.
I'm seeing it in my company, starting with a belief that diverse talent is valuable and can readily be found. The industry still has long way to go, but change is happening.
The energy in this industry is infectious. I would imagine it's akin to the early days of the internet -- the excitement of doing something uncharted but knowing that you're moving in the right direction.