When I joined BitMEX, I had been at PayPal and Apple for more time than anywhere else. I jumped out of a big tech structured environment into what felt like the Wild West. At that time, the BitMEX team was small and the culture was a “trading culture” — which basically meant every man for himself. I really do mean man there — I was one of two females at the company and the only one in a senior position.
That was a wild ride. We built as fast as possible to capture the market, while also setting up processes and infrastructure to make sure we could scale. Our daily trading volume started at $100k, and by January 2018 it was up to $6 billion per day. It was not an easy time, but it was worth it for the difficult lessons I learned. Those lessons have been invaluable to me, and I’d like to share a few of them with you here.
1. Bring women into your leadership.
When an organization creates gender balance, they see almost instant improvements. These include fewer crisis alerts, better decision making, and enhanced team alignment. Over time, they see improved company culture and employee buy-in due to an increased sense of fairness.
An MIT study in 2014, covering 8 years of data, concluded that companies with an even gender split could increase revenue by roughly 41 percent. These numbers show us how cost-effective diversifying your team is, and how companies who stick to old traditions are likely hurting their own bottom line.
2. Hire experience.
When it comes to learning how to hire, you have two options. One is to spend a year working for an established, successful company, and to be a sponge there. Ask questions about everything, and assess what works and what doesn’t. The issue here is that many of us simply don’t have the time to do this. Timing is everything, and we don’t want to lose a year of building.
If you feel a sense of urgency to get your tech out into the market so that you can iterate on it and make it the best it can be, then you need to hire someone who already knows how to do that. Hiring passionate, inexperienced people is always an option, but they still need to learn, and that takes time.
3. Accept the reality that you are not your own customer.
If I could have you take one thing away from this post, it would be this. You may be an early adopter in crypto, and you’re wanting to build something that you need and that’s why you’re here in the first place. That’s a great place to start, but if you stop there, you are going to fail. Ask your customers what they want, not yourself. It’s not about building what you think would be revolutionary, it’s about building what people need.
A great analogy that comes to mind is this: Do people really need a quarter-inch drill? The answer is, no. People need a quarter-inch hole, and a drill is a good solution, but if you jump right to it, you may miss the opportunity to build something even better.
4. Create practical solutions and think small.
When electricity was invented, it was a technology without an application. No lights, no fridges, no stoves, or hair dryers. All of those applications of that technology still needed to be conceived and built. We have this amazing blockchain technology, but we don’t have a lot of real-world applications for it yet.
Those get built by the entrepreneurs — the people who are interested in making money, not inventing a breakthrough innovation. I’m sure you’ve often heard of a new project that people say will change everything. Let’s stop trying to change everything, and start trying to solve one problem at a time.
5. If you have to make a change, don’t wait too long.
I’ve been in an organization where a founder had a college buddy in a position well beyond his background and skills. He wreaked havoc on the company. As the founder, you have to recognize that your company is more important than giving your friend a job.
Most of us spend a lot of our waking hours in a work environment, and those environments are constantly changing. Change that is imposed on us is difficult, and naturally, we resist it. Yet there are things that leaders do that make change even harder, like waiting too long to act.
Change doesn’t have to be negative. I’m sure you’ve seen how energized entrepreneurs starting new projects can be. In these cases, transformation creates positive emotions of optimism and anticipation.
When we talk about transforming our work environment, there’s a very different emotional tone that comes up. It feels more like discomfort, concern, or maybe even fear. The uncertainty riles us and lacks the excitement and clarity of a new endeavor.
So think carefully about the changes you need to make, but don’t put them off. Be brave and bold. Remember that you are building the future.
6. Leverage your sense of purpose.
Most companies would kill to have what we have in the crypto space. Our industry has a powerful sense of meaning within it, while organizations in other industries struggle to inspire their teams with a sense of purpose. It’s hard to create purpose around a financial objective, and while big corporations may have motivated leadership, most employees are just collecting a paycheck.
Everyone in crypto is an early adopter. Everyone is a part of this because they are willing to take a risk and join an industry that hasn’t been proven. Purpose is the most important factor in creating a good company culture, and we in crypto have an abundance of it
Looking to the Future
So here’s what we can expect to happen next. We’re going to see wider acceptance, and that means more mainstream players in the space. It’s critical that we’re the ones to build the companies of the future now. Let’s take that passion and purpose and build fair, effective, and strong companies with competent leadership. We owe it to the inventors and the visionaries who started this, to stay at the forefront of this technological revolution as it continues to move forward at breakneck speed.
If we don’t, here’s what will happen. Facebook will launch Libra and dominate crypto payments. JP Morgan and Fidelity will dominate crypto trading. Giant tech companies will use their influence, and their competitive engines to take over the crypto industry, and make it just like every other big business. We will be fondly remembered as the AOL of blockchain; early pioneers who failed to maintain their relevance in a changing world.
I just joined ShapeShift a few months ago as COO, and I can say with confidence that this is one of the companies in the space that is putting all the pieces together and building a solid and scalable entity. The executive team is half women and half men, and there is a high level of experience throughout the organization
I hope you can take some of this back to your teams to make your companies stronger. This next phase of our industry will require strong, safe companies to take the lead and bring electric light to the financial world.