I compare Bitcoin and the Blockchain tech to teenage sex: it appears everyone is curious and talking about it, some people are doing it, but very few are doing it well. I use this analogy when discussing leadership skills and strategic planning for companies, however, it also seems fitting for the Bitcoin conference.
I recently helped to advise a crypto wallet company, Exodus, to go public in a world-first, crypto-only offering on the Exodus platform. It was extraordinary and truly humbling. During this journey, I researched and learned of the bigger contributors, as well as their companies. Candidly, I was baffled when I discovered that some of these folks were in their 20s. A few of the leadership teams were made up entirely of young people. No question these individuals are brilliant – but rarely do young teams have the leadership experience, strategic planning knowledge, and clear organizational structure of more seasoned teams.
I wondered if maybe I was missing something. Many of these companies have no physical location and their teams work from anywhere in the world. I began pondering if there was a different way to run a company, if leadership experience holds less weight in this space, and who are these brilliant kids who think like pirates, want to change the world, and are doing it on their terms? Combine this with a genuine crypto-curiosity and my desire to improve in order to help my clients, and I felt all too compelled to attend this conference.
And I have to say, it was a trip.
Last week’s post focused on the culture, the tribe, and the movement. This week’s blog will focus more on my leadership observations.
I spoke with many owner/founders, “senior” folks, and start-up dreamers, and found that my confusion was not completely misguided. This space is not only attracting exceptionally bright, ambitious people, it is also moving faster than virtually any other industry. In other words, it is the Wild West, the Gold Rush, and the technology boom – all rolled into one. It exists without borders, yet trillions of dollars are at stake. Mix in a few libertarian beliefs, a massive distrust of the government and big finance, and you have a rudimentary snapshot of the industry. I have never seen an industry with so much money and such little need for securing outside money. As I waited almost three hours the first day just to get in the door, I talked with a VC (venture capital) owner who was openly frustrated. In the last several pitches he had listened to when considering making an investment, the tables turned. The companies he was interviewing began interviewing him. They wanted the VC to explain why they should take his money. They didn’t need more money, but what else did he have to offer – marketing, accounting, or introductions? For a traditional VC, to be the one being interviewed is unheard of. In all cases, they did not make a placement because the company did not want the deal. The space is truly topsy-turvy.
I observed this money-flush sort of thinking over and over. Additionally, I saw a unique and uncommon self-awareness of areas in which these young leaders could grow and mature. In my experience, it is rare to see an organization with the self-awareness to recognize their strengths and their shortcomings, especially when it comes to super smart, successful start-ups. There are always exceptions, but again, with this group, awareness appeared to be the norm. Perhaps this has to do with culture, openness, and candor. I felt a genuine receptiveness to the challenges and comments I made in our brief interactions.
To me, this indicated that most of the people I interacted with were the brightest of the bright. They were in an extremely lucrative environment, had gotten lucky, worked hard, and were still likely to drive into the wall of growing pains that virtually every small business hits. For me, this was exciting, as it confirmed that this industry is different, yet many of the leadership problems were the same.
Based on these insights, I am taking time to process and consider my next steps. I love where I am today, however, I have to admit that it is fun to think about the possibilities. This movement is young and could use some gray hair to cultivate leadership skills and strategic thinking.
I would love to hear any insights or thoughts along these lines.
Next week, I am going to dive into three big economic insights from the conference.