How the women of Wall Street led me to cryptocurrencies

Downtown NYC by Chris Bell from Pexels

In 2016, I did something that people always say you should do: take advantage of being in New York City. So I did—I attended a Women in Derivatives (WIND) event in New York City.

WIND is a networking group for women who work in finance. As a lifelong marketer, I confess I barely knew what a derivative was at the time.

But the idea of women who knew their way around Wall Street was intriguing.

I also couldn’t pass up the chance to attend a finance event in the financial capital of the world.

I started attending WIND events by chance, thanks to an email from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where I got my MBA.

WIND events begin with a bit of networking, a variety of appetizers, and wine—sometimes even champagne.

At my first WIND event I showed up in jeans and a leather jacket, sticking out amid the power suits/power dresses of Wall Street. It’s definitely not the casual vibe of, say, the tech scene. But no one judged me and everyone was friendly.

After half an hour of mingling, there’s typically a panel of impressive women from senior positions across top firms such as JP Morgan, Bloomberg, PIMCO, BlackRock, and law firms with 4+ names in the title. Sometimes there’s an academic guest.

The content and discussion at WIND events is always high caliber. For example, a panel on the intersection of artificial intelligence and finance featured NYU professor of data science Claudia Perlich. She made the topic accessible. And she’s funny. She posited—with plenty of authority on the topic—that self-aware AI the likes of Skynet is still a ways off, thankfully.

What drew me specifically to that first WIND event was the theme advertised: fintech.

I’d been interested in switching careers from consumer brand management to tech for a while. Fintech appealed to me because of its potential to bring greater financial access to more diverse populations.

The event featured women at the forefront of fintech and Wall Street. One of them was Blythe Masters whose successful career at JP Morgan had made her, I came to find out, a bit of a celebrity in the industry.

However, on this day, Blythe was not representing the banking world. She was there to share her story of going from a traditional finance career to becoming the CEO of an emerging blockchain technology company.

She first explained blockchains in simple terms for the audience. I remember her pointing out that the anonymous inventor of Bitcoin and its underlying blockchain technology could be a woman for all we know. (This memory still makes me smile because people rarely acknowledge that the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto could be a woman.)

The concept behind the startup headed by Blythe was that blockchain technology could help reduce inefficiencies in settlement and clearing processes at banks. It could save millions of dollars while modernizing outdated processes.

The use case was compelling.

I’d heard of blockchains before this panel. But I still didn’t know how, exactly, it all worked. That night, after the WIND event, I set out to learn more about blockchains.

My research led me to an exciting conclusion: blockchain technology may prove to be the mechanism that opens up financial access for large, underserved populations.

Cryptocurrencies—as the first application of blockchain tech—are exciting because they’re native to the internet and (usually) not controlled by any single entity.

The blockchain protocols that power cryptocurrencies are far more distributed than today’s internet where a few large tech companies wield so much control.

If no single person or group controls cryptocurrencies or their underlying technology, then entrepreneurs of all stripes have a chance to build businesses that serve more diverse markets. Wealth creation has the chance to look different and be more accessible to more people.

Is a decentralized financial system truly possible?

Regardless of the answer, a technology created anonymously and controlled by no one is generating an entire industry around it.

The finance world is certainly paying attention to this potential.

These insights went on to alter my career trajectory.

Shortly after that fintech WIND panel, I landed a role at a data analytics SaaS company and spent two years navigating the B2B tech scene in New York City.

I had so much to learn after a 10+ year career in consumer products. Working in tech was different and I embraced it, absorbing what I could from the B2B tech community. I had the second half of “fintech” down.

A couple of years later, I heard about Chainalysis, a blockchain analysis startup based in Manhattan. They make cryptocurrency investigation and anti-money laundering compliance software. I began to track them and a few other blockchain startups.

Then one day Chainalysis presented at a tech meetup that I attended regularly. I introduced myself to the co-founder during the networking session that followed. Saggy pizza slice and beer bottle in hand (clearly not a WIND event), we got to chatting about the different cryptocurrency compliance use cases.

Not long after meeting Chainalysis at that meetup, a recruiter reached out to me with a product marketing role at Chainalysis. The stars were aligned as far as I was concerned!

This role was perfectly aligned with my background: they needed to build their product marketing function and that’s exactly what I’d just been doing in my prior role.

I interviewed with the Chainalysis team, including the co-founder. I painted a picture of how I’d helped my previous company sharpen their enterprise positioning and go-to-market campaigns. I got the job and started shortly thereafter.

It took me a few months to wrap my mind around how cryptocurrency compliance software worked but I eventually ramped up and built marketing strategies that helped the company grow rapidly.

A year working in this world is like two and a half crypto dog years. There is so much to learn and the space moves so fast.

Meanwhile, I continued to attend WIND events. At one particular event, a woman from Goldman Sachs saw my name tag and said “oooh, Chainalysis! I want to talk to you.” It was a full circle moment and it was clear that among financial institutions, cryptocurrencies were gaining more and more traction.

Eventually I moved from New York to Los Angeles, a new and exciting phase in my life. But I was sad to leave friends and a job at a great company.

It also meant I could no longer attend WIND events in the financial capital of the world. This well-organized group of badass Wall Street women will always get credit for inspiring me to better understand cryptocurrencies.

My knowledge of this emerging space and ability to talk about it in a non-technical way became invaluable for me. It impressed the COO of my next employer so much that we talked of nothing else in my interview. As he left the room he said, “you’re an amazing candidate.”

It’s still early for cryptocurrencies and blockchain; some challenges remain. Lack of intuitive interfaces across offerings is still a barrier to faster mainstream adoption.

Enterprise use cases of blockchain technology, meanwhile, have drawn a lot of interest. While multiple projects have been in development for a few years, businesses are still working through growing pains.

Women’s involvement and interest in the industry remains low.

But progress is happening.

As for me, I will continue to participate in this space and encourage anyone interested in the future of finance to keep an eye on it. I also look forward to attending future WIND events in Los Angeles or remotely.

Passionate about the power of marketing strategy