Crystal Rose is a technologist and entrepreneur who has been part of the tech community since middle school, but that familiarity has not put her out of touch with the obstacles faced by women in technology.
As co-founder and CEO of Sensay, an AI communications platform and SENSE, a Blockchain protocol that recently completed a successful ICO, she has direct experience of the industry’s challenges and prospects.
CryptoComes caught up with Crystal after she spoke on the Women in Blockchain panel at CryptoBlockCon 2018 in Los Angeles.
Katya Michaels: I heard that you started coding when you were eleven, which makes you not just a digital native, but a coding native. Do you think that being comfortable with the technology from so early on makes it easier for you as a woman in tech?
Crystal Rose: I think being in the space early and being really naive helped a lot. When I was a teenager, I discovered hackathons. At that point, it was just people getting together, creating products or sharing code. It wasn't until I was 19 or 20 that someone actually mentioned to me that I was the only woman out of a hundred people participating in the hackathon who wasn’t a sponsor or working at a booth.
After that realization, I started to seek out more women and try to understand - is it that women are fundamentally not interested in engineering? Or is it really exclusive? I think it's a combination. There is definitely an intimidation factor if you're not comfortable with the “boys club” elements of it.
Bringing men into the conversation
KM: How do you feel about the “women in Blockchain” discourse?
CR: It's super challenging for me because I would rather not see us segregating ourselves even further. For instance, the organizers of this conference pulled me off the first panel today to put me on the Women in Blockchain panel. As a result, there were several panels with only men and one panel with only women.
I think it would be interesting if we included men on a Women in Blockchain panel to get their perspective, to understand the challenges from their side, to empower them to bring more women into this space.
Events created specifically for women in the industry are helpful for us to make connections, but we also have to take the next step- which is integrate. When I host dinners for women in crypto, I encourage men to come and participate. One good approach is to invite men, but also ask them to nominate a woman who is a candidate for the space and bring her along.
If you look at the C-suite in any industry, it is challenging for women to break through to the top level. It’s good to point that out, but without creating more exclusion. I’d like to bring the topics around to the men- ask them how they are encouraging women entrepreneurs, how they are investing in women. I want to see men step up to that conversation.
Opening doors for women entrepreneurs
KM: You are a partner with an all-women investment group, Artemis. Who are the members and what makes this experience unique?
CR: So, Artemis is 11 women from all over the world who are entrepreneurs in their own right - primarily in technology, but other sectors as well. This is a side project for everyone involved, just coming together to really understand investing in cryptocurrencies, in ICOs, and in Blockchain companies.
At this point, I consider it more of a learning club rather than a venture firm. We’re here for all the women who are entrepreneurs and are unsure in the space. We'll go through the diligence process in a really kind way and open that door.
One of the things about women is we tend to have a higher standard. Being an angel investor myself for about five years now, having people come and pitch to me, women are always more polished. But the detrimental part of that higher standard is that they might not come to the table early enough.
KM: In fact, there is research showing that women need to be extremely sure of their competence before putting themselves out there, while for men that threshold is much lower - something that has been called “the confidence gap.”
CR: Well, that research is super valid then, because that's exactly how it is with the pitches. Men might be only 50 or 30 percent there with the idea - and they give the pitch anyway. Women will only pitch an idea when they think that the chances of success are extremely high.
But when you're raising angel money, you've got to have a higher risk tolerance. You've got to say, “Hey, I want to bet on this thing and I want to go for it.” I think it would be great to see women stepping up with ideas earlier because you can validate them faster, you can get through that cycle faster and get to the next stage. We want to see women accelerated.
Giving back for long-term solutions
KM: Have you noticed a difference in the approach taken by women versus men to adding value in this industry?
CR: I think it’s related to the likelihood of women taking high risks in things that are uncertain.
Men want a higher return, but they don't really have as much of a vested interest in the idea or the company. Maybe this is just a blanket statement, but I feel that women want to see a longer-term solution.
Men, a lot of the time, have this rocket booster mentality - I just want to get something out of the gate really fast, go to the moon, maybe it's not sustainable, maybe I've burned a bunch of fuel on the way, but it doesn't really matter. For women, it’s more of “how can I positively impact the world sustainably over a longer period of time?”
Women want to see growth and also have a harder stomach for sticking it out long term. I've seen a lot more female entrepreneurs unwilling to give up their business when it's clearly failing compared to male counterparts.
KM: You have been nominated for the Golden Token Female Leader of the Year Award. Is that exciting for you? Should there be more recognition for women, or is it just a golden star that doesn’t mean anything?
CR: That's huge, I'm extremely honored. I strive to put out a positive message and encourage everyone to ask questions and learn. Even when I stopped doing hackathons to build things, I kept going back as a mentor because I saw this need for women to be encouraged to work on something and not be afraid to fail. Out of that, I ended up doing LA Startup week, a free event to encourage entrepreneurs who either didn’t have the resources or were afraid to come out and get to that next stage. So I think recognition is huge.
KM: You are on the board of the ICO Governance Foundation. What do you think is in the future for this model? There seem to be two approaches- comply or insist on freedom.
CR: Or keep changing the acronym! TGE, token generation event, that's what it's called today.
The reason I wanted to get into the governance side of it is because I realized that in a global economy we have to collaborate, and understanding the global ecosystem is really important. I am fortunate to have been at the table with different governments, with Congress, the SEC, the SFC in Hong Kong. We are still operating in a world where global trade is very challenging and that is detrimental to the entire space.
The ICO Governance Foundation works on creating a governance system that everyone can adhere to and live by. In this space, you have to self-govern and have integrity, but the other side is influencing the government. We need to be the voice that says, “Hey, this is what all the companies want.”
Governance happens two ways. It's not our job to sit back and wait for rules be created. It's our job to help formulate these rules, so they are most beneficial to the companies, to the people and the government.
Open data standards and decentralization
KM: A wider adoption of the technology should help with governance because eventually, the population will be significant enough for the regulatory bodies to work with.
CR: Yes, but I think that's going to be a really tough challenge as well. I'm excited to be at this stage because I feel like it's the dawn of the Internet. No standards have been put in place for a lot of this.
At Sensay, we’ve had a lot of trouble with our data partners when every data stream is different. So we started the Blockchain Data Alliance, which is a group of people who are all building large-scale data-driven Blockchain projects to create open standards. We don’t want to continue to silo people and have them build essentially centralized systems. The whole point is distribution and decentralization.
KM: In your opinion, which platform is currently the leader in terms of smart contracts and decentralized apps?
CR: I like to say that I'm poly-chain. I think that each one is valid for its own inherent reason, but we chose Ethereum and the ERC 20 token. You can't actually code anything on top of Bitcoin, and Ethereum is the most accessible to the most amount of people.
But now we're seeing a lot of challenges with the transaction time and with the fees for our needs. We need to be able to do micro-transactions, so we are going to be announcing in a couple of months that we're moving to the EOS chain. EOS offers faster transactions and we've been really happy with their code base.
For me personally, EOS is the clear next big winner just because the technology is good. I think you've got to bet on who is creating good technology over who is creating hype.
Changing the advertising model
CR: I'm really happy to see that all of the ads have been banned from Google and Facebook.
KM: You're a fan of that decision?
CR: Huge fan. Fundamentally, as a company, it's against our ethos to advertise. We won't allow advertisers on our platform because that changes the quality of what we transact. Our purpose is to let humans find each other based on their knowledge.
We do have brand partners like Nike who we're working with to figure out how brands can talk to people with their permission and allow them to benefit from the interaction. We can leapfrog the process of Nike buying an ad, then the publisher, like Facebook, getting the money, with the user never getting anything other than the ad.
Instead, Nike can talk to the user directly, and if the user agrees, Nike pays them. It’s removing the intermediary. I'm sure a lot of the intermediaries are very unhappy about this, but advertising fundamentally changes the results of things.
I think we're going to watch as the current decades-old advertising model starts to unravel and I'm really excited to see it change.
KM: There is a view that the ban is not going to affect the honest players because they grow their own communities and they don't need that kind of mass advertising.
CR: I believe that fully. I wouldn't have considered spending money for the acquisition of someone to buy a token because we want people who are just interested in the product and a community that’s going to stick around with us. It's not a speculative point. It’s more like, if you love us and want to be a part of this, you’re in it for a longer game.
Puerto Rico- Blockchain Island
KM: What's your most exciting project at the moment?
CR: Мy heart is in getting every human to become their own sovereign entrepreneur. And that's what our original mission with Sensay was - to connect people together to freely share their knowledge and get a value for it.
I’m looking at communities of people now and my biggest passion is Puerto Rico, where we are doing Restart Week. Having seen what kind of impact Blockchain can have on a place that is in need of literally every resource - that's a really big mission.
Of course, there are serious challenges that don't get solved with the Blockchain - like power lines broken and roofs ripped off by hurricanes. But when you have things like money being donated to charities and disappearing, or food never being delivered, that does get solved with something like a transparent, immutable ledger system.
I think this is our first time seeing such a massive scale social impact project. We're bringing in not only resources and people and talent, but also capital in a meaningful way.
We're helping to create laws that are friendly to people who want to run businesses, to help improve the system.
It would be really great if we could see Puerto Rico become an example of how the Blockchain industry can be applied collectively, all in one place - a kind of “Blockchain Island.”