Tuesday 2 June 2020 9:00 am

Ten crypto founder things I wish I knew before I began

My founder journey began one sleepless night in 2017 when my frustration with cryptocurrency markets hit boiling point.

Buying, selling, paying and receiving ought to be simple, clear and fast but instead a cottage industry was growing in which intermediaries were obfuscating these processes with technical jargon, targeting hopeful but clueless punters and profiting unethically from the knowledge asymmetry. 

Broker fees were high, many claiming a chunky share of the upside as if they were a hedge fund on a 2-and-20; moving money was fraught with risk, and bandits were making out like, well, bandits.

The market needed a friendly alternative, a simple, personal and well-informed service, and so began BCB. We started as a high-touch cryptocurrency brokerage and in 2019 launched our flagship product: business accounts for the blockchain industry, a regulated service that banks the unbankable.

Over a billion pounds of payments later, moving money for the world’s largest cryptocurrency companies, it has been a successful journey so far but far from an easy one. If I could wind the clock back 4 years, I’d be better armed with these thoughts.

  1. The world thinks your industry is bonkers

You’re not selling shoes or building houses or flying planes. You’re building value around abstract forms of money and data in ways which are still working to prove their form and function. Articulate sceptics in pink broadsheet blogs will make fun of you, but ignore the noise, keep building, keep selling, and let your 100x valuation multiple speak for itself.

  1. Banks hate you

If your digital project presents a long term existential threat to the analogue establishment banking industry, don’t expect them to love you. Instead, learn to co-exist by finding ways to innovate together, and make money together. When you find a banking partner, look after them as much as they look after you.

  1. You will be very poor for a very long time

Any founder not re-investing every moment of time and every penny of profit right back into the business in its early stages will find a quick end. Life is short and you only really get one crack at founding something big and meaningful, so pay in pain upfront and enjoy more durable rewards later.

  1. Hire the smartest people you can afford

I’d rather hire or partner with one person who is skilled, savvy and can sell than three who can do just one of those at a fraction of the price. This will become most apparent when you start accelerating for scale and you need more firepower than your headcount suggests: Your multi-skillers will save the day. 

  1. You can’t quit but you can pivot

A moment of realisation arrives and slaps you in the face: You’re in it now, there’s no turning back. This happens a few employees in, when people’s livelihoods begin to depend on the success of your hare-brained idea. This is not a job you can just walk out on after flipping a table. But if it’s not something you want anymore, make it something you do. Go back to your original purpose, understand yourself and your market, and use your fabulous founder brain to make a better fitting product.

  1. You can’t predict markets

No-one can tell you how much 1 bitcoin or 1 crypto venture will be worth in a year, and anyone who does is deluded or lying. No-one can tell you what the general state of play will be. I’m happiest when I have no clue where BTC is trading, because my bet is the long-term one: We are here to build a new system of money that learns from the mistakes of the past, using and pushing the very limits of technology available to us. We are in the 1990s of the internet when every path is available but only few will survive the bust of the 2000s. The only real certainty is that this industry is not going away, it is only going to get bigger and smarter.

  1. The more rules there are, the easier it is to play

We’re not building space widgets in a vacuum, we’re building systems of money and digital assets that interface with the real world. The real world likes rules because rules describe the players, the objects, the objectives and the boundaries. Part of the problem over the last few years has been one of regulators coming to grips with exactly what these magic beans are for, how to treat them and how to keep markets safe and efficient. The quicker the pace of regulation, the higher the barrier to participation, but the better it is for the game.

  1. You have no time, so you must make time

Whether your founder goal is to build wealth or personal fulfillment, it shouldn’t need to come at the expense of your health or your wellbeing. After sprinting for years with no break, my mental health took a bad turn before I decided that exercise and family time weren’t peripheral to success but were core to it. The bills will wait another hour, but your heart might not.

  1. You are at the front-most edge of many fields

The crypto and blockchain industry spans finance, technology, economics and social science, with strong innovative leadership in each of those areas. This positions you to literally make history. It won’t be clear which of your micro-choices today become mainstream solutions tomorrow but your very participation in this space makes it likely that at least one will. Enjoy the view.

  1. “Relax. Victory is assured.”

This one is about getting comfortable with your utter discomfort, and for me the messenger is Naval Ravikant, whose tweets can be found physically framed in my home office. A billionaire tech investor and popular modern philosopher, in my opinion no-one crunches insights more densely more regularly than this model founder mentor. I am a shameless fanboy, but if his tweets are not your cup of tea, find a guru who is, and be open to learning from those who have gone down this path before you. (Shoutout to @Naval – you’re invited to BCB’s growth story.)

Oliver von Landsberg-Sadie, BCB Group