Debrief the good and the bad: In the army we debrief as a group after every successful and unsuccessful exercise or event. This becomes a way of life. The debriefing process allows to create best practices together as a team and provides tools that help for real-time decision-making support. No two situations will be the same, but talking them through helps establish principles that guide us through handling future events. I find this is the best way to create and refile protocols that streamline work processes and help efficiency.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Danny Brown Wolf, Head of Partnerships and Marketing Strategy at Orbs and a member of the founding team of Hexa Group USA. She was formerly the ICO director for Cool Cousin, a VC-backed travel-tech startup with more than 800,000 users. She served as a policy advisor at the United Nations with Ambassador Ron Prosor, as Dr. Michael Oren’s policy director, and at the Israeli Parliament with Member of Knesset Erel Margalit. Brown Wolf is also an advisor for the Hexa Foundation and Hexa Finance and is active in promoting Women in Blockchain in Tel Aviv, San Francisco, and New York.)
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My current career path and pivoting to blockchain was a fortunate accident. I have an unusual career path within the American tech world since my background is in foreign policy and international affairs. I grew up in Israel, Toronto and Australia, so I’ve always been drawn to cosmopolitical and global affairs. That’s why, following my military service at the Israeli Defense Intelligence Corps, I studied Government, Diplomacy and Policy and attended the Argov Leadership program while focusing on policy aspects of International Humanitarian Law — the Laws of War.
I then began my career on the Israeli diplomatic mission to the United Nations as a PA to the Permanent Representative, Ambassador Ron Prosor, and was quickly promoted to policy advisor. I then worked at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, as a Parliamentary Aid for a VC mogul turned politician, Dr. Erel Margalit, who had an agenda of economic development. I was working on legislation, in strategic committees such as the Finance and Economic Committees, on economic development initiatives for the Israeli periphery and on exciting political campaigns in the party primaries. I then worked with Dr. Michael Oren (now Deputy Minister for Diplomacy) as a Policy Director of the Abba Eban Institute, a think-tank revolutionizing the country’s foreign-policy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzeliya — Israel’s first private university.
After my two boys were born I worked as a consultant for PosiTeam, a consultancy firm specializing in capacity building for Palestinian hi-tech industry and managerial training of cross-cultural teams. I enjoyed working on the cross-section of private and social impact so when I moved to the U.S. with my family I was looking for positions in social-impact startups. But guess what? I couldn’t get one. I quickly learned that in the US tech culture, specific experience is valued over skills. I was told that I needed consulting/MBA/sales experience in order to apply to business development roles. It was a frustrating process. Then a friend who knew me from the United Nations and is a successful VC investor heard I was looking to pivot to the private sector. He told me he had a portfolio company he believed in that made a convincing case for decentralizing some of their services and community management by integrating blockchain technology. He said I’d be perfect to assist the CEO in the process. My first reaction was: I don’t know anything about the blockchain world. He said, “well, no one does. You’ll be fine”. I fell in love with the founders and the product, and started working with Cool Cousin, a travel-tech start-up with over 850k users that has been crowned by the New York Times, L.A Times, The Guardian and National Geographic as a “must-have app for travelers.”
Once I was down the blockchain rabbit-hole, that was it for me. Because it’s such a new industry, you’re judged on your knowledge and skills, not on specific professional milestones. So if you’re talented, it is a blue ocean with a fast-paced trajectory. After Cool Cousin, I started my journey with the Hexa Group, Israel’s largest blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies group, and its crown-jewel — our public blockchain Orbs. On my first day, I was tasked with leading the marketing strategy and efforts for Orbs. Now that I am back in the US, my role is shifting to partnerships and business development.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The story is more of a personal milestone. I always shied away from speaking about topics I wasn’t an expert on. You couldn’t get me talking about technology in public even with a teleprompter and a practiced speech. One of the first things I was tasked with at Orbs was marketing strategy. In this case, the Orbs brand is the product itself — the architecture, the technological innovations and the features. I did “forensic” marketing, looking under the hood at our product, and fell in love with it. Less than a month into my work at Orbs, the team went to Japan and our group President was scheduled to speak at a developer blockchain enthusiasts event. Half an hour before the presentation, I was told he was delayed at an investor meeting and the honor would be all mine. I’m not sure if it was the adrenaline, the vote of confidence or the fact I didn’t really have another choice, but I realized I “got this”. I’ve been pushing myself into speaking events ever since and I feel like every woman should — it’s empowering.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I had a very important first call and I accepted the invite without realizing I was going to be in a different timezone. I got a call at 4am and for some reason, decided it was fine and that I could pull off taking the call without so much as putting my contact lenses in. Since we live in a NY apartment, I decided to take the call hiding in the bathroom and still managed to wake up my one year old and consequently, my entire family was crying and the dog was howling. I learnt my lesson about scheduling, but more importantly, mitigating damages by re-scheduling, rather than thinking I can pull anything off before I’ve opened my eyes!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What is unique about the Hexa Group is the strategic ecosystem that was built. While there are many good projects emerging in blockchain, many of the good ones will not survive because they lack support. Our ecosystem consists of a consultancy firm, an investment arm, a social-impact foundation and a technology company. The four companies add value to the collective, which makes each individually better positioned to thrive in its respective field. For example, our investment arm included in its portfolio exchanges that are valuable to our consultancy portfolio. Our Foundation supports academic partnerships that are assets to our R&D and Orbs R&D works on innovations and implementations of technologies that are fundamental to the future growth of projects we help incubate.
Specifically in the protocol space, what makes Orbs unique is the pragmatic approach. Surprisingly, this is very difficult to find in the blockchain industry where many projects prioritize idealization of absolutist principles or the pursuit of highly impractical technology that no real business is going to use. Orbs is designed and built with its users — decentralized application developers — in mind.
Both the ecosystem and pragmatic approaches are so inherent, that they are part of the product architecture. Orbs itself has interoperability (built-in connectivity) to other blockchains, since we believe in partnering, rather than competing, and being pragmatic so there is no need to reinvest what is already there.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our R&D team is working on very exciting projects like Distributed Key General that can, for example, facilitate a voting mechanism that does not require a trusted third party to gather and count the votes. There’s also our Hexa consensus algorithm that is the first to prevent node manipulations, thus facilitating a more secure and fair blockchain; and autonomous atomic swaps that implement a self-executing smart contract that will allow two parties to transact without the need for a middleman. These features all have specific roles to play in our protocol design. But what is really exciting about it, is that they have many other implementations, and they are all open-source. This means anyone can use the innovation for their own project. I’m sure many of these implementations will involve social-impact projects, that will now be able to access the technology that will help build their solutions. From my time at the United Nations I saw how lack of access to patented technology and IP in developing nations made it impossible to close the gaps. Hopefully blockchain’s open-source culture can move the needle on that.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Let them know you have their back. I once worked for a fantastic woman who always told her team they should do what they think is right, and that her “ass is big enough to cover everyone else’s”, so they shouldn’t worry about covering, only about creating.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
A culture of communication and expectation management is key. Orbs and the Hexa Group grew from a ninja team of 15 people to 65+ in about 6 months. Together with Eran, Orbs’ rockstar VP R&D, we began implementing internal communications processes that were more suitable to large teams, and which facilitate cross-team updates and needs. A weekly sync on a team and company level is crucial, especially for fast-moving fields, whether it’s politics or hi-tech. There are always more tasks than time, and communicating the priorities to employees and team leaders sounds obvious, but this is surprisingly not well implemented in start-ups. More than just the priorities, I found that it is very effective to communicate the reasoning behind them, giving the employees the bigger picture. I know I always worked better when management leveled with me and gave me the context and bigger picture. I’ll close off by saying that managing expectations upwards is just as important as it is downwards. Communicating honestly with the founders and other executives is just as important. This helps set priorities and resource allocation, but can also prevent frustration when expectation exceeds reality. Many women have an added value in this sense as we are (usually) better communicators
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I was extremely fortunate to have many mentors along my professional path, but most of what I learnt about management was at my first job from Ambassador Ron Prosor. I was just graduating when I applied to work at the United Nations — a dream job for any policy major. I moved up the interview process even though I was told I was the only one without work experience. The evening following my last interview I had my last shift as a server at a restaurant, the job that paid for my university tuition, when the Ambassador walked into the restaurant. I wanted to hide in the bathroom for the rest of the shift but went and shook his hand. I got the job because of that. I was a below average PA, my head was always in policy and strategy and not much for the pedantic details of scheduling and so on, but a good manager spots potential and knows how to best allocate resources, so he promoted me to policy advisor where I shined. Beyond being a good manager, Prosor is a great leader — always invoking a strong sense of loyalty by taking care of his people and speaking directly and truthfully even when it’s harsh. When he recommended me for my next position he said “Danny only makes a mistake once, and she did most of them with me”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I haven’t, yet. As part of the Hexa Group we have a Foundation, a not-for profit organisation focused on using blockchain to create social impact, led by the incredible Netta Korin, a partner at Hexa Group who was one of the youngest women on Wall Street to found her own hedge-fund at 27, and left it all for philanthropy and policy work. Given my policy and social impact background I advise the Foundation, but cannot take credit for any of their incredible work. I hope I will have more time in the future to take a more active role in the work of the Foundation.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
Delegate and let go: one of the biggest problems I had transitioning into leadership positions was not having time to “create”. I had to let go of many of the things I enjoyed doing and learn to direct and oversee, rather than create. Here I have to give the founders of Hexa and Orbs huge credit; they all stepped down and hired a professional management team so they could focus on what they love. For example, our technical co-founder Tal Kol would have been a fantastic CTO, but he only wants to write code and specs for Orbs. He cannot do both so he chose to code. An added (unplanned, of course) bonus was that most of the professional management they brought in are women.
Debrief the good and the bad: in the army we debrief as a group after every successful and unsuccessful exercise or event. This becomes a way of life. The debriefing process allows to create best practices together as a team and provides tools that help for real-time decision-making support. No two situations will be the same, but talking them through helps establish principles that guide us through handling future events. I find this is the best way to create and refile protocols that streamline work processes and help efficiency.
Apologize: there is nothing more powerful than apologizing. Every time my instinct was to be defensive, I regretted not just apologizing and moving on. That said, I’ve seen this power abused. Make sure you don’t have to apologize for the same thing twice.
Know yourself: everyone has different management styles, and that’s OK. The most important thing is self-awareness. Though I can put on my Canadian diplomacy hat when I need it, my Israeli chutzpah is probably what categorizes me. I learnt that I need to work with people who can handle my directness. That is why as an interviewee, and also when I am interviewing, I make a point of warning that I will probably have something to say about most things and I will have no problem with anyone rejecting my opinion.
QA and external audit: sometimes we get sucked in by an idea or the team as a whole is excited about a path that was decided that we cannot properly judge its quality. It is extremely valuable to have an outside set of eyes on our logic. It could be a trusted friend, another executive or outsourcing. For example, periodically throughout the strategic branding process I stopped to consult whoever I could. When a friend who is an executive at a non-blockchain, yet disruptive tech company told me I sounded like I was living in a world created by Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, I realized there was some reframing that needed to be done.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In the future, I would love to explore the implementation of blockchain technology for direct participation of citizens in government decisions. Having worked in a Finance Committee of a parliament, I’m certain that if people knew where their tax money was going, were able to track it, and had a seamless user experience of directly voting for priorities and allocations, then the government would better serve its people. I’m not talking about replacing government with code all together, but where possible, why not have the social contract backed by a smart contract? I was invited to speak at a panel hosted by Israel’s leading expert and founder of iCapital, Shelly Hod Moyal, about blockchain in front of UK, Israeli and Australian politicians. At the panel, we discussed the idea of how ‘cutting the middlemen’, such as brokers, disrupts certain industries. I told them, that in case they were wondering, they too are middlemen that can, in theory, be cut off with this new technology. It got their attention. I do not advocate for the end of our political system — not at all. But rather, for it to evolve to allow more active direct citizenry on the one hand, and real-time transparency on the other
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Do or do not, there is no try” — Yoda.
I work in a space with extremely talented people and incredible brain-power. At Hexa Group we see hundreds of blockchain projects, many of which have really innovative ideas and good intentions. Still, most will fail. Why? Because it’s all about execution. That’s my personal interpretation of the Yoda quote.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
On Twitter : @dannyhbrown or through the Orbs channels @Orbs_network on Twitter and Telegram.
Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!