I’ve had the pleasure of attending Collision From Home, a top technology conference, and sitting down with Daniel Roberts, Editor in Chief at Decrypt. Dan has covered cryptocurrency since 2011. He spent five years at Fortune and five years at Yahoo Finance, and has written for a wide range of other publications including Sports Illustrated, TIME, Vice, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Paris Review, and Deadspin. He is the co-author of the 2013 book “Zoom: How to Supercharge Your Career.”
What is Collision From Home?
Times may be uncertain, but one thing remains true. There’s a simple power in people coming together.
Following in the spirit of Collision, Collision from Home attendees will participate from wherever they are in the world, live streaming talks from tech CEOs, international policymakers, and global cultural figures. They’ll chat and connect through the bespoke Collision from Home app, and they’ll engage with some of the world’s most influential companies and fastest-growing startups.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us about what brought you to your career path?
I’ve always known that I wanted to be a journalist. I’m lucky in that way, it was a very linear path. I started by going straight to grad school for journalism right out of college. And it’s interesting because back then, in 2010, the “tracks” you could choose from at journalism school were magazine writing, newspaper, broadcast, and new media. It’s almost cute because, in today’s time, journalism is all “new media.” You can be a newspaper reporter and still need to be digitally savvy or camera-ready. Everything has converged in some ways, and journalists today have to have familiarity with everything.
After grad school, I was briefly a newspaper reporter in the Bronx. I ended up at Fortune Magazine, covering sports business and tech. Then I went to Yahoo Finance and continued covering the same topics while also doing daily on-camera hosting. Now, I’m the Editor-in-Chief at Decrypt, which is a top crypto news site.
Is there a common theme or arc in your career?
I always tell young journalists that once you have the foundation of basic reporting skills, such as the ability to cover news quickly, jump on a call, interview people, get quotes, and understand why something is happening, you can apply it to any beat or subjects. I say this because many young journalists are very focused on a certain area they’ve decided they want to cover. But I always say that you can start off doing anything, and eventually move over to the topic you really want to cover. Everyone is like, “Oh, I want to be a food critic or a music critic.” And, of course, everyone would love to do that. But sometimes you have to take the job that’s available to you. It’s a tough industry to break into at the beginning.
For me, I didn’t plan to cover business. It was the first opportunity there, and I ended up loving it. Business is so broad, it’s almost everything, which I love. It’s publicly traded companies; it’s the stock market; it’s tech; it’s streaming. It’s everything about finance and money and how we define money. It’s commodities, Walmart, Target, Nike, sports, and brands.
It’s a big, juicy, broad topic.
Then, fast forward to today: I’ve been covering cryptocurrency since 2011. It wasn’t my full-time beat—but it became more interesting, exciting, mainstream, and popular—It’s hotter than ever before. Whether you are into it or not, I think most people can recognize that it’s not going away. It’s not going to collapse tomorrow. I was fascinated enough by it to leap to cover it full time.
Looking back, what are the catalysts or inflection points in your career?
When I was in grad school at Columbia, I spent four months as a reporter for The New York Daily News. I was an intern, but doing the same work that full-time reporters were doing. I worked three days a week, and my shifts were on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. I would call into the newsroom, and they would send me anywhere. One day it might have been a murder in the Bronx, the cops are there, go there right now, they’re holding a press briefing. Another day it would be some kind of event, like a ribbon-cutting of a new park in Queens.
I was assigned to anything; it was broad city reporting. I got thrown into the deep end, and I learned so much. I always tell people to try and land that kind of opportunity at the beginning. You would be sent to news events, and there would be reporters from every city publication, some from The Post, someone from AP, someone from The Times, and you’d have to try and get the story while competing with other people. But there was also this amazing sense of camaraderie among the reporters. Sometimes, if you arrive late, they would give you their notes from the press conference.
It’s this kind of experience that helps you learn right away how much you love it. You need to be comfortable talking to strangers, going up to people, or knocking on someone’s door. This was probably the inflection point for me.
Can you share what Decrypt is currently focused on? How will this impact the world?
Decrypt is a daily cryptocurrency news site. We cover breaking news every day, and in the crypto space, there is a flood of daily headlines. But we also cover evergreen educational content in what we call our Learn section. There is just this terrific stuff that walks readers through complicated technical concepts in an easy-to-understand way.
Cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology have already had a significant impact. Bitcoin has been around 11 years, and I think even skeptics can recognize now that it will not collapse, it’s not going to go to zero. It’s a new form of digital payment that doesn’t need banks and doesn’t require middlemen.
There are all kinds of possibilities that open up. For example, Bitcoin is currently mostly used as an investment, but then you have Ethereum, which was built specifically for smart contracts and has fueled the NFT boom. NFT are digital tokens that represent ownership deeds. But one of the most interesting use cases I remember for Ethereum was years and years ago, there was an accusation against a prominent professor at Peking University, and the University didn’t do anything about the allegations. The student took the official letter that she filed with the school and stored it forever on the Ethereum blockchain so it won’t ever be lost. And that’s incredible.
Another interesting real-world impact is Bitcoin for payments. Many people in the US say it’s not a real currency; it’s just digital gold and an investment. That’s true. But in other countries, it’s been a huge benefit to the unbanked and underbanked. There are areas of the world where people do not have access to bank accounts, but they do have smartphones. They have used various decentralized applications to receive paychecks in cryptocurrency, which can then immediately be converted to local currency. That’s amazing—crypto is literally helping people get paid in ways that couldn’t be done before. So we’ve only scratched the surface.
How has COVID shaped Decrypt now or in the future?
The pandemic created a perfect storm for crypto adoption. It really did. With governments handing out stimulus checks, the Fed pulling levers to try to address the crisis, it reaffirmed the appeal of cryptocurrencies as an investment.
There is a reason why Bitcoin’s price surged at the same time as the GameStop short squeeze was happening with Redditors and Wall Street Bets. You had the same young people looking to start investing for the first time, bored at home, with no sports to watch, and loaded with stimulus checks.
A lot of sports bettors turned to stock trading on their phones. And a lot of these people are also buying crypto for the first time. If we draw that kind of Venn Diagram, there is a huge overlap in the middle.
For Decrypt specifically, we were already totally global and distributed before COVID. We walk the walk—we are completely decentralized, just like the industry we cover. We have people in the UK, Germany, Mexico, Spain, and all over the US. As a result, the pandemic didn’t affect our workflow all that much. But it’s interesting. Once the coast is clear, will we be able to meet up? Will we still allow flexible work? Will that be effective overall?
What types of technology do you see evolving or thriving during this time?
Certain software that caters to remote work couldn’t have asked for a better situation for their business or stock price. Slack, Zoom, Web security, and cloud security platforms like Cloudflare or Snowflake, which went public during the pandemic, and their stock soared.
Anything that doesn’t require a physical element has benefited. If we broaden the circle outside of tech, we see retail and curbside pickup picking up and mobile sports betting like DraftKings. The pandemic has been great for businesses like that.
Businesses that require in-person presence have suffered, and I’m not sure how many will come back. Restaurants obviously, but think about businesses that involve in-person gatherings, meeting spaces, coworking spaces, events, concert halls. There’s just a different feel and vibe. Certain offices will never feel like they did before the pandemic. It’s hard to say with certainty what life will look like and how things will shake out.
There have been major winners and losers during this time.
One more thing. I do think there will be a domino effect. Companies are watching other companies to see when they bring employees back or what kinds of hybrid or in-person workspaces they adopt. Large employers are consciously or unconsciously influenced by their peers. You might see a real fast chain reaction when certain companies finally say, “Okay, we think we’re out of the woods. We expect everyone to come back to the office.” That’ll be quite a moment.
What are your “2 Things I Wish I Knew”? Can you share a story?
The first thing I would say, especially in media or journalism, is that you will encounter the same people repeatedly. My advice is never burn bridges and just try to be a cordial, friendly person. You leave a job but never really leave people.
The second thing is to self-advocate. It can be a tricky line because you don’t want to seem pushy or look entitled. At the same time, you will never get opportunities if you don’t try for them. I have found it very effective to pitch ideas, be proactive, and go for it, pitch yourself.
What is the blueprint for success?
It might be cliched, but I think it’s true: It’s crucial to love what you do. If you don’t love it and don’t feel true passion, it’s not worth your time. Journalism is a great example. You don’t get into this industry to make big money, so if you don’t love it, what are you doing?
That’s something I tell people. You need to love it, and you need to enjoy the kind of daily flow. It’s one of the most exciting professions there is because every single day is different. Whatever you end up doing, you will be successful if you stick with something you love. And if you don’t love it, get out of it, right?
We spend so much of our lives at work. If you dread work, you’ve got to do something else.
What do you want our readers to know?
I would encourage everyone interested in crypto to check us out. We are the very best website if you are confused about the headlines you are reading and learn more about it.
Our mission is to help people who are new to space and want to learn more.