Be comfortable not knowing everything. I have noticed that women, more than men, reserve their thoughts when they have some doubts as to their full grasp of the concepts being discussed. In the blockchain world, it is important for women to remember that we are all learning as we go, even the regulators. Do not be afraid to join the conversation, even if you may have somewhat imperfect information. Your thoughts are valid and necessary for the ideal development of this industry!
I had the pleasure to interview Lindsay Danas-Cohen. New York-based Lindsay Danas Cohen is a former Attorney of 10 years, and was formerly with Bloomberg and Kroll Bond Rating Agency. Lindsay is currently the Co-Founder, COO & General Counsel for the crypto-trading solutions provider Velocity Markets.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the story of how you decided to pursue this career path? What lessons can others learn from your story?
To crib from the words of a wise man: “I didn’t choose the crypto life; the crypto life chose me.” I have always worked in fairly traditional financial services environments; when my adventurous colleagues were broaching the subject of Bitcoin, I never envisioned myself investing in, let alone working for, crypto-related ventures. During the beginning of the Bitcoin ascent, I was serving as the General Counsel of Orchard Platform, a big player in the marketplace lending space. Shortly after I joined Orchard, I helped guide the company through an asset sale that left a sophisticated regulatory framework behind. When the Orchard deal closed, I was quite well-versed in the regulatory construct that remained, but I did not see a way to capitalize on that knowledge. Around the time of the close, Jon Kelfer, former CTO of Orchard and current CEO of Velocity Markets, Inc., approached me with a pitch to assist him with a crypto-related FinTech project (despite my never having worked previously with digital assets). This undertaking, which he pitched as “Velocity”, would leverage the impressive infrastructure we had supported during our time at Orchard. I have been historically willing to work on projects that touch emerging legal and regulatory issues, so after just a small bit of convincing from Jon, I agreed to help build Velocity. Since that day, we have been going full-steam ahead to fulfill Jon’s vision for building world-class technology that supports digital asset marketplaces.
I would advise others to take calculated risks in their careers in furtherance of pursuing projects that excite them. Many people are more risk-averse in their careers than they believe, generally attempting to avoid making “too many” moves, joining projects that may fail, or collaborating on issues that veer too far from a black-and-white narrative. I would advise anyone with whom that resonates to consider whether this strict adherence to tradition is the way for them to feel most fulfilled professionally.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Launching a digital asset marketplace as a startup has been a fascinating undertaking, both from a legal and operational standpoint (I won’t mention the tech piece, as it is probably best for me to leave those discussions to our fabulously talented developers). We are focused on the the beta rollout of the ShortHop marketplace to be done in a thoughtful, compliant manner, but of course in a way that is attractive to users and addresses the pain points they might be facing using other platforms. Daily, I am required to make decisions that have me measuring conservatism and commercialism in equal parts, a balancing act that keeps my brain constantly firing.
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?
Eric Hutner, a partner at the first (and only) law firm at which I worked, was a superior who made me feel supported both personally and professionally: he encouraged me to take on challenges at work and also allowed me the space to foster my pursuit of being a well-rounded woman in my 20s. Many of the most successful professionals are those who achieve success outside of the office as well, and Eric’s understanding of my desire to be a fully-formed person at such an early stage in my career was a game-changer. I will not forget when Eric and I were on the phone with a big client, a man of whom I had been quite intimidated, and in the middle of the precursory chit-chat, Eric offered: “You love red wine too, right Lindsay?” His encouraging me to join what could have easily been “bro talk” not only helped me overcome my nerves about engaging directly with the client, but also taught me that it is acceptable to bring elements from my developing extra-curricular life into the professional world. I think my willingness to be bold and have a distinct personality have served me well professionally, and I credit much of that to Eric’s encouragement.
What are the 5 things that most excites you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
- The ability to lay foundations for the future. It is rare that one has the opportunity to participate in the development of a nascent regime, and I am thrilled by the prospect that some of my professional undertakings may shape future precedent. Doing anything, especially under regulatory scrutiny, for the first time can be intimidating, but the number of potential positive outcomes outweighs the anxieties that come with functioning in this space.
- Potential to facilitate currency exchange for a broader number of international central banks. Blockchain technology is being explored as a way to allow global bank parties to engage in cross-border currency swaps, including parties that were not initially established in line with leading global financial systems.
- Applications for securitizations. Securitizations are a beautiful use case for blockchain technology as there are multiple levels at which DLT can streamline processes and create efficiencies. Incorporating blockchain technology could lower costs for issuers, increase the speed of transactions, facilitate data sharing among involved parties, and smooth out areas that are prone to human error, among other potential improvements. I eagerly await more DLT involvement with respect to securitizations!
- Lawyers and operators being involved at the ground level. Generally in the more tech-driven industries, lawyers, compliance experts, and detail-oriented operators factor into the business equation relatively far down the initial start-up timeline. The tech generally leads and the more prosaic elements of the business follow. In the digital asset and blockchain space, regulatory considerations are at the forefront, causing many innovators to embrace non-tech elements in a way that allows for regulatory compliance to be woven directly into the fabric of a business.
- Changing the face of supply chain management. It is not novel that I raise this use case, as it has been touted by many as the prime example of how blockchain can be applied practically to enhance consumer protection and ease burdens related to corporate recordkeeping.
What are the things that worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
- The global nature of the technology juxtaposed with the widely varying regulatory frameworks. Blockchain, DLT and digital assets can all be leveraged to effectively facilitate cross-border communications and transactions; however, the wide discrepancies in regulations to which such transactions are subject makes it challenging for those who oversee these processes.
- The cost of compliance. The costs associated with successfully meeting the operational and regulatory standards applicable to businesses touching certain types of blockchain or crypto-related transactions can be quite significant. For many businesses, allocating the appropriate levels of resources and funds to these efforts can be challenging.
- Bad apples spoiling the barrel. Regulators and legislators are currently very focused on this space, with many high-profile leaders expressing some distrust of not only digital currency, but of blockchain as a whole. This level of concern is understandable, given some high-profile cases of money laundering and other violations. Having spent time meeting many players, both small and large, who operate across the board from digital currency to DLT businesses, I have seen an overwhelming desire to operate appropriately and within the boundaries of the law. It would be wonderful if that were the prevailing narrative.
- Confusion around blockchain. Blockchain, digital assets, and the related technology are still extremely new in relative terms, and the language around these concepts remains unclear. Education remains extremely important. It would be beneficial both to those working to further the technology and to the general public for there to be more consistent, accurate dissemination of information about developments in the space. Increased standardization of the technology and broader adoption via greater accessibility would greatly help in that regard.
As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the blockchain space to thrive?
- Be comfortable not knowing everything. I have noticed that women, more than men, reserve their thoughts when they have some doubts as to their full grasp of the concepts being discussed. In the blockchain world, it is important for women to remember that we are all learning as we go, even the regulators. Do not be afraid to join the conversation, even if you may have somewhat imperfect information. Your thoughts are valid and necessary for the ideal development of this industry!
- Dive into the tech. Even if you are not a developer or project manager, there are very few roles in the blockchain world that would not be enhanced by a deeper understanding of the underlying technology. Take some time to sit down with someone who is working on the tech in this space. Set up your own wallet and engage in transactions on a digital asset exchange. Read a whitepaper, even if you fear that most of it will go over your head. These are important exercises that, at the very least, will get you familiar with the jargon and concepts that underlie much of what is being addressed by innovators in the blockchain and crypto industry.
- Network heavily. I often see the same names appear repeatedly on the conference circuit, leading industry group discussions, and putting forth written opinions. It is extremely helpful to have some inroads with influential professionals at the forefront of this industry, as they often have access to resources and information that you may not. They’re also generally great people! I have truly enjoyed getting to know folks working in this space, and find them to be creative, intelligent and determined. The deeper your network, the more people you will have available to you to serve as a sounding board, provide insight, or just keep you centered when the demands of the job feel overwhelming.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?
- Education is critical. Many women feel as though it is “too late” for them to learn about blockchain, Bitcoin or other related concepts. Reaching out to organizations that service women and providing even basic education is an essential tool for those who are hoping to bring women into the fold. I am a founding member of a wonderful organization called Chief, and there I am spearheading an effort to create a program focused on educating women about the key concepts in the crypto space — the taxonomy, Bitcoin basics, how to begin investing, etc. Fostering a woman’s ability to use the correct terminology, as small as that may seem, has great implications. I truly believe that giving women the basic tools to allow them to begin to ingest information about the underpinnings of this industry is how to hopefully give women the confidence to become more involved and ultimately pursue careers in this space.
- Support women. I would not have been able to further my career in this industry had it not been for some wonderful people championing my progress. Rebecca Rettig, a fabulous attorney, is a great example of someone who actively goes out of her way to recommend and connect women so that they are equally in the mix as their male counterparts. It is critical that people in the space focus on inviting women to speak on panels, including them in reviewing whitepapers, asking for their opinions: the more that people who have achieved recognition can lift up women as opposed to pulling the ladder up behind them, the more likely that we will have women succeeding in this space.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am not very active on social media (working on it!), but I can be found on twitter at @LVelocity