…Lastly, don’t be afraid to be feminine. You’re sitting there for your thoughts and ability to transform those ideas into action. Not because you wore your blue blazer instead of your blue dress.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Arwen Smit, founder of several blockchain startups, including DOVU and MintBit. After starting her career at Google Amsterdam, Smit worked in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden. She holds a Bachelor in International Business Administration from the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), and a Master in Business and Management from the Stockholm School of Economics.
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?
Careers are non-linear. Mine certainly is. When I was asked to act as entrepreneur-in-residence for InMotion Ventures, the venture capital arm of Jaguar Land Rover, I was scouting the mobility market for areas of disruption. Breaking through the data silos required something different, and we found our answer in blockchain technology. My fascination with blockchain grew. Fast forward to today, I’m involved with different projects, striving to transform the promise of blockchain into a reality.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Distributed ledger technologies (DLT), such as blockchain, are often cited as tools with which we can reimagine ‘trust’ between known and unknown parties. What should be said in the same breath is that an effective application of this trust requires a reimagination of identity. Identity of people and things. How could you create a trusted environment without verifying the trustworthiness of all parties involved? MOBI is the global consortium for blockchain in the mobility sector working towards open standards for the wider industry. As a MOBI Fellow I’m conceptualising what vehicle identity could look like.
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?
Mascha Driessen. Mascha opened the door to my first real opportunity. She was my manager at Google and not only ignited my passion for the business side of technology, but also pushed me to set my sights a lot higher. I’ve learned to never preemptively outselect myself for things I want; that’s up to other people. In Dutch we say: ‘Nooit geschoten, altijd mis’. 🙂
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
Decentralisation: The decentralised component of blockchain allows for decentralised information sharing and, by extension, an alternative route to organise economical and political systems.
Identity of people: Humans need an identity to vote, to get a job and to be acknowledged by institutions. If we would reimagine identity from the ground up, we would do it very differently. Perhaps via verified attestations DLT could make identity more robust, transferable and truly yours.
Identity of things: If you walk up to your car, requesting keyless access, you would be very surprised indeed if your neighbor’s car door popped open. For ‘things’ to execute conditional transactions at scale we need a system of flawless digital identification. DLT in combination with smart contracts could open up new types of autonomous economic actors.
Convergence: AI, IoT, and blockchain are all technological tools to power innovation. Interestingly, they are surprisingly complementary. IoT sensors capture the data. Artificial intelligence helps you make sense of the data. Blockchain enables a new way of collaboration. The interaction of these three technologies is also called the great convergence. The great convergence doesn’t just give rise to new products and services. It also gives rise to a different way of creating value. You see, the great convergence lends itself remarkably well for decentralised value creation. IoT sensors are placed at device level. AI can be on the edge or in the cloud, and distributed ledger technologies are distributed.
Mindset shift: Institutions, companies and people are slowly waking up to a new reality. Value doesn’t necessarily need to be created in a hierarchical, centralised manner. This opens up new business models and new types of benefactors.
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
Bad Token Economics:2016 started off the token sale craze. To put it mildly, not all tokens launched had solid business models backing them. Today still, businesses shipping sound token economics are few and far between. When a crypto-asset is freely tradable, this is a problem.
Uninformed Regulation: There is not enough support for lawmakers. You cannot legislate what you do not understand. The rise of cross-disciplinary consortiums, such as MOBI, is a direct response to this. In November 2018 I spoke at the European Parliament to help educate MEPs on DLT. If we don’t align on open standards, we’re just creating new silos in an ‘open’ ecosystem.
Education: The blockchain sector is young. It needs talent to grow and attract more talent as it does. Most early adopters are self-taught. The industry moves fast, too fast even for some universities. I think we need more collaboration between industry and academics to help prepare current students for blockchain implications.
Unsophicated Valuation Models: Crypto networks tend to be measured by multiplying supply (tokens in circulation) with price (price of token on the open market). Next to being overly simplistic, the assumptions for this equation don’t hold. Untrained private speculators are in the same market as whales and with the trading pool being so small this has historically resulted in volatility, such as pump-and-dump schemes.
Adoption: Building on the previous point, if the tokens traded are not held by all token owners for pure utility purposes, this naturally doesn’t translate in the accurate underlying value of the platform or ecosystem. Right now there are approximately 10.000 DApp users on Ethereum. Notably less than the speculative trading base.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I grew up surrounded by strong women in my family, half of whom are entrepreneurs. I know I’ve been lucky. If young girls have never seen a female president, they might not know it is an option. It’s the same in business. I mentor female talent at the London Business School, Rotterdam School of Management and Berkeley University. Now imagine you are the first girl in your family to go to university and in your high school, more than 30% of your peers are on a governmental meal plan. I’m involved with the ‘Access Project’, a project supporting high-performing students from less privileged backgrounds, who want to get into top universities in England.
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?
Firstly, speak up. Keynote at events. Lecture at universities. Share your insights on Medium. Be visible. Blockchain events are notorious for their lack of women. Once at an event, men used the women’s restroom. Why? ‘Because there weren’t any women at the event’!
Secondly, focus on your work. The blockchain space attracts the very best and very worst of people. Comments range from, “Great project, why are there women on it?” to much worse. Identify the people in your life about whose opinion your care deeply, and ignore the rest.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to be feminine. You’re sitting there for your thoughts and ability to transform those ideas into action. Not because you wore your blue blazer instead of your blue dress.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?
Education is key. Young girls need to know that this career-path is an option. Also, gatekeepers such as event organisers or journalists can help by providing a platform to ideas worth sharing. Women often don’t put themselves forward as speaker, but if you invite them, they will come. And of course, don’t tolerate trolls. If somebody is discriminated against because of their ethnicity or gender, speak up. It’s common decency.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
Too many quotes by Yuval Noah Harari to mention. When he first wrote in Homo Sapiens that modern money is a collective story we all agreed upon, it blew my mind. Homo Deus nearly gave me an existential crisis. It took me six months to read, and many more to absorb. One day, when I was walking the streets of London listening to music, an idea came to me. Everything I saw had been imagined once, by somebody. The London bus driving by. The currency in my wallet. The ideologies of the country. That means it can be reimagined. I feel those two books gave me the licence to reimagine audacious things.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
I believe reimagining identity will have a profound impact on both the developed and developing world. It is the starting point for so many potential exciting movements, ranging from bringing banking the ‘unbanked’ to bringing further accountability to our democratic systems. It ripples from combating fraud to reclaiming your privacy. If you’re working within this problem area, please feel free to contact me.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!