Read as much as you can. Industry trades, Reddit, novels, news — anything! You never know what will inspire you, or be relevant to a technical conversation, or just be something that helps you make a connection on a human level to someone else, whether it be current events or a shared interest.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Christiana Cacciapuoti. Christiana is VP of Partnerships and Platform Operations at MadHive, a start up using blockchains and cryptography to build ad tech products that preserve consumer privacy while improving outcomes for advertisers and publishers. She also serves as Executive Director of AdLedger, the nonprofit research and development consortium founded by MadHive, IBM and TEGNA to build rules and standards for how blockchains and cryptography will be applied to media and advertising. Christiana graduated from Penn State, where she earned 3 degrees in 3 and a half years without missing a single home football game.
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?
I didn’t really decide — I fell into it! Before my current role, I spent my career working in advertising technology, which is the industry that tries to figure out how to get the right ad to the right person at the right time online, and in the process funds the internet as we know it today.
MadHive, which sits at the intersection of ad tech and blockchain, was recruiting for an entry level role. I thought what they were doing was super interesting, so I applied asking if they were open to someone senior. I didn’t have any experience with blockchain, but thought my ad tech background would be relevant.
I think the biggest thing to learn here is to take the risk. Apply to the job even if it’s not exactly what you’re looking for, or even if you think your background isn’t the perfect fit. Consider jobs in technology even if you don’t code — there are entire businesses built around tech and we need business people to support them. Ask for the highly visible assignment even if you’re a little intimidated by it.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on two that I’m so excited about!
At MadHive, we’re building ad tech products that put consumer data privacy front and center. Our team believes that privacy is not only a human right and a foundation of free societies, but that incorporating it also drives better business outcomes — especially in advertising. Everything people do online today creates data that feeds advertising, but we are increasingly seeing that data get collected, monetized — even weaponized — without our knowledge or consent. MadHive is using blockchains and cryptography to create a world where consumers decide whether or not they want to share anonymized versions of their data with advertisers, who in turn are able to drive better business outcomes by bringing the consumer into the conversation.
At MadHive we realized how crucial collaboration would be to making blockchains the key underlying infrastructure for the online advertising ecosystem, so we founded AdLedger with IBM and TEGNA. AdLedger is the nonprofit consortium I run, made up of the biggest brands, agencies, publishers, and forward thinking technology companies in the world who have joined forces to build rules and standards for how to use blockchains to make advertising work better for everyone. There are lots of problems with fraud and privacy invasion in advertising today, and most consumers regard it as annoying and intrusive. But you can argue that it creates the consumer choice that drives capitalistic societies — not to mention that it’s the reason most of the information we access online every day is free! If blockchain is going to be the next layer of the internet (and we believe it is!), it’s crucial that we solve these issues. AdLedger is working on doing just that!
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?
The team at MadHive!
I came from an ad tech background and didn’t know much about blockchain, while most of our technical team had a blockchain background and didn’t know much about ad tech. They taught me about blockchain starting from the very beginning — literally with the 1’s and 0’s that make up binary code — to explain how it works and why it’s so important. I did the same with ad tech for them. This constant knowledge exchange creates a culture that encourages questions and collaboration.
They also happen to be some of the most hilarious and humble geniuses I’ve ever met. Start ups can be intense, so having a cohesive team that meshes well and laughs a lot can go a long way toward preventing burn out.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
When it comes to advertising, the thing I’m most excited for is the opportunity to rebuild the entire infrastructure from the ground up with privacy built in, like the work we’re doing with Omnicom.
Privacy-by-design — the idea that things need to be built with the explicit intention of providing privacy — will play an increasingly important role when it comes to another one of the things that excites me most about blockchain, interoperability for the internet-of-things. With smart devices exploding into the market, we need to plan for privacy.
I think blockchain will also play an important role in some other macro ways like government accountability, banking the unbanked, and real estate.
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
The explosion of cryptocurrencies led to a rat race of companies trying to capitalize on blockchain, creating issues like overhype and scammy ICOs. A third problem is that many of these companies don’t even have a technical need for a blockchain for their products.
Another issue I’ve noticed is that a misunderstanding of the relationship between blockchain and Bitcoin has resulted in the average consumer’s perception of blockchain’s value as directly proportional to the value of BTC & ETH.
A final big thing on my mind is government regulation. Regulation is crucial to growth, but it’s essential that government officials are educated to ensure they create clear and cohesive policies that don’t stifle growth or adoption.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I never really thought much about the role privacy plays in societies until I read the Cypherpunk Manifesto. It was written in 1993 when the internet was still in its infancy, but it is incredibly applicable today.
After the 2016 presidential election, I think we as consumers started to understand for the first time the danger of the breathtaking scope of data collection by corporations incentivized by profit, not the greater good.
Our society is dependent on the internet, but we don’t need to sacrifice our privacy for the free exchange of information the internet represents. Yes, the internet was funded and built on advertising dollars, but privacy and profitability can coexist.
I hope to bring goodness to the world by helping to build a future where privacy is enshrined as a human right, and where that ideal is preserved even as technology advances.
As you know there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would advise to other women in the blockchain space to thrive?
Mostly importantly: Do your job. Do it incredibly, undeniably well. You’ll either be recognized and move up, or learn the skills you need to move to a place where you will get recognized and move up. Once you move up, you get to take on more visible roles and shape policy at your company, which creates a virtuous circle.
Number two, read as much as you can. Industry trades, Reddit, novels, news — anything! You never know what will inspire you, or be relevant to a technical conversation, or just be something that helps you make a connection on a human level to someone else, whether it be current events or a shared interest.
And finally, be authentic. I think it can be tempting to try to conform to what you think makes you look or sound the part, but the most successful people I know bring their own personality to their roles.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?
I think the solutions that the broader tech industry are embracing — things like pipeline problem fixes, mentorship, and flexible and supportive workplace policies — are equally important to the blockchain world, and I’m encouraged to see them being adopted.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
“Success with honor,” was a campus motto at my alma mater, Penn State. It was something the university community really ingrained in us as students — the idea that it’s not enough to do well, you must also do good.
I’ve always loved it, but I find it especially relevant for business leaders hoping to build products that are used by the whole world.
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 think we’re already in the process of leading that movement, which is restoring privacy for the billions of people using the internet every day!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow me on Twitter, @ChristianaCacc!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!