Meet The Women of The Blockchain: Audrey Chaing, Founder of Blockchaing
“I’m very involved in the women in blockchain community. Since there aren’t very many women, it’s important that the ones who are involved help support and promote each other as well as help bring new women into the space. When you are a minority of any kind, it can be hard to break in to an area and it can be hard to persist when you are very clearly “other”. Not to overly generalize but research has shown and I have also observed that men either tend to be overconfident or women tend to be underconfident, depending on who you use as the barometer. There are many nuanced reasons why, but encouraging underrepresented individuals who have interest but no current experience can make a difference. I’m an introvert so I don’t exactly enjoy being in the spotlight, but I made an active decision to be more visible, to speak at conferences, and to publish so that people see women — and women of different ethnic backgrounds- making meaningful contributions. I recently attended Jimmy Song’s Programming Blockchain course, which is a 2 day deep dive into the Bitcoin protocol and I hope to contribute to Bitcoin Core/open source. We need more developers in blockchain and we need more developers making open source contributions. Education and translating some of the harder concepts helps non-crypto folks understand what this is all about and why it’s important, and I contribute to the ecosystem this way.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Audrey Chaing, Founder of Blockchaing. Audrey is a cryptocurrency trader, developer, and blockchain analyst/consultant, and runs the news site blockchaing.org. She has been trading Bitcoin since 2013 and previously co-founded 2 companies. She has a decade of experience on Wall Street as an investor, trader, and research analyst at companies like Credit Suisse, Wells Fargo, and BlackRock. Audrey has a degree in Computer Science from MIT with a concentration in Artificial Intelligence, earned her MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and is a frequent speaker at events like Google International Women’s Day, Global Blockchain Forum, Crypto@Dropbox, LendIt/Blockfin, CryptoHQ, and OneWorld Blockchain at Davos. She created the MIT Applied Blockchain Series, helping founders get from idea to demo-able product.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I studied computer science at MIT and graduated during the 1.0 dotcom bust, so ended up on Wall Street for about a decade in investing, trading, and research. In 2013, I decided that I’d like to start my own companies so thought it would be a good idea to brush off the old programming skills. I took Stanford’s Startup Engineering MOOC, which happened to be taught by Balaji Srinivasan, who is now the CTO of Coinbase. Our final project was a Kickstarter clone and you moved up on the leader board by number of Tweets and Bitcoin funding. Friends and family wanted to support my project but had no idea what Bitcoin was, so I told them to tell me the amount they wanted to contribute in dollars and I’d trade the Bitcoin for them. This is how I first got involved in Bitcoin, realized the price is very volatile, and started playing around with trading it. In small amounts only unfortunately! People at work would make fun of my weird little hobby.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on two large projects at the moment. The first is helping Precursor Ventures, a traditional early stage venture capital firm in San Francisco, structure and launch a cryptocurrency fund. The other is acting in a CTO capacity providing technical advice to create a new blockchain protocol.
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?
My family has been a real driver and supporter of academic and career achievement. I really didn’t enjoy it at the time, but my mom would buy 5th grade textbooks and make me do extra homework from them in 3rd grade, for example. I understand girls, especially back then, were not necessarily encouraged to pursue math and science growing up in the US and this was simply not the case for me. I had better bring home straight As, particularly in math and science, or bad things would happen — this all came from a place of love and wanting to equip us with the right future tools. My aunt, who is a scientist at the National Institutes of Health, helped introduce me to real lab work and I interned at the National Eye Institute when I was 16, where I got to do things like run protein electrophoresis gels and contribute to cutting edge cataract research. This background helped lead me to MIT for college, where analytical thinking was ingrained into my thought processes. I have a horrible memory but can figure out most problems if given some time.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
1) Not having to trust 3rd parties — Companies have a pretty dismal track record of being our stewards, from cybersecurity hacks leaking our sensitive information to companies selling or otherwise distributing our personal data without clear and explicit consent or compensation. It’s exciting that we now have the opportunity to transact directly with one another, without having to trust one another or some company/government in the middle.
2) Doing things we were never able to do before and can’t even imagine now — At the dawn of the internet, could anyone have imagined the resulting impact? E-commerce shopping is now commonplace, the amount of information available with a simple quick online search beats those of the most expensive encyclopedia sets, etc. Blockchain will enable us to do things we don’t know we can do or want to do — and that’s the exciting part.
3) Tokenomics, a brand new discipline. Crypto, a brand new asset class. Digital Assets, a brand new category of data — It’s not every day that we have entire new fields and asset classes created. Tokenomics examines the cross section of economics, incentives, and digital assets. How do I structure a system such that even if nobody has “control”, it is incentivizing behaviors we want? From an investor’s standpoint, blockchain and cryptocurrencies is a brand new asset class, and there is a lot of opportunity to build value and an ecosystem. An issue with digital objects and data in the past is it is really easy to copy and there was no good way to tell whether something was an original or authorized copy. Blockchain allows discrete digital assets, the most famous example probably being CryptoKitties. It’s not hard to see the potential for owning and controlling distribution/use of digital things, especially when digital assets can now own other digital assets, as in the case of a Crypto Kitty owning a hat — you own the cat but the cat owns the hat.
4) Increased Efficiency — In any case where we are able to do things faster or more cheaply, we can do more with the same resources. In a world of constrained resources, this matters. A simple example of cross border payments: it used to cost 5–10% of the amount you are sending and up to 10 days to send money via bank transfer or Western Union, and now we can do this at a fraction of the cost and almost instantly with cryptocurrency. Doing things more efficiently enables us to also bring products and services to people who were formerly unable to access these products and services, which brings us to the next point-
5) Inclusion/access and social change — Already we’re seeing some success in offering financial services to the unbanked and digital identities to refugees. Similar to how developing countries skipped right over landlines to mobile phones, blockchain tech has the possibility of providing access and a voice for millions of people who do not have that kind of access now. It’s no secret that power and wealth are concentrated today. Since this is a brand new field, we have the opportunity to shape the culture from the ground up, create a more distributed power structure, and dismantle some really un-useful stereotypes. It’s a worldwide movement and since it’s so new, anyone with an interest can get involved now and not be too late to the game. We can also use the characteristics of transparency, immutability, and decentralization to positively affect policy and governance. It becomes much harder to hide corruption, to censor, and to secretly advance private interests with these 3 characteristics in force.
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
1) Scammers — They are real, but they are expected. At the beginning of any new technology, there will be those that try to take advantage of others and lie, cheat, and steal. I believe a lot of the scammy behavior will eventually be weeded down to the point that the good greatly outweighs the bad.
2) Technology and privacy — There are some real technical limitations to blockchain technology today, scalability being the main concern. However there are also concerns around cross-chain compatibility and whether attacks — something like a 51 percent attack or quantum computers breaking the underlying cryptography- could be successful. It’s a new technology so many things are developing and yet to be proven. In addition, privacy is something to think about. Most people think that Bitcoin is anonymous when it reality, it’s pseudononymous and transactions are easy to track. There are privacy coins out there like Monero and Zcash, and privacy is something to consider when we are now generating more and more data and it is all being recorded.
3) Usability — It’s hard to understand blockchain. The average person probably doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of cold storage and managing their own private keys. If we hope to have mainstream adoption, usability/ease/design must improve greatly.
4) Keeping the same old power structure — We have the opportunity to create a new power structure, but as we can see by some examples like the North American Bitcoin Conference held in Miami, where 85 of the 88 slots for presenters were assigned to men, and the official afterparty was held at a strip club, we could end up with the same old oppressive power structure as ever before.
5) Law — Regulators could regulate the innovation right out of their jurisdictions. Again this is a hard topic, and there is much inter-agency disagreement and ambiguity at least in the US. Melding existing systems with new technology always creates friction. Many blockchain advocates and leaders are making concerted efforts to both educate and work with regulators. Some places like Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Malta are taking a stand by providing clear regulation. Most innovators don’t want to avoid regulation, but they do want to know what the rules are. If regulation is too unclear or too harsh, countries could see a brain drain to other places. In addition, if governments crack down on privacy, we as a society could lose. There are already some disturbing Black Mirror — like experiments going on where your social score could affect your ability to buy a train ticket.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
I’m very involved in the women in blockchain community. Since there aren’t very many women, it’s important that the ones who are involved help support and promote each other as well as help bring new women into the space. When you are a minority of any kind, it can be hard to break in to an area and it can be hard to persist when you are very clearly “other”. Not to overly generalize but research has shown and I have also observed that men either tend to be overconfident or women tend to be underconfident, depending on who you use as the barometer. There are many nuanced reasons why, but encouraging underrepresented individuals who have interest but no current experience can make a difference. I’m an introvert so I don’t exactly enjoy being in the spotlight, but I made an active decision to be more visible, to speak at conferences, and to publish so that people see women — and women of different ethnic backgrounds- making meaningful contributions. I recently attended Jimmy Song’s Programming Blockchain course, which is a 2 day deep dive into the Bitcoin protocol and I hope to contribute to Bitcoin Core/open source. We need more developers in blockchain and we need more developers making open source contributions. Education and translating some of the harder concepts helps non-crypto folks understand what this is all about and why it’s important, and I contribute to the ecosystem this way.
What 3 things would you advise to someone who wanted to emulate your career? Can you share an example for each idea?
I’m proud of things I’ve been able to accomplish but I wouldn’t necessarily advise anyone to try to emulate my career. I started my career working 100 hour weeks and have always had pretty intense work schedules. I learned a lot and built a good professional foundation but there are real costs to working like that. I also founded 2 startups and had no income for over 3 years. That can be pretty unpleasant fiscally and mentally. I’d say try to aim for the intersection of competence, interest, mission, and making a living while being open to unexpected experiences. Blockchain happens to perfectly fit my background and interests of computer science, finance, and entrepreneurship, but there is no way I could have planned that ahead of time if I tried. This is a common story in entrepreneurship- the reason we have beautiful fonts is because Steve Jobs dropped out and randomly took a calligraphy class. I’d say try not to worry too much about the 10 year plan, because life has a way of disrupting those. In a world that is changing at a frenetic pace, a really useful skill is adaptability. Change can feel uncomfortable but this skill can be trained. Start small, like taking a different route home just for the heck of it, and build from there. Also, if you don’t feel like a failure sometimes, it probably means you’re not trying hard enough things.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. Her book helped me accept and honor certain things about myself that can be considered less than ideal in American society. It’s baffling to me how so many people have tried to push me into marketing and sales — because I’m a woman and not completely socially inept? That’s really not my temperament or strength. I enjoyed how well-researched and analytical Susan’s book was, and it’s always fascinating to hear the perspectives of female leaders who are a bit farther along in their careers and lives than you are. Overall, I’ve more recently understood the importance of self-development and the science of happiness. Careers are very important, but if the focus is on that to the exclusion of everything else including health and relationships, you are not likely to be a very content or happy individual.