Women Leading the Blockchain Revolution: “Go out, ask for opportunities and demand a seat at the table” With Jenna Pilgrim and Tyler Gallagher
My advice to everyone, but especially my female peers and colleagues is: go out, ask for opportunities and demand a seat at the table. The worst thing they can say is no, and even then “no” usually means “not now” or “not under these circumstances.”
Surround yourself with people who force you to be brave — and force them to be brave in return.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenna Pilgrim, Director of Partnerships and Business Development at Bloq Inc.; and Co-founder and COO of Streambed Media
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 first heard about Bitcoin in late 2015, after meeting Don Tapscott at my alma mater: Trent University where he serves as Chancellor. In December 2015, I wrote a review of his previous book,The Digital Economy, on my blog, and tagged him in a tweet. He asked for a meeting to discuss it, then long-story-short, I asked him for a job. He needed me right away, so I chose to complete my final semester of school remotely and started full-time as the publicist for Blockchain Revolution in January 2016.
After nearly three happy years with the Tapscott Group and subsequently the Blockchain Research Institute, Michael Casey approached me with an idea for a media company. The stars aligned, and we Michael, I and our third co-founder — started Streambed Media.
My move to Bloq had a similar trajectory: I reached out to our Co-Founder and Chairman Matthew Roszak in the spring of 2018, looking to move from research to real construction. A role on their Business Development team opened up and I took it.
The greatest lesson I learned from these experiences was that: you’ll never know the answer if you don’t ask. I can remember many times where the opportunity was there to act or not; and I chose not to act in fear of rejection, retribution, or public misunderstanding.
Thus, my advice to everyone, but especially my female peers and colleagues is: go out, ask for opportunities and demand a seat at the table. The worst thing they can say is no, and even then “no” usually means “not now” or “not under these circumstances.”
Surround yourself with people who force you to be brave — and force them to be brave in return.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
As director of partnerships and business development at Bloq, I assess and solicit new partnerships between Bloq, the wider blockchain ecosystem and legacy institutions making their entry into this new world. Bloq is a blockchain technology company and venture studios developer, dedicated to connecting enterprise and the wider public to the blockchain enabled future and tokenization of things. Bloq has an extremely varied breadth of projects, working on everything from enterprise solutions to entirely new protocols of value creation.
Prior to starting with Bloq, I co-founded my own venture with bestselling author Michael Casey. Streambed Media is a next-generation media company, powered by blockchain infrastructure. Pairing compelling videos with a breakthrough data platform, we are aiming to reclaim trust in media. Our post-platform approach aims to help advertisers, content marketers and creators reach their audiences, while using a unique data platform to prove information veracity, consumer activity and durability. We plan to launch in Q1 of 2019.
I have also co-founded two organizations in Toronto to facilitate growth in the Toronto-Waterloo technology corridor — “In’Crypto” is a blockchain/cryptocurrency founders’ club that allows founders to connect with one another in an informal setting. “Bridging the Gap” is an initiative for women and advocates of diversity in the blockchain space to have a platform to build their businesses, find investors, and formalize their plans for world domination.
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?
Over the last three years, I’ve found a mentor in Don Tapscott. When Don and I met, I was Likely going to end up in consumer goods or advertising — hence studying Finance at Trent University. Don’s world view captivated me, and his ability to motivate and call to action large groups of people around a common goal was contagious. I wanted to be a part of this world. His greatest lesson was: if you have the ability and platform to contribute to the betterment of the world, then you have a distinct obligation to do so. This “save the world” mentality is something I will always keep with me and that I endeavour to instill in others.
Leaving the Blockchain Research Institute was one of the hardest decisions of my career, as I was so deeply rooted in the philosophy and the community there. I’ve found a similar-but-different familial community at Bloq; one where we are able to work on many projects simultaneously around a collegial set of objectives.
For BRI, for Bloq and for Streambed, I was (or am) working with or working for men who used their platforms to build up others. It had nothing to do with the fact that I am a woman — it was the fact that these individuals used their sphere of influence to create opportunities for those they believe in; with the goal of building things that matter. My only role in this was to present myself as someone who could take this opportunity and run with it.
What are the 5 things that most excite you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
Data Privacy and Security. Eight or nine years ago, there was a dramatic shift that turned consumers into products. We are no longer the owners of our data, and the increase of personalized products creates a dangerously exploitative relationship between our data and our personal preferences. If created correctly, blockchains and cryptocurrency infrastructure allow us to reclaim our data and flip the modern data economy model on its head in a big way — identities in digital black boxes, the reclamation of data, and the ability to monetize our information. If any of these are even 10% as successful as they promise, then the social world will be a different place.
The new middle. Wherever there is disintermediation, there is also the potential for reintermediation. Reintermediation often creates opportunities for an exponentially larger market for the creation of new value in the middle of transactions. With blockchain-based solutions, I believe this opportunity is greatly amplified.
Potential for the activation of global prosperity. Right now, there are nearly two billion people in the world without access to basic financial services. The microtransaction and non-financial capabilities of blockchain infrastructure will allow the poorest people in our population to better leverage the things they have to get ahead — ex. Farmers can sell future shares of their crops to purchase more sophisticated equipment, which in turn raises production.
Microtransactions and payments infrastructure. Latency and friction in financial services are two large problems that have the potential to be solved with distributed ledger infrastructure; and layer 3 and 4 blockchain projects can enable microtransactions to be feasible with little to no transaction fees.
The transformation of government services. I’m confident that governments and regulatory agencies will do the right thing. Technologies like the blockchain have the ability to redesign and redefine the procurement processes for government services; including transparency of spending, access to and provision of government funding, and innovative new taxation frameworks.
What are the 5 things worry you about blockchain and crypto? Why?
· Data Privacy and Security. One of my biggest worries is that data will continue to be productized, yet not secured. Any centralized system is prone to hacking and exploitation; and once data is released it’s very difficult to get that genie back into the bottle. Hashing data on a blockchain allows you to prove its existence without risk of exposing the raw data. One of Bloq’s foundational pillars is maintaining the privacy and security of users.
· Middlemen employ people. For all we say about disintermediation, there is an impending job crisis in non-technical fields. If we aim to disrupt nearly every facet of society, we need to ensure we include provisions for the middle-and-lower class populations to prosper. As automation increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to find ways to create new value (and subsequently jobs) for the under-or-uneducated public.
· The wrong side of the coin. Extreme openness provides an opportunity for malicious actors to hide behind their pseudonyms. This kind of environment could enable the perfect storm for what would be sold as a free market, but really acts as an environment to enable fraud, terrorism, and the continued deterioration of trust online.
· That technology could enable a surveillance state. Governments could act in ways that cause problems, intended or not. In a way, blockchain-enabled platforms could be created by governments to better assess consumer spending, government oversight, and public surveillance. For example, we could live in a world where the government knows you frequent a specific location and then uses that to associate you with a crime you didn’t commit.
· That we will stay the same. This is my biggest fear; that all of this innovation will be for naught. That we will have politicians who continue to pontificate with no action. That we will continue to create systems that only benefit the wealthy few. That we will exist in a world where you must be technologically savvy in order to protect yourself online.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?
Yes. If the cryptocurrency ecosystem has taught me anything, it’s that you must never lead with your hand out. In a tight-knit ecosystem such as this one, people remember everything. In a big way, it’s like this weird eccentric family you always wanted, but never knew you needed. Most want to support and work with you, yet all have different features and different quirks. I’d like to think we are all fighting the same fight — one for a better, fairer world. I bet on Bloq because of its commitment to making the world a better place first — then looking to the revenue model. Civil engineers don’t think of how they can better ‘toll’ bridges; they consider how and why people will need to use the bridge
It’s rare that a technology comes along that promises to transform nearly every facet of society. Diverse applications are being built in every industry from supply chain to financial services to identity to land rights to government procurement.
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?
As a member of an underrepresented group, I am reminded of the fact that women are not the only underrepresented group in the industry. There are many other groups that face significantly larger underrepresentation, and it is our duty to build one another up. Just because I found an open seat at the table, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for others. It is the role of anyone from an underrepresented (or indeed, overrepresented) group — whether that be visible minorities, young women, older women, people of different socio-economic status etc. — to promote and credit the work of others.
My 3 points on this subject are:
· Maintain a high standard for accepting speaking engagements. For example, my opening address at an investment bankers conference a year ago was “I’d like to take a minute to recognize the approximately 8 other women in this room, as the only woman on the agenda.” The misconception here is that this only applies to general events — I will also usually decline events that are “Women in …(tech/blockchain/cryptocurrency); as I equate this to conference equivalent of the kids’ table. How do we expect to have a cohesive discussion about diversity and inclusion if we do not have all groups represented in the discussion (including men)? Some of the most effective diversity advocates I know are white men.
· Learn about and engage with women-led projects, so when it comes up in conversation you are able to boost them up. Among others, a study by the University of California, Davis stated that projects with at least one female founder are statistically proven to be more successful.
· Use your platform (regardless of its size) to call out inequality and underrepresentation. You’ve been given this opportunity, and it is now your chance to continue to pave the way for others in whatever way you can.
Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the blockchain industry?
In addition to what I mentioned previously, I think we need to stop putting a focus on women in a minority-specific way. Why can’t we just include more women in mainstream activities according to their skills and experience?
As I’ve already mentioned, “women in” panels and events are the professional equivalent of the kids table. We can’t have a thoughtful conversation about equality until everyone is included, including the 50% (or more) of the world’s population who happen to be men. I’m blessed that the Bloq orbit includes some amazing female leaders (such as Jordan Kruger, director of research and operations at Bloq, Lexy Prodromos, executive director of the Chicago Blockchain Center [link]; and Perianne Boring, President of the Chamber of Digital Commerce [link]) who use their platforms to focus on their projects, not on their status as an underrepresented group. Let the greatness of their work speak for itself.
What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?
“Be brave, be bold. If you don’t know, find out.”
We as women are prone to self-sabotage. A Harvard Business Review study says “women will only apply for a job if they feel 100% qualified, men will apply if they feel just 60% qualified.” Women get in our own way because we perceive the difficulty of a problem to be larger than it actually is. To be honest, most of us are just making it up along the way.
Obviously, there are exceptions to this — this quote does not apply to things like brain surgery or legal contracts or advanced pharmacology. Please go to school for those and acquire the right credentials; or employ the right people for these types of work.
What does apply are learned activities; most of which fall under the business-side of projects. Every project needs marketers and financial associates and project managers and developers and executive assistants and executive leadership; most of which are not accompanied by any sort of formal training.
Another way to phrase the quote above is “It can’t be that hard”Convince executives to hire you based on your ability to think and solve problems, not on your specific skill set. They need to trust in your ability to do the job, but more so they need to trust in your resourcefulness.
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, and several speakers in the blockchain/cryptocurrency space, are working on a diversity pledge, due to the saturation of the event horizon in the blockchain space over the last year. This pledge asks serial conference speakers to commit themselves and their companies to a higher standard, only participating in events that have accurate representation from women and other minority groups. The initial pledge is 20% representation, but organizations are invited to commit to more as the needle moves forward.
This pledge will be available in the coming weeks, and I will be actively soliciting participation in it from individuals, companies, and public figures.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Most of my company and professional updates are posted on Linkedin, which they can find me at linkedin.com/jenna-pilgrim. They can also follow me at @jennapilgrim on Twitter. They can follow Bloq and Bloq projects at @bloqinc and @MET_Token on Twitter and linkedin.com/company/bloq-inc-/ on LinkedIn
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you so much for this opportunity!