A few months ago, I joined a crypto company called Celo, which is focused on financial inclusion for the nearly 2 billion unbanked around the world. Since then, whenever someone asks where I work, I feel a momentary pause, my mind predicting their response to my answer. There are the skeptics, who usually respond with an eye roll. The people who have never heard of crypto, and thus I have to breakdown the industry and our company in a few succinct sentences. And somewhere in between, the people who are curious, like the engineer who sat next to me on my return flight from Kenya, who have pointed questions about how the technology works and how we’re going to make a difference.
I’ve learned so much about blockchain and crypto this year and I’d love to share my motivations for pursuing this path and joining Celo, with the hope others may be inspired to join the industry too.
1. New technology to accelerate social change
In April, I attended an Intro to Crypto event hosted by Andreessen Horowitz and #Angels. There, Jess Verrilli talked about the three narratives in crypto: get rich quick, libertarians, and social change. Before that breakdown I knew there was potential with blockchain but I couldn’t parse out the reality from the hype, let alone understand how the blockchain actually works. Personally I wasn’t motivated by money or maximizing political freedom. I was excited about the possibility of a new technology giving us the ability to create a world with greater equity — a chance to make a difference in so many people’s lives.
I decided to focus my search on finding a mission-driven company with a strong technical team. Multiple people pointed me to Celo, which was exactly what I was looking for.
2. There are no experts
I finished grad school in 2017 and was in the midst of a career transition from Diversity & Inclusion to Interaction Design. I was experiencing bouts of impostor syndrome (let’s be real — everyone experiences it at some point) and I wasn’t sure how much to lean on my previous career versus lean into my new one. I decided an early stage startup would allow me the flexibility to explore that. More importantly, a crypto startup allowed that exploration in a world with no experts. The promise of an industry and environment where everyone is learning, building, and iterating sounded very appealing and an especially useful space to work as a designer. A space where there are no rules to break and the only option is to define them as you go.
At Celo, we’re practicing our own form of holacracy: a method of decentralized management and organizational governance. Roles are defined around the work, not people, and there is a high degree of autonomy. Within three months of my arrival at the company my role already shifted and expanded which was exactly what I wanted in this chapter of my life. While not a perfect system, holacracy has given us a platform to explore what the future of work looks like in a decentralized world.
3. An opportunity to start again
It’s still the early days for crypto with the teams and technology being developed now. Could we prevent some of the mistakes of the tech industry at large? Be more aware of our biases, not simply hire the people we know, and start to reduce the wealth inequality and expand access to opportunity. For nearly a decade I have been working on diversity in tech and went back to school to develop a creative toolkit to solve systemic challenges. The crypto space represents the perfect opportunity to take the lessons learned from tech and rethink how we build organizations.
I’m tired of talking about inclusion and belonging and instead want to simply experience it. Already there are great conferences like Crypto Springs, where all of the speakers are women and not once is there a mention of diversity. It’s showing, not telling and is so incredibly refreshing.
In my time at Celo, I’ve introduced some practices to help us encourage an environment of belonging:
- In my first week, I wrote a Code of Conduct to ensure that we are clear on expected behavior within the Celo community, both online and in person.
- Recognizing that we often use race and gender as a proxy for different life experiences, I added an interview question that lets candidates share something unique about their background that has shaped their perspective on life. We value these perspectives and, often times, their response helps us understand the distance someone has traveled in order to get to where they are today (distance traveled is something I’ve learned from my mentor Freada Kapor Klein).
- At Celo, our values are unique purpose and connectedness. We believe an individual is most joyful and inspired when they are their authentic self, living true to their unique purpose. At the same time, people thrive in community and in connection with each other. Now, as part of onboarding, new hires reflect on their unique purpose and how it might manifest within our company and customers. Similarly, they reflect in the ways they experience community and how they can bring their own uniqueness to the team (mine is through food and sport). They discuss how to live the values in practice, deciding one practice they want to add to our company. Each new hire adds something to Celo; it’s not about culture fit but a continuous evolution of culture add.
I’ve learned a lot this year and am grateful to my early teachers and advocates: Diogo Mónica, Chelsea Rustrum, Janelle Kellman, Brielle Hagman, Travis Cole, Ryan Bozarth, Lily Chandrasekher, and Yasmeen Turayhi.