Linda Xie talks doing the unsexy work, bringing crypto to developing countries, and running book club at Coinbase (Part 2)

Linda also featured in our previous Fireside Chat where she discussed her experiences at Scalar Capital. As a refresher, her bio is printed here: Linda Xie is co-founder and managing director at Scalar Capital. Previously she was a product manager at Coinbase and a portfolio risk analyst at AIG. She is also an advisor to 0x.

What role did you hold when you started at Coinbase? Why did you transition towards a product manager role?

I never went out of my way to be a product manager. I had the mentality that Coinbase was a startup and I wanted to work on whatever was helpful to the company. I didn’t have any background in my first job of doing investigations and working with law enforcement. At one point I was asked if I wanted to be a product manager for internal tools, since I understood the tools that the employees were using. I was using these tools myself and constantly sharing new ideas on how they could be improved. I fell into the role, but I was given a lot of guidance. Coinbase set me up with John Yi, a senior product manager as a mentor, and he really helped me become a product manager– it’s definitely not something that you can just dive into without any background. It was a gradual transition for me over months. Making sure that the core part of your company is strong is really exciting to me.

What products/features did you work on creating at Coinbase?

I was internal facing so I built products for internal systems. We built tools for the compliance, legal, finance, business operations, support, and fraud teams so that they could succeed. When Coinbase had scaling problems– during the mania in 2017 when everyone was signing up for a Coinbase account– there were so many support tickets and accounts to review that we had to build tools that empowered people to do their job, otherwise they were just drowning in work. My work at Coinbase was enabling people to work on the mission of creating an open financial system for the world. It’s the unsexy work at a company, but it’s the work I enjoy, because without the unsexy work no progress can be made.

Did you see any products/features produced by Coinbase (or any general crypto apps/development) takeoff in countries that aren’t the US? Particularly in countries that don’t have a well established financial system?

When I was there Coinbase was limited by the banking relationships they had, and on the fiat side they hadn’t really taken off. Developing countries weren’t the market they were focusing on, just because the relationships didn’t exist yet. Over time, Coinbase released more products that, I think, will help more developing markets. Coinbase Wallet is really great product that allows people from all over the world to be able to earn and store small amounts of crypto. Earn.com, which Coinbase acquired, is a great example of people getting to do small tasks and be paid in crypto. You don’t have to be physically present in a certain country in order to earn money. I think that Paradex– a 0x relayer– is another great acquisition to enable other markets. This will support countries that don’t have access to the fiat rail. People will have full control over their money and can exchange tokens themselves. There are a lot of products over time that have shown me that Coinbase is focused on serving markets well past developed countries.

What are some current obstacles to bringing crypto to developing countries?

One of the problems with giving away crypto and having people use Coinbase Wallet or other wallets is that people don’t always have the right phones to be able to use these technologies. People don’t necessarily have the latest version of smartphones and sometimes they might not even have a smartphone, so you have to make sure that these wallets are easy for anyone to use, not just people who have access to the latest technology. I read a post about how in Venezuela many people don’t have the latest version of smartphones, because even if you have the money for it you’re going to paint a target on your back when you walk around with it and it’s likely that it will get stolen. However, you are seeing a rise in things like LocalBitcoins transactions in developing countries, so it’s exciting to see that there’s demand for crypto.

The problem with smartphones in Venezuela seems hard to identify and cater to from California. How should companies understand culture and create products that are made for places outside of the US?

It’s so important to have diverse opinions when building products. When you’re building products for the world you have to think about edge cases. There’s a team that I invested in called Celo, and they’ve done a lot of on-the-ground research studies in places like Kenya. Celo’s research revealed that money is a different concept in Kenya because people physically go to a booth to facilitate money transfers. People in these areas actually associate money with a teller’s face. There’s a trust aspect involved here, since if you bring crypto to a place like this, where their association with money is so different, it’s not comfortable for them. I’m trying to make sure I pay a lot more attention to building products that work all over the world.

How do you put together a team with diverse perspectives in order to address issues like these?

I personally love creating a distributed team which gives you more flexibility in hiring. We’ve hired a distributed team, which is great because they’re exposed to different communities, and we’re able to get their insights. It’s important to hire people with diverse backgrounds and when hiring people remotely to make sure to create a culture where remote employees feel like they’re productive and included. Especially with the technology we have now it’s a shame if you don’t use it to tap into global talent.

What are some differences in culture that you’ve noticed while traveling?

I’ve been traveling to different countries as part of the ETHGlobal Hackathons to understand what the challenges are that developers have in different parts of the world. One interesting aspect is in San Francisco we’re all used to a MacBook and that’s the default standard. When crypto projects released tooling for developers to build on top of their protocols, many only focused on people with macOS. A lot of people at hackathons around the world have Windows, and they don’t have the proper tools to build what they were trying to build. Actually, most people globally have Windows, so the fact that crypto projects are missing this huge demographic is a big problem to be aware of.

Changing trajectories, how did the Coinbase book club get started?

The Coinbase book club was made up of a bunch of employees who would always talk about books. Eventually, we figured we should start a book club. Running a book club at a company is hard, because depending on the book, the crowd that would show up would be a lot larger or smaller. It was also an interesting experience trying to convince people to read their books on time. At every book club meeting we would rotate on who was suggesting the book, so each person suggesting was tasked with coming up with three potential books picks and the rest of the book club members voted on what book they wanted. It was really fun because you got to read books that you’d never normally choose to read. I found my favorite book of all time through book club, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.

Did you continue book club after leaving Coinbase?

Actually I just read a post about a fund where for every new employee that joined, the founder asked them what their favorite book was and then read it. I’m doing that at Scalar Capital. I think it’s a great way of getting to know your co-workers and understanding what they like.

What are the best ways for women currently in the space to encourage other women to join and support other women in the blockchain space?

I think that she256 Mentorship Program is awesome. Getting paired up with a mentee and helping them is valuable. Making sure that you are making yourself accessible to help others is really important because we all got help in some form to be at the point where we are now. Making sure that you are very open about sharing knowledge when people ask you to is important. Also, I think it’s absolutely critical that wherever you can raise someone up or draw attention to them for good work make sure to do so. I try my best to attract attention to awesome builders in the space by sharing their articles or work on Twitter and raising people up wherever I can.

What are good ways to get in touch with you and ask for help?

I get a lot of emails and messages, but I do try my best to be responsive when people have really specific questions. It’s a lot more helpful when someone specifically says why I’d be the best to help them with a certain problem versus an “Oh can we get coffee so I can pick your brain?”.

You hosted Crypto Office Hours for women interested in blockchain and crypto. What do you think are the top barriers to entry for women in the blockchain space?

There have been so many amazing women that have come into the space, so I think that the barriers are definitely not as strong as they were in the past. Through dozens of calls through these office hours, the common theme I saw amongst many of the women was that they had an incredible amount of knowledge of the space (and even if they didn’t, they were insanely sharp and picked things up quickly), but they doubted themselves. They would say things like “I feel like I don’t really understand this enough to get a job in it” or “I don’t understand this topic enough to speak about it or be on a panel.” And I was thinking no, the amount of knowledge you’re dropping right now is insane. It’s the same with my mentee, she’s so knowledgeable about crypto I feel like she should be a mentor. It goes back to this statistic I saw a while ago, which is when there’s a job opening and there’s a list of requirements men will apply only when they have something like 60% of the qualifications, but women will often apply once they meet 100% of the requirements. It’s like women have this harder burden on themselves to meet a certain level of knowledge or experience to feel like they’re qualified enough to do something.

What are ways to change this mindset or address this problem?

At Coinbase, I really wanted to focus on getting diverse candidates in the pipeline. We would make adjustments to the list of requirements by only including things that are absolutely critical and then threw everything else into the “nice to have.” People feel way more comfortable applying, since they meet all the requirements. Filtering requirements was really important.

Connect with Linda on Twitter @ljxie.

Join us next week for an interview with Charlene Delapena, former Senior Recruiter at Coinbase, and currently Head of Strategy at Jumpstart, a platform connecting top talent with companies in tech.

Write to Roshni Rawal with any feedback, questions, or comments at roshnirawal@berkeley.edu.The she256: Fireside Chats are sponsored by Upscribe.