People of Blockchain Pt. 1 with Cynthia Huang About Overcoming One’s Greatest Fears in Life
Is running a crypto business from the back of an RV the ultimate Altcoin Fantasy? Let’s find out!
People of Blockchain is a new initiative by Altcoin Magazine, where the goal is to share inspiring stories from brilliant minds behind blockchain companies. My name is Emil Sterndorff, I’m the founder of Altcoin Magazine, and a digital nomad on a mission to empower the people of the world to do greater things and to realize the true meaning of pure happiness.
On today’s episode of People of Blockchain, we will meet Cynthia Huang and her husband who’re living off of the back of their RV, running Altcoin Fantasy to make a living. We are also diving into Cynthia’s biggest fear in life, which she chooses to handle in a very empowering way.
In this regards, the first episode falls perfectly on March 8th which is the international women’s day, and I’m thrilled that we made it possible because I personally believe that so many women (and men) will find Cynthia, and her husband’s story inspiring and uplifting. Let’s dive in:
Hey, Cynthia. Thank you guys for being the first on our new line of interviews called People of Blockchain. It’s a series that I’ve wanted to do for a couple of months now and stumbling into your story was simply perfect timing for me to kick it off. Thank you, Jeff Merten from Datadad (DataDash) for giving me some inspirational insights about Cynthia.
So Cynthia, can you tell me a bit about you and your husband?
Hi Emil, thanks for sharing our story!
We’re from Vancouver, Canada and we live our lives in an RV while traveling the world as digital nomads. When people meet us, they often wonder how we ended up living in an RV while working on a crypto startup. We’re big fans of hackathons and we always attend the Money2020 Hackathon in Vegas. We’ve managed to win a prize every year since attending in 2014. In 2016, our team won one of the grand prizes of $20,000 USD.
Money 2020 is one of the largest Fintech conferences in the world and every year, they host a hackathon as a kick-off to the conference. The hackathon is organized by AngelHack and is probably the largest fintech hackathon in the world, bringing over 500 entrepreneurs, designers and developers over one weekend to create a working product in just 24 hours. That year, we had a team of four and we built an AR shopping experience where you could walk into any store and using your phone, get details about the product, promotions, and suggestions on how to use/style the product, depending on what it is. Retailers are looking for new and unique ways of engaging customers and this turns the in-person shopping experience into something interactive. Think of it as the next generation of shopping. The judges loved our idea and product and we won one of the grand prizes.
We had been thinking about taking a road trip for a while and decided that with our winnings, we would buy an RV and take a 3–6-month road trip. We did precisely that in 2017 and it completely changed us. It made us realize just how much bigger the world really is, and how beautiful and ephemeral can be.
What is it that you love about crypto and blockchain?
One of the things that I love about crypto is how diverse the backgrounds are of people who work within it. I had always loved reading since I was young, even ruining many books in the shower because I couldn’t put them down, even while I was taking a shower. I studied English Literature to pursue a career in editing or publishing but Vancouver didn’t have a market for that so I ended up in insurance and risk management. I worked in tech briefly in 2014, fell in love with the space and decided that I had to do everything I could to try and make that career jump. Being from a non-technical background, it was difficult to make the jump so I co-launched Airhosts Forum with Tommy in 2014 (which has become the largest Airbnb host community in the world) to get tech experience. We also started attending hackathons and winning them. We’ve won over $80K USD in prizes to date. From there, I made the jump from insurance to product management, then to corporate innovation and finally to fully working on Altcoin Fantasy, our crypto focused startup.
I’m quite curious; What are your core values? What gets you excited lately? What are you most grateful for?
Tommy and I are both huge environmentalists. We constantly talk about how sad it is to see the impact of humans on the world. One thing I have been thinking about is creating a non-profit aimed at rewarding people around the world, especially in third world countries, to recycle. Having been to parts of SE Asia where there are so much garbage and no attention to recycling, it made me realize that people can’t think about helping the world when they are struggling to survive. By taking that concern out of the question, we can get people to take an active part in reducing waste and get plastics out of our oceans.
I’m really excited about the blockchain and crypto space. I feel like I was too young to be a part of the dot com era and missed mobile apps as well and crypto gives me an opportunity to be a pioneer in this space. Because it’s so new, everyone working in crypto gets an opportunity to shape it and that’s incredibly exciting. How many people get that opportunity to actually mold an industry in their lifetime? I recently had someone from a crypto marketing consulting company ask me about how we handle competitors and I really think that’s the wrong approach given how new the blockchain and crypto space still is. The focus should be on working together to grow adoption and awareness and not on trying to compete with each other. Part of what I really love about how we (Altcoin Fantasy) operate is that we get to work with so many amazing projects in the space, such as Altcoin Magazine, and to support companies in their growth. I truly believe that it’s important to enter relationships, whether personal or professional, with the intention of having left the other party better off. If we approach life from a place of competition, then that can never happen.
Being able to be a digital nomad, running our crypto startup, traveling all over the world, getting a glimpse of how people view things and how they live is truly a blessing. Crypto is worldwide and I talk to people all around the world on a daily basis and it’s eye-opening to hear about how different things operate around the world. It makes you question whether we are doing things in the best way and to take learnings from other people so you can apply them to your own life. Running a startup isn’t for everyone but it makes you grow at an exponential pace that you otherwise would never experience. Not sure how to write a press release? Figure it out. Not sure how to create a balance sheet? Figure it out. Not sure how to hire a team and manage people remotely? Figure it out. I think of a startup as being akin to being a parent (although I don’t have any kids yet) — 95% of the time it really sucks but that 5% makes all of it worth it.
Although Tommy and I spend 24/7 together in the RV, we actually have a ton of fun together and have a lot of common interests. We love anything outdoors, whether that’s hiking, kayaking, camping, quadding, motorcycling, snorkeling etc. We just came back from the Oregon Sand Dunes where we rented quads for the sand dunes. Highly recommend it for anyone who loves motorized sports! We’re also pretty big nerds so we love playing Magic the Gathering and will attend small tournaments. Finally, music is a HUGE part of our lives so we attend a lot of music festivals. Music has the ability to lift you up and transport you to a different place and it’s really helped keep our emotions level because of how happy it makes us feel.
So you live in an RV, is that right? As a digital nomad with a dream to buy, renovate, and live in a school bus myself I love the idea and find it super interesting. Can you tell me how it is, living off of the back of an RV?
I would also love to buy and renovate a school bus as one of our future projects!
Living in the back of our RV has definitely been a bit challenging! We have a very small truck camper, about 18 feet, and we eat, work, live and sleep in it 24/7. We also have 2 small dogs who share the space so we’re a cozy foursome inside the RV. We usually stay at RV parks so that we can have power to work and so that there’s good wifi.
Being a digital nomad means that you’re fairly tied to staying at places with good wifi. We try to travel only on the weekends so that we’re fully focused during the week. We tend to be quite bad at taking days off so we usually end up working 12 hour days Monday to Saturday. We’ve been trying to take Sundays off so we can explore wherever we happen to be. The great thing is that our house is always with us so we always have what we need and we’ve learned to live with very little.
Having lived as a minimalist in a small RV, I’ve realized that you really don’t need much to be happy. It’s so easy to get trapped in the day to day worries of everyday life. Traveling around and experiencing the beauty of national parks and nature, you realize how inconsequential these problems really are. Obviously, I’m not talking about people who struggle with real problems like poverty, abuse etc. here, but I think we get caught up very easily in the day to day life and forget to appreciate life as it is. We also tend to get caught up in consumerism and perhaps use that as a crutch to deal with the mind-numbing minutiae of daily life.
When you live in an RV, you don’t get much storage so you can’t buy anything and you lose a lot of your attachment to material things. You start to really appreciate life for the moments and the world for its beauty and magnificence. It’s something that’s also very difficult to articulate to someone who hasn’t experienced it but I wish that everyone could experience this life.
That’s really inspiring, and I definitely agree — materialism is a big problem, and I hope our world will evolve from thinking value comes from owning a lot of material possessions to finding value in few essential material possessions.
So Cynthia, one of the other things I found interesting about you was something you told me about in a private message before the interview, and you mentioned having to overcome the so-called imposter syndrome, making it hard for you to really push through.
Can you tell us what it is, how it has impacted your life, and what you do on a daily basis to overcome it?
Imposter syndrome is a feeling where you doubt yourself and your abilities. You’re constantly afraid that someone will find out that you’re a “fraud” and your accomplishments only happened because of luck or some other external force that has nothing to do with your abilities or skills. I can’t attribute the reason I have always felt this but it’s a common affliction and especially so among women.
For the longest time, I doubted myself and held myself back from opportunities because I felt that I wasn’t good enough. When I did achieve something like a promotion or even winning a hackathon, I always felt like I had somehow hoodwinked other people into it and that they’d realize one day that I actually had no idea what I was doing and that they picked the wrong person.
The strangest thing though is that somehow I would come across as confident to people and when I would share my doubts, they wouldn’t believe me. In a way, I think that’s one of the worst things about imposter syndrome. Most people do a great job of masking their doubts and insecurities and so there’s a cognitive dissonance between how you feel and how you portray yourself to the world.
There have been two factors that have greatly helped with dealing with imposter syndrome. The first is my husband. Whenever I would share my doubts, he would tell me to find counterexamples to prove to myself that I had repeatedly achieved things and that I was capable of. Another thing he would tell me is to ask myself, “why not me?” — In life, people get promotions, they start companies, they achieve great things so why shouldn’t it be me? The second factor is to deliberately put myself into situations where I feel uncomfortable and outside of my abilities because I know that growth only happens when you’re outside of your comfort zone.
What I’ve also come to realize is that when I commit myself to something, I will do everything I can to figure it out. When Altcoin Fantasy started, I knew nothing about blockchain and crypto. I read as much as I could and kept up to date on developments and listened when people talked and thought about what they were saying. I wanted to learn more about these topics and pushed myself to write articles in order to get published on major crypto news sites to prove that I could do it and to deepen my understanding.
What I wish I had known early on in my life and career is that I was my biggest enemy. The only person holding myself back all those years was me. I once read this great quote;
“You shouldn’t believe everything that you think.”
We have major blind spots when it comes to ourselves and we are our biggest critics. Don’t believe the stories you tell yourself in order to let yourself off the hook — push beyond your comfort zone and you will be amazed at what you can achieve.
I agree with the people you’ve met. You don’t strike me as one with a problem like that, at all. To me, you seem like a strong, confident woman with tunnel vision, so I really want to acknowledge you for pushing through — it really works!
Also, it makes me really happy that you reached out to us with your article that by the way I found absolutely amazing and just had to publish. It makes me smile to think that I was there to acknowledge your writing, especially now knowing that this might have been a challenge for you to do in the first place.
So again, in a PM before the interview, you told me that one of the goals you’ve set for yourself is speaking publicly once every quarter. I personally feel very empowered by your drive to not let the imposter syndrome stop you, and actually I want you to stop treating it as a disability, and see it as a gift instead. Many people don’t get pushed to go the extra mile to achieve wonderful things in life, and because of your gift, you get to experience life in a way that many could only dream of — continuously taking the leap to do things outside your comfort zone has and will bring you massive value.
What message would you give to other people going through the same?
As Nike says, “Just do it.” Honestly, it’s just that simple. Not easy, but simple. Much of good advice in life is like this — simple but not easy. Losing weight is simple — eat fewer calories than what you burn — but it isn’t easy. This is the same way. It’s going to be tough to break out of your comfort zone and ignore your insecurities and doubts. But the crazy thing is that if you tell yourself you can’t do it and you don’t do it, you’re right. You prove yourself right. But if you tell yourself you can’t do it and you give it 120% and you still don’t accomplish your goal, you’re no worse off. But if you give it 120%, I will almost guarantee that more times than not, you will be able to do it. The more that you push yourself to achieve tough goals, the more confidence you will start to build in yourself about your abilities.
Most people are not born with confidence. Confidence comes from pushing through your fears and achieving your goals, all the while ignoring that voice inside your head that tells you that you’re a failure. If you wait until you feel confident or ready to tackle a challenge, you will never do it.
So Cynthia, where would you like to speak, and what would you like to speak about? We’ve got a big network of people and I’m sure we can help you and as mentioned in a personal message earlier, I really think Stephanie Simon can really give you some powerful advice on how to land your first speeches.
There are a few topics that I’m passionate about. Blockchain and crypto are obvious ones since that’s the space that I operate in. However, I would also love to talk about building a start-up, growth/marketing specific to blockchain/crypto and being a [non-technical] woman and founder in tech/blockchain/crypto. Honestly, I think any opportunity to speak would be great, whether that’s at a small event such as a meetup or at a large event, speaking on a panel or giving a talk at a conference.
That’s really great. I think a combination of being vulnerable, talking about what you struggle with, paired with the things you mention above that you are passionate about, it will make for a great, inspiring story.
What I’ve learned is, that allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to tell people about your struggles and how you overcome them, is one of the greatest ways to make deep connections to people — and with absolutely no judgement involved, so please do keep that in mind.
Totally agreed! I’m a big fan of Brene Brown and I think vulnerability is the key to making true connections with people.
So I first got to know about you via LinkedIn after publishing one of your educational blockchain articles and it led me to look into your company Altcoin Fantasy. For the sake of our readers, what is the idea behind it?
Altcoin Fantasy is a Bitcoin and cryptocurrency trading simulator. It’s essentially the same as a stock simulator but for cryptocurrency trading. We educate and onboard people who are new to the crypto space by giving them a place to learn and practice trading risk-free. We host daily and weekly fantasy crypto trading competitions where the top players win prizes. We partner with leading blockchain and crypto companies to give away prizes in those competitions and also to help spread the word about these great projects. We see ourselves as supporting the blockchain and crypto ecosystem through spreading adoption of crypto in a fun, engaging and rewarding way.
Actually let us sponsor a few Pundi XPASSes that we’ll receive in the mail in a couple of weeks for review, for your weekly competitions.
That would be great!! We can feature you as a sponsor and send a lot of traffic your way :).
Alright, Cynthia, so thank you for the presentation of the company. Let me ask you, what got you interested in crypto and blockchain in the first place, and I’m probably going to challenge you here; what skills and talents have you acquired within the space since you first got started?
Tommy started mining Ethereum in 2015 because he was interested in blockchain as a technology and smart contracts. He’s a bit of a hoarder so he ended up with 10 mining machines in our house. It was so bad that we couldn’t even use the dryer because it would blow the circuit. He told me about blockchain and I did some initial research about it and thought it was a really great application for a lot of the inefficiencies in insurance, which is the industry I was in at the time. When friends would come over, they’d see these Frankenstein rigged machines and ask us about it. Tommy would try to explain about blockchain, mining and crypto and people’s eyes would glaze over so I would have to translate the important parts into plain English for people to understand. He started trading and identified that there was a lack of educational resources for people just learning about crypto trading. This was in late 2017 when the market was going gangbusters. We had friends joke to us that they couldn’t pay for dinner because they had invested every penny they had into Bitcoin, yet they had no idea nor did they care, about the technology powering Bitcoin and why that was revolutionary. Tommy started building Altcoin Fantasy and from the beginning, people seemed to really find value in what we were doing.
There are so many skills I’ve acquired through working in crypto and running a startup. I’ve improved my writing skills and been published on large crypto news sites such as Invest In Blockchain, Bitfalls, Good Audience, Altcoin Magazine etc. I’ve learned how to negotiate and close deals with multi-million dollar companies. I’ve learned how to bootstrap a company, how to pitch media companies to feature us, how to a create a balance sheet, how to manage a remote team of 4, how to craft cold emails to get people to help promote us for free and the list goes on and on. I’m really proud of having developed a deep enough technical understanding of blockchain and crypto that I never feel lost in a conversation, even at a blockchain developer meetup. I think one of the biggest skills I’ve learned is how to persevere. Startups are so tough and it’s a constant rollercoaster of ups and downs. When you’re in a down period (i.e. the trough of sorrow), it’s easy to question yourself and wonder if you should give up. As a founder, you have to push past that and have the confidence that things will get better as long as you’re always experimenting and trying things. Your startup only dies when you run out of ideas to try (that or funding 😆). Also, try not to take no for an answer — whether that means you follow up 7 times with no response or your customer tells you they have no money to run marketing right now — you try and figure out another way to make things work.
What is next for you and your husband? Where do you see yourselves in a few years from now?
I’m actually a huge believer of goals. Since university, I’ve always set personal, health, finance, career and relationship goals and there’s something magical in goal setting that actually allows you to achieve your goals, even when they seem audacious. For the next year, I’d like to grow our user base to 500K (from 100K) and grow Altcoin Fantasy to be a recognized and trusted name for both crypto enthusiasts as well as blockchain and crypto companies in the space. I’d also like to speak at more events and improve my public speaking skills, especially when it comes to blockchain and crypto events. For the next few years, my goal is for us to become the #1 place for people to visit to learn about crypto and crypto trading and to be a major part of the blockchain and crypto ecosystem, where we are driving huge adoption for the industry. And of course, hopefully still traveling around the world and in our RV :).
Thank you so much, Cynthia. For sharing your story — I really hope that the world will acknowledge you for who you are and what you’ve built for yourself.
Before we end, I’d just like to ask two simple questions;
1: Where can we catch up with you online, follow you guys or in other ways support your business?
2: And lastly to finish off, individually, what are your definitions of greatness, happiness, and success?
Greatness is defined as making a difference in the world and to be a contributor instead of a consumer. Most people consume without leaving a good and lasting difference to the world.
Happiness is living true to yourself, constantly growing and surrounding yourself with people who only want the best for you.
Success is knowing that people are better off having met you and that you made a great impact on their lives.
Greatness — to build something that is entrenched into the lives of millions.
Happiness — I have to quote George Sheehan here:
”Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness has something to do with struggling and enduring and accomplishing.”
Success — to be an example for future leaders.
Thank you, guys! What an absolutely uplifting experience it has been chatting with you both, and I certainly hope that our readers will find it the same way. First “episode” of People of Blockchain has been amazing, so amazing. I’m certain we will stay in touch and help lift each other up.