The Decentralized Man
How a crisis led me to find my tribe of “decentralized” men who defy a system to transform the world.
729 days ago on this day, I received a call that would completely alter my life, my direction, and my “holy cause”. I was in the midst of an interview with the Huffington Post, sharing how my company was gaining traction to address the growing threat of counterfeit and fraud in the market. I knew from the barrage of calls coming in during the interview that there was an emergency. I paused the interview to accept a call and was blindsided with the words that still shock me today: “Terry and Pam are dead”.
I was numb…grasping for words, ideas, or even the next breath that would translate to next actions. In her book “Rise Above”, Brene Brown described this feeling as being “face down in the muddy stream, gasping for air”. Panic began to emerge as The Resistance that I thought I had overcome began to whisper: “ you have no options, no control… and now lawyers are facing off”.
Terry was a unique man who invested in people with big ideas. He didn’t come from wealth and privilege…a hardworking, self-made cowboy from rural Texas who overcame personal obstacles and challenges throughout his life. He knew how difficult it was to be given a chance, a feeling I knew well based on previous ventures that struggled with an investment establishment that didn’t recognize my vision. Terry believed in me and other visionaries. Now, Terry’s and his wife Pam’s death not only devastated a close-knit family but an entire region in Texas that was blessed by their gratitude and generosity.
Now Terry was gone, along with a significant part of my foundation and encouragement. With my courage tested and core values challenged, my very emotional stability seemed to be crumbling.
The cowboy coach from Texas was soon followed by a 300 lb Samoan Super Bowl champion who gently allowed me to grieve…but only briefly. Setema Gali, former defensive end for the New England Patriots, encouraged me to “Rise strong after a fall” to cultivate wholeheartedness in my life. Setema, who once sold his Super Bowl ring to support his wife and family, was now leading others to “stop playing small” by being very clear and honest with what matters and defining your “holy cause”. Today, Setema is a highly sought after life coach, best-selling author, and consultant.
One of the most powerful principles that I learned from Setema is that clarity is power, and who we associate with matters. As a result of Setema’s guidance, I have sought out those with “high energy and high skills”, intellectual curiosity and humility, a giving (versus taking) spirit, and the integrity to do what they say they will do.
During my journey to further refine my business model, establish partnerships and raise capital, I have met unique men like Terry and Setema who seek to reorganize established power structures to drive equitable opportunities for all…and I use the term “men” intentionally. Women, as most sociologists would agree, tend to be more collaborative and cooperative (or “decentralized”)….perhaps a natural outcome of being more disenfranchised.
With the advent of technology, companies such as Uber or AirBnB are accurately described as disruptive and decentralized….but only to a certain degree. A truly decentralized model does not need a broker or central authority to share transportation and lodging. Isn’t a truly decentralized model really just some kind of authoritative agreement to share the car…or house…or any asset?? At conferences, associations, hack-a-thons and online networks, I am finding an increasing number of leaders who are thinking along these lines that I would characterize as “decentralized men”. I suspect these men have always existed, but, with the advent of technologies such as blockchain and distributed ledger technologies, their presence, influence, and impact have been magnified.
As technology continues to decentralize transportation and lodging, the next tier of targets includes the investment community. Crowdfunding was a response to the sclerotic and incestuous nature of investment banking. The venture capital industry is also primed for decentralization as illustrated by the well-established maxim that only 2 percent of the $85 billion spent in venture capital funding goes to women-founded companies…even though 38 percent of U.S. businesses are owned by women. The average deal size for women-led businesses was just over $5 million, versus $12 million to male-led businesses.
Political correctness was also added to the checklist as evidenced by Silicon Valley’s recent self-righteous aversion to funding projects and working contracts focused on the defense of our country. I will give non-hypocrisy and transparency kudos to the VC prospects that I recently met with when they stated plainly they are concerned about their name being associated with “controversial” clients such as DARPA and the Department of Defense (my company has US protection interests). Their anti-defense commitment was certainly more persuasive than gender equality which consisted of “double thumbs up” emojis to anti-harassment threads and writing a check to #MeToo.
I am strangely comforted by Dana Kanze, who presented some remarkable findings in a TedTalk regarding female entrepreneurs and funding. Ms. Kanze’s research concluded that male and female VCs display implicit gender bias by emphasizing prevention-based dialogue with female entrepreneurs versus promotion-oriented discussions with their male counterparts. For example, VCs expressed a statistically higher level of concern regarding how women protect their customer base (prevention) and what men project their overall market potential (promotion) versus the other way around.
Despite my nearly 2 year journey to successfully surround myself with industry leaders and visionaries to develop compelling business case and solutions (with compelling projected revenue streams), my appeals for funding have been met with platitudes such as “how exactly have you managed to accomplish this much?” and “very intriguing and inspiring”. Ms. Kanze’s research was triggered by her similar experience and was driven to completion to convince herself that she had not taken “crazy pills”. My only regret was not having Dana’s research 20 years ago to offer some explanation why my appeals with my two female partners for capital in 2000 were only met with “Wow, you girls have done something really amazing”.
In the end, we sold that company to a European communications leader as the US VC community preferred to invest in Bullshit.com sock puppets developed by three guys in a basement over three women converting payphones in airports to provide internet access with real revenue.
Which takes us back to decentralization. With Terry’s gentle admonition to “never give up”, I continue to seek and be grateful for the best and brightest who have joined me and have taken significant risks by offering their time, talents, network, and funds to radically impact my company and the trajectory of its future. I am inspired by those who believe and support people from all walks of life. Those who believe that people should be able to make their own independent decisions. Those who believe that visionaries should have access to alternative capital sources. Those who see the current centrally controlled VC establishment as a system that only recognizes familiar opportunities and making offers to the elite and privileged.
As emerging technologies continue to evolve, I am optimistic that the future lies with the ‘decentralized”, allowing visionaries to align themselves with others who share their vision and mission.
To prepare for this future, you may check your “DQ”….your Decentralization Quotient! Ask yourself the following:
Do you believe that sovereign individuals can engage in free-market exchange?
Do you believe in new economic opportunities for the 1.7B unbanked who can participate and thrive outside of current economic restrictions that do not serve them?
Do you believe in bypassing a centrally controlled system of intermediaries?
Do you believe that any individual or owner of a company should control their property/securities and freely engage in contracts and a market to exchange those assets?
Do you believe in greater accountability and control over one’s destiny and greater capability for people to have opportunities to provide for their families and communities?
Do you believe that Blockchain/DLT technology can democratize access to finance with new funding platforms, removing the barriers of high investment minimums for investors, high administrative and acquisition costs?
Do you believe that just as the internet democratized access to information, the blockchain will democratize access to value and truth, providing new opportunities to the underrepresented and underfunded?
If you scored 5 or above, I look forward to hearing from you at firstname.lastname@example.org :)