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“Eyes On, Hands Off” 5 Leadership Lessons with Frans Tjallingii, CEO Of First Coin Capital

“When I began at Saam Smit, I was one of the youngest people working there and I was given a lot of trust by my team to go, execute, and develop myself. I’ve tried to do this as a CEO. We’re always trying to hire intelligent people, but in blockchain and cryptocurrency, we accept that this is a very new field and a very young field. We try to find bright people and then trust that they will learn the skills necessary to be successful. I’ve learned that if you give trust to your team to execute and develop themselves, they will always positively surprise you if you have the right group of people.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Frans Tjallingii, the co-founder and CEO of First Coin Capital, a full-service advisory firm on Initial Coin Offerings and incubator for Blockchain companies that recently announced its acquisition by Galaxy Digital. Galaxy Digital is led by early bitcoin investor, and former Goldman Sachs and Fortress Partner Mike Novogratz and is a leader in the cryptocurrency space. Frans has extensive corporate strategy, turnaround and investment analysis experience and has been involved in start-ups since 2014. He was formerly President of SAAM SMIT Towage Canada until November 2016. Frans received an MSc. in Marine Biology from the University of Groningen and an MBA from the Rotterdam School of Management.

Thank you for doing this with us! What is your ‘backstory?’

After working in a variety of different corporate and government roles, I began working in startups a few years ago. In November of 2016, I was leading a maritime services company when I made the decision to quit my job and pursue entrepreneurship.

Initially, I wanted to focus on applying blockchain to the maritime industry and logistics. It was such a revolutionary technology and had the potential for deep impact in the world. I partnered with Marc van der Chijs, a long time VC and early cryptocurrency investor to further develop blockchain solutions. Companies had repeatedly asked Marc if he would help them to do Initial Coin Offerings. He had always refused, but once we started our partnership, we decided this might make for a good business. It was then we started First Coin Capital.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

We have been fortunate enough to build an amazing team. We all share a passion for cryptocurrency investing and everything blockchain. We also built a team that loves to have fun. One evening we turned the office into a nerf gun war zone. We bought a whole bunch of guns, those foam bullets, and started outright warfare! Unfortunately, the fun didn’t last too long, as a representative of the landlord brought our war to an abrupt end by threatening eviction.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

It’s definitely our team. Our colleagues are extremely passionate about this new industry and know how to keep up with the fast pace. We have built significant infrastructure behind the business and that has allowed us to better help our clients moving forward. The team we have built allows us to dive deep into a client’s technology, create a strategy, and truly understand the economics of their business. It’s amazing to be a part of.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

For me, it’s about giving people a lot of autonomy while still asking the right questions. We want to see people be able to showcase their talent and drive for the highest degree of what they are capable of. I also know the importance of creating good communication and outlining clear priorities so employees are able to work to the best of their ability.

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?

I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help and support of Marc van der Chijs. He has been absolutely instrumental in my journey and First Coin Capital’s success. His instinct for business is amazing and I am very grateful for his trust.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m passionate about making a change for those who are homeless or living in poverty. With the help of Claire Williams, I’ve started New Leaf Project. This initiative looks for innovative ways to help solve homelessness. First Coin also strives to work on as many projects as possible that will have a positive effect on the world. For example, our client RightMesh is aiming to connect a billion people to each other by allowing smart phones to directly send data to each other. This could make a significant impact in developing countries.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?

You learn most by doing.

I’ve had a number of different careers so far, including negotiating treaties, hydrology, oil & gas, and shipping. My first day in the office when I joined Saam Smit, I was told almost immediately to begin tackling tasks and get right into working. It wasn’t long before I was sent overseas to set up a company. Being new and not having a lot of experience in the industry, this opportunity gave me real world business experience right away. The trust given to me to learn by doing has been amazing. I was trusted to figure it out and in those early days of my career, that was the best way to learn.

Eyes on, hands off.

When I began at Saam Smit, I was one of the youngest people working there and I was given a lot of trust by my team to go, execute, and develop myself. I’ve tried to do this as a CEO. We’re always trying to hire intelligent people, but in blockchain and cryptocurrency, we accept that this is a very new field and a very young field. We try to find bright people and then trust that they will learn the skills necessary to be successful. I’ve learned that if you give trust to your team to execute and develop themselves, they will always positively surprise you if you have the right group of people.

Develop a shared vision.

One of our biggest challenges is to figure out what to work on and what not to work on. When demand is high, you have to figure out how much you can realistically take on. It’s important to have discussions on what the big picture looks like. An important part of leadership is to help create a mental model or picture that the team can relate to. I believe in continual discussion about this model, and that creates the mental picture that your team is able to grasp on to and work towards. If this vision doesn’t live in people’s minds, then it won’t exist. We strive to focus that energy in the right way.

There are always next steps to take.

It’s important to think in terms of continuous improvement. We talk about working on the business vs working in the business. As a start-up, it is very normal and necessary to focus on working in the business. As we grow, we need to work a bit more on the business and make sure that we create some structure around what we do so that we can maintain the quality level that we need to in order to succeed. This then allows us to automate some pieces that can be automated and focus on things that have more value in order to continue to grow.

Take care of your mind and body.

This is my constant struggle. I do try to do a morning exercise routine, and while it doesn’t always happen, I try to keep in a rhythm of exercise and meditation. I try and encourage those around me, particularly those I work with, to do this as well. The more that team members feel comfortable about coming into the office in gym clothes, or riding their bikes to work, the better. This helps to create some form of balance. I believe it helps to focus the mind and create a more balanced life. A balanced life is a life that is more sustainable over a long period of time. We’re not in a sprint, we’re in a marathon!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

“Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?” — Epictetus.

It is important to distinguish between problems, which you can do something about, and facts, things that just are. It allows one to better understand what things to work on. For example, be effective before thinking about efficiency.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Of all the entrepreneurs I’m most inspired by, I have to highlight Elon Musk. Elon Musk not only created SpaceX, he was able to create multiple breakthrough industries based on first principles. Using the example of SpaceX, what he did was look at what it actually costs to build a rocket. How we can optimize this process? What is physically necessary to be in a rocket and how about if we change that? In our business, we try to answer questions related to the underlying fundamental business models of our clients. This is something that Elon Musk has done very well. He looks at the fundamentals of businesses and gets into the root of what it will take to be successful. Combining that with his vision for making the world a better place, he is someone I truly admire for both his business sense and personal achievements.