In Conversation With

Discussing Women in Blockchain, Investing and Startup Diversity With Veronica Mihai

Featuring

Veronica Mihai

Private Investor
  • Mentor for individuals interested in starting/growing their career in blockchain, crypto and fintech.
  • Public speaker supporting the narrative for BTC adoption and financial services decentralisation and inclusion.
  • Angel investor in tech and blockchain start-ups, former hedge fund co-founder and enterprise grade cryptocurrency mining farm entrepreneur.
Host
Paul Gordon
Editor, Coinscrum Markets

With International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month both falling in March, this topic has been a challenge in terms of representation for the crypto industry. Veronica Mihai is an angel investor and co-founder of Bloomwater Capital, a crypto hedge fund. She’s also a community manager and advisor at the Women in Blockchain International Impact Group.

Veronica comes from management consulting. She’s originally Romanian but has been a resident in the UK for more than a decade. She worked as a management consultant within a variety of sectors including media, energy and IT. She first heard of bitcoin in 2009 but was very busy working on her own projects and didn’t pay too much attention to it, rather noticing its presence in various media.

In 2015 crypto came back on her radar and she and her family read up on it, starting with the Bitcoin whitepaper.

[2:59] “I liked it, I liked the philosophy behind it and what it was trying to achieve. I’m not saying I thought it would be easy and decentralization and financial inclusion would happen overnight and bitcoin would be adopted en masse overnight or anything like that… I thought it’s an interesting concept, it’s a movement, it’s a change. It’s something that can determine some change in the world in the way we manage finances and the way we look at things,” she said.

Veronica then took some money and invested in bitcoin. She was hooked, wanting to see how it evolved and to be part of it. She then invested in ICOs and Ethereum, amongst others. She successfully expanded into mining in the UK, focusing less on bitcoin and more on mining the breakthrough coins that had potential, including Dash and Litecoin. Through this two-year mining period, she made solid profits that  she used to invest in startups, namely her own hedge fund.

[5:38] At this stage Veronica considers herself a private investor. She has a small portfolio which she maintains herself and does not represent a company or a brand. She enjoys the freedom and liberty to do what she feels is right when she feels necessary.

Crypto Demographics

Women’s attendance remained low for long periods of time within early crypto communities, Paul noted, perhaps due to the attendance being comprised largely of developers who were mostly men. Rhian Lewis did a great job of encouraging more women into coding and blockchain in those early days.

[8:36] When Veronica joined the Women in Blockchain International Impact Group, there were only a handful of women, fewer than 20 on a Telegram group, and it was easy to connect with all the other people. It started in response to the atmosphere surrounding the media perception of women’s involvement in blockchain, which grew from that small group to 500-600 women.

[9:55] “…[The aim of the group is] to support each other as women, to highlight each other, to make sure that we are represented, that we get opportunities, that we share resources,  job opportunities,  solutions, education — anything really that could help women understand this space better, that could help women get a foot through the door…in the industry in any capacity because ultimately we all have skills that can be transferred,” said Veronica.

The composition of the group is less on the development side and more legal, marketing, PR and media as well as founders, CEOs and CTOs. Specifically on the development side, female representation is lower.  This is reflected across tech and fintech as women are not equally represented across tech in general. As there are lots of programming languages that are necessary to learn in the developer space, perhaps there’s a bias toward men learning those languages and getting more exposure to it, but  there is a clear disparity in the numbers, noted Veronica.

Women Investors

An article by Teana Baker-Taylor highlighted that 43% of bitcoin investors are women. A 2020 CoinMarketCap study indicated that female market participants had increased by 43% in the first quarter of last year; and Gemini UK’s report showed that 41.6% of crypto investors are women.
Creating diversity in a company is easier said than done.
[14:23] “I think when you start a business or a company, you do tend to look around you at your network and if your network is predominantly one gender or the other… then you tend to recruit from there,” said Veronica..

Tech Representation

[14:51] “In terms of representation in tech in general for women, I think it goes back to role models, to exposure – how many schools actually represent men and women (in terms of) scientists and innovators. They make an attempt in arts but in tech you don’t see that. Most authors in the curriculum are men, most scientists are men, most innovators are men, so you have to think, what is a girl to do when she gets educated in a school when she hasn’t had that role model, where successful women in IT came to her school and gave a speech, let’s say. She doesn’t see in the hallways of the school posters of women who achieved throughout history. Women in computing were amongst the first programmers in the world, Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper (to name a few),” said Veronica.

In the early days of coding, even during World War II, there were plenty of women involved. What happened after that? Is it perhaps the perception that software was regarded as ‘soft’ work, admin-like, not worthy of men’s attention? Once it became more mainstream and people realized the possibilities and changes it could bring, men became interested and then replaced the women in the industry, explained Veronica.

[17:18] “All of these things matter. How many people know that the first long distance driver was Bertha Benz, a woman? In the last few years if you go on the Mercedes-Benz website, in their history section they highlight that… Mercedes-Benz is a reputable company which started from a woman’s desire to innovate,” she added.

Educational Influence

In education we’ve seen changes like programming becoming part of the national curriculum in the UK, which would require a generation to roll through to see its effects, similar to women’s soccer and its expansion. It’s a governmental responsibility, Paul said, to encourage diversity at a grassroots level to change the perception that it’s a male-dominated industry where women perhaps feel alienated from it. Indeed, it is an alienation problem, said Veronica, adding:

[19:04] “If I don’t feel I belong, I’m not going to get into that kind of career necessarily.”

Many women attempt to enter the industry, feeling alienated and then changing their career altogether. Human nature is innovative, Veronica noted, so why not design a world where everyone feels included, why not create products that are accessible and representative of any gender. The questions that need to be asked are: are these products inclusive and do people feel like using that product? It’s important to have a male and female perspective — balance is the keyword.

[22:27] “Why do you need the Gentleman’s Club? For networking, right? You build a network. You have a pool of resources and talent to recruit from. You support each other. Isn’t that what men do? They support each other, they include each other, so why is it all of a sudden so wrong for women to do the same? We are trying to build a network so that we can also have a place at the table…”

Networking Opportunity

Having a women-in-blockchain group presents an opportunity for networking. It gives you a pool of resources and talent to recruit from and provides a wealth of support.

“We don’t gather there to bash men. We gather there to share opportunities, educate ourselves and educate other women as well because that’s the ultimate goal: to give another woman the confidence that she can open up her wallet and register for an exchange, register her first crypto, get a job in blockchain – any of those things,” said Veronica.

Crypto Marketing

Start-ups are much larger in size than in previous times, while segments like marketing departments are diverse.  Perhaps crypto as a sector is not being marketed in a diverse way, Paul noted.

[24:41 How you portray representation matters, and it’s important to highlight women’s roles, Veronica said. Alena Vranova, Blythe Masters, Elizabeth Stark and Galia Benartzi among other women are founders running these businesses and having these ideas. It’s also important to observe how much funding goes to these companies founded by women.

[26:03] “Representation – it’s not just about marketing and advertising. I think it’s also about listening to a woman’s opinion as well in those teams in start-ups because if you have a team of developers and they start coding — test it. Do some campaigns where you target women, test against feedback, find out how easy your product is to use and how easy the interface is for them. It’s not a question of women understanding basic stuff like accessing these platforms. It’s about women feeling included, being more likely to recommend that product or service to another woman. They would feel that they belong, that their opinion is taken into consideration. It can be small things from what design you’re using to whether you include images on your website that are diverse or targeted at both genders. There are a lot of things that teams have to take into consideration in my opinion,” said Veronica.

VCs and Gender

For Veronica, diversity comes into play when making investment decisions. But  it’s unrealistic to expect balanced representation in teams at this stage. It is key for women to have decision-making influence in how a startup is run.

For example, VCs are not so diverse. The type of questions that a woman founder would be asked vs.  a male founder, there’s a disparity. There might be a perception that a male founder would be seen to need to be strategically aggressive and take risks whereas a female founder might be asked questions that skew toward the suggestion that she is a liability herself. Why would you ask different questions of them? They’re both founders, both there to create a successful business.

[31:43] “Gender should not be a lens for a VC to ask their questions when they make their selection,” said Veronica.

It’s possible to smartly focus on a strength even when tough questions are posed, but sometimes women are taken by surprise by that attitude.

[32:10] “I feel that gender lens shouldn’t exist in funding. People should look at the statistics and data which shows that diverse teams perform better. You hear of women becoming CEOs of large organizations, but usually that happens when the company is in a crisis. I feel all of a sudden, the company is in a really bad situation, you bring a woman in. It’s a bit like ‘hopefully she makes it better or she’ll be the scapegoat.’ One or the other,” said Veronica.

She added:

[33:08] “I feel like there has to be a bit more funding for women because I feel like there are a lot of brilliant women with a lot of brilliant ideas. We are far from having 50% representation in teams and to target that, it means you do some opportunities. But it’s important for people when they look when there’s a startup, they should look at, ‘What am I trying to achieve here? Who’s my target? What’s my market?’ They should be looking to create a balanced product, a representative product or service for everybody to think they can use it.”

This idea of giving women a position of decision-making power is very important for those reasons. It’s important for investors to look at more diverse teams, specifically at management level where women have that decision-making power. Things are changing in the industry.

Contact Veronica on Twitter (@AleenaVero) or on LinkedIn to connect and learn more about the network.

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