Discover more from running towards xyz
Why I'm going from EdTech to Crypto
And some ways you can help
Welcome to running towards xyz! After 13 years of working on confidential zero-to-one projects at Google, I am excited to try something different: building in the open. You are my community. I want your feedback, your help, and your questions. Call me out on my blindspots. Introduce me to new ideas and people.
My goal for the next year is to found a company. I am not sure what it will do yet, but I am starting by exploring the crypto space. I think the time is right and it aligns well with my personal mission of enabling empowerment and access. I have made 3 commitments to myself:
Follow my curiosity
Meet only with people I want to
Develop a viable business idea
What I need from you
Let me interview you or a friend! Sign up or refer here. I plan to interview at least 50 people across a wide range of backgrounds / perspectives by the end of 2022. I’m looking to talk to everyone from crypto experts to the unaware.
Is there anything I should read or anyone I should meet? Hit reply :)
Why I’m going from EdTech to Crypto
I’ve spent the last 6.5 years working in EdTech, so some of my colleagues will be surprised to hear that I’m considering pivoting into crypto. In fact, my Twitter timeline (mostly EdTech and DEI) seemed so anti-crypto that I created an alt account when I started exploring the switch. But stick with me; I’m going to explain why I think pivoting into crypto is consistent with my values and my goals.
Financial inclusion precedes tech inclusion
The foundational hypothesis of Grasshopper was that we needed to make coding education inclusive. Access to quality tech education shouldn’t be gated by computer ownership, especially when the ownership gap for devices has so much racial inequity. But the deeper I got into the space, the more I realized the barriers went a lot deeper than who owned a phone vs. a computer. We partnered with bootcamps and training programs, only to find out that students would drop out of programs due to the lack of financial slack in their lives: inability to secure childcare, a car broke down, a family member was sick. When working with the Google for Education team, finances kept coming up as an equity challenge for the K-12 population. I wanted to make the world more equitable through education, but without financial equity, my solutions were handicapped.
At the same time, our country is starting to wake up to systemic prejudices. Redlining, patent racism, heirs’ property laws, race massacres, and other barriers have prevented the creation of generational wealth.
At every turn, I felt like my goal of inclusion and equity was hindered by financial realities. I realized: financial inclusion is a necessary prerequisite to the change I want to see in the world.
Decentralization lifts all boats
Despite my partner talking my ear off for the past decade (here’s his newsletter), it took me a while to warm up to crypto. The first time it started to click was when he donated to Code to Inspire as a birthday gift back in 2016. They teach women in Afghanistan to code and pay them in Bitcoin, since women in Afghanistan aren’t legally allowed to have bank accounts.
Over the years, the use cases for crypto for social progress have continued to grow. From former prisoners to aiding political dissidents, Bitcoin and other crypto tools have given financial access to communities that have been marginalized by traditional financial systems. For folks who are unbanked due banking practices like account minimums and overdraft fees, crypto offers the ability to own assets directly… and communities are starting to adopt. For instance, in the US, Black consumers are 66% more likely to be unbanked while Black consumers are almost 40% more likely to own a crypto asset than white consumers.
In addition to the product implications of crypto, I also think the ethos of decentralization aligns with my personal aesthetic. For the last 13 years, I’ve thought about market share and competition. It’s zero-sum thinking: if product X doesn’t get more usage than competitor product Y, then X loses out on its competitive advantage. This is because of the compounding advantage of having more and more data with traditional Big Tech; the product that has the most usage gets better faster. But crypto and the broader Web3 ecosystem has “rising tides lifts all boats” potential. If I make custody, protocols, or applications better for the community, it can make the pie bigger for everyone.
The time is right
I get antsy waiting for a baby, so before my second daughter was born in March, I learned Solidity. Then I designed and built an NFT1 during my maternity leave. I have a Computer Science degree, but I’ve been a Product Manager for the last 14 years. I.e. I don’t really code beyond simple scripts. I was shocked by how easy it was to build something end-to-end.
I believe crypto has moved into the application stage of innovation and the time is right to be a first mover in the space. To draw an analogy: The crypto space has been improving the blockchain protocol layer for years, similar to TCP/IP and HTTP at the early stages of the web. Now there are rich layers of functionality and tools on top of these protocols that enable the garage developer to build applications with relative ease, similar to how HTML/CSS and AWS have led to a flurry of web applications over the last two decades.
The world is also ready for financial disruption. Trust in institutions is at a record low. Inflation is at historical highs. World currencies are showing signs of instability (Yen, GBP). Crypto (or at least Bitcoin) offers an interesting alternative to a financial system run by central banks. It’s worth a shot to imagine a different future with sound money.
But what about ______?
There are many critiques of crypto, and to be honest, many of them are real. There are scams. There’s gambling. There’s toxicity. There’s an argument about environmentalism, but it’s often confused (more reading). I don’t think any of these are a reason to reject innovation or investment in crypto. In any nascent industry, there’s going to be a bit of FUD and unsavory use cases. I consider it a personal challenge to develop a product that provides a counterargument to the negativity.
I’m off to the races!
I’m excited to take you all on this journey with me. I promised myself I’d stay curious, so share your thoughts and resources. In my next update, I plan on sharing the problem space I am thinking about and some takeaways from early user interviews. Thanks for reading :)