Stephanie Vaughanis the Vice President, Head of Capital Markets at Block X Ventures, a premier boutique crypto-agency advisory firm. Block X Venturessupports leading Blockchain companies worldwide, serving as a strategic and financial advisory for token generating events. She started out at the Naval Academy, after which she served as a Marine Corps officer for over 5.5 years. After her military service, she earned her MBA at Columbia Business School, worked as an Investment Banking Associate at Houlihan Lokey, a Venture Capitalist at LunaCap Ventures, and as Director of Capital Markets at StreetShares. She is a contributing writer at theBlockchain Times.
Stephanie is the first person I've interviewed in the Blockchain / Crypto currency space. She talks about the exhilaration of being in a "wild west" environment, and why Veterans may be better suited to this than they might initially think. She talks about her background in finance, as well as advice to Veterans about how to advocate for themselves in interviews.
- StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBoxprovides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBoxoffers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
- Audible is offering one FREE audio book to Beyond the Uniform listeners. You can claim this offer here, and see a list of books recommended by my guests at BeyondTheUniform.io/books
- AVC Blog (Fred Wilson's blog) - writes about blockchain but startups in general
- Unchained podcast-
- Crypto Assets- how to invest, book
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from New York City is Stephanie Vaughn. She is the Vice President and Head of Capital Markets at Block X Ventures. Block X Ventures supports leading blockchain companies worldwide serving as a strategic advisor for token generating events. She graduated from the Naval Academy and served for five years in the Marine Corps. She then went on to earn her MBA from Columbia University and then worked as an investment banking associate at Houlihan Lokey and as a venture capitalist at LunaCap Ventures. She is also a contributing writer at Blockchain Times.
What is your typical day like?
When I was an investment banker, I worked until 10 or 11 on a typical night. And in my current position, although I’m not necessarily working until that time, we frequently have client dinners or things going on from 8-10 in the evenings.
How would you describe what you do?
Block X Ventures helps companies that would like to raise money in a token sale and have good blockchain technology. So we find clients that are at the Series A or B fundraising stages that believe that the best way to raise this money is through blockchain technology.
What is it like to be at the epicenter of an industry that is really taking off?
It’s insane. When I worked in investment banking, we had international clients but it was controlled a bit more. Crypto is like the wild west - there’s no weekends or nights off. It’s insane. But it’s awesome because you get to meet amazing people from around the world everyday.
How would you explain your role?
We’re a really small group - about 8 people. George, who I work with, has another company which raised an IPO and George also has Blockchain Times and Lending Times. Because I’m head of capital markets, my primary job is helping companies sell to investors and get their marketing set up.
What does your day-to-day look like?
Next week we have Blockchain Week comping up and we’re hosting events during the week including a veteran invent for veterans interested in blockchain so I spent a couple hours this morning finalizing our venues for next week. Event planning isn’t what I usually do but it is important because it helps build your relationship with potential clients. I also talked to some potential clients today to see if their company make sense for their blockchain technologies. I also spoke to some of our clients - we have four main clients right now. I’m specifically focused of three of the four that are about to do their public sale. I want to make sure they’re connected to the right investors and are getting their legal questions answered. And then I went to a meditation class. After that I had another call with another group that was looking to raise money for their company.
If you were talking to someone that wanted to go directly into cryptocurrency from active duty, what advice would you have?
It really is the wild west which means that nobody operates as if there are any rules so you just have to go as fast as you can while still staying with a particular country’s regulations. For example, you need to be able to know your customer through the life of a token. In that way, it’s impossible for a US investor to invest in a token sale that’s not located in the US. So a lot of people in Silicon Valley set up funds in the Cayman Islands in order to invest in ICO. That might seem extreme to someone in the military that is used to a lot of rules. So you have to be comfortable with that shift.
Compared to a regular business, it can be extreme. But at the same time, the best part of being part of the military, was trying to bring some sort of order to a lot of chaos. And that’s very similar in blockchain. The hardest point for someone coming directly from the military is the amount of tolerance you have to have for different cultures and different rules as well as your personal risk tolerance.
It’s interesting because since the crypto world is so new and developing, a veteran might not feel that they are as far behind the learning curve as they would feel in other industries. On the other hand, that lack of rules and structure could be challenging for a veteran.
Yes that’s well put. And it’s not just people in the military that struggle with those things. Depending on where you settle and what industry you’re in, you’re going to have different experiences and need to be comfortable with different risks.
Can you speak a little bit more about veterans taking risks and selling themselves in the interview process?
When I’ve talked about my experience in crypto so far, I talk about risk taking in terms of the whole field. But you could also work for a tech company and build different blockchains or be a trader working to make money off of various Albatross strategies.
I’m in an advisor space and I had done that before when I was in investment banking. When I first started at Houlihan Lokey, when my boss would put my picture in the back of a pitch deck and talk to our clients about how I was formerly in the Marine Corps. And I felt really guilty about that - like I was using that experience to sell something. It made me feel sick at first but it’s something I now feel different about it. It’s a hard feeling to get past but I think it makes it difficult for veterans to get jobs because they’re so humble and they don’t sell themselves. And then people already have a difficult time understanding what veterans have done in their military service so veterans just make it even more difficult for themselves by not really talking about their background and experience.
People always say that veterans are great for banking and finance and maybe that’s true because of our organizational skills and being very mission driven. But in a different way veterans aren’t good for investment banking because they’re not always good at selling.
How did you eventually move beyond that discomfort with talking about yourself in a way that felt authentic?
I think meditation helped me transition better because it creates a better sense of authenticity in yourself. I went to the Naval Academy so that was my experience from the time I was 18 to the time I got out in 2012. So my whole life during those years was defined by the Navy. Meditation helped me stay grounded..
Another thing I realized was that when you’re in the military people are humble because it is so much about the team. But when you’re on the outside, most jobs are not life and eath missions so it’s applying that thought to it too.
I also used to get mad at veterans that didn’t do everything possible to help other veterans get jobs. But I now see that veterans get busy just like anyone else and you're not indebted to every single person.
Can you speak more about the conference you had mentioned earlier?
We started a networking group for veterans working in or interested in blockchain. That event will be taking place next week during Blockchain Week in New York City.
What aspect of blockchain do you see most veterans working in?
One is trading. Less are on the technology side. But I believe that any veteran could be a developer. Even if you’re in right now, go to Hyperledger and you can start building there.
Are there any other resources you would recommend?
Fred Wilson AVC
Is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners?
If I was getting out again, I would try to consider something that wasn’t the typical path. You really can do anything.