BTU #184 - Navy Veteran to Blockchain & the Cyrpto Asset Industry (Hector Rosekrans)

It was a great job and I got to see all the inner workings of capital markets and how trades are processed and settled as well as the sheer volume of money that people are moving around the world. What really blew me away was that a lot of finance was being run by 1980’s technology. I would walk into the trading floor and see the MS DOS terminal up on everyone’s screen as you have these high end trades going on. So I got the sense that there were some technical improvements that the industry might be ready for.
— Hector Rosekrans

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Hector Rosekrans is the Director of Policy and Operations at Messari, which is building an open data library to enhance transparency for the cryptoasset industry. Prior to joining Messari, Hector worked at JP Morgan in capital markets operations and technology, where he researched tokenized securities for the Broker Dealer and Custodian. He developed a proof of concept smart contract for asset management on an Ethereum-based enterprise platform. Hector served as an Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy, and has worldwide operational experience. He holds an MPP from UC Berkeley, where he studied cybersecurity and strategic deterrence, and a BSc from the US Naval Academy.

Why Listen: 

This is the second interview I've done about Blockchain and Crypto currency. It's a great primer on this technology as well as operations and startups. Hector is great at explaining each of these, as well as how he got his first job through Twitter! He also talks about why Veterans may have an unfair advantage in the emerging blockchain space. 

Our Sponsor: 

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Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from New York City is Hector Rosekrans. A quick background on Hector - he is the Director of Policy and Operations at Messari which is building an open data library to enhance transparency for the crypto industry. Prior to Messari, Hector worked at JP Morgan in capital markets operations and technology where he researched tokenized securities. He developed a proof of concept smart contract for asset management. Hector served as a Surface Warfare Officer. He holds a Master’s degree from UC Berkeley and an undergraduate degree from the Naval Academy.  


Can you talk a little bit about that proof of concept?

That was while I was at JP Morgan. JP Morgan had a really interesting strategy for dealing with blockchain. They took the public ethereum network and basically created a private version of that. They had a hackathon. I knew I wanted to build something for this platform. I thought that you could use smart contracts to create portfolios that were a lot more flexible than your typical mutual fund. In this way, anyone in the world that was properly vetted could be a capital manager. So the idea was to take the hedge fund or mutual fund model and make it more flexible and let anyone access it from a supplier perspective. I felt it would really democratize the industry. There ended up being a million regulatory hurdles that got in the way of actually executing this but it was a ton of fun to build and think through what this could look like. And ultimately what lead me to move on from JP Morgan was that I felt that it would be a challenge to use this infrastructure in this area of finance.


What did you study at the Naval Academy?

Actually I studied Oceanography. I did like the math that was involved in some of my classes but what I’ve always been drawn toward is studying something that is directly related to what I want to do. And I knew that I would go into Submarines or Surface Warfare and I knew that Oceanography would directly relate to these things. I was lucky in that it also had a broad enough skill set that I had a pretty good technical foundation for picking up some of the computer skills I developed later in my career.


When did you start getting into computer programming?

I am not a professional developer. I'm primarily on the business side. But as I was getting into blockchain, I taught myself a bit of Python. I took the view that I needed to understand enough of it to have a foundation. I wanted to understand it at a technical level. So I would go into quorum pages and try to follow the instructions and learn through that.

The great thing about the internet and software development is that it’s all available to you. Most of it is free and open and out there. So I went down the path of learning a bit of Python through Codeacademy and got to the point where i could put together a rudimentary code.


What resources would you recommend to people wanting to learn coding?

Codeacademy has been my go-to. CodeCombat is also a good one. Just diving into is the way to go. The resources are all there.


I respect that you took the time to learn some coding because I’m sure it allows you to form a better relationship with your team.

Absolutely. When I got into the technical side of this was because there were a lot of conversations happening around me that I really couldn’t participate in. And I felt like these conversations were what was going to drive crypto down the road. But I also knew that I wanted to be more involved in building products and that I would need to have a basic understanding of coding.


How did you originally get involved in blockchain?

I went into finance after graduating with a Master’s degree in Public Policy. My first job was with a small startup research firm that covered corporate governance issues. Our mission was to try to figure out what was causing issues at struggling companies. It was a great firm but with that being said, it didn’t last very long. For anyone interested in getting into startups, I would advise that you need to be ready if the company doesn’t succeed and have a backup plan. My backup plan was a Veteran Integration Program at a national bank which I ended up doing with JP Morgan. I worked in the operations side of the bank. It was a great job and I got to see the inner workings of the capital markets. What really blew me away was to see the MS DOS terminal up on everyone’s screen as you have these high end things on the front end of finance going on. So I got the sense that there were some technical improvements that the industry might be ready for.

One of the great things about JP Morgan’s veterans program is that they are willing to let you access almost anyone at the bank. I found that when I was transitioning I found myself having a lot of conversations with people that are in jobs that I found interesting. And they’re willing to talk to you but sometimes I felt like they weren’t that terribly interested in me. What I found was that you’re not necessarily adding value to them. So as I was exploring blockchain, I had a meeting with a woman who at that time was the head of blockchain. And I walked in there thinking it would be another one of those fairly predictable conversations. But I walk in there and she has purple hair and tattoos and a punk rock t-shirt. She was giving me this look like, “What are you doing in my office?” And I remember nothing about that conversation except that she was incredibly passionate about open source technology and the crypto field. But also it struck me as a unique that she was there at all - that she had a different perspective from so many people at the bank. But just her being there meant that JP Morgan was taking cryptocurrency very seriously. So that’s what tipped me off that there was something to this whole thing.

After that I just started going down the cryptocurrency rabbit hole. I went onto Reddit and followed some of the conversations there as well as a few blogs.


Do you have any resources you would recommend to people to learn more about blockchain?

I like blogs more than I like books because people can evolve their thinking over time more with books than they can with blogs. People have core ideas and then reflect on them in real time and evolve these ideas. Same thing with podcast and Twitter.

One blog  recommend is Stratechery. It’s hands down one of the best resources out there for someone interested in tech. And because it is a blog, you can see the author, Ben Thompson, evolve his ideas over time in reaction to what is going on in the markets.

I also like the Breaking Smart and Ribbonfarm blogs by Venkatesh Rao. I originally became interested his writing after reading a piece that compared The Office as an expose for corporate politics.

On the crypto side, I recommend the podcasts The Tim Ferriss Show episode with Naval Ravakant and Nick Szabo. I also really like the Hash Power series which is an audio documentary that explores the world of cryptocurrency.


What does Messari do and what does your role look like?

To understand what Messari does you first have to believe in cryptocurrency. The next issue that comes up is that there aren’t a lot of good investor resources. There’s a lot of open source information but no place where these things are aggregated. Our view is that for the industry to grow is to make basic information publicly available. The way this works outside of cryptocurrency is that companies need to provide certain disclosures before being able to sell their stock to investors. I think crypto needs something like this. The problem is that a lot of the rules that are currently in place don’t really work for cryptocurrency. What we think is the solution is to create an open source data library to aggregate crypto information. Basically we want to provide tools for potential cryptocurrency investors.

I’m the Director of Operations and Policy. Right now it’s about 90% operations, 10% policy. I do a lot of hiring and getting our systems off the ground. I do payroll management and other administrative tasking. It’s a great job for people from a military background. If you like that management of chaos, this can be a great fit for you.

There’s also a policy aspect to my job as well and I work to communicate with people on the regulatory side. We believe that we can be a resource for them.


What does a typical day look like for you?

I work on a fairly normal schedule. I get into the office between 8-9 and take a half hour to plan the day. The mornings are usually fairly quiet for us so most of us are working on individual projects. It starts to get more social around lunchtime. We’ll have phone calls and meetings throughout the afternoon. I try to get email and administrative tasks done in an hour long chunk in the afternoon. One of the great things about our company is that everyone contributes in various meetings and product ideation discussions. I head home around 6 and live pretty close to the office so that’s nice. In the evenings I’ll catch up on a couple emails and brush up news in the industry.


How would you recommend getting into the cryptocurrency industry?

My public policy Master’s degree is kind of funny for me because I found that the two years I spent at Berkeley getting the degree are actually very applicable to this space. So in terms of the education that I got, it was a great fit. With that being said, it did not remotely help me get into the industry. I studied Public Policy because I was interested in it rather than using it as a way to get into cryptocurrency. I would encourage people who are thinking about a Master’s degree to think not only about the academics of the degree itself but what it will signal to people on the outside and what kind of network it will allow them access to. I don’t think I put enough emphasis on those pieces so it ended up being a tougher transition for me after graduate school.  So if you’re not sure about graduate school, get a job for a couple years first and think about what degree is right for you. That said, I do think it helped me to have a background in public policy now that I’m in cryptocurrency. I actually think that the military also provides a great background for people that want to get into this field. I wouldn't tell anyone not to go straight to graduate school but if you’re not completely certain about it, go get a job in finance or tech or whatever you're interested in. And then in your spare time, explore different opportunities in that field. Once you’re sure about what degree you want, that’s the time to go to graduate school.


It seems like this industry could be a great fit for veterans.

I think veterans have a great advantage in this industry. It’s such a new industry that nobody has more than 10 years of experience. Most people have about 5 years of experience or less. There’s no other industry like that. It’s also very mission oriented work so there’s a lot of overlap there. There are core constitutional values that this technology is enabling. For people that have served and have committed to a mission, this industry can be very attractive. That said, there are people that have been in it for a while. There was a time when you needed a certain degree of expertise to get into it because there just weren't’ that many jobs. But that has shifted within the last 6-9 months. There’s a ton of people working in this space. Everyone is heads down focused on their product and the broader ecosystem. So there are opportunities to get in at a junior level. But you have to be willing to take on some pretty significant risk because there’s not a clear path for anything.


Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?

The one thing I don’t think I emphasized enough was that I got this job through Twitter. I was following someone working in crypto in New York and one thing that I did was turn on Tweet notifications for anyone I was interested in getting hired by. This allowed me to interact with these companies in real time. Twitter is an incredible resource but especially in crypto and blockchain. It’s where the best conversations are happening, the interaction is fantastic. The dynamics of how this social network make it a stronger platform for high quality networking. If you start to engage with people and ideas on Twitter, you’ll be way ahead of the game. Listeners can interact with me on Twitter @hectorrosekrans


Thank you so much for taking the time with us, Hector.