BTU #186 - Army Veteran to Blockchain and Ethereum at ConsenSys (Donnie Benjamin)

This is my third job after business school and is the first one that really motivates me. I had to try things out, had to be ok moving away from things that were just all right. I want people to know that it was a struggle for me to find something that I loved doing. After some trial and error though, I fortunately found this position.
— Donnie Benjamin

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Donnie works at ConsenSys in the Office of the Founder. ConsenSys is a blockchain venture production studio. Our global team is building an ecosystem of consumer-centric products and enterprise solutions using blockchain technologies, primarily based on Ethereum. Donnie started out at West Point, served as an Army Intelligence Officer for 5 years, attended Harvard Business School, and has worked at Google, Qualtrics, and Future Finance.

Why Listen: 

Donnie works at the largest, pure blockchain company in the world. Not only is this an exceptional overview of the blockchain and cyrpto currency space, but Donnie covers a lot of ground related to pay post-military, work-life-harmony, the importance of sales, explaining your role to a civilian hiring manager and more.

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Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from Brooklyn, NY is Donnie Benjamin. Donnie works at ConsenSys, a blockchain venture production studio. ConsenSys was founded in 2014 and has almost 1,000 employees. Donnie graduated from West Point and served as an Army Intelligence Officer for five years before going to Harvard Business School.


How would you describe what ConsenSys does?

This is probably the largest purely blockchain company in the world. Our founder, Joe, helped build out the ecosystem for ethereum. Ethereum is trying to be a world computer. So it’s a digital ledger that transacts Bitcoin.

ConsenSys has four main prongs. One is creating the developer and product theories. We have a consulting arm. We also have an academy arm that trains developers and business leaders. Finally, we have a capital arm that focuses on our $50 million venture firm.


It sounds like ConsenSys wants to be the go-to resources for everything having to do with ethereum. Is that accurate?

Yes that’s exactly right. Something else that makes us unique is that we have people all over the world. We’re a completely flat organization with no managers. I absolutely thrive in this de-centralized environment.


Do you feel like you are on the cusp of this industry changing the way business is done?

Absolutely. We actually think that there will be a fundamental shift not only in how the internet functions but in how businesses and people will interact with each other. And some of it is common sense. I’ve been in work experiences before when I was ranked against my other team members each quarter. It’s difficult to be fully invested in your team when you know that at the end of the quarter or the year, one of you is going to get ranked higher and get a larger bonus. When you get rid of that, it’s a complete game changer. Our people work remotely when they want and they work at the time of day that they want.  I’m convinced this way of working is much more effective. I think that this, in combination with the power of ethereum, will have ripple effects across many industries.


What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

Because Joe wants ConsenSys to be so flat, he knows that if he calls himself the CEO, that would imply that he has authority over people and he doesn’t want to do that. You can imagine with the growth of ethereum and ConseSys, building a circle of people to help you manage that can be a force multiplier. There’s a few of us in this circle that help Joe manage his time and travel and what he needs to do. It’s one of the best jobs someone could get coming out of the military. My first six weeks, all I did was follow Joe around from meeting to meeting. I learned more in that six weeks than I did during my entire MBA. The exposure that I’ve gotten is just incredible.

My day usually starts around 9 or 9:30 and is dependent on Joe’s schedule. If he has an early meeting, one of us will be there with him taking notes. I do a lot of first looks at candidates that Joe thinks might be a good fit. I also talk to people interested in working with us from a business development perspective. There’s so much nonsense in this space right now unfortunately. Luckily, we’re very moral and ethical so we try to help people not fall into those traps. If Joe has an event or speaking engagement in the afternoon, we’ll go with him to that.

I’ve never felt burned out because I am truly passionate about this and love the people I work with. I’ve probably worked some 100 hour weeks here and there but it’s not always going into the office. I often don’t feel like I’m working but that I’m engaged in a mission. So I do feel like I have work-life harmony right now because I’m so passionate about this space.


I love that you make it a priority to take a long range view of the company and decide where to best focus your energy.

Exactly. And I do want to point out that this is my third job after business school and is the first one that really motivates me. I had to try things out, had to be ok moving away from things that were just all right. I want people to know that it was a struggle for me to find something that I loved doing. After some trial and error though, I fortunately found this position. This position was a little bit risky but for me it was worth it to have this amount of passion for what I do.


I really appreciate your candor on that, Donnie. I completely agree that finding the right fit can be a matter of trial and error and I believe it’s important to give yourself permission to try out different job functions and industries.

In the military, everyone knows exactly how much everyone else makes based on rank. And during your time at the Academy, nobody is getting recruited by corporate America so there’s really no discussion of pay. But when I got out and went to business school, there was a lot of dropping numbers and discussions of salaries. I wasn’t really prepared for that shift of mindset. And slowly over time, I began to equate a particular amount of money with being happy when in reality I was making much less as an officer in the military but was just as happy. So one of the traps you can fall into is that you begin to believe that money is the driver of happiness. But in taking this role, I took a 30% pay cut. However, I also feel like I’m 300% happier.


How did you end up at ConsenSys?

I felt that I was really lacking sales experience. Once you get into sales a little bit you realize how enormous of an economic driver it is, especially in the United States. But I really didn’t learn about it at all in the Army or in business school. In the Army, I was an XO and wanted that role translated into a civilian position - kind of being a right hand man to someone. So really wanted to pursue that in the startup world and got that opportunity with a company in Ireland. When you're in a fintech startup, you realize that there’s no way to disrupt legacy banks. The fundamentals of the banking world are not going to change and it was a little disheartening to see that. I heard about bitcoin in the news over the years. I later discovered ethereum and felt that it could really be a game changer in that it could rewrite the way society operates in a good way.

I’ve always been troubled by the fact that people can profit off of war without anyone they know ever being in the military. They really don’t have any skin in the game. In a way, blockchain removes the need for intermediaries and changes the paradigm.


What was the process like applying for your job at ConsenSys?

I cold applied. Every other job I’ve had has been through a connection. I actually thought I might not be technically competent enough to work in this space. I ended up in the right time at the right place. I was willing to take a risk on something that wasn’t as big as it now. When I was able to show a true passion for the technology and industry, it helped me get my foot in the door.


How important do you believe having an MBA is for someone wanting to get into this industry?

I was in a Chief of Staff role prior to my current role. So I do think that helped. As far as the MBA, the reason that I spent all that money to go to business school was that I had a general lack of knowledge about the business industry. I wanted to learn about everything that was going on. However I do think we’re moving into a world in which if you are able to teach yourself to be good at something, that might help you get a job. I believe if you’re good at something and you have a passion for it, you will find a way to make it work. I had a friend that got out of the Army and got a job at Facebook and was debating getting an MBA. He didn’t and is still doing amazing in his career.


Do you have any resources you would recommend?

There’s an ethereum wiki that will link you to a lot of great stuff. There’s information for both business people and developers. Stay away from social media because there’s a lot of bad information out there.

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

Most of the world doesn’t understand the value veterans can add. When you get out and you’re working with hiring managers and recruiters, you need to understand that. It’s not as much of an issue if you go to a huge corporation with a robust veterans program. I told one venture capitalist that I didn’t want a “veteran’s job”. I wanted the same opportunities that anyone else with my degrees and experience would have. So I would advise not to overestimate people’s understanding of what you did or the value you bring. Especially in smaller organizations, you are probably going to have to educate people.


That’s great advice and I completely agree. Thanks so much for your time, Donnie.