So you want to get into cryptocurrency…
I’m often asked for advice by people looking to break into cryptocurrency. Hopefully, the following is helpful – I cover a very broad variety of backgrounds and goals (accountants, lawyers, traders, developers, etc).
First – we’re at the “sweet” spot for job hunting in cryptocurrency right now. A year ago, there were hardly any options. There simply weren’t many cryptocurrency companies or investment firms on the planet and those that existed were small and mostly hiring via personal relationships. Today, there’s a wonderful set of options that span the spectrum of risk and upside potential.
Before diving into specific career paths, let me ask you three important questions to start noodling on:
What is your risk tolerance and ambition? Would you prefer a relatively ‘safe’ option with a solid base salary and some semblance of job security? Or do you want a shot at earning millions of dollars in the next couple years and are you willing to take the risk associated with a nascent start-up company?
What are your existing skills? This can range from cryptography and engineering to sales, accounting, business development, etc. Aside from the professional skills, what soft skills do you bring to the table? Okay, you’re an accountant, but do you have an entrepreneurial attitude that would make you an asset to a start-up in a more general sense? Or do you have polish and a stellar traditional resume that will help bring credibility to a young firm?
Do you want to invest in building your long-term human capital or are you looking to immediately leverage your existing skills in the most lucrative way possible?
One high level concept that applies to all that follows: you can always transition to another job category in the future, and it’s typically easier to go from big to small, from established to start-up, than the other way around. Working at a larger, more established firm grants you relationships, a high level understanding of the industry, and a brand name employer on your resume for whatever you do next. The price of this is typically the opportunity cost – your economic upside at these firms is limited, so every year that you stay you may be forgoing potential greater economics. In the lists below, option 1 is the least risky and, likely least economically rewarding, and as you go down the list you’re in an increasingly entrepreneurial environment with more risk and potentially more reward. The benefit of starting with category 1 or 2 is that it provides better insight into the industry as a whole which may help you select the right start-up - if you decide to take a more entrepreneurial plunge later on.
Accountants and Lawyers
If you are a skilled accountant or lawyer looking to break into cryptocurrency, you have four basic options:
Join a traditional law or accounting firm with a growing crypto practice. Examples on the legal side include Shearman and Sterling, Goodwin Procter, and Cole Frieman. On the accounting side, you have Cohen & Company, and a great many accounting and auditing firms getting in the game including Deloitte. This path offers a traditional structure, greater job security, but similar economic upside to your current career path most likely.
Join a crypto business. Most businesses of all types need both lawyers and accountants. Some options are service businesses like Bitpay, asset management firms like Digital Currency Group, and custodians like DACC.
Start your own advisory business. Demand for legal and accounting expertise is rising faster than supply of skilled professionals can match. This is a high risk option and may require some creative ways to produce upside economics to compensate for the risk.
Traders and Investors
If you’re an experienced trader with high quality professional experience, you have the options below. If you lack professional trading or investing experience, you’ll likely need to take whatever you can find to build credibility.
At the moment, only one large US bank has a crypto desk to my knowledge, Goldman Sachs, and while others are likely to follow suit, those will probably be extremely tough jobs to land. Many larger traditional hedge funds are getting into the crypto game though. These funds will likely look to hire successful experienced traders from other fields like FX, commodity, or options trading.
Crypto trading and investment firms. On the trading side, OTC desks are probably the best option currently, including Genesis, Circle, DRW, and GSR. Many exchanges also run their own trading and OTC desks, like Kraken. It will be tougher to land a job investing b since investment firms typically employ far fewer people for the same AUM (assets under management). For trading, desks are looking for traditional trading expertise. For investing, the most popular background currently is venture capital experience, especially with a technology focus, although other investing backgrounds may be suitable.
This is the category in which I have the least insight, so take it for what it’s worth.
Many traditional firms are now getting involved with cryptocurrency and need all sorts of development expertise ranging from blockchain engineering to integrate cryptocurrencies into their products and services, to UI development, to trading software development that deals with problems unique to crypto (like connecting to all the funky APIs of various crypto exchanges). Some examples of traditional firms that need crypto related development are Square, Circle, and Fidelity.
Crypto businesses like Coinbase need every type of development ranging from explicit blockchain engineering to UIs. Some other examples of crypto businesses include Xapo and Ledger.
If you want to work directly on cryptocurrency you can join a company like Lightyear (the entity behind Stellar development) or Block.one (the company behind EOS). You could also join Lightning Labs to work on the lightning network for Bitcoin. Or you could join a new cryptocurrency project that does not yet have a working network.
So, how do you research the landscape and land a job?
This is a very small industry, so hiring is still mostly based on referrals. Focus on building as many relationships as you can with people in the industry – go to conferences and local meetups.
This is important: you have to make it easy for people to help you. You do that by explicitly telling them what you want to do. Even if you’re not sure, it’s better to say something specific which helps people offer you specific introductions or advice; you can always change your mind later. It can be tough to get a hold of the people at the top of organizations or projects, so reach out to the mid and entry level people as well. Ask to do 15 minute information calls with those people and then at the end of the call express your extreme gratitude for them spending the time with you and ask for an introduction to their boss or to someone else who might help you continue on your journey.
Want to get into crypto law? Reach out to every crypto lawyer you can find. Same applies to any other focus.
Start gaining crypto expertise immediately. The amazing thing about cryptocurrency is that it’s so nascent that getting to the ‘cutting edge’ can be done in less than a year for the non-technical areas like accounting. Even for developers, companies have told me that they can take a talented non-crypto engineer and turn them into a blockchain engineer with an additional 3 months of training. Start diving in immediately. You don’t need to become an expert, but this is critical signaling of your passion and work ethic. If someone tells me they desperately want to become a crypto investor but they haven’t read the Ethereum whitepaper, it’s hard to take them seriously.
This isn’t for everyone, but writing some ‘thought leadership’ content can be very helpful to get noticed and prove your passion and value. The bar for this is very low since most concepts in cryptocurrency are so nascent. After even just a few months of intense study and thought, you may be at a point where you can write an interesting essay on a recent IRS statement about crypto taxes for example.
I can’t emphasize the role of relationships enough. Consider crypto law: many of the problems being tackled by crypto focused lawyers are brand new. Rather than working on it on your own, it’s immensely valuable to be able to trade insights with the very small number of other crypto lawyers puzzling through the labyrinth. Industry relationships will help you understand the landscape to identify job opportunities and evaluate pros/cons, they will help you get a referral that could land you the job, and they will help you excel in your role.
I regret that I can’t provide further advice one-on-one due to time constraints, but hopefully this helps you land your dream job and contribute to the fast growing crypto industry.