We all have those pivotal moments in our lives, when one big choice has the potential to send us in two vastly different directions. The most pivotal for me was when, lying on a hospital bed waiting for surgery, I decided to move to another province and accept a position in Canada’s burgeoning legal cannabis industry.
The follow-on effects were huge; A report I co-authored to address misinformation about the THC content of cannabis leaves was presented to the Canadian Senate. I pioneered an entirely new class of cannabis research licence that took months off of cannabis product GTM. And perhaps most importantly, I finally felt comfortable enough to come out as a transgender woman.
Being through the rollercoaster of both the cannabis and crypto has been extremely challenging, but there’s really nothing like making two whole sets of once-in-a-lifetime memories. Since 2018, it seems like I’ve been living one fairytale experience after another, and that extends to both my professional and personal lives.
Part of those fairytale experiences is something that emerging industries should be given kudos for, and that’s hiring through nontraditional methods. My last 3 positions were obtained through Twitter, and each one was truly a blessing that catalyzed rich professional and personal development.
You might consider Twitter as a conduit for granting wishes (of a sort). In 2018, I DM’d my friend Dan Sutton (CEO of a licensed cannabis producer) on Twitter and told him he should hire me. A short 4 months later I was living in Vancouver.
In 2022, I posted a ‘here’s why I’m awesome and you should hire me’ Twitter thread and a month later I was officially a web3 degen. In both cases, I was in awe for the first few months of how different everything felt. Different, but so supremely comfortable. I have a certain set of Demonia boots that fit me better than any shoes ever have, and so too I felt that perfect fit in startup life.
How different was different? Very. I viewed the incredible ambiguity as an equally incredible opportunity. I felt less like a cog in a machine, and more like an artist. Many wouldn’t consider process diagrams and high-level architecture documents as art, but I do. There’s no one right way to solve something and the business artist adds their own knowledge and experience to the eventual masterpiece.
Everyone who is startup-pilled has their own motivations, but I think mine center around building new institutions and structures that run parallel to long established ones. This is something the American Dynamism movement talks about at length, with advocates like Balaji insisting we should build the new rather than modify the old.
It’s a phenomenon that isn’t as new as a lot of people think it is. Web1 built something new in parallel to the existing telecommunications ecosystem, just like Web3 is currently doing in parallel to the existing systems of the Internet.
Entire essays can be written about this point, but the legal system is replete with concise examples. The law continues to struggle in keeping pace with these parallel systems. When Kevin Mitnick copied files to USC’s servers back in the Web1 era, the law treated his act as though he had ‘stolen’ the original files.
The laws of the day followed the physical interpretation of possessing something, in that if Kevin had taken something, he surely must have deprived someone else of its possession. The concept of digital files was so new, so parallel, that the law (and overzealous prosecutors) couldn’t properly work it into their existing systems.
Web3 is building parallel financial and governance systems, which will run into the same issue of how legacy systems treat parallel newcomers. Web3 is also playing this game on Very Hard difficulty in its involvement in the financial system, which subjects it to far more scrutiny and regulation than the rest of tech. I’m intimately familiar with this uncertainty, and with the kinds of opportunity that exist within it.
A Field of Ambiguity : Legal Cannabis
I joined the legal cannabis industry shortly before recreational legalization, but was immersed in activism and the culture for many years prior. Legalization was a monumental achievement for Canada, but its implementation was perilous. Attempting to write legislation and regulations that would satisfy both drug policy reformists and those who were ‘not there yet’ was hard, operating a business in so highly politicized an environment sometimes seemed impossible.
I was overjoyed when I was eventually promoted to VP of Regulatory Affairs and Government Relations. To say I was thrown into the fire is an epic understatement, owing to what I soon learned to do on a daily basis:
-Navigate kafkaesque regulations
-Learn new ways to work collaboratively with a government that was very much building the airplane as they were flying it
-Monitor political discourse, local news, and any other portents which might have signalled a shift in policy
Obtaining one of Canada’s first sensory testing research licenses is one of my proudest career accomplishments, and is the perfect example of the kind of opportunity that exists even in heavily regulated spaces. I saw one individual line in the Cannabis Regulations that indicated it was permissible for people to sample pre-release cannabis products outside of a clinical research study.
The regulatory environment for cannabis had its share of bleak moments: The legalized medical regime that preceded recreational legalization was designed to fail by a very conservative government. Plants were treated like plutonium, and this legacy program was only slightly modified when something parallel should have been built.
The SEC’s war on crypto is bad, yes, but not as bad as the above for a few reasons. One; we are unironically still so early. Uncertainty runs high, but we are not yet at some point of no return of entrenched regulations that will never be undone. Crypto is also not as politicized as cannabis was. It has a massive PR problem now, yes, but one that is solvable.
At one point, cannabis also had a massive PR problem. Decades of tireless, hard work by advocates changed public perception to an incredible degree. Pro-prohibition organizations changed their language to use the word decriminalization. While it’s questionable as to whether it’s used accurately, that kind of shift is monumental. I firmly believe an equally monumental shift will eventually happen with crypto.
The Vibes Will Survive
Vibes capitalism may be an endangered species in the bear market, but as with startups in general, the strong vibes survive. Boys Club (full disclosure: I am a current contributor / member) is one of the most fulfilling communities I’ve ever been a part of, and one that has managed to navigate and shift through market conditions, even as the WAGMI corners of Twitter fell silent.
Whether it’s just commiserating with other people in web3, working with them, or that special combination of the two that happens at conferences: I feel that same feeling of different, one that I thought I would never feel again after leaving the cannabis industry. Uncertainty and stress can run really high, but I think a lot of us have a common social contract that it’s worth it for the possibility of more.
Some of you might be giving me the dirtiest of looks right now, in reading this kind of affinity as tacit approval of a road to burnout. Understandable, but let me assure you that work life balance is another reason why I love this sector. Web3 has moved the needle on the future of work even as mainstream tech is trying to move it back, and the remote-first nature of a lot of crypto / Web3 has created a place for those who thrive in that kind of environment.
There are other personal reasons I’m still here. I’ve never felt as supported as I have in web3, especially from other women in the space. When I had challenging times both at SXSW and FWBFest this year, women (many from Boys Club) held incredible communal space for me.
In particular, I have to give an incredible amount of thanks and love to Deana and Taylor(Ted) from Boys Club, they are truly amazing human beings in addition to being fantastic leaders in this space.
Web3 And Contortion
I’ve spoken in the past about many of the effects of HRT, including my professional interests changing. I think I’ve always been more attracted to areas like business strategy and operations, owing to my time with TELUS and working across many facets of Optik TV.
Primarily in an engineering and architecture capacity, yes, but my first thoughts always seemed to be Why? and How will it benefit the organization? rather than simply How do we build it? These are different questions than many ask, and it led me to think about the first impressions I made on some of my mentors.
Smart is always one of the first ones, and being put more succinctly recently: Seeing the things other people don’t. I always thought that was only in relation to engineering, but seeing the possibility in that one line of a cannabis regulatory document is something that has convinced me otherwise.
To me, being early to Web3 is less about taking advantage of opportunities before things get crowded and more about using this time and opportunity to make my own. I don’t fit into a lot of molds easily, and still struggle to succinctly define myself when meeting someone given all of these are true:
-An experienced engineer
-A content creator
-A writer and independent journalist
-Community leader and social entrepreneur
Then there’s what others have said:
-A solver of tough riddles
-A main character
-An iconic presence
-Having unique thoughts and insights
I have had precious few opportunities to go to crypto events and dialogue with speakers, but whenever I have someone has come up to me afterwards and said some combination of the above before we engaged in further conversation.
The biggest reason I’m still here is that Web3 feels like a place that will fit itself around me, rather than requiring me to contort myself into boxes that at least some of me will never fit in.
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