Recruiter Nako Mbelle: ‘Fintech skillsets in demand right now are pretty exotic’

Nako Mbelle fintech recruiting podcast

There’s a talent war brewing in financial technology. On this week’s Tearsheet podcast, Nako Mbelle, who runs the global recruitment company Fintech Recruiters, joins us to discuss how difficult the market has gotten.

“The demand for talent right now is very much outstripping the supply,” said Mbelle. “If you’re interested in pivoting in any way in your career, I highly recommend going to a blockchain meetup or an Ethereum meetup in any city you’re in. Microsoft is heavily involved in the Ethereum community. That would be a great place for people to explore and learn Solidity. Nobody has work experience in it — you just have to get on to Github and contribute to fixing bugs and involved in projects.”


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Below are highlights, edited for clarity, from the episode.

The challenge of fintech recruiting
“Fintech hires aren’t the easiest to make. Both startups and midsize fintech companies find it hard to hire people with technology and finance experience. Blockchain and cryptocurrency companies really want people who understand finance. They don’t want to train people, because they want their developers to deeply understand the tribe that they’re marketing to. Payment companies might be a little more flexible. It really depends on how bleeding edge the company is.”

What skills are firms looking for?
“The skillsets in demand right now are pretty exotic. Blockchain companies are recruiting heavily. Bitcoin is built on C++, so we’re looking to fill a lot of roles in C++. Python is big. Scala is another one. Solidity, which Etheruem uses, is also in demand. JavaScript all of a sudden is in high demand because the industry wants its stuff to look pretty and be easy to use. We’re also seeing a lot of AngularJS and Node.js requests.”

What questions should hiring managers ask of recruiters?
“You should ask if a recruiter understands the industry. It’s hard to do this work if you don’t. There’s a lot of politics in certain parts of the industry. There are multiple camps in the Bitcoin community. If you’re speaking to a developer who is a Bitcoin purist who thinks that blockchain is synonymous with Bitcoin, you’re probably going to piss him off. It’s important to understand the political aspects and the philosophy behind the cryptocurrency community. They’re in it for very personal reasons and it’s much more than just about the money.”

Trends in salary packages and loyalty
“Many developers want to get paid in the cryptocurrency they’re working on, as well as having a regular salary and option packages. I’m always surprised how risky some of these packages are. I’m seeing more consultancies arise, covering a variety of industries that want smart contracts. This opens the field to people from other fields.

There’s a lot of job hopping going on. I get guys who passively contact me, looking for greener pastures in the space. What I’m realizing is that culture is everything. It’s really important to create an environment that makes employees happy to come to work, that they’re contributing to something much larger than themselves. I’ve heard good things about Consensys, about their culture. People in this space want to be challenged and have their minds and capabilities stretched.”


WTF is an initial coin offering?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about initial coin offerings, known as ICOs. Enthusiasts tout ICOs as the future of venture investing in the blockchain world.

“The precedent we’re about to establish will be the future of the entire sector. VC as an asset class has delivered good returns historically, but they’re locked up for five or 10 years and people aren’t happy with that level of illiquidity.” said Brock Pierce, chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation and managing partner of Blockchain Capital.

Despite that, the idea has its skeptics. We break it down.

Wait, so what is it?
It’s basically a source of funding for new blockchain-based business endeavors. When the decentralized network is created, the startup behind it can sell tokens early in the process for an amount based on what it thinks it’s worth at that stage, all in order to raise money for the continued development of that network or application.

ICOs are similar to any other investment and often likened to IPOs in that the investors hope to make good returns on their investments and in that the startups behind the ICOs are trying to raise money to grow their endeavor. It’s becoming more typical for startups to produce some sort of documentation that describes their background and plan for their initiative, according to Angela Walch, associate professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law and research fellow at the Centre for Blockchain Technologies at University College London.

A new investment vehicle? Big deal.
Revolution by democratization of course. ICOs allow entrepreneurs to raise money from retail investors – so any Joe Schmoe that wants that want exposure to the early stage ecosystem can diversify his investment portfolio. (Okay, not just any interested investor, but more on that in a sec.)

Also, the tokens are liquid assets. You can convert them to cash or other cryptocurrencies quickly instead of having your money tied up for a number of years.

“The problem most startups have is a general lack of liquidity and all the market ecosystem participants are negatively impacted by that lack of liquidity,” Pierce said. “If you’re an early founder, the likelihood of being able to sell any of that stock prior to the business becoming very successful or very large is low.”

Sounds kinda sketchy…
There’s been a lot of debate about whether the tokens sold in an ICO legally constitute securities. There are different ways you can structure them to make them look more like a security, or less. The Securities and Exchange Commission hasn’t issued any formal guidance on crypto-tokens as securities. Regulators don’t typically jump in to regulate new business concepts and technologies when they haven’t had significant traction done any “real” harm, said Carol Van Cleef, a partner at law firm Baker & Hostetler LLP.

“In such circumstances it becomes increasingly difficult for policy makers not to pay attention to how current laws may apply and consider what steps, if any, they need to take,” Van Cleef said.

There are many unknowns: are the people buying these tokens considered investors under the securities laws? That would depend on whether the token is determined to be a security. Is there someone that can be identified as the one organizing and executing the ICO?  Who is responsible for the ICO?

“Those organizing ICOs over the years have been increasingly mindful of U.S. laws and the uncertainty as to whether they apply,” she said. “They have taken steps to make sure they don’t run afoul of those statutes in the event ICOs are determined to involve the offering of securities. A primary technique for doing that is offering securities outside the U.S. to non-U.S. residents.”

Is someone actually doing this?
Blockchain Capital is aiming to be the first in the world to do it “the correct way,” in compliance with regulation, Pierce said. That means it’s acknowledging the tokens as securities and investors will hand over all the Know Your Customer information required to show they’re accredited investors – that mostly matters in the U.S.

“Instead of creating these convoluted structures to circumvent securities law, why not just face the regulation head on?” Pierce said.

So it’s incorporating its $10 million ICO in Singapore. The sale begins April 10 and there are 99 seats. U.S. users will have tokens locked up for one year; international users will have their tokens locked up for 40 days.

Who cares and why should I?
Developers, mostly, unless you’re a crypto enthusiast eager to invest.

Historically, open source software projects succeeded in people’s own time because no one paid developers to build – and that model of innovation has been celebrated. Bitcoin changed that thinking when it entered the scene, Walch said, and now ICOs are a way developers can demand compensation for what they do.

“Bitcoin as an open source software project is high stakes in that it is transferring and managing things that have real value,” Walch said. “Bitcoin had the luxury to grow up before a lot of people noticed it. Now blockchain is accepted as a value transfer system and anyone building one now is doing it for that reason. The ICO model isn’t anything revolutionary, it’s people trying to do something in a loosey goosey way for a high stakes endeavor.”

And as the ecosystem grows it gets harder to ignore how much developers of these public blockchains function like fidicuiaries, she added.

“You’re putting a lot of trust in [developers] to make sure it keeps operating, essentially to do things right and not cheat you,” she said. “It’s the same situation with these ICOs: you can’t escape accountability for doing something high stakes with other people’s money. But that’s what’s happening with ICOs and regulators won’t overlook it for very long.”

C’mon. Is this really a thing?
Who knows. Marco Santori, a partner at law firm Cooley LLP., said in the last two months, 60 percent of inbound interest in his lawyering services has been related to token sales.

“It could be a whole new way to raise money,” Santori said. “The last new way of fundraising we saw was Kickstarter; this could be Kickstarter for decentralized networks. It is a significant development in the course of private finance and frankly public finance for that matter.”

This may sound like the earlier days of bitcoin Ponzi schemes and pump-and-dumps (when the “real world” corporations realized bitcoin had a PR problem they moved the conversation away from crptyo-anything to “real world” applications) but blockchains in the broadest sense of the word have come a long way in just three years. So when you take into account how many people are actually building, investing in and using these decentralized networks, it’s probably a bigger number than it seems.

But not all business models are amenable to the token sale approach, he said. For some business models there’s really no way to avoid the securities laws.

“For a lot of business models you really have to go and raise venture capital,” he said. “You can’t just bolt on a token to your business model and try to raise money by selling it and trying to avoid securities laws.”

Blockchain October Hype Meter: Zcash for all!

blockchain hype meter

Every month we publish our Blockchain Hype Meter, a curation of blockchain and cryptocurrency articles in mainstream media. An event that caught our eye was the debut of a new cryptocurrency called Zcash at the end of October.

Typically, this isn’t noteworthy — cryptocurrencies launch all the time. But Zcash had an exciting first day of trading. Zerocoins, the coin Zcash released, had a day low of $32,000 and a high of over $2 million a coin. That’s right, there was a $1.9 million spread between the day’s high and low.

Here’s the chart showing the movement since launch day.


The highs and lows of Zcash can be attributed to two factors: supply and demand. A little over 100 zerocoins were available on day one. 300 more were added on day two, and 80,000 will be available by the end of November. I didn’t pay much attention in my ECON 101 class, but I remember something like more supply leads to lower prices or something like that.

But price stability may not be the biggest issue facing Zcash and users.

Here’s the difference between the Zcash and other cryptocurrencies in the company’s own words:

“Unlike Bitcoin, Zcash transactions can be shielded to hide the sender, recipient, and value of all transactions on the blockchain. Only those with the correct view key can see the contents. Users have complete control and can opt-in to provide others with their view key at their discretion. Zcash transactions do not depend on the cooperation of other parties.”

Zcash uses encryption to hide transfer information, creating untraceable global instant payments. I’m sure people will use this level privacy to make anonymous donations to their local animal shelter instead of laundering money, buying illegal products and services, and funding terrorism.

Government officials were already calling to ban the anonymous cryptocurrency before it was even launched. Stefano Quintarelli, Italian IT expert and member of Parliament, expressed his view in a recent blog-post.

Here’s the translation:

“An anonymous currency exists and is cash. But that ‘does not allow, unlike cryptocurrencies, to be exchanged from one side of the planet in zero time, and in unlimited quantities. For all these features a completely anonymous cryptocurrency has all the credentials to become the tool of choice of crime payments of money laundering and financing terrorism.”

Quintarelli is calling for a ban on Zcash, taking to Twitter the day before the launch:


So why so much talk about Zcash? Well, it just happened, plus it embodies  blockchain hype. People are clamoring to purchase the new currency, while others are trying to outlaw it. It’s unclear where the price will settle or if it’s even possible to ban a cryptocurrency that itself is encrypted. Sounds like lots of hype with little understanding of the future of the currency.

Without further ado, here’s the October Blockchain Hype Meter

It was a much more stable month for blockchain after the myriad of September announcements. Stable doesn’t mean less coverage, though. There were articles and small happenings, but no crazy events like digital wallets on satellites.

Along with the Zcash debut, Wells Fargo and ANZ tested distributed ledger technology. Visa and MasterCard announced blockchain initiatives for b2b transactions. R3 teamed up with blockchain provider Ripple and 12 global banks for blockchain enabled cross border payments. Walmart will be using blockchain to track pork in China ,as well.

And there was the start of (gasp!) an actual incumbent blockchain transaction. Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Wells Fargo, and Brighann Cotton have arranged a shipment of cotton from Houston to the Chinese port Qingdao to be delivered in November. When the 88 bales of cotton valued at $35,000 are scanned at the arrival port, smart contracts will trigger a blockchain-enabled fund transfer.

The Fed also got involved, finally taking a stand on blockchain by announcing an announcement to be released in December. Wait, what?

Notable Hype Articles (Total HYPE: 79)

Notable Not Hype Articles (Total not HYPE: 6)

October HYPE meter score

73 (d3fc0n2: Is there a DAO I can invest in?)

  • Change from September: -54

Tradestreaming to become the first blockchain-enabled P2P media firm covering technology and finance

September 22, 2016

Jerusalem and New York City — Tradestreaming, a leading modern media publication, announced today that it is in discussion to become the first blockchain-enabled P2P media firm covering technology and finance. The daily must-read among influencers obsessed with the disruption of traditional finance by fintech may also introduce its own cryptocurrency, dubbed TradeBlock, which can be used as a content management system for Tradestreaming’s website, to pay Tradestreaming employees and will be accepted at Tradestreaming events and sponsorships.

“We like to practice what we preach,” said founder and editor-in-chief, Zack Miller. “We’re not 100 percent sure exactly what form this will take. We’re considering the Accenture model for blockchain domination, giving us entire control over the ledger behind TradeBlock. I don’t see any downside here. That means we, and by extension, our readers and sponsors, always win. Side door, back door, front door…hopefully, our new chief blockchain officer has it all figured out.” Tradestreaming is currently conducting a search for its newly-created Chief Blockchain Officer position.

Sporting infinitely-forkable technology and Tradestreaming’s patentable wallet-within-a-wallet cryptowallet, MetaWallet, TradeBlock should revolutionize the media industry. No longer will journalists have to fight WordPress or editors struggle with identifying appropriate artwork. TradeBlock makes the content creation, publishing, and dissemination of content seamless.

“We set an ambitious goal for ourselves,” said Miller. “Why stop at fintech content? TradeBlock has broad application to the entire media industry. We think that Tradestreaming will uberize media.”

Though details are sketchy, Tradestreaming may also ink a partnership with Facebook’s to put TradeBlock into space. Using the social network’s satellite system, TradeBlock should be impenetrable to terrestrially domiciled hackers.

At least, that’s the hope, anyway.

The August 2016 Blockchain Hype Meter

We had a revelation at one of the weekly Tradestreaming Beer Thursday events earlier this month. Just like the accidental creation of champagne, four parts german beer combined with equal parts fintech and Cheap Thrills by Sia and Take On Me by Aha! led to the synthesis of the Blockchain Hype Meter.

We’re going to be looking at mainstream business publications and evaluating how hyped blockchain is on a month-to-month basis. People love hearing how much blockchain is changing everything, so we wanted to make a metric that clearly evaluates the media’s view on blockchain.

Here is the scoring system we came up with that fateful Thursday on a paper towel:



If you can’t read it, here’s it typed out:


Blockchain Hype Meter Scoring System
Blockchain Hype Meter Scoring System


Every positive article about blockchain/cryptocurrencies gets 2 points, and every negative article gets -1 points because, you know, people care more about how blockchains are changing everything than how they’re not even close to being ready for mainstream use. We also moved the Mr. Robot level hack from negative to positive, since cryptocurrencies will be the currency of choice in a post 5/9 world.

We add up the scores, then subtract the Not HYPE from HYPE, and put the metric on a 1-100 scale, ranging from d3fc0n5 (what’s a bitcoin?) to d3fc0n1 (pay me in digital gummy bears).

August 2016 Blockchain Hype Meter

We sampled the WSJ, CNBC, FT, Bloomberg, and NYT for stories about blockchain. It was an up and down month for blockchain. Things started off shaky with the Bitfinex hack, but finished strong with reports of a small confederation of banks considering the implementation of a cryptocurrency to help with settlement. The UN also announced the possibility looking for blockchain members in Africa, making that one organization and one bank thinking/considering/maybe-one-day-using cryptocurrencies, which is great for the Hype Meter.

Notable HYPE headlines:

Notable Not HYPE headlines:


  • Banks plan to coin cryptocurrency
  • UN looking for bitcoin volunteers in Africa


1 (Bitfinex)

  • Total HYPE: 71
  • Total Not HYPE: 26

August Hype Meter Score

45: d3fc0n3 (where do I buy bitcoin?)


Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer via VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

WTF is The DAO?


Understanding the Dao isn’t easy, especially without a PhD in computer science. Even the New York Times called the DAO “difficult to describe”. Most articles written about it can give you a headache. But the organization behind the most successful crowdfunding campaign to date ($150 million raised) is worth explaining and understanding, using terminology that doesn’t make your brain explode.

Cool, so what’s the DAO?

Hold up…before you can understand the DAO, you need to understand the building blocks behind it.

Lets start with the basics; first, you need to know what digital assets are. Simply, a digital asset is an asset that has no physical form, but has a physical value. The best examples of digital assets are cryptocurrencies (like Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and Etherium), which can be purchased but don’t have a physical form — they exist only in the digital world.

The next concept is a blockchain. Super technical essays and articles explain blockchain in depth, but keeping it simple for our discussion: A blockchain is a public ledger of a digital asset’s transaction history. Each blockchain is made up of “blocks,” and each block contains a transaction record of the asset, tied together in sequential order. Since the ledger is public, there isn’t a single controller or bookkeeper tracking transactions. Instead, blockchains have miners, people who monitor transactions to look out for fraud, and are paid with the blockchain’s digital currency (i.e. Bitcoin miners get paid with bitcoins).

Last is a DAO, or a decentralized autonomous organization, one of the more confusing concepts to understand. Lets go word by word and simplify it:

  • Decentralized: DAOs don’t have officers or board members that control the organization’s decisions. Like a democracy, users that “buy into” a DAO have control over some decision-making processes of the company. Users only have “some” control because of the next word in the acronym, autonomous.
  • Autonomous: At its core, a DAO is a computer program that makes decisions based on its own rules, known as smart contracts. A simple example of a smart contract is a computer program used by universities that filters through applications, allowing only students with minimum GPA or SAT scores to reach an admissions committee. Although the committee makes final acceptance decisions, they don’t have full control of the process since they don’t see every application. Similarly, a DAO’s programing automates parts of the decision-making process — ranging from tasks as simple as filtering to complex contract negotiations.
  • Organization: A DAO needs to have a purpose, and to have a purpose, you need money. DAOs need some sort of capital, usually a cryptocurrency, to do anything of substance. DAO members exchange cryptocurrencies for shares, or tokens, in the organization. Just like shareholders in public corporations, more shares equal more influence on decisions.

Great, now can you tell me what the DAO is?

Yes…here we go:

The DAO in question is an investment entity, structured as a distributed organization on the Etherium blockchain. Using Etherium’s cryptocurrency, Ether, the DAO identifies companies for its members to invest in, and shareholders vote to either invest or pass on deals. The DAO crowdfunded $150 million from approximately 11,000 people, making it the largest crowdfunded project in history.

Why was the DAO created?

The DAO was created in response to a desire for more transparency in investment houses. The DAO is a fully transparent organization. There can be no mismanagement by officers because there are no officers — either the shareholders or the DAO itself makes all decisions. Furthermore, since the DAO is on the Etherium blockchain, flows of funds are on public records. Creative accounting can’t be used to disguise mismanagement of company funds.

Are there any problems with the DAO?

Yes…and lots of them. Because the DAO is so “open”, the organization is more susceptible to attacks. For the sake of our conversation, we’re going to focus strictly on the business issues, instead of getting bogged down with the legal, tax, and technological issues of the DAO.

The DAO has no leadership. Decisions need to be made by a quorum, slowing operations down to a speed that makes an oil tanker look like a speed boat. The second issue is the DAO’s code itself. It’s difficult for an investor to fully understand any investment — and trying to understand the computer code that comes with an autonomous program is a near impossible feat for a majority of investors.

Both of these issues came to fruition on June 17th, 2016, when an unknown “attacker” exploited the DAO’s computer code, siphoning off over $50 million worth of Ether in 40 seconds. Many commentators don’t view the attack as a hack, but as an individual taking advantage of a weakness in the logic of the DAO’s smart contracts.


Blockchain record of The DAO attack

Here is where the DAO’s issues of clarity and speed are brought to light. Investors didn’t understand that the DAO could have been taken advantage of so easily, since no intelligent investor would put money into a fund that isn’t secure from theft. Regarding speed, although the hack took under a minute, a “kill switch” could have been executed by a miner who saw something shady happening. However, since all decisions need to be made by the collective, the miner could only sit and watch as money bled out of the DAO. The lack of leadership is even more apparent with the DAO’s response to the attack: it’s nearly a week after the attack, and no decision from shareholders on what to do next has been made.

What does the DAO mean for the future?

We’re at the infant stage, dipping our toes into the pool of DAOs. The issues the company ran into are similar to a business set up without full knowledge of its market size and risks. There are going to be growing pains with DAOs, and the decision what to do with this DAO won’t stop another DAO starting soon. It will be interesting to see what the next iteration of the DAO looks like, and how coders respond to the issues of the DAO.

Regardless, the establishment of the first DAO fund gives the market a measuring stick for future investments, and shows investors how careful they need to be with the fine print.

A week after selling to Nasdaq, SecondMarket founder raises money for blockchain venture

bitcoin and blockchain investor, Barry Silbert, launches DCG

Barry Silbert is a man on a mission. As the founder of SecondMarket, the ink has barely dried on Nasdaq’s acquisition of the fintech platform specializing in tender offers (private transactions in private companies) and now the entrepreneur is on to his next big thing.

[x_pullquote type=”right”]As it gets more liquid, as a [payment] rail it will become a real alternative to the existing money transfer systems in the world today. — Barry Silbert, Digital Currency Group[/x_pullquote]Silbert took the opportunity of speaking from the stage at Money 20/20 to announce the launch of his new firm, Digital Currency Group (see its Crunchbase entry). DCG, a digital currency and block chain company, is being joined by an A-list of strategic investors. Bain Capital Ventures, Transamerica Ventures, FirstMark Capital, MasterCard, and New York Life will use DCG to gain exposure to the rapidly growing cryptocurrency space.

In addition to these investments, the company will also operate wholly-owned subsidiaries Genesis Global Trading, a bitcoin OTC trading firm, and Greyscale Investments, the firm that manages the publicly traded Bitcoin Trust (Symbol: GBTC). Silbert also said that DCG will launch a third wholly-owned subsidiary in 2016 (Source).

Fortune’s Dan Primack had more color on Silbert’s strategy driving DCG:

It also will house a portfolio of 57 seed-stage investments that Silbert and his team have already made, including Chain, Circle, Coinbase, Ripple and Xapo. They also have backed several companies looking to exploit bitcoin’s blockchain technology for uses outside of finance, including Ascribe (managing digital IP) and ShoCard (digital identification).

Silbert has been very active as an investor in the bitcoin space. He said that given the extent of his portfolio, he estimates that his portfolio has attracted 70% of all venture capital that’s been poured into the digital currency and bitcoing space.

Creating a digital currency ecosystem

Silbert plans to utilize DCG as a holding company of sorts to make further investments in the space. He told CoinDesk that DCG will invest in a further 10 to 20 companies in 2016.

Indeed, Silbert sees DCG’s role as more than just a seeder of new business in the fledgling market. With such a sizeable and influential portfolio, DCG can act as somewhat of an ecosystem for companies playing in the blockchain space.

Per CoinDesk:

In turn, his company is hoping to use its “unique position” in the industry to foster collaboration between entrepreneurs, investors and – crucially – legacy institutions, who are seeking answers about blockchain technology’s disruptive potential.

That’s just one side of the market. Large financial institutions, some of them making their first moves into the digital currency space, need the safety and guidance of a firm that’s helping to lead the charge. That’s where DCG comes in. With 5 showcase institutional investors, DCG may act as a curated accelerator of firms looking to do business with the incumbent financial industry. In this way, DCG can act as matchmaker, pairing up supply and demand between startup fintech firms and larger, multinational institutions looking to partner.

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