I was speaking today with Erica Stanford, a very unassuming woman who lives in central London. Her meteoric rise from general obscurity to now being a frontrunner in the competitive blockchain and emerging tech space has been reasonably well charted online but today we wanted to speak to her about what matters to her behind the articles.
I noticed with a bit of research that Erica had a cat. It’s always nice to start with an animal conversation especially with the “Brits” having a reputation of being animal lovers. Erica immediately smiled and she displayed surprise that I knew about her cat as she answered over the phone.
“Teddy was a lovely rescue cat that brought home about 3 and a half years ago now. A gorgeous Burmese, he was scared of everything and in awful condition when I first got him home but he is mostly transformed today. As I am based in central London, I don’t have a garden, however, he is happy enough at the moment as an indoor cat. He’s super popular with my friends now, who buy him presents and one friend even goes specially to the chippy to buy him his own fish!”
The business of Crypto and Blockchain would very much be a city-based exploit but taking into account Erica’s mention that she doesn’t have a garden I asked if this was for the long game? “For now, it’s ideal for me. It’s home, and practical for me to be here for my business, friends, and family but who knows what the future will bring. I currently have no immediate plans to change anything as I have some very exciting projects running at the moment to consider moving!”
Feeling intrigued I enquired what “projects” Erica was alluding to and I asked and got an unexpected answer.
“I have been asked to co-host a women’s Hackathon in Moorgate in the WeWork Office space. It will be over 2 days on the 11th and 12th of May and that’s going really well at the moment. We are finding sponsors for the event and have gained a good bit of interest in people wanting to attend it too. We want to attract students from other fields, not just code.
I am also writing a chapter for a friends book. Rohit Talwar is getting several people to contribute sections and mine will be how I see Blockchain evolving over the next 5-8 years.”
Most importantly, I’m working on a donation tracking blockchain platform- linked initially to large scale corporate projects and CSR donations to prove origination of funds, which will offer tracked mainstream donations as a stage two. I’m also working on a micropayments blockchain platform with rules for payments. We’re getting a lot of really good traction from some serious players for these and the platforms could be big. What blockchain can offer in terms of traceability and accountability is unparalleled and- especially with donations and corporate giving- you’re looking at an area where it is largely accepted that the majority of spend will end up lost or given to corruption.
I notice that Erica quite likes to write topically on LinkedIn about her field and was impressed with the article she wrote about Blockchain and charities. It went into a great depth of detail at how accountable it was in assisting charities and end ensuring that the funds would reach the right pot. I pondered was she asked about it for a specific reason, maybe for an event or is it something that needs to be put in place?
“It was shortly after being asked to review a Blockchain project for charities that I decided to conduct some research. I found that your everyday charity was losing roughly 75% of its donations to mismanagement and it was worse still for emergency relief type charities. They are in some cases not realising up to 95% of gifted donations! Some of it is also due to misappropriation of funds and the rest is down to corruption. What makes it worse though is that donations are already down because of the all the scams that have been in the news and now the trust has disappeared for these charities. On top of that was the horrible pressure being put on people to donate with overzealous volunteers grabbing you at shopping doorways, it makes the experience of donating less appealing.
“This is why I feel the transparency of using Blockchain to manage your donations and even have the ability to see where the money is being tracked too is essential.”
My mind was spinning with the potential for this type of capability. It could bring trust back to charity globally that has been lost to so many scams over the years. Their reputation is hard to gain and easily lost, so this could transform how they are perceived in the future. It was very disappointing to hear from Erica that unfortunately, it isn’t available at the moment. It would require a huge investment in capital to create this and until some large investor can be found it is a while away off. I believe it will be a game changer for charity fundraising.
She wears her heart on her sleeve and became pretty apparent from our conversation that she is a strong advocate for Environmental, Animal and Sustainability causes. They get so little press and she tries to impress the importance of them by promoting them to her community.
“Not that long ago I reduced my footprint to a minimum. So much is wasted on clothing and “things”. I reduced everything I have and got rid of 90% of my things. And I’m so much happier. I drove a whole car-full of stuff to a charity shop- it felt great! It’s just about being mindful.”
I had heard of her Crypto Curry Club but playing devil's advocate I playfully asked why not Mexican? She laughed and opened up that it was because people (namely herself first) tend to find it easier to break into conversation over dinner than over a networking event.
“Well, Crypto Curry sounds better! When I first started in the Crypto space I was visiting a lot of networking groups on my own and attending lots of talks. I quickly discovered they were just no fun, to be honest. I felt I was spoken at rather than involved and I spent more time checking my phone rather than learning.
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I found our ongoing telephone chat warm and easy and was surprised when Erica said she felt she was more an introvert. She found going up to a complete stranger at these events awkward and it just wasn’t her sort of thing at all. Which is why these more intimate settings would be much better suited to people like her and over time to a wider bunch of people.
“One evening, walking back from Shoreditch, I was on the phone to a friend in tech and threw a bit of a hissy fit at how bad yet another blockchain evening had been – it was just boring full of people selling stuff and talking at you. The name crypto curry came to me and I thought it would be fun. I told him the idea, he was good enough to humour me and said if I booked a restaurant, he would come. The next day, I found and booked out a restaurant, and soon had over 25 other people booked to come along. It was a small, but a brilliant success. Since then it has just got bigger and better. In fact, over the last few months, they have reached a stage where they sell out in a matter of hours. I am getting people travelling from all over the UK. Even better, I am being asked to start other Crypto Curry Clubs all over the UK and even had one suggestion of one starting in Singapore. I’m not quite ready to start this yet but I do see long term that being a possibility.”
Seeing as these Curry Clubs have picked up so quickly (they only began in October 2018) and have already become an excellent way to learn and build up a network I was curious where she found her speakers from to make these events so successful. She has found her network has been built over time through her LinkedIn and with recommendations from others, speakers have been relatively easy to come by. Speakers are kept to a minimum anyhow, it’s more about getting to know people.
One other enterprise that Erica has worked on is with business partner Jon on Cryptocurrency Simplified. It is a free educational resource set it up a couple of years ago with John after getting lots of questions about crypto from friends and family.
“Myself and Jon had been fortunate enough to get involved with cryptocurrency quite early on so we had quite a good handle on it. Over time friends were then suggesting others speak to us to about crypto too. We decided to set up this free access website to help educate people and now looking back, we thought foolishly it would free up our time! We ended up having to pay for quality and up to date content being put in there. However, it’s a valuable and free resource for those that want to learn more about cryptocurrency.”
From complete beginner to where she is now I knew Erica must have come across a wide variety of people that she has admired and met. With Erica now being the one people wish to aspire too, who does she look up to herself?
“Rather controversially I would say Roger Ver. I know he can be a bit controversial but I love his passion and energy and how much he’s done for the space. As an early Bitcoin investor and seeing him trying to encourage people away from banks, he is an excellent spokesperson for the effectiveness of cryptocurrency. I have always been a massive fan of what he does and how he does it.
Over the years I have come to meet a lot of amazing people in this field and have developed long-lasting close relationships that come to mean a lot to me.”
Between “Crypto Curry Clubs” Erica keeps herself very busy working on her blockchain projects as well as doing some consulting with emerging tech companies and finds that most of her connections would be in the disruptive tech field.
I knew before we started talking of an event that she has created that comes up at the end of January 2019. This time solely targeted at women. Crypto as a field is still hugely dominated by men and that is one of the reasons why Erica stands out so clearly.
“One thing that had been brought to my attention by someone was how few women attend my curry club. He was right. I had roughly a 10% attendance of women to these events. It is still very much a “mans” world in this sector, so I decided to make a concerted effort and try and encourage a lot more women to attend.
You do always get guys looking surprised when you say something intelligent, or just taking your number regarding a business meeting only to hit on you. It’s standard.
So to overcome this and raise the amount of female attendees, I, first of all, started looking at my own LinkedIn connections to see who I could nudge to come along. I counted and found 95% of my connections were men. So this time I am gearing up the event to be solely for women. This will be the first event and we shall see how it goes on from here.
I have 15 women confirmed at this time for my event in Soho at the end of the month but I expect that to grow over the coming couple of weeks.
With a fairly balanced idea of where Erica is now and going forward, I asked Erica what she thought she wanted to do as a child and got a very unexpected answer. It doesn’t matter who you are, we are usually influenced by those closest to us no matter what your dream may be.
“I really wanted to be a chocolate maker! My parents brought me up quite traditionally and academically so any realistic thought of doing something like that was completely out of reach, but I would have loved it. I ended up at Edinburgh University doing a Masters in Economics instead.”
Well, I wasn’t expecting that…