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Meltem Demirors on Bitcoin, NFTs, and angel investing

We have a big guest this week: Meltem Demirors, Chief Strategy Officer @ CoinShares

Meltem likes bitcoin, sci-fi, and talking with her hands. She’s an executive at CoinShares, a digital asset investment firm with $4B in assets under management, and has invested in over 250 companies in the cryptocurrency space in the last six years. Prior to CoinShares, she helped build Digital Currency Group into the world’s largest digital asset investment firm. Before being bitten by the bitcoin bug, Meltem worked in the oil and gas industry in corporate treasury, trading, and M&A. We were honored to sit down and talk about all things cap table related, including:

Meltem Demirors

TCT: What does the future of finance look like in your eyes?

It took the world 15 years to go from less than 1 million PC users to 150 million, but the spread of the internet has been much faster, and much more disruptive. Technology adoption doesn’t happen in a linear fashion, and bitcoin is no exception. Today, 4.3B people or 57% of the world has access to the internet and 42% have access to a smartphone, and while many are participating in online communities, many users are still cut off from the global economy and financial access outside of the local areas where they reside. 

In the words of Mary Meeker, “history has taught us that changes in the distribution of goods and services create substantial business opportunities for deft companies.

The internet helped local businesses become global players, unlocking a truly global market for ideas, goods, and services. However, money, finance, and commerce have stayed localized due to the complexity of regulations and the monopoly on money and payments systems. For the first time, bitcoin and digital currencies challenge this paradigm and create an open, global market for money and finance. The potential of this shift cannot be understated.

The legacy banking system and the plumbing of our global financial system is fundamentally broken. What has been touted as “FinTech” innovation is largely putting “lipstick on a pig” by applying a nice UI or streamlined workflow to an archaic piece of infrastructure. 

In my view, the future of finance looks much like the evolution of the internet. Physical borders and national jurisdiction will become less relevant. Global, public financial networks (ie blockchains) will enable the re-build of the financial stack around software rather than compliance processes and paperwork. And at its most fundamental level, money will no longer be issued only by states. We live in a multi-polar currency world, and it’s not just nation-states playing. New metaverses and new communities, like the Bitcoin ecosystem, will adopt their own digital currencies and build a rich ecosystem of financial applications on top of protocols rather than walled gardens owned by corporations. 

You are a crypto cognoscenti, what do you think is missing from the industry at the moment? What are the gaps that need to be filled?

While bitcoin may have started as a monetary revolution, ten years of the bitcoin experiment have highlighted that this is in fact an evolution, and likely a slow one with fits and starts. Revolutions are inconvenient, messy, and disruptive to the status quo, a default which we are unfortunately biased towards. Change is uncomfortable and for most of us, terribly inconvenient. Revolutions have historically happened as an absolute necessity when society has exhausted all other options and tensions have evolved to a breaking point. Some may argue our society is reaching this point, others may feel there is still a long ways to go. 

We are still in the early days, and much of the infrastructure needed to build new types of platforms, products, and services has not yet been built. But also, much of the ideology and mental framing needed to deploy blockchain in meaningful ways has not yet been popularized and socialized in a way that most people can understand.

I don’t have specific observations around what is missing, other than everything

Would love to hear your takes on the NFTs space, what are you most excited about? 

Like so many other crypto movements, the NFT space has become highly speculative and quite removed from its original intentions. I’m excited about making NFTs less financial and more social. I recently invested in a new platform called Showtime that’s building a social network for NFTs where you can show them off, like, comment, and more. Cryptocurrencies are inherently social - you have to get other people to believe what you’re doing is valuable! NFTs are no different, and I think today’s early primitives of NFTs will look hilarious three to five years from now. I also think NFTs are really uniquely suited to unlocking immense value in the creator economy. Instead of letting platforms like Spotify or Sotheby’s extract value from your work, what if you could interact directly with your fans through open, decentralized platforms and architecture? 

If you had to pick, what would you say was the defining moment of your career to date?

A few years ago, when I left a firm I had helped build, I felt a tremendous sense of loss and had a bit of an identity crisis because I had done nothing but work on that firm for three years. I realized that your work shouldn’t define who you are, and that having a personal brand and identity is incredibly important for your personal happiness, your sense of independence, and your self-worth. 

Not only are you a well-known angel investor but also have experience investing across stages, what are the patterns you look for, what makes you fall in love with investing? 

What could be better than helping amazing people build a new reality? Being an entrepreneur and being an investor is a bit like being a performance artist. Your job is to create a reality distortion field and to make people believe that a different future is possible. At my core, I am motivated by my quest for knowledge, and being an effective investor requires having a lot of context in a lot of different domains and being able to connect those dots together into a picture of the future. I love that process and the many, many rabbit holes I go down whenever I get obsessed with a new idea or a new company. I’ll spend hours researching and reading and connecting ideas, and then thinking about different scenarios and outcomes and assigning probabilities to them. It’s quite nerdy, but I really love it and have so many notebooks filled with ideas that I’m now trying to translate into Roam! (Roam Research)

What was your first 100x/10x and how did you get into that deal?

Bitcoin was my first unicorn. I got into the deal by having conviction and being willing to go through the many steps (at that time) to get exposure to bitcoin. I learned by going, and much of my investing approach today is still informed by my own behavior, needs, and wants. I’m always trying new products and services because I like to feel out the “vibe” - or “vibe check” as I call it. I swear, if I start a fund it will be called “VIBE CHECK” and we’ll only invest in things with neon logos and good vibes. Investing is a blend of different skill sets, but intuition is a big part of it. Learning how to be more attuned to what your intuition tells you and fighting your analytical brain and your lizard impulses is the hard part. It kind of reminds me of my early career as a trader, where every day I went to battle with my emotions and my own mental models. 

What’s your secret for getting on the cap table?

I’m shameless. 

I will DM a founder and tell them I love their product, and ask if they’re willing to chat with me about it. I will tweet about something I love and spark a conversation. Recently, I actually resorted to using LinkedIn (so boomer of me) to find a connection to a later stage company I was really fascinated by and was able to set up a chat with the CEO. 

I’m opinionated. I have a perspective and I shout about it on the internet (and on plenty of other forums too). Founders who interact with me know, oftentimes before we ever chat, that I’m an opinionated person and that I make those views known. I’m constantly adapting perspective as I incorporate new information, but I never hesitate to share what I think or what I see with a founder. Founders deal with ambiguity and uncertainty every day, so having someone to talk with who can share their ideas and push back and challenge them to expand their thinking or re-frame their perspective can be helpful. 

Lastly, I focus on personal relationships. At the end of the day, everything we build is the product of people. I always say I’m a part-time therapist, because a lot of what I do is check in with founders and try to understand their mental state and cheer them up when they need it, celebrate their big wins, and coach them when needed. I love seeing people succeed, and while the relationship between investors and entrepreneurs hasn’t always been so loving, it feels so much better to win big with people you love and respect, rather than people who have been adversarial towards you. 

What’s your biggest cap table “mistake”?

Ha, after 250 investments in six years I’ve really seen it all and made every mistake in the book. I just write it all down and try to learn from these mistakes so I make new ones each time instead of repeating the same ones over and over again. My biggest regret however, forever and always, will be not owning more bitcoin. I don’t think I can ever own enough bitcoin. 

For more insights into bitcoin, angel investing, and new business ideas, follow Meltem on Twitter (@Melt_Dem)!

Deal News 3/11-3/19


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Sources: Crunchbase, Twitter, LinkedIn

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