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Breaking into Blockchain: Cecily Mak on a New Career Venture

Career Column
W ith the blockchain and crypto industries growing exponentially, there is an increasing number of new positions for professionals interested in making a career change. Cecily Mak, formerly chief business and legal officer at Flipboard, a news aggregator and social network aggregation company, recently joined blockchain venture company ConsenSys as a venture partner. Mak shared insights into her new role and what inspired her to break into blockchain — and advice for in-house counsel who are interested in following her lead.
 

What’s your new role?

Cecily Mak: I am now a venture partner at ConsenSys, a blockchain venture production studio building decentralized software services (SaaS) and applications that operate on Ethereum.

What did you do before?

Mak: I was the chief business and legal officer at Flipboard, a news aggregator, until October 2018. I held a range of roles at Flipboard over six years, including head of corporate operations, chief revenue officer, and general counsel.

Before joining Flipboard in 2012, I was senior vice president  and general counsel at the online music streaming service Napster/Rhapsody. Over seven years, I held a set of similarly diverse roles, rooted in licensing/legal and operations. I was at a law firm for three years before I started my in-house journey in 2004.
 

What inspired the change to ventures?

Mak: It was a very natural progression for me, as I have been gravitating toward venturing and advisory work in recent years. In addition to my full-time executive and legal roles, I have served as an advisory board member and CEO coach to a range of startups for years. I love this work. A company’s beginnings — its early chapters — shape its mission, identity, values, and vision. Being able to partner with the core team as this comes together is potent, fun work.

Further, while at Flipboard, I did most of the corporate development and investor relations work in partnership with the board, the CEO, and other key team members. When considering the next chapter in my career, a VC role was among the options at the very top of my list. I was drawn to the blend of data-driven and high Emotional Quotient (EQ)-driven opportunity assessment. It was a blend of these two factors layered upon a deep fascination with the potential for blockchain technology that made this a very obvious fit.
 

Why blockchain and crypto?

Mak: The internet has been a remarkable game changer for a range of industries, including communication, media, education, and banking. Blockchain technology, which is essentially distributed truth tracking, is positioned to level up to a whole new set of industry segments within real estate, insurance, supply chain management (across an infinite number of sectors), and just about any other field where there is a need and appetite for higher integrity value exchange, accountability, transparency, and overall distribution of power.

I am fascinated by the infinite range of possibilities to improve not only these industries, but the human condition as a whole. I’ll also admit an appetite for a challenge; I am happiest professionally when pushed to  my limits and learning in both substance and format. I could not have imagined a role change with a steeper learning curve in both operations and substance.
 

How did you land this new adventure?

Mak: The way we get anything worth getting in life: passion, conviction, focus, persistence, authentic communication, and trust in the process. When I met a business development lead at ConsenSys as a potential client and heard a bit about the company’s diverse offerings (e.g., their Academy, Labs, Capital, and Solutions programs), I was intrigued.

I learned more about the unique culture — ConsenSys is a peer-based or teal organization (that is, a company that allows a great deal of independence while insisting on collaboration among peers). It’s a company with a commitment to self-governance, accountability, and fulfillment/happiness for its team members. I was committed to exploring what sounded like a perfect role for me. It turns out, it was and still is.
 

What prepared you for this transition?

Mak: Having worked in digital media for 15 years, I am very familiar with the thrill and the pain of the intersections among old and new, analog and digital, known and opportunistic. I see similar themes among the various projects, companies, and verticals of blockchain solutions.

I am looking forward to partnering internally and externally to help empower great decision-making and make sure we are leveraging these innovations to the height of their potential. Further, I am a perpetual student and don’t expect to tire of learning new things as the industry continues to evolve at the very fast “blockchain dog years” pace — that is, one year in blockchain is like seven years in almost any other industry.
 

What’s your recommendation for professionals interested in working with blockchain or crypto? Where should they look?

Mak: I recommend self-educating first. Go deep. Find the best news sources, blogs, and podcasts, and dig in. See what interests you. What are you passionate about? The “internet” of the 1990s is the “blockchain” of our era.

I remember the moment around 2000 when I realized there are no “internet companies,” though that was a heavily used term in the dot-com boom of the time. Just because an enterprise uses the internet to operate or offer a product or service does not make the company an “internet company.”

It is time for us to face a similar realization regarding blockchain. There are not a lot of pure blockchain companies and projects, but there are countless companies, projects, and governments using blockchain technology to enable their next level of innovation and overall capabilities.

Once you’ve identified the field that interests you the most, like any job hunt effort, tap your network. Meet people. Go to events. Ask questions. There is far more work now than there are competent people to do it, so it's a great time to get onboard.  
 

How can professionals get ready for a position working with blockchain and crypto? What resources do you recommend?

Mak: I have found several topic-specific Medium channels very helpful. I also listened to almost every single Andreessen Horowitz podcast on crypto and blockchain in my early days. Read CoinDesk. Follow Coinbase, ConsenSys, Ripple, IBM Blockchain, and other mainstream channels on Twitter and beyond. Ask colleagues and professionals on LinkedIn.

There are new resources popping up every single day. By the time you are reading this, any specific suggestions will likely be outdated. Oh, and have an open mind. You’ll encounter crypto-anarchists, genius engineers, and corporate loyalists in most circles, not to mention an entire universe of new terminology. Have fun.
 
It is always a difficult decision to make a career change, but Cecily Mak’s story shows that it can be worth it to follow your interests and take the leap into a new position or industry. With the blockchain and crypto industries truly booming, there is a wealth of new positions for passionate professionals who are willing to jump in and learn. 

About the Author

Olga V. MackOlga V. Mack, Career and Technology columnist for ACCDocket.com, is a technology strategist who enjoys advising her clients on success and growth. Currently vice president of strategy at Quantstamp and former general counsel at ClearSlide. She previously worked at Zoosk, Visa Inc., Pacific Art League of Palo Alto, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. She is a passionate advocate for women and has founded the WomenServeOnBoards.com movement. @OlgaVMack


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