Japan’s Virtual Currency News interviews Alice Hlidkova on her role in the blockchain industry.
Despite rapid change and growth, the current virtual currency market is still reporting that most investors are male. However, there is now a growing number of “strong women" with vision and acuity who are playing pivotal roles in the virtual currency and blockchain sector. Alice Hlidkova, co-founder of the virtual currency and blockchain media company New Economies Ltd. is one such woman.
“I never give up and enjoy challenging myself without fearing risk” says Ms. Hlidkova. For example, in the Arab Spring, Hlidkova was a journalist who reported on business and women's rights in the Middle East.
Ms. Hlidkova’s experience running a frontier technology consulting company, suitable for block-chain start-ups is in addition to her ICO advisory activities.
What did you do before you got into the blockchain & virtual currency industry?
My background is best described as "serendipitous". Serendipitous is the unexpected chance of finding something great and worthwhile, whilst searching for something else.
I can also relate finding these ‘something great’s’ in my life so far, to the story of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He said, "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Looking at my past experiences, connecting those dots and establishing a good gut instinct is a strong predictor for eventually connecting future events and experiences.
I grew up in NYC. Whilst in high school during an art lesson, the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened. After that, I also recall the generalized “hate crimes” against Arabs and Muslims. These crimes were criminal acts against innocent people through unsolicited prejudice simply because of their race and religion. At the same time there was also the War on Iraq, and I was confused as to why we went to war in the first place. I really wanted to visit the Middle East to understand social conflicts. As a result, I studied political science at university. When I completed those studies, I became a manager of hotel in NYC and 18 months later, I decided to become a journalist. The Arab Spring was at its infancy and I wanted to experience it as an independent journalist. From Beirut, Lebanon I wrote my first stories and I later went undercover in Syria and Iraq (Read my journalism blog here).
What is particularly impressive about your time as a journalist?
Initially, I was reporting on Iraq's business culture and women's rights. I understood that at time everyone was focused on their “basic needs” for shelter, food, water and safety but in spite of the sad reality, people still looked happy through my eyes. The risk was high so I often thought to myself, will today be my last? I also remember thinking that human beings have the potential to improve themselves and their communities.
A lot of journalists didn’t make it. Every day was a "gift” and at that time I felt so strong. There were times when I felt scared and wanted to quit, but I realized these were just thoughts in my head. What I learned most from these experiences as a journalist was if there is a desire to survive, one will survive. If we think that today is "the day we live," we can live.
In addition, whenever I faced a crisis overseas, there was always someone willing to help and people were very kind to me even when I could not speak the language. I thought, if I have good intentions, people will too. For example, when I missed a bus in Jordan, I had to knock on doors of various houses trying to seek help. One door to a backyard was open and I walked into the kitchen asking for help. To my surprise, the women sitting on the floor were kind enough to offer me their rug in the living room, where I slept. I could hear the camels spitting all night! The following day, I hitch hiked back to Lebanon through Syria.
I remember my memories of this time very clearly.
What made you jump from journalism to the technology industry?
Like in journalism, tech has few women! I noticed women didn’t seem interested in a career in tech and I also wanted to explore the effects of technology on our lives.
Before I came to Carnegie Mellon University, I had no knowledge of mathematics and finance. Many doubted my abilities. One mentor told me, “Your chances are slim. Get more experience apply next year.” I declined his advice and when I was accepted, with half of my tuition costs covered he apologized for not having had enough faith.
When people say "no", I have a burning urge to prove them wrong! I never give up and I am really proud of this.
At Carnegie Mellon when I was completing my Masters, I met a Ph.D. student at the Robotics Institute who was conducting research on robot procreation - robots breeding with one another. The student who was aiming to obtain a doctoral degree for this research subject that included developing an algorithm that allows the robot to procreate and perhaps, create offspring. So many of these crazy seemingly impossible things are being done at the graduate level, and I think they may have had some influence on my "perception” about technology.
What advice do you offer for start-ups?
I wanted to create a consulting business to improve the way people communicate and manage their start-up companies. For example, I helped companies in my time at Carnegie Mellon pitch their businesses to VC’s and angel investors in Silicon Valley.
I realized that many companies from academia required business experience and funding. My first star-tup experience was with the Metro Lab Network, an organization that tested and deployed technology in cities. The startup received funding 10 months after its inception as well as recognition from President Obama.
Metro Lab Network looked at IoT-related products and robotic technologies and how these improved our urban lives. For example, how sensors could measure the intersection of air pollution and asthma levels to determine risk and influence urban planning. We also worked on a project to establish LED lights and embed their benefit for the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. What I learned though is that technology maintenance is expensive involving multiple stakeholders such as unions, members of council, researchers, administrators, etc.
I also learned that founders often focus too much on their products rather than their communication strategy for investors and governments. Part of that strategy is the customer discovery phase, where you firmly understand the needs and requirements of your potential future customers. Before developing, it's important to find out what those needs really are and "reverse engineer" your product / business from that point. In other words, work backwards from the solution, not forward from a product.
From an entrepreneur's perspective it is necessary to develop products from a "utility" point of view. Meaning that it is necessary to create products people demand with a simple to use interface. Even if great technology solves the problem, users and investors will not converge if the technology is difficult to use. The products must be “dummy” proof to the point a 3-year-old or grandma understands it. Conveying that is always a challenge, especially with blockchain.
At university, I was involved with deploying a pilot POC at a hospital. A start-up had developed a great App for doctors and nurses to better schedule vaccinations and in inpatient care. I demonstrated the App at the hospital; however, the nurses didn’t understand the interface. They also couldn’t afford the time required to learn because their focus was keeping patients alive with every second counting in their environment. As a result, the App was too complicated for them to adopt.
As an ICO advisor, what do you know about virtual currency?
After graduate university I commenced a technology blog while coaching in Arizona. I was talking about the future and reviewing technologies that interested me. As a new business owner with a graduate debt looming over my head, I was struggling to pay my rent. It was around May of 2017, and my friend who was living in San Francisco shared the App Coinbase where she was purchasing Bitcoin and Ethereum.
I used my last $3,000 credit card limit to purchase cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin (valued then at under $2,000), Ethereum ($97) and Litecoin ($16). However, before the market soared, my Coinbase App account was hacked while I was trying to buy NEO on the Bittrex Exchange. I didn’t know how to make the purchase using my Coinbase wallet accounts and send money from Coinbase for the purchase. I called a Bittrex Support telephone number. I did feet intuitively that something was wrong because he answered the call too quickly and cut me off suddenly after 5 minutes. It was fake, and as a result a hacker stole my account information and when I went back to my Coinbase account my wallets were at $0. The IP address was registered in Ohio and he was a Russian hacker.
From this experience I began to be interested in things such as risk management. Little by little, I realized that this industry was building the strong foundations to support, and advance virtual currencies and I knew that P2P payment systems could also be used for goods and services into the future.
Now, I know that blockchain technology will change the world, as did the Internet, only faster.
What does a blockchain mean to you?
I believe blockchain technology is "a substitute for traditional systems that are less efficient."
For example, P2P payments built on blockchain technology has huge potential to change the way traditional business is conducted by eliminating costly and inefficient ‘middle men’. Blockchain is here to build upon and disrupt our existing economy rather than to replace it completely.
I regularly ask myself - how can we leverage technology where everyone wins? Those that have power such as financial and governmental institutions don’t want to give it up, they are already winning! Entrepreneurs want to shift the ‘power’ from these big entities, so everyone wins. So, how can we ensure that everyone uses the technology to create a smooth transition into the future?
How can we survive in synchronicity?
It is my hope, that societies can function better, by empowering individuals to use the technological tools which can improve their position in the world.
Access Interview in Japanese here.
Image credit: Lukas Tomis, Redbull; illustration: virtualcurrencynews.com