How to get a Board/Advisory Position within the blockchain/Crypto space: Board Advisory Playbook – Part 1

Ever wondered how to get that board position, or wanted to be an advisor for the burgeoning start up scene in the blockchain and DeFi space?

In this talk we learn from the experts who work in the sector as advisors and who help women to get on boards across all industries.

Blockchain Companies are becoming more mainstream. The new form of capital raising requires those organisation must assure that they have proper governance.

This is achieved through the creation of boards that are both part of the funding firm and independent members that can support the organisation in its growth. The demands will be for individuals with not only a good understanding of the Blockchain and Crypto space, but having a solid back ground in other parts of business.

Women on Boards have launched a new report which reveals the hidden truth about diversity and inclusion across the whole FTSE All-Share. It shows a stark ‘diversity divide’ between those firms who are making progress – and those who are not.

All this proves why it is now more important than ever to maintain the scrutiny of board diversity and expand it to cover all forms of diversity across the entire FTSE All-Share. It shows why female and other under-represented candidates are still sorely needed to step forwards and develop as board members.

Read the full report here: https://www.womenonboards.net/en-gb/reference-items/resource-centre-articles/the-hidden-truth-june21

It’s vital that we see more women in the space and in senior positions in the blockchain and crypto space.

This event is designed to help you understand what you can do to get on that board, become the advisor to that company.

This is part 1 where our panel introduces themselves and shares a little bit about their background and how they got into the blockchain space. Amber also shares some wisdom on getting into those more senior roles and advice on hiring for board positions. Rachel shares her tips and tricks to getting that board role and how to create the perfect CV that will help you get there. We also hear from Toby of the work he is doing at Novum Insights and how he is going from advisory to board.

How do we invite women to get into board roles, senior positions, get into advisory roles in this new sector?

Clearly it’s not from having years of experience in the sector because the sector is not that old, it’s only very nascent.

Amber Ghaddar: I’m Amber Ghaddar.

I’m one of the founders of Alliance Block. At Alliance Block, we’re building the world’s first globally compliant capital market.

The idea is to build a new type of investment bank that comes in blocks. As you could guess, I’ve spent my career in investment banking.

It was a logical move for me, especially when I saw the potential that blockchain and AI can bring to the very centralised  financial industry.

Rachel Tranter: Hi everyone. Thanks so much Bridget for inviting me to join you today. I have to say that your blockchain, I had to do a little bit of research and it’s a fascinating exciting world that you all live in.

What world do I live in? What’s my background.

I am one of the founders of Women on Boards here in the UK. We set up nine years ago at the time that Lord Davis and the UK government said we need to do something about diversity, gender diversity in the boardroom.

And the focus really at that point was purely on FTSE100 and we came along and said, “Brilliant, we really want to support what you’re doing, but what about all the other companies? What about the smaller companies? What about the public sector? What about sports boards? Housing associations? Charities?”

We set up to help. I like to think of it as supply and demand. We are there to help those companies on the demand side.

We’re there to say you need support to find the talent. On the supply side, no great surprise there is a fabulous talent pool out there of women, of all shapes and sizes, whatever sector, wherever they’re beginning in their career. We want to help effectively match that talent with the opportunities.

In the middle of all that supply and demand, is a lot of support from us, whether it’s training, workshops, events, whatever it might be, we are there to help. We started off very much bravely on the gender piece. I think if I think about what we do now, we’re much more on that broader diversity piece, all about supporting people to get those board roles and also supporting people in their own careers in terms of getting through, I guess the journey up to the more senior positions in your own company.

What do I do within that? That’s broadly what Women on Boards is all about. Within Women on Boards I do two primary functions.

I work with the organisation, looking to recruit who are looking for non-execs, only non-execs. I help them with their search effectively. Then on the member side, I’m very much on the member engagement side in that I help those members who are going for interviews.

I provide an awful lot of interview support away from Women on Boards.

I also sit on a sports board. I’m the board of the amateur FA. If any of you wants to know anything about the sports world, then please contact me. I can give you warts and all. I’m also an independent panel member for the Ministry of Justice.

That is me. What I’d like hopefully to talk to you about in a little while is some useful tips on how to get on your own journey.

Toby Lewis: I set up Novum Insights, we’re a research business, a blockchain and DeFi.

Building a SAS product, tracking signals and outliers in the blockchain and DeFi space. I guess because of that position of analysts and data scientists looking at the industry, we’ve always had a continuous stream of clients looking for consultancy and advisory work that can vary from the smallest startup with two founders and a backpack and a laptop, or two laptops to sort of large multinationals like Hitachi and Barclays and whatever.

We’re going to dive in a discussion to that advisory board playbook that’s the topic today and I find it really interesting.

It’s very much how I first got exposed to the decentralised finance space was a project in early 2019, mid 2019, asked me to come on board as an advisor. I’ve known the founder for a year or so, they were pretty interesting. They had a very informed young programmer involved.

Then found it really, really interesting and then ended up driving Nova much deeper into doing DeFi analytics and data having done that. I think it opens a lot of doors, just looking into different products.

Amber Ghaddar:

I think maybe first we need to start with differentiating the different boards if you want, that you need in the different stage of your company.

When you are quite an early stage startup, i.e you still have not raised your series A you. The board members are usually the directors of the company, and usually they are the founders of the companies. Then you see some startups adding to what we call the advisory board and that part is sometimes a little bit confusing but it could be interesting.

An advisory board is that they are advisors.

One thing to keep in mind if you’re a startup is that they have absolutely no value for VC. Usually you could have a really good advisor that had 10 to 20 years experience in a certain field. And you would think that putting them on your pitch deck will gain you some points, but most VCs don’t actually look at that.

The way you build your advisory board is something you need to be a little bit careful about in terms of what it is exactly that this advisor is going to be bringing to your company, keeping in mind that the advisor will be paid either in cash, either in a mix of cash and equity and either in the decentralised space in tokens.

I’m more than happy to talk about tarriffs if someone has questions about this. But as founders, I would highly advise you to make it very clear what are the points that you require this adviser to achieve for him to get his salary. Because I’ve seen a few advisory contracts that were unfortunately not in the benefit of the startup.

Then of course, once you start growing and you’re at your series A and you start having VCs involved, your boards of director will basically change and will include the VCs. The way the VCs do that is usually they would want at least a 50/50 control of the company, even if they have like 20% of the equity. You would need to take out some directorship from some of the founders and then add in the VCs.

I’ve seen this happen quite frequently in the UK.

As you keep growing, you would need a chairman. Whether it is a non-executive chairman or an executive chairman, but it’s something that we don’t have at the moment to be fully transparent.

But it’s a role that is very important in terms that, he would need to be someone that is quite recognised in his field as someone who has quite a lot of experience and usually can really back up the CEO, especially when you’re starting to scale up and scale up your business. His role will be somewhere between an advisor, a mentor, and a senior manager, especially if he is an executive chairman rather than a non-executive chairman.

In terms of adding people to your boards of director, that’s also something that is, well I mean in startups will mainly be driven by VCs, but you can take the step and start looking for directors that will compliment your business, in our business in the blockchain crypto DeFi business.

One advice I would give is either have someone that is very senior in finance or someone that is very senior in legal or someone that is very senior in regulations because all of this is one of the pain points that we have in the industry and could give validation in some way, or at least comfort from your future investors.

Keep in mind, these boards of directors are here to make sure that shareholders value is protected and shareholders value is created.

One of the CCs that you have someone, that was head of legal at UBS and you’re in the DeFi space and he sits as a director on your board. That would give them a little bit more confidence in terms of how you’re positioning yourself from a legal and regulatory perspective and whether you have strong compliancy and strong regulation framework in place.

I’m sure all of you are in the crypto space and you saw what happened to Binance. Last weekend, few days ago where basically the FCA announced that they cannot operate in the UK anymore.

In terms of non-executive directors, these are also interesting roles in terms of, for me, they’re more of a consultancy role. Even in bigger companies, they are more of a connected and correlated opinion and outside opinion on the management team and on the long-term strategy of the firm. In our space, especially when you are at the series A maybe series B level, they come in more as consultants for the firm.

At least this is where I see their values.

You would pick a non-executive director on a very particular subject.

You would tell him to work with you on this very  particular subject. In terms of applying for non-executive director roles, I think Rachel will be able to speak about this better than me.

But I must say that before launching the company, I was quite interested in applying for these roles and I actually found it very difficult.

Rachel can definitely tell us what it is that we did wrong.

Genevieve Leveille: For me, what I’m finding is and maybe Rachel can tell us more about what has transcribed this in the last few months. Because I am getting at least one or two a day coming into me and saying:

“Have I got a job for you?”

Obviously as a CEO of a company, I have to make sure that I’m not putting too much of my time against something which I won’t be able to do or something which is not of interest.

Genevieve Leveille:

Rachel, could you tell us about the new changes going from 30, 33 to 50 and how we can actually also shape our resumes.

Rachel Tranter: I’m not sure I can necessarily tell you where you’ve gone wrong but I can give you some broad suggestions, which is what I wanted to do.

Just to clarify some of the headline numbers, the hidden truths.

I don’t know how many of you have read the report that we published very recently. But I think there’s a general perception, that we’re doing quite well with our stats now in the UK and that we’re meeting the targets.

To a certain extent, in the FTSE in the larger companies, we’re not doing too badly are we. We’re creeping, we’re meeting those targets, but are we?

Are we at risk of moving towards that ‘fishing in the same pond’. Which is probably what you’re sensing. What are the hidden truths, which is what we felt we wanted to dig into.

There is a sense that people are starting to feel, “yeah job done”. But the job is never really done when you’ve only just met the target, which some of us still think is quite a low target.

40:40:20

At Women on Boards, we think that really, it should be 40:40:20 and 20 being obviously what is naturally what any individual board should be getting to.

We actually are much more aggressive with our aspirations. When you start digging into the stats, what we’ve found recently and let me just pull out some of our headlines in fact, if I can find a report.

At the moment, in the large listed companies, you could say job done we’re at 34%, but that’s 34% now.

What are we doing to continue bringing the new talent through?

I think we would say that maybe we’re not doing enough there and companies need to work harder.

If we look at the stats outside the three fifty it’s not looking as good. Less than half of those companies outside the larger three fifty have actually met that 33% target. The warning bells are ringing there. Again, focusing upon those X three fifties we call them, only 16% of chairs are women, 3% are directors of color. There is a gulf. There are 48 companies in the research that we did that have 50% or more women on their boards. Great. But there are 98 who have one or no women.

From our point of view, there’s still quite a lot of work to be done.

I’d quite like to give you some sort of general tips on how to go and what I currently think the challenges are.

One of the challenges being, how do you actually articulate your value?

Because I think one of the key challenges that you possibly have in your sector is being able to articulate what you will bring to the boardroom and that golden board CV versus your exec exact CV.

One thing that I want you all to remember is that you’re all unique.

There is no set journey when it comes to where you are now to get into the board room, we’re all different and we should celebrate the fact that we’re different. Some of us are young and ambitious. Some of us are maybe more mature and have been in the business for longer.

There are board roles for everybody.

If you are starting off in your career, you may now be saying, well actually I would like to add value to a board and maybe you should be looking away from your sector and looking at not-for-profits. Looking at sports boards, looking at housing associations, whatever it might be. All the way through to, should you be looking at the listed roles?

Should you be looking in your sector? Should you be looking outside of your sector?

At the moment, I’m posing you more questions and answers but that’s because it’s a really exciting world and there are lots and lots of opportunities for you to be looking at.

We’re all different and where on earth, therefore, do we begin?

Remember that you’re in control. You don’t need to do this, you doing this because you’ve decided you want to, you’re ambitious and you’re thinking actually, taking a non-exec position at the end of the day is good for you. It’s aligned to your values, or it may be that it’s simply good for your career.

I guess I would throw in another question out there and say:

Why do you want to join a board in the first place?

There are many reasons why going to the board is good for you. It may be that it’s time to give something back. You feel very passionate about something and you know that you’ve got skills that you have developed along your executive career so far and it is time for you to give it back to possibly your community. Other reasons for joining a board there’s no doubt about it, it does build career resilience. Going on a board in a different sector, meeting people that you’ve never worked with before does absolutely build your market and your broad industry knowledge.

They’re very good career based reasons why you would do it as well. It may be that it opens up other opportunities for you. It opens up other opportunities in your, call it your ‘post executive career’. Many reasons why you could be thinking about this and many different stages of your career that you could be thinking.

What value do you add?

As much as I am putting out all the positives of the moment and saying, there’s absolutely a role for everybody, what are the challenges? Why are we all not sitting comfortably on boards? There are many challenges. I view them and I’ve tried to put it point of view to talk to you about today I would say the number one thing is, like I mentioned at the beginning, what is my value add? What do I give? Where are the roles that I should be applying for? Challenge number two, challenge number three. How on earth do I succeed? And challenge them.

For actually, which we do all have to be aware of. How do I then manage that juggling? How do I juggle that portfolio of positions? I’m only used to having one job, now suddenly telling me I’ve got to have two or three.

Let’s just touch on those challenges.

The Secret Recipe

Value add. We’ve all got probably spectacular executive CVS. Great.

What I want you to do mentally is rip that up and want you to start thinking about building a board CV. A board CV is quite a bit different to an exact CV.

Think of the board CV as almost turning your exact CV round. Because what you need at the top of a board CV is your value add. What do I bring?

And the best example I always think is a lawyer. I don’t know whether we’ve got any lawyers here, but you could be a fabulous lawyer. You’re continuing to have a fantastic career as a Linklaters partner or MD, whatever they may be. And then somebody says to you, “oh what’s your value add?” If you haven’t put any thought into it, you may struggle because you’d say I’m marvelous. I’ve done all these wonderful things and you will be marvelous, but what’s behind being a lawyer? Because although every board wants the lawyer, they want to know what you’re good at.

What’s in that NED toolkit.

The whole point of having a board CV is being able to articulate the fact that you’re strategic, your risk, your regulation, your people, whatever it might be. Number one is being able to identify that value and the way you do it is by creating the board CV. I can almost promise although it’s difficult to write one, once you’ve got one you’ll feel so much more confident about going for these roles, whether they’re not-for-profit, whether they’re listed, whether they’re in your sector or outside of your sector. Do think about that value add piece.

The second point, the second challenge I mentioned where are the roles?

Again, I can’t say, you guys are the experts in terms of your sector. But broadly speaking, I would say where do you find the roles?

You use your networks. Networks are so important.

Still the vast majority of board roles, non-exec roles come to you through your network and we celebrate that. That’s absolutely fine. But what we say to you is therefore understand your networks. We have our personal networks, we have our networks within the organisation that we work in, and we also have our  broader network in terms of people that we know outside.

And that’s where professional networks, not just us obviously, but I’m going to recommend that you become part of our network if you’re focusing upon your NED career, but there are lots of networks out there. Please do use these networks and it is your director connections at the end of the day, that are really going to help tell people that you’re looking for a board role.

Don’t be afraid of bringing it up in conversation.

Use LinkedIn. LinkedIn, I think over the last year has really become a place where companies go directly searching for people. Do as well as producing a fairly fabulous board CV, get your LinkedIn profile to marry. It’s a useful blend of the board and the exact piece.

And if you’re bold enough to put on that LinkedIn, ‘currently looking for opportunities’ do it. Increasingly I see people do that.

Your networks are important.

Head hunters. Head hunters play a vital piece in the non-exec world.

They are very difficult to tap into, but once you find the right ones, once you found the niche head hunter who is going to work for you and listen to you, keep hold of that contact.

Invest the time in finding who those headhunters are. I think if you can tell your employer, tell your employer. Be bold. I don’t see any problems with that.

The third challenge, I may be a bit out of order here, but:

How do I succeed? How do I do it?

I’ve got my board CV. I’m starting to open up my mind to my networks. What are the opportunities?

I don’t think we do a very good job of investing in ourselves and I don’t mean money. I mean investing time in ourselves.

Step back, think what do I want from my career? Am I strategic? Am I somebody who should look forward to where I’m going to be in two years time?

If actually I think I’m somebody who wants to keep my really busy exec life going, but actually I could see myself in a couple of boards. Great. Well, how are you going to get there?

If that’s where you see yourself in two years time, you have to start that planning now. Not in two years time, you may be lucky. But the chances are, you need to do that now.

Invest time in yourself.

If you do that and if you start that almost branding yourself, then I suspect your confidence levels and your direction will come as you go along.

Find your level. Anyone in this room today can go on the board, but what board? Find your skills and find the board and find the opportunity and be bold and go for it, view it.

There was some research a few years ago now on FTSE100 NEDs and the vast. The vast majority of those really senior mega successful NEDs all when they were interviewed, they all started in the not-for-profit sector.

Now I’m sure they didn’t do it as a fabulously strategic journey, but it just so happens that they found that passion at a much earlier age in their career or earlier stage in their career, rather.

Don’t think that somebody who’s on the FTSE board suddenly just lept onto that FTSE board. They went on a journey and they look back and yes, they’ve got fabulous CVS, but they had to start somewhere. Do view it as a stepping stone, as a journey if you wish to do it in that way.

I think I’ve said this. Understand the landscape. There are opportunities everywhere for you to look up, look within your own company. Lots of our members when they put that board CV together, they said they haven’t been on a board. But when we dig in a little bit closer they say, well I have been on a committee. At Morgan Stanley or JP Morgan. Fabulous. Write it down. That’s board experience. I’ve been an advisor, write it down. I’ve been on my own internal pension fund. Write it down.

Start to understand you and understand the landscape, invest in yourself, invest in understanding what directors do. What are the fidiciuary duties of a non-exec? Do we really know? Spend a bit of time looking at that and understand what boards do. I don’t want to go on and on about this, but as you can probably guess I could do.

But what are boards looking for?

They’re looking for your sector knowledge, potentially aren’t they. If you’re looking at a role within your sector, I’m sure they’re interested in your sector knowledge. Are they looking for your professional skills and your experience? Have you got skills that you could package up and take into another sector?Yeah, I’m sure you have.

It’s just taking that time to do it. They probably want your strategic networks. They may want you for fundraising connections. That’s reality. They may want you for your community reputation. There are many, many reasons that many things that boards are looking for. Don’t think that there’d be maybe as narrow as you think they potentially are.

The final thing I mentioned, managing the portfolio. I think the last year and a half has taught all of us. How important peer to peer support is. I would say one of the key things you can do when you’re starting to juggle more than one role is keep your network very close to you. Use your peers, engage, be strategic.

Constantly look ahead. Think about your next move.

If you’re on a board, fine. What’s your next board?

Start to think about it halfway through the term that you’re on and stay informed. There’s so much out there that board members need to know about, whether it’s AI, whether it’s ESG, all these things, all these terms that we need to remember.

Stay informed.

They’re just some of the highlights that I would offer you. Any questions later

Genevieve Leveille: I think it’s a great segway into Toby talking to us about the work that he’s being doing at Novum, how he is moving from the advisory to where now he is going on board.

I would love for you to sort of cover that also is legitimisation of the blockchain space. When you see a company like Coinbase, getting such a great welcome into the stock market and how well they have done. I expect that we’re going to see more of those happening and part of the requirement for them aside from things like the FTSE is really what their board needs are going to be major because of regulatory.

Toby Lewis: 

I was lucky enough to be on the advisory board of a company that’s going on to the public markets.

I went onto the public markets, which was a mining business and there was quite an interesting journey. There’s a whole sort of legitimisation of crypto going on as more of crypto and blockchain as more and more of the bigger and smaller names in the space go on to either main markets like Coinbase did or some of the junior markets like AIM.

There’s a growing group of these kind of things. I guess I’ve always been interested in early stage founders and that kind of journey just because I emphasise I’d founded two businesses. Both of which were effectively bootstrapped to significant revenue and investment.

Always empathised with a founder was a good idea and a power point and the passion. So found that could add quite a lot of value. I guess where we’ve gone with that is we can do some of the advisory needed for any type of business touching the crypto and blockchain space.

We set up a small family office that does some venture capital deals as well. What I like about the advisory stuff is essentially you get to know founders and projects quite early on and can advise them on strategy, move through where they should take the business.

You can choose to invest or not, depending on what makes sense. The sort of investments we’re doing, it’s still relatively early stage. Generally, when you’re connected and the crypto blockchain space, you typically get to know a lot of the major investment firms in the space.

I think the key element I’d say of an advisor and I guess the best advisory role I’ve had was, was when one of my projects was doing a token offering and they’d actually raised a significant amount of capital but ran into some technical issues due to the raise. There were a lot of people who’d invested in the project that were going, “we should replace the founder” and whatever.

I was on the phone to him going, “look it’s all going to be okay. You just go forward and whatever happens, it should be fine.”  There’s no need to resign a month, a week before you’re meant to be listing. Instead, just push forward. I guess if you could be just a calm voice of reason, that’s very valuable to people.

Genevieve Leveille: Thank you so much Toby.

Here is part 1 of the recording: