Leaving Big Tech for The Blockchain
This is Part 1 of a 3-part series about Why to Move Into Web3, How to Move Into Web3, and Where to Move Into Web3. Follow me on Twitter @0xShah and tweet at or send me a DM to say hello!
I. Introduction: Web2 to Web3
In April 2021, after years of investing in crypto and building side projects in blockchain, I decided to leave a comfortable job and promising leadership trajectory in tech by resigning at Airbnb and moving into crypto full-time.
I loved the people I worked with at Airbnb and it has done more than any other company to support its employees and community through the unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. I was happy. I belonged. But in April, I decided to take the time to study the industry and am starting a new role as of August 2021.
My overall process to make this transition was: 1. Learn crypto 2. Decide to work in crypto 3. Find the best fit in crypto. Today's post starts at Step 2 and explains how I decided to work in crypto as you may be open to the same decision.
II. Why Crypto: Considering The Industry
I left it all behind to go all-in on crypto and place a bet for the next 10+ years of my career. But why crypto?
- Impact: Crypto can uniquely solve important unsolved problems.
I'm worried Web2 is running out of major vectors for innovation. There are countless new startups to build, but a missing technical catalyst. The playbooks are written. Blockchain technology has different properties than current Internet technology: it's decentralized and has value (i.e. cryptocurrencies) programmed into the system. This opens up a whole new world and is just a part of the holistic innovation. Similarly the Internet compared to the physical world digitized experiences and information (e.g. newspapers), and made transfer of information free (e.g. email). Blockchain builds on what the Internet has provided, but the new unique properties make new use cases and benefits possible: decentralized finance can increase access to saving and borrowing, smart contracts can enforce legal agreements where court systems are corrupt, immutable documentation can prevent opaque and corrupt reporting systems, and NFTs can provide provable, monetizable ownership to digital creators and physical asset owners alike. It's early. The Internet promised to make the future more evenly distributed but has fallen short; though lofty, crypto is a second chance and I see an intersection between my interests in promoting great socioeconomic progress and a new technology.
- Learning: Crypto challenges me to constantly learn on different axes.
MEV. Staking. Nodes. Block sizes. Merkle trees. Solidity. DAOs. Play-to-Earn. In this industry, there are infinite new or reinvented technologies (e.g. blockchain sharding), product concepts (e.g. yield farming or quests in DeFi), governance mechanisms (e.g. EIPs and quadratic voting), incentive designs (e.g. quests in DeFi), business models (e.g. play-to-earn and marketplace fees), and philosophies (e.g. maximalism). The sense of progress coupled with bewilderment and awe generate a lot of energy for me. Most people grow from a helpful manager or a challenging role, but crypto as an industry unlocks a lot of learning and growth. The interdisciplinary nature of the work personally makes me highly engaged and more of a generalist human than a specialist worker in the mold of efficiency-optimizing capitalism.
- Fun and Community: Crypto doesn't feel like work and brings humanity back to tech.
NFTs are changing how sports, entertainment, music, and other aspects of culture are created, distributed, and evolve over time. Debates about whether a centralized frontend application compromises the decentralization of the entire AMM project rage on Twitter and blend a mix of incisiveness with humorous metaphors. Thought-leaders run anon accounts with cryptopunk and ape avatars, posting memes, instead of vain credentials or recycled thinking like from a scene in Good Will Hunting. Community meetups in Miami, Paris, and beyond, and collaborations between different projects that benefit from one another's composability feels like a genuinely kind and collaborative industry reminiscent of a Silicon Valley before the money and MBA-ification. That said, there are definitely problems on Crypto Twitter and it's not as inclusive an industry as I'd like for it to be.
It's also worth mentioning additional highlights:
- Crypto is here to stay: Like any new technology and movement, there will be bull and bear markets, regulatory actions, hype cycle movements, and so on. But the protocol and dapp building, venture and community investing, and intersection with mainstream culture suggest this is just starting. Remember it's been more than 10 years since Bitcoin has been introduced and more than 1000 proclamations of the death of crypto. There is an increasing rate of true believers and actually useful applications being built. I believe we're at the intersection where real-world value is being created but the majority of people still don't see it. It's the last year where this future will seem contrarian to a majority of the population; it's already convention to some.
- Crypto is creating broad opportunity: I'm seeing young people and people in many countries around the world from South Korea to India to Nigeria to El Salvador and beyond participating in this movement. I'm excited by the relatively more meritocratic dynamic in the space notwithstanding some of its exclusion.
- Crypto is much more than cryptocurrency: People have said "Blockchain not Bitcoin" for a while but with the growth of the Ethereum ecosystem and other L1s / L2s, there really is a lot more than just tokens. But we'll need more mainstream decentralized applications and everyday participation for that to sink in for everyone.
III. How Crypto: Deciding to Make the Transition
Much like the rabbithole of crypto itself, the decision to work in crypto is a one-way door. Once all of these reasons click in a genuine manner, there is no other way. Every Web2 job sounds boring. More than title, role, compensation, and possibly even mission -- having something exciting to do and truly being passionate outweighs most other factors.
In a more conventional sense, when making a career decision, people generally ask some version of the overintellectualized "What are you optimizing for?" Common answers, simplified, include money, career growth like title and scope, day-to-day responsibilities, the people you'll be working with, the mission of the company, etc. For me, I was optimizing for "Learning" and "Adventure" after years of suppressively wishing I could put those things first, and optimizing for a mix of the former traditional factors like career growth, compensation, and wanting to work on something I cared about with skilled, high-integrity colleagues. There were always secondary considerations for me like lifestyle and optionality i.e. what could I do after this. But the decision to move into crypto was different.
The simple framework I eventually developed:
- Desire: Do you want to work in this industry more than any other industry, or do you think you should?
- Value: Do you believe you can create meaningful value in crypto, or do you want to just extract value?
- Best Worst Case: Do you believe you can live the overall life you want to if this fails, or will you be ruined?
Candidly I never had this framework. Pros and Cons lists were insufficient. But this is what I would use now. If the answer to any of those questions is not a resounding yes, or if any of the latter conditions are true, I'd think twice.
It boiled down to: I want to work in crypto and I believe I can add a lot of value. Even if it doesn't work out, it's OK.
Specifically, my desire emerged from the aforementioned factors. A litmus test is if you're thinking about crypto in your spare time, like how the blockchain works and what DAOs can do for labor models. I tend to cave to shoulds, so this was an important area to keep myself honest. For value, I truly believe we need more useful, mainstream blockchain applications so that the discussion in society is less about prices, speculation, and schemes. As a product person and entrepreneur, I genuinely believe I can help develop product concepts that are valuable and help them be executed. As for best worst case scenario, as much as I don't focus on a Plan B, I'm lucky to have little downside if something drastic changes, and my fundamental peace of mind, family and friends, and personal well-being are not truly at risk. As a result, surprisingly, a decision that many peers have told me is a huge risk, doesn't feel risky at all but inevitable.
This is why and how I made the decision to work in crypto. In my next post, I'll describe the process in detail, mentioning companies and projects that I think everyone else should also take a close look at as they grow.