2019 made it hard to dodge the cryptosphere’s growing pains–we saw a bear market, increasing global regulations and market instability. Blockchain companies of all sizes were forced to reprioritize products and resources to withstand the environment. However, despite these obstacles, we also saw the industry moving forward with markers of real progress.
Some failed, some succeeded. NEM Foundation is a success story. As it currently operates, the blockchain ecosystem is unstable. However, with maturity and easy access will come mass adoption. The groundwork the NEM Foundation laid in 2019 will pave the way toward global blockchain adoption in 2020 and beyond.
Designing An Organization For Success
In 2019, I was voted into office by our community to lead the Foundation alongside our Executive Committee and Council. Inheriting a global decentralized team of 100+ team members and hundreds of community members comes with unique challenges – especially in the Wild West of this space.
Challenges include deciphering an ever-changing culture code, earning trust in an industry that touts its trustlessness, interpreting the unwritten rules that govern success and failure. There are cultural and communications gaps to bridge, biases to break down, legalities to navigate, governance to design, regulations to follow, and, most importantly, results to deliver. And then there’s the funding component. Emerging tech (including open source) can scale more quickly if there is adequate funding to support strategic plans, R&D, partnerships, advocacy, legalities, and compliance, to say nothing of the global teams who execute on the vision.
Here’s where it gets interesting. What do you do when the odds are stacked so unbelievably high with a newly inherited decentralized and fully distributed global team? As we prepared to launch a major product during the depths of a bear market, our teams had to establish new processes, understand a new leadership style, and comprehend a new organizational structure and new sets of strategies and processes. Agility and flexibility were at a premium. So what do you do?
You focus and build despite distractions.
In the first quarter of 2019, that’s what the new Foundation did. We focused on creating a purposeful organization that could achieve our goals and objectives with an emphasis on Catapult (the feature-rich next iteration of the NEM blockchain), Governance, and Sustainability.
We updated our mission, set company-wide goals and objectives, and did an aggressive financial audit. We forecasted future needs and mapped them to results. This process helped shape what would become the community proposal for funding 2019-2020 operations.
There were 30+ new governance policies written by the new Council; all were implemented to stabilize operations. Additionally, there were hundreds of new contracts that had to be created by Karen Cohen, our new Head of Operations. There was also vetting and nomination of Directors so that new bank accounts could be established. Redundancies at all levels had to be handled with care and in accordance with compliance standards. Meanwhile, too many in the industry media focused on sensationalized headlines of doom and gloom.
We kept our focus and kept building.
The first team we strengthened was Operations. Every effective organization must have a “spine” to remain strong. This Ops team was supported by a “Transformation Team” led by Jason Lee and Jian Chan to ensure that standards, processes, and policies were in place to initiate success into the new structure. Laura Takenaka, in the role of Secretariat, was key to keeping communications on track in the NEM Forums.
Next came the revamped Tech Team led by Foundation Co-Founder and Interim CTO Jeff McDonald. Within a few months, the Foundation Catapult roadmap was updated and shared with the community, engineering talent was hired, and a suite of projects was in full motion, including new wallets, an explorer, SDKs, a learning portal, the testnet, and more. Grég Saive joined as Head of Development and brought new energy and order not just to the Foundation but across NEM’s ecosystem partners. David Garcia, our developer documentation lead, continued to ensure knowledge and tools were captured, cataloged, and communicated. Ivy Fung led the creation of NEM Academy and our global training.
The lifeblood of any business is the Finance Team, so we hired Lei Dong as our Chief Financial Officer. Lei brought strong financial knowledge around banking, compliance, and global exchanges thanks to his time at Huobi. We implemented a new third-party audit firm and set up a trust for the Foundation. This led to improved transparency and management of funds and kept operations at a higher standard than ever before.
Next, we needed to hire the remaining C-Suite, which is difficult as the typical executive tends to shy from joining an emerging industry such as blockchain. The lack of stability, the uncharted territory, and the challenge of managing decentralized teams deter all but the most intrepid executives. Our interview process with potential executives was at times underwhelming. Due diligence weeded out some candidates, but by mid-year, the majority of professional C-Suite was hired and contributing in meaningful ways, including our Head of Business Development, Pedro Gutierrez.
NEM’s open source community remains the heart of NEM. NEM’s advanced plugin platform has evolved largely due to the talent of our core developers, including Jaguar0625, Gimre, and Bloody Rookie, as well as the many contributions by our community members, especially those in Asia, North America, and Europe.
Additionally, this past year saw the emergence of new ecosystem partners including NEM Studios and NEM Ventures. We worked alongside these entities to form the Catapult Migration Committee to define a strong vision and plan for analyzing and discussing the various options, challenges, implications, and opportunities relating to the public release of Catapult.
We also signed an agreement with David Shaw and NEM Studios for the Catapult Go-To-Market support and subsequently formed the Catapult Brand Steering Committee. We brought in marketing and PR experts including the PR agency Wachsman, the Better Way Brand agency, and Lewis Farrell as Chief Marketing Officer.
A comprehensive strategic marketing plan and market research were compiled to help Catapult fulfill its potential to become a world-class product. This work would lead to future community proposals later in the year.
Expanding the Ecosystem
In addition to internal organizational shifts, we’ve also focused on better serving partners. We launched the Bonfire Service Provider Portal and brought on new partnerships with development houses and service integrators including Tech Bureau, Opening Line Inc., Hatio, Techemy, FDS, and Labrys.
We ramped up advocacy around regulatory efforts for cryptocurrencies and blockchain including the V20 Summit in Japan. We worked with governments and financial institutions, including the Bank of Lithuania, on use cases. Meanwhile, we continued working alongside universities to contribute to curriculum for thousands of students and studies across the globe while building out NEM’s new Academy and Developer Resource Center.
The Pieces Come Together
Our search for a Chief Technology Officer came to a successful close with the hire of Nate D’Amico, a veteran developer with product management experience at enterprise-grade software companies, including SugarCRM and open source projects like Apache Bigtop.
Nate’s extensive open source expertise and kaizen approach for continuous small, ongoing positive changes soon won over the teams and had a positive impact on shaping a new kind of culture.
Another notable Foundation hire was Adele Rom as Strategic Organization and Leadership Advisor. Adele assists with key initiatives around performance, communications, and leadership. Adele’s 20 years in talent management and operations experience include the roles of Vice President of Human Resources for JP Morgan Chase & Co and Head of Talent for Riot Games.
As 2019 came to a close, the Brand Steering Committee emerged from months of exploration and trademark review to emerge with a community proposal for a new brand: SYMBOL. The community brand proposal successfully passed on January 2, 2020.
Another highlight was seeing the Migration Committee tokenomics proposal pass with an almost unanimous vote.
The year wrapped up with some important notable core business platforms in place for 2020 so we could operate better together. These platforms included a new multi-channel communication platform and new global HRIS (Human Resources Information System). This ensures the Foundation has what it needs to scale effortlessly and strategically.
The Future Is Now
Despite our best efforts, there were delays, challenges, disappointments, and industry uncertainty, but looking back, I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and excited for our future. Symbol’s launch progress has moved into the final stage of initiating test efforts, and the Foundation has been making significant progress on client applications, test networks, and deeper collaboration with our community, exchanges, and partners. It’s been an amazing path to walk since I first began with NEM in 2017.
Surprisingly, the hardest lesson I learned as a leader this year had very little to do with volatile markets or advancements in blockchain technology. It was the discipline of staying focused while building the future.
-Alexandra Tinsman, NEM Foundation President 2019-2020