Startups focused on cryptocurrency and blockchain – which are different kinds of digital cash and the platform that allows this cash to be exchanged — are enormously hot right now. Investments in these companies nearly doubled in 2017 compared to the previous year and have only been increasing in 2018. In late May, Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, announced it was launching a $1 billion venture fund for blockchain and cryptocurrency startups.
For all the excitement surrounding this promising technology, the industry confronts an obstacle that is common to many emerging technologies – very few people have a strong grasp of what blockchain and cryptocurrency actually are.
Executives who are approached to work for these startups have usually heard of Bitcoin, the most well-known cryptocurrency, and they may vaguely know blockchain has something to do with securing digital currency. However, they often have a fleeting grasp of the nuances and possibilities of this dynamic industry. Their haziness and lack of knowledge can be a formidable challenge to startups that want to land key talent in a competitive hiring market.
Blockchain and cryptocurrency companies can take a lesson from the past , using the model that was employed by the electric vehicle (EV) industry a decade ago.
Lots of Questions
The situation with blockchain and cryptocurrency is reminiscent of how EVs were viewed in 2010. Back then, the mention of electric vehicles would immediately trigger a host of basic questions:
- Are electric cars safe?
- How far can they drive before they conk out?
- How long will the battery last?
- How expensive are these things?
- Where the heck am I supposed to charge them?
When approached by recruiters in the emerging EV industry, prospects had the same concerns that many people now have with blockchain and cryptocurrency – specifically, what is it, and will people actually buy it?
Of course, today it is clear they would buy electric vehicles. A recent report from the research firm Frost and Sullivan determined that global sales of EVs are expected to climb from 1.2 million in 2017 to 1.6 million in 2018, and then jump to 2 million in 2019. Porsche wants to make half of its cars electric by 2025. BMW and other leading automobile makers have announced aggressive plans for introducing electric vehicles. Today, no one bats an eye when they see an EV parked at a charging station at the local supermarket.
The acceptance of the EV industry was not a matter of happenstance, but rather the result of a savvy approach to introducing new technology that confused and even worried people. The learnings that came out of the EV industry are ones that blockchain and cryptocurrency startups should be following today as they search for investors and talent.
Every time EV companies communicated with the world – from their web site to their marketing materials to their outreach to prospective talent – they took an educational approach. The early evangelists for EVs never once forgot the majority of people were not steeped in the technical details of their offering. Every interaction was couched in terms of EV 101.
This provided a foundation that inspired people, resulting in a popular groundswell that continued with documentaries like “Who Killed the Electric Car?” that helped propel the industry forward. This foundation, built bit by bit through relentless, ongoing education, allowed EV companies to approach talent in a different way because the technology did not seem so foreign. As a result, EV companies could sell the dream of what they were trying to accomplish.
In the same way, bitcoin and cryptocurrency companies can only help prospective employees appreciate the unique opportunity they offer if they understand the industry first. The firms’ recruitment materials and job descriptions should lay all that out, providing the context for candidates to appreciate the dream they could be a part of.
Beyond the Buzzwords
Like with bitcoin and cryptocurrency today, exactly what talent the EV needed in 2010 was unclear. With industries that are building technology from scratch, there is not a standard resume for who constitutes an ideal employee. Because few people have direct experience working with emerging technology, recruiters must be creative, and figure out the mindsets and problem-solving skills that will be necessary as the industry evolves.
In the case of electric cars, some of the most successful technical employees came from the medical device field, which had many parallels to EVs. They both manufactured in high volume, using similar materials, while adhering to rigorous safety standards.
In their search for talent, blockchain and cryptocurrency startups need to take a similar tact as the EV industry , determining their unique needs and finding employees whose hobbies or parallel industries have allowed them to develop the desired skill sets. Workers who have been part of emerging industries, and already operated on the frontier of technology, are more likely to understand the early adopter market, and have a desire to be trailblazers in another new arena. This type of recruitment requires a deeper level of thought and evangelism, where the companies connect the dots for themselves and for candidates about the vast opportunities that are before them.
At the moment, bitcoin and cryptocurrency are still an emerging industry that remains amorphous to many people. The terms bitcoin and cryptocurrency still reside in the land of buzzwords, which makes people curious but also wary. While that presents challenges, it also gives a huge advantage to the startups that approach this smartly since they can move ahead of the pack and differentiate themselves from competitors. In the same way, candidates have a huge career opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an emerging industry, positioning themselves as an expert and veteran after only a few years on the job.
This strategy requires a delicate balance of simplicity and sermonizing, clarity and passion. Fortunately, there is a roadmap for how to do it well: Follow the electric car down the highway to success.