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Our guest today is the Chief Business Officer at the crypto giant known as Blockchain.com, Lane Kasselman.
Lane Kasselman has more than two decades of experience in public policy, crisis strategy, and communications at Blockchain.com. Previously, he headed communications and public affairs for Uber and AT&T, where he played a crucial role in creating national and international regulatory campaigns and frameworks. Lane co-founded crisis management firm Greenbrier in 2017, which solved complex reputational issues for clients ranging from Silicon Valley unicorns to heads of state to celebrities, and was acquired by The Messina Group a year later.
Since 2009, he has served as founder of Kasselman LLC, a boutique non-partisan public affairs firm that has worked with various notable campaigns, officials, companies, and nonprofits in the country, including the Newsom for Governor Campaign. Earlier in his career, Kasselman was recruited by the Markham Group, a leading visual communication messaging firm, to manage advancements with then-Senator Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Exploratory Committee for President.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- Lane’s responsibilities as the Chief Business Officer from growing leaders and business development
- How not to get siloed and to keep focused on the core operations of the business
- How to identify executive to senior executive and help them make that leap
- How an executive coach has helped Lane grown into his role
Connect with Lane Kasselman: LinkedIn
Blockchain.com – https://blockchain.com
Connect with Cameron: Website | LinkedIn
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Our guest is the Chief Operating Officer at the crypto giant known as Blockchain.com, Lane Kasselman. Lane has more than two decades of experience in public policy, crisis strategy, and communications at Blockchain.com. Previously, he headed Communications in Public Affairs for Uber and AT&T, where he played a crucial role in creating a national and international regulatory campaigns and frameworks.
Lane cofounded crisis management firm, Greenbrier, in 2017, which solved complex reputational issues for clients ranging from Silicon Valley unicorns, to heads of state, to celebrities, and was acquired by The Messina Group a year later. Since 2009, he has served as the Founder of Kasselman LLC, a boutique non-partisan public affairs firm that has worked with various notable campaigns, officials, companies, and nonprofits in the country, including the Newsom for Governor Campaign. Earlier in his career, Kasselman was recruited by the Markham Group, a leading visual communication messaging firm, to manage advancements with then-Senator Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Exploratory Committee for President. Lane, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Cameron. Happy to be here.
You’ve got a super fun, crazy bio. We could actually sit and have drinks for hours. I’ve got some funny stories. Were you with Uber in the early days?
I was one of the first hundred employees.
I brought Garrett to Burning Man for his first burn in the summer of 2008. Tim Ferriss and Garrett came, and they were part of my camp. We had no idea who Garrett was, other than he was Canadian, and he had stumble upon this stupid little company. Four of us told him that Uber was the dumbest idea we had ever heard. Tim put money in, and I missed out on a massive Angel investment.
Indeed, you did. Press a button, get a car. Who knew that would change all over the world?
I love the model. I love that you got to work with them too. There were some funny stuff on the Hillary campaign too. I was at the largest fundraiser for her. Marcelo Claure was my client. I was coaching the CEO of Sprint. I flew out to Miami to have dinner at Marcelo’s home with Hillary and the group, and we were raising money. It was cool. Anyway, thanks for doing this.
Those were the days.
Tell me about Blockchain.com. What was the impetus for you getting involved?
Blockchain is one of the oldest companies in crypto. I think that often gets forgotten when you’re talking about crypto because so many companies are new. Blockchain is just about ten years old, which makes it a bit of a dinosaur in the crypto space. It’s funny to think just as an aside that a few years ago, there were 11 and 12-year-olds hearing about crypto for the first time, and now they’re in their 20s. For them, crypto is not weird. It’s not odd, it’s not new. In fact, normal banking or traditional banking, how we think about it, is the odd thing. For them, crypto is interesting. That’s what makes blockchain is so exciting right now and one of the reasons I joined.
Crypto is not weird or odd, or new. It’s interesting, and that’s what makes blockchain so exciting right now.
When I left Uber a few years ago, I took some time off, and I was given the opportunity to invest and advise in Blockchain. I got to know the CEO at the time. In all of this time, over everything I’ve done since I left Uber and started a company and sold it, became a partner in another company, I’ve always been involved with Blockchain.com, either as a consultant at some point, always an advisor and certainly as an investor.
I’ve grown to know the leadership team and the business really well, but the business has grown dramatically during that time to where it is now. About a few months ago now, the CEO called and said, “The company is scaling at an unprecedented rate, even in crypto, and I need help. You’ve scaled companies before. Come on in and scale this with me.”
We talked about it for a few days. It was a pretty amazing opportunity to get involved in a space that I believe in, work with a founder that I really like, and also just get mission-focused again. I’ve been a bit of a mercenary for six years, and it’s fun to be focused on one thing and making it grow. That’s why I joined.
Prior to this, you were running your own crisis communications firm, correct?
Yes. It gets a little confusing. I left Uber. I didn’t really want a normal job. I fell into doing some crisis management. Who knew Silicon Valley needed a lot of crisis management? Our firm really took off. I started it with another gentleman named Matt McKenna. He was President Clinton’s spokesman for a long time, and then he joined Uber. He left, we started this company, it took off.
Then Jim Messina, who was President Obama’s Campaign Manager on the reelect, Deputy Chief of Staff in the White House, he’s got a large corporate strategy firm. He then acquired us shortly after we started. He invested in us, we grew, and then I became a partner in The Messina Group and helped the company start many other business ventures. All during that time, I stayed on as the Managing Partner of Greenbrier, which is doing well despite my absence these days.
What do you think you learned from a couple of those roles? What do you think you learned that has set you up for the role that you’re in now as the Chief Business Officer of Blockchain?
Fortunately, being in in the crisis world, you end up working with the chief executives of most companies. It’s not like mid-level employees are hiring you to come in and solve an issue. You generally would get called during people or company’s worst days or worst weeks or worst months. When that happens, you’re dealing with the board, you’re dealing with the CEO, and usually the leadership team of a company.
Sometimes a crisis is not solved in a day. Sometimes a crisis can take weeks or even months, and you end up building pretty close relationships with these folks. One of the things I learned, both because I was running our building and running a company that eventually grew and got decent in size, and then working with these chief executives themselves, was understanding the nuance of actually what they want to focus on and what they don’t.
Oftentimes, when I’m seeing reports out from people in the company to our CEO, they’re really long and detailed in areas that get into minutia that don’t have a measurable impact on the outcome of whatever it is they’re writing about. They want to make sure the full story is known. What they’re not recognizing is that you don’t become a CEO of a company unless you are empowered to ask for more information when you want it.
It’s this odd scenario where employees don’t trust that CEOs are going to ask for more information when they want it. They just have this innate need to provide all this information, too much information, and they bury the lead, they bury the play. What does that mean? Generally, you want to be brief with CEOs. You want to be direct and to the point because they’re dealing with a million issues at once. You want to help facilitate their ability to move from one issue to the next.
Have you ever heard of the Kolbe profile?
No. What is that?
It’s a personality profile, and the net of it is it teaches you how you start or initiate projects. CEOs tend to start and initiate by winging it, making it up as they go, shooting from the hip, fire-ready-aim. A lot of COOs and a lot of executives tend to be more fact finders, where they ask a lot of questions to start something. What happens is because they want all the facts, they assume the CEO does. You’re exactly right, they don’t want the facts at all. They want the bottom line. They want to know that you’ve got the facts, but it’s like their hard drive is already full. Their brain is already full, they can’t take any more info in. How do you teach the leaders to start to operate that way? You’ve learned it, but do you now start to teach them as well?
I’m fortunate that Blockchain have many direct reports, and all of them are different stages in their careers, but some are at that stage where they’re starting to move from exec to senior exec. There’s real desire for the mentorship. This thing in tech happens where if you’re at an AT&T or you’re at a major multinational corporation, there’s probably a program in place to help you grow and progress throughout your executive development.
In the startup world, we just appoint people to roles or maybe we recruit them in, but that professional development thing is focused on the junior and mid-level roles. It’s rarely focused on the exec roles, maybe you have an exec coach, maybe not. What I found though is that those execs that are trying to move from maybe junior exec to mid or senior level exec, they’re starved for that mentorship.
Just somebody to spend a little bit of time stepping away from the day-to-day work and talking about how their activity and role is being perceived and how it’s impacting their ability to grow. I do that, which is maybe not necessarily something that all senior execs do or have time for, but my job here is to help the company scale. The company doesn’t scale unless the execs are also growing as the company grows. I see it as part of my job.
I think it’s almost a core of your job. I actually launched a course called Invest in Your Leaders, for that core purpose of giving all managers and leaders what I consider the 12 Core Competencies of Leadership. It’s situational leadership, coaching, delegation, conflict management, problem solving, time management, all the executive functioning skills that often we assume they have, but maybe they really don’t.
I’ve always said that the leader’s core job is to grow people. What’s the rest of your job? If you allocate, I don’t know what X percent of your time is growing people, what’s the rest of your job entailing right now? I want to actually ask one more question around crisis comm, and then we’ll get deep into Blockchain.
I came in as the Chief Business Officer, which is nebulous, not the COO, only because that role in the crypto world is more appropriate for somebody within the finance background. My job is to scale the business. That means that it’s easier to define by what I don’t do. I don’t do anything on the technical side. I don’t have any oversight on engineering, product, or in our business, the markets and trading group. The actual trading of cryptocurrencies on an institutional side, I’m not involved in that side of the business, or what we call our institutional business.
What I do focus on is everything else. Everything that’s corporate, whether that’s corporate development, partnerships, M&A, it’s all in my wheelhouse. If it’s external like communications, marketing, public policy, or maybe it’s operational. Maybe it’s customer success, real estate company operations, all those other things that aren’t focused on the day-to-day execution of the product and the technical side of it are the things I focus on. I’m generally hopping from topic area to topic area throughout the day.
How do you operate within the leadership team then? How do you stay focused on the core across the organization versus getting siloed?
Cameron, its super hard. There are two challenges. One is it’s easy to get siloed in whatever the biggest fire is and focus on it. The other is when you have oversight over that many different organizations, there’s a lot of stuff that bubbles up that fits into the to-do column. As well as anybody that can zap a lot of your time and a lot of your energy. I’m laughing because it’s up here to my right. I’ve got my ten personal OKRs for the quarter, the big things I need to accomplish for the business. They’re right there next to my screen, printed on paper on the wall. Every day I’m like, “Did I do enough to move the ball on each of them?” If I didn’t, I just ignore the to-dos and focus on those big things, which maybe because of some downstream problems. What I’ve learned is that the to-do email, if you ignore it, will always come back again for you to do it later. I know I’ll get to this.
Jim Collins talked about that. It’s about focusing on the critical few things versus the important many, and we have to stay focused on that. I want to ask one question about crisis comm and then we’ll go back to get into the core of Blockchain.com. When should a company reach out to a crisis firm to help them? Other than the obvious maybe, think more entrepreneurial like maybe the 50 to 500-person company, when should they try to reach out to a firm like you were building versus handling it all in-house?
A crisis is loosely defined as anything that’s out of the ordinary. That could be as simple as like a negative media inquiry, or it could be your CEO is accused of financial malfeasance or something else. It can be anything. The question has to be dictated by audience. Which audience isn’t impacted by the crisis? Do you have the ability internally to manage or mitigate the impact on that audience? Let me explain. If the audience is the public, in other words, the crisis is something that’s being reported on by the press, it doesn’t really impact your customers, certainly not your employees, but the press. Do you need to mitigate it with them or with the public?
Let’s use Uber as an example. Uber got a lot of really bad press for various reasons that didn’t really impact its customers or its employees. It was just bad press for activities of the CEO or other members of the leadership team. Mitigating it publicly was necessary to minimize the drop-in signups. There was a measurable impact to the business. The way to mitigate that was, “Do we have enough of a team internally that could manage the press or do we not?” That was the question.
Then if you juxtapose that, let’s use Uber again as our example. There are many car accidents every day related to Uber because there are so many of them on the road. If a crisis is that a lawsuit has been filed against you for bodily harm of one of your customers, that lawsuit could have dramatic impacts on your bottom line or on other customers who wanted to use the product if the public is aware of it. Again, the question you have to ask is, “Do we have the right attorneys in the house to manage it? Do we have the right communications people? Do we have the right messaging to assure our customers that are being is safe?”
If you don’t have the tools internally, then you rent. You rent somebody like the team of Greenbrier to come in and solve it for you. The last thing is if you’re a small company, you’ve got 50 employees or 100 employees, you generally don’t have the team to manage any of this stuff, so you need a project manager for your crisis. Maybe we’re spending a lot of time on crisis, but the biggest vulnerability of a crisis is that it causes your company to stop operating, and causes your entire leadership team to focus on solving it. That’s the worst thing to do.
The biggest vulnerability of a crisis is that it causes your company to stop operating and causes your entire leadership team to focus on solving it, and that’s the worst thing to do.
I’m glad you mentioned we’re spending a lot of time on crisis, but I think it’s actually a core skill of yours that you might even dismiss. The entire area of Blockchain and crypto is going through, not crisis, but massive volatility. I sent my dad a text like, “Dad, everything is back from where it was six weeks ago.” Then I sent him a text the next morning, “But it’s down 20% from yesterday.”
You’re managing crisis and fear and insecurity across your organization all the time. I think a lot of organizations, ego gets in the way, like Ryan Holiday’s book said, Ego is the Enemy. I think a lot of people think they have the skillset internally when they really don’t. That’s why I wanted you to just speak to it a bit. What’s the core of what Blockchain.com is working on?
Our business is pretty diversified. We’re one of the few in the space that has many different business lines all in one company. We have basically three main products. We have a retail product, which in the crypto world, you may know as like a wallet. That’s your account. It’s where you can buy and sell crypto. You also can earn rewards on it. You can put your crypto or your fiat in, put $100 in, convert it to a stable coin, and then earn more of those stable coins back. Create value on that token.
We have 76 million wallets worldwide, and of those, 36 million are verified, meaning they’ve gone through a KYC or a Know-Your-Customer process that enables them to do more transacting. This is the main on-ramp that most consumers have with crypto is to be able to buy and sell it. What’s interesting though, if you juxtapose it with your bank account is in your bank account, you likely can hold, if you’re in the US, US dollars, and that’s it. In your Blockchain wallet, you can have one of a dozen tokens or all of the tokens, you can have US dollars or other currencies. It becomes a much more ubiquitous account for holding value and then moving it around.
Our retail product is designed to eventually one day replace the need to have a third-party banking system. You should be able to have your paycheck go directly into your blockchain wallet, and from there, be able to have your debit card and credit card and your savings accounts and investing in crypto and operated all out of one central repository. That’s hopefully where it’s going in the future.
The second business is our exchange. If you think about crypto exchanges, like a currency exchange in an airport. You go to the airport currency exchange, you’re probably not going to get a great interest rate, but that’s where you change your money. There’s a sign on the wall, you get 50 different currencies to exchange with. There are about 130, 150 of those worldwide in the crypto space. They’re obviously all-digital. That’s where prosumers or professional investors offset the risk. They’re basically engaging in arbitrage. They’re buying currency or token low, converting it, selling it high, and keeping the spread.
Consumers aren’t really doing that as much, but prosumers. The folks that hang out at home doing day trading, they’re doing that. Then of course, institutional. Our institutional business, which has really been the breakaway hit and the banner story of the past few months is a merchant bank. The most easy to understand comparison is JP Morgan is a merchant bank. Like us, they’ve got a retail side and institutional side.
What does a merchant bank do? It is investor-type banking services. We offer to institutions, and that could be a hedge fund or VC or a family office, or even a crypto native company like a mine, Spot OTC, which basically means if you want to buy $1 million in Bitcoin, you could use your wallet or you can call us, and a human will get on the phone, execute the trade for you, probably get you a better rate and handle it for you. If you’re dealing with these large volume transactions, you want a human doing it.
The second is we have derivatives. Just like a derivative product, but based on the underlying asset. Then we offer lending to our crypto clients. We are the second, probably almost the first largest lender in crypto. The classic example is like, Cameron, hopefully you’re sitting on $50 million with Bitcoin right now, but you know it’s going to be worth $100 million next year to the moon. You want to get a remodel done on the house and so you need access to $5 million of that, but you don’t want to sell it. Where can you go? How can you borrow against it? You can’t go to JP Morgan, but you can come to us, and we’ll do a collateralized loan on it. There’s an insatiable appetite for lending in the crypto space, and we’re satisfying it.
You guys are into some pretty cool areas. I’ve got a quick geek question. How many basis points is the difference approximately between a merchant is doing versus a pro-trader versus a normal consumer? If you’re buying some Bitcoin, what’s the difference?
It depends on the token and depends on the time of day.
Just approximately Bitcoin, is it a full percentage? Is it a 10th of a pro point?
Yes, it could be up to a full percentage, but there are a lot of factors. The larger the amount, the bigger the spread.
How are you guys funded?
The great news about Blockchain is we’ve been profitable for nearly two years. We’ve done two rounds of venture funding this year. We’ve raised a little over $500 billion total since the company was started. We have a $5.2 billion valuation. Our funding rounds this year were opportunistic and strategic. The one thing about being in a finance business is its cash intensive. You need a lot of capital to make loans, that type of thing to use in trading protocols. We do have insatiable appetite for cash.
Is that the core of those three categories? The wallet, the trading arbitrage platform or the exchanges, and then the third. Which is your biggest revenue source? Which is your biggest margin source?
I don’t mean this to be like an advertisement for Blockchain.com, but this is what’s so great about the company is that it’s about 50/50 institutional retail. Why is that important? Our good friends over at Coinbase, the biggest crypto company in the US, their revenue mix is about 97% retail, which is great. They’ve got tons of retail customers, but they’re highly reactive to the volatility in the crypto market. When crypto is up, they’re making money. It’s going great. When it’s down or there’s a dip, things aren’t looking great. Their revenue mix is pretty lumpy.
When you add the institutional revenue into the mix, that stabilizes the revenue because the institutional business doesn’t react at all the same way that retail customers do. Because of that, our revenue mix is much more stable. That’s very unique in crypto. It’s one of the reasons we’re so highly valued and we have such a great list of blue-chip investors.
The collateralized loan side of the business has got to be a huge opportunity for you as well then?
Yes, that is really the growth area of the business. We’re primarily focused on crypto native companies or native investors, and that’s just scratching the surface, but there is quite a lot of opportunity.
Was it you guys that someone just announced you’re going to go public in two and a half years? It’s like a political party saying they’re going to change something after the next election. Was that you or was it someone else?
I don’t know that we said that. We are going in a public trajectory, call it somewhere between 12 and 18 months. For us, that’s not like a kick-the-can-down-the-road. The company was built on the philosophy of being very conservative in its approach to regulation, to customer service, to building products that are stable. We’re slow and thoughtful when it comes to becoming a public company. We’re not going to rush it. There are a lot of folks that are just like, “Give me a spec. I want to go public right now.” That’s not our way of doing business.
Are you, because of the regulations, having to stay as an office-based company, or are you hiring people remote as well? Has COVID allowed you to be more remote than maybe pre-COVID financial regulations would have allowed?
We are a fully remote company. We do have offices and we’re building more of them. The company is London-based. We do have a large office on the West end of London. Before COVID, there was also one in San Francisco. Since that, those offices closed and reopened. We decided to go fully remote. At this point, we have employees in 22 countries. We’re building a new office in the financial district in London called Mayfair.
We actually opened a new office in Miami. We’re building a much larger office there, it’s our US headquarters. We’re building one in Los Angeles. We have a temporary space there. We’ll probably open one in San Francisco, even though I like working from home. We’ll probably end up having one here too. There are other spots around the world. We have a large presence in Lithuania. We’ll probably open a new office there.
The idea is employees actually want to go into the office once or twice a week. They do want to work with each other, and so we’re giving them the option. We’ll have offices where people can co-locate when needed, but otherwise fully remote. The rule is everyone just always dials in from their own time. Everyone on their own screen, even if you’re all on that Cambridge room together. There’s balance across the company.
You talked about promoting people from executive to senior executive. How do you distinguish that and how do you help them make that leap?
Like many startups, not super clearly defined, and that there’s a path to growing your executive level. I think generally the way to think about it at Blockchain is our management team is made up of folks that will own one vertical. They may own marketing or they may own customer success. Then as you take over leadership of multiple organizations, that’s when you’re making the transition to a more senior executive role where you have oversight over multiple different things.
For example, our chief legal officer has oversight for legal administration and compliance, which are three separate organizations. Our CFO overseas financial operations. I think that depending on where you are in your growth, you will have oversight of multiple organizations. The way that we’re getting folks prepared is first, we need to finish building out our team. We just hired our last executive to the management team. He starts in two weeks. Now, our leadership team is set.
We have our full bench, everybody that we need. Now, we’re starting to look at, “What’s the structure look like? Where do we want to move pieces around to make sure that it flows properly?” I think, as we’re looking at the next six months, we’re looking at which members of the team are crushing it on their core responsibility and would do well owning other areas of business.
How about yourself and your growth as a leader? What have you focused on? Because you’ve had some big trajectory changes in your career, especially going from running your own business back into growing this hyper-growth company again.
For me, this opportunity was like one to go work with a CEO that I really like and believe in. This is what he has been doing for ten years.
What is it about him that you like then?
There’s probably like a cliché that CEOs and techs are really smart. I probably had 400-plus tech companies as clients for the last six years. I can say some of them were and some of them were not. Our CEO, and this isn’t because I think he’s going to read this, I’m like, “He’s really smart.” That means he knows what he doesn’t know, and he’s willing to ask for help. Throughout the six-plus years I’ve known him, he’s been very clear about, “I don’t know a lot about that space. Let’s find an expert, Let’s find somebody else.” To me, that is the true sign of intelligence.
A truly smart CEO knows what he doesn’t know and is willing to ask for help.
There are CEOs who pretend they have an answer to everything because they think that’s their job. It’s the ones who acknowledge that they don’t, but they know enough to go find the expert who can then advise them and help give them the answer. Our CEO is fortunately the one who will go out and find that expert. The other is he’s just got an endless drive. Maybe it’s because I’m in my 40s now, but by 10:00 PM, I’m tired. I’ve got 2 kids and 2 dogs. I’m tired at the end of the day. He wakes up and is like, “Let’s do it,” every day and he has been doing that for ten years, which I can’t. I don’t do that. I really admire that.
I was at a Mastermind years ago, and there was this guy sitting off in the corner for two days, and he said nothing for the two days. I was new to the group. I was leaving and I’m like, “Who was that guy over in the corner? I don’t remember his name, but he’s a billionaire. He said nothing.” They’re like, “He’s here to learn. He’s not here to talk.” I’m like, “That’s pretty profound.” When you joined the organization, when you came into Blockchain.com, were there any ripples that you caused that you had to be aware of from the other senior team? Was it fairly seamless coming in?
I think there are two answers to that. One is I did consult for 400-plus companies over six years. Dropping into a company and just starting to do things is what I’ve been doing for six years. I don’t want to say I had it better than most people starting a new job. I had it better because that’s what I do. I drop in, I figure it out, and I started making changes.
The other answer is that yes, I think there were some ways. One of the first things I did was come in and say, “There are not enough people working in this company. Some of you have actually maybe done a disservice to the business by not hiring fast enough. We’re going to take us a pause right now. No more random request for new hires. I’m going to do a full audit of the entire company and figure out where we need bodies, where we’re lacking, what the ideal number of staffing should be in each floor, and what the minimum level required should be.” I’m going to take a couple weeks to do that.
On the other side of it, then we’re going to start the hard work and go hire all these people. I think there were some folks that were like, “Why are you getting in the way of my current process of just hiring people as I need them? Why are you adding layers to something that doesn’t need layers?” Now, fast forward a few months later, I don’t think anyone can remember prior to the staffing audit. We have a very regimented process every week on adding new employees. Since I’ve been here, we’ve added 80 employees. I think we were 170 when I started, and now we’re close to 260. The process worked by disrupting it. I then was able to accelerate it. I think that caused some nerves initially, but they’re all over it. I don’t think I caused in any other ways though.
Were there any areas that you forced yourself to pull back on? Were there any areas that you want to make change in and you held back on? If you held back, why?
I’m fortunate to have an exec coach, who did help me a lot with the first 100 days. I don’t know that I had any significant missteps, at least none that I’m currently aware of. Maybe somebody on the management team would correct me on that. I think when I got here, I was maybe a little bit more gung-ho about getting more involved in people ops beyond just the hiring audit.
I wanted to unpack everything that had been done before. I wanted to improve our benefits. I wanted an employee handbook. I wanted protocols for offices. I wanted to redo everything that had been done so far on people. What I quickly realized was that I was quite the multiple to deal with, and I probably didn’t have capacity. The other was, that wasn’t an appropriate thing for me to be spending my time on. I needed to hire the leaders in that org to do it and maybe put a pin in it. That’s probably the one area where I wanted to move quickly that I slowed down a little bit, and now I’ve since brought in other folks to do it.
You mentioned having an executive coach. What do you work with your coach on and how do you think they’ve helped you?
I do believe in coaching. I think finding an exec coach is incredibly difficult. It’s like dating, you’ve got to interview many coaches. I think I went through almost a dozen before I found mine. It’s two things. One is, every time we meet, I have strategic questions about like, “How do I approach this big thing that I just have not necessarily dealt with before?” I’ve done a lot in my career, but I haven’t done everything. I certainly haven’t run a crypto company before.
There are a lot of things I just don’t necessarily know how to do. Maybe it’s related to an investor, maybe it’s related to how to think about growing a new organization within the company. I need a sounding board that doesn’t have a-dog-in-a-fight. Somebody who’s been there, done it before, advised other execs through that growth. Then the other is, my coach, and I think this is why I like him so much, is he has almost like a training or coaching protocol in mind. Every week, it’s like half the stuff that’s tactical that I need, and the other half is stuff that he wants me to do. He’s taking me out of my current role, making me think about things in a different way, and trying to help me grow as a leader.
Some of it sounds like the Socratic method of getting you to ask questions, but it sounds like he also is a bit of a blend where he’s a mentor as well. He’s been there and he’s giving you the shortcuts and telling you what to do in some cases.
Sometimes, I think he’s like reading my mind. It really does help. It blows me away when he is like, “I’m guessing this is probably what’s happening right now in the company.” I’m like, “How do you know that?”
I remember when I was looking for mine back in the GOT-JUNK days, and I found the guy being groomed as a COO at Starbucks, and he was spectacular for me. What was the process you used to find your coach?
I did it during the Zoom era. It was a lot of Zoom calls. Generally, everyone who’s in the coaching business, at least those who I met, will do an hour intro session with you. I did a bunch of those hour sessions. At first it’s like, “Is there a personality fit?” The second was knowing where these conversations would go. Some days, I’m going to have a lot to ask about and a lot of questions. Other days, I’m not prepared at all.
I needed to get a sense for, “Does the personality match?” The other is like, “What’s their program? Are they just there to be a sounding board and give me advice?” Because that’s easy. Or, “Are they trying to dissect me a little bit and my company and what I’m working on, and thinking critically about it and then from week-to-week giving me feedback or thoughts based on that analysis?”
What I found was some of the coaches I interviewed did a research on me and my company. They came to the table with interesting thoughts about challenges they were thinking I would face. Others were just like, “How are you doing? Nice to meet you.” It’s like it was the first time we’d interacted. Obviously the ones that prepared more, I had a much better connection with. The current coach, it was like, I interviewed eleven, and they’re all within the same margin of error, and then this one was just way off the charts.
I talked to a lot in the crisis business about being good at crisis is because you’re good at predicting things because you have so much pattern recognition. I’ve actually not ever thought about this before, so I’m glad you’re asking it. I think what makes my coach so good is that he’s got good pattern recognition. He’s been doing this for so long with many Silicon Valley execs, that he can just listen to me talk for ten minutes, read the situation completely, and give me helpful, useful tactical feedback.
I want to go to the CEO because you’ve mentioned the CEO a few times and how much you liked him and respect them. Have you had your first big disagreement with him yet?
The thing is I’ve known him for such a long time. We’ve had those over the years. In my first month, I had a misstep, just with a project he and I were working on. It was interesting moment because I realized that I had made the misstep, and then he gave me critical feedback. It wasn’t like a CEO yelling at you that you did something terrible. It was, “Let’s talk about what you did here was wrong, and let’s talk about why.”
He talked to me through why it was wrong, helped me see the strategy that I didn’t see, and that was it and moved on. I’ve noticed since then, that’s generally how he gives feedback, especially critical feedback. He’ll identify something that somebody has done that is wrong and will give immediate feedback, and then moves on and doesn’t think about it again. He squashes it.
How about the flip side? Have you been able to turn to him yet and tell him where he’s doing something wrong or where you believe he’s got the wrong thought related to strategy or something tactical? Have you been able to show him a blind spot?
Yes. I think that’s one of the things that I’m here to do is to help be that balance for him. I think he’s been in this business long enough to have some pretty refined skillsets when it comes to how to run the business, but we all can be better. I definitely can give him 360 feedback, and I do it on a pretty regular basis. Even this morning, we were on a call talking about a deck that we’re building. He had a real strong opinion that it should be this way. I’m like, “I think you’re wrong. It should be this way.” We disagreed, and I think I was more convincing. He’s like, “Let’s use your way.”
Sometimes he wins, sometimes I win. He is the CEO, he makes the final call, but he is open to feedback. I think there’s this natural tendency in companies to not want to give CEOs critical feedback or to disagree with them. Keep your head down so it doesn’t get cut off. That exists certainly in tech, especially with founder of companies. The reality is with our CEO, he actually likes the feedback. He may continue to disagree with you, but he appreciates the disagreement.
I think it’s one of the things that makes the true CEO-COO relationship strong, or in your case, your role as Chief Business Development and with him is that they trust that we’re not holding anything back. They trust that we are giving our honest opinion, and that builds so much trust because they don’t think of us as a yes man at all. I think they are starving for that feedback, especially if it’s done one-on-one. If you do it in front of the board or you do it in front of the whole team, they might get positional. I want to go back to your true younger self. If we’re to go back to the 21, 22-year-old Lane Kasselman, what advice would you give yourself at 22 years old that you know to be true today, but you wish you had known back then?
When I was 22, I would have said, “Save up as much as you can, so in ten years, buy this thing called Bitcoin.” It’s what I would have done. I went through a bit of a personal growth transition post-Uber. A lot of friends in my life, certainly my wife, think about Lane as like pre-Uber and post Uber. Pre-Uber, I was kind of a jerk. Certainly when I was 22, I was just starting law school. I wasn’t fully cocky yet, but by the time I got out of law school, I was definitely like a pretty big jerk. That certainly followed me through my first couple of jobs.
In fact, I was at AT&T for about four years. I was a young exec there. My boss there actually made a bunch of money in crypto and wrote a book. He wrote a book about his time at AT&T, and he changed the names of everybody in it. I’m in the book, and his description of me is that like young, super cocky kid right out of the law school who just thinks he knows everything. I think it’s hard to teach somebody who’s in their twenties how to be humble. I think I would have probably given myself a pretty sober lecture about how much more successful my life would have been earlier on had I learned that humility, that is so required of leaders as they get older. I definitely learned it at Uber. When I came out the other side over there, I was a different person and a much better one I think.
Imagine how much more successful your life would’ve been earlier on had you learned that humility that is so required of leaders as they get older.
I’ll tell you, I wish Garrett Camp had been less humble and more ego. I probably would have invested if his confidence had come out, but he was so humble and mild-mannered Canadian that I didn’t put my money in. Anyway, Lane Kasselman, the Chief Business Officer for Blockchain.com. Thanks so much for sharing with us on the show.
You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.
About Lane Kasselman
I’ve built a career by making things happen. From the rapid growth of market disruptors such as Uber to the maturation of Blockchain.com into a corporate institution, I make confident and rapid decisions that achieve sustainable and profitable scale, at pace.
Tech is for the brave – especially in this moment of increasing regulation, market corrections and economic challenge. Thriving in both turnaround and expansion mandates, I draw on a comprehensive skill set spanning of capital raising, M&A, sales, marketing, PR and comms to conceptualize, define and realize paths to growth. Vision is essential, but execution is business critical.
To this end, operational, business and people skills are more important than ever. From banks and investors to government and industry stakeholders, I nurture relationships that secure support and mobilize actions. Driving the organizational restructures, the acquisiton and integration of companies and the development and sale of a high performing company for a top tier valuation, I know how to instill a sense of urgency while respecting autonomy, and, inspire the work ethic and performance that drives excellence.
If you’d like to connect, feel free to get in touch.