Last year, Joseph and I were introduced via a mutual friend (Madeline Mann, you may remember her from her expert interview). When Madeline told me about Joseph’s career path, I knew I absolutely had to find a way to get him to sit down and share it with you all.
To start with a quick overview, Joseph went from university -> sales -> starting his own company -> sales -> getting his degree in finance -> turning down major banks to work as an intern in blockchain -> starting his own blockchain company. Insane!
Here’s that overview in a little more detail:
Joseph grew up in a small East Tennessee county with no movie theater and two stoplights. He went to college at University of Tennessee where graduated in 2007 (just before the economy crashed) with degrees in Microbiology and Political Science.
After graduation, Joseph packed up his car and drove out to LA to chase down job leads. He ended up landing a job as an oil salesman (totally in line with those majors, right?). Shortly thereafter, the entrepreneurial bug bit and Joseph started his own experiential marketing company, Pedaler’s Society, in LA.
For the first year and a half, growing Pedaler’s Society was a struggle. After a $350 check bounced, Joseph and his partner took a hard look at their business and worked to turn things around. They ended up landing contracts with the LA Angels, Anaheim Convention Center, and Fox Sports Properties.
In 2012, someone in Joseph’s circle mentioned this thing called Bitcoin. He briefly looked into the idea but didn’t make a moves just yet. Around the same time, he decided to enroll in USC’s Marshall School of Business. As he’s getting started in the program, Bitcoin resurfaces in the form of the Mt Gox crash. After doing more research, Joseph decides that he’s going to learn as much about this blockchain thing as he can.
On top of studying, Joseph began writing articles for blockchain sites like Coindesk, which led to eventually cover the entire LA blockchain scene. When graduation rolled around, Joseph had interviewed and received offers from some of the largest banks in the world, but he couldn’t let go of this idea that blockchain was about to revolutionize everything.
Instead of accepting a job at Wall Street, he ended up taking a job as an intern at a blockchain company called Gem. For the next 12 months, he soaked up as much knowledge as he could before hopping to a new opportunity in the space. Eventually, Joseph’s research culminated in a new idea that everyone seemed to be overlooking – taking highly programmable token structures and using them to create highly programmable securities.
He’s currently the founder of Omne Alternatives which aims to leverage blockchain to break liquidity out of illiquid alternative assets.
Full Interview Transcript
Austin: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another cultivated culture success story. I’ve got Joseph Bradley with me here, and I honestly couldn’t be more excited because this man has one of the coolest stories I’ve ever heard. Starting from microbiology back in undergrad, going into finance from there, then ending up in blockchain working full-time, and now, finally, starting his own blockchain company. So, Joseph, thanks so much for joining me tonight man.
Joseph: Man, I really appreciate it, Austin. It’s great to be here with you.
Austin: Yes, and it’s great to have you. So, tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing now and then we can dive all the way back to the very beginning and talk a little bit more about those undergrad days and how this all got started. You just started your own company. Tell us a little bit about that.
Joseph: Absolutely. So, I’ve been working in the blockchain space for about four years now, and I have had the privilege of working with some incredibly smart people along the way and kind of always being the guy willing to raise my hand and ask the stupid questions. Due to those stupid questions I typically got really, really good answers. It got me thinking, got the wheels turning, and ended up starting a company, I guess, in January of this year called Omne alternatives.
What Omne alternatives does is, we take highly programmable token structures and we create programmable securities. You can do many cool things with programmable securities, but we’re starting with breaking liquidity out of illiquid alternative assets. That paints with a pretty broad brush, but we can get into details about that a little bit later.
Austin: Awesome. Sounds good. I love this because we’re talking about the cutting edge of technology with blockchain. Something that not a lot of people understand, it’s right on the forefront. If we rewind to the beginnings, I would say that your background is the opposite of that. So, you grew up, I believe is- was it Eastern Tennessee?
Joseph: It was a place called Grainger County, Tennessee. Not a movie theater in the entire county.
Austin: How many stoplights?
Joseph: So, people talk about one stoplight towns, we actually had two. One in Blaine and one in Rutledge, but we had two.
Austin: Two stoplights, one movie theater – love it. For undergrad you ended up going to the University of Tennessee and you’re studying microbiology and what else?
Joseph: I started out in microbiology – micro was my major, political science was my minor, and I actually ended up flipping that at the very, very end, so that I could get the last little bit out of my scholarship and graduate on time. Yes, I love the math, I love science, and I love to read so it was a good mix it.
Austin: You’re going through undergrad, you’re studying those couple of things and graduation is on the horizon. You got to start thinking about the real world. In that moment, what were your plans? Like, what was the grand scheme after graduation? What we’re going to go on to do?
Joseph: The truth is, I really didn’t know. When I was in undergrad, I had played with a couple of entrepreneurial ideas. I actually filed for a patent and was given a patent and worked that for a little bit. Trying to try to sell my patent, trying to understand that. Ended up finishing, as I mentioned, with my major being political science. There aren’t a lot of things that you really going to do with that afterwards. You could go to law school, you can do a couple of other things.
So, I set for the LSAT in my senior year. I was trying to like, really think through what I wanted to do and actually ended up graduating in 2007, pretty tough economy. So, really started looking around and was bartending and waiting and work in a variety of odd jobs and just looked around and I was like, “You know I’m a young person and the world is vast and so, why don’t I just cast my lot and see where it goes.” I started looking at Matt, looked at Miami, New York, or Los Angeles and said, “I’m going to pick one. I’m going to get there and see what I can do.”
I ended up in LA, didn’t know anybody, but I packed the car up and- I did have a job lead, but I had to be there to interview.
Austin: Job lead though not a solid concrete thing.
Joseph: As a matter of fact, it was probably less concrete than I pitched my folks at the time, but yes, if it didn’t fit my car I sold it and I moved to Long Beach, California and interviewed for the gig. Yes.
Austin: Did you end up getting it?
Joseph: I did and funny enough my general manager was actually from my home town in Knoxville, and so once I worked my way up a couple of levels of the interview, they were like, “All right, final interview, you’re ready?” Like, “Sure, I’m ready.” They say, “Okay, get on a plane and fly to Knoxville.” Yes, it’s funny how those things work out, but I did get the position. Yes.
Austin: What was the industry? What were you doing? Tell us a little bit more about that. Joseph: I think, I just want to mention this real quickly before I dive into this. Your path is often odd and twisty and turny, but you got to be proud of everything that you did. I say this because I’ve had a bunch of odd jobs throughout my life, but this gig, I literally said, “If someone will hire me and pay me money, I will work there.” This was in, I guess, early 2008.
I took a job with a company by the name of QPR that was owned by a big building materials company Larfarge, Larfage Holcim now. I was working in the oil industry. So, oil that goes on bridge decks and you build roads with and things like that. Went to work for these guys basically as an oil sales guy. Going out to job sites and getting folks to buy the oil, and eventually, worked my way up into sourcing and all that. Those were interesting times because in 2008, middle managers had been let go.
So, I was the new new kid and they said, “Hey, look, you can work here and you can keep your position and we’ll pay the same or we can give you more responsibility, which by the way we’re going to pay you the same, but if you mess it up we might let you go.” I said, “I mean, it sounds like an opportunity.” So, flew me back east, wrote a business plan, which I didn’t know what a business plan was. They said, “Write us a business plan.” I googled, what is a business plan and then I said, “When do you need it?” They said, “48 hours.” I got to work.
Austin: I was going to say, I think I remember you saying it was like a 48 hour turnaround. I’m glad you mentioned it. That’s great. From Google to final product in two days is crazy.
Joseph: That’s right.
Austin: What happened next? You took on more responsibility, you wrote the business plan. I believe they gave you the opportunity and things went pretty well. How did it go from there?
Joseph: Things went well, and they say that opportunity is hard work and preparedness, you know, and meeting at the same time. I think I had the hard work box checked, but I don’t know about the fairness box because I didn’t even know the questions to ask, really. So, put this thing together, got signed off and ended up executing and really reaching out to as many people that I felt had just traveled the path as I possibly could because I was frankly in a little over my head, which was very clear about because I was 23, I guess, at the time. I just really started thinking like, “Man, I need people. I need people to ask questions too.”
I reached out to just anybody that I could think of that was in my phone, or so and so had a brother or cousin or whatever. I just set up little informational interviews to just ask them how they looked at business and looked at the world. So, did a lot of that in the first couple of years as I navigated it. Of course, had some mentors inside the business as well. Ended up building a fairly sizable territory on the West Coast, was managing about 11 states and had a couple of employees. Then I was like, the entrepreneurial bug hit, and I said this, “I seem to have done well. This can’t be it. I want to reach for a little something bigger.” So, I ended up starting my own company at about 25.
Austin: I love that you also mentioned the twists and turns and well, one accepting them, but also, really like looking back on them fondly, I’d ask you how many of those things that you thought were failures or waste of time. How many of those came back to help you in the future?
Joseph: Absolutely every single one of them, without a doubt because the truth is it’s like this is your story, man. You get so into the moment as you should and it seems like these things seem like the end of the world. It’s like, I don’t know how I’m going to put one foot in front of the other, however, that is the most important thing, is momentum, because you can always steer. Starting and stopping is the hard part. That’s what will wear you out and exhaust you, but you can always steer.
Somebody told me that, years ago. I just remember thinking, “Okay, even if I’m not going to make the perfect right decision, just make a decision.” Make a decision, drive forward, and keep your ears open and ask and steer. So, there was a lot of that Austin. A lot of the decisions that needed to be made, even to grow the business. Where I was like, “Did I make the right decision?” The reality of it is, moving out and making those big life changing decisions to head out west, and you don’t know how it’s going to end up, but man, I mean, this is a- it’s a fun ride if you’ll let it be.
Austin: Definitely. Yes, you either win or you learn and if you learn you win.
Joseph: That’s exactly right.
Austin: It’s like a win-win. That’s one of the toughest things that, especially, I’ve noticed talking to some of the people who might be watching the video where, they don’t know what they want to do and they’re so afraid of making the wrong move. Especially if they’ve gotten burnt in the past.
You sink four years and potentially a couple hundred thousand dollars a student debt and do a degree and then you find out you don’t like it. Maybe you start with microbiology and you’re like, “It’s not for me,” but you’ve spent so much time doing this. So, you don’t want that next move to be the exact same thing, but like you said, I mean, all these twists and turns they add up. You get experience from each and every one of them, and I can’t tell you how many things that I thought were a waste of time when I did them in the moment that came back and helped me 5,10 years later that they were invaluable.
For everybody listening, I’m really glad that you brought that up. You have this territory, you decide to start your own company, what did you get into? What was that company? What did it look like?
Joseph: Well, let me make one quick comment of something that you said, which I think is really, really interesting. If you take a step back and you say, “I studied microbiology, but really do I want to go and spend all this time in a lab” or whatever the conclusion is that you come to, if you zoom out and you think about really what transferable skill you were able to achieve by doing that, studying is the one thing that there is no sacrifice for. It’s just, you didn’t know micro and then you new micro right. You learned it through this process of studying.
So, I really think that the most valuable skill that can always be transferred is just taking the time to really let your mind do what it’s built to do. When you don’t understand something, it’s painful at first, and if you keep at it, the human brain it adapts, and all the sudden you start seeing the things that seemed like Greek before that now makes sense.
For the business, this was a hard right. I had a big territory, I travelled a lot for my company and I was living in Long Beach and I randomly was home for the Long Beach Grand Prix, which is a big car race in Southern California. I saw a bike taxi or pedicab and I started thinking about this and I was, “Yes, I’ve never seen one of these.” I went up and talked to the driver and he was like, “Yes, there’s a bunch of us out here. We put advertisements on the back of these things and we were out here at all these races.” I started thinking about it and I’m like, “I think I have a buddy in Charleston that does this.”
So I called my friend Dana and we talked a little bit about this and I’m like– I felt like I had reached my peak at QPR and there wasn’t really a path forward. I was just like getting this inkling that I needed to get back in the weight room, if you will, and just get stronger in a direction that I wasn’t strong in. I said, you know what, “I’m going to start a service based business and we’re going to call it experiential marketing, which is and was an emerging term then and a really hot term now.
I raised a little bit of money from friends and family type situation. Folks that were actually already in that industry that I didn’t realize that I had known that were my buddies from my college days and ended up starting a company that was an experiential advertising company using pedicabs to interact with crowds in Long Beach.
Austin: Which is totally the same thing you were doing at QPR for sure. Seamless transition.
Austin: How did that go? What came of it?
Joseph: Horribly. It was funny because I was working for a big company and I had all this horsepower because I was like this young guy and I just happened to make the right decision. It just worked out. So, I’ve got an expense account and I’ve got my company car and then all sudden I don’t have any of that. I really struggled with this idea of finding my professional voice because now I didn’t have that backing and I didn’t have that network and didn’t have that infrastructure. It hadn’t occurred to me how much I leaned on that infrastructure.
I said, “You know what, I’ve made this decision.” I had a business partner. I said, “Okay, I am just going to nose to the grindstone, I’m going to understand this industry as well as I can, marketing, like that experiential marketing and I’m going to see what I can do.” For about a year and a half, we really struggled with putting the pieces together on this, but the thing about entrepreneurship is that, your highs are higher and your lows are lower. If you can just wrap your mind around the process, then some really interesting things can happen.
So, running that business, people talk about like near death moments in businesses, why I’d never really experienced that because I was working for a big company and like my near death moments were like, slight Mrs on my p&l or whatever. It wasn’t like not being able to pay the people that worked for me. Totally different story. I remember that towards the end of that business, which by the way, there’s a happy story at the end here, but
I landed in LA. I’d been back here for a holiday back in back east, I’m actually out east right now. My phone rings and it’s my partner saying, I just bounced a $350 check. I’m like, “How did this happen? I left and there were thousands of dollars in the bank. How did this happen?” So, we unwound a lot of it and realized that there were less than smart decisions being made by the partner and so we ended up having to work around that.
Long story short, this crazy situation came. We couldn’t make a lot of the payments that we needed to make. We took all this ecosystem of things that we were doing. We shrunk to only what we could control and built a plan out from there, we were able to pay all of our bills, able to get out of that nosedive and ended up going and creating contracts with the Anaheim Convention Center, with Angel stadium, with FOX Sports properties of the Coliseum, shifting the business model a little bit to concentrate on discrete events and ended up pulling it out of a nosedive.
Meanwhile, the company that I left because I was very intent on leaving this business under really good terms. My bosses had been really good to me at QPR and I was very open and honest with them, at the right time, obviously. By the way, timing is everything. Once I had made my plan, as in I had decided that that’s what I wanted to do, I said, “I’m a young person. I feel that I’ve got to go pursue this,” and they gave their blessing. Fast forward, two years, I got the most flattering call that you could ever get. Which was a call from the boss that I had walked away from and he said.
“Look man, you’ve been building your own thing. Would you be interested in coming and building something for us internally?” So, after about two years of running this bike taxi group, Pedaler Society was the name of the company. I got a call from Don and he asked me to come back and build something for him.
Austin: So, you get the expense account back. You get the company car back, but you can still come up with an idea. Did they ask you to come up with an idea or did they have the idea and they wanted you to execute on it?
Joseph: They had the idea, and what they were looking for me to do was map a really specific sales process that we had used at QPR over to this new division. It ended up being a little bit more complicated, like, during that time the company had been acquired by another company, and the other company had more of an interest in this pretty novel business model and so ended up being hired by those guys back to build this division and set to work but this time with some resources.
At that time we were still running the experiential marketing group, but we had managers that were running the day to day and then, I would make myself, as was appropriate in my mind available on nights and weekends or getting up super early or going to bed super late to make sure that we delivered for the experiential clients, but then also, more importantly, if somebody’s paying you a paycheck, there’s an expectation of delivery, and so I wanted to make sure that I was doing right by that group as well.
Austin: Did you end up transitioning out of Pedaler Society and going into this full-time?How long did you do both concurrently?
Joseph: So, I own some equity in the business and I turned it over to– It was interesting. I had a younger person who was really interested in understanding that startup E space and got pretty close with him and said, “Hey, look, if you want to take the reins here and run this and use me as a sounding board. I’m more than happy to help you because you are where I was five years ago. Let’s talk this out and think this through.” I had a couple of folks like that. They ran that for a while, ended up selling the business in. I ran it from 2011 to 2013, and then sold the business in the fall of 2014.
Austin: To go on a quick tangent real quick because I think two things that I always tell people that do come through my community or the number one thing I’d say is to start reaching out to people and doing informational interviews, making connections that way. There is a lot of objection at first when people aren’t used to doing that. So, I’d love to have you just talk through quickly how you approach when– because it sounds like you’ve done this multiple times. Now, at this point I know we’re going to get into blockchain shortly, and I know your story of how you got the gem and I’m excited for you to tell it, but how do you go about reaching out to somebody that you’ve never met before, and building that relationship? Can you just walk me through your mindset and preferred mediums, tools, et cetera.
Joseph: Absolutely. I think that people appreciate the truth and people appreciate you doing legwork before you reach out to them. By the way, my journey is far from over. I mean, you said, you do this regularly. I was doing this today. Literally, today.
Austin: I was too. I mean, trust me, we were in the same boat.
Joseph: Yes. It never ends. It never will end.
Austin: That’s the thing. Once you get started, it’s like crack. Like you do it once and then you get the first plan you’re like, “This works.” Then you’re like, “Fuck. Well, the world is my oyster.” Then you just start firing them off. Sorry. Keep going.
Joseph: When someone answers you, you have to remember. If somebody else reaches out to yo, you have to return the favor. That is the way that this works now.
Another one is just going through the process of connecting with complete strangers. Like, we’re all, I mean, this sounds total Kumbaya, but we’re all in this big thing together, and everybody’s got a complexities in their life and everybody has good days and bad days and everybody’s like– Life doesn’t change, you just elevate like your exact mindset now. If you have $100 million in the bank, you’re still you. You take you with you, like always. So, your circumstances may change, but you are a closed circuit. You can be upgraded. You can get better at whatever you’re doing. A lot of trial and error, telling the truth at all costs, including your life, never, ever, ever, and if you don’t know, say you don’t know.
My point is, is that as you craft a narrative around how to reach out to complete strangers and you say, “Look, I read about you in this book or I read about you in this article or I took a class with somebody who’s connected with you on LinkedIn. I saw a YouTube video that you were on.” You don’t need to write a novel, but you need to just say something that is truthful and be honest and the level set show that you’ve done work prior to even reaching out to them. It’s not like, “I’m making a heart–” By the way, this is not to say you can’t do this, but it’s just showing that you’ve done some work.
“Hey, I’m an experiential advertising and I’m in a cryptocurrency at now, let me in.” It just doesn’t work that way. Showing that you’ve gone through the mechanics of really thinking deeply about why you’re reaching out to this person, making that clear to them, and the truth is, as human beings we love to help each other, but you’ve got to make it very clear why you’re there, what you’re asking for, and help to guide that outcome because when you ask for minutes of somebody’s life, that is a big ask. That is a big, big ask.
You just have to be, in my mind, first, very thoughtful about how you reach out to people. Polite, and get ready because, by the way, everyone’s knee jerk reaction is, no. When I say overcome it, it’s not like convincing someone of why they need to be on the phone with you, but it’s simply just– such that it’s not a canned response. It’s an organic outreach of one person who has done a ton of research and is asking someone else to enrich their exploration of this space. I think most people will eventually get back with you.
By the way, for me personally, not that this happens a lot, but if somebody wants to reach out to me and they do it 1000 times, sometimes you’re just busy. Sometimes you miss it. Sometimes that happens all the time. Just being politely persistent, you can do that. You can absolutely do that. It’s something that you can get better at. If you mess it up with somebody, with one person, just hone it and get your lead up a little bit tighter the next time. It will work. 100% it will work.
Austin: I love it. I mean, I couldn’t have put it better myself. One of the things that I like to do, and the biggest one of the biggest mistakes I see people make is that they make the outreach about them. Especially people watching this are most likely looking for a job. So, if I reach out and I say, I was just talking to somebody today about this, and I say, “Hey, help me get a job. Help me meet this person. Help pass my resume along.” It’s very much about me.
If you show up in, like you said, you do the legwork before. You do some research on the person, the company, the product that they work on, et cetera, and you say, “Hey, I’m really interested in what you’re doing, what your team’s doing, your background. I did a bunch of research. I know that you guys are having an issue with this. Here’s a couple of ideas that I had. Do you mind chatting about them on the phone?” That is going to be way more effective than just being like, “Hey, Joseph. I have a resume and you have a job opening, so, give me.”
So, if you’re able to provide that value, again, do the legwork like you said, and then I love the polite follow up. My rule of thumb was, once every five business days or so and then I use an email tracker to– I don’t know if you’re into those, but just to see what–
Joseph: I’m a sales guy. Absolutely.
Austin: People are like, “I don’t know. I haven’t tried it.” Yes, you’re right on– Of course, I shouldn’t know. Awesome. I appreciate it. So, you are your back, you are working on this entrepreneurial idea within the company, and you built that out. Then eventually you decided that it’s time for something new. It’s time for another one of these chapters. I think your next move was to move into blockchain, right?
Joseph: It was. Absolutely. Just a quick little bit of context. When I was running the experiential group, I was working with some folks that were fixed gear bike riders. Those were a lot of the folks that we hired., and someone was randomly telling me about this thing called Bitcoin. This is like 2012. I was like, “Man, this is really interesting.” My girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife. I remember, she was recalling this other day, I was like, “Have you heard of this? And she’s like, “I have no idea what you’re talking about at all.”
I had some developer buddies that were up in Seattle at the time, and I called them and I’m like, “Okay, so it’s like this. It’s a distributed ledger and there’s something going on. We’re like, people have wallets. It’s like digital cash. Have you heard of this?” They’re like, “No, but we’ll get back to you.” Anyway, 2012, these guys bought Bitcoin, I did it. Just to be clear I did not. I was too busy running my company and then figuring that out. So, 2014 hits, and this was after the mountain gox crash in 2013. I am putting two and two together because mount gox made the headlines and I was like, “That is the same stuff that these guys were talking about.”
At the time I was still working for QPR- let’s see. So, that would have been the springtime of 2014. I was still working for QPR. Was in the process of selling Pedaler Society. I started thinking about it and I was like, “What’s next, man?” Really, what is next? To continue to mature and grow, we have to continue to just push our limits. We human beings are capable of really amazing things if you can just get the discipline thing down. That’s the tough one.
I started thinking about my biggest weak spot. I thought, I love math, but I’ve never taken a finance class. Actually, that’s not true. It’s not that I hadn’t taken a finance, it’d that I had never studied finance. I started thinking about, “What’s next for me? I thought, “Okay, maybe I’m a good sales guy, I can build teams, I can run teams, so maybe I’ll go sell expensive things. Where do expensive things live? Well, they seem to live in finance. So, maybe we’ll do that.
Also, this was a huge blind spot for me in my little business. I was like always asking questions. So I thought this is something I can learn. I said, “Okay, I’m going to go and study this.” I started looking at programs, look back east for graduate school. In my mid 20s I was not ready for graduate school. I knew that I wouldn’t have known what to do with it. It would have been a filler. I didn’t have a real reason to do it and I felt, in that moment when I went and started my own business. I thought, “What’s going to teach me more if I’m unsure, is the world going to teach me more or is the highest structure going to teach me more.”
Well, you need to have structure, you need context to apply that structure. I was, I guess, 28 and I’m thinking, “Okay, the timing is right. It feels right. I know what I want to study. I know what I want to do with it more importantly because it’s expensive thing to do the whole grad school thing. So, what’s my plan?” At the same time mount gox happen. This was the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014. So, I thought, “Man, this blog–” Way over here, I’ve got my job, and then way over here I’m thinking, “What am I doing next and then all of a sudden this blockchain thing drops in the middle of that– at the time Bitcoin thing drops in the middle of the road there.
So, I’m thinking, “Where can I learn about this? How can I learn about this?” The business school thing, I’m going to do it. I’m going to take the highly technical route. I’m going to study the most scientific thing I can in graduate school, but how do you learn about Bitcoin? At the time, there were, I say, at the time, like it’s a long time ago. For some reason, things move so fast and technology, it’s hard to keep up. 2014, there was only Bitcoin. There were other coins. The cryptocurrencies that were around, but Bitcoin far and away was the biggest and the best example.
Long story short, I looked it up and I was, “Schools don’t teach this. You can’t take anything at the community college with this. I’m like everything on YouTube, I loved Andreas Antonopoulos. I watched everything that he had or read all his books. I read digital gold, I read all these things, but I was just like, “I get it, but I want to really learn about it.” Then it hit me. I was like, “How could I not only learn about this, but also start burning stripes.” How can I do that? What could I do? Then I thought, “Okay, what can I give away that people will be interested in?”
I thought, “I’m a pretty good writer, so I got a couple of publications on the phone and I said, “Let me send you some writing samples, you assign me things, I don’t care how long the research project is, you tell me what you want me to write. I will do all the research. I will write it, and if I will give it to you and if you like it, then you can pay me. If you don’t like it, then that’s fine. Tell me what you don’t like about it and I’ll fix it and then you can pay me. I wanted to front end the load. I didn’t want to ask for anything in the beginning.
I got a couple of groups to let me do that. I started just incessantly researching and I got– I know myself well enough to know that I needed rigor. So, at the beginning of each– I wouldn’t wait for them, I would say, “I need my assignment for the week.” They’d give me a couple of assignments and I take them out and I had deadlines, and I was working at QPR and I was applying to business school, but I’m like, “This is important so you must make time.”
What I did is I said, “What can I cut out that I do not absolutely have to do?” The first thing to go is like, “What do you watch any TV for at all period?” By the way, an hour is a 24th of your day. That’s a substantial amount of time if you really break it down. As I started layering these things up I said, “If I spent an hour a day, just an hour a day, researching this stuff and writing and I time it, each week they’ll have a new insight. Each month I’ll have a new insight.” By the way I was doing this seven days a week because I really wanted to learn it.
I started doing these articles, pushing these articles through, got accepted to the University of Southern California and started my study of finance there, and was writing for– Actually in my first year, I stayed with QPR, but got into southern California, I did have limited bandwidth, sold Pedaler Society so that I could concentrate on these things that I had in front of me, and continue to write for these magazines so that I could continue my study of blockchain.
Austin: Were you writing for coin desk and places like that?
Joseph: Yes. I was writing for a coindesk and cryptocurrency news.
Austin: I love that strategy because that’s– So, we’ve talked a lot about,– I mean, I love that you brought up studying and learning as a transferable skill. That’s actually one of the arguments that I made. When I first interviewed at Google, I did the phone screen and they told me they basically– the recruiter laughed me off the phone. She told me I didn’t have enough experience and all this other stuff and I told they’re basically the same thing that you said. I said, “My lack of experiences is not due to the opportunity to try and fail, but it’s the lack of opportunity. I’m a quick learner, blah, blah, blah. Here’s what I’ve done to showcase that I’m a quick learner”
It actually got me bump through the next round. Further down the road, I got curious about the same thing. There’s this course here, of course, it’s free. It’s called, learning how to learn. It’s actually really fascinating. They talk to you about your diffuse of memory and then your focus memory and you can learn things when you’re focused but you need the diffuse of time to make the connections. Then they go through all this other stuff, but they say one of the best ways to actually learn something is to teach other people, explain it to other people. When you’re writing, I mean, that’s effectively what you’re doing.
I love that because– I was a terrible writer. I got a D in my English course in college and my English professor would be laughing at me now, but we can all write for the most part. It’s like a skill that you can learn. You just find other people who are good at it and you mimic them. You mimic their style, you read their stuff. Over time, it’s like anything. Your first article is going to suck and your 50th article is going to be better and your hundredth article is going to be better than that.
That’s something that anybody listening can do. If you want to get into a field, figuring out ways to write about it. Start with your own blog, started in some place like medium.com then try to get featured in some like low level publications and work your way up. Not only are you going to learn about it, but people are going to start looking to you as the authority. I’m sure this probably happened to you where like, even if it was just in your circle of friends or small groups you were known as like the blockchain guy, I would assume. Go ahead.
Joseph: Just to add to that, I mean, don’t forget I have mixed feelings on universities myself, but one thing that you cannot argue is that there are many people that think deeply about many esoteric topics hanging out at university. Wherever you are, look and see where these people live and go to them, and ask them whether it’s blockchain or some weird places in computer science or statistics or whatever, go talk to the people that are in the field. Just say, “Look, I’m super interested in understanding this.”
When I meet someone for the first time and they’re working on something that’s interesting, the one thing I always leave– First of all, I want to know everything about them. Second of all, I want to know what they read and how do they get new information. I always request a reading list. What kind of books could I read to help me understand how you’ve been able to formulate your opinions because it’s like,– I mean we live in a world where information is– We are very fortunate living in the place we live. Information is almost free.
So, there is really no reason why that you can’t read as much as you possibly can. By the way, the confluence of reading things and then, as you said, also trying to regurgitate and make sense of it, it’s challenging, but man, whatever your new topic is, if you can get good at that, then you can really start to wrap your mind around any topic, really.
Austin:100%. You’re writing, you’re getting into this new space, and then at some point you start applying for companies. How did that go? What happened?
Joseph: I entered into USC in 2014. I had a pretty good number of articles under my belt. My goal was to write 75. I said, “I want to write 75 articles.” Even though I had 30 and then I had 40 and then I had 50, I was like, “75 just seems like I’ve really taken it seriously.” I still hadn’t figured out a good plug for- I was thinking about, “Well, this is a pain, I don’t do this anymore.” Then I was like, “If I make myself do it, if I just make it routine so that I have to do it before my week is over.” Friday is not Friday until I’ve submitted my couple of articles.
The reason I thought like that is because I didn’t have a way to get this information other than doing that. Then I thought, “Okay, I’m just being lazy by saying I’d rather do something else. What am I going to be doing in the interim anyway?” Working my way through business school, studying finance and data analytics and was in some pretty esoteric finance classes, figured out a way, and I think this is really important as we think about just how to pivot and think about things holistically, how to force multiply whatever I was doing because I was in school and I was also writing about Bitcoin, which by the way in 2014, there wasn’t Ethereum. Ethereum happened in 2015.
I was like, “Wow,” there I am doing tons of analytics projects and guess what? There are tons of numbers that sprouted up from around the Bitcoin ecosystem. What I would do is I would use any trading data that was available or any, utilization data that was available or whatever. I would do projects on the articles that I was writing to help me out on B school as well, in that study of finance.
Anyway, but force multiplying was able to kill two birds with one stone and then more in some cases. Then it dawned on me that, yes, okay. I talked to my wife, came to business school, said I was going to move into higher finance. I had done well in school. I treated it like a job and had done all right. So, actually started going down this path of applying for gigs, being recruited in some cases, and I was applying to banks. I mean, flat out. I was applying to the best banks that I could think of and I seem to be getting a pretty good reaction.
I started thinking about it and I was like, “Okay, what is the blockchain scene? Let me drill in. What’s the blockchain scene in LA?” I just thought about this early on in B school but then this came- it came up probably early 2015. I asked my editor to allow me to do coverage of the blockchain LA scene. So, with a press pass, you can get into a bunch of things, by the way.
I’d done some interviews on some local companies and I had been able to get in and be like the blockchain guy for these money conferences around town because I got my editor to give me a press pass. Gem and a company by the name of Netkey were the two in Los Angeles at the time. The sizable ones. I made it a habit to continue to keep up with what they were doing, but I never really put the pieces together. I wasn’t like, “This is something that I can do for a living.”
So, as I’m sitting there and going through this whole banking process and it’s becoming very real that, “I’ve studied hard in school, what am I going to do with this?” I just started thinking about it. I’m like, “Man, this is maybe some of the most exciting technology that I’ve ever heard of in my lifetime, certainly, and maybe that many people have heard of in their lifetime.” Certainly. That’s not unique. I mean, I think many people that are listening to this, you probably feel this way. Blockchain and cryptocurrencies are going to do- they are going to do a lot of really special things at scale for, and I believe this, for human beings, at scale. I really do believe this.
That this is where a lot of the productivity that we need to move forward into some very interesting places is going to need to come from. That aside. I’m sitting there, I’m interviewing these banks and I’m thinking,– This is that moment. This is that moment where it’s like, you know that you’re faced with a decision. This is a fork in the road and it demands that you pick a path. I took a step back and I talked to all of my mentors, I talked to all of these people, my friends, my wife, my parents. I wanted to generically like, “This seems pivotal. Let me explain to you at a high level. Does it sound pivotal?”
I felt it was, and some people said yes, some people said no, but I looked in the mirror and I said, “Okay, I’m going to go for it.” I ended up taking a chance and I took my resume and I rode my motorcycle over to– I tried to get in touch with Gem and Madeline
for months. LinkedIn, nobody would answer. Would call, nobody would pick up the phone. I don’t think I ever did this with Gem, but as kind of a last big rip cord, every now and again, I’ll send the handwritten letter. If I have no other way to get in touch, I will absolutely sit down and write on a piece of paper to try to get in touch with somebody.
I don’t think I did that for Gem, but–
Austin: It works. Not to cut you off but it’s amazing in today’s world. Everybody is used to everything happening here. When you get a piece of mail, I actually noticed this because I have my bachelor party coming up in my best man sent save-the-dates everybody and the content is questionable, but I see this letter with some of these handwriting on it which doesn’t look like a bill and that pops out to you. I open 100% of those, whereas some of the other stuff I take a look at and it gets tossed.
I like that, as a last resort. Can’t get in. You always- that’s the beauty. I’ve done this a couple of times where, if you know some of these business, you get their business address. Just write their name and the business address and fire it off. Chances are, it will find its way to the right person.
Joseph: It will absolutely find this way to them. If you do a creative job in picking the envelope size and color, you can help help it stand out a little bit more. So, don’t send a white envelope, send a colored envelope and take your penmanship seriously. Don’t write it on college ruled paper, but yes, be thoughtful about it, of course. You get something like that in the mail. I’d be delighted, you’re getting me?
Joseph: I got their business address and I thought, “Okay, I’m just going to ask for an interview in person.” I thought about what I was going to say. I chose the time and date very carefully. I thought, “I’m going to go on a Friday, where everybody’s happy and it’s the end of the week. I’m going to go like 3:30, so I know people will be there but they’re probably getting ready to leave.” I wasn’t going to camp out and be weird, hang out outside, but I thought, at very least I’ll stick my resume in the door. At the very least. At very most, somebody will pick the door up. I thought, if they have a mail slot and I brought an envelope. I was like, I’ll slide it through the mail slot, with a note, of course. So, knocked on the door and lo and behold, which that’s my Southern upbringing, probably coming through there, Micah Winkelspecht, the CEO of this company was picking the mail up through their mail slot and answered the door. I’m thinking, well, this is that expected so I’m like, “You don’t know me, but I know you and your company really well. I actually do coverage here locally. I write about businesses like yours. I will push a broom to work here.”
I thought about what I was going to say, and I’m like, “You know, you don’t want to be tacky, but I wanted to,” in very short term, in a very short order, get the point across. “I’ll give you time. That’s the thing I have to give and I’ll give it to you.” He said, “I don’t know that we need the floor swept, but I’ll take your resume.” I said, “Great. How can I follow up? I just want to make sure that it’s read. How can I follow up?” He actually gave me Madeline’s information.
So, I got home and I sent Madeline an email. I just said, “I just dropped my resume off. Wanted to confirm that you got it. I really appreciate the consideration and even taking the time to read it. If there’s anything that I can possibly answer, let me know.” At the time I was doing a turn at a private equity group, which I hated. I hated private equity, but I knew that it was analytically very rigorous and that I would be able to leverage that into something else. So I just continued to do it. I said, “I would love 5, 10 minutes of your time, and if what I say is interesting I’d love more of your time.” That’s how that started.
Austin: That’s one of my favorite stories because you went from– A lot of people- I tell people reach out. Get in touch with people, fire off emails, whatever, but then what happens when that doesn’t work? You got to find another creative way. I love that you showed up there. I love that the CEO was the guy who answered the door. That’s so serendipitous, it’s awesome. So, he ended up working for these guys. What were you doing at Gem?
Joseph: Well, there’s an important step before that. I’ll be brief. This is why doing the legwork is so important because I showed up and I knew what I was talking about. I could actually I could actually describe the technology, understand its usefulness, and I used to think about different ways to use it. So, one of my assignments in my interview process, Emily Vaughn, who now runs- I think she’s like the director of blockchain projects that change healthcare. She was my colleague at the time. Well, she actually hired me and then we became colleagues, but she was like, “I need you to write me an essay on blockchains beyond finance.” This was just as Ethereum was coming out.
I knew it. I knew the space and I knew I had already built out in my head different use cases. I was like, “Great, how many words do you want? 500, 5,000, 2,000, let me know.” Anyway, my point is, is doing the homework is incredibly important, and studying is incredibly important because when that moment happens you get one shot. If you have not done it, that one shot quickly goes away and what could have been this amazing journey because you tried to cut corners at some point, didn’t pan out.
Emily gave me some good critical feedback on my essay. I didn’t get it all right, but I got a lot of it right. I came in, I was an intern. I said, “You know what? I am a graduate student, I’m at a pretty good school. I told you I’d sweep the floors, I will.”
I was an intern and I just said, “I’m going to come in. I’m going to be an intern, but I’m also going to build out in my spare time business use cases. I want to pitch you on those because at the end of this, I want to work here. I’m going to prove to you that I want to work here.” That’s what I did. At the end of it, I talked to Micah, and I said, “I know that we’re–” Gem was a small shop but we carved out healthcare as our main beach head and I said, “Healthcare is interesting. I’ll help any way that I can, but I’d like to run my own little Skunk Works group as well.”
Micah, amazing CEO, great, guy and said, “Come work here and work on healthcare because that’s how we pay the bills, but if you’d like to work on some of these other stuff I’ll give you that leeway.” That’s what I ended up doing at Gem. I was kind of a hybrid, like, I guess, I don’t want to overstate. A business development, squarely business development, but we were tasked with being more technical sales people. My job was to go and understand data flows and map that over and explain through a couple of different filters to our insanely talented engineers exactly what the customer is looking for.
Through that path, I ended up being able to present to the World Bank. We presented a couple of times to some interesting agencies in DC. Through cold calling and through this funky process of trying to think about ways to engage a wide variety of people, ended up bringing Toyota on as a customer. Got to work in the oil and gas data flows, and stuff like that. Very, very interesting turn.
Austin: It’s so cool that you also just went for the internship because you made the decision. You had A or B, traditional finance blockchain, you made the decision, you stuck with it. Fully invested, but then you also asked for more. You’re like, “Okay, I will do this. I will sweep the floors, but I’m going to do it if you allow me to also get involved in these other things that I want to do.” I think that’s critical, especially, any company big or small. I’ve seen at the startups that I work at. I’ve seen it at Microsoft, too. If you can carve out– if you’re known as the person who is always working on that stretch project coming up with new ideas, et cetera, that’s one of the most valuable things that you can bring to the table. That can lead to a full-time job, or it can lead to a promotion, it can lead to a whole lot of good things.
I love that, and I mean, it’s very in line with everything else that we’ve talked about tonight on your side. That’s how you got into blockchain. That’s where you cut your teeth at an actual company, and then you move to Neural. So, tell us a little bit more about Neural. Tell us about that transition.
Joseph: I was working for Gem, loved working for Gem, but I had invested a lot of time and money in studying finance. The token marketplace really started to emerge as something of size. So I started in 2014, ended up at Gem in 2015, ’16 I think, and then the token marketplace really started being built in 2016. 2017 was just like crazy, last year. Just totally crazy. So, met the guys at Neural a few years prior, and just really liked Chris and Laurie, super smart guys, thinking about things in a really interesting way.
We had talked on a couple of occasions about potentially working together. The timing wasn’t right for me, I had a lot of irons in the fire at Gem. Micah and Madeline and everyone at Gem, but just an amazing company. They were so good to me and I want to just make sure that I really delivered value for these guys. I said, “Okay, I’ve got a couple of big clients that I want to close, and when those are close and when those are up and running, then I’ll have the conversation about looking beyond.” I mean, you can’t just stair step. You have to make sure you deliver value, and when you say, “I’m going to be an intern. I’ll sweep the floors.” They’re taking that chance on you. You must deliver. You cannot just get some credits and the people that take care of you, you must take care of them. You must go above and beyond to make sure that you are– I’m going to say legacy. I’m not saying legacy, your name is on some plaque, simply it is, when there were hard things to be done, you raise your hand and you did it. That is the path that you are proud of.
So, closed a couple of key accounts for him and was in a position– we were doing some fundraising and felt like well, once that fundraising round was done and these clients are set in motion, I could look on. This was September 2017. Had been in touch with Chris and Laurie, they asked me if I would like to come on and take a full-time position at Neural. Neural was one of the first cryptohedge funds. They actually started in 2016, which is pretty cool.
Then, had gotten up and running. They were in the bay, and I said, Yes, it sounds really interesting.” So, ended up asking 100%. I mean, I had made my mind up, but I said, Micah, I feel like I need to do this. I want to be appropriate professional as I possibly can.” I did get his blessing to move on because I think that that’s important. He took a chance on me and I wanted to make sure that he had gotten the value that I had promised.
So, I ended up migrating up to the Bay in September and leading Investor Relations and also helping to build an analysts desk for these guys, which was really that side of the space that I really wanted to work on, but they needed an IR guy too and I had a sales background. Yes, ended up going to work for Neural for about seven, eight months and built an excellent token project called Apex Token Fund up there. Was able to source some of the folks that I’d worked with in the past because we had a great relationship and I had been the guy that was willing to do the things that sometimes they didn’t want to do when it came out to those late nights. They picked the phone up and was able to recruit some of them for a couple of cool projects.
Then January rolled around and this opportunity came up and I talked to Chris and Laurie and felt like it was an appropriate move at that time. Now, I’m sitting here talking to you man.
Austin: One thing I want to touch on real quick to close things out. You went from- I love that you went from intern to full time to founder in such a short span, but you’re at this full-time job at the Hedge funds, and I know that you started working on this idea and building your project now as a side hustle. Tell us a little bit about how, once you have the idea, how did you find the time to work on it? What did that look like, and then also when did you know like, “Okay, now is the time for me to take this on full time?”
Joseph: Sure. I think that this will be my– I’ve had a couple of side hustlers that I didn’t address in this, but I think having a side hustle, no matter what. I’m saying, even if it is an eBay store. Even if it is a– you’re flipping antiques and making an extra 50 bucks, getting your mind used to parallel processing and thinking in that way, and having things that remind you that we live in a world of infinite possibility. That does not mean you’re always going to win at all, but–
Austin: Usually doesn’t.
Joseph: It usually doesn’t but you can try anything. That is true. As long as you’re willing to– When you start something, if you’re not willing to travel that path and step back and say, “I didn’t win, but I’m better for it,” then don’t start it. Getting your mind used to thinking like that’s really important. My reason in saying this is that this was probably the fourth project that I’ve done on the side.
So, what I what I typically do is, you know what your job is and you know what it’s going to take to continue to succeed, and that’s important, to continue to succeed to job because if you are working for somebody else. I don’t care how corporate it is or how much you don’t like it, or how much you feel like you’re being undervalued or whatever. If you have decided that you really want to have a meaningful side hustle and this might turn into something that you want to do, you still need to deliver value for who you’re working for. That is important. Using company resources and company time. No, you don’t need to do that because 24 hours is an insanely massive amount of time if you’ll schedule it properly.
What I always do is I say, “If I get up an hour earlier or I stay up an hour later, what does that look like?” Then I say, “Well, what do I have to do?” I have to eat, I have to sleep, I have to get extra sties, I have to go to work. There are things that you must do in your life. If you become highly regimented when you decide to bring in the side hustle, you can actually get pretty good at scheduling. I’m a guy that’s not going at scheduling at all. As a matter of fact, I hate scheduling. You showed this a while back. This is an amazing tool if you use it.
Just really building a schedule that is rigorous and saying– I mean, can you imagine, if you take Saturday and Sunday and you don’t even work a full time day, you work a half day, on Saturday and Sunday, working towards your goal, working towards your side hustle, the amount of things that you can get accomplished in so long as you’re really working, you’re not watching YouTube but you’re actually checking boxes,– and so that’s what I did. I think about ways that I can expand my my day. I think about the things that I don’t have to do to be a healthy person.
You don’t need to watch Netflix every night. You don’t need to watch Netflix every weekend. Then I think about– I make lists, incessantly keeping list to make sure that I’m holding myself accountable. Also setting little milestones, and say, in a week, if this is where I want to be, “What does this look like, what does this look like, what does this look like, what does this look like.” Then just building your plan around that and just saying, “If my first step is discovery, what do I need to see out of this project to say, this is interesting. Maybe I’m going to take it to the next level.”
If my second step is like, maybe I want to do this full time, what pros and cons. What do you need to see to say, “This is something that I can do.” Then, I think as you develop an idea, and you’re headed down that pathway and you’re being a brutalist with yourself, brutally, brutally, brutally, realistic because you have to remember, “Nobody’s baby’s ugly.” So, surrounding yourself with people that are being brutally honest with you, and demand it. I’m telling you that pedicab business, funny enough, resurfaced in a completely different form and I’m now running that with another partner. Completely different business. A link box, but it’s the same thing. It’s just highly scalable.
We went to a conference and we’ve done the same thing with Omne, and we said, “Tell me why this is stupid? Tell me why this won’t work? Rip it up.” You’re not going to succeed with people just nodding and saying, “I like you and this is a great idea,” or “I don’t really want to hurt his feelings.” Demand brutality, if you will, for lack of a better term from the people that are reviewing it. Be ready, swallow your pride, forget your ego, check it and just be ready to hear things that you don’t like because they will make you better. 100%.
It will make your project better. It will make you a better communicator when you can hear hard things that aren’t what you want to hear, and still figure out a path forward or by the way, which this is startup life, maybe it’s not right. Maybe you missed a big thing and all the sudden this idea that you’ve had six weeks plowed into, already exists. In total for. If that’s happened, what did you take out of it?
You learned how to research, you learned how to schedule, you learned how to, you know, dividing and divide your days and conquer and that. Those are skill set. You learned how to study. You learned how to cold call people. Those are skill sets that you can map over to anything else that you do. If you rinse wash and repeat and you are committed to the rigor, we’re not all going to be Elon Musk. That’s not the point, man. The point is traveling the path.
Austin: We all have our own path, but I think that a lot of people feel like– One of the things that I am passionate about and it’s ironic, I guess, that I use the word, is people always wait– passion has become this thing. People wait for a lightning bolt to hit them in the middle of the night and they wake up and they’re like, “This is what I’ve been passionate about.” In my opinion and you can tell me yours, passion comes from doing the work first. It’s hard to understand what you’re passionate about unless you get your hands dirty and you see what’s awesome about it, and what sucks about it, and everything in between. Then you can decide, “This is for me and this is not for me.”
Both those are equally important. Understanding what you don’t want to do, what you don’t like, is just as important as understanding some of the things that you do. I think you got to start doing the work first, once you start doing the work, you start to understand what you like. You get involved in these different projects, and it also teaches you like you said, if you are used to having an idea, saying, “Okay, how can I get involved?” Then going and reading, talking to people, doing X, Y, Z, that may seem arduous the first time you do it, the second time you do it. Once you’ve done it five times it’s second nature at that point.
That’s when you really start rolling and these ideas start flowing. That’s when you start truly living the path. With all its ups and downs and the highs and lows. So, I love it. Joseph, thank you so much for stopping by man. This has been fantastic. The amount of knowledge you’ve dropped is insane. I really appreciate it.
Joseph: Well, thank you so much, Austin. I really appreciate it too, man. I’m telling you, this is a big crazy beautiful world out there. We don’t we don’t get a lot of time here man, and so on that short timeline, how are you spending it? Get up each day and just attack it because anything that you want is out there, but you’ve got to knock on the doors and you’ve got to put the legwork in and once you build that discipline it is a beautiful, beautiful life and it’s fun. That’s the most important part, right?
Austin: Yes. Absolutely. 100%. Awesome. Well, thanks so much Joseph. We’ll talk to you soon, man. Take care.
Joseph: You bet. See you.
Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people land jobs without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online. His strategies have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, & Fast Company and has helped people just like you land jobs at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, & more.