Elissa Shevinsky business executive entrepreneur cybersecurity expert and author The Graph Web3 Brave Cointelegraph New York Lean Out book

GRTiQ Podcast: 116 Elissa Shevinsky

Today I am speaking with Elissa Shevinsky. Elissa is an accomplished business executive, entrepreneur, cybersecurity expert, and author. As you’re about to hear, Elissa’s story is quite incredible and I’m grateful to have had the chance to interview her.

During her career, she’s worked alongside many well-known leaders in technology and helped launch a list of projects. We talk about how some early encouragement from Paul Graham got her started as an entrepreneur, the early days of Bitcoin and Ethereum, a stint when she worked as a mentor at the Thiel Foundation, helping launch the open-source browser Brave, and her time as CTO at Cointelegraph – and that’s just a few of the highlights Elissa and I discuss. We end the interview talking about AI, a subject Elissa is spending a lot of time on right now, and her experience meeting the founders of The Graph and working as an advisor in the very early days of the protocol.

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We use software and some light editing to transcribe podcast episodes.  Any errors, typos, or other mistakes in the show transcripts are the responsibility of GRTiQ Podcast and not our guest(s). We review and update show notes regularly, and we appreciate suggested edits – email: iQ at GRTiQ dot COM. The GRTiQ Podcast owns the copyright in and to all content, including transcripts and images, of the GRTiQ Podcast, with all rights reserved, as well our right of publicity. You are free to share and/or reference the information contained herein, including show transcripts (500-word maximum) in any media articles, personal websites, in other non-commercial articles or blog posts, or on a on-commercial personal social media account, so long as you include proper attribution (i.e., “The GRTiQ Podcast”) and link back to the appropriate URL (i.e., GRTiQ.com/podcast[episode]).

The following podcast is for informational purposes only. The contents of this podcast do not constitute tax, legal, or investment advice. Take responsibility for your own decisions, consult with the proper professionals, and do your own research.

Elissa Shevinsky (00:00:18):

So I just love The Graph because the founders and the people I’ve met there, they’re so smart, but also they’re so sincere. I just think they’re really good people and that they have a vision that really makes sense.

Nick (00:01:01):

Welcome to the GRTiQ Podcast. Today, I’m speaking with Elissa Shevinsky. Elissa is an accomplished business executive, entrepreneur, cybersecurity expert, and author. And as you’re about to hear, Elissa’s story is truly remarkable.


During her career, Elissa worked alongside many well-known leaders in technology and helped launch a list of projects. We talk about how some early encouragement from Paul Graham got her started as an entrepreneur, the early days of Bitcoin and Ethereum, a stint when she worked as a mentor at the Thiel Foundation, helping launch the open source browser Brave, and her time as CTO at Cointelegraph. And that’s just a few of the highlights Elissa and I discuss. We end the interview talking about artificial intelligence, a subject Elissa is spending a lot of time on right now, and we also talk about the experience she had when she met the founders of The Graph and worked as an advisor in the very early days of the protocol. As always, we start the discussion talking about Elissa’s educational background.

Elissa Shevinsky (00:02:05):

Well, I got started before it was really popular to study computer science. When I first got into technology, it was a time when Zuckerberg was hiring physics majors to work at Facebook, so one of my first tech jobs, I was hired by Ethan Zuckerman from Williams College, who was a philosophy major there. And I was a political science major.


So my early ambitions weren’t necessarily in technology. I got pulled into it because, I don’t know, maybe it was fate or whatever, but my initial ambitions were to be in media. I initially was studying political science and I was doing a lot with journalism. I was running the school radio. I was really interested in mass media. And I didn’t really think that I would get into technology. And in some ways, I did end up doing some of the things that I thought I would early in my career. I published a book. More recently, I helped run Cointelegraph, which is a very large mass media publication. But it was little unexpected for me that I got into technology the way that I did.

Nick (00:03:22):

Well, I want to ask you a follow-up question about your interest in political theory. And for long-term listeners of the podcast, they know that each one of my guests come with varied educational background and pursuits. And in this particular case, I’d like to know what it was about political science, political theory, what you intended to do with all that?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:03:40):

Well, I had a very science-heavy background in high school. I’d gone to a science magnet school and I’d studied a lot of biology and psychology and traditional sciences. So the first thing is that I wanted to branch out and explore things outside of that. As for political science, I was just completely in love with all the early classic political theory texts that I read, and I felt like it was helping me better understand the world.


If you can imagine someone who’s 17, 18 years old, hasn’t seen very much of the world, really only studied science and maybe some English books, these ideas about how you form society and how people should relate to each other, it was just mind-blowing for me. And the truth is I still love these questions today. I’m on Twitter talking with my friends about how AI will shape society and how much taxes should we pay, and how should we self-organize? I still really care about these questions and I’m grateful that I have some formal background in it, some training to make sense of the world that way.

Nick (00:04:59):

Do you think retrospectively that these early interests in these types of issues that are covered in political theory guided you into a space like web3 and crypto where it seems to me most of those themes are experiencing a revolution of sorts where the really important things could be disrupted by this new monetary system or this new way to coordinate human activity?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:05:22):

Well, I think that my early training in questions around how we self-organize has certainly helped me to navigate politically challenging situations. That’s how I think about it a lot. The modern-day workplace is a very political place, and having some understanding of how politics works has been really helpful to me there.


With web3, it’s more that I always cared about things that were socially important and innovative and meaningful. I cared about journalism back in the day because there was a time when journalism was really high-impact. There was a time when being on the cover of print media meant a great deal. There was a time when radio meant a great deal. And I came of age at that time. And so I love things that are new and innovative and can potentially change the world in a better way. I have that idealism and that optimism.

Nick (00:06:22):

Well, after college, you jumped right into entrepreneurship and startups, and again, this is another very familiar theme for guests of the podcast. I’m starting to believe that people that are participating in web3 are bent towards entrepreneurialism because it just seems to show up with so many of my guests. But you started with launching some dating sites, which is a GRTiQ first. What was that experience like, jumping right into entrepreneurship and getting into technology?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:06:50):

Well, I started to build an online dating site around 2011 because I was newly divorced and I was very lonely and I’d gotten married after meeting someone on a dating site. And so I had a lot of optimism about the potential for that. But when I got back out there, I was very disappointed by my experience as an online dater, and I was especially very disappointed specifically in Jdate, which I thought was a very corporate experience and I wanted something that reflected me, reflected my culture. And so I tried to build a more modern Jewish dating site. And that actually was wildly well received.


The only reason why that didn’t succeed more is because I was just so young and naive as an entrepreneur. There’s so much I hadn’t figured out. But also it’s really hard to get resources when you’re first starting out. I went to people for seed money and just nobody believed in me. People just straight up didn’t believe in me. And so much of my career has been fueled by having to overcome that and wanting to overcome that. For me, a big drive for several years was just wanting to get to a place where I could put together a team and put together funding and actually build cool stuff with cool people and getting to a place around 2015, 2016 is when this came together. Getting to a place where people believed in me and wanted to work with me, that was just life-changing for me.

Nick (00:08:36):

Well, you have an incredible career trajectory, and we’re going to cover a lot of that. But I want to stay here for a minute on this early experience as an entrepreneur. You mentioned there that it’s tough going, and I’m sure a lot of listeners can empathize with similar experiences of their own. But I want to ask you what compelled you to try it? It’s still a big step for somebody to say, “I’m going to go out and be an entrepreneur and start getting involved in startups.” What do you think drew you to that space?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:09:03):

There’s a lot of things that we can say about Paul Graham and there’s a lot of things that I specifically could say about Paul Graham, but to his credit in my life personally, Paul Graham was the person who motivated and encouraged me to go ahead and actually start this company. I met Paul Graham in 2011 after watching him reject about nine different entrepreneurs. I was on a line waiting to talk to him, and I watched him tell all of these people ahead of me in line that their ideas weren’t good and they shouldn’t work on them. And it was like, “Wow, okay. He’s not mincing words, he’s not messing around, and he doesn’t want people to go in the wrong direction. He’s not just cheerleading entrepreneurship.”


And then I came in front of him and I told him my situation and what I wanted to do, and he said I should go find a technical partner because at the time, this is about 12 years ago, so I was less technical at that time. He told me to go find someone to work with me on this and build it, and he said it was a good idea and I should go and I should do it. And that was enough for me because at the time in 2011, Y Combinator was still very early and I totally idealized him and all of that, and I wanted to be part of that whole scene.


So some of it is that I was motivated by just wanting to build cool stuff with cool people. I wanted to be in the mix. And some of it is that I’d already been in startups for a long time. I got my start in 1999 working for Ethan at Geekcorps before I’d even graduated college. And then I joined Everyday Health as employee 33 working directly with the founders. And that company IPO’d. So I was there helping build things from just the very ground up.


So I’d already been part of all of these really interesting startups that had made a really big impact on the world, and I wanted to take a shot at being in more of a creative and more of a leadership position. And I thought that I could do it. I knew that I could eventually do it.

Nick (00:11:17):

Based on those experiences, so not just early experiences of your own, but also working with a lot of startups, have you refined your opinion on what makes a successful entrepreneur, the characteristics or habits that you think are just central to somebody being able to succeed as an entrepreneur?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:11:35):

Oh, for sure. The most important thing that I’ve seen, and you’ll see this echoed by a lot of people who’ve been around the block in Silicon Valley, is you can’t give up. The most important thing is that drive. Someone who won’t give up. So sometimes it has to be the right fit between the founder and the idea, but startups fail when founders quit. And a lot of founders quit too early, they just give up too early. So there’s a personality trait around just being really fierce and really not giving up.


Sam Altman has this. Again, say what you will about Sam Altman, but with OpenAI, OpenAI struggled to get funding and a lot of people would’ve given up, and Altman just didn’t. He managed to find ways around it. And I think about those kinds of stories all the time.

Nick (00:12:27):

What about the most important lesson you learned as an entrepreneur? And I understand your story is far from over. But from your perspective and the people you’ve worked with, what’s the most important lesson you could share with any aspiring entrepreneur that’s listening to this interview?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:12:42):

That’s a really good question. It’s really important to me in entrepreneurship to start from a position of strength, whatever that requires. So some of the best companies, the best startups come out of situations where the founders are really well-positioned to hire. They’re really well-positioned to raise funding. When people start companies because they don’t feel like they have a lot of other options, that doesn’t work out very well.


So it’s really helpful to figure out what do you need to do to give this company the best chance to succeed? Whether that means starting it while you already have a good income or waiting until you have an idea and a team that’s really hot, can get traction, but it’s very difficult to start from a place where you don’t have leverage and where people won’t believe in you.


So the challenge is how do you get to that place where people will believe in you if you’re just some person who’s junior and doesn’t really have a lot to show? Oh, well, that’s a different conversation, but the most important thing to me is to start from a position where you can raise funding, you can hire people, where you can be in that top 10% because that’s who VCs want to fund, that’s who developers want to go work with, and the top 10% of products is what people want to use.

Nick (00:14:22):

Well, in terms of your own entrepreneurial experience, you mentioned Everyday Health, and what’s remarkable about that story is you joined early and it eventually IPO’d. What did you do at Everyday Health and what was that experience like for you?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:14:36):

The most important thing I learned at Everyday Health is how many mistakes you can make and still be wildly successful, I don’t mean as an individual, but I mean as a company, if you’re just giving people something they really want. At Everyday Health, we were selling the South Beach Diet online at a time where there weren’t a lot of diet sites online and the South Beach Diet was super, super hot and people really wanted to be part of the website. And it didn’t matter what other things went wrong. As long as we just kept giving them South Beach Diet online, the site stayed up and the features kept coming, then people kept giving us their monthly subscription.


And I started off in the customer service division doing a mix of customer service and sales and just establishing all of the infrastructure. So this was a time when the customer service center was very, very new and everything was being built from scratch. So I was working with Mike Keriakos and Ben Wolin, who were the founders, and some of the other early, early team members just to construct everything from the ground up, writing the script and figuring everything out for the first time.


And at some point, they needed QA and they didn’t have people over a holiday weekend. And they brought me down to do QA just because they needed people and they figured that I’d be good at it because I’m detail-oriented and they can see that I’m capable in certain ways. And that got me into the tech team. So after I did this stint filling in for the real QA team on a holiday weekend, I got hired into the tech team as a QA analyst, which is basically the bottom of the totem pole in tech. It’s the very bottom of the org. But that’s okay, I was young. Now, I was in the game. Now I was making and shipping software that millions of people were using, and I loved it. And that’s what got me hooked.

Nick (00:16:37):

So Elissa, then in 2013, you launched another startup. If you don’t mind, what can you tell us about what Glimpse is and what the origin story was behind that?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:16:47):

Glimpse evolved after the Snowden revelations. I was just so aghast at all of the privacy violations and I just became an activist about it overnight. I wasn’t the only one. When the Snowden revelations came out, it was something that if you had a tendency to care about privacy, this was really huge stuff. And at the same time, Snapchat was getting traction. I was one of the first users on the platform, and I was really offended by the difference between their messaging about how secure and private things were and the reality of the experience for users. And I had this strong feeling, which I still hold today, that companies need to be sincere and true in matching what they say they are and what they actually deliver as much as possible. I hold that as a value. So I wanted to build a company that actually was secure and private and fun to use for ephemeral messaging.

Nick (00:18:01):

Snowden’s come up on the podcast before, and it’s obviously a little bit politically charged, but I’d love to get your opinion on this. Do you see Snowden as criminal or hero? And again, a lot of people are split on this, but I’d be curious given your perspective on privacy how you frame him?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:18:18):

Well, I’ve changed my mind on this over the years. At one point, he was a hero to me and he retweeted me once and I was just over the moon about it. So I definitely idolized him at one point because I thought that he’d shared things that the American people really needed to know. I thought that we deserved to know what the government was doing with our data and that certain kinds of information shouldn’t be kept secret because the citizens have a right to know and because we need transparency in order to fix systemic issues. So in my more idealistic moments, that’s what I believe.


But now, in recent years, understanding more about the relationship between Russia and the United States, understanding more about the fragile relationship between the US and both our allies and our enemies, or if not enemies, then countries who wish to involve themselves in our affairs, perhaps in ways that we may or may not want them to. So knowing what I know now, I don’t hold Snowden as a hero anymore, but I’m still energized as an activist by the things that I’ve seen from what he revealed to us.

Nick (00:19:37):

Well, you’ve described yourself as a privacy activist. I can kind of infer what you mean by that, but I would love to hear it from you. What do you mean by saying you’re a privacy activist and why is that issue so important?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:19:50):

The truth is that perhaps I need to walk back calling myself an activist, that I was an activist and these days I’m in a little more corporate roles. And when you’re wearing various corporate hats, then it changes some of the things that you do publicly, sometimes also privately.


But back when I was a founder and an entrepreneur and wasn’t really accountable to any other organization, back when my brand was just me and didn’t really reflect on anyone else, I would do things like go to EFF events and tweet very angrily, but also I posted op-eds. I posted op-eds on the importance of strong encryption. Those op-eds actually were really well-loved within the security and privacy community. And I was quoted in the papers on these things. I was on PBS News Hour talking about encryption.


So for a period of time, I was very active as much as I could in the media talking about the importance of privacy and strong security, strong encryption, which is a controversial matter according to the FBI at least. And also my career was very focused around building privacy tools. So after Glimpse, I went into Brave, which was very privacy-focused. So for a period of time, it was a really big part of my life.

Nick (00:21:18):

Are you ever surprised that it’s not that way for everybody? I mean, you would think it would be a default position for most people to be a privacy activist. They would like their data, their information kept private. But the fact that we have people that have to take a “activist position” or that there’s people that are leading the charge against big business owning or stealing personal data, it’s strange to me. What do you make of that?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:21:46):

I’m actually very relaxed about this concept that not everyone will care about the things that I care about. I know that that’s maybe a little unusual. It’s more common that people will think everyone should feel passionate about the things they’re passionate about. But I became really passionate about factory farming issues when I was young, when I was maybe 13, 14, and I eat almost no factory farm foods. But I generally don’t talk about it very much, and I don’t expect other people to get on board and make that an issue because they’re just trying to live their lives. And I think for the most part, that that’s okay. It’s okay to me that for the most part, people are just trying to live their lives because for a lot of people, life is hard and it’s all that they can do to just go to their jobs and get their kids to school, whatever it is they’re trying to do. And I accept that.


My take on this is that it’s okay for people who have the bandwidth to be the ones who fight for these things. My hope is just that when people do have bandwidth and they can get involved, that they’ll get involved in nice things and good things rather than hurt or dominate other people.

Nick (00:24:13):

Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that given your interest in privacy and the fact that you launched Glimpse, that it was around this time you became aware of or began engaging with Bitcoin. What’s the story behind that? How did you get involved with Bitcoin and what drew your interest early on?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:24:30):

I’m trying to remember how I first heard about Bitcoin. It was really early because I was a Thiel mentor when Vitalik was submitting his paper and his ideas around Ethereum. This was 2011. So I definitely heard about it really early in. But I remember getting excited about it when we were selling T-shirts at Glimpse.


Bitcoin was exciting because we got the cash that day. We really needed the money, and with credit card processing it took two to three days, and so we’re waiting for the money to clear. And with Bitcoin, we got so many Bitcoins and we cashed them out that minute. The Bitcoins are worth 40, $50. So if we held onto them, well, that gets complicated because of corporate structures and where’s the money. But that’s when I fell in love with Bitcoin. But I actually became completely disillusioned with Bitcoin once the price rose and the fees rose.


So there was a period of time where I didn’t really appreciate how Bitcoin would be useful for larger transactions or in other countries. I was waiting for Lightning to really start working and Lightning wasn’t quite there around 2016, 2017, at least not for the things I was trying to do. But I’m certainly, I don’t want to say I’m a believer in Bitcoin because I’m a religious person Jewishly and I want to be careful about where I make my gods, so Bitcoin isn’t my religion, but I do have faith that it’s stronger money than most money.

Nick (00:26:20):

Your early interest, as you just articulated, was the payment facilitation. And again, longtime listeners of the podcast will know that I’ve spoken to people in different parts of the world where it was the same. They were able to receive and exchange payments seamlessly and with greater ease. But you also come from the perspective of privacy and cryptography figures into this. When did you make that connection where this was about privacy?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:26:47):

Well, Bitcoin actually isn’t about privacy for me at all, and that’s because I met Zooko from Zcash so early in, and so I’m a big Zcash fan with respect to privacy. To a lesser degree, I think Monero is useful also. But I like Zcash a lot. I like their values. And Zooko from Zcash and a lot of other people will make the argument that Bitcoin really isn’t completely private because things are visible. You don’t have complete privacy. For people to have privacy using Bitcoin, they have to… It’s not so simple.


So Bitcoin for me, there’s a lot of overlap because I made a lot of friends in the privacy space who are in crypto now, people like Gene Hoffman, who’s running Chia. So there’s a lot of overlap between people who care about privacy and people who care about Bitcoin, but it’s kind of weird because Bitcoin isn’t necessarily a privacy technology.


I think the thread that connects all of us is this libertarian thread. So Bitcoin has a lot of value with respect to libertarian interests and Libertarians care about privacy. Libertarians also care about Bitcoin. But Libertarians don’t necessarily care about Bitcoin because of privacy. They care about Bitcoin because it has these anti-authoritarian qualities. You can carry Bitcoin across country borders in the event of a country breaking down. And Libertarians don’t always have so much faith that the country they’re in is always going to be a great place to be.

Nick (00:28:27):

I want to go back to what you said about the Thiel Foundation and working as a mentor there. What can you share about your time there and what you were doing?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:28:36):

Yeah, so the Thiel Foundation, which was run then by Michael Gibson and Danielle Strachman, who have gone on now to run a VC fund, they were running the Thiel Foundation out of this house in California, and that’s how I met them. And they found me to be helpful, so I became an official Thiel Foundation mentor. Mentor was the official title and it was an official designation. And they had a whole group of people who were officially available as advisors and mentors to all these folks who were dropping out of school.

Nick (00:29:11):

That must’ve been an incredible experience, right?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:29:14):

Yeah, that was all really, really important. That was a really big, it’s still a really big deal. I remember I met Dylan Field when he was just starting up Figma, Figma had barely gotten off the ground.

Nick (00:29:29):

And I have to ask, I mean, did you actually meet or work with Vitalik during this time?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:29:33):

I actually didn’t interact with him all that much. I just read the paper. So it’s just a point in time where I for sure had heard about Bitcoin because I was reading about this paper kind of talking about why Bitcoin needed to be different and better. But I didn’t actually mentor Vitalik. In retrospect, I had that opportunity and I just didn’t quite see it. So that’s something that I’m working on is I don’t want to miss those kinds of things.

Nick (00:30:01):

Another thing that comes up on the podcast is when people come in contact with Bitcoin first and then Ethereum later and there’s a paradigm shift and it usually happens in the form of Bitcoin was this revelation as it relates to currencies, whereas Ethereum became something that can revolutionize the way we compute. Did you have the same type of aha moment in encountering these two different projects?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:30:27):

I got started in Ethereum as a security consultant, and I actually wasn’t totally in love with Ethereum at the time. I was much more in love with the process of pen testing. I was really keen on making sure that all of these early Ethereum projects were as secure as possible. And I was really focused on my startup. So there’s a certain degree that I wasn’t really fully taking in everything that was going on in the ecosystem. But in retrospect, I was totally in the right place at the right time. I was at these hackathons with the early teams from Graph token and NEAR. And I was in the offices of the 0x Protocol at the time when 0x was a really big deal. There’s a lot about it that was exciting at the time, but it’s much more so in retrospect.


My aha moment for Ethereum has been actually in the last year or so as I’ve tried to engage more with traditional banking and traditional finance and just become totally disillusioned with it. From my perspective, and a lot of people feel this way, traditional finance or TradFi, it’s just, it’s so broken. The way credit works is broken. The way online banking works is broken. The way banks handle fraud is broken. The speed, or rather the slowness of it is so broken. I can send Ethereum to you and you’ll have it in 10 minutes. I just think it’s so much better and it’s programmatic and it’s modern, and I just wish the SEC would get on board and help us to do this in a legitimate way through Coinbase and other legitimate actors or actors who want to be legitimate in the United States. And I could rant about this for a very long time.


But my aha moment was really after having been in Ethereum since 2018 and finally just really seeing the difference. It wasn’t an aha moment about Ethereum as much as it was an aha moment about everything it’s replacing or everything it could replace.

Nick (00:32:53):

So it’s also around this time that you begin working on and get involved with SecretCon. And for listeners that don’t know what SecretCon is, what can you share about that and what you were doing there?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:33:03):

SecretCon was an information security event in New York that was really focused on niceness in InfoSec. And I still love that concept because culturally, InfoSec has a lot of different threads in it and that’s what makes the community so interesting and so exciting. But some of those threads are… We have a lot of criminals in this space, and some of them are very lovable, but some of them are less lovable. There’s a bit of a prankster, hacker kind of thread. And so not everyone in the industry, they’re not all nice people, and the culture can sometimes be a little abrasive or harsh to new people.


So SecretCon was about creating a space that was welcoming and friendly for new people, and I think that that’s a really important, really great thing. SecretCon also was put together in 2015 at a time where it was still a really new and innovative idea to bring women up on stage, have them give awesome badass technical talks and not make a big deal out of the fact that they were women and not ask them to talk about gender and diversity issues. And so all those things made SecretCon really new and really different from the other events going on.


One more thing that I really love to talk about with SecretCon is that it was also about having local events. For a long time, and maybe it’s still true today, the Vegas events, DEF CON, Black Hat, BSides, that happened in Vegas have really dominated the information security industry. And for me, I go through phases where I’m trying to be a really wholesome person and I just don’t want to be in Vegas in a smoke-filled room with gambling and all of that. And so I liked the idea that we would just have not exactly a professional event in the sense of being stuffy, but an event that people would feel really comfortable being at and where they wouldn’t have to travel so far.

Nick (00:35:23):

Well, you bring up this discussion about gender equality and tech and startup culture, and it’ll probably baffle listeners that given everything you were working on in your life, in 2015 you also edited a book called Lean Out. And I would curious to know why you decided with everything that you were working on to edit that book and what exactly you were hoping to do?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:35:47):

As I’d mentioned earlier, I got my start as a journalist and in writing, so I always had this idea that I might work on a book. And it was actually at a hacker event that I met Miracle Jones, who became my editor, from Orb Books. And so once I met Jones, everything just kind of came together. There’s this magic when you find the right collaborators. And it was really intense to be a startup CEO and put that book together. I was just really hardcore at that time in my life.


To be fair, and it’s a bit of a secret, but I’ll share a secret with you and with the listeners, which is that it’s a cheat to put together an anthology. It’s just a cheat because you don’t have to do all the writing. So the first thing is you can get a book put together very quickly because 12 people can put together a book in maybe a month and a half if everybody’s working at once because they work in parallel. And I don’t know, I was super inspired and it just came together.


I didn’t think that it would be as good as it was, and I feel comfortable saying that because, again, it’s other people’s stories for the most part. It was on me finding the stories and putting them together. And in a lot of ways, being an editor is a lot like being a CTO or being a manager, right? You’re kind of conducting this orchestra and just trying to match people and their skills and make sure that everybody’s working really well and make sure the final product looks the way it should. So you wouldn’t think that being a book editor and being a product manager or a CEO or a CTO are the same, but for me, there’s a lot about it that was using very similar skillsets.

Nick (00:37:48):

What did you learn about gender equality in the tech and startup cultures by virtue of being on this project? I mean, it must have confirmed or checked some of the boxes that you may have already seen or experienced in your own career, but there must have been some revelations along the way as well.

Elissa Shevinsky (00:38:06):

Oh, I learned that not everyone was having the great experience that I was. So when I started that book, I wanted to tell a brighter story than the things that I’d seen in the media. But then when I read people’s stories, I realized just how difficult things were for all of these women and non-binary people that they were showing up to work and they had the talent, but it was just really hard for them to fit in. The pullout quote from this book was, “Making things is easy and fitting in as hard.”


And then I took a hard look at myself and I realized the extent that that was my story too. And I just hadn’t fully appreciated it because even when things were really hard for me, I was also having so much fun. Those two things went together. I had these moments where I was living with these total frat bros from MIT in San Francisco. And it was a little hard, how hard they were broing out. That was a little difficult for me. But at the same time, I was on this wild adventure and having so much fun and sometimes those dudes were so funny.


So the book taught me to have a lot of empathy for the experiences that other people were going through, but it also helped me to take a deeper look at myself and appreciate the extent that I’d been going through something also.

Nick (00:39:44):

And it’s not a stretch for me to assume that the title Lean Out is somewhat related or maybe a play on Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book release called Lean In.

Elissa Shevinsky (00:39:55):

It’s a bit of a play, but I didn’t mean it as a jab. And so that’s important. For me, it was a play and not a jab. My feeling was that Sheryl Sandberg had actually done us a very great service by bringing up issues that other people had been scared to bring up, and I thought she did a really good job of saying like, “Hey, we should also have a seat at the table.” “Don’t quit before you quit.” I thought that she had good points, but that she shouldn’t be the only voice.


My take on this, and I still feel this way, was that Sheryl Sandberg was a legitimate voice and well-intentioned and she had something good to say, but people have made the very valid critique that it represented a very specific kind of white woman feminism. I was like, “Well, that’s true.” And there’s a place for that. It just shouldn’t be the entirety of the discourse.


And Lean Out brought in a lot of people and a lot of perspective. So it was my effort to correct that. There’s a lot of ways that my experience is a little bit similar to Sandberg’s experience, and so it was really important that my book wasn’t only about me.

Nick (00:41:14):

When this topic comes up on the podcast, and it’s come up multiple times about these issues, about gender equality, and I always want to know if from your perspective, if web3, crypto, whatever we want to call this industry, it’s better equipped or it’s doing a better job addressing these types of things.

Elissa Shevinsky (00:41:34):

I actually don’t know that much about what’s going on right now in terms of culture in web3 because I haven’t been to an in-person event for a while and I was just heads down building at Cointelegraph. And the culture at Cointelegraph was pretty good. It was me and my team and it was the culture that we created.


So I’m actually really curious about what kind of experiences other people are having in web3, but I admit that I don’t really know how people are feeling right now because I haven’t done the kind of work that I did with Lean Out. I haven’t spoken to enough people. I haven’t asked those kinds of questions. But I don’t think that web3 is doomed to repeat the mistakes of web2, whether it’s on gender or culture or anything else. We’re a totally new thing and it’s with new people. It’s not led by the same people who led Web 2 for the most part, and it’s about different things.


So I have a lot of optimism about web3 because it’s still early and because of the sincerity of so many of the leaders. It’s easy for me to believe in web3. It is. I know a lot of people are trashing crypto right now, and I get it. There have been some bad actors in the space, but to me, they’re not the leaders in the space. There are a lot of people, Gene Hoffman, Bram Cohen, Zooko, even to some degree the work Brian Armstrong is doing, not on culture, but just leading Coinbase, for me they’re an improvement over the folks leading web2.

Nick (00:43:18):

As you mentioned there, you eventually end up at Cointelegraph, but after Glimpse and on your way to Cointelegraph, you spent some time at Brave. I’d love to learn a little bit more about what you were doing at Brave and what the experience was like there.

Elissa Shevinsky (00:43:32):

I joined Brave in 2016 after getting to know Brendan Eich a little bit. Eich actually announced Brave for the first time at my SecretCon conference. It was actually really cool. He came out as a special guest and came on stage with me and with my friend Rob Graham, and I guess Rob and Eich are friends, and we made fun of JavaScript for a while. So that got me into Brave.


Brendan Eich had seen my work with Glimpse and thought that the emphasis on privacy and security and usability and maybe also some developer focus would make me a good fit to lead product at Brave. So I was brought on as head of product.


When I arrived at Brave, things were still very early. So the website wasn’t up yet. We had the domain, but we didn’t have the site. We didn’t have the Twitter handle yet. There were a lot of things that were really early. It was very interesting to be there then. And of course, they’ve gone on to do such interesting things in crypto, but a lot of things happened after I’d left. A lot of my work there was really just about getting the browser up and off the ground.

Nick (00:44:48):

Well, as I said, after Brave, you moved on to Cointelegraph, and all of my listeners are likely to know Cointelegraph and the important role it’s played in the crypto industry. If you don’t mind, for listeners that don’t know, what is Cointelegraph and how did you get involved going to work there?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:45:06):

Cointelegraph is the leading crypto media publication, at least it was when I was there, by volume. CoinDesk arguably gets more traffic, but the traffic is more to things like the token pages. So at least when I was there, Cointelegraph was by volume the largest site for reading articles, reading journalism about cryptocurrency.


I joined because I’d had a bit of a mentorship relationship with the CEO. The CEO had actually profiled me in 2014 when he was writing for Fast Company, and we’d stayed in touch over the course of his career, as in he went on to do product management and eventually to become CEO at Cointelegraph. And he saw that there were things going on in product and tech where he needed to bring in some people to help make sure that things were as efficient as possible. That’s probably a good way to say it.


So he brought me in initially on a consulting basis. I came in and gave my assessment of what was needed. And initially, they made me head a product, but that lasted a week because pretty quickly as I was there, I assessed all of the work that I thought needed to be done. So I basically made my pitch for it, and then they made me CTO.


So it all happened very fast, but it was great. It was my first time overseeing technology work at that scale. And in truth, I wasn’t sure that I could do it because I’d never done that before. But oftentimes, it’s the only way that you’d ever learn or get an opportunity. So I’m really grateful that the CEO believed in me, that all of these other people believed in me. And the recommendations on my LinkedIn page suggest that I did a really good job. I look back, I feel really proud of the work that we did to really build and stabilize a lot of web2 technology at scale and get things to the point where we could start thinking really creatively, really playful ways about what else we could build in web3.

Nick (00:47:21):

Your story’s remarkable to me because you had this very early, early days introduction to Bitcoin. You were working on things related to privacy, and as you mentioned there, you’ve met a lot of really important people along the way, people that have been thought leaders or instrumental. And then you moved on to Brave, you edit a book. I mean, you’re working on so many incredible things. I’m curious how you’re managing your time. How does somebody who’s worked on so many things, contributing in really important ways balance their time?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:47:54):

Well, the trick is to not do all those things all at once. So with the exception of the time when I was working on the book and traveling and running a company, it’s just been a process of doing things really one thing at a time. But when I really get into a project, I go really hard. I haven’t been married or had kids for all of that time, and the projects that I got into became very all-consuming. So I didn’t have a half dozen other hobbies. I wasn’t watching a lot of TV. So that’s really been how I’ve pursued such interesting things and gone so deep into them. And I feel really grateful that for the most part, I’ve been able to do work that has been so interesting that I’ve wanted to do it on my evenings and weekends.


That was true at Cointelegraph too. I built a follow the sun model at Cointelegraph because it made sense for a international website with millions of users, it made sense to have people who are always available to fix bugs and to manage the servers and to do all the different things and to be as efficient as possible. And I’d want to be working when my team was working. So I remember working Saturday night, Sunday. No one was making me do that, but Yona came on Sunday and I wanted to see her, and Simon started his shift and I wanted to support them. And I didn’t always set up managers reporting underneath me for some of those things because I was having fun doing it myself.


But I did take a big sabbatical after Cointelegraph. So that’s the trick is I’ve gone so hard so many times and then I’ve taken these short sabbaticals afterwards and used the time to go get a new pair of glasses, go get an annual doctor checkup, all these things that you can kind of put off, go to the DMV.


But what I’m thinking about now, now that I’m older, now that I’ve done all those things, what would it look like for me to be somewhere for five years? I’m looking for work now. I’m interviewing at places. What would it look like to be somewhere for five years or seven years? What would I need to do for that to be different? So the first is just don’t have a startup that goes out of business. My last startup had acquisition offers, but COVID threw a wrench in that. So I was getting better at the startup thing.


But the first step is to be part of a company that’s really stable so that way the job would be there. But I also think maybe there’s something to pacing myself a little bit more. I don’t know. We’ll see if I really fall in love with some work. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep myself from throwing myself in that way, but I think about these things now.

Nick (00:50:57):

Well, it’s interesting you say that, finding a place and digging in five to seven years. And so although it’s true your career spans a lot of different startups and early ventures with some incredible stories, your stints there were relatively short. And I’m curious if that is because, as you said, you go all in and maybe you kind of hit a wall, you get burned out, or were you just so interested in exploring the next thing you decided to just always keep your radar up and explore new things that interested you?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:51:29):

The truth is that it hasn’t always been my choice. I would’ve stayed at Cointelegraph. The CEO was really happy with me. The people who worked alongside me on other teams, we got along really well. All of my direct reports were really happy. But we had a change in management. And if you look, the CEO isn’t there anymore. My team isn’t there anymore. Pretty much no one I worked with is there anymore.


So there was a time where I really thought Cointelegraph would be that place where I would spend many, many years. And with the startup before that, if we’d gotten acquired, then it would’ve been an extension of that same experience. But when COVID hit, we didn’t have the runway to continue operating without the ability to go sell to customers in person or fly to Israel to the companies who were making us these offers and wanted to meet in person. Back in 2020, things weren’t quite so remote, so that company also died.


So it’s a little… I’m glad to be able to talk about this and to explain away this red flag that people see, and also just to share something that’s real and personal, which is that it’s sad for me because I love working in these places and I wanted those experiences to keep going. It wasn’t because I had lost interest in things. It was because I was a little bit, how do I say it? I think I was just jumping into opportunities that were interesting without thinking about whether those opportunities were going to be there for me for a long time. And I think I finally hit a point where it’s not enough for me that an opportunity will be really interesting. I also am starting to think about will my job be there in two years because I want to be there in two years.

Nick (00:53:28):

Well, to balance that, and I appreciate you sharing that perspective, there are going to be listeners of this podcast who actually perceive this trajectory as very normal. In other words, this sort of tour of duty where you spend two years here, move on to the next thing two years, and so on. So it could just be the fact that these are old paradigms where someone gets hired and sticks around for a decade or more. Do you think that’s probably true? I mean, you’re in tech and this is where a lot of that turnover and that tour of duty type of mentality exists. Does that balance out a little bit of the story as well?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:54:06):

Well, that’s certainly true. My grandfather worked at Hudson Pulp & Paper. He got started in the mailroom, and he worked there until he retired. And that sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore. And for sure, when you’re founding startups or you’re joining other people’s startups, it’s very normal that either people just aren’t a fit for the company after a period of time. That wasn’t my experience. Now, that’s really common. You’re a person who’s great at starting things up, but it’s a little harder when the company starts to scale.


So yeah, it’s definitely a little more normal and more common for people to have shorter stints. And so my experience is part of that larger experience, especially we see with the layoffs that just happened, there’s a certain lack of loyalty on both sides. But I guess what I’m saying is just that I’m feeling like I want to settle in somewhere. I’m looking back and I’m looking at all the experiences I had and how much time it takes to settle in and get in a groove and get really good at something. And really, I feel like that’s the next phase for me. What does it look like for me to continue contributing in a situation for two years and three years and not have to keep starting over?


I’d learn so much from being part of different things, and it was so exciting and it was totally the right thing for me at the time. But I’d started to really build something at Cointelegraph. And I want to see what happens if I get to do that again and keep going.

Nick (00:56:15):

Well, Elissa, part of the reason we’re talking today is not only because of this incredible story you’ve shared so far and the projects you’ve worked on and the people you’ve met, but as you know, a lot of listeners of this podcast are very enthusiastic about The Graph. Many are contributors within the ecosystem already. And you had some very early interactions with The Graph protocol and the founding team, and so I want to ask you about that. But before we do, we should set some context. This happened again in another startup that you were working on, which was Soho Token Labs. So what can you tell us about what Soho Token Labs was and the story behind that?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:56:54):

Sure. I actually founded Soho Token Labs. And we got our start by doing an audit for the Ox project. And that put us on the map. And then after that, we went on to do audits, audits for folks who aren’t already familiar are basically security tests of the code for cryptocurrency companies. We were mostly working in solidity for Ethereum-based companies. And that put me on the map as someone to do that kind of work.


And so along the way, I got introduced to The Graph and brought in some other contributors, and I led this team doing early work writing open-source code for The Graph. And that’s also how I met Yaniv Tal. And Yaniv thought that I’d be helpful as an advisor because of all these experiences I had and connections and they were in early stages of company building, which is something that I had some expertise in. So I would come into their office in San Francisco and meet with Yaniv and meet with Brandon Ramirez and talk to them about their fundraising and just try to be helpful.


It’s really cool to remember that in retrospect now that The Graph is doing everything they’re doing. I’m just such a huge fan, and if it would be okay, I want to talk about why I’m such a huge fan of The Graph.

Nick (00:58:13):

Well, I want to hear that, and before maybe we get to hear that, I’d like to know what your early impressions were, because The Graph’s ambition is quite large, and you were there right at the beginning. Did you think this is a wild ambition and this is a solution that is going to take a lot more than a protocol to address? Or did you catch the vision early on and see that, yeah, this is an important problem and this is probably the best way to address it?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:58:39):

So early on, I really liked their sincerity, and I thought that their token was very useful. And it made a lot of sense to me. It’s very coherent to say that if we’re going to build decentralized systems, we don’t want to use things like AWS or we don’t want to use decentralized web2 tools for decentralized solutions. So The Graph always made sense to me because we need those kinds of foundational technologies to actually accomplish the goals that we’re setting out to do.

Nick (00:59:18):

So then why are you such a fan of the project?

Elissa Shevinsky (00:59:21):

Well, it’s for that reason actually, because the founders, the team, they’re really sincere and they’re doing work that’s so important.


In 2018, the people I met in the ecosystem were really sincere about crypto values. Crypto values, meaning open source and decentralization, and trying to build things that are new, these wild new visions of what the world could be, as opposed to all these other things we saw in the last bull run, which were a lot more about making money. And I get it, making money is really fun and really cool. Trading tokens can be really fun and really cool. But my heart, what really moves me is these folks are just really hardcore developers. They just really want to build this stuff, not for day trading, but because we should have a decentralized ecosystem.


So I just love The Graph because the founders and the people I’ve met there, they’re so smart, but also they’re so sincere. I just think they’re really good people and that they have a vision that really makes sense.

Nick (01:00:37):

Elissa, we were talking before we started recording about the recent pickup and interest in artificial intelligence, especially within the context of crypto. And a lot of crypto Twitter has come alive with interest for how artificial intelligence can be used in crypto. And The Graph has become a talking point within that conversation because of its use of artificial intelligence. And that’s a topic I’ve explored recently on the podcast. I had a panel discussion with one of the core dev teams working on The Graph called Semiotic Labs. Certainly encourage listeners if they want to do a real deep dive on the present use of artificial intelligence along with the future vision to go back and listen to that episode.


But I do want to ask you, because I know you have a developed understanding and perspective on artificial intelligence of how you make sense of this recent interest and particularly as it relates to projects in crypto, like The Graph? What are your thoughts on some of those things?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:01:38):

I wasn’t thinking too much about AI until ChatGPT came out recently. I have a friend who does machine learning ethics at Google, so there was a period of time where I was exploring that. But I think it’s really cool to see that kind of interest. The thing with AI is right now, it’s hard to know what the technology is going to look like in a few months or let alone a few years. And for me, it’s really hard to know how crypto will tie into that.


When I think about AI and crypto, I tend to think that it’s likely that AI would use cryptocurrency or at least things like the Ethereum network to do payment transactions. I imagine these different AI agents and humans are just not even part of the equation for them. They have their own little ecosystem where they’re bartering and they’re trading, and I imagine that they’re not doing it using banks. I imagine they’re doing it using, not even necessarily Bitcoin, but that they have some token that represents GPU value. So that’s where my mind goes.


I think it’s cool that people associate The Graph as something that’ll help power AI because of what it can do with data. It’s so early, right? So it’s a little early to get too hyped on that, but it’s not too early to be imaginative about it. Does that make sense? It’s too early to be hyped, but it’s not too early to have interesting daydreams about where it could go.

Nick (01:03:16):

Is it too early to be nervous about AI and its impact on humanity? Certainly some thought leaders like Elon Musk and others have coalesced around this idea that people need to come together and agree on some guidelines or some ethics.

Elissa Shevinsky (01:03:29):

It’s really important to me to not be nervous. Just as a general principle, I try very hard every day to not be nervous. There’s a Jewish saying by Rabbi Nachman, “The world is a very narrow bridge, but the most important thing is to not be afraid at all.” I may be mixing those words up a little bit, but you get the gist of it. So that’s the first thing is we shouldn’t be afraid.


That said, it’s terrifying. Dumb preamble that we shouldn’t be afraid. I’m very concerned about it because AI is very powerful and we are not really prepared to be able to control it if and when AGI, or we don’t even need AGI, it’s just enough to have agents that get out of control. So the thing is, we don’t know when we’ll have AGI, but we don’t need to be worried about AGI to be able to foresee some consequences in the very near future.


An example that I saw on Twitter, I don’t remember the exact name, Larone someone, he gave this example of some of the computer worms that have been released and gotten out. And these weren’t particularly smart computer viruses, but once they were released, they did a lot of damage and it’s been very difficult to put these things back in the box. And so it wouldn’t take very much for something to be unleashed that we couldn’t put back in the box. Look at COVID. So COVID is biological. It’s not nanotech, it’s not AI, but COVID did a tremendous amount of damage. And we really can’t eradicate it. We can’t shut that thing down. So I tend to be very open-minded about just how much destruction is always possible.


What I worry about with AI is that the people who are even building it believe and are telling us that it has great destructive potential. And you see that Sam Altman talks about how he’s got a stash house on some island, or I think he has land in the middle of the United States. He probably has multiple places. Guns and antibiotics, he’s got his full prepper thing set up there.


So all of these people who are the ones building AI, they’re also busy building bunkers. What should we be taking away from that? My takeaway is that I should probably build a bunker, but I don’t want to build a bunker. And I’m really unprepared right now to build a bunker. I’m trying to just wake up and have a relatively normal day. And suddenly I have to build a bunker. So I think it’s very important to be calm, but you should probably also think about where are you going to build your bunker calmly. We should be calmly building our bunkers.

Nick (01:06:49):

Well, Elissa, you’ve been so generous with your time and I just want to ask you a few final questions. The first question I want to wrap with is how has your perspective of crypto and what it can do in the world evolved from the time that you first encountered Bitcoin as a solution to get paid more quickly when selling T-shirts all the way through to Cointelegraph? I mean, you’ve done so many things. How has your perspective evolved?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:07:19):

Well, in the early days of Bitcoin, I thought it was interesting, but not enough that, I didn’t keep the Bitcoins that I got from the T-shirt. So I thought it was interesting enough to play with the technology, but I wasn’t really thinking that much about anything besides how to keep my own startup afloat another day or week or month.


A lot of my life over the last 10 years has been characterized by being so focused on whatever I was doing at the time that I wasn’t really thinking enough about the bigger picture, like everything else going on, all the opportunities, all the interesting things. And so I didn’t really appreciate Bitcoin so much because I wasn’t reflecting on it enough.


And then I reached a point where I had a great confidence in cryptocurrency, and that’s where I am now. I’m very bullish on it, but at the same time, all these enforcement actions are coming. I think it’s very disappointing. I think that the United States is missing a huge opportunity. The United States missed a big opportunity with semiconductors and with allowing a lot of other critical infrastructure to be built outside the United States. And the US is now trying to remedy this now. For folks who are interested, they can go off and search more about this, about the way that the US is trying to repatriate some of these critical services back to the United States.


Even with masks, right? It was very unfortunate when COVID hit and we couldn’t get the supplies we needed because we weren’t building them here at home in America. And I believe that this is what we’re going to experience with cryptocurrency, that instead of creating a home for companies like Coinbase and for people like me who would potentially keep money in an institution like Coinbase and pay taxes on it. So I think that’s very unfortunate and I think about that a lot.


But I’m very bullish on cryptocurrency now. It’s too big to kill. If it doesn’t survive in the United States, it’s a very big world. It’s a very big world. And I believe if the US misses enough opportunities, then other countries will step up. We’re already seeing other countries create safe havens for cryptocurrency. So it’ll be very interesting to see what happens. And I hope the US does and about face on regulation very soon because it’s just a terrible shame to see the companies leaving the United States. And I would be very excited to see a regulated market for cryptocurrency investing. I think it could be interesting and fun for people.


So I’m a little sad about the state of things in the United States right now, but really bullish and really excited about the space bigger picture. It’s a big world. World is bigger than the US.

Nick (01:10:15):

Well, let’s talk about that bigger picture then. Outside of regulation, which as you said can create friction for people in the United States, as you watch the industry grow and hopefully reach mass adoption or critical adoption, what types of mileposts are you watching for to signal that we’re on the right path?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:10:36):

One thing that I look at is institutions adopting Bitcoin. That’s important because it’s a signal to a lot of people who are a little more old school, and it also creates a certain kind of stability. I’m also looking to see just usage. I’m looking to see in the next Floor Run, I’m hoping that we’ll see interesting, exciting things happening with web3 games. I’m looking to see ease of use with crypto. So when hardware wallets can become easier to use, that’ll be a big milestone to me.


It’s a good question. For me, I think it’s a I’ll know it when I see it type of thing. I just know we’re not quite there yet, but we keep getting closer, closer. We keep getting closer very fast.

Nick (01:11:32):

And then the last question, of course, is the most natural question one could ask someone like yourself who’s spent so much generous time here today talking and sharing your story. And that is what are you doing now and what do you hope to be working on over the next few years of your life?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:11:46):

Well, right now, I’m spending a lot of time understanding what’s happening with AI. That’s really important. I think a lot of people see that. I have a talk coming at BSidesCharm where I’m giving a keynote talk on AI and security. And I’m in talks with some other folks about giving other keynotes on AI. That’s the big thing I’m doing right now is just thinking through the implications of the technology.


And after a very long and really wonderful sabbatical, I’m back on the job market. So I’m interviewing for engineering leadership and product leadership roles. So folks are welcome to get in touch if they see an open role either at their company or somewhere where they can refer me. So I’m really excited about that. I love working. I love making software. I love building products. And it’s not the same for me if I’m not part of a team, if I’m not part of a larger company or larger environment working towards interesting goals. So I’m excited to get back into that.

Nick (01:12:56):

Well, Elissa, now we’ve reached a point in the podcast where I’m going to ask you the GRTiQ 10. And this is really popular for listeners of the podcast. They really love to get this personal side and some of the insights, and so it’s a way for listeners to learn something new, try something different, or achieve more. So are you ready for the GRTiQ 10?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:13:13):

Let’s go.

Nick (01:13:25):

What book or article’s had the greatest impact on your life?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:13:29):

That’s an interesting question. Around 2008, 2009, I became really obsessed with best practices in technology management, and I read all this Joel Spolsky about best practices on how to manage developers. And that category of work has probably been the most impactful for me. So it started with Joel Spolsky and then reading Paul Graham. And in recent years, there’s been a lot of content about that sort of thing.


But the most interesting and impactful thing for me was just understanding what makes software different. A book that I highly recommend for people who haven’t read it before is The Mythical Man-Month. The Mythical Man-Month is so important because it talks about how programming and coding isn’t like building a physical building. You can’t just add more programmers to late project and have it go faster because there’s communication issues. You have to bring the new people up to speed. So I love that whole genre of best practices in technology.

Nick (01:14:43):

And how about this, is there a movie or a TV show that you would recommend everybody should watch?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:14:48):

So in general, I try to watch less TV. I go through phases where I get caught up in it anyway. But with AI these days, I’ve found some TV shows to be really informative. I want to go back and rewatch Travelers. Travelers is a TV show where, among other things, their lives are controlled by this AI. And it becomes a very interesting plot point. And I think as we try to imagine what our lives might be like with super powerful AIs, it can be really useful to look at how it’s been depicted in sci-fi.

Nick (01:15:32):

And if you could only listen to one music album for the rest of your life, which one would you choose?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:15:37):

I don’t listen to music. Can you believe that?

Nick (01:15:40):

You’re not the first guest that doesn’t listen to music?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:15:43):

I listen to podcasts.

Nick (01:15:45):

What’s the best advice someone’s ever given to you?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:15:48):

I’ve seen this advice in many places and it’s very important. And it’s simply to not give up. Just don’t give up. Whatever’s going on, set a goal and push through it and focus until you get there. And I give myself this advice almost every day on whatever I’m trying to accomplish, to just stick with it and never give up.

Nick (01:16:12):

What’s one thing you’ve learned in your life that you don’t think most other people have learned or know quite yet?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:16:18):

I’ve learned how to spend very long periods of time being extremely quiet. And I think that that’s a very rare skill. Not everyone has the opportunity, but I’ve had various stretches where I was able to get some solitude. And there’s really something to that experience of quieting everything down. It helps you really reconnect to what’s important and hear your own inner voice, and there’s something to be said for that.

Nick (01:16:51):

What’s the best life hack you’ve discovered for yourself?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:16:53):

Turning my phone off.

Nick (01:16:55):

Based on your own experiences and observations, what’s the one habit or characteristic that you think best explains why people find success in life?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:17:06):

When I was younger, I thought that success was a matter of talent, but the longer I’m working and the more I see successful people, the more convinced I am that it’s just about determination. You need a certain measure of talent to be really successful. You need that spark. You need something. And you need to be working in a field where you can shine out. But the biggest difference between the people who really make it and the people who don’t is just never giving up.


I had the opportunity where I got to meet and hang out with Kevin Mitnick. Kevin Mitnick is a world-famous hacker, and he’s either the best or one of the best at social engineering and of breaking into systems depending on how you measure or who you talk to. But no question, top five. He was world-famous for being chased by the FBI for years. He’s really, really good. And what he said to me was that there’s always a way in. I’ve never forgotten that. Why is he a world-famous hacker? What’s made him special? And it’s that determination. Most people eventually give up on things. They give up. They give up and move on. No, there’s always a way in. So I think you can apply that elsewhere. There’s always a way to achieve the thing you’re trying to do just about always.

Nick (01:18:47):

And then the final three questions are complete the sentence type questions. The first one is, the thing that most excites me about web3 is?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:18:56):

The sincerity, to the extent that there’s sincerity.

Nick (01:18:59):

And how about this one, if you’re on Twitter, then you should be following?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:19:03):


Nick (01:19:05):

And lastly, complete this sentence. I’m happiest when…

Elissa Shevinsky (01:19:09):

I’m happiest when I’ve had a productive day.

Nick (01:19:20):

Elissa Shevinsky, this was an incredible interview and grateful today that the fates brought you and I together, and I want to thank you for your time. If people want to learn more about you and your work, what’s the best way for them to stay in touch?

Elissa Shevinsky (01:19:33):

The best way right now is to follow me on LinkedIn.


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