Q&A with StillMark's Amy Walker

Amy Walker is an investment intern at StillMark, a crypto-focused fund based in Los Angeles. She is a rising junior at UCLA.

What drew you to venture capital and working with startups?

I really have one person to thank for my intro to venture capital, and I am forever grateful for that. Most people at UCLA that are interested in going into business go on the IB/Consulting routes, so I was looking at those two routes when I came into school last year. I joined Bruin Women in Business and was lucky enough to become close with Megan Pierce, the founder/former president of the club, who introduced me to the option of VC as a career path straight out of undergrad. I had always had an interest in going into VC because I think it is really exciting to work with the most cutting-edge ideas and work in a field that is not so rigidly defined, but thought that it was something that only came after you had a breadth of experience working in other fields. Megan showed me that VC is a completely attainable path as an undergrad (she is now working full-time at Pritzker Group) and that it would be something I would be really interested in. I am someone that likes looking at trends and predicting future outcomes, and VC and the startup ecosystem really allows me to utilize that skill.

Why StillMark? Talk me through its consulting and investing model. What was the hiring and recruitment process like?

StillMark really enables me to get a lot of hands-on experience in VC at such a young age. I was a direct referral of a graduating intern from UCLA , and interviewed before receiving an offer for an internship. I was really interested in StillMark because of its focus on blockchain, which was something I was really interested in learning more about, but also Alyse has background in retail and ecommerce investments, which is an industry I am very interested in. I've had the opportunity to work closely with Alyse which has been great, because she has really helped me to develop the knowledge and skills needed in venture, and I don't think I would have gotten that experience elsewhere.

Through experiences in finance and management at BD, Bruin Women in Business, and UCLA Undergraduate Business Society, what skills have been most applicable for venture?

UCLA doesn't have a dedicated undergraduate business program, so all business education for undergrads is taught through student orgs like UBS and Bruin Women in Business. In a way, this is a very entrepreneurial-type ecosystem, since the completely student-run atmosphere allows for a lot of innovation and change with each coming year. UBS is the largest undergrad business club on campus with over 5,000 members, and as a director, I am in charge of outreach for and putting on large events on campus for our members. I communicate directly with many different companies across the country for our event, a skill that has definitely come in handy with my communication with potential investments. We really adapt our events to what we see would be most beneficial for the trending climate of students at UCLA, so this transfers to the necessary adaptive and predictive mindset needed in venture.

As for BD, I wanted experience in corporate finance to explore other areas of finance as well, and it really helped me to realize that I need a much faster paced environment and enjoy the innovative and uncertain nature of venture as opposed to the stable corporate environment. Being a large medical device company, it did allow me to gain experience in the healthcare sector, a sector that I believe has huge opportunity for growth and will see many new startups launch in in the coming years.

What does an average day look like as a remote intern?

Working remotely is ideal; it allows me to balance my work with my classes. I focus on a review of the newest investment opportunities, including a review of cold inbound opportunities. Founders can always reach out to StillMark at office@stillmark. We review and consider everything that comes in either directly from someone we know, or without introduction. I also focus on upcoming accelerator demo days, and on-campus entrepreneurial talent. Finally, depending on where we are in our investment cycle, I review public and private markets to help evaluate companies standing within a landscape and amongst competitors prior to StillMark deciding to make an investment. We are looking for companies targeting large markets, with the ability to win dominant market share while still maintaining their core utility for users.

StillMark backs companies innovating in finance, healthcare, and marketplaces (with an emphasis on data applications and blockchain). What companies in Stillmark's portfolio exemplify this investment focus?

In 2019 and the years following, StillMark will be more exclusively focused on blockchain technology. Specifically, we are focused on second layer infrastructure development (e.g. Lightning Network), consumer or enterprise applications that leverage second layer infrastructure for scale and to access the core values of public blockchains (and Bitcoin specifically), and tools and services that support users and businesses onboarding to cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. Additionally, StillMark is interested in companies and sectors that are positioned to be advanced by blockchain technology. That can include finance, healthcare, marketplaces, and more. Even though we are focused on blockchain technology, we remain broad in the sectors we review because blockchain is very widely applicable. Gartner, for instance, reported that they estimate that blockchain technology with add over $3 TRILLION of business value by 2030.

StillMark recently invested in Chia Network, a company founded by Bram Cohen (the technical founder of BitTorrent and a Bitcoin Core Developer) and Ryan Singer, one the Bitcoin ecosystem’s earliest, repeat startup founders. It’s an all-star team! Chia Network seeks to build a blockchain protocol that incentivizes more distributed mining, using proof of space and time for the consensus mechanism (in contrast, Bitcoin uses proof of work and Ethereum is seeking to adopt proof of stake). The Chia Network blockchain protocol continues to advance many of the key principles of the Bitcoin blockchain, while also focusing on greater efficiency in mining, including energy efficiency. Notably, the developers working on the Chia protocol are in collaborative discussion with Bitcoin Core Developers, and we imagine that advancements in either protocol can ultimately benefit both protocols. Chia Network is open source, so technical discoveries applied to the Chia blockchain may ultimately also be adopted by other protocols. Bitcoin is also open source.

Currently in Q4 2018, we are spending a majority of our time on the tools and services that enable self-sovereign use of public blockchain technology, including tools of self-custodianship.

Alyse Kileen is one of the premier crypto investors, sitting on the boards of BItGive and Ciphrex. She's also featured on the “VCs Powering the Blockchain Boom” List, following Tim Draper, Mark Cuban, and Naval Ravikant of AngelList. What's it like working with Alyse and under her mentorship?

Working with Alyse under her mentorship has been great and I am so lucky to do so. She really focuses on female representation in the venture space, which is something I am passionate about, so I was really excited to work with her, especially in today's climate with so few females in VC. She founded Women in Venture and is always willing to help out female founders, and it has been great to work under somebody with this passion. She truly wants to help me learn as much as possible and see as much deal flow as possible to develop my venture knowledge, so I am thankful for that.

How is StillMark thinking about crypto protocols and infra in this bear market (as Consensys lays off its workforce and Basis dissolved, returning capital to investors)?

StillMark is almost exclusively focused on traditional equity investments in startups operating in the cryptocurrency and blockchain fields, so the short-term price of Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies impact our work only indirectly. Though it may be a bear market in terms of trading conditions, but it is a bull market in terms of infrastructure advancement. Following the activation of SegWit on the Bitcoin protocol in 2017, 2018 saw a rapid pace of advancement of layer two technologies, and early adoption of both the Lightning Network and applications built for the Lightning Network. For instance, the capacity of the Lighting Network has increased greatly (over 300% in the month of November 2018 alone), adding 450 BTC to Lightning channels), and over 4500 nodes were added (almost a 11% increase). What this means is that more Bitcoin can be transacted on the Lightning Network, and more people or businesses can independently manage their transactions on the network (by running their own node).

In December 2018, Blockstream announced that the Asia Pacific region was added to the Blockstream satellite coverage, which allows Bitcoin users in regions of coverage to be able to view activity on the Bitcoin blockchain even if they lose internet access. They also added API capability and Lightning Network capability such that a data broadcast system, paid via Bitcoin using the Lightning Network, is enabled. This allows public, unencrypted and private encrypted communications to be shared via the Blockstream satellite, again without relying on internet access. They are broadcast Bitcoin transaction data and other data communications from space and independent of internet!

Alyse has been reviewing new protocols since 2013 but StillMark has only invested in one as our primary focus is on the Bitcoin protocol. That one protocol investment is Chia Network. We are focused on Bitcoin and Bitcoin-related protocols: the infrastructure and applications that allow users, SMBs, and enterprise to take advantage of those protocols.

Regarding the ConsenSys layoffs... over 50 startups exist under the ConsenSys umbrella, and a natural reduction in the size of the portfolio should be expected (as is true of any very early stage portfolio). Not all early stage startups continue to develop and thrive, and that’s part of frontier tech exploration. Those laid off from ConsenSys projects entire a hot job market with an attractive skill set. For instance, LinkedIn report 3300 increase in job postings for blockchain developers in 2018!

Do you think Softbank is good for the startup ecosystem?

I do think that Softbank is good for the startup ecosystem. Obviously, it provides a huge amount of capital, which is always needed for startups. SoftBank focuses on later stage investments primarily in tech, so it is really providing huge amounts of capital for platforms rather than early-stage startups, especially as we have seen with their recent launch of the Vision Fund. This leaves a space for other funds to invest in earlier stage companies to provide more of their hands-on expertise and really help develop these companies, rather than just provide capital.

In First Round's State of Startups, less than 7% of founders were from LA. What is one prediction you have for LA's blossoming tech scene?

I think that the LA tech scene is really going to blossom in the coming years, and we are already seeing this with everything in Silicon Beach. I think that there is really a space for tech in LA, specifically at the intersection with tech and entertainment, with LA being the hub for entertainment. A space in which tech and entertainment can really merge is AdTech. With our consumer retail landscape shifting with the rise of ecommerce giants, the advertising space needs to shift along with it, and AdTech can help transform the traditional advertising landscape and make it more efficient. By utilizing data about consumers, AdTech allows brands to utilize lower budgets and generate more value. LA is the perfect place for AdTech startups to be located, since it is already a media and entertainment hub. I have already seen an influx of AdTech startups, specifically in LA, and think that we will continue to see not only an arrival of more AdTech startups, but also many startups that merge tech and entertainment.

What advice do you have for young women who want to enter VC - on the investing, operations, or platform side?

The main advice I have for young women who want to enter VC is to develop a personal network with people who will advocate for you and help you learn the knowledge needed in the VC space. I can really only speak to my fellow undergrad peers, but the main advice I have is to start by finding people on campus who have experience and/or connections in VC and start a conversation with them. Join orgs on campus, develop those relationships, and they can lead to other relationships that can help you enter VC. Go to as many events as possible, because you never know who you might meet or what opportunities they might lead to. It's important to start those conversations, because even if they don’t lead to anything right now, they may lead to something later down the road. Also, read up on as much as possible - there is so much knowledge available on the internet that you have no excuse but to become an mini expert on a field you are interested in. You can always read up on the latest news in venture, what new startups are coming out, what investments are occurring, that you can teach yourself a lot about venture.