Small Town Roots, DeFi Dreams

This is a story about my journey through Web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0, across the world, and back again.

If you’re looking for a story about a successful start-up that went full unicorn overnight, keep scrolling.

If you’re looking for rags to riches story about how I got lucky gambling with crypto, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a story about how each new internet era left me better off and more powerful than the last, you might want to stick around.

Let me start off by qualifying what I mean by small town. I was born in Kalmykia, Russia, and I promise to forgive you for having to Google it.

No one would judge you for never having heard of our little republic on the edge of the Caspian Sea. We’re not exactly renowned for achieving much of anything, except chess and surviving Soviet mass deportation.

I come from a good family; in Kalmyk terms, I grew up privileged. I soon learned, however, that being privileged in Kalmykia doesn’t mean much beyond the borders of our narrow little world of Tibetan temples and seemingly-endless grasslands.

Kalmykia may be beautiful and Kalmyks may be a resilient people, capable of surviving against all odds, but it wasn’t a place to have big dreams, especially as a girl, and especially as a minority in the giant country like Russia.

The Internet would change all that, forever, like no one could have expected.

In a nutshell, this is the story of how I left Kalmykia, learned Chinese, English and later Korean, oversaw deals worth millions of dollars, made a name for myself among the Russian and Chinese business elite, then gave it all up to become an intern at Sinofy.

I worked my way back up from the bottom and now report directly to Sinofy’s higher ups, who have entrusted me with complete control over the company’s East Asia operations. And it only took me eight months.

Web 1: A world of virtual possibilities in my remote Kalmyk home

Like so many girls growing up and getting ambitious in the 1990s, my first taste of how vast the world could become in the form of a small gray box. It was a Windows 95 desktop computer and, ugly and unwieldy as they now seem, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

My brother and i are having our first touch and meeting with Windows 95.

Suddenly, I had access to an entire world of information and ideas, each bigger and brighter than the last.

Younger generations will never understand the excitement, the sheer anticipation, of those thirty seconds spent waiting on the phone-line as it dialed up your internet connection. We can laugh now, but that sound — the screeching wail of the dial-up tone — it was freedom.

You might not have heard of the term “class horizon”, it’s used to describe how your background defines your occupational aspirations and places limits on ambition. If you are born in a developed country to a wealthy family — like the Richard Bransons of the world — not even the sky is your limit.

But if, like me, you were born into a society where the best that you can hope for is a good marriage and to avoid poverty, you don’t dream of sending entire societies up into space, you dream of something more down-to-earth, more realistic. Your understanding of what it is possible to do with your life is limited.

Web 1 blew my class horizons wide open. A handful of revolutionary engineers an entire world away put me — and so many others like me — online and, suddenly, anything was possible.

And Web 1 didn’t only blow open my class horizons, but actual, geographical horizons, too. It may be difficult for you to understand what it means to grow up in a post-Soviet country, but we are born cynical and bred stoic. So many of us simply accept what we’ve been given and try to get on with the basic business of living an ordinary life.

A desktop computer was more than just a means to understanding other ways of life in other countries so different from my own, it let us communicate with them. It let us apply for a chance to go to them.

Web 1 was the first step on a journey that would take me all over the world and back again, but first, it would take me to China.

The beginning of China’s internet boom (Web 2.0)

My physical class horizons were broadened irreversibly when my cousin won a scholarship to study in China. Where the internet had given me ideas and information, my cousin gave me a real, physical road to follow.

I had never lacked courage, just options for social mobility. So I left my home, my desktop computer, and Kalmykia behind.

In 2011, China’s internet boom was just beginning. WeChat had just been released, Baidu was still just a search engine with paid ads, and Alibaba was busy battling eBay for the Chinese market. This was the world I entered when I followed in my cousin’s footsteps and moved to China. In fact Sinofy`s Cofounder Amirsan Roberto wrote one of the rewarding articles about 10 things that one should know to make sense of China`s internet evolution, or maybe, revolution.

Having won my own scholarship, I headed to Qingdao to study Int’l Trade and Economics in Chinese. It was a smoggy, industrial city back then, caught between China’s manufacturing boom and an entirely new world of high-tech, internet-based services. It was loud, heavily populated, and fast. I fell in love — and not only with the city.

But life in this fast-paced, modern city was hard. Never before had I felt Kalmykia’s development gap so hard. My family couldn’t afford to visit me or for me to visit home and I could barely afford to eat. I worked in a Japanese bar to make ends meet, and tried to excel at my studies.

I lived on around 10 USD a week, and drank as much water as I could to stave off hunger. Today, my colleagues laugh at me, because I’ve kept a hold of this habit despite how drastically my life has changed since then.

It wasn’t just poverty that felt overwhelming, the technological pace of life in China was a culture shock all of its own.

Can you imagine how insignificant my desktop computer seemed when compared to using, accessing and experiencing the full breadth of the Web 2 revolution — the digitalization and commodification of every little aspect of your life from how we communicate to how we create.

Suddenly, I wasn’t just a consumer of information on the internet, I was an active participant in information creation. From WeChat moments to Facebook likes, I was an intrinsic part of the digital world around me.

Content creation platforms were being born, and me and my smartphone were a part of it. And that was just the beginning.

Web 2: Billion-dollar deals and global mobility

The China I graduated into was a completely different country to the one I had entered as a native international student back in 2011.

Internet penetration had skyrocketed and mobile data usage had doubled and doubled again each year, overtaking even wealthy, developed countries like the UK. The number of internet users in China is now more than in the US and India combined.

By this point, I could speak fluent Chinese and was — more slowly, but still surely — getting fluent in Korean. Most importantly, I was finally able to earn an actual living. Learning, speaking and most importantly, practicing English was a default state of my mind that i had to master while staying in Qingdao.

I hesitated before writing this heading, because at first glance it feels fake and clickbaity. But as much as this applies to Web 2 of instant communications, mobile technology, and truly globalized business, it also applies to me.

I started working for Qingdao Guanqing Trading Co., Ltd. as their Overseas market executive immediately after graduating. I was in charge of planning and implementing the supply and production chain of Russia’s biggest magnet manufacturer, helping them to protect their dual-use technologies from leakage — technology that can be used for both peaceful and military ends.

It was my boom time, as much as it was China’s.

Somehow, I had managed to succeed in all areas of my life. I was participating in multi-million dollar deals, my life was Chinese, Korean, and Russian, not to mention doing my best to improve my English speaking and writing skills, I was just a simple girl from Kalmykia. It seemed as though I was capable of anything. So, naturally, I had an existential crisis. Life seemed to be great.

It felt as though I had thrown open my horizons only to fall into another set of predestined limitations assigned to ambitious people born into female bodies.

So, I quit.

What I didn’t realize is that the internet was collectively going through a similar identity crisis.

Web 2 let me access better computers and broader platforms than ever before, but all I seemed to use it for was closing deals, and making money, money, money. Trade and eCommerce was booming, venture capital was flowing, everyone was getting rich and quick. But we were also getting wise.

While Web 2 was putting us to work, churning out content, consumption, and capital, it was also bringing us together. Social media democratized access to information, putting a human face on the “facts” we consume. Online social networking brought us into contact with real people with real experiences for us to admire and emulate.

Suddenly, many of us wanted more. Not more money or more material wealth, but more from our lives. We wanted to get more out of the hours we’d spent cashing in on and consuming Web 2.

So, like I said, I quit. And so did Web 2.

From million-dollar deals to an internship at a tech start-up

I’d given it all up: The boyfriend, the lifestyle, the money. I gave it all up and started from scratch as an intern at a rapidly-growing, borderless tech start-up.

I gave up an entire way of life on the basis of a very limited knowledge of blockchain, DeFi, and crypto, and how they were shaking the world. I had no idea what to expect from this bizarre new industry tearing through Web 2 and into an entirely new internet era.

When I first walked through Sinofy’s (entirely virtual) doors, all I knew was that blockchain technology was being used to redefine the relationship between a person and their money. Instead of a banking middle-man, cryptocurrencies are paid from person-to-person without the involvement of any corrupt and elitist financial institution.

Because who needs banks when you have an increasingly-powerful community committed to crypto as a medium of exchange and willing to value that medium like a real-world, fiat currency?

It was exhilarating, the fresh start that I knew I needed but didn’t know how to give myself before. I went from knowing nearly nothing — least of all what to expect from this bizarre new world — to being one of the most sought-after specialists in the company.

At the start-up level, everything is faster, more intense; everything means more. Things can change overnight, there is no “business as usual”. Sinofy started as a PR firm with a nice niche but, in the space of barely a year, evolved into a hackathon-hosting, crypto-investing, R&D-funding behemoth with offices in seven different countries.

And I’ve evolved with it.

Within eight months, I was promoted to Chief East Asia officer.

I started to get crypto-savvy and made my first investments under the guidance of our angel investors and their extensive knowledge of the ebbs and flows of global decentralized finance markets. These same angel investors have now entrusted me with between $50.000 in East Asian operations improvements, recruitment and outstaffing solutions.

I’m still a small-town girl from Kalmykia, but now I live between three very different worlds. The barely-digital world of Buddhist temples and hushed grasslands, the world of Hong Kong skyscrapers, skylines and multinational profit-minded companies, and the futuristic, subversive, even revolutionary world of cryptocurrencies and tech development.

Web 3: The future and defying the mediocre

I was born before the internet, but we came of age together. By this point, we are as close as classmates; our journeys run parallel, we replicate each other’s decisions without consciously intending to.

Web 1 was deeply anarchic, it leveled the playing field for creators, artists and sharp minds, those of us willing to take risks and dive over whichever horizon first emerged. It was shockingly democratic, built for real people and consumers and fast thinkers.

The internet was made for people like me, geographically remote, disconnected, but smart and hard-working and willing to do whatever it took to learn and grow.

Then huge, multinational companies and absurdly wealthy individuals stepped in and stole that from us.

Overnight, we went from being partners in a technological revolution to being products. Our engagement, our data, our worldviews and perspectives, our entire online existence became a product bought and sold to enrich the already incalculably wealthy.

And just like the internet and its users, I wanted to do more than just manufacture money; I wanted to produce value.

Web 3 is the internet’s collective existential crisis.

Like Web 1, it’s about redefining our horizons, breaking out from between the lines drawn for us profit-hungry companies, backed by people whose only skill in life is to use the money to make more money.

We want to do something more with our lives and resources. We want to be rewarded for our bravery and talent, not for our ability to inherit the starting capital needed to send ourselves to space. We care more about the freedom to choose how and where we use our talent and time, not the freedom to choose between eighteen different products which all do the same thing.

And on this note, I’d like to introduce you to my latest Web 3 adventure. Without any training, inheritance, or absurd wealth, I’ve started a new journey towards ethical decentralized finance.

Twenty years may have passed, but I feel again that same Web 1 excitement creeping up the back of my neck. It’s like hearing the echoes of that old dial-up tone again.

To be continued…




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