Running a Start Up in NFTs, Crypto, Web3

Emma-Jane MacKinnon-Lee
6 min readApr 25, 2021

A candid view from a founder.

It isn’t some big secret that running a startup is hard. In fact, if you are doing it right, then it is fucking hard. There’s no other way to experience it.

There are no shortage of sacrifices, juggling of unknowns, leaps of faith, delusional beliefs that are required to break through. And even then, the variables are often so sporadic in the clarity of validation that they provide, that it is incredibly easy to finish with catastrophic failure, or, even worse, in my perspective, get caught in this false grey zone of comfort that ends up sucking you into a tornado of perpetual static equilibrium— it becomes a Red Queens Race, you feel like you are constantly running but actually you are just remaining in the same spot.

But, then again, with all of the above said, I was really just only talking about a typical (as of now) startup that breeds out of the more traditional landscape.

… wait until you enter the world of Web3, Crypto, NFTs, DeFi, Decentralisation.

Running a startup in this environment changes everything. The gameplay just got harder, the number of levels increased dramatically, your amount of lives just reduced, and, your options for DLC boosts are almost non-existent. This is the wild west.

Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

I, myself, entered the crypto space a number of years ago, and, from the start, was thrown intentionally into deep unknown battlegrounds that required a larger risk appetite and daring dignity to navigate. Something my personality is native to embracing and unshakeabley confronting head on.

However, it is still one thing to be involved in this space, in whatever form that may take, and very much another thing to actually found a project in crypto— especially found it solo, and take the full weight of its survival and future on your shoulders.

Projects and protocols in this space are not just required to optimise and focus on their particular subject matter/product niche and then excel against all odds for that, but so much more so they must traverse volatile and uncertain market fluctuations, where the very base of the value can move the entire market’s sentiment in a matter of minutes, they must survive against constant high stake security attack vectors that can be irreversibly detrimental to the project’s future, both from a technical and social engineering stance, and, they must be able to maintain a low degree error range on their conviction for the future of the space in a rapidly evolving industry, market, open bazaar system— seconds matter here, it is 24/7, crypto doesn’t take downtime.

Running DIGITALAX has been a whirlwind. The stress has been and continues to be immense and the dedication required perpetual. I always have to be on the ball, and the mountain I am climbing has not been mapped out yet. There is no rulebook or instruction set to turn to, no reference guides, GPS or sure way to remagnetize the compass’s polarity. Each day brings with it something new, something I have to experience for the first time, a new challenge to solve and puzzle to fit together. It is all encompassing.

But don’t take my words as negative, resentful or bitter. That couldn’t be further from the truth. After all, I chose this path and given any scenario or rewrite would choose it all again without a second thought. My “work” is not “work” but rather a pioneering hike to some unknown place that upon arrival will change everything for a lot of people for a huge amount of better. That’s enough inspiration to keep satisfaction on its correct course.

My advice to other founders in the space mostly comes down to dimensionality and intrinsic desire.

To run a startup in this space you must be able to exist across multiple realities and dimensions at the same time. Everything matters equally, yet also nothing does. Everything is just as critical, yet also so much can be organised into a hierarchy. Prioritisation is key— not just on operations but also retained information.

Yet, that is still adhering to more formal business overtones. My real advice to any founder, but especially those choosing to build in crpyto, is that it must be intrinsic. You must choose this because you chose it. Not for any other reason. You must have some overarching and above all else instinct that no matter what, no matter why, there is no other path for you.

I know that might sound incredibly candid and forthright, but if you really are going to be building on the bleeding edge and maintaining a delusional clarity in such an uncertain risky environment, then truly ask yourself, how else can you be expected to survive? No extrinsic calling, support or help will be able to ever become even slightly close— and that’s a fact.

“In my experience, successful people shoot for the stars, put their hearts on the line in every battle, and ultimately discover that the lessons learned from the pursuit of excellence mean much more than the immediate trophies and glory.”

― Josh Waitzkin

Understanding expert performance and then framing a metric system around this has always been difficult — even it is something that psychologists have widely studied yet barely been able to properly define.

I have often throughout my life been likened to Gene Wilder— the OG Willy Wonka. For a long time I could never understand why this analogy was being drawn, and even in some cases took it as an insult— did I really look like him?!! Ah!

But then one day I realised. Silly me for just assuming the comparison being drawn was based on visual appearance or looks.

Being alikened to him was probably one of the greatest compliments I have ever been bestowed. It wasn’t a comparison of visual likeness but rather an affinity for swagger. The ability to skirt the line so finely between appeared carelessness and precise exactness — the audience is always in a state of wonder, admiration, and puzzlement. They can not keep up with the elegancy of the play. And that is what it is, just play. Having so much confidence and comfortability with the unknown that a fear of trying to gain control only wastes precious resources.

Since founding DIGITALAX my ability to play has only grown stronger. I’ve learnt to be more nimble, more flexible, and most importantly, more confident in my abilities to see beyond certain corners within the context of the bigger picture. That’s not suggesting in anyway that I am wearing some future predicting goggles that allow me to land precisely on each move, but, it does suggest strongly that in my pursuit, each day I am able to lean into it, lean into the pain and learn to truly embrace the uncertainties, not fight them.

Just like Willy Wonka’s grand entrance, where what seems like a miscalculated fall turns into a beautiful somersault, and from then on, Wonka is able to masterfully compose the ambiguity around him; Because from that time on, no one can really be sure of his next move. He has captivated his audience.

It is a skill, but also an art that requires deliberate practice. Mere practice isn’t enough — you can sit and make predictions all day without getting any better at it — it needs to be a kind of practice where you receive immediate informative feedback and knowledge of results.

So, to sum all of this up and make sure I don’t waste what could be considered by some as a clickbait title, I’ll finish with a strong exit message. What has been my point to all of this? Well, it’s quite simple really. Despite what can be thought of as caveats and threats to building in Crypto, Web3, NFTs— for a founder, or anyone, to really succeed in this space and gracefully embrace the diversity of elements in this all to often unforgivable environment they must learn to let go, to lean into the pain, and, just like Gene Wilder, they must learn to play— deliberate practice or not.

After all, we are in a constant pursuit towards the metaverse, right? It seems only intuitive that play is and is going to be incredibly important. 😉

Hey! I’m Emma-Jane! I’m a 23 year old fashionaut amongst other things

I am the founder of DIGITALAX and a bunch of other stuff in web3. 😆

Follow me on Twitter and check out my website