The Great Crypto Talent Burnout
Beware the Bear Market That Actually Matters
Someone I once knew who worked in the Reuters San Francisco bureau held “three’s a ‘trend’” as an informal news guideline to help determine whether a topic was worth covering or revisiting. I figured if it’s good enough for Reuters…
Not that long ago, I identified two primary forces that drove the crypto talent crunch:
Strong, well-trained talent in more conventional sectors like finance and general tech have been scared off from the crypto category due to its bad mainstream press and governmental FUD; and
Much of the talent that remains tends to either be itinerant or attracted to the promise of short-term gains.
But there’s another force eating away at the crypto talent pool going into 2022: burnout.
I’ve been “in crypto” since about 2014. I’ve mentored and been mentored all along the way. I talk to a lot of folks in our trade. Recent conversations and observations have surfaced a raw-nerve undercurrent riding below the frenetic energy that characterizes this adrenalized corner of the tech industry.
It would be glib to blame this on the current state of Bitcoin, which hit a six-month low last week and took much of the rest of crypto with it. The burnout I’m observing has been expressed by some of the hardest-working people I know. Even among folks who outwardly appear not only content but ragingly enthusiastic about their work, there’s an omnipresent worry and even a small amount of dread. “Am I just going to keep the pedal to the metal until I run out of gas?”
Some of this is very, very public. One influencer, citing the stress of putting out researched content daily, appeared to break down live on YouTube. Some months back, a senior communications executive at an industry bellwether observed on her way out the door that, while crypto never sleeps, human beings must.
There are a number of culprits running parallel to the whiplash pace of a new and uniquely fast-moving industry:
Poor Expectation Management: To the degree formal roles exist, the expectation of many of the “marketing” and “communications” positions out there follow the formula
IF finger hits keyboard AND desired output != software code THEN “marketing.”
Service-vs-Influence Orientation: At an agency job I had long ago, the leadership would make candidates take a test that scored them on a continuum between “service orientation” (e.g., “Yessir, right away sir”) and “influence orientation” (e.g., “My way or highway, this is how we move forward.”) Score too far in the former, and you’re probably too eager to please; the latter, and you’re probably an insufferable asshole. I suspect a lot of people attracted to crypto marketing roles (and, particularly, community management) would score high on the “service orientation.” Well and good, but overbalancing in that direction is psychic death for anyone who wakes up every morning to “Wen CEX?”, “Why not on big YouTuber show?”, “Hopium pls?”, “Devs do something!”, and so on.
Explosion of Inputs: Slack. Discord. WhatsApp. Signal. WeChat. Telegram. Hell… Email, if you’re nasty. At any given point, someone on a sufficiently serious crypto project is on at least four of those platforms non-stop. Combine this with the above point and this is a perfect burnout storm for service-oriented people. Any one or several of these channels is full of people with varying levels of exposure to the project — often far less than your own, it must be said — demanding that you “do something.”
A non-exhaustive list of some remedies and attitudes that have helped me:
Don’t Make It About the Price: When I got into crypto, I was more interested in the promise of blockchain technology than pretty much anything related to monetary side of things. This alone has probably been the biggest contributor to my long-term sanity. More recently, one of the most inspiring and well-adjusted heads of community I’ve ever encountered told me that the secret to his community’s success was outright banning any and all discussion about his project’s token price. While I have tended toward a slightly more conciliatory approach in the past, I’ve come to appreciate this wisdom. For a lot of reasons, I might apply it.
Set Bend-Not-Break Boundaries: Your time is precious and you should guard it jealously. Yes, crypto and startup life does require a certain informal relationship with the hours in the day. Nevertheless, I recommend setting some basic availability expectations not only among your team, but the communities that are part of your ecosystem. For example, I tend to block my calendar for the whole day if that day has more than 3.5 hours of meetings. It doesn’t mean that I won’t take a meeting beyond that but, at 3.5 hours, it’s worth a conversation versus a presumptive expectation of “Yes” if the Calendly shows me as available. (This was called “Gomesing the calendar” at my last job.) If your correspondents were totally honest with themselves, they’d do the same were it not for the expectations of toxic “hustle culture.” They’re just waiting for someone to be first. Why not you?
Use Technology or It Uses You: The expectation is always going to be that your brain carry the same FCC warning slapped on wireless devices: “This device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) this device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation.” I use the “snooze” function on Gmail for important-but-not-immediate correspondence more than anyone else I know. I try to be very intentional with mobile/desktop notifications and status descriptions on Slack, etc. Employ all such lifehacks at your disposal to achieve optimal signal-to-noise ratio.
Elevate and Celebrate Your Best Community Members: Want help? A good reason to ignore the complain-o-trons? The best way to model desired community behavior is to show that the creative and constructive members of your community are getting the attention and access.
Those of us who got into this space for reasons other than riches beyond the dreams of avarice (which still would be nice, not gonna lie), are concerned about a different kind of “bear market”: that the marketing and communications talent our industry managed to attract leave it too soon for all the wrong reasons and with all the worst memories.
ENTERTAINMENT: “Joss Whedon Allegations: The Undoing of the ‘Buffy’ Creator,” Vulture (2022) and “When Joss Whedon Was Our Master,” Vice (2022) — Whedon was always hit-and-miss for me. Never was a Buffy fan. Kept saying I’d get into Firefly but never made the time. Liked Avengers. Tolerated Age of Ultron. Regretted Justice League. But these articles make the good point that Whedon influenced a lot of storytelling an dialogue in Hollywood.
HISTORY: “The Forgotten Medieval Habit of ‘Two Sleeps,’” BBC (2022) — Occasionally, I will wake up around 1:00 a.m. and, if it happens at all, I fall back asleep around 4:00 a.m. I’ve often theorized that this is my brain craving conscious “quiet time.” But it may so happen that I’m channeling my European ancestors.
BUSINESS: “After the Beanie Baby Bubble Burst,” Vox (2022) — This is a useful examination of one of those madness-of-crowds events. And, no, it’s nothing like crypto, but still something people are likely to wave around when talking about bear markets, NFTs, and so on.