We've sat down with Victoria Arsenova (Vaughan), expert in digital assets and business growth, to talk about the differences between traditional and digital business models, investments, and strategies.
Formerly the CEO of Cointelegraph, Victoria has been in the digital asset space since 2013 and has built top media content and businesses on the market.
Why did you decide to enter the digital asset space?
I believe that many crucial things in life are the results of happy coincidences. I entered the market at a very early stage, when main events of the industry were meet ups of 15-20 nerdy-looking people talking about their outlandish ideas to disrupt the whole financial market.
Back in 2012, when I started my career working as a product manager in a finance/retail startup, we were attending finance-oriented conferences with the team. At one of such conference, I met a person who told me about bitcoin, which prompted me to do my own research on the topic. Although many things about it were strange to me, I saw big potential in the overall concept and got really curious. About a year later, I decided to actually make a dive into this brave new world.
Eight years have passed and now blockchain is booming! Industry conferences gather over 10k people, Elon Musk posts about crypto on his Twitter, and entire countries announce plans to issue their own digital currencies. I'm thrilled to be a part of this wave.
What are the main differences between running a traditional business and one in the digital asset market?
From my experience, the digital asset space is extremely dynamic and volatile in comparison to conventional assets. This means that it's nearly impossible to build yearly forecasts, for instance. If you want to be successful, you need to be able to adapt and change business models quickly.
I was always very attentive to data and constantly analyzing which topics were trending now and what are the upcoming trends. I was always discussing this with the team and were endlessly brainstorming how to pick all those trends. We were able test different ideas and new market opportunities quite quickly, and I believe this was a key part to our success. To give an example, there was a time when cloud mining became a big thing. We came up with a special product oriented for this type of business, and we were able to make amazing revenues on that. For every new trend we were creating new, efficient formats, thus acquiring all possible opportunities.
Such an approach has proven to be efficient. In several years, our media has grown significantly - starting with just 5 people the team has increased by more than 10 times, traffic has grown from 0 to over 15M visitors and our news are published in 10 languages - we are actually the only media in the space which has such impressive local coverage. Importantly, such growth was achieved while keeping a high profit margin.
How useful is experience with conventional business when it comes to working with digital assets?
I'm sure it would be very useful. The ability to build processes, growth strategies, and successful partnerships is needed in any business, regardless of the market. Actually, I think that as a digital asset company grows, it needs input from professionals with solid, traditional business experience. They can build the appropriate processes and scale the business without getting lost in the chaos of a startup.
This was very evident to me when our team had significantly grown, but we didn't have proper processes in place yet. At that point, I actually hired several strong managers from companies like Google who helped us not to drown in the chaos of startup culture. We have implemented different control instruments, proper KPIs, and significantly structured overall processes.
As CEO of a blockchain-themed publishing platform, you achieved impressive business growth and expanded the team from 5 people to over 130 in a few short years. How difficult is it to scale a business in the digital asset market? Do you think growth is fairly predictable, or is it a more volatile space than conventional business?
As I said before, the market is extremely volatile and you should be able to balance it. The main challenge with hiring talent and growing your team is that there aren't many people who are already familiar with the digital asset market. You need a good training program to get new employees up to speed as efficiently as possible.
At my company, we had a number of recruiters working with us to help with finding the right people for the team. We also used a streamlined filtering process, with multiple tests and consistent interviews, to help hire people faster.
Finally, we hired a fair number of freelancers, so that we were able to scale down the team when needed and avoid unnecessary expenses.
Let's say I'm an entrepreneur with a few ideas for digital asset businesses. How can I tell which ones are actually worth trying? What factors should I take into consideration?
Analyze what's popular on the market, see what is discussed on forums, check out what industry influencers are talking about. If you think your idea fits in with current trends, try to identify potential problems and consider how you'd overcome them.
You're a Business Informatics graduate who's successfully taken on many roles over the course of her career, from product development to CEO and VP of Product. For someone looking to build a business based on digital assets, is it necessary to have technical skills, or are managerial and business abilities more important?
I would say it's more about having the ability to think logically and analytically rather than being able to code, for example. Of course, it also depends on the business. For example, tech skills are not so important for a media company, but if you want to launch a tech-related product, of course you'll need to understand the underlying technology - and find a strong CTO able to create a high-quality system architecture.
As I have IT education and had IT management experience before starting working at Cointelegraph, I was already quite used to understanding complex concepts. It's definitely easier to dive into the industry when you have some tech background, but there is no need to be a tech genius. All in all, I believe that all experience is important and you will reach the point where you understand that all your skills are needed in one particular role. Continuous development of different skills is an important factor to success, so I try to always learn and improve my knowledge in all possible directions.