Diana Biggs got into hacking at the age of 11. He was a natural. At the age of 15, on a lark, he hacked its website Tom Green. The comedian was amused and made her a regular guest on his weekly radio show – she appeared as “Hacker Girl”.
A few years later, Biggs earned an MBA, worked for a management consulting firm, focused on finance, spent time in sub-Saharan African banking, and eventually helped launch an e-commerce company operating between Kenya and New York. But transferring funds to Africa was a headache – cumbersome and full of fees. Was there a better way? His younger brother, a programmer, told him, “Oh, check out Bitcoin.”
Suddenly, Biggs discovered a field that combined his teenage obsessions (computers and hacking) with his adult career (banking and fintech) and has been a fixture in the crypto space ever since. Biggs has served as HSBC’s private banking global head of innovation, was CEO of Valor and is now a partner at 1kx, an early-stage venture capital fund.
“Being an entrepreneur is really hard,” Biggs said in a recent interview at a Denver cafe. Biggs knows. He’s been on both sides of the table – at unsavory startups and deep-pocketed investment firms. So he shares some tough advice on what founders can do to get noticed by VCs, what it’s like to work at a fund (spoiler alert: it’s not a glamorous gig) and why he predicts “tremendous growth” for the space.
The interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
You joined 1kx in October 2022, right in the depths of crypto winter. How has the bear market affected your work?
In some ways it didn’t. One of the reasons I was excited to join 1kx is that they are very crypto-native, working with developers across crypto and Web3. So I moved closer to technology.
And when you get closer to technology, do you become less concerned with the macro environment?
Yes, I would say so. Especially for earlier stage projects. When you are a large company and have clients in different sectors, the overall economy will affect you more in broad strokes.
What excites you most in space right now? What are the use cases that most of us are ignoring, that no one is talking about?
Well, I don’t really know what people are talking about, but one new area that we’re really interested in is on-chain gaming. This can unlock many interesting opportunities on both the demand and supply sides, people make games. It can inspire games you never thought of
There are lots of interesting new projects coming up around co-creation. A collaborative creator economy type of thing.
Gun Camp, which is one of our portfolio companies. People come together not just to make music but to create your own record label.
Well, I’ll ask the age-old question, “What problem is being solved?”
The way the music industry tends to work now, if you’re a solo artist and collaborate with your producer and mixer, there are many stories of musicians being misled by their label or record company. So be able to build all that together from scratch [via smart contracts] I think super.
Let’s pivot to your job at 1kx. How is the job? What is your goal?
The real focus of my role is to help our portfolio companies, mostly with institutional connections. Helping them reach a larger audience and bridging the gap between traditional companies of all types. And to understand, what is the need of this kind of company? Can they build or partner with our portfolio and then help the portfolio through different types of growth?
Amusing. Stepping back a bit, people might think that once they have a great idea for a Web3 startup, then all it takes is some quick coding and they’re good to go.
But it’s much more complicated than that, isn’t it? And that requires proper connectivity and communication and marketing.
yes Some people may just need a conversation to understand an institutional market. Others may need other types of support. There’s a portfolio company I’m working with that’s a very technical proposition, so I’m helping them develop messaging and working hands-on.
What are the most common things you help portfolio companies with?
I have a lot to say about messaging, creating propositions, creating roles and helping to develop specific strategies.
What is the average age of the people you work with? Are they all 22 years old?
Not all, but most people are probably in their mid to late 20s.
how is your time
The team works extremely hard. And I’m kind of always there, just like space. But they love it. This is an incredibly passionate group of people. They have to be for the amount of work we do.
Actually, though, what kind of hours do you work, if you don’t mind sharing?
yes I am not a healthy example. [Laughs.] And having been in the space for the past nine years, many of my social networks are also crypto. Then it all kind of mixed into one. [Editor’s note: This answer is strikingly similar to what fund-manager Magdalena Kala shared in a recent interview.]
And when you work with early stage companies and as a VC, you have to test, try, experiment and read the latest stuff. And it’s a highly technical space, so there’s always a lot to learn.
At that point, how do you keep pace? What are your productivity hacks for media consumption? What tools do you use?
Yes, I have no hack. But obviously Twitter, and also Telegram groups of trusted people I’ve known for a long time. Conflict is a necessary evil; Not my favorite thing, but it can be really helpful to get plugs in certain communities. Conferences are really helpful to actually meet people and see where the energy and movement is and what isn’t. As much as crypto can be a never-ending conference circle, this is a really important aspect.
What is your specific goal when you attend the conference? Are you trying to discover new projects? To make new connections?
For me, it’s more about meeting people. In Denver, it was great to meet people I’m actually working with, our existing portfolio. To meet them in real life.
What advice would you give to founders or those currently building in the space, who would like to one day become one of your portfolio companies and work with you?
For those who want to get VC or investor attention, I think you really have to be part of the community. It will depend on what you are doing, so this is not advice for everyone. But getting deeply involved and actually participating in what you’re building. Especially for crypto, I would say that you should participate in that community or network.
Say I was interested in doing a ZK [zero-knowledge proofs] Startup ZK-specific hackathons are happening all the time. We’re actually a sponsor now. Go to those hackathons, build and do whatever you can to prove and test your idea, and be prepared for the conversation. I think there’s a surprising amount of people who are like, “Oh, I have this idea. Like, do you want to chat?” You really need to do your homework.
And there’s a lot to be said for showing enthusiasm.
From what I’ve seen in my experience, when you see some entrepreneurs being very successful and building different companies, when people are really, really passionate about what they’re doing and really committed to that idea, that can come.
What would you say separates the projects and founders that thrive from those that, however, don’t quite make it? What characteristics or qualities would you cite?
I would say willingness and ability to take feedback for personal growth.
It’s very self-motivated for you to say that, because as an advisor you’re the one responding, right?
It is also from the experience of being in the leadership team of various startups.
When you’re building a startup, from experience, it takes over your whole life. You have to really believe in your idea when everyone else is telling you, no, that’s crazy, and it can never happen. This is how the best ideas start. So on one hand, you have to stick with your idea and really believe in it.
And then on the other hand, you have to understand when something isn’t working and then be able to pivot and grow. I think it’s hard to think of a company that hasn’t had some kind of pivot, or needed to change course.
As you say, it’s been a while since Apple focused on desktop Macintoshes.
yes So that the ability to evolve and respond. And to make the tough calls and then stick with it. I mean, in crypto you can easily find out who’s fair-weather, right? Everything is happening at 100 times the speed of normal life. So you see, who will hold it? Not everyone can. Being an entrepreneur is really hard.
Any predictions for space in the next few years?
I think we’re going to see tremendous growth. Obviously, it is difficult to wait for regulatory clarity. And now much more scrutinized due to recent events. But it feels different [from previous cycles] Institutions that are not going as they used to. In every other bear market we’ve seen people say, “Okay, it’s over” and shut things down. And there are some corporations that had a blockchain team and didn’t continue. But you don’t see it in the big banks, you don’t see it in media and entertainment. This is not going away.