Why I Turned Down a CFO Role at a Sexy Crypto-Blockchain Startup

Why I Turned Down a CFO Role at a Sexy Crypto-Blockchain Startup

I walked away from a part-time 6-figure gig and a massive pre-ICO package

Why I Turned Down a CFO Role at a Sexy Crypto-Blockchain Startup
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Though few people admit it, one of the coolest perks about having a job may be the title itself. For example, working on Wall Street wasn’t necessarily a sexy day-to-day (unless you get turned on by 15+ hours of excel spreadsheet modeling and urgent 3 am Blackberry pings). However, the panache of being a “Wall Street investment banker” wasn’t lost on those in my former circle and somehow made the mind-numbing and confidence-shattering parts of the job a bit more tolerable. Once you dive off the deep end into the world of self-employment and entrepreneurship, the panache is no more.

Sure, I’m CEO of my companies, but for some reason — despite making many times what Wall Street ever paid — it feels a little less legit. I presume because they’re mine, and thus, I’m the self-appointed founder and CEO.

Surprisingly, I’m still not 100% immune to distractions from glittery objects and flattering titles, especially when they’re attached to big-money promises and cutting-edge industries. That’s exactly where I almost went wrong.

I hope this story serves as a cautionary tale for founders, side hustlers, and aspiring entrepreneurs who may be approached by similarly ego-stroking opportunities. Sometimes, walking away is the smartest decision — no matter how many pre-ICO coins you’re leaving on the table.

To this founder’s credit, he did a brilliant job of luring me in — and there are quite a few takeaways we can all learn to bolster our boards of advisors, partners, and C-suites with impressive talent.

The fewer degrees, the better

I’m not talking about higher education degrees; I mean degrees of separation. This founder and I didn’t have many common connections; however, the one we did have was an incredibly trusted person — a relative of mine, which let him bypass the line of LinkedIn messages I have yet to reply to (sorry!).

While he’d only worked with that relative briefly, about a decade ago, I let his praising of that person lower my guard. Had I dug a little deeper, I’d know they barely crossed paths under the same employer…

But he’s a genius

Ironically enough, because they had barely crossed paths, this relative’s perception backed up this founder’s “credentials”. She asserted “he’s a genius who quit to start his own ventures”. In reality, she presumed he was a “genius” simply because she didn’t really understand what he did — and despite months of back-and-forth, I’m not sure I do either…

Woo me with your words

Then, the wooing began. The combination of the flattering title and attractive financial package he offered, alongside his vague, yet complex explanation of the expertise he brought to the table, made the opportunity more attractive. In fact, I was a bit intimidated by his laundry list of supposed credentials and competencies, and I started to feel lucky that I, of all people, had been invited into the fold of this cutting-edge venture.

In retrospect, it was a brilliant sales move on his part to both flatter and intimidate in tandem, and I’m sure it’s helped lure in other would-be partners. Unfortunately, that’s where things began to fizzle out and become a bit murkier.

Despite what many “move fast and break things” evangelists promote, there is such thing as going out too early — even to your own team. An awkward silence transcended the many miles between us (this founder is based in another country), as he offered me an unexpected proposal:

A new project fell into his lap that was a bit further along than the one he’d pitched to me, so he decided to jump ship. Thus, I could either:

  1. Take over the initial project on my own, despite its core functionality being wildly out of my wheelhouse and the concept alone barely ironed out, or
  2. I could migrate with him to the new project, leaving the other one in the dust, and hopping into an even less familiar, less-developed area of this cutting-edge industry

The worst part about this bait-and-switch red flag moment is that from the minimal rapport we’d built in our working sessions for the prior project, I felt guiltily compelled to say yes. And I almost did.

It didn’t help that a crypto-loving friend urged me to hang onto this goldmine at all costs, implying that passing it up would leave life-changing money on the table. And maybe it would, but the plain truth is simple: I’m just not that excited about it, and the new CEO’s handoff offer rocked his credibility to my core.

If he could jump ship so quickly, who’s to say he wouldn’t do so again? Furthermore, a bit of digging revealed that this new project was another founder’s abandoned baby, handed off after he’d lost conviction in its value.

I’m all for a good startup turnaround, revamp, or restructuring effort, but that requires a clear vision and immense passion from the new incoming team. In this case, between me and my flip-flopping buddy, I’m afraid we have neither. While a “turnkey” venture in a sexy, buzzword-filled space like blockchain or crypto might sound appealing, that doesn’t validate that the project has actual substance at all. Moreover, substance or not, if a business can’t get its own team excited, then how the heck is it going to get investors, advisors, or customers excited?

Maybe there’s a right person out there, just waiting to get their hands on a project like this. Then again, I’m guessing that right person isn’t waiting around for a project like this to fall into their lap.

If an opportunity or startup seems too good to be true or too out of the blue, take a breath, and ask yourself: Would I have founded this business from scratch myself? If the answer’s a clear “no”, (as it is for me with this second project) then you shouldn’t have a second thought about walking away.

There’s a common fallacy today that being “attached” to certain types of projects or industries is a surefire path to success and riches, and the social media highlight culture doesn’t help dispel this at all. In reality, there’s no such thing as perpetual immunity from failure — at least not for startups.

Yes, you could hop aboard the next tech unicorn and become an IPO millionaire. Or your company could go bust and lay you off — I’ve seen both happen to people I know. And sure, if you attach yourself to the right crypto and blockchain projects at the right time, you could make a ridiculous ROI. I’ve got a friend who made $25M on bitcoin (after a previous career making sandwiches at Subway in lieu of a college degree). I’ve also got many more friends with graduate degrees and 6-figure jobs who’ve lost half their investments on speculative coins bought in desperation.

Joining a startup is more than a fancy LinkedIn bio or a line on a resume; there’s always an opportunity cost involved. For me, the opportunity cost of the projects I cared about more far outweighed the small chance this flip-flopping CEO would lead this new venture to greatness and set me up for billionairedom on my own private island. If he does so himself, great, but I won’t have any regrets walking away.

Go to Publisher:

Entrepreneur's Handbook – Medium

Author: Rachel Greenberg