Women of NEAR Special Edition: A Chat With NEAR CEO Marieke Flament

Women of NEAR is a series dedicated to highlighting the work, vision, and experiences of women’s leaders in the NEARverse. By exposing women’s contribution to the ecosystem, it aims at inspiring other women to join NEAR and enrich it with their ideas. In this special edition we are featuring NEAR’s new CEO Marieke Flament. The interview focuses on Marieke’s views on NEAR, its development, women in fintech, and more.

During the last NEAR Town Hall, the NEAR Foundation announced its decision to appoint Marieke Flament as its new CEO. A few days after this announcement, the 4NTS team had the pleasure to interview Marieke and have a chat with her in this special edition of the Women of NEAR series.

La Devochka: The NEAR community was excited to hear that a new CEO was appointed and we are all very curious to get to know you. So the first question I have for you is: When was the first time you heard about NEAR and what drew you to this?

Marieke Flament: The first time I heard about NEAR was through a headhunter. I hadn’t heard about NEAR, which was surprising because when I first started reading about NEAR, my immediate reaction was: “Oh my God, this is what I have been looking for.” I have always been a proponent of the Open Web, but until recently we did not have the technology, the infrastructure, and the usability to realize the Open Web vision. So, the more I started deep diving into NEAR and what it could do, and playing around with different applications, the more I realized that NEAR has all the components needed to make Web3 / Open Web mainstream. The technology is fantastic and truly scalable, the focus on usability not only for devs but also for end-users is fundamental for getting mainstream and got my attention right away. Another factor that I really find unique is the community. A lot of crypto projects have communities, but the sense of openness that you find in the NEAR community is very unique. These are the things that really drew me to NEAR. Then when I had a chat with Illia and Erik, I realized that they did not only build something amazing but that they were also fantastic individuals whose values resonated a lot with me.

LD: In an article by CoinDesk, you define the opportunity of working as NEAR’s CEO as a “one of a lifetime opportunity to actually participate and shape the creation of an inclusive open web.” Why is the creation of the open web so relevant today?

MF: I think we are basically going through a major shift and transformation in technology that is going to affect every industry. And these kinds of transformations do not happen so frequently — it might maybe happen once in a generation, and if you are lucky you can participate in that change. That’s why I think it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

LD: You are a computer engineer with plenty of experience working for big corporations like LVMH, BCG, Mettle, and Circle. Could you tell us a bit about the differences between working at traditional corporations as opposed to Web3? How do you envision working at NEAR will be different? What will you carry over from your past experiences and what will you change?

MF: One of the most fundamental differences is that in Web3 a lot is still to be defined. The thing is that Web3 is not just taking Web2 and putting it on Web3; that means that there are so many unknown boundaries. For example, we see that a lot in DAOs. What’s a DAO? How can it be useful? What’s the legal framework that goes around the DAO? There are so many unanswered questions. That’s one of the fundamental differences. When you are in something that is so new a lot of creativity is required to develop it.

In terms of similarities, I think that management principles and organization principles are somehow similar. So when it comes to organizing remote teams efficiently and enabling them to work efficiently, etc., there are a lot of crossovers. That being said, it depends on what traditional business we are talking about. If we take, for instance, a bank, which will be extremely structured, with lots of processes, that’s not fit for purpose for something that needs to move at pace and needs to innovate. But if you think of a first remote work tech startup in Web2, a lot of things would apply to Web3 as well. The need to self-manage, reiterate the pace, work together as a team, all of these things can be carried over. Therefore, what I’m hoping to bring is the best of how to help organize work, coach, lead people, because those principles are still the same. The thing that is fundamentally different is that we are in uncharted territory so we are all trying to figure out all the answers.

Marieke’s own introductory Twitter thread after she was announced as CEO.

LD: A few years ago you were a board member of Women in Finance Charter. According to you, what are the most common problems for women in finance and tech, and are they the same challenges that women face in the Web3 space?

MF: It’s kind of a herd community thing, especially in finance. If you see people working on something and those people don’t look like you, you don’t feel welcome. That’s a big problem. Sometimes the problem is the technical skills that are required. We still have a major gap with how many women are trained in STEM and how many women are actually coding and so on. Unfortunately, that’s one of the first pillars in the industry, so there is definitely a gap there between men and women. So the question would then be: How do we train them?

Now, in Web3, the question is more: How can you participate in the ecosystem doing what you are doing?

NEAR boasts a novel “Guilds” program that gives pathways for newcomers to get involved. (https://near.org/guilds)

This technological shift is really going to transform every industry everywhere. And I really believe that if you have diverse and inclusive talents building something, then you can really build for everybody. Because ultimately we are all putting out biases in whatever we build, whether is a presentation, code, or application, the way we see the world is reflected in what we are developing. So it’s actually really really important that we can attract very diverse talents who can help us build this. Web3 is going to be for everybody and its influence is going to be so pervasive that we need more people to participate in it so that they have a chance to influence its development.

That’s why it should be more inclusive, that’s why it should not only be about finance or DeFi and those areas. That’s also why it is super important to portray role models from different fields, engineers, but also creators, managers, etc. because there are so many different ways to participate. One thing that I’ve noticed a lot in the space when I especially talk to women is that there is a hesitancy to get involved because it’s something that they do not immediately understand. The reality though is that it is complex for everybody, we are all trying to figure it out, but very few people say that. We actually owe it to ourselves to say that it’s normal not to understand. One of the things that I often say is that I do not understand everything myself, I’m also learning hundreds of stuff every day and I think that actually, when we do not understand something enough we can’t explain it to others, so it’s a duty to ourselves to continuously teach and challenge each other so that we improve our collective understanding and enable more people to participate.

And ultimately we need to work more on usability. You often hear the phrase “Do your own research” but at the end of the day if something wants to be used, it needs to be usable, and if people can’t understand how to use it then it is not usable. We should strive to create more simplicity and eliminate barriers to participation.

LD: I completely agree that the fact that it is still complicated is quite a barrier for people to enter crypto, and I think that for women in particular there might be a hesitancy towards trying out things that are considered hard. Women are much more withdrawn when it comes to asserting their skills.

MF: That’s such a feminine trait and it all relates to confidence. Many times when you interview a woman she is going to start with something that they are not good at. A man doesn’t do that. It’s mostly about this sense of confidence that women might lack due to their social context and upbringing. And I think we can and should always help lift each other up, and tell each other “yes you can”.

Add NEAR to the “Ownership Era” list with its many tools for the new creator economy. (Source)

LD: Do you think that the Web3 space is a favorable environment for women to thrive? Based on your personal extensive experience working both in Web3 and in traditional environments, do you notice any differences?

MF: I don’t really know about differences, but what I do know is that we must have women participating in Web3. I think it’s actually fundamental because, again, if this is going to shape the way society operates, how we work, and the way we develop new businesses, then having women participating, designing it, is really really important.

My hope is that ultimately it can have a big impact on women because it helps us decentralize everything and allows us to spend time and operate quite differently. I think this is actually beautiful because we all need flexibility and handle our time differently, and because of our social construct, unfortunately, women might need this more than men. So, my hope is that Web3 will create a lot of opportunities. Right now, there are so many opportunities in the industry for any kind of talent. Sometimes we tend to focus too much on engineers and coders, but Web3 needs a lot of UX, new ideas, creativity, and I think that, without wanting to be sexist, very often creativity is something that suits women really well. Also, when it comes to community building, organizing people, and organizing teams, another common strength of women, there are plenty of opportunities in Web3. And when I think of community content creators, influencers, fashion designers, etc., there are a lot of women in these industries and Web3 allows them to really own what they create. If we manage to bring them into Web3 and benefit from it, it will be an important step.

LD: As the new CEO of the NEAR Foundation, what are you excited for in 2022? How do you envision NEAR’s development?

MF: I think NEAR is like a diamond in the making, and my job is to let people see that there is a diamond there and something beautiful and simple to start playing and engaging with, to learn, and ultimately to start participating in this ecosystem. So, I’m really humbled to be part of this journey. I’m really excited when I see the amazing foundations that NEAR has built and the amount of fantastic work that has been done. Getting from 0 to 1 is extremely hard to do, and NEAR has done it very well, creating an infrastructure that is groundbreaking and rock solid and allows the onboarding of new projects and applications. And this idea of bringing Web3 to mainstream is something that I have always wanted to see happening but the building blocks for that were missing. Now we have the building blocks ready and it is a matter of evangelizing NEAR and getting more people participating in the ecosystem.

Marieke Flament’s recommendation for anyone building a business.

LD: I’d like to end the interview by asking you what is a book that anyone in Web3 should read according to you?

MF: A book that I often go back to is “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz. The reason is that entrepreneurship is hard and Web3 is entrepreneurship at its best. It is difficult, it requires a lot of resilience and courage, and it requires a lot of trying things out, and sometimes having difficult conversations at the right time. It’s a book I love because it offers great practical insights on a variety of situations, so it’s a great book to read for anyone building a business.

According to 2021 statistics, only 8% of women CEOs at Fortune 500 are women. Although this is an all-time record, the road is still steep for women in business, especially in the tech and finance sector. Seeing more examples of women CEOs is particularly important as it represents a shift towards recognising the importance of diversity as an essential catalyst for change and innovation.

As Web3 continues to develop, it becomes especially important to attract more women contributors, open up new opportunities for them to thrive, and thus curb gender inequalities. NEAR Protocol’s decision to appoint Marieke Flament is a step towards this future, and as members of the NEAR community, we are excited to see a women leader bringing NEAR to mainstream adoption!

Crypto scavenger and cypherpunk ally, writing on privacy, crypto projects, philosophy of technology and more.