A Conversation with Maria Prusakova, co-founder of a female-run advisory firm Crypto PR Lab&Advisory

A look into the crypto sphere and some of the women changing the landscape surrounding it

Entrepreneur interview by Josiah Motley
July 31, 2018
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Male and white – this was the start of the cryptocurrency world. Since the early days of cryptocurrencies, miners, and blockchain developers have been mainly comprised of men – and today’s token projects are reflective of that gender disparity. There is a clear gender imbalance in the crypto community. That said, the trend is slowly moving in the right direction, and female founders are starting to make some significant forays into crypto.

One example of a company doing just that is Crypto PR Lab&Advisory, a boutique PR and advisory firm for blockchain and crypto projects that was launched earlier this summer. Crypto PR Lab&Advisory was founded by attorney (and former Olympic snowboarder) Maria Prusakova, and business development specialist Alexandra Karpova.

Alexandra Karpova and Maria Prusakova (right)

Alexandra Karpova and Maria Prusakova (right)

The team has a unique mix of business development expertise, investor relations, legal and PR skills that could prove incredibly valuable to new and growing crypto startups. Both founders are leveraging their networks in the World Economic Forum community and among Europe’s ultra high net worth milieu (gained from working in the private banking sector) to begin building Crypto PR Lab&Advisory into a formidable advisory firm.

I sat down with Masha to learn more about the new company and her path in the cryptocurrency space.

How did the idea for Crypto PR Lab&Advisory come about?

Law, finance, and connecting with people from all over the world have been my passion for over 10 years spent working in large multinationals and studying at UC Berkeley and Sorbonne. I learned a lot working in private banking at HSBC and UBS, as well as law firms Clifford Chance or Gowling WLG, and I’m truly grateful for those experiences. However, my responsibilities in those companies were limited and, like any large corporation, the office politics and complex approval processes grew tiresome.

Then one day, I was fortunate to meet investor and entrepreneur Masha Drokova. Her outstanding personality and drive inspired me to join one of her ventures, M&A PR Studio. While working with blockchain startups in PR, I constantly learned about crypto and the application of blockchain technology - and I loved it. Reading about crypto, talking to blockchain experts like Don Tapscott, and working closely with startup founders made me increasingly excited about being one of them.

This summer, I felt ready to bring together my expertise and contacts and become a founder myself. That said, consulting for M&A PR Studio was one of the most exciting and interesting experiences I’ve ever had, and I look forward to continuing working with them in the future.

So far, I feel like my engagement with the crypto industry is mirroring my snowboarding career, which lasted from age 12 until 18. I was so passionate about snowboarding that I eventually became a national champion of Russia, and was the youngest participant in the half-pipe at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. You can only become the best when you are truly passionate about something. Snowboarding was my first passion in life, and now I’m excited to pursue my passion for crypto as a lawyer.

I am grateful to my mentors and friends who inspired me to strike out on my own in this new venture - especially after working with large corporations for such a long time. The startup scene is definitely different from the corporate world, but it’s a good kind of different!

What projects are you currently working on? 

One of our projects is investors relations for Andra Capital. Andra Capital is a late-stage technology growth fund. The fund is tokenized to provide access to US and global investors through its proprietary token, the “Silicon Valley Coin.” Crypto PR Lab partners with Andra Capital to accelerate their fundraising efforts to reach $1 billion in funding.

Another project we are helping on the fundraising side is Aigo. Aigo is the world’s first AI-enabled Personal Assistant. Aigo’s cognitive ability is ‘Light Years’ ahead of chatbots like Siri and Alexa. Aigo remembers what you said, learns interactively from you, continues to adapt to your needs and goals, and is able to have ongoing meaningful conversations. What is more, you own and control your Aigo and your data. The ownership is secured via the Ethereum blockchain.

Why are there not very many women in crypto do you think?

Cryptocurrency operates at the intersection of computer science and finance - two industries that women have historically been excluded from. The worlds of blockchain and cryptocurrency are predominantly driven by the development community, a demographic where most professionals are male. This is partly due to the fact that men tend to pursue finance in higher education at a markedly higher rate than females. In fact, a recent study by Glassdoor showed that men accounted for more than 61% of new degrees obtained in finance.

In addition, women continue to not be recognized as actively as men for their achievements in the blockchain space. Owing primarily to the current demographics of the industry, far more attention is often dedicated to male crypto investors and founders than their female counterparts.

The opportunity for female founders to drive massive innovation in the space is bigger than ever - and by pursuing leadership roles, females can ensure they get equal recognition with their male counterparts as well. A number of recent high-profile appointments in the crypto space (such as a16z’s appointment of Katie Haun as the head of its crypto investment fund) have many believing that true change isn’t just possible - but inevitable.

Do you think there are additional barriers for women in the fintech space versus high technology or hardware technology in Silicon Valley, for example?

There are certainly more barriers for women looking to break into the fintech space, compared to industries like high tech. High-tech companies are beginning to understand that gender diversity is critical to the bottom line, but historically, most companies in the fintech space simply haven’t kept up with this kind of diversity awareness.

It shows, too - recent studies have indicated that in the fintech space, just 8% of Director-level positions are being filled. Believe it or not, that’s lower than both high tech companies and traditional banking institutions. Statistics like these reinforce the challenging nature of the space for women considering a career in fintech, and that may be part of the reason females sometimes decide not to enter the fintech space.

What should we do to have more women work in crypto?

There are already plenty of women in the crypto space - the real problem is that they’re not being given the same level of public exposure and recognition as their male counterparts.

To foster diversity, we need to get more women interested in doing work in blockchain. This could mean organizing regular crypto discussions for women, setting up weekly “women in crypto” meetups, or even building workshops to teach one another about the newest trends in blockchain.

Then, education around blockchain and cryptocurrencies needs to be more readily available. Communities like Girls Who Code and CodingFTW (which offers scholarships for hackathons) can get involved in the crypto space. It will bring more awareness into this space - ultimately making it an industry that doesn’t just have more females but is also female-friendly.

Finally, the successes of the leading women in crypto should be publicly recognized. We should raise awareness about their achievements, interview them and write about them in the media, and invite them as speakers and mentors for emerging startups. Such exposure to female role models will motivate more women to explore blockchain technology and work in this industry.