My first boss: Iryna Lorens, co-founder of cryptocurrency card Weld Money
Iryna Lorens is co-founder of Ukrainian fintech outfit Weld Money, which launched its innovative payment product in 2020 with aims of connecting cryptocurrency and traditional finance.
Lorens, 30, also helped instigate crypto charity project Unchain.Fund, which has helped more than 20,000 women and children affected by the war in Ukraine.
The biggest jump in my career came when I started for a London-based hedge fund as an executive trader during the pandemic. When you work in crypto, there isn’t a great system of infrastructure solutions. In comparison to a normal stock market, there are a lot of tools you can use to secure your deposit or optimise your work; in crypto, you have to do it manually.
The company was looking for people who don’t make mistakes and there was a recommendation from a friend of mine that I could fill the role. I had traded for five years but it was my first job in an official fund. It was a great opportunity to work with the best people in the world, from big banks and firms like Mackenzie Investments.
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My boss had a PhD in maths, a smart, intelligent guy, who also played the violin. He was so smart that I couldn't understand him at first, not least because of the British accent.
He was a quant in the hedge fund while I had to execute the strategies and we had to have a clear understanding with each other.
He was fast in his decision making and it was hard to keep up in my first few days. We were working remotely and I just recorded my screen to be able to understand what he was showing. There were no options to make mistakes and it was a challenge. I learnt a new set of vocabulary and how to make the perfect excel spreadsheet.
He had made calculations for Nasa in the past. I remember a situation when we needed to make a calculation which could have been done on an iPhone, but instead he created a special formula to create the same result. It was another type of mindset and way of thinking.
Human mistakes are easy to manage but a lot are unpredictable in a fast-paced environment. In the new crypto market the biggest issues we face are on the exchange side. You can’t log in to the exchange to close your hedge position, to open a new one or rebalance something. The only way is to diversify to a different exchange so you can manage the risk. Because of this technical issue, you can make strategic mistakes.
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I left the role after a year just before the war in Ukraine. It was a short-term risk to work for a big company and so I then linked up with my partners to launch Weld Money.
What we saw in the market was a wave of digital assets such as crypto, different tokens, blockchains and NFTs. When it came to practice, we realised that you can’t spend these digital assets everywhere. There was a huge gap, we built a solution and issued a payment card which you could connect to any of your cryptocurrency and pay anywhere where Visa or Mastercard is accepted. Our idea is to have a card as key to all the crypto balances where you can switch between them all in your wallet.
Two weeks before our official product launch, the war started. All our plans, savings and connections went up in the air overnight. Either we stay in Ukraine and face the high risks, or move away and try to relocate our team. We were working directly with banks and we had to start from the beginning. Our team never stopped working, but they also started to work as volunteers 72 hours after the war started and pivoted in a new direction.
We had knowledge of crypto, how to raise money and a wide network in Ukraine. We decided to open a crypto charity fund called Unchain.Fund and requested help on the ground, raising money to deliver aid in the toughest areas of the war. Our team created the fund largely from bomb shelters.
Not only was it a quick way to raise money but it was also a great way to distribute to those in need. We issued a help card, collected and verified requests, where the audience was women with children from the most affected areas.
You have two lives in this world. The second starts when you understand you have only one. This is the beginning of your second life when you don’t need any motivation or special coaching, just an understanding that today could be the last day of your life.
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Can you imagine, before the war started, that Ukraine was one of the leaders in cryptocurrency adoption levels? During the war, people started to rely more on digital assets and I think crypto adoption became two times higher. I’m pretty sure we can now be a leader.
At Weld, we want to be the biggest provider of payments between the traditional and Web3 world. You still need an infrastructure solution so I hope we can build a wide network with banks and better gamification in crypto.