Meet the Herd: Head of Business Operations Evan Weiss

Evan discusses founding POSA, what it means to have an owner’s mentality, and his journey from corporate law to Bison Trails.

Meet the Herd: Head of Business Operations Evan Weiss

By Bison Trails · Feb 12 2021

Each profile in Bison Trails’ Meet the Herd series is the story of a member’s professional path: how they started their career and made their way to the world of blockchain. Interview by Mark Forscher.

Q: Hi Evan! What is “Business Operations” and what does it encompass at Bison Trails?

Business Operations encapsulates three different functions, all of which are charged with interacting on behalf of the Bison Trails team with the world, our customers, and other ecosystem participants.

The Business Operations team includes Business Development, Customer Success, and Protocol Operations (or, as we call them, PoPs). Each team has a different focus area, but they collaborate together to ensure that we continue to work with, and provide excellent service to, the most important blockchain and cryptocurrency ecosystem participants.

Q: What’s your background? How did you get involved in crypto and blockchain tech?

I am a trained attorney and used to work as a corporate lawyer focused on mergers and acquisitions. I became interested in crypto after taking Professor Arthur Wilmarths’ Banking Law class during law school at GW. In that course we studied the 2008 financial crisis, and the moral hazard in our current banking industry. The learnings of that course made me think there must be a better option for our financial system. Through a close friend, I was led to Bitcoin.

After about three years of corporate law, all of my free time was spent thinking and reading about crypto. While looking for a way to make an impact in the industry, I focused on proof of stake technology and the number of innovative protocols that were using staking as a consensus mechanism.

I began working closely with proof of stake (PoS) protocols and service providers in the space. I then started the Proof of Stake Alliance (POSA), a non-profit trade association whose focus is to expand and promote education about proof of stake technology through collaboration and dialogue among stakeholders.

Q: What’s the story of how you started working at Bison Trails?

Through POSA I was fortunate enough to meet Joe and Aaron, who were focused on making an incredible impact in the staking industry. They were some of the first supporters of POSA and saw the need for the industry to collaborate in order to help obtain regulatory clarity for such an important part of the ecosystem.

After some initial discussions with Joe, I realized that Bison Trails was taking such a different approach than other providers in the space. Bison Trails saw a world where thousands of validators were run on these networks; they wanted to build the world’s most secure and reliable infrastructure platform to help the builders of tomorrow participate on and secure promising PoS protocols. This was such a different approach than I had seen from others in the industry who were really focused on running one node for each network at that time.

After a few discussions, I knew I had to find a way to become part of the Bison Trails team. Fortunately enough, Joe, Aaron, and the rest of the team took a chance on me, and it's been the best professional experience I’ve had to date. None of the others even come close.

Q: Tell us about your work to engage regulators and the wider ecosystem with POSA? What do you hope POSA achieves?

POSA’s mission is to bring the staking community together to identify key risks which could threaten the adoption of these promising, but young, PoS protocols. POSA works with key industry participants to conduct detailed analysis of legal and tax issues, and then coordinates shared messaging and have dialogue with regulators and policymakers. POSA also works with outside legal counsel & tax consultants on the legal/tax issues.

POSA hopes these efforts will lead to regulatory clarity for all types of industry participants. A key focus in 2020 was the taxation of staking rewards. We worked with Professor Abe Sutherland, supporting his position that staking rewards should be treated as created property. We were even able to get the four leads of the US Congressional Blockchain Caucus to write a letter supporting the position to the IRS. We hope to have concrete guidance on this issue later this year.

Q: How has your role evolved over the last year at Bison Trails?

Initially I joined Bison Trails as our CEO Joe’s Chief of Staff. Working with Joe was a once in a lifetime opportunity; I was able to get an up-close and personal view of what really makes a great, effective CEO and leader.

As Joe’s Chief of Staff I was responsible for anything he needed me to do. Whether it was signing key customers, building relationships with current customers, taking on strategic initiatives, or just getting prepared for board meetings, I was there to really be an extension of Joe and to ensure that we as a team continued to push things forward, providing the best possible experience for our customers.

About six months ago I moved into a new role as Head of Business Operations, and was promoted to the Bison Trails Leadership Team (BLT). I am extremely grateful that I have been given the opportunity to help build a rock star team and to continue to work extremely closely with my teammates, our customers, and the protocol teams we support.

Q: Tell us about an “owner’s mentality” and how that relates to how you manage teams.

Coming from a background working as a corporate lawyer, Bison Trails was my first real experience employed at a high-growth startup. Working at a startup that is scaling and beginning to find its product-market fit is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. It takes a certain type of person to thrive in this type of exciting, but chaotic, environment.

The idea of an owner’s mentality is one that is well known in the startup community. However, It wasn't until a conversation I had with Bison Trails’ Protocol Specialist Viktor Bunin about the type of people that are really successful at Bison Trails that I realized each of these people acted like an owner.

A day after that conversation I saw a tweet from our investor Alexis Ohanian on this idea of “acting like an owner,” and it really sunk in for me. At this stage of the company everyone is an owner and it’s really important that we build a culture of finding people who have that “ownership” mentality. These types of people want responsibility and opportunity, and they are willing to do everything in their power to make the most out of the opportunity they have. They are great teammates, and are a big key to the success of our entire team and company.

Q: What are the big challenges you face managing multidisciplinary teams?

Where to start! I think for me one challenge is that we have grown the team extremely quickly this year. Taking the appropriate time to onboard people, and to really ensure that they have the tools to succeed, is critical in setting them up for success. This is especially hard when every function and role has its own set of challenges. It’s important to find a balance between really working with people one-on-one and giving them the time to learn and grow while not dropping the number of balls that are currently in the air.

Additionally, managing three teams does call for significant switching of contexts and really requires a deep understanding of all three functions I support. During a day with multiple fire drills I try to stick to my to-do list and to really prioritize the key items we need to accomplish to meet our goals.

However, I am incredibly lucky to work with some of the smartest and most empathic people I’ve ever met. Our team is incredible and they deserve all of the credit for everything we have accomplished over the past two years.

Q: What are you looking forward to in 2021?

I look forward to continuing to push the entire digital asset ecosystem forward as part of Coinbase. We’ve come such a long way in the time I have worked here at Bison Trails, and we already support some of the most influential companies in the space. Now we will expand our impact as a standalone product line: the foundation of Coinbase’s infrastructure suite to advance the crypto ecosystem.

I can’t wait for us to continue to be a gateway for some of the largest companies in the world to interact with blockchain protocols. Additionally, with the launch of eth2, I’m incredibly excited for the impact we are going to have in ensuring the Beacon Chain is secure, reliable, and that the most security- and reliability-focused token holders can participate on eth2.

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