Women in crypto: Shefali Roy

Shefali Roy discusses the foundations of success and backing female-led start-ups

Black and white picture of Shefali Roy in her home                                 
Shefali Roy has been widely recognised and listed as one of the 50 most powerful in her sector by Women in Fintech – Photo: Shefali Roy

Shefali Roy’s profile

Date of Birth: 1978

Hometown: Melbourne, Australia

Residence: London, UK

Current role: Angel Investor and board member

Previous roles: Chief operating officer (COO) and Chief compliance office (CCO) at TrueLayer, CCO and MLRO Europe at Stripe, Compliance officer EMEIA at Apple, Global ethics and compliance officer at Christies, and Compliance and risk sdvisory at Goldman Sachs

Social media handles: @shefaliroy 

Shefali Roy’s biography

Shefali Roy is an angel investor who invests globally in start-ups at the pre-seed-funding, seed-funding and series A funding rounds for companies building products in fintech (financial technology), femtech (software, diagnostics, products and services that use technology to support women's health) and the Future of Work. 

Shefali currently sits on the boards of several firms, including Ada’s List, a women in technology network; the Barefoot College Tilonia, a social enterprise that teaches women how to become solar engineers, and MakerDAO, a crypto entity that uses the DAI stable coin to facilitate decentralised finance (DeFi) globally. 

In 2016, Shefali appeared on Innovate Finance’s ‘Most Powerful Women in FinTech’ list, and in 2017, she delivered her first TEDx talk on ethics and business.

Shefali has multiple graduate and undergraduate credentials, most recently and EMBA in strategy and behavioural economics from the University of Oxford Said Business School.

She also holds an MSc in ecnomic history from the London School of Economics (LSE); an MA in journalism from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University; a BA in behavioural and management economics from the University of Oxford; and a business BA in economics and finance from RMIT University.

Melbourne Australia
Shefali grew up in Melbourne before she moved to London to complete her master’s degree at the London School of Economics – Photo: Shutterstock

Shefali recognises that the gender disparity in the world of tech is a far greater reflection of the modern workforce and the power struggle women face. But that hasn’t stopped her pursuit to spotlight female-led businesses and make a concentrated effort to level out the playing field.

In fact, it’s one of the reasons why she’s committed to changing the course of the industry and giving women in technology a helping hand: “There aren’t enough female investors with a chequebook. That needs to change,” she says.

The early days

Born in Bombay, Shefali grew up in Australia. She later moved from her hometown of Melbourne to London to complete her master’s degree at the London School of Economics. She joined Goldman Sachs soon after her graduation, where she worked within the private wealth and risk advisory team, focusing on global regulatory affairs.

Next up was a role at Christie’s, where she helped build and operationalise its back-office platform and strengthen the firm’s governance and anti-money laundering policy. It was during her time at Christie’s that her interest was sparked in how the digitisation of art could empower artists and democratise the industry. 

“That’s when we first began conversations around the digitisation of art,” recalls Shefali. “I guess you can say it was the very early days of what NFTs [non-funglible tokens] are now.”

She continues: “Christie’s acts as both the intermediary as well as the seller, so we were asking questions around how transactions could be facilitated via cryptocurrencies and blockchain platforms.” 

Shefali references the legal nuances around intellectual properties (IPs) and the digistation of copyrights as pain points: “We wanted to understand who owns the IP and what can be done with it. Can you sell on an IP in the same way you would sell on a piece of art?"

Outside Christie's building in Brussels, Belgium
It was while Shefali Roy was working at Christie’s that she became interested in how the digitisation of art could empower artists and democratise the industry – Photo: Shutterstock

Shefali then joined Apple, a company she describes as “innovative and inspiring”, before joining payments start-up Stripe in 2014 to build their European team. 

“At Stripe, we had around eight of us in Europe and around 90 of us globally.” She also began her executive MBA (EMBA) at Oxford soon after, where she found herself commuting between London, Oxford and San Francisco. When Shefali left Stripe two years later, the start-up had around 1,000 employees worldwide. 

“Working at a start-up is similar to dog years. You do more in one year than you do in five years at a normal company.”

Shefali now spends her time working as an angel investor to support female-led business. “We’re in the process of building up a fund to back both women-led and ethnically founded start-ups. At least one member of the team who has founded the company has to be a woman and or from an ethnic minority,” she adds. 

She also sits on the board for MakerDAO, a decentralised finance (DeFi) platform on the Ethereum blockchain and the makers of the popular digital coin, Dai. 

“Working at a start-up is similar to dog years. You do more in one year than you do in five years at a normal company.” Shefali Roy

Promoting diversity in the workplace

“For the majority of my career, most of the trading floor was white males. That's just the way it was,” says Shefali.

While finance and tech firms make a point of looking to promote diversity and gender-equitable workforces, she believes that women are still regularly sidelined within these industries. 

Many, including Shefali, argue that the tech industry faces the same gender bias and inequities that were once prevalent in the finance industry several years ago, with little change and adoption.

She recognises that this change won’t happen overnight: “The change should be authentic and incremental. Move the goalpost a little bit. The tech industry is known for its progressivity, after all.”

“These issues tend to stem from the foundation of a business. We have to figure out how to change these narratives, because it could be one of the best businesses in the world, but it still faces this fundamental problem. Forward-thinking firms are sometimes really behind.”

On success, ambition and leading by performance

Shefali believes ambition and success go hand in hand, and that performance should always outweigh gender politics in order to succeed. 

“I’ve always had the understanding that your results are your major,” she says. “If you're an ambitious person, then you constantly want to learn without being the smartest person in the room.

“If your work stands out, and you’re focused on results-driven success, then it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. Your work should speak for itself.”

She adds: “In every vertical that I've worked in, I always look at who's the best in class and what I can learn from them. It’s eight hours of your day, why would you waste it?”

“I’ve always had the understanding that your results are your major” Shefali Roy

A pile of cryptocurrency tokens in light and shadow
Shefali considers cryptocurrencies a force for good, providing access to people who don't use traditional banking – Photo: Shutterstock

Digital currencies as a force for good

Shefali’s involvement in digital currencies goes far beyond the typical investor. She recognises that cryptocurrencies are a force for good that can create a path for the 1.7 billion people who don’t have access to traditional banking services or a stable financial infrastructure. 

“I dabbled in bitcoin around 2010 as an early adopter. Not very much, but enough,” she says.

She adds, “What was attractive then about bitcoin was its potential to be the ubiquitous currency of the world. If you have access to a computer and a digital wallet, then you can trade, interact and participate in the global economy.

“What unlocks the industry into the domain of greater good is the value and ability to utilise a peer-to-peer currency.”

And despite market fluctuations, she recognises the power of digital currencies that can hold a higher practical value than typical stocks and commodities.

“Right now, not many people can afford investing $40,000 into bitcoin. But you can afford a $1 stablecoin, and this makes it more accessible to the wider population.”

The future of decentralised platforms

Shefali believes that more people should utilise digital currencies in order to create an equal world for the unbanked population in countries facing financial stagnation.

“When I think about a Guatemalan coffee-grower having as much chance of price parity as I do sitting here in London, that’s very interesting. It’s about creating a level playing field where everyone can participate and is in it to win,” she adds.

Bitcoin has come a long way since its market adoption in 2009. While Shefali was an early adopter of the cryptocurrency, she now believes that the future is in stablecoins and decentralised financial markets.

“Building products based on a stablecoin that is tethered to tangible assets in order to maintain a consistent value can allow further capabilities such as lending, payments and credit. It enables all of these financial assets to be built over a product that is stable and secure. It’s unlikely to be manipulated, and that’s very important,” she says.

“I don’t care what your boss thinks about bitcoin. There’s always volatility behind it. Someone can send a Tweet and it shifts the market value by say 12%. That’s not what we're trying to do here.”

Magnifying glass in front of iPad screen with Beeple’s opus digital artwork and NFT
Beeple's Opus – a digital artwork created over 5,000 days – was the first NFT sold by Christie's. Just like Shefali Roy, it is all about breaking boundaries, taking risks and innovating – Photo: Shutterstock

Her career-defining moment

Shefali states that her most prevalent career-defining moments are when she’s no longer challenged.

“My defining moments are when I step back and ask, ‘What can I contribute? What more can I do and what more can I learn?’ If the answer to all of those is ‘not much’, then it’s time to move on.

“Staying in your comfort zone is the absence of growth. If you’re not pushing yourself and your intellect, then that’s easy. And you didn't do this to make it easy.”

She adds: “At the same time, I’m also a huge proponent of life being more important than work. I love work, but I'm also not a slave to it.”

“If you’re not pushing yourself and your intellect, that’s easy. And you didn't do this to make it easy.” Shefali Roy

Backing female-led businesses

Shefali’s experience within the venture capital (VC) industry notes two significant issues: most VCs in Europe aren’t women, and that these VCs aren’t getting in front of the right women. There’s no sign of an increase, either.

“There are several female-led businesses that are resilient and outperform, and fantastic women entrepreneurs out there who require and deserve the money to build their businesses.”

Shefali recently marked her own foray into the venture capital world and aims to launch a VC fund with her former Oxford classmate to invest in female-led and/or businesses with ethnic founders that focus on crypto and blockchain companies. 

“There’s just not that many women sitting at this side of the table.”

A group of women discussing business in an open office
Shefali believes women should learn to be less risk-averse – Photo: Shutterstock

Her advice to women in tech

Shefali is a firm believer that women should take more risks: “As women, we’re very risk-averse and have a lot of considerations before we make a decision.

“[Yet] no-one will believe in you like you do. And what’s the worst that can happen? If it doesn’t work, the worst thing is that it didn’t work out. That’s it. But the upside could be huge.”

She adds: “Start with what you want to gain value from and go from there. Prioritise your time, because life is short. Understand what you want to dedicate your time, talent and career to, and then make it count.

“Take the risk. It’s a very exciting time to be in the game.”

Further reading: Women in crypto: Amber Baldet, CEO of Clovyr

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