Diana Biggs is a leading advisor, speaker, blockchain and fintech influencer. Initially starting in production and multimedia, Diana’s love for technology and computers ultimately brought her into the world of fintech and decentralized finance. As CEO of Valour, Diana led the company to its acquisition by Defi Technologies late last year. Today, she's the Chief Strategy Officer of Valour, a technology company helping to bridge the gap between traditional capital markets and decentralized finance.
In continuation of our Innovation Interviews series, Diana spoke with Ashleigh DePopas, Co-founder and General Manager of GoCart, an FIS venture, to share her views on the importance of resilience, having a mentor and women supporting each other in the fintech space.
Ashleigh: What was the most interesting experience you've had since you began your leadership role at Valour?
Diana: What I really loved was taking the company from literally an unknown brand, not yet launched, and bringing that vision to market. Enabling us to grow from zero to 300 million in AUM over a matter of months. In addition, being then able to build out that team and Valour’s eventual acquisition by Defi Technologies.
Ashleigh: That is cool, and congratulations! With your time at Defi now, what are you most excited about moving forward as the chief strategy officer?
Diana: We have a lot of interesting new products underway from the Valour business. We are working on a Metaverse Exchange Traded product, which would provide diversified exposure across Metaverse projects. Additionally, I’m excited about a few others that aren't announced yet on the ESG side. Managing Defi’s venture portfolio has also been exciting – we do several seed and series, early-stage investments across not only the Defi space but all Web3, and that's an area that I enjoy. Having been through the founding of startups myself and working with founders and companies, helping new projects to grow in the space is exciting.
Ashleigh: I'd love to pick your brain a little more there, given that you get to work with other founders and being one yourself – do you have advice from your learnings that you like to share with other founders?
Diana:There’s plenty of learnings. The most important thing for founders is resilience. No matter what you're working on, there's always a balance between staying firm on your vision, trusting your instincts, persevering no matter what. Then there is balancing that with not falling too in love with your idea and having the humility to see the data.
Ashleigh: That's great advice – even for myself. It brings me to another question more around your career journey. Obviously, your advice comes from some learnings, mistakes or failures you've had in your past. Are there any you’d like to share that were particularly meaningful?
Diana: Certainly the difficulty in being able to pivot – holding on to something too long, then when a pivot is allowed, how it can be transformative so that a company can flourish. Even if it wasn't like the original idea you had in mind, being flexible on that is key.
Ashleigh: I love that concept of humility and leaving your ego at the door when it comes to the attachment to your idea. The more intelligent people you hire and bring on, the more the idea can flourish and head in the right direction. That humility is an admirable quality for a leader. Were there any people or a particular person that helped you earlier in your career to get you to where you are today?
Diana: It does become integral to have someone in a leadership position who believes in you and is a voice for you and fights for you at the table. I've been through several difficult situations where many colleagues were let go. In those situations, you must have someone who sees your potential, whom you've worked with before and is there rooting for you at the table. It's great to have mentors, but what you need is a sponsor. You need someone who is going to be actively putting your name forward and defending you in situations. Because you can be the hardest worker, but often in workplace situations, things are more political than that. They can often come down to decisions where not everybody will have that complete information on your actual performance. It’s critical to have a person who will provide you with career advice and go to bat for you.
Ashleigh: How have you set up those relationships in the past? I'm curious – I think many women wonder and have trouble asking for things like sponsoring – how you've navigated that conversation?
Diana:For me, it was more organic. Looking back, I would tell my younger self to be more proactive. I was good at that sort of political navigation or fighting for myself. In one situation, the manager on one project had been away, and I stepped up. But if that hadn't happened, maybe I wouldn't have been saved because those senior leaders would never have had the chance to see me work. I encourage everyone, especially women, to do the same because we do this less. In one workplace where I worked, they paired people with mentors, and I could tell this individual was not interested in mentoring me and looked down on me. I don't know if that was gendered or because my background was different, but I remember going to HR and asking for a different one. HR said, “Oh, I don't know, that's not really what we do.” In situations like that, I should have pushed it. I encourage everyone to find the people that get you and build those relationships proactively.
Ashleigh: Yes, and advocate for yourself! So what are some of the things you do to prepare your mind and your body for some or something stressful, whether it's a high stakes meeting, talk or a presentation? Do you have any examples of things you do that you'd like to share?
Diana: For me, that takes a lot of work. I'm so naturally shy that when I was younger, they thought I was deaf because I didn't speak in school. I remember getting my hearing tested, and my mom was like, “I don't know what's going on, she definitely speaks at home.” I still am the type of person that gets stage fright. Techniques like meditation, practicing in front of the mirror, the Superman stance and breathing exercises work.
Ashleigh: I've always found it helpful to give some time and space afterward to decompress from the energy and tension that can build up. But look how far you've come! It's funny to think many people experience stage fright, and to hear someone in a leadership position say, “I do that too. I experienced that too” – it normalizes the feeling. Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing.
Diana:I'm trying to reframe talks in my mind because a lot of it is what you're programmed – I’m programmed from a terrified younger self. To frame these things as fun, and where you can be yourself and enjoy it versus thinking, “okay, I'm going to be afraid,” then your brain switches into that mode when you think that. So have fun and be yourself.
Ashleigh: That’s an interesting thought. The perspective shift can trick your brain into not having those fear-based reactions. What are some of the challenges you faced in your career as a female leader in fintech, and what did you learn and how did you overcome them?
Diana:The bar is different for women. Male-dominated industries, especially fintech, are like taking two different industries with problems in terms of diversity and combining them into one. I’ll never forget when I went out to Silicon Valley to visit my brother at one of the big tech companies, going into their offices and feeling so disappointed that it was predominantly male. There was a misconception in my mind that it would be more progressive and seeing that it was just as bad – if not worse – was disappointing. I continue to see that it's more difficult for women to be seen on merit and given the same types of opportunities. There are still a lot of structural barriers and unconscious bias. I think it's on men to step up and make an effort or try to be more conscious about their actions and check themselves and think, “am I fair?” or “is this as unbiased as I believe it is?”
Ashleigh: What ways have you advocated for change in your time at Valour or at Defi? Have you noticed any successes or challenges you've faced in advocating for unbiased views on women?
Diana:Certainly, people who work with me know my feelings on the topic. It is about ensuring that we have diverse candidate pools, actively looking at compensation and how we put people forward for different stretch opportunities or speaking opportunities. So that's something that I'm constantly on the lookout for across our industry. Also asking companies about how they're sourcing candidates.
Ashleigh: How do you think other women can support other women in their organizations? How do we band together? How have women supported you too?
Diana: Looking for opportunities to highlight each other. Often when I'm in conversations with journalists or at events or companies that are looking for candidates, I make it a point as often as possible to put women forward, make those introductions and share their events on social media.
We need to have each other's backs, promote each other for achievements and share things such as salary payments. It's been beneficial that women I know across the industry give me advice when it comes to salary, for example. Some would tell me this is not what you should be charging, you need to double that, etc. – things that I wouldn't have otherwise known. So I try to pay that forward as well.
Ashleigh: Looking ahead to the next few years in fintech, what are some of the biggest trends and changes you’re anticipating? How are you getting ready for them?
Diana:That’s a focus for us, and we believe blockchain systems have made it possible to rebuild a much more modern and efficient global, digital and 24/7 financial infrastructure. Our thesis is that 10 years from now, the shared infrastructure that will be needed for a more global, inherently digital and composable financial services stack will be these open public blockchains and hopefully decentralized protocols. So it might be that it's no longer called Defi – that it's just finance – and everything else will be built on top of that. We now have an opportunity that makes it economically viable to have that game-changing, open-source infrastructure.
Ashleigh: What advice would you give to a young woman looking to enter the fintech industry or step up into a leadership role?
Diana:My advice would be to make your intentions known and go in with conviction. If one opportunity doesn't work, there are a thousand others. Focus on your work, build those relationships and get where you want to be.