One of the biggest challenges confronting the DeFi community is founding and managing new ventures. It’s uncharted territory, so for guidance we turned to Diane Dai, the cofounder of DODO, an automated market maker. She shares some sage advice on how lead in DeFi.
The Defiant: Can you introduce yourself and explain your role?
Diane Dai: My name is Diane Dai. I’m the co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at DODO, where I oversee marketing, branding, and growth. I also handle investor relations.
TD: Talk about your journey into leadership — what would you say was the biggest obstacle or most challenging skill to develop?
DD: While still a university student, I was fortunate enough to have acquired internship experience as a columnist at 36kr, an enterprise tech news site, where I learned about the power of proper storytelling. I also was a marketing intern at ZhenFund, a Beijing-based venture capital firm.
My ZhenFund experience was crucial, as it exposed me to the emerging world of crypto, both within mainland China and in the West. The collaborative and supportive culture at ZhenFund, which strongly encouraged young people to innovate and build, was a major inspiration for me. Following that, I moved to DDEX as a marketing associate and quickly rose through the ranks to become the Head of PR and Marketing.
The most challenging leadership skill to develop was an intuitive and nuanced understanding of cultural differences in media and crypto between Asia and elsewhere. In a global industry like crypto, deep cultural understanding is key to leading with empathy.
TD: On a daily basis, what are the most significant disciplines or leadership skills you find yourself relying on?
DD: As a female founder in crypto, promoting diversity and autonomy are my two priorities. Diversity of people and perspectives is critical to our success, which is why they are so important to me as a leader.
To sustain diversity and autonomy, we strive to maintain a flat organizational structure where everyone’s opinions are heard and valued. As different perspectives on various issues can emerge from any employee, this organizational structure can be more dynamic and responsive to market trends than if management just told everyone what to do.
I’m also a big fan of OKRs, which focus on objectives and key results. With a global team situated across Australia, Canada, the U.S., Japan, Singapore, and China, it’s crucial to align teams on OKRs, vision and accommodate different work styles.
TD: Why do you think some people find it difficult to transition into a leadership role if they previously don’t have that experience?
DD: Leadership is never easy – it takes constant learning, retrospection, and accepting criticism. It’s definitely much more demanding than being led. There’s also an added personal aspect to leadership – building rapport and camaraderie with coworkers from a leadership standpoint is naturally more difficult than doing so between peers. Some people will find that adjustment challenging.
Get Smarter on DeFi and Web3
Get the 5-minute newsletter keeping 80K+ crypto innovators in the loop.
TD: How did you make the transition into leadership? Who did you talk to for advice?
DD: After working for others, I was driven by a strong desire to jump in and learn by doing. So I founded CypherJump, a PR agency for blockchain technology startups in East Asia. I also started blogging about DeFi and blockchain tech in general on my WeChat blog, DeFi the World. This all culminated in my co-founding of DODO in 2020, with the goal of building a decentralized exchange that competes globally with top Western companies.
TD: Do you have a mentor that has helped you with your leadership, and can you talk about that relationship a bit?
DD: I have many mentors! These relationships are the most beneficial to my trajectory as a leader so far. The best mentors are the ones that have experienced similar business challenges but from a different angle. That type of mentorship provides perspective and keeps you focused – two things that are especially important in a rapidly changing industry like crypto!
TD: Which leadership skills are the easiest to develop?
DD: For me, the most effortless leadership skill was leading by example. I’ve got a strong work ethic, but I also work smart, not hard. The action-oriented “get it done” attitude is precisely the type of philosophy I want to see from my team, in the sense of putting all of our efforts into the tasks that will have the most significant impact. To me, this is much more important than just work for work’s sake.
I’m also very organized, which is a must with a global team distributed across time zones. We’re lucky to live in the era of collaboration tools that support asynchronous work, which keeps our teams operating at full speed across geographies.
TD: Which are the most difficult to develop? And what are a few ways you think managers can get better at them?
DD: Good leadership is all about good communication, and good communication can be challenging. This is particularly true in international settings: there are a lot of cultural differences, and communicating effectively requires careful attention to detail. It pays off to be thoughtful and deliberate! And it’s definitely worth the effort — the trust, loyalty, and creativity that result from good communication are priceless.
Finding ways to make the process of learning communication skills enjoyable is also very important. Everyone has areas where they can improve. For example, English is my second language, so it’s something that I have to work on every day. But I find that being empathetic and listening well can be very rewarding. If you prioritize being a compassionate and approachable leader, your team will have more fun and deliver better results. But it’s always a work in progress — practice makes perfect, as they say!
TD: What leadership skills do you think are the most overlooked, and why?
DD: Often overlooked by leaders are humility and the desire to learn from others. I’ve had my fair share of managers on a “power trip” with a superiority complex. That’s quite the social norm in Asia, where it’s much more top-down. The ability to navigate a flat hierarchy as an executive by being humble and respectful is paramount. Again, it’s all about leading by example and treating others with respect.
At the same time, the next generation of leaders almost has to be able to “lead from behind.” You need to embody your company culture in your behavior, but you also need to let teams take the lead and support them wherever possible. It’s an ego-less approach that doesn’t expect people to follow behind you as the boss; instead, it’s about finding the best people, equipping them with the tools they need to succeed, and then building the supportive structure as they lead the way.
TD: Looking back at your career, have there been any skills in particular that have helped you transition from beginner roles to your current role? Which skills remained the same?
DD: Communication skills and a result-oriented mindset helped give me the confidence to become a co-founder. With a focus on getting things done (and communicating effectively) I nurtured the ability to gain buy-in from leadership by coupling objective data with action items. With that clarity and objectivity, I’ve influenced investors, executives, and colleagues alike.
TD: How can a manager find out about holes in their skillset or get feedback on their success?
DD: I have three pathways to improving myself as a leader:
Solicit feedback from everyone, not just direct reports. This keeps me honest and encourages everyone to seek out ways to improve.
Direct, unobstructed two-way channels of communication.
Frequent reflections and retrospections. I never assume that I’m right just because I’m a co-founder or in the C-suite. I’m constantly reflecting and analyzing for ways to improve.
TD: As a leader, how can you help your employees develop their leadership skills? Why is it important to do that?
DD: It’s important to provide constructive feedback in a direct but respectful manner. Be honest and empathetic. And no microaggressions! These little comments belittle people and disconnect them from your company’s mission. It also discourages honest feedback and creates a culture of fear.
Another tactic for decentralizing leadership structure is to let employees run meetings when appropriate. This keeps them engaged and gives them ownership of the content of the meeting and the outcomes.
Unsurprisingly, we’re full believers in decentralization. We strive to avoid micromanagement and give teams full autonomy when appropriate. When we let our people make decisions that influence the business, they thrive. Trust and respect inspire loyalty and align teams towards common goals.
TD: Do you have any final thoughts or words of advice?
DD: In my opinion, the most important thing for a leader to do is to provide value. You can’t expect everyone around you to bear the burden without being there to help them achieve their own goals.
Also, it’s crucial for women across all seniority levels to be brave and confident. We must speak out and express ourselves; otherwise, we get lost in the day-to-day – and our companies are worse off without our perspectives and contributions. I cherish and take advantage of every opportunity where my voice can be heard – and I listen carefully when others express themselves as well. We’re all humans, after all!