It’s not just me, right? The world around us is becoming really, really competitive.
Competition is not always a bad thing. In fact, I believe some of the world’s best outcomes originate from competition. BUT, not all forms of competition are good.
When I look around it seems like all of my classmates are hyper-focused on forging their path—beating the curve, securing the prestigious internship, and snagging the final spot in the finance club. The corresponding job market—hyper-competitive, independent, and prestige-obsessed—seems to be reflected by this sought-after behavior.
It didn’t always look like this, my mom sometimes reminds me. Millennial and GenZ employees, more than previous generations, tend to prioritize their personal goals over those of their boss or company. I don’t know if this is true, but it probably is. This is my mom we’re talking about after all.
Perhaps this is indicative of a broader societal trend: younger generations are simply more self-centered than they used to be. A cross-sectional study conducted by Jean Twenge and colleagues in 2008 surveyed more than 16,000 college students and found that among them, narcissistic personality traits increased by a whopping 30% from 1982 to 2006.
And according to Talent Protocol, the star of this article, careers have become one-player games:
“Especially in competitive industries like tech, finance, or consulting, it’s ‘up or out,’ meaning outperforming others is prioritized over empathy. That’s not to say that workplaces should resemble Buddhist monasteries in their tranquility, and high-performers should carry laggards. [BUT] If modern corporate culture was a video game, it would be strictly in single-player mode, with one person’s benefit being someone else’s loss.”
Second, beyond being cutthroat, careers tend to favor those who originate from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. This will always be the case, and I’m not preaching some pseudo-Communist style recruiting process, but the current onramp for disadvantaged talent is unsustainable. For many, sinking $100,000 into debt before they are allowed to drink is hardly what they thought Uncle Sam meant by the “American Dream”. We need to find a better way to support young talent.
The third dilemma we face, stated simply, is that LinkedIn isn’t great. Most networking apps are outdated, but, in all honesty, LinkedIn is particularly antiquated. It’s little but loose connections and digital resumes reliant on past credentials. Oh, and my feed is overwhelmed by “I’m humbled to announce” posts (an oxymoron, by the way) and “500+ connections” I’ve never met.
I’m an optimist, but three core dilemmas stand out to me in today’s labor market. If you’re a student, recruiter, or investor, this impacts YOU, so listen up:
1. Workers are becoming increasingly individualistic.
2. Society isn’t properly investing in and nurturing hidden talent.
3. Traditional networking is antiquated.
My favorite thing in life, besides massages and avocado toast, is thinking about how the world is evolving. Specifically, how technology is evolving the world. The intersection between the two is constantly adjusting, ever blurry, and utterly fascinating.
I’ve explained how the world is evolving, and I believe we are on the cusp of a technological revolution that will evolve the world. I’m referring to Web3, of course. Specifically, a new application called “social tokens” seeks to reinvent more positive economic incentives in our modern economy. One company, in particular, is pouncing on this trend.
I’m humbled and excited to introduce Talent Protocol, a Web3 professional network that leverages social tokens to make community-sourced investments into high-potential individuals. In simpler, sexier terms: a platform that lets you support talented people. It’s pretty neat, and the year-old startup has raised $2.65 million (the last valuation was $50 million) from funds like Protocol Labs and Flori Ventures, as well as angels like Alex Masmej and Rene Reinsberg.
If you consider yourself at all “talented” and want to network with valuable connections who can support your career, this next section is for you:
Social Tokens → Talent Tokens
There are all sorts of incentive misalignments when it comes to compensating and endorsing today’s talent. Why, for instance, do NFL players only receive 48% of the league’s total revenue when it seems like they generate 99% of the league’s value. Not to mention that they put their bodies, health, and future on the line every week to entertain millions of hardcore fans.
(On a side note, my mom says football is stupid. She’s also right about this).
We don’t just mistreat talent in sports. In careers, we tell talented teenagers that success lies in crippling student loan debt and relentless investment banking internships. Young people are far more creative and capable than we think.
Last month, Talent’s head of content Sara Karim featured a remarkable woman on their blog: Negar Yaghoobi, an Iranian-born entrepreneur who has taken an atypical route to her career. Impassioned by cultivating “sustainable happiness” through mental health tools, Negar created her first company 10 years ago, a magazine that taught over 700k Persian-speaking women how to live happier daily lives. She’s now working on her second startup which develops tech tools to improve mental healthcare.
Negar is the LeBron James in her sphere. If only there were a way to:
1. Invest in the outcomes of young LeBrons before they flourished.
2. Align incentives of people who want to support talent with that talent. (i.e. fans supporting LeBron OR investors supporting Negar).
3. Find the LeBrons that no one has heard of and invest in their future.
Filipe Macedo, Talent’s co-founder and CMO, believes that Talent Tokens are the solution. These sound pretty cool, but what exactly are these?
Talent Tokens are a type of social token, a blockchain-powered cryptocurrency whose value is tied to a particular outcome, person, or community. A social token is just a way of assigning value to something, which we do when we buy groceries, stocks, and houses. But a social token is an asset: fixed supply, can gain or lose value, and is influenced by people.
Like most currencies, social tokens contain utility. Utility means that if I own a currency, like the US Dollar, I can go to the store and buy a cup of coffee that helps me write these articles. The utility of social tokens varies. Oftentimes it involves unlocking exclusive perks.
Let’s imagine that LeBron James issued a social token called $LEBRON (@LeBron hire me). If a fan owns:
- 5 $LEBRON, they receive a signed collectible.
- 100 $LEBRON and they get tickets to a Lakers game.
- 1,000 $LEBRON and LeBron flies you out to his house.
Investing in social tokens is like buying stock in something except that stock gives your benefits.
Social tokens are becoming increasingly embraced as an alternative asset in Web3. In 2021, the total market cap of all the world’s social tokens passed $303M, a 500% increase from the previous year. With that money, you could buy a private Hawaiian island, like Oracle founder Larry Ellison did a decade ago.
“Talent is like a little seed, when nurtured, it will flourish.” — Filipe Macedo
Talent Tokens can help nurture the world’s highest-potential scientists, entrepreneurs, and athletes. As described on their website, Talent Tokens are “like shares in someone’s career, where both talent and their supporters get paid dividends over time.” Here’s how it works:
If you’re talented (everyone reading this is, don’t be humble!), launching your token represents a way to finance your ambitions and build a network of connections who are incentivized to support you. Launching a Talent Token is like IPOing (initial public offering). Companies IPO to raise capital to finance projects. When you launch your token, you’re doing the same thing:
- Talent tokens help talent raise money. That’s money that can help someone finance a business, pay off student loans, or afford to tell their boss to “f*** off”.
- When you launch your token, Talent Protocol will buy $200 worth of your token and gift them to you. You could buy new AirPods with this!
- Anyone with their token is featured on Talent’s marketplace. This helps with discoverability. It’s like having your product featured on Amazon’s homepage.
- Also, people in the Talent ecosystem are compensated for referring undiscovered talent. If you see a young LeBron, refer them to Talent. They’ll reward you with the network’s native cryptocurrency - $TAL (coming soon but already available to be accumulative before the official token launch).
- Finally, when supporters buy your token, they become a part of your journey. When a VC invests in a startup, they are incentivized to help the startup network, define objectives, and achieve its goals. The same applies here to your career.
Graphic adapted from https://napkinfinance.com/napkin/ipo/
If you’re a talent supporter (i.e. investors, parents, professors, etc.), buying someone else’s token represents a way to aid someone’s professional journey and benefit monetarily along the way:
- Like with the LeBron example, owning someone’s $token unlocks exclusive perks like strategy sessions in the talent’s area of expertise.
- Price appreciation: when your talent succeeds, their perks become more valuable. As a result, the value of their token increases. This means you have an incentive to help your talent hit their milestones, aligning economic interests.
- There’s clout in investing in successful people. Reputations are built on early financial investments (e.g. Peter Thiel with Facebook). Imagine being LeBron’s first financial backer.
In high school, I hated when my teachers taught a new concept but didn’t explain its usefulness in real life (not saying names). Let’s drill these ideas down with a case study, shall we?
Inês Bragança Gaspar is a Portuguese technology trainee lawyer whose goal is to advise companies and individuals on how best to leverage blockchain technologies. She’s like me but smart. Inês wants to become a blockchain developer in Solidity (Python for crypto) and her roadmap includes passing the Bar exam.
Inês launched the $IBG talent token, which has a market value of $1,672.30. She has 26 people supporting her career. In exchange for holding her tokens, Inês offers special perks related to her expertise:
The incentive structures here are dope. Instead of “connecting” with hundreds of randos on LinkedIn, Inês is networking with folks who are most literally supporting her career. It’s the 100 True Fans Model or Pareto Principle applied to careers: you only need a small number of fans to make the biggest difference.
Talent Supporters are “Subscribers & High Value Purchasers”
If this piques your interest, visit Talent Protocol’s User Guide, which provides detailed information on how talent tokens work, how to apply to launch your token (the platform is still invite-only), and how to buy others’ talent tokens.
Nearly one year in, over 1,000 people have invested over $450,000 in north of 310 individuals.
This all sounds good, but is there a catch?
No one could have predicted what Facebook might have become back in 2004. Likewise, it’s impossible to accurately identify the beast Talent might develop into. The team is incredibly thoughtful and well-intentioned. I’ve chatted with multiple team members and their passion for building a more equal future is inspiring. I wouldn’t be writing about them if this weren’t the case.
However, like with any new technology, there are potential negative implications to social tokens. I’d be negligent in my role as a writer and journalist if I didn’t acknowledge potential risks in conjunction with Talent’s promise. And perhaps discussing these implications will allow us to appropriately address them as we build the future, so here we go:
The value of social tokens is contingent on potential. You are betting on someone’s future.
Careers are volatile, and so are people. The value of someone’s token depends on their ability to consistently outperform, but what happens when they fall short? What happens when talent can no longer provide that strategy session, takes a break from their startup, or stops communicating with supporters. Will the value of their token collapse?
An extreme comparison is the adversity that internet creators face when they take a break from uploading content. I wrote about this when I worked at AMA, a data analytics startup for creators that was just acquired by Jellysmack. My first piece was about posting gaps in content. Specifically, I found that when YouTubers took unforeseen breaks in uploading content, their engagement plummeted. The same could happen for talent.
- Will individuals suffer burnout as they try to consistently impress their backers?
- Will the intense market fluctuations in someone’s token create psychological harm?
- Even more dystopian, what happens if a bad actor experiences a poor investment in an individual? We know the lengths people are willing to go to when money is on the line. Will the livelihood and safety of talent become threatened when their token underperforms?
This dystopian scenario is jarringly reminiscent of Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” episode, where people’s status is determined by how others rate them in daily social interactions. The main character, who begins the show at an admirable 4.259 stars, plunges into social and psychological ruin (0.3 stars) when she’s faced with a series of unfortunate circumstances.
It is of course ironic for me to speculate on the potential of this speculative asset. But I hope doing so will spark a conversation around how we can thoughtfully design financial products in Web3 to create the greatest positive impact.
I believe there are a handful of remedies to alleviate the likelihood that these cataclysmic events will transpire. One might be making social tokens non-transferable (can’t be traded) in the early stages. This is exactly what Talent Protocol is doing at the moment. Linda Xie talks about this in her Mirror article on social tokens:
This could ensure that supporters only buy social tokens with good intentions rather than generate a quick buck.
Filipe discussed some of these concerns in a recent presentation at Celo Connect, which is worth checking out: https://youtube.com/embed/GsHN7M-mxqw
Looking ahead 🚨
Talent Protocol isn’t wasting time as I have for the past 30 minutes dreading this conclusion. A few months ago they launched Season 2, a roadmap that includes new design features, public talent profiles, and compatibility with the popular blockchain infrastructure Polygon.
Talent Protocol is still in its early beta, but they’re offering WTFcrypto readers exclusive access to join their platform! This means you’ll be able to participate in the Talent Market and maybe even launch a token of your own!
All you have to do is subscribe to WTFcrypto using this link:
If you are already subscribed, make sure you sign up for the beta using the link above ^ so I know you want to receive access. Don’t worry, you won’t be subscribed twice!