Shawn Owen, Founder & CEO Shawn is a serial entrepreneur and trailblazer in the blockchain world with over 25 years business operations experience. A bitcoin advocate since early 2011, Shawn pioneered cryptocurrency-backed lending with the launch of SALT where he remains involved as a Board Member. In 2019, he started Equa to bring company formation and governance solutions into the future by leveraging his expertise in corporate structure and crypto-backed technology solutions. Shawn envisions a world of friction-less, self evident, and transparent truths beginning with corporations and extending into the daily lives of shareholders.
Where did the idea for Equa come from?
Equa comes from my passionate belief that markets can be improved. I’ve thought this for a long time based on the industries and companies I’ve worked within the past and what the pain points have been. There are fundamental problems that exist in startups in part due to the nature of private markets and how inefficient they are. The way I see it, a core issue in business stems from how agreements are structured early on.
In the beginning, groups of people have to determine how they all agree on what we are doing and the value of that agreement. Typically, at startups, unlike at more established companies, formal agreements fall by the wayside. It’s part of a natural process beginning with founders who come together on an idea either in their garage or over a drink. You have an idea to solve a problem, but then how do you build on that? How does that scale?
I see a lot of fatigue and chaos come out of that process from start to finish. And that’s if you even finish in a positive way. Most companies don’t make it all the way through to IPO, for example.
A lot of entrepreneurs don’t know what they don’t know. They do the best with their own skill set, which is often specialized. In order to get them where they need to go, they need a lot of other things to come together in other domains. So, with Equa, we are looking at how all these elements come together and how. What is the structure of value and how are decisions made with governance in a way that brings things together in a way that saves startups problems down the line?
To improve markets, I felt we needed to improve the way colleagues agree with each other and in doing so bring the tools for that all the way to the beginning, the inception of a company or idea. So, we started to ask how we could give a company all the tools they need for governance, incentivization, and equity management at the beginning knowing what’s coming in the long run.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I structure my day around the question, “How do I add value to key stakeholders every day?” I block time on my schedule for high priority items, and during the week I focus on work.
I start my days early, around 5:00 AM. I take on the day with a feeling that anything is possible. I knock out a lot of important to-do’s over coffee before other people wake up.
Most of my scheduled meetings with clients, employees, and colleagues are consolidated in a certain part of the day. This gives me time to focus on building systems. It also allows me to allocate resources to help the Equa team unblock areas where they might get held up. Any additional time is dedicated to growing the business.
In the evening, I have dinner and spend time with my family. Later, if there’s time, I might squeeze in a couple more hours of work. Generally, I get about six to seven hours of sleep a night.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I envision ideas and then focus on how to realize them. If I get a hunch or am inspired, I follow that feeling. I write an idea down — basically it’s just a brain dump with a large list of ideas. Ideas that recur, I revisit. I might run them past other people. As an idea materializes and gets legs, I start to roll it out.
I’m a big believer in prototyping, designing the idea, and structuring it out before allocating resources. Once I exhaust my imagination on how to architect a concept, a plan starts to emerge, though I’ve learned to keep in mind that no plan will ever be perfect.
Once I have a plan, I iterate and evolve the idea through testing, successes and failures. I let the outcomes inform next steps. Persistence, I’ve found, is key to adapting while staying true to the initial motivation behind the idea. The more an idea matures, the more confident I am with bringing people in and allocating resources.
What’s one trend that excites you?
From Bitcoin to non-fungible tokens (NFTs), I’m very excited by the digitization of value and have dedicated some years of my professional life to the pursuit of this trend. The recent adoption and mainstreaming of Bitcoin — with JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, as well as Michael Saylor of MicroStrategy, Elon Musk, and even MassMutual jumping on board — is very exciting to see.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Aside from rising early and taking on the day with a positive attitude, I’d say it’s the habit I have of putting customers first. I began my professional career in the hospitality and food industry, which trained me to be customer-centric and a problem solver. Hospitality teaches you a lot about running business, in large part because you deal with people with wide varieties of backgrounds and personalities. No matter the team you have or the customer in front of you, you must think on your feet, be in the moment in order to achieve a positive outcome. The habits formed by this type of experience go beyond processes and formal learning.
I took the customer-first instinct into my work in the technology startup world. It makes me more productive because it galvanizes how I allocate my own time. I also use this habit to motivate my team. Customers have infinite options. They can choose to take their business to where they are happiest or see the most value. Remembering this helps make sense of complex decisions with competing priorities. I always ask my team to assess and evaluate their work with respect to adding value to our customers.
The only reason to be in business is to provide value to customers. To me, that’s the definition of productivity as an entrepreneur.
What advice would you give your younger self?
There’s so much advice I’d like to give to my younger self. I wish I’d learned the value of testing and prototyping ideas, for example. I also wish I’d known to hire slowly and fire quickly. Most especially, I’d like to go back and tell my younger self not to stress, no matter how hard things get.
Time spent stressing is wasted time. It’s better to dig in and do what you can to enjoy the ride. It’s not easy, but the more you focus on problems, the more time you spend thinking about the problem itself instead of the solution. This often makes problems worse. It’s far better to look at the opportunities and goals and try to avoid obstacles, move around them.
Money is a great example of something that I wish I hadn’t stressed over. When you look back, you often realize that even though you were worried about money at a particular time, you had what you needed. It’s better to have confidence you will have what you need, even if it’s simply the ability to problem solve, and use that attitude as a motivator. Best advice is not to worry and to look for opportunity.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
As it relates to my industry, I truly believe that the whole financial system will be rebuilt on blockchain and Bitcoin and that this will disintermediate all the institutional players.
As it relates to the way I look at life, I believe obstacles and pain are really opportunities. In my experience, once you overcome an obstacle, you realize it was just an opportunity to grow. I think that’s hard for many people to come to terms with.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Practice. Don’t be afraid to keep practicing over and over. Just like musicians, entrepreneurs must practice over and over. This is a great attitude for approaching your work. Get up, do your work, don’t get defeated, improve on elements where you can, and add more value incrementally over time.
Practice means getting better every day little by little. If your job is to solve problems, you won’t solve all your problems at once. Edison had thousands of failed inventions, but he came up with the light bulb. Each day, each iteration, is an opportunity for incremental improvement over time, which is what you should shoot for. Musicians don’t start out playing complex pieces of music, but they get there by practicing: breaking apart the music, practicing theory, technique. And that need to practice never goes away if you want upward movement and long-term success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Finding great, trustworthy people and letting them go to the limit of their capabilities. Trustworthiness is key to this. Then, you can give people more than they can handle instead of limiting them. It’s like handing someone the keys to your car and telling them to bring it back in good shape.
I don’t set boundaries to start. I give people bigger titles than they might deserve. And I give people more responsibility than they might deserve. Good people find a way to thrive and fill out the container you provide them. If you set too many rules or boundaries, it is hard to discern the value people can add. I remove myself as the blocker, then give them the tools and resources they need. That’s how you learn someone’s potential and their role. This allows talented people to add as much value as they can to growing a business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I was working at a startup with a driven team. As we started hitting our stride, I began to have misgivings about one of our teammates, who had been brought in during a high growth period. At the time, there wasn’t any particular warning sign, just a series of misalignments or misunderstandings that resulted in second, third, and fourth chances for this person to get straight. In hindsight, my failure was ignoring a gut feeling that I had, and everyone seemed to share but couldn’t articulate in specific terms.
In that case, we fired too slowly. This approach does everyone a disservice. So, I learned and bounced back. Now, I put a lot more faith in the feedback provided to me from the team at large. I ask them to speak up sooner and I, in turn, speak up sooner. Now I hire slowly, looking for key traits that will enable me to endow employees with enormous responsibilities they can handle.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Someone needs to come up with a way for musicians to create samples that are monetized through NFTs. This would allow buyers to compile unique mixes quickly and flexibly. The musicians have better and more transparent ways to get compensated. The better royalties would help drive better creativity.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Honestly, for a pair of pants from Stitch Fix. It’s a really cool concept. Custom clothing selection also manages to save time on shopping, which seems like such a waste to me. I make choices based on recommendations, those items show up. I test them out, whatever I don’t like, I send back. In the end, I find an item of clothing I love. What a great idea!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Surprisingly enough, it’s Figma. I’m not a designer per se, but I think all ideas should be designed, crafted, and prototyped. This tool lets me prototype out a workflow and visualize how the business will interact with customers. It helps me essentially get into the head of the customer and see how the experience of a product or service will be from their perspective. I think it’s valuable not just for software or digital interface but also for creating an understanding of services and processes that live outside the digital world.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Traction by Gino Wickman. The book focuses on how to build good systems and how to put these systems in place for measurable results. Anyone putting together or running a business should check it out. It’s really a critical read. You can’t scale a business without good processes, and you can’t incentivize people or meet stakeholder expectations without measurable results. Lean Startup is also required reading for the tech space. And The Outsiders by William Thorndyke helps you think like an investor.
What is your favorite quote?
“Accepting the reality of change gives rise to equanimity.” ~Allan Locos
- Prototype, get your ideas out of your head and test them
- Block time for what matters most
- Focus on the opportunities, not the obstacles
- Make incremental improvements, think like a musician learning cello
- Focus on building a team with core values like loyalty and trustworthiness