Recently Block8’s very own Leighlah Ashmore, Sales Director and Head of Partners and Alliances celebrated her first work anniversary, and we thought it would be a great opportunity for everyone to get to know and like her - almost as much as we do - with a bit of an informal interview.
Tell us about your first Year at Block8 and joining the blockchain community.
It's been a year I will always remember from a professional and personal sense that's for sure. I had only been with Block8 for four weeks when we were asked to work from home for a few weeks due to COVID-19. Those few weeks turned into five months before we returned to our new offices in August on a 50/50 in the office / WFH strategy.
When starting any role in a new business development capacity, the strategy is always to get out and see your network of contacts, have interesting conversations, gain other people's perspectives and insights and hear first hand what people “actually” want to hear and learn and uncover what it is that you don't know, so you can go and learn how to answer and respond better next time. However, as a result of the now global pandemic, everyone was working from home, (for those of us fortunate enough to keep our jobs), so it was quite challenging to connect in relation to meeting my network and generating any new business opportunities. I am sure these challenges are obvious given we were all experiencing similar challenges at a global level and in some cases some, people still are.
When I joined Block8, I knew little about our company, our teams, our processes, our clients, and very little about blockchain and distributed ledgers. Whilst this is normal for many people moving into a new role, the separation from the team and customers and lacking in my industry knowledge made this difficult to do the role I was actually employed to do.
So, I set myself some new goals and challenges, to keep me relevant, in my job and worth the salary I was being paid. So I implemented a sales CRM, worked on mapping out a new sales process, started to build online relationships with some of our key partners, alliances and some of our clients, most importantly, with our team. I also worked with our digital agency and took on some of the marketing activities that Block8 was kicking off. This is something I had never done before and it gave me a whole new appreciation for marketing and a realisation for just how important sales and marketing go hand in hand for successful businesses. As I look back at where we were this time last year, I feel incredibly proud of what we have all accomplished as a team in that time in what can only be described as uncharted waters.
Whilst the pandemic is unfortunately far from over, (albeit in Australia I believe we have been extremely fortunate in comparison to so many other countries around the world) I am very optimistic about the future. There are many positive things that have come out of these changes that were forced upon us, and I always prefer to focus on the positives rather than the negatives. It has been a ride, however I feel very excited about our achievements this year and the industry and community we are in as a whole. I am also proud of myself and my ability to adapt and grow in uncertain times.
What made you decide to move to Block8?
I have been within the IT Industry for more than 25 years, usually in a New Business Development or Partner and Alliance role. I have been involved typically with leading edge or bleeding edge technology and solutions, starting with infrastructure services, security, networking, virtualisation, end user computing, managed services, and cloud computing. I'd had some software exposure before, but I had never worked in a software development company before - and Block8 is no regular software development company with its joint venture business model and cutting edge tech.
I was fortunate enough to already know the Block8 founders as we had worked together previously. They set up Block8 back in 2016, and at the time I was baffled at why they were leaving such good jobs to set up a company in blockchain... but now I know why, and I only wish I had moved over sooner.
Over the years we kept in touch and I heard about the exciting projects they were working on. I started to hear more about blockchain, “crypto” and decentralised finance (DeFi). I knew this technology would take off, just as I had seen with the emergence of virtualisation back in 2008, and decided I wanted to get in before it became mainstream.
I also felt as though I needed a new challenge in my career and I wanted to stay across other new emerging technologies and learn more. Blockchain and AI seemed like obvious next steps for me.
Whilst Block8 is still considered a startup business with a full time team just shy of 50, the impact they have had, the culture and the reputation they have built were all things that I wanted to be a part of.
What are some of your highlights from your first year at Block8?
There have been quite a few highlights for me in the last 12 months. Probably the most exciting part of my role is meeting (albeit still mostly online) founders of new startup businesses that have such amazing ideas, energy and excitement at starting something new. It’s nothing short of infectious.
I have come to understand what the key elements are to a successful startup, the strategy, the founders and their ability to hustle, the need to raise capital and seek investors, build pitch decks for investors, how to hone in on the bigger picture to help them visualise and create new products and their first release, the list goes on.
The Block8 family is amazing. I am surrounded by some of the most incredibly smart and creative people I have ever met. I am always amazed by their skills, knowledge and sheer determination (even if it can be intimidating at times for someone who doesn't have a creative bone in their body). In every customer engagement that I have worked on in the last 12 months, our clients' vision only comes to life, becomes real and investable after going through the Block8 process. Watching customers' ideas pivot and evolve in the space of 1-3 meetings is an art in itself that I have never seen or experienced before in my career, it’s exhilarating. The value creation through the team is something I am incredibly proud to be part of. For someone in sales, selling something you truly believe in and feel very passionate about is a dream. Although, not spending face-to-face time with them was challenging in the first few months (did I mention I was a very social butterfly and I don't like being put in the corner?), however, as we shifted to our new way of working, this became a lot easier. I have to admit the ability to go back into the office a few days a week has been wonderful, it has made me really appreciate the simple things, like grabbing a coffee or eating lunch with my colleagues again and hearing and learning from them every day and maybe squeezing in a beer (or two) and a few games of table tennis and foosball in the office.
The blockchain community, all I can say is, wow! It is a small group which is growing every day, everyone has been so supportive towards me and also the Block8 team. I was invited to a Women in Blockchain community, where I have found some life long friends already. A great bunch of individuals who have welcomed me into their fold and provided some guidance and helpful advice and direction, particularly helpful for such a newbie.
Finally, I would have to say that despite everything going on in the world, this is a fast-paced working environment, with many opportunities and I am as excited about going into my second year with the same level of excitement I had on the day I joined. Maybe the timing wasn't great to start a new career path, or maybe it was...but definitely no regrets.
What were the impacts of the pandemic for you and the team?
For me, again I like to focus on the positives. I have enjoyed working from home and spending more time with my family and eating dinner together every night. Although less travelling has generally meant longer hours of sitting at my desk, but I am okay with that too.
Our clients have never just been in Australia, but the online capabilities that everyone is adopting have meant we have an even better global reach. In the last year we have worked on projects in the UK, Hong Kong, India, America and others, and whilst this can sometimes be challenging due to time zones, working from home has given us much more flexibility to manage these opportunities.
I also think that working from home has allowed us to take a step back and review our strategies, build our plans, adapt to the changes and create the right content with the right messaging for the right target markets.
Tell us more about the personal side of Leighlah.
Originally born in England although my family is Irish. I have been married to Simon for almost 15 years. We have a beautiful 9 year old daughter, Charlotte and a 10 month old Covid boxer puppy called Dexter.
I enjoy spending time on the water, my husband loves water skiing, so I took a course to get my boat license a few years ago and have become the driver for the skiing... so not quite the long-lunching, champagne-drinking water-plays I had originally hoped for but awesome all the same!
Pre-Covid I always enjoyed social gatherings. Not having family in Australia has meant that many people I have worked with over the years have become our Australian family and I feel blessed that we call Australia home.
My claim to fame (if you can call it that) is that in my younger years I was a dancer and I had an incredible opportunity to be part of a few scenes in a Monty Python movie, I won’t say which one, as it will show my age. Sadly my dancing days are over - well, on a stage anyway.
What is on the cards for 2021?
I am super excited to see the projects that we are working on and seeing them come to life. We have a busy year ahead of us for sure with projects in a number of different verticals. From real estate, construction, decentralised finance, law and more.
I think in Australia we will start to see more people go back to working from the office, although I see this is being a much more flexible approach than pre-Covid. The 50/50 split has been working well for our team and maybe this will be widely adopted so we can all have a good work/life balance.
I believe blockchain and distributed ledgers will become front and centre, and over the next few years we will continue to see a huge rise in its adoption. Blockchain Australia and the Government are on board and making lots of noise and setting up working groups (of which Block8 are contributors and sit on some of the committees and groups). I can't wait to see the outputs and deliverables and what they will do for the industry. I am also looking forward to blockchain week in Q2 (a first for me) and I am excited to continue my professional development as I become more involved in this exciting industry.
Finally, anyone who is interested in catching up with me to chat about blockchain over a coffee (or a beer), please reach out. For me, 2021 is about reconnecting and continuing my journey to learn.
About the Author:
Leighlah has always been passionate about technology, spending almost 25 years in the IT Industry, predominantly in new and innovative, leading edge or bleeding edge technologies.
Leighlah took on a role at Block8 as the Sales Director and Head of Partnerships and Alliances to support Block8 as they expand their DLT and Blockchain Consultancy and development services into Enterprise and Government.