After 15 years writing about startups, tech journalist Monty Munford decided to become an entrepreneur. More than a decade of vetting story pitches and connecting founders with investors and buyers gave him the motivation to pursue his own successful startup as co-founder of Sienna, a privacy-first and cross-chain DeFi (decentralized finance) platform that enables private swapping, lending and converting of crypto tokens into private equivalents. The platform is part of an industry push for more secure financial blockchain products to address the risks of “front-running,” where future trades can be trumped on public DeFi blockchains.
Munford’s pivot from journalism to entrepreneur hasn’t been overnight. While filing for Forbes, The Economist and other outlets, Munford straddled the worlds of media and startups, when he established Mob76, a consultancy working with no more than a handful of businesses at a time to help raise a company’s profile and make high impact introductions fuelling funding rounds (A-D) and leading to multi-million dollar exits.
It’s Munford’s skill for effortless networking that’s helped him most, hosting regular gatherings in central London driven by business interests, but always within a relaxed social environment. He’s also become a sought-after speaker and moderator at global tech events, expanding his network ten-fold. Ultimately, his super-connector status paved the way for his role with Sienna.
As co-founder and Chief Evangelist, Munford continues his work raising the company’s profile, including its recent launch of SiennaLend, a private crypto lending platform that claims users can earn interest and borrow from the platform. In a recent interview Munford talked about how he made the pivot to co-founder and provides advice for other journalists looking to make the switch.
Amy Guttman: What was it that initially made you decide you wanted to pivot from journalism full-time, to VC and then entrepreneur?
Monty Munford: I’d had enough of a dying trade. Moreover, the VCs and entrepreneurs I’d met and interviewed certainly didn’t seem more intelligent or driven than I was and I was sick of being poor and treated as such.
AG: How natural was the shift?
MM: Not really natural at all and it took time, but it wasn’t long before I was going to conferences as a speaker, emcee or moderator. That certainly accelerated things and being naturally curious as a person meant the shift was quick, if not entirely natural.
AG: What surprised you most about becoming an entrepreneur?
MM: The instant recognition that you weren’t a journalist that people didn’t have to be wary of.
AG: Biggest challenges?
MM: Not writing regularly, something I still miss and obviously starting at the bottom again as an older person. Also, people wanting to share investor decks instead of press releases was more of the same, but even more time-consuming.
AG: Did you have to kiss some frogs before finding the right opportunity/partners?
MM: The frogs I had to kiss and the nonsense those frogs croaked; there were ponds of them. There are so many stupid, stupid people in the VC and entrepreneur world who really think they speak as Gods… and they’re 99% white men. I’m also a white man, but nothing like a lot of them. However, the princes and princesses when you find them are remarkable and inspiring and make me better.
AG: Why Sienna? What was it that made you know you could have a winner?
MM: I wasn’t expecting to be part of something such as Sienna Network and certainly not crypto. I’d previously been a victim of a what-is-now $500,000 theft that was spirited from my online wallet to the Binance exchange, who still refuse to reimburse me or accept any responsibility. I thought crypto was a nest of vipers.
Sienna’s advisory team convinced me to go back in; the most intelligent people who knew way more than me and were believers in literally changing the world in a positive way and believed in privacy in crypto, very different from anonymity. We raised $11.2 million when we expected $500-700K.
We then did the things we promised, launched a decentralised exchange called SiennaSwap and last month SiennaLend, where users can privately borrow and lend crypto in the same way without others watching what’s happening on a blockchain and hijacking and disrupting those transactions.
AG: What advice do you have for other journalists who want to make the transition?
MM: Be authentic and speak your mind. Be free, don’t care what others think even if you’re new to the game. Continue to grow your network so the transition is fast. If you think somebody is an idiot, don’t tell them or anybody else. Keep it to yourself, but never work with them. Don’t gossip… as journalists love to do.
It’s always down to the network that you create and a reputation as an authentic person never afraid to speak their mind but without being offensive.
AG: Future goals?
MM: I’d like to do this for a few more years, but the dream would be to transition to the art world, not only to own or trade beautiful things bought from artists at the start of their careers helping their development, but to know everything about it.