Iryna Lorens is co-founder of the Ukrainian fintech company weld moneywhich launched its innovative payment product in 2020 with the goal of networking cryptocurrency and traditional finance.
Lorens, 30, also helped launch the crypto charity project Unchain.Fund, which has helped more than 20,000 women and children affected by the war in Ukraine.
The biggest leap in my career came when I started as an executive trader for a London-based hedge fund during the pandemic. When it comes to working with crypto, there is no great system of infrastructure solutions. Compared to a normal exchange, there are many tools that you can use to secure your portfolio or streamline your work; in crypto you have to do it manually.
The company was looking for people who didn’t make mistakes and there was a recommendation from a friend of mine that I could take on the role. I had been trading for five years but it was my first job in an official fund. It was a great opportunity to work with the best people in the world, from big banks and companies like Mackenzie Investments.
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My boss was a PhD mathematician, a smart, intelligent guy who also played the violin. He was so smart that I couldn’t understand him at first, not least because of the British accent.
He was a quant at the hedge fund while I had to implement the strategies and we had to have a clear vision of each other.
He was quick in his decision making and it was hard to keep up in my early days. We were working remotely and I just recorded my screen to be able to understand what it was showing. There was no chance of making mistakes and it was a challenge. I learned a new vocabulary and learned how to create the perfect Excel spreadsheet.
He had done calculations for NASA in the past. I remember a situation where we had to do a calculation that could have been done on an iPhone, but instead he created a special formula to get the same result. It was a different mindset and way of thinking.
Human error is easy to handle, but many are unpredictable in a fast-paced environment. In the new crypto market, the biggest problems are on the exchange side. You cannot log into the exchange to close your hedge position, open a new one, or rebalance something. The only option is to diversify into another exchange so you can manage risk. Because of this technical problem, you can make strategic mistakes.
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I left the role after a year just before the war in Ukraine. It was a short-term gamble working for a large company, so I then teamed up with my partners to start Weld Money.
What we saw in the market was a surge of digital assets like crypto, various tokens, blockchains and NFTs. In practice, we have found that you cannot spend these digital assets everywhere. There was a huge gap, we developed a solution and released a payment card that you can connect to any of your cryptocurrencies and pay anywhere Visa or Mastercard is accepted. Our idea is to have one card as a key to all crypto balances that you can all switch between in your wallet.
Two weeks before our official product launch, the war began. All of our plans, savings and connections blew up overnight. Either we stay in Ukraine and face the high risks, or we move away and try to relocate our team. We worked directly with banks and had to start from scratch. Our team never stopped working, but they started working as volunteers even 72 hours after the war started and took a new direction.
We had knowledge about crypto, how to raise money and a wide network in Ukraine. We decided to open a crypto charity called Unchain.Fund and asked for local help to raise money to provide aid in the most difficult war zones. Our team built the fund largely out of air raid shelters.
Not only was it a quick way to raise money, but it was also a great way to distribute it to those in need. We issued a relief map, collected and reviewed requests, with the audience being women with children from the hardest hit areas.
You have two lives in this world. The second begins when you understand you only have one. This is the beginning of your second life where you don’t need motivation or special coaching, just an understanding that today could be the last day of your life.
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Can you imagine that Ukraine was one of the leading cryptocurrency providers before the war started? During the war, people started to rely more on digital assets and I think crypto adoption doubled. I’m pretty sure we can be leaders now.
At Weld, we aim to be the largest provider of payments between the traditional and Web3 worlds. They still need an infrastructure solution, so I hope we can build a broad network with banks and better gamification in crypto.