How Leah Jonas Has Built $1B in Assets Through Partnerships at Celsius Network

How Leah Jonas Has Built $1B in Assets Through Partnerships at Celsius Network

Leah Jonas discusses her journey into partnerships, how she’s making big waves at Celsius Network, & her advice for others in the industry.

This article is part of our Women in Partnerships series, highlighting female professionals in the partnerships space. To learn more about the series and the Women in Partnerships group, check out the series intro.

Leah Jonas is the head of partnerships at cryptocurrency company, one of the largest digital asset lenders and borrowers in the market today, Celsius Network. She initiated the idea for partnerships, the CEO loved it, and she has built the business into a significant part of Celsius’s portfolio with marquee partnerships and a significant pipeline increase.

Today, we explore Leah’s journey into partnerships, how she’s making big waves at Celsius Network, and her advice for others in the industry.

Leah’s Path to Partnerships

Leah Jonas

Like most partnerships professionals, Leah Jonas spent time in other industries before settling down in alliances. She shared, “I hopped around a little bit. I started doing marketing and event management at an event lounge outside of Denver, right out of college. It gave me a little taste of autonomy and chaos. After that, I started working in tech sales for a tech startup. There, I refined my sales skills and realized I loved the autonomy, the fast pace, and working in tech. After seeing the joy coders would get doing their jobs, I decided I wanted to do something that sparked my passion.”

Leah moved on to do freelance work and was exposed to lots of technologies. She ended up finding her role at Celsius Network via a friend in venture. “At the time, I was doing some freelance work and my friend was investing in cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency was the first technology, to me, that was truly innovative, and not just paying lip service to change. VR, AR, and other similar technologies benefit the top 1% of the world first. It goes through a funnel of the most privileged people in the world, down to everyone else. While crypto was benefiting the top 1% when I found it, it was the only one I saw with the potential to have the biggest impact on the other 99% if given the chance, so I jumped down the rabbit hole.”

Leah decided to move to NY on a whim, with no specific job prospects at the time. Ultimately, taking the risk worked out in her favor. “I started going to a lot of meet-ups and talks after moving in mid-2017. By the end of 2017, I had met Alex, our CEO. I often joke that I was just crazy enough for Alex to want me on the team. Over the course of my time at Celsius Network, my main contribution has been being their eyes and ears in the market. I knew them well and internalized our model. I was able to go out, internalize the market, see where crypto was going, and apply that to Celsius.”

Leah was one of Celsius Network’s early team members. Today, the company boasts more than $23B in assets and an innovative growth trajectory in the decentralized space. Leah has had a significant impact on Celsius’s growth. She shared, “Most notably, I created our API program. I launched the program about two years ago. Now, we just passed $1B in assets through partnerships. We’re scaling the team, but I did it solo for a long time. We got to $1B with three people, and now, we’re scaling up massively.”

A Snake Has to Shed its Skin

After Celsius Network’s ICO, the leadership team was cleaning house, and Leah was a little worried about her future at the company. “Some people were getting fired. I was really nervous as I had only been there four months. Daniel, our COO said to me, ‘A company is like a snake. In order to grow, it has to shed its skin. If you want to grow with the company, you’re going to have to shed your skin.’ I knew I wanted to stay on for the ride. Growth, self-growth specifically, is hard to do when you’re ready for it, let alone when you’re forced into it. My proudest accomplishment was sticking to that commitment I made to myself at the beginning. Committing to growing myself with the company took a lot of self-reflection. If I didn’t adapt and grow, I wouldn’t have grown with the company nor would I have done many of the things that have catalyzed our growth today.”

Facing the Challenge of Becoming a Manager

While being a woman in crypto is often the default challenge, and one Leah shared she’s still struggling with, in her experience, the more difficult obstacle was becoming a manager. “I had to realize the separation from learning that sales is different from management. You often hear the cliche that good salespeople don’t make good managers. It’s true to some extent. I realized why for some people, including myself. I was so used to inspiring and aligning with people, it was difficult to work with people and be on the other side of the table. In sales, you want to be on the sale side of the table. I think that was a big growth obstacle that I had to work through. How do I become that, and how do I become that without any guidance? It probably took a few more tries than I thought it was going to. If you’re a people-person, it’s a bit of a surprise.”

Dominating a Male-centric Industry as a Woman

Crypto, like many other tech industries, is heavily dominated by men. Leah explained her experiences. “First and foremost, when I came into crypto, there weren’t a lot of other women. However, I was very inspired by the fact that I found most of the women banded together — there wasn’t as much cutthroat mentality as in other industries. They really were supportive. Still, when I met Alex at the meetup, I was the only woman in a room of forty men.”

Why is it so challenging for women to break into the crypto space? Leah feels, “The difficulty is that to get into emerg tech like crypto, you have to network. There are no clear paths or professional programs into crypto — you have to network. Unfortunately, that means women are at a disadvantage to start. Men don’t always take you seriously and might hit on you. When people ask how to get more women in crypto, my answer is to give more points of entry. If I’m looking to network and build relationships alternatives to meet-ups in bars would be ideal.”

The Value of Male Mentors

Despite the challenges surrounding women in the industry, Leah feels she was really lucky at Celsius Network. “Alex and Daniel hired a bunch of women from the beginning. At least from the first year, our team was 50% women or more. Alex looks for talent, and not just on paper. I think that really benefitted me — he looked at my actions more than he looked at my resumé.”

Beyond hiring women, Celsius Network’s leadership takes the steps to empower them. “Within the first couple of weeks of starting, I needed someone to help with events. They empowered me to hire someone I worked with previously. She had no crypto experience but ended up running our marketing for the first year. They put women in leadership roles early, so we weren’t starting from a disadvantage.”

Leah continued, “I know you want to hire your rockstar team. You may think the only way to do that is by getting the best possible person on paper. If you start that way, then you have a bunch of guys on your team and you worry about diversifying afterward. You’re not making a friendly environment, they’ll be the only ones on the team. Ultimately, the empowerment I found at Celsius, I took out to the rest of the market with me, letting me operate with confidence. Today, I have maintained that ethos by building a team of over 50% women.”

Part of being empowered by Celsius Networks was the valuable mentorship Leah received from Alex. “I have had more male mentors than female mentors. Speaking for myself, that has been massively beneficial for me. Unfortunately, it has been a struggle in today’s world — with everything going on, you can have that male mentor, but you face stigmas where people assume it’s an unbalanced relationship. Alex mentored me when I joined. He may not have known the struggles I had as a female in the space, but he taught me how to internalize this confidence that allowed me to be on the same level as my male counterparts.”

It was valuable for Leah to be mentored by a male who wasn’t held back by the preconceived notions Leah had internalized from her experiences as a woman in tech. “I would come in with what I thought was a big deal and he would encourage me to 10x it. Being able to be mentored by someone of the opposite gender helped me understand what I was up against in crypto. If my peers are going for companies that are 10x bigger, I should be too. It really helped me understand different dynamics and how to grow outside of Celsius.”

Advice for Others in the Industry

Leah’s advice for others in the industry aligns with her mentorship experience, “If you’re growing in a startup environment or emerging technology company, find a male mentor (or guys, find a female mentor). You need the opposite viewpoint so that you can understand what’s going on in their heads in order to compete, manage, and work with.”

Thanks to Sarah Sonnenfeld for recommending we connect with Leah! If you know a powerful woman in partnerships we should profile, be sure to recommend her here.

You can also be inspired by more powerful women in the industry, like Leah, in all of our Women in Partnerships spotlights.

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