FinTech Female Fridays: Meet CEO at Stellar Development Foundation, Denelle Dixon
Denelle Dixon is currently the CEO and Executive Director of the Stellar Development Foundation (SDF), a non-profit organization using blockchain to unlock the world's economic potential, with a mission to create a more equitable global financial system.
Denelle joined SDF and the Stellar ecosystem when one of SDF's founders, Jed McCaleb, came to her looking for someone to lead the organization about three years ago. "I'll admit that while I was initially hesitant, the more I thought about how blockchain, and Stellar specifically, could pave the way to solving some of the biggest challenges of financial access and the web, I couldn't resist. " Denelle shares.
And today, concerning the Stellar network, the firm has significant initiatives underway. They are building one of the world's most extensive networks of cash-to-crypto ramps, finding innovative ways that digital assets can be used in times of crisis, and connecting existing global financial infrastructure through stable coins. It is a lot of work, but Denelle feels so inspired by what is happening in this industry and cannot wait to see more blockchain-based products in the hands of people globally.
Denelle started her career in law. "When I was in third grade, I saw a made-for-tv movie with a strong female lead as a trial lawyer in a courtroom wielding words to craft an argument. It clicked almost instantaneously – that's what I wanted to be when I grew up - a trial lawyer. My parents, who did not go to college, told me continuously that I could do and be whatever I wanted if I worked hard, maintained a strong moral compass, and stayed committed to not letting the small stuff deter me." She says.
And that has continued to guide Denelle as her career has twisted and turned and allowed her to work on things she could not have imagined when she was a girl or even when she started out in law. Denelle's legal career exposed her to people and issues that sparked new passions for her – like net neutrality, encryption, the disclosure of vulnerabilities by governments, and greater user choice and control. Going from different players in technology - Yahoo! to Mozilla and now to the Stellar Development Foundation, she has seen the development and evolution that has gotten the world to the Web3 they are building today.
For Denelle, the best professional decision she made was to agree to take the helm at the Stellar Development Foundation. This role has allowed her to build a phenomenal organization, participate in robust and meaningful policy discussions, work with businesses to help them grow their revenue, user base, and influence, develop useful and important technology, and help to make a real difference in the growth of an open financial system. "Every role I had before this, whether as a lawyer or as a business leader, helped me prepare for this role - there were no wrong decisions, just the creation of additional opportunities. "
Denelle is proud to be impacting fintech by leading the SDF organization with the ambitious (but achievable!) mission of creating a more equitable financial system. Financial innovation and technology is the core component. Many under- or unbanked populations worldwide could benefit tremendously from financial products designed for them and their needs. SDF seeks to make sure that it demonstrates how FinTech, most notably blockchain and digital assets, can make tangible differences in people's lives. She adds: "There is a face behind every cross-border payment – a family member sending money back home, a small business owner expanding overseas, a freelancer growing a global client base. These are the people we want to empower with solutions built on Stellar."
More on Denelle
Where you currently live: Piedmont, California
Family at home: 5 boys, 2 dogs and my partner, Harvey
Favorite hobby: Reading and running (not at the same time!)
Favorite part of your day: Meal times with my family
Favorite show to binge: Right now - old seasons of Survivor
Book recommendation: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
I have read almost everything Hemingway has written multiple times over. Every time I read A Moveable Feast, I find new insights into Hemingway’s life, how it influenced his writing, and end in awe of the rawness and honesty of his style and prose.
Can you tell us about a time someone encouraged you to try a task or take on a project you didn’t think that you would know how to do/or be good at?
There have been countless times when I allowed "imposter syndrome" to creep in. A great example was when I took on managing a large group of engineers covering products and technical operations. At first, I doubted my ability to manage the large teams. Then I realized that technical management was all about recognizing what I knew, what I needed help with, and ensuring that we had strategy alignment. Ultimately, I've realized that each time those doubts get raised, I need to follow my instincts, show vulnerability and strength, and, most importantly, trust myself. We can all make mistakes - it is how you recover from those mistakes that matter.
Do you have any productivity hacks? What keeps you motivated? How do you maintain a work/life balance?
The biggest hack for me is to rely on exercise to create space and calmness. I am most productive when I have had a great run, bike ride, or workout - it helps me keep my focus. I also am religious about calendaring breaks during the day and calendaring time to just write or think. And because sitting in meetings all day makes everyone tired, I try to minimize the time spent in a meeting. Just because it is calendared for an hour doesn't mean it has to take the entire hour. Finally, I eat dinner with our family every night. Even if I'm not hungry, I sit at the table and talk - it is amazing what a little "downtime" with family can do for your perspective.
A Typical Thursday
6:00 am Morning Run followed by a kettlebell workout
7:00 am Get lunches ready and kids out the door for school
8:00 am Catch up on Slack and email and the news
9:00 am Marketing/PR Sync
9:30 am Press Interview
10:00 am Weekly All Hands with the SDF team
11:00 am BD Pipeline Review
12:00 pm Lunch Break
1:00 pm Engineering Weekly
2:00 pm Management Team Debrief
3:00 pm Monthly Board Meeting
4:00 pm Product Launch Planning
5:00 pm Walk around the neighborhood to end the workday
6:00 pm Dinner with family
After hours Resisting the urge to Slack!