Sian Morson has spent her career championing community and diversity. But she’s also a technologist who knows how to leverage tech to have a cultural impact. She sat down with Leo Nasskau to discuss making tech accessible, authentic communities, and The Blk Chain. Lea Rose Emery tells the story.
“I would say in everything that I have done, I've been the only. And I have always tried to focus on bringing others along with me, so that I'm not the only: so that I'm not the only woman, not the only person of colour, in the room,” Sian Morson explains. “Those are the things that motivate me to build a more equitable world, wherever I am.”
This passion has driven an impressive career, not only in terms of a wide-ranging CV, but through a true commitment to community building and diversity. Sian has worked with everyone from Palm NFT Studio to Cool Cats to Magic Leap, alongside running a media company of her own, The BlkChain (pronounced ‘black chain’). But her journey in web3 started with cutting her teeth in web2, or at least the ‘blockchain’ of that: the smartphone.
“The iPhone came out and I was convinced that mobile would change everything: the way we communicate, the way we do business, everything,” she explains, recalling her decision to found Kollective, her mobile design agency, in the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2010. “I wanted to lean into that work and see how far the technology could take us. Back then it was quite an auspicious thing to do as a non-technical person, to decide to start a software development company.”
Even then, her passion for community was clear — she named it Kollective Mobile to underline that it was a passionate collaboration, comprising people coming together with a shared goal of exploring the mobile landscape.
“I was convinced that mobile would change everything.”
— Sian Morson
While she describes Kollective as “the one, a big constant in my life,” it also was the start of her entrepreneurial journey. “I've always said, wherever I see a gap, I'll just try to fill it.” She continued to see gaps in markets and come up with creative ways to fill them, before moving into venture capital, where she spent most of her time at the culture-focused VC Cross Culture Ventures.
Continuing to play her role at the intersection of culture and technology, this time in an Entrepreneur-in-Residence role that she defined for herself, she seized the opportunity to give attention and support to those often ignored in the funding arena. “I'd never raised any VC money, but I was very much aware that people that looked like me were not getting as much venture capital as other people.“I really tried to be as instrumental and helpful as I can to get more women of color to raise more.”
It is that commitment to diversity and community which she credits for leading her to web3. In blockchain, she sees the potential to circumvent — or steamroll — some of those hurdles, in venture capital and beyond. Though realistic about how much web3 needs to evolve, she speaks with obvious excitement and passion about the opportunity to circumvent embedded bias and level the playing field.
“What I love about the blockchain and where I see possibility is in things like smart contracts, which remove the human element and remove the potential discrimination that humans tend to bring,” she explains. “I love that it's permissionless.”
But in order to achieve that, we need the right inputs in web3, and to achieve that, the space needs to become a home for more diverse voices. Accordingly, she’s become an onboarder, a conduit for family and friends.
“What I understand is that people need to feel safe to ask questions about things that are quite daunting to them,” she says. “The first thing that I try to do is to create a safe space. I tell my girlfriends, ‘let's jump on a Zoom, grab a glass of wine (or a bottle!), and let's just chat about it’.”
But onboarding friends to web3 and elevating the diverse voices already in the space was just the start. “As I started to look around [in NFTs], I wasn't seeing art from people like me. I wasn't seeing art from women. I wasn't seeing a lot of art from people of colour. It was like, ‘okay, where do I start to look for this stuff?”
She decided that the role of elevating female, BIPOC, and LGBTQ artists was a new space that she wanted to grow, and created her own outlet: The BlkChain. Pronounced ‘The Black Chain’, what began as a simple newsletter has become a home for newcomers and aficionados alike, with 10,000 subscribers. “I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to do with The BlkChain to elevate the work of women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ folks in the space,” she explains. “It is one of the things that I’m most proud of.”
Sian says that one of her superpowers is breaking down the tech into layman’s terms. That comes from years spent explaining tech, whether to her girlfriends or to venture capital colleagues, in terms of the impact. One of the biggest factors in this respect, she explains, is web3’s community orientation. That is a particularly significant mindset-shift for brands, for whom “everyone is either a customer or a potential customer”.
As Sian has seen, communities in web3 expect more. “I like to say that communities in web3 are more entitled. They're more entitled than anyone I've ever seen! That's because there's a real sense of belonging: They are literally invested in the success of this project.”
“I think that brands need to internally prepare for building community.”
— Sian Morson
She rightfully criticises the idea that “community” is something brands can just write off to their marketing department. More often than not, she explains, that creates a superficial veneer, rather than really finding an authentic way to integrate a company’s fans into how that organisation, to which they are more loyal than anyone else, actually works.
“I think that brands need to internally prepare for building community, and then externally prepare for cultivating a community. It's not a monolith, it's a living, breathing organism that consists of a lot of different people. And you have to reach every single one of those people and help them to engage with the brand. “ She’s clear that there is no one-size fits all approach — but she does see some groups leading the way.
“I like what Zora is doing. I think they’re great as a platform, they're great as a protocol. They're fantastic. And then when you add the cultural aspect, Zoratopia,” she explains, “you have this sort of travelling cultural event that they've built upon everything else, I love that.”
“Where I see possibility is in things like smart contracts, which remove the human element and remove the potential discrimination that humans tend to bring.”
— Sian Morson
What energises Sian is the convergence of tech, tools, and the human touch — that element of authentic connection. Zora provides all of that: developers can build on the Zora protocol, artists can create with the Zora product, and anyone can appreciate the output of both groups at Zoratopia. “You go to a Zorotopia, whether it's at SXSW, NFT Oakland or even recently at Art Basel. You're seeing music, you're seeing artwork, and everything comes together into this wonderful sort of cornucopia of culture.”
“People want their voices to be heard.”
— Sian Morson
Whilst there is never one right answer for community building, it often seems to begin with incorporating the voices of the community into the creative process. “Leaning into co-creation is going to be key. And I think that co-creation will differ for every brand,” she says. “People want their voices to be heard, and if you are creating a product, they want to tell you what this should be or how it should meet their needs.”
Coming from entrepreneurship, Sian’s transition into web3 has been incredibly smooth — because her motivation and focus are consistent in every arena she works in. “I think the two threads that I could find are championing diversity and communities,” she says.“It is really wonderful to look back and see that consistency. You don't see it while you're in it, but you stop for a moment and you're like, ‘Oh, yeah, that makes sense.’ It’s my driving force, really.”
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