Life, Lessons, and the pursuit of Leadership I

You know that cliché phrase — the one your parents repeated throughout your life’s milestones: 5th grade graduation, 8th grade, high school, your first car, job, heartbreak, and promotions? It’s a simple 19-character mantra that probably made you roll your eyes until it seeped into your consciousness, becoming so pervasive that you couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Life comes at you fast.

It wasn’t until one of my lowest points in life that I realized those skeletons in the closet couldn’t be confined anymore. We all face these moments, again and again, and the longer you run from them, the faster they catch up. The world is chaotic, people are irrational, and thoughts are fleeting. But by day’s end, there’s one thing you can’t escape: you.

As a young frat boy at the University of Las Vegas (UNLV), I adopted a catchphrase — well, a few of them — that I’d pull out whenever something unexpected struck.

….casually redefining rock bottom.

Back then, I considered myself a bit of a social philosopher. I guess some part of me still does. The phrase was a sarcastic consolation that “hey, today was rough, but this low is still higher than the last time something like this happened.” Shortly after graduation, I ventured into Forex trading after earning that piece of paper which represents bachelor’s of Kinesiological Sciences. During this time I learned about “higher lows” and how they impact momentum and sustainability. But by the end of 2017, I discovered how quickly the bottom could drop out, even from these higher lows. Sometimes, what seems like a solid foundation turns out to be anything but. Just a few years later, I’d come to understand what “capitulation” truly meant.

Growing up on the East Side of Las Vegas, in the lower-middle class, I had little to my name outside of traditional living means. The area I came from didn’t breed wealth. Free lunches, walks to school, and hand-me-downs were the norms of my neighborhood. Thus, the lifestyle I later experienced was a stark contrast, placing me among the top 1% of Las Vegas residents. While degeneracy and luxury painted the typical Las Vegas Strip scene, it wasn’t a life many could aspire to.

By the end of 2017, I was riding high — my crypto portfolio had soared to all-time highs. I was deep into my third year working at one of the top nightclubs in the world, living in a sprawling party house with close friends, and frequenting the Strip more often than not. When I wasn’t there, I was traveling the country, hitting up some of the largest music festivals, and networking was just part of my daily routine. I was constantly making new friends and forging strong connections. On top of all this, I had launched my first two businesses that year. Everything was firing on all cylinders.

My momentum had been building since early 2015, but within just a few months, it all unraveled. I invested my life savings in a trusted friend’s ICO, and it crashed to zero along with the rest of the crypto market. What followed was a series of disastrous decisions. Nights where weeks’ worth of income vanished in hours, days that ended at noon the next day, and indulgence in the best (and worst) that Sin City had to offer became the norm. I was deep in the party life as if I had been born on the top floor of Caesar’s Palace. Eventually, this multiyear spree came to a screeching halt in 2018.

By mid-2018, I had lost my entire life savings, and my crypto investments had plummeted past zero, completing a negative round trip. The music had stopped, and when I finally looked around, the crowd had dispersed. The silence was deafening. My disregard for accountability was no longer an option. In that moment, I accepted that my decisions — and only my decisions — had led me here. Life came at me fast, and this rock bottom was anything but casual.

The full story is messy, to say the least, and one day I’ll share it in great detail, but for now, I’ll spare you the extended version as this post is already lengthy. When everything is going right, it’s easy to overlook red flags. But when things fall apart, escaping your own naivety becomes impossible. You’re forced to decide: have you peaked, or is there another climb left in you? Formulating a plan is crucial; ideas are merely the beginning, while execution is the journey that follows.

At my lowest, I was holding one of the city’s most coveted jobs, yet ironically, I had gambled away two years of trading activity on a single coin. On paper, I was broke, yet paradoxically, the nightclub gig was generating a steady cash flow. A year before hitting rock bottom, I had opened “NextGen Pickers” with my father — an antique and collectible store we had dreamed of for years. Simultaneously, my ambitious spirit led me to co-found a tech startup, “Chameleon Verify Network,” a ticket verification app. Reflecting on it now, the juxtaposition of running a brick-and-mortar business while building a tech startup seems utterly counterintuitive. By early 2020, both ventures had shuttered, yet they left me with invaluable business experience, networking intuition, and entrepreneurial skills I believed would pave the way to future successes.

During tough moments, it’s common to retreat into memories of past triumphs or to fantasize about an improbable future that might one day rescue you from those present feelings. During this introspective period, I took out a piece of paper and wrote down everything significant that had shaped my journey — activities, organizations, friendships, accolades, successes, and failures. I was searching for patterns that might explain my path. To my surprise, the recurring themes were leadership and commitment.

I recognized a consistent pattern that had directed me to leadership roles throughout my life:

  • Initiate a project or join an organization.
  • Connect with individuals on a personal level.
  • Demonstrate a strong work ethic, clear communication, and unwavering dedication.
  • Show creativity and a willingness to think outside the box.
  • Eventually, ascend to a higher position, whether by election, appointment, or recommendation.

This introspection may sound overly serious or mundane, but it was crucial during those dark times. It led me to make significant life changes:

  • I stepped away from the party lifestyle.
  • I eliminated alcohol and substances from my life.
  • I focused on acquiring valuable experiences.
  • I reduced unnecessary entertainment.

When life was a blur, I sought clarity, but it didn’t come easily. There was no grand vision or dream-like revelation. It required deep self-examination and staying the course until decisions were made. I admit, some old habits linger, and I’m still working on those. A hard lesson I’ve learned is that true leadership isn’t handed to you; it’s earned. No one is going to rescue you. Respect, wealth, fame, love — whatever drives your deepest desires — all come at a cost.

Just days after discovering cryptocurrency, I knew it was my passion. I’ve been an active participant since 2016, but by 2018, I had to start over from scratch. Meanwhile, I was running new business ventures, aiming to learn from hard-earned experiences without slipping back into the hedonistic Vegas lifestyle.

From 2008 to 2018, it was a decade of pure debauchery.

After years of relentless work and navigating the stormy seas of entrepreneurship, 2020 arrived. Just three months into the new year, COVID-19 flipped the world upside down. The Las Vegas Strip shut down for the first time ever, obliterating my social life and income. Within 48 hours of those club doors closing for the last time, the COVID crash sent Bitcoin and the broader crypto markets tumbling more than 50% in a single day. Suddenly, I was unemployed, and my net worth had plummeted by over 80%.

Fortunately, the preceding years of solitude had prepared me well for this crisis. I had become accustomed to working quietly, drawing motivation from the small victories achieved in just a few short years. These achievements didn’t shield me from the challenges ahead, but they did provide a foundation of resilience. I was jobless and confined at home with minimal capital, but I was not defeated.

Taking lessons from my lowest points, I found relief in applying them to the present challenges. I already knew my strengths, which made it easier to adapt to a global situation that, ironically, everyone was experiencing. I viewed the pandemic as an opportunity for those ready to seize it. It wasn’t time to sit out; it was time to engage fully.

So, what did I do? I started a podcast. It might sound cliché, but while everyone was stuck at home, anxious about the world, I was plotting my next move up — my higher low. Within just six months, the show became one of the top podcasts in the city. By the 30th episode, I was inundated with guest requests and recommendations. The guest list grew so long that I didn’t need to reach out cold to anyone until I shifted the show’s focus to crypto nearly two years later. By 2021, I had established myself as one of the city’s podcasting leaders, carving out a niche in what’s now known as the creator economy.

During this rebuilding phase, I was deeply influenced by two books: The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson and How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams. Both authors advocate for combining distinct skills or knowledge — Naval calls it “specific knowledge,” and Scott refers to it as “skill stacking.” Their teachings reinforced my belief that every experience, whether good or bad, teaches us something valuable. By merging three unique skills or understanding three different disciplines, you can create something truly unique — a capability that sets you apart in any field.

By 2021, it was time to apply this specific knowledge to my skill stack. An unexpected direct message that seemed like spam turned out to be a significant opportunity. I was invited to tour a tech facility on the west side of the city at the “Harry Reid Research and Technology Park.” What I found there was astounding — a multi-million dollar center complete with advanced gaming equipment and a comprehensive hospitality and gaming research hub. I met with UNLV’s economic advisor and several gaming executives, who proposed that I host a monthly crypto meetup at their state-of-the-art facility. I accepted their offer without hesitation. Within a few months, I co-founded my fourth business, “Nativ Research,” with my good friend Chris Devitte. We ran nearly 18 months of successful meetups before deciding to move on to new ventures.

Life’s uncertainties can ground us, causing a real sense of disorientation. It’s in human nature to resist direction, but sometimes, flowing with the current can lead you to remarkable places. By mid-2022, the pain of my 2018 lows had finally receded. We had pulled ourselves out of the depths and were thriving again. Crypto was booming, social accounts were expanding, and creative content was flowing. It was time to build once more. I proposed creating a Historical NFT marketplace, an idea that felt perfect. Soon after, I discovered that Adam McBride shared my vision. We joined forces and after several discussions, teamed up with Emblem Vault, moving from contracting to becoming official team members as the crypto industry faced its toughest moments.

During this period of intense market downturn, although everyone’s investments had significantly decreased, I found a sense of relief. For nearly three years, I had been sustaining myself through trading — a lifestyle not for the faint-hearted. Instead of merely surviving through this bear market as I had in the past, I was actively building. This time, however, the effort was collaborative and aligned with a shared vision. Previously, I was reconstructing my own life from scratch; now, I was building from a much higher base and, crucially, not alone.

After a brief celebration, I returned to my usual grind. I was finally engaging with the business side of the crypto world — an aspect I had aspired to be part of since my entry into the industry. I dove deep into researching the history of Emblem Vault and its team. Once I grasped the nuances of the product and the people behind it, I immersed myself in the community, identifying key leaders, influencers, and underlying motives. Familiarity brought comfort; it felt like I had been in this role before.

Once I understood the social dynamics, it was time to master the technology. I asked, “How does Emblem Vault function, what is its purpose, and how did we get here?” I then explored which sector of the industry it belonged to, the potential applications of the technology, and how unique the product truly was. Eight years later, Emblem Vault continues to stand alone in its category — a testament to its uniqueness in an industry rife with copy-pastas, forks, and derivatives.

Understanding the product was just the beginning; next, I had to teach it. Numerous YouTube tutorials and blog posts followed. Within just three months of joining the company, innovations like Bitcoin Ordinals and Stamps emerged, followed by Ethscriptions. This repeated success demonstrated a perfect product-market fit.

With a small team of four, progress demanded accountability. Someone had to take the initiative — a role I embraced, as proactive leadership has always been my approach. Then came the major decision to migrate to Emblem Legacy. We knew it was essential for scaling, although predicting the outcomes was impossible. Nine months later, we are nearing the summit.

The past 18 months have been filled with some of the most intense growth challenges imaginable. It feels as though I’ve been building in the crypto industry from day one, though it has only been a fraction of my time here. Since joining Emblem, I’ve engaged in hundreds of calls, hosted numerous podcasts, and interacted with countless builders. The contrast between the camaraderie in the back-end of the industry and the often combative front-end on platforms like Twitter is stark. While social media may paint one picture, the reality behind the scenes is one of collaboration among builders, starkly different from the combative nature of traders. The PvP vs. PvE analogy couldn’t be more accurate.

On May 6th, 2024, I was officially named CEO of Emblem Vault — a dramatic change from being a Discord Moderator for MoonCats just 18 months prior. Life truly comes at you fast for those who dare to seize it.

Now, a few days into my tenure as CEO, what’s next for Jake Gallen one may ask? Not much will change. I aim to remain the person I am today, the same one I was a decade ago, and the same one I’ll be in 2030. Whether online or in-person, regardless of who you are — black, white, male, female, affluent, or not — you’ll meet the same Jake. Authenticity has brought me here and will continue to guide my way. My motivation, grit, and compassion will persist undiminished.

Leadership is defined by those who exemplify it. Every politician, executive, founder, team captain, and group leader has been chosen by their peers for the qualities they embody. Leaders falter when they abandon these attributes in favor of becoming what they presume they should be. That is not leadership; that’s following.

As I step into this leadership role, what’s next? My focus is on fulfilling the vision of Emblem Vault — to become the universal on-chain distribution center for crypto. Perhaps in my next post, I’ll explain why “Blockchains are countries and Emblem is the shipping center,” to better articulate our future direction.

I promise to lead not only from the front but in all capacities. It’s not about being the “frontman” but the “everyman.” Having never operated a crypto company, led a marketplace, or maintained a protocol with over $100M in assets, I can’t predict exactly what will happen. But the best day to start is today.

Leaders are measured by their actions, not merely their words. Experience shapes our understanding, and integrity sustains it. Life is a rollercoaster, crypto is a rocket ship, and the world is an oyster. The best we can do is casually redefine rock bottom and ensure life doesn’t pass us by.

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