Hong Kong-bred Maxine Ryan is the co-founder and COO of the world’s first cash-in, cash-out blockchain remittance platform, Bitspark. The company was founded in 2014 and has already received international recognition.

“My co-founder and I were just exploring the idea of what bitcoin was,” Ryan, 24, says. “I don’t know what it was about the idea, but it was exactly what I was looking for.”

She was so convinced that she dropped out of her degree in international relations about six months before she was due to graduate from university in Australia. “I just thought, ‘OK, this [course] is not for me, and this blockchain technology, bitcoin, that is something I really wanted to pursue’,” she says.

Blockchain technology, combining shared databases and cryptology, enables multiple parties to simultaneously access a constantly updated digital ledger that cannot be changed.

Ryan soon returned to Hong Kong and started up the business. The company now operates in seven locations across the globe, in Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Nigeria, Ghana and Pakistan.

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She never let her gender hinder her progress in this male-dominated industry. “At the end of the day it is a choice … to enter an environment that may not reflect you, but you being there is a change,” says Ryan, adding that she sees growth in the number of women joining this industry.

Ryan is often asked about the timing of her career switch. “For me, it was really that I am new [to blockchain]. If I didn’t do this right now, someone else was going to do it. I just knew in my heart [that] it was the right time to do it, and the landscape was great.

“It was very new on the scene, but the interest it had generated already, for me, was an indicator that this was something more than just some fad. This was going to at least change how technology and information was going to move.”

If I didn’t do this right now, someone else was going to do it
Maxine Ryan, co-founder and COO, Bitspark

Timing has everything to do with it, she adds, but it is also how somebody is opportunistic about it, when they can identify the opportunity in a certain time frame.

Despite her young age and her inexperience at the start, Ryan was confident about what she knew and wanted.

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“You are in the position to share that knowledge, and if people don’t want to listen to you, they won’t – but there are so many who will,” Ryan says.

“ So it’s really about talking to as many people as possible and [getting] them to believe in you.”

And where does she get all her knowledge and information? “Google,” she says with a laugh. “My background is basically my interest in this area, and my interest in developing ideas.”

Ryan’s experience also challenges the notion that a university degree is a must-have for a successful career. Opportunities will appear to people who have enough energy and interest to exploit them, she says. Meeting people and speaking to them is paramount, Ryan adds.

“The more you do these things, the more experience you have behind you,” she says. “I kind of see my business journey as one big master’s in business.”