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How One Woman Found Opportunity in Blockchain

Catheryne Nicholson, CEO of BlockCypherCatheryne Nicholson, CEO of BlockCypher
Catheryne Nicholson, CEO of BlockCypherPhotograph by Winni Wintermeyer for Fortune

Catheryne Nicholson, CEO of BlockCypher, talks with Fortune about her place in a volatile industry.

FORTUNE: A blockchain is a distributed public ledger technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. What role does BlockCypher play in its development?

NICHOLSON: Block­Cypher is like Amazon Web ­Services [AWS] for blockchain. We build APIs, or application programming interfaces, for blockchain. AWS made it easy for firms to just call up Amazon and get their web infrastructure going much faster. We provide the same for blockchain. We build one applic­ation on a blockchain, and it’s easily portable to others. A startup would have to download the node, find peers, and do all of these things before it could begin to build a blockchain application. Instead of spending six to nine months doing that, it can spend an hour using our APIs.

BlockCypher supports Bitcoin, ­Litecoin, Ethereum, and Dogecoin. Do you believe one cryptocurrency will reign supreme?

We’re still in the very first inning. Bitcoin was the first crypto­currency; it’s not going anywhere. It is the king of the world against which all other cryptocurrencies are benchmarked. That doesn’t mean other cryptocurrencies won’t nip at Bitcoin’s heels. I do think that a better cryptocurrency will come along.

You are a woman in the blockchain business at a time when many industries are grappling with sexual-harassment issues. And you’re a U.S. Naval Academy graduate.

My time at the Naval Academy was really defining, and not necessarily in the best way. It was a boys’ club. Women were left to either sink or swim. I was the only woman in most of my aeronautical engineering classes; they used to mock my voice. In my first meeting with my academic adviser, he told me it’d be the only time he would meet with me because aero was one of the toughest majors and women weren’t smart enough for it. I went on to become the only person in my class to graduate as an aeronautical engineer.

That experience set me up really well for Silicon Valley. Particularly for startups, because you have to have sharp elbows and you can’t take no for an answer. That’s also why I was adamant about getting women investors.

Do you have plans to raise more funds to scale the business faster?

We don’t need to. Plus there are a lot of changes in blockchain. Is what we do now going to be what we’re doing a year from now? We’d rather watch what goes on and be able to pounce on where we think blockchains are going to go.

A version of this article first appeared in the May 1, 2018 issue of Fortune magazine.