Samira Tollo might be only 23 years old, but the cryptocurrency marketplace company she co-founded is celebrating its second round of capital investment with a new, experienced board of directors.
Challenging the status quo isn’t something new for Tollo. The electrical engineer escaped Afghanistan and the oppressive Taliban regime as a child with her mother, father and five brothers in 2001. Being the only girl in her family and witnessing war and oppression from a young age has only driven her to believe anything is possible if you have the determination.
Tollo and her brother Mortaza started Elbaite, a peer-to-peer cryptocurrency trading platform, which publicly launched six months ago and raised its second round of investment three months ago. As Australia’s only non-custodial cryptocurrency exchange registered with AUSTRAC, Elbaite works with traders’ seeking security, safety and control of their assets. It doesn’t hold a client’s cryptocurrency and charges no withdrawal or deposit fees, providing a cheaper trading option for buyers and sellers.
Tollo cuts an impressive figure in the largely male-dominated tech startup sector. As Elbaite’s chief technology officer, she is one of just 14% of females represented in the fintech space. She has successfully negotiated two rounds of successful capital raising for the business, which has been valued at $3.6 million, and has overseen the appointment of an experienced board of directors, including online payment services expert Rod Tasker.
“I never took notice that there were very few females in the engineering industry, I was too fixated on the profession to take notice,” she tells Women’s Agenda.
Gaining access to VC as a woman in fintech is notoriously difficult. One survey of capital raising found that just 2% of funding went to companies founded by women.
Tollo believes her difficult childhood, her parent’s belief in the value of maths and science, and her determination to make a difference have driven her success.
“As a result of the tragedies I witnessed in Afghanistan and seeing the contrast in safety living in Australia, I became aware that the rest of the world is hurting and suffering at an early age. I was heartbroken and felt ultimately guilty,” she said.
Science runs deep in Tollo’s veins. In Afghanistan, her father was an engineer and her mother was a maths and physics teacher. She adopted her father’s ideology that “there is a solution to every problem” and applied it to engineering.
“This thought was my hope and my escape from guilt. That there are people who are working to fix problems. I wanted to help the world and engineering seemed like a perfect route to this goal.”
Tollo previously worked as an electrical engineer in renewable energy. She became interested in microgrids and blockchain, and eventually cryptocurrency. The appeal was technologies that had the ability to change multiple industries and how they operate.
Her brother, Mortaza, a cryptocurrency trader, approached her with a trading model to solve many of the problems he had encountered through his experience in trading. Tollo worked on the business while she was studying, and in October 2019, they officially launched Elbaite.
Tollo’s advice for young women who find themselves outnumbered in technology or engineering is to have confidence in the quality of their work and product. Having a thick skin is also important; the co-founders were rejected the first time they applied for capital investment.
Tollo adds it helps to be an expert in your field, especially when approaching venture capitalists. Building a network of diverse, powerful and well-connected people, she says, is “the most important factor to raising capital”.
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“Through my experience, people are willing to listen when the other person is confident, approachable and backed by a well-researched and rounded product. When approaching a potential VC … you should be teaching them something.
“I want my experience to show that you can do anything if you believe in it enough,” she says.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.