When Sandy Carter left a job she loved as a vice president at Amazon Web Services to join the Web3 startup, Unstoppable Domains, she was nervous about how her community would respond. Would she be viewed as, well, nuts to leave such a solid and prestigious position for the wild west of Web3? As it turns out, most people who knew her didn’t think she was crazy for following her gut. “Throughout my career, emerging tech has been my thing,” says Carter.
Carter started her career in tech as a software engineer and then switched to product management. She had discovered that she had a talent for explaining technology, its value, and its outcomes. “My sweet spot, along with product management, which is about defining what the customer wants, is translating what they're telling you into what it looks like in the technology,” she says.
For 16 years, Carter worked for IBM, including the company’s Tivoli and Lotus divisions. While at IBM, she created a new industry category called service-oriented architecture (SOA), led marketing for Tivoli’s turnaround, created a social business model for Lotus, and led double-digit revenue growth at IBM’s ecosystems and startups division.
In 2016, Carter struck out on her own to launch Silicon Blitz, a company that used machine learning to match innovation tactics with company culture. “Imagine doing a Myers Briggs for a company,” she says. While working for IBM in Silicon Valley, she had become keenly aware of the disconnect between innovation style and culture. “People would forget that there’s a culture element and they would go through the innovation process or do the project management and it would fail,” she says. A couple of her former clients at IBM tried the product while it was in the minimal viable product (MVP) stage and, less than a year after she launched, Carter got an acquisition offer. “I ended up selling, because most startups don’t make it,” she says.
At around the time of the sale, Carter was approached by a recruiter at Amazon and was intrigued. “They had so many incredible successes that had been monetized and they were so innovative,” she says. She signed as a vice president of strategic partnerships and channel chief but told Amazon CEO Andy Jassy “I’m going to be here for four years and then I’m going to get back to my startup life because I want to innovate some more.”
“I believe one of my superpowers is being able to meet interesting people, learn from them, and give back.”
Her tenure actually lasted five years. While she was at AWS, Carter worked with companies in regulated industries such as financial services, healthcare, and the public sector — organizations that rely heavily on data security and that also place a premium on innovation. “Blockchain was really appealing to a lot of my customers at that time,” recalls Carter. “Having a digital ledger was really important.” So she began a deep dive into blockchain so she could truly understand what her customers needed. She bought some NFTs, set up a digital wallet and began playing around with code because she is “a coder girl” at heart.
As it turned out, she was approached by Matt Gould, the CEO of Unstoppable Domains, at the same time her curiosity about blockchain and NFTs was piqued. “We had dinner in Seattle and he painted the vision for me, what he needed and how they wanted to grow,” Carter recalls. “He said they were going to be a unicorn and I Iaughed because only 2% of startups become unicorns. But I bought into it.” Seven months after she took the job as Unstoppable’s senior vice president, the company landed $65 million in series A funding at a valuation of $1 billion, giving it “unicorn” status.
Unstoppable Domains is an identity platform where people can create Web3 digital identities minted on the blockchain. The company’s human-readable domain names (ie., janesmith.nft) replace long alphanumeric crypto wallet addresses. The domains can be used to log into and transact with 750 different apps, wallets, exchanges, and marketplaces. Why is that significant? In Web2, everytime a user logs into a website, data is collected by that site and is often sold. “Just two of those three major data aggregators made $100 billion on your data and my data last year alone” says Carter. “What we really wanted to focus on is how we could own our data and be in control of that data. We believe that digital identity is a human right.”
As a longstanding tech innovator, Carter says it’s important for her to surround herself with others who are equally passionate about innovation. “Cointelegraph Innovation Circle is like a big community of people who you can draw from, share with, add value and create a win-win,” she says. “I believe one of my superpowers is being able to meet interesting people, learn from them, and give back.”
Through her contributions to Expert Panels and her by-lined articles, Carter has achieved additional visibility as a Web3 thought leader and has also made valuable connections. After publishing It’s Time to Own Your Digital Identity in February 2023, Carter says she received approximately 50 direct messages on LinkedIn, including two business leads.