At Crafty Counsel, we regularly focus on getting to know more about one of the members of our in-house legal community. This week, we speak to Atik Ahmed, Head of Legal at Marco Polo Network, which operates a unique blockchain-enabled trade finance platform.
Atik is a member of High Growth, our group for legal counsel or those working in legal teams in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are scaling up. The group meets regularly for virtual and in-person events.
Before joining Marco Polo Network in 2017, Atik worked in the insurance industry at Unum and Bupa, both insurance providers, following his training at Pinsent Masons.
Whilst studying for a degree in Modern History with Economics at The University of Manchester, Atik was a keen student journalist, and was a nominee for the Student Sports Journalist of the Year Award in 2006 by the Guardian newspaper.
A unique talent or hobby?
As a sports enthusiast, Atik enjoys keeping fit and although football is his “first love”, after repeated knee injuries curtailed his ability to play the game, he took up CrossFit after watching a Netflix documentary about it. He enjoys the sports promotion of core / functional fitness (strength, weightlifting) mixed with high intensity cardio (running, rowing, echo bikes…)
What was it like moving industries, from insurance to FinTech?
After working in the insurance industry for a few years, Atik was looking for a new challenge. When he took the leap and joined Axiom (an ALSP – Alternative Legal Service Provider – focused on providing varied legal resources to companies) he didn’t know exactly which company he would first be assigned to. When he successfully interviewed for a position with Marco Polo Network, he was intrigued by its business proposition. Although he knew a bit about blockchain (in the context of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies), working for a business that fused its platform technology with blockchain (outside of a crypto use case) was entirely new territory.
“I’d never papered anything around blockchain before. It felt like taking something from the abstract and then creating it in the real world via contracts. The technology was so new, that even my counterparts at in-house companies and law firms were still in the learning phase (and we’re still not that far removed!) All in all, it was quite a steep learning curve, though I’ve always believed challenge is fundamental to growth and ultimately I find working with new tech enjoyable” he says.
The highlight of your in-house legal journey so far?
On working in-house generally, Atik says he wouldn’t want it any other way and loves the commerciality of in-house life, saying “we intersect most parts of the business, and our world view means we can be influential beyond our roles, and positively affect how our companies see matters like legal / commercial risk”.
For Atik, working for an ALSP was also a highlight. In 2017, when Atik joined Axiom, it
surprised him to learn of the “breadth of alternative legal solutions out there in the global market”. He had little idea prior to the move of the scale of disruption that ALSPs were seeking to achieve in the legal market, which has come to fruition in subsequent years.
“I have a lot of respect for lawyers, non-lawyers and ALSPs generally, that are really trying to shift the dial in terms of modern legal thinking and creating efficient legal solutions for in-house legal teams.”
Tips for lawyers looking to work in the FinTech sector and with blockchain technology
- Research is always your best friend (understand businesses, teams, culture etc.) – also, there are plenty of great non-blockchain enabled FinTechs out there.
- If targeting FinTechs (or other tech companies) that have solutions that work with blockchain technology, gain knowledge of that particular blockchain technology and how it works (i.e. there are differences between public, permissionless blockchains and private, permissioned blockchains, consensus mechanisms etc.)
- As an evolving area, a growth and learning mindset is vital, as blockchain technology itself is constantly iterating.
[If you are interested in hearing more about Atik’s thoughts on blockchain, cryptocurrencies and the metaverse you can listen to his episode on The Crafty Show podcast (timestamp: 10:42).]
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Atik’s advice is to try and ‘live in the moment’. His advice to his younger self is there is nothing wrong with orienting towards a ‘North Star’, but ultimately, the foundations for future success and wellbeing lie in the mindsets we adopt today.
“Don’t overthink the future – you never know what tomorrow brings, but every day we can strive to be the best version of ourselves. Although the roads are arduous, the journey always matters more than the destination”.