Cryptocurrency miners in Iran say they are being scapegoated for power outages and pollution.
Tehran, Iran – As Iran’s crypto community grows, so does the number of women making their mark on it. Mostly young, self-taught and multi-disciplined, they are swelling the ranks of active traders looking to shield hard-earned savings against local currency inflation and economic uncertainty.
Some of these women are sharing their insights with aspiring crypto investors and even taking advantage of a self-employed flex schedule to achieve a healthier work-life balance.
Like other crypto investors, many of these innovators have been burned by the famously volatile, sometimes shady crypto market. But they are all crushing it in their own way.
The thrill of the trade
Full-time crypto trader and investment adviser Narges Moradabadi first embarked on her crypto journey in 2018, when she took a job heading the digital marketing department at a Tehran-based, crypto-focused firm.
Then last year, with COVID-19 ravaging Iran’s already sanctions-strapped economy, she made the leap to full-time trading; starting small, then scaling up as she taught herself more about a market in which price swings can be so sudden and steep, it birthed the acronym HODL – hold on for dear life.
But for Moradabadi, who studied technology engineering and earned an MBA, the volatility is the best part of it.
“What attracted me the most to trading was how challenging and diverse it is, and how much excitement it brings,” she told Al Jazeera. “You lose track of time at the charts.”
The 34-year-old also likes the flexibility that comes with trading since it allows her to adapt her schedule to spend more time with her four-year-old daughter and her husband.
Moradabadi is also “sharing the wealth” so to speak, publishing her analysis charts on social media where she boasts tens of thousands of followers.
That social media presence has invited some trolling, with some posting comments that her success stems solely from her being a minority gender in a field dominated by men.
But Moradabadi isn’t letting the haters get to her.
“I don’t agree with that,” she said. “I focus on offering my content in a way that would benefit a wide variety of people, and would also introduce them to different aspects of my personality.”
Like all traders, she has profited and lost money on her crypto positions. But she views the losing bets as learning experiences and has leveraged that knowledge to trade in foreign exchange markets as well.
“It can also teach you skills that can help you with different aspects of your life,” she said. “For example, I’ve always been hasty, but I learned the skill of exhibiting patience and having more mental control over positive and negative emotions.”
Crypto roller coaster
Negar Akhavan’s crypto learning curve has been a steep one.
The 30-year-old finance graduate first heard about Bitcoin from a friend in 2017.
She was sceptical at first that someone could make money simply by setting up banks of computers to mine a digital currency. But by 2019 she had changed her perspective.
By then, Akhavan had familiarised herself with crypto mining – in which powerful computers race to verify Bitcoin transactions in exchange for new Bitcoins – and taken market analysis courses. So she started importing mining rigs from China via Dubai and selling them to aspiring miners.
Watching them cash in tempted her to try her hand at mining. To get her start, she borrowed three and a half Bitcoins from her father – worth about $20,000 at the time – and promised him she would double his money in no time.
But she lost it all after an unscrupulous computer vendor in France conned her out of everything, she says.
“The process took a very long time and had a mental toll on me,” she told Al Jazeera. “In the end they swindled me and I didn’t receive a single device.”
Burned, she fell back on trading cryptocurrencies to recoup her losses. For a while she was on fire, boosting her initial investment by as much as 50 percent, she said. But as happens with many traders, when a selloff took hold, she rode it down instead of cashing out, wiping out all of her gains and 40 percent of her original investment capital.
She thought she was done with trading. But crypto’s allure proved too powerful.
“This market has its own special temptations. So I started trading again after a few months, but I also read up more and got into the technical side of blockchain-based projects,” Akhavan said.
That led to her cofound a blockchain venture studio, but it couldn’t gain traction amid Iran’s perfect storm of COVID-19, United States sanctions and a government-imposed internet blackout in late 2019 to quell protests that erupted in response to a proposed petrol price hike.
Far from giving up on crypto, Akhavan has persevered to climb its ranks all the way to the C-suite, where she currently serves as the chief financial officer at Bittestan, a crypto exchange.
Asal Alizadeh knows first hand the thrill of making a winning cryptocurrency investment. But the 22-year-old says it wasn’t profits that first attracted her to the space, but the idea of disrupting finance through blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies.
“Now that I have more experience, I also earn more, but the first thing that was really attractive for me was the technology’s independence and its revolutionary nature,” she told Al Jazeera.
“The fact that away from government interventions and centralised managements, a technology is trying to achieve distributed goals and help establish justice and equality is admirable.”
Alizadeh, who studied computer engineering, was introduced to blockchain and crypto in 2018. From that base, she built a multi-disciplinary career, trading crypto for herself and working remotely as a blockchain analyst and researcher, content manager and digital marketer. She also teaches online crypto courses.
Like Moradabadi, she too has had to endure social media trolls who credit her success solely to her gender. But Alizadeh says most of her male peers have been supportive of her.
What concerns her far more than gender politics is the lack of clear regulations – something that has overshadowed Iran’s crypto sector. A vague blanket ban on cryptocurrencies issued three years ago has yet to be repealed. Miners have been scapegoated for air pollution and electricity blackouts, and earlier this year authorities cracked down on private crypto exchanges.
But Alizadeh, who is active on Twitter and a frequent contributor to crypto podcasts and videocasts, is hopeful that Iranian authorities will keep up with fast-evolving crypto technology to draft clear regulations that don’t stifle innovation.
“This lack of regulation causes a variety of problems,” she said. “I think all of us operating in Iran would like to help achieve a correct regulatory space that would both benefit the government and allow anyone wishing to operate in this space to be safe.”