One little black mark with the US authorities and you can end up… at Rockaway perhaps! Investment manager David Swaim, who has both Slovak and American blood in his veins, has an interesting career path behind…
“I’m basically a circus principal,” laughs Marek Šandrik as he thinks about how he would describe, as specifically as possible, exactly what he does at the Rockaway Blockchain Fund. And he’s really not even exaggerating, because in his eponymous position he really does play the role of a tamer – not of beasts, mind you, but in the very least of investment processes, and he also keeps the entire investment team organized. „I keep it all somehow together,“ he says, by now quite automatically in English. One can see that not only Marek’s British education, but above all his constant contact with founders from around the world, have left and continue to leave a mark on him – and definitely in the best sense of the word.
A few years ago, blockchain definitely didn’t have the renown it has now, so Marek’s road to Rockaway led through his interest in “classical” economics, finance, state management, and macroeconomic issues in general. After graduating from Jur Hronec Gymnasium in Bratislava, there really wasn’t much to think about, and continuing his education abroad seemed to be a logical step. “Britain has top-notch universities, plus London in particular is among cities I could and can see myself living in long-term,” says Marek. Nevertheless, after graduation from high school he gave one more institution a chance – the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics at Charles University in Prague, but after two semesters the island nation finally won out after all.
Marek finally earned his diploma at universities that have long been at the top of the QS University Ranking: his Bachelor’s degree is from University College London (UCL), and his MBA from the London Business School. “Mathematics and Physics was definitely a good experience, but you can see the different educational style. The attitude at the Czech school is ‘Figure it out for yourself’, while in England it’s ‘Don’t get it? I’ll help you.’ When someone wasn’t doing well, it was the instructor’s problem, because he was the one that should have been thinking about whether he wasn’t doing something wrong.”
From sceptic to advocate
Marek came by his first work experience right during first year. While still doing his Bachelor’s studies he got a job at the Royal Bank of Scotland, an investment bank where he was exposed to trading, and then, with his fresh diploma in hand, he started at McKinsey’s Prague branch. And not in completely “traditional” fashion – back then, it wasn’t customary for the consulting company to take on someone with a “mere” BA. But Marek was an exception and one of the first. Nevertheless, a couple of years later he returned to university: McKinsey gave him the opportunity to complete his university education. “It made sense to me, I wanted to grow my network and learn something new again,” says Marek regarding his attendance at the world-renowned London Business School.
Marek stayed at McKinsey, but after a couple of years he began to be pulled in a different direction – and the needles of all compasses began to point in a similar direction: to blockchain and decentralized finance. “I’d already encountered the subject of blockchain thanks to my classmates at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, but it was only at the fringes of my attention. Back in 2012, at McKinsey, I’d already met Viktor for the first time (note: Viktor Fischer, founder and CEO of the Rockaway Blockchain Fund). Roughly two years ago I found myself at a career juncture where it was time for a change. I wanted to get involved with start-ups and I knew that ‘the time is now to change’.”
It needs to be said that at that time Marek’s CV was quite impressive: he had previous experience in M&A and trading, from McKinsey in financial services and building products for clients within the scope of data science. “Everything suddenly came together and I started to take a deeper interest in blockchain.
And it really opened my eyes. Up till then I’d been quite sceptical regarding these technologies – and suddenly I became a true believer,” smiles Marek. At the start of last year he and Viktor, who’d already had been heading a blockchain fund that was on a roll for Rockaway for some time, shook hands and he became a full member of the team.
We want to the European answer to American megafunds
As Marek admits, what impresses him most about RBF is the ambitious vision it has and pursues. “Americans have big names, but their European counterweight is practically non-existent – and that’s what we’re trying to do. To stick the Rockaway Blockchain Fund pin in the world map of investors and be the answer to Andreessen Horowitz. To be an European brand with global presence.” And it is from his position of Principal that Marek contributes to the RBF vision. During the comprehensive investment process he ensures the team is organized and effective. “RBF has several funds. One of them is the venture fund, where we invest in start-ups, protocols, as well as existing, established companies. I pick investment opportunities and manage the deal process itself. At the same time I create a network and represent our fund, for example as a jury member at hackathons or an adviser for various start-ups,” he explains.
In working at an ambitious blockchain fund, Marek is primarily inspired by the community he has the opportunity to be a part of, and emphasizes the added benefit of working at RBF: the opportunity for help and support. “Every week I’m totally fascinated by the exceptional people from top universities, founders, and other talented people we can meet and work with. And above all: we can support people so that they can build their vision of how this world could work. RBF is the bridge between the idea and the founder. And I find that incredibly fulfilling.”