Stepping Into The Limelight: How Cirque du Soleil Shaped Maika Isogawa’s Path In Web3

In a world where dreams soar and imaginations run wild, there exists a realm that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy — a world of acrobats defying gravity and performers igniting the stage with their electrifying presence. Amidst this mesmerizing tapestry of artistry, one woman's journey unfolded, transcending the boundaries of expectation and defying conventional norms. 

Meet Maika Isogawa, a force of nature whose story reads like a symphony of ambition and resilience. From the spellbinding stages of Cirque du Soleil to the cutting-edge realms of Web3, her path has been a breathtaking tightrope walk, fusing diverse cultures, unyielding determination and unwavering passion to defy the odds and carve an extraordinary destiny. With only 26 years of life under her belt, Isogawa’s journey stands as a testament to the transformative power of embracing the unknown, pushing boundaries and finding strength in unexpected places.

Baby Maika in Japan (Courtesy of Maika Isogawa)

An unconventional path

Born and raised in a small town near Tokyo, Isogawa's multicultural upbringing — her Japanese father and American mother — nurtured her curiosity for life's boundless possibilities. During high school, her dream was to become an astrophysicist. She seized the opportunity to start studying physics early by skipping the last two years of high school and enrolling as a full-time undergraduate at the University of Minnesota. After graduating, she pursued her astrophysics dream at Stanford University. 

However, just three months into her studies, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arose to work with Cirque du Soleil.  Embracing the allure of the circus, she embarked on a remarkable detour from her astrophysics aspirations, captivating audiences globally as a Cirque du Soleil acrobat for two and a half years. This transformative period sparked a journey of personal growth and self-discovery. "That was a really big growing time in my life, because I was 18 and it was my first time away from home,” said Isogawa.

After two years touring the world, Isogawa returned to Stanford University to complete her degree. However, her passion for physics shifted toward a fascination with computer science, specifically artificial intelligence. Her exploration of AI and her completed Computer Science degree opened doors to the startup scene, where she honed her skills and eventually secured a role as a cybersecurity engineer at Microsoft. 

Transitioning from the world of circus arts to cybersecurity engineering at Microsoft might seem like a leap, but for Isogawa, it was a natural progression. With a keen interest in technology and a knack for problem-solving, she excelled in the cybersecurity field, safeguarding individuals and organizations from digital threats.

Isogawa during one of her Cirque du Soleil performances (Courtesy of Maika Isogawa)

Seizing unexpected opportunities 

Being part of an international cast of acrobats allowed her to meet people with all kinds of backgrounds and interests. It was then, around 2014, that she was introduced to Bitcoin by two of her most "nerdy" colleagues. (Of course, "nerdy" is a term of endearment around Web3, as it was for Isogawa and her colleagues then.) She was instantly captivated by the technology. “I've always been interested in new technologies but, in particular, the way that blockchain worked, I thought it had the opportunity to solve a lot of the world's structural problems that I personally have encountered,” said Isogawa.

When you travel often and live in many different addresses like Isogawa did when growing up, it’s very difficult to prove your identity, she explained. Opening a bank account, getting a phone number or verifying tax and social security can turn into a living nightmare. Blockchain addressed her pain points and sparked an interest, but it wasn’t until some years later that she truly embraced this new realm.

It was also during her time at the circus that, Isogawa took an opportunity to become a TV reporter for a national TV show that aired both online and in Japan. She saw the invitation as “a way to ensure she could utilize [her] language and maintain a professional connection to Japan.” The new gig gave her the chance to explore the media and journalism world, but perhaps most importantly for Isogawa’s eventual career trajectory, her new connection to the Bay Area Japanese-American community allowed her to secure part of the investment for her start-up later on.

A catalyst for finding her true calling

As was the case for many of us, the pandemic served as a catalyst for Isogawa's reflection on her aspirations and the impact she desired to make. She was working at Microsoft during that time, between 2020 and 2021, and NFTs were in full blown bull run. She started to get more involved in the space, but quickly realized the dangers of the technology. “There were a ton of hacks and scams. I even got phished once by accident,” Isogawa remarked. “I made a stupid mistake, which was embarrassing to admit, but I realized it's so easy for individuals to get hacked and scammed.”  

After this unfortunate event and fueled by her cybersecurity knowledge and her drive to make a lasting impact, she founded Webacy in 2021, determined to revolutionize wallet safety and secure the future of digital assets. In Isogawa's words, "If self-custody was really going to take off, we needed better self-custody tools." 

Evolving as a founder, leader and builder

Starting her own company has presented its unique set of challenges. The journey has been a constant balance of asking for help, relying on others, and navigating the occasional bouts of “imposter syndrome,” as Isogawa notes. Being a young entrepreneur in the space has its own complexities, but she faces them head-on, driven by her determination to succeed. Leveraging her past internships and close collaborations with founders and co-founders of small startups, Isogawa has refined her skills and fostered a network of mentors who have played a pivotal role in her journey. 

But the success of Webacy rests not only on her shoulders and the help of her mentors, but mainly on the collective competence of the talented individuals who comprise her team. Grateful for their support and expertise, Isogawa acknowledges their instrumental role in the company's growth. The early stages of any venture can be full of uncertainty, and she readily admits that, like many founders, she often grapples with the challenge of charting the best course forward. 

“I'm super glad to have so many competent, awesome people on the team to support us as we grow as a company,” said Isogawa. “It feels a little bit like a fog of war scenario where you're just doing the best you can with what you know.”

Team Webacy during their first in-person offsites in Las Vegas (Courtesy of Maika Isogawa)

Forbes 30 Under 30—a testament to her commitment to making lasting impact

Among Isogawa's numerous accomplishments is a milestone that, while somewhat controversial today, means a lot to any aspiring founder. The Forbes 30 Under 30 list is an esteemed recognition that many aspire to achieve — maybe not so many after the latest trend of Forbes’ tech-finance heroes facing jail. While some may view such accolades with skepticism, for Isogawa, it was a goal she had set her sights on early in her career. When the news finally arrived, it came as a delightful surprise, evoking a sense of triumph and validation. Waking up to the announcement from a teammate, she was instantly filled with a surge of pride and satisfaction. “It was a day of feeling on top, feeling good about the work I've done,” remarked Isogawa.

While there may be jokes and memes circulating about the Forbes list, Isogawa remains grateful for the honor and the platform it has provided. With humility and gratitude, she recognizes that being on the list comes with a responsibility to prove her worth and continue pushing the boundaries of innovation. The Forbes 30 Under 30 is not just a badge of honor but a reminder of the journey she has embarked upon, and a testament to her commitment to making a lasting impact in the world of Web3 security.

Finding inspiration in remarkable female and Asian leaders

Building and leading in the Web3 space as an Asian woman holds significance for the CEO of Webacy. Isogawa recognizes the existence of discrimination and inequalities in the industry but remains grateful for the opportunities she has had. She draws inspiration from the remarkable female and/or Asian leaders who have paved the way. From Arisa Toyosaki to Aya Miyaguchi, Tegan Kline or Maggie Love, they’ve all made her own journey somewhat easier. 

“I'm super grateful for all the people who've paved the way up until now,” said Isogawa. “It feels much easier than maybe it would have been 10 years ago for me to be who I am and doing what I do today.”

Embracing her dual identity as both American and Asian, she finds strength in the acceptance and belonging she feels within Asian networks. While she has encountered instances of underestimation and questioning, she acknowledges that her experiences of discrimination may be relatively less frequent. Nonetheless, she remains committed to fostering inclusivity and amplifying the voices of those facing significant challenges so that we can get to a future where diversity and representation are the norm.

Isogawa embracing her Japanese heritage (Courtesy of Maika Isogawa)

Looking ahead to a fully decentralized future

As a true believer of the power of decentralization, Isogawa envisions a world where identity, asset ownership and experiences can be seamlessly managed on-chain, eliminating the need for intermediaries and streamlining various processes. From transferring assets to verifying ownership, the power of tech-enabled representation holds immense promise, offering convenience and empowerment to users.

However, she also emphasizes the importance of self-custody and true ownership in the Web3 landscape. While some companies may offer custody wallets, she believes in the fundamental principle of users holding their own wallets and keys. 

“I think really the power of Web3 and the opportunity we have is interoperability and the true ownership of it,” said Isogawa. “Do you want Web2 again, where you create an account with every website and every company, or do you want something different?” 

By advocating for a different path, one that prioritizes user agency and true ownership, she hopes to shape a future where the benefits of Web3 can be fully realized.

This is not financial advice. If you don't want to spend money investing in crypto or Web3 — you don’t have to. The intent of this article is to help others educate themselves and learn.

Sabrina Bonini is a seasoned Web3 writer, educator, and speaker dedicated to empowering individuals and businesses in the Web3 space through effective content creation. With a mission to assist companies in crafting impactful writing content, she plays a pivotal role in helping businesses effectively communicate their message and drive adoption in the fast-evolving Web3 landscape. Sabrina pays special attention to the education and empowerment of Spanish-speaking artists, women and underrepresented groups and is fully committed to helping make the blockchain ecosystem more diverse and inclusive. Connect with her on Twitter @criptoescultura.

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