This Tech Founder Is Tackling Law Reform One NFT At A Time

Content warning: this article contains references to sexual assault. If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual abuse or violence contact the national sexual assault hotline in your country or region.

It’s not every day that a tech founder wakes up and decides to take on the legal system. But when Australian entrepreneur Jess Wilson experienced an unexpected sexual assault — a moment she describes as the darkest point in her life — the incident ignited a passion for changing the antiquated laws that have historically tipped in favor of offenders.

After a successful 18-month lawsuit, which Wilson won, the entrepreneur tried to go back to business as usual. But she couldn't.

“Those experiences change you," she told BFF. "You change as a person,” she recalls, reflecting on how she felt at the end of the lawsuit.

Wilson started thinking about how she could support other survivors going through the legal system. Today, she is the co-founder of Women Making Waves (WMW), an NFT project whose mission is to support, fund and raise awareness of gender rights, law reform and policy in Australia and the United States.

While the entrepreneurial learning curve is known for being rocky, Wilson decided to embrace her story — including its profound challenges — and use it to fuel change for the greater good.

The fashion-tech founder 

Before entering the Web3 space, Wilson was a tech and fashion entrepreneur for nearly a decade, launching her first tech business, Stashd, in 2015 when she was only 22 years old. She was working in the fashion industry and saw the trend of mobile e-commerce picking up pace, so she founded a Tinder-like app connecting Australian and U.S. brands to the Chinese millennial market. The venture led her to a pitching competition and eventually landed her on a Chinese reality TV show called The Next Unicorn, often described as a combination of Shark Tank and The Apprentice in one show.

Wilson lived between China and Australia for a year, quickly understanding the full demands of launching a product in one of the most nuanced and complex retail markets. “I learned a lot about localizing for a different market," Wilson recalled. "There is the China firewall, difference in payments and marketing is different, as there is no Facebook or Instagram,” she said.

Evidently, Wilson is not someone who gets easily intimidated in the face of a challenge. But, as she would learn, some challenges are bigger than others.

'How the law is structured'

In 2016, while raising funds for her app, a prospective investor sexually assaulted Wilson. Not knowing what to do, Wilson confided in a mentor who advised her to put her head down and focus on the business. Wilson recalls the mentor saying, “When you are more successful, you can do something about it then."

At first, Wilson continued building Stashd. But after a year, she decided to seek legal advice. Unfortunately, the lawyers' advice was just as disheartening as her mentor's. They told her that the legal odds were stacked against her simply based on how the law is structured.

Wilson persevered until she found a lawyer who would take on her case, and after 18 months of going through the legal system, she won.

And of course, throughout the lawsuit's upheaval, Wilson continued running her business.

A partnership is born

As Wilson's court case wrapped up, Australia went into lockdowns due to COVID-19. The retail industry, travel and, ultimately, Wilson's business came to a halt.

Confined by the national lockdown and unable to see friends and family, Wilson began spending time with her neighbor, Hayley Evans, who lived in the same apartment block. The two had a lot in common, as Evans had also built a successful career in the tech sector. Wilson shared her idea for an impact-driven tech business with Evans.

As fate would have it, the neighbors exited the lockdown as co-founders, and the Women Making Waves NFT project was officially born. 

Impact but make it Web3

After exploring different business models, including a nonprofit setup, the duo landed on NFTs as their vehicle of choice to fight for law reform. “I wanted to find a cross-section between impact and tech, and leverage tech to effect change in something I care about,” recalls Wilson.

She explains the decision to create a Web3 project — versus a nonprofit or corporate model — as wanting to build a community aspect and shift the “voice” of sexual assault survivors from unrelatable corporate mission statements to the words of community members, which as those of us in Web3 know is a big part of the NFT model.

“This disruptive tone that NFTs have to them resonated with both the purpose and the target audience of Women Making Waves,” says Wilson.

The main aim of the project is to fund organizations, which Wilson and Evans refer to as impact partners, doing the work to change laws. Up to half of WMW’s retail NFT sales proceeds are going towards funding these impact partners. The list of partners currently includes the U.S.-based organization Equal Rights Advocates, whose focus is on effecting law reform around entrepreneurs’ being protected from harassment when seeking funding. In Australia, WMW is partnered with an award-winning journalist and survivor advocate Nina Funnell, whose #Let Us Speak campaign is aimed at abolishing sexual assault victim gag-laws across a number of states in Australia. Funnell’s campaign was also instrumental in lobbying the government to commit $64.3 million to scale out the number of trauma-informed courts in the state of New South Wales in Australia. 

Between them, the law reform impact partners have changed 45 laws (and counting) through the work that they do. “We work with them to identify laws which will be beneficial to reform or new bills to write and have passed into legislation to benefit women equality in Australia and the US,” explains Wilson. 

Image: An NFT from the Women Making Waves collection

Expanding into B2B offerings

WMW started as a traditional NFT model of selling tokens to individuals (B2C) and building a community of holders who align with the mission, but it quickly extended into a business-to-business (B2B) offering, now also working with businesses and organizations.

“It wasn’t our plan to target businesses [for NFT sales], but when we went live and started sharing the WMW story, we unexpectedly got a lot of interest from VCs, CEOs and HR professionals,” says Wilson. To act on this momentum, they launched a #ITookThePledge campaign on LinkedIn, where similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge, VCs could nominate each other to take the pledge showing support for women’s rights law reform. Blackbird and AirTree, which are among the biggest VCs in Australia, took the pledge creating a chain reaction and a lot of buzz in the startup ecosystem. It became clear that they had an opportunity to build out a B2B channel.

Image source: Women Making Waves

The Swell Club, which is the project’s B2B offering, is an NFT-based annual subscription for corporates and venture capital funds who want to support the efforts of advocating gender rights and safe working environments for women, both within their own organizations and across their portfolio companies (in the case of VCs). Through this subscription the companies also get access to an educational platform, an annual Impact Report and community events with the likes of Google, who hosted the project’s launch at their Australian headquarters in Sydney, and AirBnB who are next on the roster of events this year. 

It is clear that after years in the tech industry between the two of them, Wilson and Evans have a killer rolodex of organizations that they can tap into. A good example would be their partnership with the Chopra Foundation (Deepak Chopra’s non-profit foundation), as an impact partner in the mental health space. Wilson and Evans met Poonacha Machaiah, Chopra Foundation CEO, during the NFT NYC 2022 and bonded over their passion of using emerging tech to solve for impact. They had arranged to discuss a potential collaboration over dinner. It so happened that the dinner was booked for the day the Roe v Wade was overturned in the U.S. and protests were happening right by the restaurant. "So the reason as to 'why' we were doing what we were doing with women's rights law reform was very present," explains Wilson.

The next day, the duo met with Gabriella Wright and Deepak Chopra, Poonacha's business partners in The Chopra Foundation and Never Alone. "We decided to all work together and they have been incredible partners ever since," Wilson explained. She is cognizant that it would have taken her “years” to get this calibre of brands onboard in her Web2 business. “A large part of why these companies are wanting to partner with WMW and wanting to put their brand name alongside ours is because of the vision that we’ve created, what we stand for and our brand ethos,” she says.

The traction the project has achieved so far and the calibre of partners it has attracted is impressive, particularly given the project officially launched a mere six months ago, at the height of the bear market. While the retail NFT market is still subdued, this year WMW is leaning more into its B2B offering focusing on building out the Swell Club and delivering the Impact Report. “Our corporate members see value in this, as it complements their ESG efforts, allowing them to participate in tangible impact work,” explains Wilson.

In a space dominated by meme culture and floor price obsession, and where rug pulls are part and parcel, innovative impact-driven projects like WMW are the much-needed sign of growing up. If you ever pontificated on the utility of JPEGs, social impact might not have been at the top of your utility list, but it’s the innovative use cases like these that might help to push us out of the speculative, self-enrichment mindset and into solving the problems that truly move the dial within our society.

Learn more about WMW

Jess’ Twitter

WMW Twitter

Liya Dashkina is a VC, contributor to a number of DAOs, web3 consultant, chapter lead at the Australian DeFi Association and an advocate for women in web3.

This article and all the information in it does not constitute financial advice. If you don’t want to invest money or time in Web3, you don’t have to. As always: Do your own research.

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