Sheila Marcelo of On Web 3 and Entrepreneurship
March 10, 2023
Sheila Lirio Marcelo is Co-Founder and CEO of Proof of Learn, a Web3 learning platform with a mission to unlock accessible, high-quality education across the world. Prior to POL, Sheila was a Venture Partner at New Enterprise Associates (NEA). In 2006, before joining NEA, she founded, where she was Chairwoman and CEO until early 2020.

Under Marcelo’s leadership, experienced an over 100% year-over-year growth, went public in early 2014, and was sold to IAC in early 2020. Today is the world’s largest online destination for finding and managing family care, serving more than 35 million people across 20 countries.

Prior to founding, Marcelo worked at other mission-driven companies. She was VP of Product Management and Marketing at Upromise, a service that helped families save for college. She was also Entrepreneur in Residence at Matrix Partners, where she developed the plan for

Marcelo earned a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College, which also conferred upon her an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2015. She has a J.D. and M.B.A. with honors from Harvard University. In 2014, Marcelo became the youngest recipient of the Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award.Marcelo has also been honored with numerous accolades. Sheila recently became the recipient of the 2022 Helen G. Drinan Visionary Leader Award from Simmons University. She was one of Fortune magazines’ “Top 10 Women Entrepreneurs” and appeared at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit. She is a Henry Crown Fellow with the Aspen Institute, a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a Marshall Memorial Fellowship awardee, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

You recently announced the launch of your new education platform. I'd love you to explain in your words, what proof of learning is.

It’s a new approach to changing learning modalities. It's building a new academy in the metaverse, I'll unpack all those words later. And we're doing it through Learn and Earn and allowing developers to land what we call web three jobs. And so proof of learns really a protocol around learning. And the first project we have is training web two developers to become web three developers through a project called If you go to the website, you'll go check it out and you go through it's a very virtual experience.

Where did the idea come from?

In 2015, we went to the World Economic Forum at Davos. And we heard Reed Hoffman and Jim Breyer, talk about the multi trillion dollar industry that blockchain is going to be. This was 2015, we had just taken a company public, I was a year-minted public company, CEO, first time co-founding a company and then first-time public CEO. So there was no way I was gonna focus on some new internet, new industry, new something, blockchain technology, it was all very foreign to me, but caught my attention clearly. But I was very still focused on running

But, when we sold it at the height of the pandemic in early 2020, we then said, “Wait, there's this whole blockchain industry, what are we going to do at home anyways, we're quarantine, we're not going on sabbatical to travel or maybe doing yoga in the morning. But in the afternoons, we were all doing crypto all the time learning, meeting with founders on Zoom, unpacking, sort of understanding more about the technology.” I'm not a technologist but I know enough to be dangerous around managing technology and the applicability of it. So I started to peel the onion, beyond just being an investor, during doing diligence on companies and NEA invited me to be a venture partner, which is a privilege. And we were starting to invest in crypto platforms. And so with that, I was doing diligence on a company called YG.

It was June 2020 , no June 2021. That we started doing the diligence on it and then come November, brainstormed with the founder of YG GD, and saw this play to earn unlock a lot of potential and income in developing countries from the blockchain technology. And I said what about learn and earn an approach I'm not really a play to earn kind of gal kind of gaming, even though my kids grew up with it. I wanted to do something in ad tech or healthcare. And so really unpack the potential of web three, and decided that I was going to come out of sabbatical and do it again. I wasn't looking to start another company. It just spoke to me that this was a time and place and moment around solving another social problem.

Can you unpack a few terms: Crypto, blockchain, Metaverse, web three?

Let me unpack specifically on crypto, crypto, you know, its currency. Currently, unregulated, needs to be much more regulated, right? It's a digital currency. But it tends to define the entire market of all these other words, right.

And blockchain technology supports digital currency. It's only one of the things it does. It's not the only thing it does, right. And so, I think that tendency is everyone's like, well, if I buy crypto, it's very speculative. It must mean that it's evil. And it there's a lot of bad characters in it. You know, but it's really the underlying technology, specifically in the second word is blockchain. And blockchain is really just a public ledger that is fully transparent. And what do I mean by ledger? It's a database that stores information that is available to all to kind of see on how it stores data that says, How do I record truth, specifically, truth have an asset to them in a transaction of specific ownership. And so there's power in that technology rather than having central institutions really decide the truth of a specific ownership of an asset is actually the software that does that. And so one of the things I found very attractive around that is to transparency of it. So the applicability of for example, for proof of learn is that we can credential, right? Or what they call a non-fungible token NFT credential. So instead of a paper certificate on your wall of a diploma, we can create a digital asset that always says that if you pass this assessment on a digital course, or even a course, you take any university I've seen, I've seen them credential now, there was a student at MIT who went to high school in Mexico, where he showed me his digital credential of his diploma that is transparent to all that you completed this course, this diploma, and it will forever be yours. And so, I share that, because there's a lot of applicability of the beauty of this technology, it isn't just the currency specifically to one use of it.

So blockchain is really just a way in which, again, it's a public lab ledger database that the software drives overall, to kind of figure out the truth. I'm nodding it, there's a whole set of proof of work, proof of history, proof of stake, there's a whole thing.

I have a podcast called W3b’d. If you want to learn and unpack there's a lot of different terminology around that, specifically a blockchain. It was, I believe, I don't know if Nakamoto of Bitcoin was man or woman, we don't know who he is. Or she, I presume it's a man. And so the male engineers who created blockchain, of course, they created their own club language around describing it. And so it tends to create and I saw this in internet one and internet two, and we're now in internet three, right? It created a set of language that people talk about. And so it creates barriers to come into it. My role, and then I have found in all my web, one web two, web three journeys, how to unpack it and say, it's accessible to all accessible to me if I can figure it out. And by the way, I'm 52, I'm not afraid to talk about my age, and I'm in web three, you know, and so it's doable. It's very, very doable, as long as you're not worried about the labeling. And it really better understanding it, how to unpack it, how to describe it to people, so that you can welcome a lot of other people to come into an industry that's been created with it's like, it's only wish. And so I try and break it down and remove a lot of that language.

That's blockchain. It was longer.

Web three. Web One was, you know, reading the internet. This is simplicity. Web two was writing to the internet. So you've got to create your own comments, real reviews. You engaged in the internet, social media allowed you to do like all that, with theories about owning so that the whole dream of the internet was as you contributed. Everybody got to own this public good. That's what blockchain is basically doing is creating a digital currency that allows you to share in the ownership of the internet. I'm simplifying it.

That's always been the dream, right? Democratization of digital technology. And I am such a firm believer.

Last one is the metaverse. Your kids live in the metaverse. We live in the metaverse, we are in the virtual world. We live in a world, the virtual world and so our kids live there now to and even the unborn are going to live so much of their percentage of their lives. The reality is we can critique it. There are certainly ethical things around it. And you know what the reality is we are headed there. And so it's trying to unpack that and understand how it can be used for good. That's what I'm focused on.

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Women really sort of missed out on web2, you know, on the sort of wealth that we could have generated for ourselves in web two. Do you feel like there is more gender parity in Web3?


I just think there just continues to be challenges. But I'm also very optimistic that at each stage, you know, using our boys and our platform, it just has to get better.

Let’s dig into your founder journey. How were you able to build something at scale? What would you say was sort of some of the kind of key elements to your own success?

Three words come to mind. And they're all very related of the big operative umbrella world, a word I would say or phrase a self-awareness. And the three words that fall under that is the first one is a sense of evolution, I think is really critical. A founder set of competencies is very different from a growth CEO is very different from a public company, CEO. And so to kind of scale, it's really digging deep and asking yourself, like, gosh, can I evolve with this? Am I okay with that? It's not everyone, not everyone's okay. I've heard male or female founder CEOs say I'm really good at 1 to 100. I'm really good at that. After 100 they don't like the bureaucracy; don't like process; don't like board meetings.

I just love to build. I'm an innovator. I know and they're very self-aware around that.

If you want to evolve for scale, evolve for scale, you got to really ask yourself, like, who are you? And do you want to go do that? Not everyone wants to? And that's okay. We don't judge it. It's just being true to yourself around what matters to you? And do you really want to go do this? And it's not for everybody. Right? So evolution is really key.

And in my journey, it is it. I was comfortable with that. I was okay with that. I was trained as a strategy consultant. It was really interesting to me to learn startup, I felt like I was academically trying to learn to be a founder, but knew that I really moved my JD MBA, I was like, I really lean the complexity of things and the challenge of solving problems and I felt like go do that.

If you were asked me of all three stages, I love building and love experimentation, and the early stages and building cultures all that same time. I love the cerebral side of solving complex problems, even if it means sitting on public committees. There are just different jobs.

When I get asked that question right around scale, the second is, is very related and self awareness and it is around humility. It's really at hard each stage. And just being, again, not just honest about what's important to you and what your purpose is. It's also trying to say to them at the right skill sets, what's your passion, take it away. But do I have the right skill set? And if I don't, then you need to, as a founder, be honest with yourself and say, you know, what, better to help hire a great team. Because at the end of the day, surrender, that it's really all about the team and the purpose. I'm going to do the best I can to be a servant leader. Okay, that's, that's not easy. It's not easy as a founder to let go. Right. So that's, it's again, it's all kind of emotional sufferings around this.

And last is effing grit. Okay, this is a hard journey; it is a hard job. Probably one of the hardest jobs, because you have to self-motivate. You have to talk to yourself every day. You got to put a mask on, you got to be like, it doesn't matter is the effing hardest day, you got to go to work and got to, like, inspire everybody else. And including your family, and include your children, including everything. You know, so it's not easy. It's not easy founding a company if you wanted to scale. It's not.

And I don't judge, and Icoach a lot of entrepreneurs. I'm very honest about these things. And it's hard and I talk to myself all the time. I'm like, this is hard. Why am I doing it?



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