Bitcoin: Coinbase Buys Earn.com, Hires CEO as Chief Tech Officer
Coinbase and Earn.com, formerly known as 21.co until rebranding late last year, did not disclose the terms of the deal. The price tag was rumored, however, to be in the ballpark of $100 million—around the same amount 21.co raised during its last private funding round in 2015—according to recent reports by Coindesk, a cryptocurrency blog, and Axios, a media startup.
“Everyone is aligning behind Coinbase as the winner of blockchain in the U.S.,” Srinivasan told Fortune. He pointed to a string of Coinbase’s top-level hires as evidence of the trend: Asiff Hirji, formerly of Hewlett Packard and TD Ameritrade, as chief operations officer; LinkedIn’s Emilie Choi as vice president of corporate and business development; Twitter’s Tina Bhatnagar as vice president of operations and technology; and Facebook’s Rachael Horwitz as vice president of communications, to name a few.
“As you’ve seen and continue to see, it has become a magnetic node,” Srinivasan said of his new employer. “A lot of talented people are coming here.”
Srinivasan’s number one priority in his new role as tech chief will be to add more stars to Coinbase’s ranks by recruiting top engineers, he said. His other priorities will include evangelizing cryptocurrency and blockchain technology as well as helping to set an internal tech strategy, which includes integrating and expanding Earn.com beyond its present incarnation as a paid email service.
“Balaji has become one of the most respected technologists in the crypto field and is considered one of the technology industry’s few true ‘originalists,’” said Brian Armstrong, Coinbase’s cofounder and CEO, in a blog post announcing the news. He said that Coinbase would continue to run Earn, which he described as “arguably one of the earliest practical blockchain applications to achieve meaningful traction.”
Coinbase and Earn.com are both backed by Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm where Srinivasan continues to serve as a board partner. Srinivasan stepped down from his role as general partner at the VC firm in 2015, when he left to work full-time on his startup, then known as 21.co and focused on Bitcoin mining.
In a few short years, 21.co raised more money than just about any other Bitcoin startup at the time. The company eventually pivoted away from hardware, changed its name to Earn, and built a social network around cryptocurrency.
Srinivasan’s relationship to Coinbase dates back to its earliest years. He first met Coinbase’s founders in early 2013 at their live-work loft on Bluxome Street in San Francisco, shortly before founding 21.co. They hit it off, and Srinivasan became, along with his brother and erstwhile business partner Ramji, one of Coinbase’s earliest backers.
Srinivasan said the Coinbase team and its office at the time reminded him of Counsyl, a gene testing startup he founded with Ramji out of a Stanford University dorm room in 2008. “I loved it. That’s exactly how we booted up Counsyl in the early days,” Srinivasan said.
Srinivasan, who teaches courses through Stanford, has since become one the world’s foremost experts on cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. Last year he spoke at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo., where he proposed a Matrix-like virtual reality in which people would need to transact in an international, virtual currency, like Bitcoin.
Srinivasan remains one the industry’s biggest believers and advocates, despite the downturn of cryptocurrency prices from their winter highs. “Facebook for almost 10 years was called a fad and a bubble,” Srinivasan said.
“Then it became this gigantic thing. Blockchain is like that,” he said.
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