When I joined the Coinbase board in 2017 as its first independent director, crypto in many ways was still the wild west. Back then the perception of crypto was that it was largely used by bad actors, and in fact my own introduction to the space came through my work as a federal prosecutor investigating financial crimes. But here was a visionary company with a management team led by CEO and co-founder Brian Armstrong that clearly was trying to do things the right way. They wanted to grow a new financial system based on crypto but they also were committed to following the rules.
Since the earliest days of the company, Brian and the Coinbase team had a clear vision of something entirely new: increasing economic freedom in the world. A new financial system that is trusted, fair, and easy to use. I was excited to get involved as they made this idea real, and my work on the Coinbase board also led to me getting to know and then join Andreessen Horowitz, where I now co-lead our investments in what we think are the world’s most promising crypto projects, Coinbase of course front and center among them.
All told, the a16z family of funds invested in Coinbase eight different times from 2013 to 2020, including in every primary financing since our initial investment. As we all saw the company grow, we continued to be excited about investing in it, because Coinbase represented the best of very different worlds: a company that brought Silicon Valley sensibilities to product and design, yet also took regulation and compliance seriously. And, of course, we were excited because of Brian and his co-founder Fred Ehrsam, two world-class technologists who saw the massive potential of this space so much sooner than others.
Brian is the definition of equanimity, a steady and focused hand in a dynamic and oftentimes volatile space. When others were focused on prices in the good times, or pivots in the crypto winters, Brian kept building and maintained his overall vision. His constant pursuit of self-improvement extends to the entire company and its processes. No wonder “continuous learning” has been a company value since the earliest days. Alongside him was Fred, a true crypto futurist. Fred thinks deeply about how things will play out, and has brought intellectual rigor coupled with the willingness to challenge Coinbase every step of the way, pushing it to be better.
And then there’s the world-class management team Brian has assembled, led by Emilie Choi. Brian couldn’t have found a better partner, one whose operating expertise and strength in execution perfectly complements his vision.
Today, with the arrival of Coinbase as a public company, the global crypto community takes a giant step forward toward mainstream relevance to the global economy. There are now 56 million verified users and $223 billion in assets on the Coinbase platform. With almost no investment in marketing, Coinbase has driven incredible growth in trading volume — from $17 billion in 2018 to $335 billion in the first quarter of 2021 alone. This of course is good for Coinbase, but it’s also very good for the broader crypto ecosystem. It cannot be denied that the surging global momentum in crypto today simply would not be happening if Coinbase hadn’t led the way.
That said, Brian and his team would be the first to tell you that crypto still has a long way to go. Fifty six million users is a lot of users, but Coinbase’s goal is to bring crypto to all 3.5 billion people in the world with a smartphone. The institutional embrace of crypto — approximately 7,000 financial institutions are now active on Coinbase — is accelerating progress, but we truly are still in the early innings.
Brian recently told me he’s running a marathon, not a sprint, and this mindset is exactly right for an opportunity as big as the one in front of Coinbase. We are proud to have been part of the Coinbase story so far and excited to continue working with the team on the board post-listing as they enter their next chapter. Congrats to all of our friends at Coinbase for building a once-in-a-generation tech company! ?
Katie Haun Kathryn (“Katie”) Haun is a general partner. Previously, she spent a decade as a federal prosecutor focusing on fraud, cyber, and corporate crime alongside agencies including the SEC, FBI, and Treasury. She created the government’s first cryptocurrency task force and led investigations...