As some industry observers will know, Armstrong, a native of San Jose, Calif., whose parents were both engineers, nabbed two degrees from Rice University in Texas before joining Airbnb as a software engineer in 2011 as a technical product manager focused on fraud prevention.
The role gave him the opportunity to learn about payment systems — and payment problems — across the world. It relatedly fueled a then-burgeoning interest in cryptocoins, which he began to buy and store and, more important, he began to believe would ultimately replace fiat money. In fact, after just 14 months with Airbnb, Armstrong left the company to join Y Combinator and found Coinbase.
He wasn’t focused on making money, by his telling. Instead, as he told Forbes last year, “I wanted the world to have a global, open financial system that drove innovation and freedom.” Either way, along the way, Armstrong became very wealthy, as have many Coinbase employees and investors, including Andreessen Horowitz, which built the biggest stake in Coinbase over the years and whose position was valued at a reported $11 billion at the time of Coinbase’s direct listing this past April.
Still, the success of Coinbase — which has established itself as the clean, well-lit place to invest in cryptocurrencies — has also invariably led to greater scrutiny. The company has been widely accused by its customers of focusing on security at the expense of adequate customer service. Several of Armstrong’s managerial decisions, including to clamp down on political speech inside of Coinbase, has cost the company valued employees, while others have said they were treated unfairly because of their race or gender.
More, following a very long run, enthusiasm over cryptocurrencies has abruptly slowed over the last month or so. While Armstrong has seen enthusiasm for crypto grow and wane before, Coinbase is now a publicly traded company, and as questions bubble up about Bitcoin, Coinbase’s shares are down, too. (As of this writing, they are trading at around $217, almost half of where they were valued at their peak price in April of about $429.)
Little wonder Armstrong has been laser-focused on not only strengthening what Coinbase has already built but setting it up to become an even larger enterprise, including by acquiring a company early this year that positions Coinbase to operate as a kind of AWS, enabling companies that, say, want to connect their wallet app to a blockchain to click a few buttons rather than hire a team of engineers to spin up the necessary nodes.
How else is Armstrong, 38, dealing with the market’s ups and downs as he builds a completely new financial institution? Where does he want to take Coinbase over the next 12 months? How does he respond to criticisms about some of his very public decisions concerning Coinbase employees? These are among the many things we’ll talk with him about at this year’s Disrupt for an appearance that we know attendees won’t want to miss. We’re certainly excited to sit down with him.