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How an $8 billion Silicon Valley startup has shared talent with one of its most prominent investors

There are deep ties between Coinbase and Andreessen Horowitz.

Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon, right, onstage with Steven Levy, left
Andreessen Horowitz partner Chris Dixon, right, onstage with Steven Levy
Thos Robinson/Getty Images for WIRED

Coinbase and Andreessen Horowitz have a special connection.

The news last week that Mike Lempres, one of Coinbase’s higher-ranking executives, was departing the company for a job at Andreessen Horowitz was only the latest bond between the $8 billion dollar cryptocurrency-trading startup and the buzzy venture capital firm.

Two members of Coinbase’s C-suite at one point worked for a16z, and one-quarter of Coinbase’s eight board directors and observers are current Andreessen Horowitz employees.

Now, Lempres is the first person to go across the stream in the other direction.

To a certain extent, this is basically how Silicon Valley works: Investors develop close personal ties with the founders of their portfolio companies, and that inevitably leads either to referrals or to an overlapping professional network more broadly. Andreessen Horowitz led Coinbase’s third major round of financing five years ago and is now sitting on at least hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stock in Coinbase.

These job moves give Andreessen Horowitz more allies at Coinbase than other investors have. There are two unique factors at play here:

  • The universe of people with expertise in crypto is still pretty small, so there’s a good chance that a sizable chunk of them have one tie or another to Andreessen Horowitz. The venture capital firm was one of the earliest investors in this space and its partners are seen as part of the intellectual firepower behind the sector.
  • Coinbase in 2018 has been scaling up dramatically and hiring lots of executives. One place that houses a ton of talent? Andreessen Horowitz, with about 130 people on staff. So while there are other Coinbase investors that have domain expertise in crypto — such as Union Square Ventures — they’re less likely to have the able bodies available. USV’s only current tie is through one person, board member Fred Wilson.

Mike Lempres: Lempres’s most recent title was chief policy officer, but his previous job as the head of the legal and risk offices put him at the forefront of Coinbase’s interactions with regulators who are still pretty confused by cryptocurrencies. Lempres lost responsibilities for Coinbase’s legal work in September when the company hired Brian Brooks, but he was a senior-enough employee that he was listed on the trust charter for Coinbase’s custody operation. He’ll be advising Andreessen portfolio companies.

Balaji Srinivasan: Srinivasan, a loud-enough voice in the debate around crypto that he is known around Silicon Valley simply by his first name, joined Coinbase after it bought his Andreessen-backed startup, Srinivasan was a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz before he jumped into the CEO role at Earn as part of an effort to turn it around. Srinivasan joined Coinbase’s C-suite this spring when Andreessen-backed Coinbase bought Andreessen-backed Earn and he was named chief technology officer.

Asiff Hirji: Hirji is the most powerful executive at Coinbase not named Brian Armstrong, with broad oversight of Coinbase’s core business. Hirji has a long pedigree in the world of finance, but his most recent gig was advising a16z portfolio companies on their growth strategies. He joined Coinbase almost exactly a year ago as president and chief operating officer.

Chris Dixon: Dixon, who now runs an Andreessen Horowitz fund that makes crypto investments, led Andreessen’s $25 million investment into Coinbase in 2013. Dixon took a seat as an observer — that’s a non-voting member — on its board and because of his reputation has been one of the key validators of the company externally.

Katie Haun: Haun is Dixon’s partner at Andreessen’s crypto fund, but her relationship with Coinbase actually predates her relationship with Andreessen Horowitz. A former federal prosecutor who achieved crypto fame for some of her takedowns, Haun joined Coinbase as its first independent director in June 2017. A year later, she joined Andreessen as a general partner. So while the company still considers her an independent director, she is now a full-time employee at a16z.

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