Change happens in the world only when a smart, talented, group of people come together to focus on a hard problem for a decade or more. Many companies never stand the test of time, because they decide to dabble in unrelated efforts, and distract and divide their workforce in the process. Paradoxically, by being laser focused on our mission, we will likely have an even greater impact on the world, through our products and growing customer base.
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Aristotle (Ari, to his friends) is a self-doubting silent guy, who has learned from experience to bottle his feelings up. Dante, on the other hand, is an expressive, fair-skinned boy who meets Ari at the pool one afternoon and asks him if he should teach him swimming. Dante reads poetry and loves painting. He makes Ari laugh and fills his world with colours, and before they know it, the two become the best of friends.
The narrower interpretation is how I intended the mission to be understood. I don’t think companies can succeed trying to do everything. Creating an open financial system for the world is already a hugely ambitious mission, and we could easily spend the next decade or two trying to move the needle on global economic freedom. We will keep building the most trusted and easiest to use financial products that help people access the cryptoeconomy, so everyone can get the benefits of this new technology and we can bring more economic freedom to the world.
Of course, there are exceptions here around internal employment matters, whistleblowing, etc. And we want all employees to feel safe disagreeing on the work itself. Candor and debate are core to a healthy team, where it is safe to disagree. We consider these to be related to our mission.
The reason is that while I think these efforts are well intentioned, they have the potential to destroy a lot of value at most companies, both by being a distraction, and by creating internal division. We’ve seen what internal strife at companies like Google and Facebook can do to productivity, and there are many smaller companies who have had their own challenges here. I believe most employees don’t want to work in these divisive environments. They want to work on a winning team that is united and making progress toward an important mission. They want to be respected at work, have a welcoming environment where they can contribute, and have growth opportunities. They want the workplace to be a refuge from the division that is increasingly present in the world.
Political causes: We don’t advocate for any particular causes or candidates internally that are unrelated to our mission, because it is a distraction from our mission. Even if we all agree something is a problem, we may not all agree on the solution.
It has become common for Silicon Valley companies to engage in a wide variety of social activism, even those unrelated to what the company does, and there are certainly employees who really want this in the company they work for. So why have we decided to take a different approach?
At the Q3 all hands meeting this past week, I shared with the company the above clarification of our culture and mission. These types of clarifications are needed periodically, as almost every year there will be some sort of event which tests the culture. My goal is to create clarity for all employees going forward about how we’re going to operate. I suspect the vast majority of people will be excited to proceed in this direction — after all, the mission is what we all signed up for and is what Coinbase is uniquely positioned to achieve as a company. But for some employees, working at an activism focused company may be core to what they want, and we want to prompt that conversation with their manager to help them get to a better place. Life is too short to work somewhere that you aren’t excited about, and we’re happy to make that a win-win conversation.
Lastly, it would go against our principles of inclusion and belonging to be more of an activist company on issues outside of our core mission. We have people with many different backgrounds and viewpoints at Coinbase, and even if we all agree that something is a problem, we may not agree on how to actually go solve it. This is where there is a blurry line between moral statements and politics. We could use our work day debating what to do about various unrelated challenges in the world, but that would not be in service of the company or our own interests as employees and shareholders.
“Sometimes, you do things and you do them not because you’re thinking but because you’re feeling. Because you’re feeling too much. And you can’t always control the things you do when you’re feeling too much.”
Aristotle Mendoza and Dante Quintana are two Mexican-American teenagers growing up in El Paso, Texas during the 1980s. They are trying to find their way in the world. But before they do that, they need to find their way to each other.
I realized at some point this year that many employees were interpreting our mission in different ways. Some people interpreted the mission more broadly, to include all forms of equality and justice. It makes sense if you believe that economic freedom is not possible without equality for all people. Others interpreted the mission more narrowly, believing that we were trying to create infrastructure for the cryptoeconomy, and that yes, this would create more equality of access for all people, but we weren’t trying to solve all forms of inequality in the world.
Coinbase’s mission is to create an open financial system for the world. This means we want to use cryptocurrency to bring economic freedom to people all over the world. This is difficult and important work, and every employee at Coinbase signed up because they are excited about this mission.
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