In September of last year, Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase, wrote a post about how Coinbase was a mission driven company. In it, he noted that Coinbase doesn’t take stances on societal issues that don’t adhere to the companies mission. This post was extremely unpopular. If so, then why write this post? Well, let’s fast forward to today’s world in order to gain clarity.
Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Susan Wojcicki, and others just kicked the President of the United States off of their global platforms, silencing his reach. Today, we have misinformation spreading like wildfire on all of platforms, and no one has a good solution to solve it. We have a country so divided that we can’t even share the same social networks, even when there is room for everyone. And we have a culture where whenever anything bad happens in the world, we expect all companies to take a stance with a #hashtag, regardless of what their actual actions may be to solve the societal problem. And that last point is where I think the Coinbase post came to fruition.
The Murder Of George Floyd
On May 25th 2020, George Floyd was brutally murdered by a police officer, while other police officers watched. The circumstances were despicable and twisted. Afterward, the police officers weren’t even immediately arrested. It is absolutely disgraceful that we have a system that allows for the death of this man, and allows the officers to walk free afterward. So, people rallied. They protested. They rioted. All things they should be doing in this situation. They took it to the streets, as did I.
In addition to the streets, people took it to the social networks to see justice., as did companies. Some brands started posting #blacklivesmatter to show their support, while some held out, for whatever reason. Over time, there started to be pressure from employees, investors, and the general public for all companies to make a stance on #blacklivesmatter. Most did. A few didn’t though for quite some time. One was a venture capital firm called Andreessen Horowitz.
While most firms were outwardly public about their support of black lives, a16z was silent. And people online noticed and started to push their social media account to make a statement. With hundreds of thousands of followers, it’s bound to make an impact, right? To this day, I don’t recall them ever actually making a verbal statement on Twitter. So what did they do? They started a fund instead.
They called it the Talent X Opportunity Fund, and they announced it while in the thick of all of this. It was aiming to fund Black and Latino founders + the way the fund is designed, the carry that comes from the fund is recycled into the fund to invest into future underrepresented founders. Wow, this actually helps provide real systemic change. People asked for a hashtag, and they got a fund instead. Were they satisfied? Surprisingly, many were not. The fund wasn’t enough. a16z needs to do MORE. MORE funding. BETTER systems. MORE help. Yet for some reason, any company that threw up a #blacklivesmatter hashtag has done enough to please the masses.
Going back to Coinbase, they likely saw all of this happening. Their CEO was probably oscillating between what to do. Post the hashtag, please the social media crowd? Or not post the hashtag and take the heat until it died down. Well, he decided to do neither. What he did was take the stance that Coinbase wasn’t focused on politics; it was focused on mission. So as mentioned, people took this a certain way. Which I think was wrong.
Coinbase Is Aiming for Structural change
The very nature of Coinbase winning means companies like Facebook and Twitter losing power. In a world where Coinbase wins, money flows fairly. In a word where Coinbase wins, a few people with power don’t control where the wealth goes. In a world where Coinbase wins, black aren’t looked at differently from white when evaluated for loans. Coinbase’s mission is to OPEN THE SYSTEM UP so those with power can’t exploit it anymore.
When you look at it that way, you can see that if Coinbase wins, more is systemically accomplished than them just going along with the trend and sharing #blacklivesmatter. Some may argue that that this means Coinbase isn’t open to any change and is just letting this oppression happen. I would disagree. I would say if what Coinbase actually accomplishes what its mission is aiming to do, then they are making the right decision by banning politics from the office.
Regardless of societal issues, they still needs a diverse workforce
With that said, there is a lot that Brian should have said differently. For example, since he said he isn’t taking a stance on Black Lives Matter, this makes people think he doesn’t care about black lives or diversity. I don’t think the two are the same. For the people saying that Brian is racist, this may or may not be true. But Brian framed the post to allow for that idea to run freely. I have strong conviction that along with Coinbase being a mission driven company, he is aiming to hire a diverse team simply by being a good CEO. Diversity isn’t just good for the world, it’s good for business. And it isn’t a prerequisite to post about Black Lives Matter to hire really great black people on your team.
If he said something like “No politics in the office, and oh by the way, we have 65% of our workforce being non white men”, I personally don’t think anyone would give him flack for not posting a hashtag. Or maybe they might have like, what happened with a16z, which is the problem we need to solve.
Good Leaders Need to be Good, Then Tell People About It
Unfortunately, I think we’ve gotten to a place in society where its more important to say you’re doing a good thing, vs. actually doing it, just so people think you care. This is such a dangerous place to be. Words really don’t mean much, but what you do is who you are. Actions are everything. How do we get to a world where what we say/post matters less, because we know who’s backing it up with the proper action vs, who’s bullshitting. My solution is simple. #showproof or /proof.
What is /Proof
/proof is public webpage for a company that has their answer to every societal challenge, listed for all to see. So when that issue becomes top of mind on social media, companies have /proof that they care without needing to abide by another hashtag. For example:
Do you support #blacklivesmatter? No, but if you go to Growthmeter.co/proof, you’ll see 63% of my workforce is diverse.
Do you support #greennewdeal? No, but if you go to Growthmeter.co/proof, you’ll see that our footprint is the smallest out of all our competitions.
Do you support #fightfor15? No, but if you go to Growthmeter.co/proof, you’ll see our CEO to lowest paid employee ratio is 9:1.
Do you support <enter social cause>? No, but I support the future you are fighting for by my actions.
Look, if Brian Armstrong was a racist, I hope Coinbase burns down and hope someone else with better values tries again. But I REALLY don’t think Brian is a racist. I think he wants to solve this problem as badly as everyone else, and NOT talking about politics is a way to do that faster. If only Brian had /proof that had a diverse workforce so he could quiet everyone a little bit.
At the end of the day, chances are that Coinbase isn’t diverse. Just like 99% of every other tech company, it’s probably 75% white dudes running the show over there. Don’t hate them. This is where we are NOW. What we should look for is progress. If Coinbase had a /proof page, we could hold him accountable to his actions. I am sure Brian would much rather be accountable for his actions than a hashtag. And instead of us calling him a racist, we will allow him to #showproof that he cares through his BEHAVIOR, not his vanity tweets. Isn’t that a world you’d prefer to live in?