Coinbase CEO says no politics at work. Some peers disagree

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey took issue with Coinbase's new rule requiring employees to check their political causes at the door.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was among the Silicon Valley leaders who took issue with a new rule at Coinbase that requires employees to check their political causes at the door.
(Francois Mori / Associated Press)

Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey joined a chorus of criticism for Coinbase Inc.’s newly announced policy of not debating politics at work, saying it runs counter to the core principles of cryptocurrency.

The outcry came in response to a blog post by Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, who said that the company should be mission-focused and not “advocate for any particular causes or candidates internally that are unrelated to our mission, because it is a distraction.” Dorsey said Armstrong’s stance runs counter to the purpose of currencies such as bitcoin, which is traded on Coinbase and is itself a form of social activism.

“#Bitcoin (aka “crypto”) is direct activism against an unverifiable and exclusionary financial system which negatively affects so much of our society,” Dorsey tweeted. To not acknowledge and connect the related social and political issues “leaves behind people,” according to the Twitter chief. The bio section of Dorsey’s Twitter profile lists only “#bitcoin,” signaling it’s a key issue for him.

Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo also lamented how this move will dilute the tech industry’s culture, which used to “welcome lively debate about ideas and society.”


“This isn’t great leadership. It’s the abdication of leadership,” Costolo said. “It’s the equivalent of telling your employees to ‘shut up and dribble.’”

For Aaron White, founder and chief technology officer of software management company Blissfully Tech Inc., Armstrong’s view is an “isolationist fantasy.”

“Of course there is a balance between business building and juggling all the various concerns of the rest of the world. But if you have people you have politics,” White tweeted. “Basically, by taking your business, a group of people w/ real world concerns, and purposefully disengaging your organization from the non-business world ... you are effectively GUARANTEEING you’ll land on the wrong side of history for absolutely every issue.”

Angel investor Jason Calacanis said he tries to strike a middle ground by allowing his employees to discuss politics but not in official platforms. Calacanis has invested in start-ups such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Wealthfront Corp.

“At my companies (the ones I run) we are fine with talking about politics & social issues, we just have a rule against doing it in Slack & email,” he said in a tweet.

Amid the backlash, Armstrong maintained his stance, offering Coinbase employees who don’t “feel comfortable with this new direction” four to six months of severance to leave the company, according to the website the Block.


In an internal email reviewed by the Block, Armstrong said: “It’s always sad when we see teammates go, but it can also be what is best for them and the company. Life is too short to work at a company that you aren’t excited about.”

Coinbase investor Paul Graham for his part applauded Armstrong. In a tweet, Graham said, “the most successful companies will follow Coinbase’s lead. If only because those who don’t are less likely to succeed.”

Coinbase, a digital-currency exchange whose website says it has more than 35 million users, suggested that its push for an apolitical stance was a reaction to a growing movement within tech companies for employees’ beliefs to be better represented by their companies.

“We’ve seen what internal strife at companies like Google and Facebook can do to productivity,” Armstrong said in the post. “We are an intense culture and we are an apolitical culture.”