Ripple CEO rejects Coinbase core mission argument

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse has criticised cryptocurrency exchange boss Brian Armstrong regarding his apolitical, anti-activist office policy at Coinbase

The furore over Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s September decision to foster an apolitical work environment has continued into the last week of October. Speaking to CNBC, the CEO of Ripple Labs, the company behind the Ripple payment protocol and XRP token, criticised his industry colleague.

Brad Garlinghouse discussed what he saw as the duty of Silicon Valley firms to engage in resolving societal issues, saying: “We think about our mission as enabling an internet of value, but we seek positive outcomes for society. I think tech companies have an opportunity − but actually an obligation − to lean into being part of the solution.”

In a blog post for staff at the prominent US cryptocurrency exchange, Armstrong had prioritised the need to “build great products” and “source amazing talent” over engaging in ancillary matters unrelated to crypto. Regarding “broader societal issues”, Armstrong maintained: “We don’t engage here when issues are unrelated to our core mission, because we believe impact only comes with focus.”

The 37 year-old framed politics in a similar fashion, discouraging employees from advocating “for any particular causes or candidates internally that are unrelated to our mission”, adding: “Even if we all agree something is a problem, we may not all agree on the solution.”

Armstrong argued that while engagement in a wide variety of social activism is no doubt well intentioned, it has “the potential to destroy a lot of value at most companies, both by being a distraction, and by creating internal division.”

After this pledge to nip internal strife in the bud, Coinbase offered any employees opposed to the strategy the opportunity to take up generous exit packages. Armstrong said: “Life is too short to work somewhere that you aren’t excited about, and we’re happy to make that a win-win conversation.”

More than 60 employees, or one in 20, have thus far opted to move.

Garlinghouse is by no means the first prominent Silicon Valley figure to criticise Coinbase’s move. Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey said: “#Bitcoin (aka “crypto”) is direct activism against an unverifiable and exclusionary financial system which negatively affects so much of our society. Important to at *least* acknowledge and connect the related societal issues your customers face daily. This leaves people behind.”

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Far from being unique, the Coinbase debacle can be seen as one incident in an ongoing ideological struggle within the US tech sector. Only a month before, Palantir Technologies CEO Alex Karp, who co-founded the data analytics firm with early Facebook investor Peter Thiel, argued in a letter to investors: “The engineering elite of Silicon Valley may know more than most about building software. But they do not know more about how society should be organized or what justice requires.

“Our company was founded in Silicon Valley. But we seem to share fewer and fewer of the technology sector’s values and commitments.”

By mid-morning, XRP traded up 0.26 per cent against the dollar at $0.2539, almost a third higher than its 2020 starting level.

 

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