Just four months ago, Coinbase reportedly spent $14 million on a Super Bowl ad that consisted almost entirely of a colorful QR code bouncing around the screen, pointing viewers to a website where they could get $15 in Bitcoin just by signing up. Now, its fortunes have turned so sharply that it will lay off about 1,100 employees, or 18 percent of its workforce, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
In a post on the company blog, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong first blamed changing economic conditions that may lead to a “crypto winter” and waited until his third bullet point to mention that the company has “over-hired,” citing its attempt to take advantage of “new use cases enabled by crypto getting traction practically every week.”
2/ We also grew quite quickly over the past two years and have begun to operate less efficiently at our new size. It will take us some time to adjust to this new scale before growing again.— Brian Armstrong - barmstrong.eth (@brian_armstrong) June 14, 2022
Four days ago, Armstrong responded on Twitter to an employee petition calling for the removal of Coinbase execs, calling it “really dumb on multiple levels” and encouraging employees unhappy with the situation or proposed solutions to quit.
The employee petition cited issues that don’t seem nearly as dumb as Armstrong claimed, calling out the company for “aggressively hiring for thousands of roles, despite the fact that it is an unsustainable plan and is contrary to the wisdom of the crypto industry.” It didn’t mention the Super Bowl promotion, but it did note the over-prioritization of certain projects. That starts with the Coinbase NFT platform that launched with what appears to be exceptionally bad timing considering a drop in activity in the overall marketplace and which has failed to catch on among people who trade in the digital tokens.
In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that company executives, including Armstrong, his fellow co-founder Fred Ehrsam, president and COO Emilie Choi, and CPO Surojit Chatterjee had netted $1.2 billion in share sales since Coinbase’s IPO in April 2021. The company’s shares opened at a price of $382 and are currently trading at about $52. A New York Times article in April noted employees leaving tech companies for crypto startups in a “get-rich-faster” rush, citing Chatterjee’s experience — just 14 months after leaving Google for Coinbase, his stake in the company was worth (at the time) more than $600 million.
This staff reduction comes after Coinbase started rescinding job offers that had already been accepted by candidates. The sudden change left even some visa holders in limbo as well as others who’d bypassed other opportunities or arranged to leave their previous jobs. In a report yesterday, Motherboard counted over 300 people whose offers were rescinded.
Other cryptocurrency firms like BlockFi, Crypto.com, and Gemini have also announced layoffs recently after the price of Bitcoin has gone down in each of the last 12 weeks and now sits around $21,884 after peaking at about $69,000 last November.
In the blog post, Armstrong says, “In the next hour every employee will receive an email from HR informing if you are affected or unaffected by this layoff.” Those being let go will get at least 14 weeks of severance plus an additional two weeks for every year of employment after their first — plus four months of COBRA health insurance in the US and four months of mental health support globally as well as access to its talent hub that is supposed to try and help them find new jobs.