The First Coinbase Employee Was Paid in Bitcoin for Three Years

Bitcoins placed beside Coinbase App on iPhone, illustrating one of the largest Bitcoin providers, photographed in Cologne, Germany, 14th of April 2021.
Movus / Getty Images

Coinbase’s market cap topped $100 billion after its Nasdaq debut this week, but in its early days, its first employee ever cold-emailed to get the job — and was paid in bitcoin.

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Olaf Carlson-Wee had written his undergraduate thesis on Bitcoin and was eager for work. In a 2016 interview for the Y Combinator blog, as reported by CNBC, he stated, “I literally cold emailed jobs@coinbase and said ‘I love bitcoin. Here’s my thesis. I’ll do any job.'”

The company was interested, Decrypt states, but Carlson-Wee needed to get through this riddle first:

One hundred students approach 100 lockers. Student 1 opens all of them, starting with locker 1. Student 2 goes down the line and closes every second locker, starting with locker 2. Student 3 changes the state of every third locker, starting with locker 3 — if it is open, it gets closed, and if it is closed, it gets opened. And so on, until all one hundred students have taken a turn changing the state of the lockers. How many lockers are open at the end?

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The rest is history. Carlson-Wee was paid with a starting salary of $50,000, entirely in bitcoin, according to The Wall Street Journal. In 2013, when he started, the price of Bitcoin was roughly $13. Although it’s unclear how much Carlson-Wee currently owns, the cryptocurrency is currently trading at around $60,000.

CNBC reports that in his job interview with Coinbase, he expressed his thoughts on security being paramount. His pragmatism paid off, and he eventually became the company’s head of risk.

Carlson-Wee then went on to create his own cryptocurrency investment firm, Polychain Capital, which he currently operates as CEO.

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About the Author

Georgina Tzanetos is a former financial advisor who studied post-industrial capitalist structures at New York University. She has eight years of experience with concentrations in asset management, portfolio management, private client banking, and investment research. Georgina has written for Investopedia and WallStreetMojo. 

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