Culture at Coinbase

Below I’m sharing our culture doc for Coinbase, which describes how we work together day-to-day as a company. I’m sharing it publicly because I hope it will help reinforce the importance of building the culture to our current employees, and help attract new employees who might want to work in a culture like this.

I’m really glad that we finally took the time to articulate our culture. In the early days of a company (say less than 150 people) it’s fairly easy to set the culture as CEO just by having regular conversations with all employees and sharing what you think. But past a certain point (some say Dunbar’s number) this becomes impractical, and it helps to actually write it out and communicate it in a more scalable way. Last year, Coinbase went from 250 to 750 people. Our culture began to drift with so many new people joining. My hope is that we can reverse that trend.

Side note: As with all major messages that you want to stick in an organization, you have to communicate it multiple times, through multiple channels, and from multiple people. This blog post is one of those steps for us.

To create the document below, we had conversations with our advisers, our board, and 150+ employees. It went through multiple iterations to incorporate feedback. When I sent it to the team, I shared a few pieces of context:

  • It is aspirational. Some of this will feel like it already exists in our culture. Other parts will feel quite different. Our goal as a team is to continually get closer to this ideal (we will likely never be 100% perfect on it).
  • This is a reset of expectations. This may be different from what you expected when you joined the company in some ways. That isn’t great (and I take responsibility for that). The good news is that we now have clear expectations going forward.
  • Our culture is a remix. Many of these ideas are not original. While there isn’t one company’s culture we want to emulate 100%, we were inspired by companies like Netflix, Amazon, Google, and others. We took some ideas we liked and put our own twist on them.

There are six tenets of our culture, with a set of actions under each one. I hope you find them useful.

The Coinbase Culture Doc

Top talent in every seat

Raise the bar with every hire

We over invest in finding top talent, knowing that recruiting and developing top talent is the root cause of all our success. We prefer to occasionally miss out on a good hire rather than make a bad hire (in other words we intentionally have a conservative hiring process). When deciding on a candidate, we coach interviewers to ask themselves questions like:

  • Will this person raise the average on my team?
  • Did I leave my interview more inspired and engaged than when I went in?
  • Is this person much better than me in at least one area?
  • Could this person start adding value right away? (e.g. would they take work off my plate or create more work for me)

If the answer to any one of those questions is “no” or even “maybe,” then we ask interviewers to round down to “no.” We never treat an absence of red flags as a reason to hire someone. We ask every interviewer to only vote yes if they are a “hell yes”, otherwise we vote no.

To implement the above, we don’t let managers make unilateral hiring decisions at Coinbase. However, we also don’t require 100% of interviewers to be a “hell yes” for a candidate to be hired (some of our best hires have been polarizing in interviews). Instead, we choose a middle ground: we include a “bar raiser” in every hiring panel, and both the hiring manager and bar raiser need to be a hell yes for a candidate to be hired, incorporating the input from everyone on the hiring panel.

Hiring is everyone’s responsibility

Hiring and developing top talent in every seat is how people advance at Coinbase. This is true across the org: managers are promoted based on their ability to attract and develop top talent, and all employees are asked to make referrals, prioritize interviews, and help sell candidates.

Be inclusive

We have a goal to put top talent in every seat, and we work hard to fight the bias that might lead us to miss out on hiring and developing great people. Finding top talent requires us to cast the widest net possible and understand unique strengths and capabilities of all kinds of people. We are rigorous about hiring based on skills and values, but outside of this, we welcome people from every background and set of experiences.

Both skills and values are required (not one or the other)

Having the right skills is critical, but not sufficient. Value-alignment and a team-first mentality are must-haves. We don’t tolerate brilliant jerks. A candidate might not meet every value (four out of four), but we are excited about them as long as they demonstrate humility, curiosity, and flexibility to adapt to any values they may not come in with.

How we live this today

  • Hiring managers can’t make unilateral hiring decisions: a Bar Raiser can veto any hire in addition to the hiring manager.
  • Our first 100 hires had to complete a one-week work trial (take time off work to come interview).
  • We do reference checks on every hire.
  • We apply the Rooney Rule on all senior hires and internal transfers.

What we won’t do

  • Hire candidates we are lukewarm on, even when we need to urgently fill a gap in the org
  • Assume only an external, expert hire can solve our biggest challenges

Play as a championship team

Celebrate the opportunity

If you choose to join Coinbase, you will work with and learn from the best. There is joy in developing these professional relationships, working for a market leader, developing crypto knowledge, and building personal wealth. We have opportunities to step into massive stretch roles, take on huge responsibility, and rise to the challenge.

Sustained high performance

We are regularly pushed out of our comfort zones. A lot is asked of us: excellence in our work, solving hard challenges, 100% accountability for our actions, and an ownership mentality (often requiring long hours). We rest and recover when needed, but make ourselves available if we are the blocker on a key item. If someone isn’t raising the team average, we work with them to improve. However, if it becomes a consistent pattern, we make the difficult but necessary decision to part ways with them for the good of the team.

Be company first

We prioritize team goals over individual goals, because we all benefit most from the success of the parent company. We do this by creating win-win situations with humility, curiosity, and solutions-oriented optimism. We’re stronger together, so we reject tribalism and division, instead choosing to focus on what unites us.

Default to trust

When we see something that doesn’t make sense at first glance, we default to trust by assuming good intentions. We trust the motivations and capabilities of our teammates instead of presuming a mistake. At the same time, we’re not afraid to dig deeper, and ask questions from a place of curiosity. We approach conversations with a desire to learn and understand, not a desire to be right.

How we live this today

  • We don’t donate to political parties — because this created an unnecessary source of division in the company. We choose to focus on what unites us instead.
  • We discourage internal competition, instead asking everyone to put their company hat on.

What we won’t do

  • Only celebrate the individual above the whole
  • Foster internal competition
  • Ask one product to be worse, to elevate another product

Be candid and kind

Default to open

Sharing context helps everyone get their job done. It also builds trust and strengthens relationships in the org. Therefore, we strive to be as transparent as possible with all information in the company. This includes bad news — we share it as soon as we can, because we know it doesn’t age well.

However, we don’t share everything openly. For instance, we won’t share performance reviews, negative feedback, and personnel matters (such as reasons for people’s departure) with the company. We also keep in-flight Biz Dev and Corp Dev deals (partnerships and acquisitions) private, since we are coordinating with a third party.

Reveal what you think

We proactively share our points of view with teammates. When we withhold these thoughts, we rob the team of our wisdom and fail to make them better. This extends beyond team dynamics and product strategy: If we see something unethical or if we are unhappy, it is our job to speak up.

Importantly, this kind of “revealing” should happen in the moment as much as possible. We avoid back-channel “meetings after the meeting” and gossip. We share with others only what we would say if the other person was in the room.

Embrace delivering and receiving feedback

We would rather share information that makes people a tad uncomfortable than withhold it to protect feelings, but if delivered carelessly, candor can do more harm than good. Feedback should always be directed at the work, not the person (e.g. “your presentation fell short of the mark,” not “you fell short of the mark”). Positive feedback should be given in public, and negative feedback should generally be given in private. The intent of all feedback must be to help our colleagues (and the team) improve, never to harm. We deliver it with kindness and without a commitment to being right.

We commit to asking for feedback regularly, and creating a safe space for others to speak up. We listen consciously for the underlying truth. We replay what we hear, ask if there is more, invite requests, and create clear agreements going forward. It’s our job to ask for feedback from our managers, peers, and reports. We welcome feedback from all sources — an intern can give feedback to the CEO on their first day.

How we live this today

  • Expect two-way feedback in every 1:1.
  • Brian periodically shares his performance review with the company.
  • At Brian’s employee lunches he gives $20 (in crypto) to the person who gives him the most raw feedback (even if it hurts his feelings).
  • We have a dedicated discussion channel and weekly AMAs where any employee can ask any question of the leadership team.
  • We share key company metrics with all employees.

What we won’t do

  • Conceal our thoughts during a meeting, and share them after the meeting
  • Gossip — the test for this is “would you say it the same way if the person was in the room now?”
  • Encourage only top-down feedback

Focus on the customer

Improve usability

To help one billion people benefit from crypto, we have to make it dramatically easier to use. As people who work in technology, we are anomalies in the world. While we and most people we know are probably comfortable using technology, we remember this is not true of the average person.

We should always push to make our products easier to use. We avoid using technical jargon like “private key,” “force quit,” or “hash” in our products and when communicating with customers. Imagine a product so simple that anyone can use it, even if they are illiterate. We aim to educate our customers as they use our products, preparing them to benefit from the cryptoeconomy.

Bring economic freedom to the world

We have an opportunity to improve our customers’ lives by giving them access to sound money, basic property rights, ways to get a loan, and even to start a business. We enable people to emigrate with their wealth intact. Everyone deserves to be free from corruption, abuse, and bribery.

Our global aspirations mean we are a global company. Our goal is to serve customers in as many countries around the world as we can. We operate in many different regulatory environments around the world, and we don’t apply a single standard to all of them. We build products and operate in the way that serves each of our customers best.

Make money for our customers

Sometimes we see a way to launch a feature that will generate money for Coinbase, but harm our customers in the long term. If we make money at our customer’s expense, we may win in the short term, but will lose in the long term. We believe that if customers make money it’s also good for us long term, because they will be more willing to share a portion of their upside with us.

We recognize that storing people’s money comes with a great deal of responsibility. Losing $100 for one customer may be just as painful as losing $1M for another. Every customer is putting their trust in our hands, so when it comes to security, compliance, and the operations of the company, we should focus on quality, and get it right the first time.

How we live this today

  • We have customers in over 100 countries today.
  • Products go to “Brian Review” to meet a quality bar on usability.
  • We do not rush to add new assets to the platform, instead taking time to evaluate and integrate them thoughtfully.
  • We launched educational products (like Coinbase Earn) to help customers to make more informed buying decisions.

What we won’t do

  • Prioritize shareholders over our customers (which we believe actually benefits long term shareholders even more)
  • Be so customer focused that it harms our long term prospects — the more capital we have, the more likely we are to accomplish our mission and drive more economic freedom

Foster repeatable innovation

Accelerate progress

We have the opportunity to accelerate the pace of innovation in the world by building an open financial system. Our vision is to create more economic freedom in the world, to help people control their own wealth, start companies, have financial privacy, and participate in the global economy. We don’t want to be a one hit wonder as a company. Instead, we choose to foster a culture of repeatable innovation and celebrate being a multi-product company. We make calculated bets and always look to the horizon to see what we can build next.

Disrupt ourselves (before someone else does)

We work to preserve the founding moment — staying hungry and foolish, building just because it is fun (we recognize play as an important source of creativity), ignoring naysayers, rapidly prototyping, and making it okay to ship embarrassing first versions. This ensures we always have space to build what’s coming next.

We’re not afraid to create a new product that disrupts one of our existing products, as long as it will help our customers. We think it’s okay if a competitor to one of our products is a customer of another. We invest in the broader cryptoeconomy, outside of Coinbase’s products.

We don’t let process or risk aversion ossify us. We shelter and protect new initiatives, recognizing that it’s easy for these “green shoots” to get trampled in a larger organization.

Celebrate thoughtful failure

We strive to become excellent at failure — and work to extract the lesson from every misstep. If some of our projects aren’t failing, we aren’t thinking big enough. We differentiate between great work toward a hypothesis that didn’t pan out and poor work toward a good hypothesis. We avoid over correction when things don’t work out, knowing that it might prevent us from taking reasonable risks in the future.

Hire builders

We hire people who are passionate about creating new products with technology. We look for entrepreneurs who are comfortable with ambiguity. We prefer to work with people who actually execute toward ideas, instead of just coming up with them. When the creative moment strikes, we try not to let big company process get in the way or slow them down.

How we live this today

  • We invested in Coinbase Wallet and Commerce during crypto winter of 2015.
  • 10% of our resources are invested in experimental, innovative projects.
  • The first version of Coinbase merchant tools shipped in a weekend.
  • More than 40% of our employees are engineers.

What we won’t do

  • Bias for minimizing downside
  • When something bad happens, over index on process to make sure it doesn’t happen again
  • Stick with what works. Make incremental improvement. Rest on our laurels.

Act like an owner

Take 100% responsibility

Each one of us is empowered to make this company a success. We seek out ways to improve our products, culture, and the company overall, even in ways that are not explicitly part of our job. While surfacing problems is expected, it is always better to pair them with proposed solutions. Sam Altman once framed it like this: “If you notice something below standards, and don’t fix it or make sure someone else does, you have set a new standard. Complaining about it does not count as fixing it. If someone gets upset/tells you to stay in your lane, they’ve set an even worse new standard.” We cultivate a mentality that we can have an impact on our surroundings.

Don’t get stuck

Solving hard problems requires us to explore non-obvious and creative solutions — when we get a “no”, we are polite but persistent, and do what we can to find the “yes.” We work to understand the root cause of the no and solicit diverse perspectives on how to move forward. We know that action produces information. We speak to our network, think outside the box, prioritize options, and keep moving.

Think long term

We work to do what’s right for the long-term success of the company and our mission. We don’t over-rotate on this quarter, this week, or this day. We aren’t distracted by the hype cycle, by crypto prices, or by the successes or failures of our competitors. We stay focused on what’s coming, give emerging projects the resources to succeed, and remind ourselves of the outsized, positive impact we can have on the world over many decades.

How we live this today

  • We hire and attract many entrepreneurs to work at Coinbase. In addition, many Coinbase employees have gone on to start successful companies (often in the crypto space).
  • Engineers regularly ship small fixes, even if they aren’t on their roadmap or OKRs.
  • Any employee can submit a “problem + proposed solution” document in writing if they notice an issue.
  • If we notice paper accumulating in the bathroom, we might pick it up, but we also follow up with facilities to see if we can solve the root cause.
  • We chose to pursue a compliant and regulated strategy from the beginning, even though it hurt our growth and revenue in the short term, because we felt it was the right long term bet.

What we won’t do

  • Focus on who is to blame — all outcomes are co-created
  • Defer to Leadership as having a greater share of the responsibility (top down)
  • Make assumptions that “that’s just the way it is done here”
  • Color inside the lines

Hopefully you found this post useful to better understand Coinbase’s culture, and maybe even to help define your own company culture.

If this sounds like a culture that you might want to be a part of, please check out our open roles and apply for a position.

Culture at Coinbase was originally published in The Coinbase Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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