Coinbase confession: "The most intense place I've ever worked"

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Coinbase confession:

If your staff are complaining a lot about working conditions and long hours on anonymous forums, it probably makes little sense to deny that you expect to them to work extremely hard (even if the forum has been loaded with 5* positive reviews since the poor reviews were pointed out). Crypto exchange Coinbase has gone for a different tactic. Its approach seems to be that offense is the best defense, while also granting employees extra time off. 

In a post on the Coinbase blog yesterday, LJ Brock, the Coinbase chief people officer who worked for Citadel in a previous existence, took the direct approach. "The bottom line: We work incredibly hard at Coinbase — for most of us, Coinbase is the most intense place we’ve ever worked," said Brock. "That intensity is only magnified by the current moment in crypto, and it often results in long days and long weeks."

Coinbase isn't the only crypto company where things can be grueling. Because crypto markets don't close at weekends or in the evenings, there can be no respite for the people working in them. "We always need to keep up with the market," Cameron Dickie, the EMEA head of sales at crypto market maker B2C2, told us last November. "There's no real close. - If you're in crypto sales, you're on call 24/7 365 days a year, including birthdays and Christmas."

Coinbase is making intensity part of its pitch to new staff. Working for Coinbase is relentless because "the massive opportunity in front of us demands the best from each of us, every day," says Brock. "We don’t promise 9 a.m. — 5 p.m. hours or 40-hour work weeks — many days and weeks are long, because that’s what it takes to get the job done."

Similarly, B2C2's Dickie says the benefits of working in crypto far outweigh any disadvantages. "We're part of a frontier ecosystem. One day, all markets will operate like this."

It's all a bit reminiscent of app-based bank Revolut, which has long made no effort to deny that its primary focus is "getting shit done." The key team at Revolut all work 12, 13-hour days said founder Nikolay Storonsky in 2017, adding that a lot of them also worked at weekends. Last year, Revolut was valued at $33bn.

Coinbase's current valuation is $55bn and JPMorgan analyst Kenneth Worthington is predicting that this will increase despite recent declines in the value of key crypto tokens. 

If you're a stockholder, therefore, working intensely might be worthwhile. Brock says Coinbase sets "“uncomfortably ambitious” goals" and encourages its people to "act like an owner." However, Brock says the company is also alert to the danger of staff burnout because employees are unwilling to take time off for fear of falling behind or placing too much burden on their colleagues. The solution, says Brock, has turned out to be "recharge weeks" in which Coinbase is closed almost entirely. In 2021 there were two of these. In 2022, there will be a further two (four in total). "We’ve encouraged employees to schedule vacations during our recharge weeks when they can, but we know that’s not always possible, and that’s OK," he adds sympathetically. 

Junior bankers who themselves work far more than 40 hours a week might wish banks would do something similar, but clients probably wouldn't take kindly to a team being absent. For the moment, then, if you want four weeks off, plus your standard vacation time, Coinbase looks like the best bet. Brock points out that they tripled their headcount last year and have hundreds of vacancies for "exceptional" people - as long as they're not looking for a 9-5.

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Photo by Thomas Griesbeck on Unsplash

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