Jack Dorsey, Dick Costolo slam Coinbase CEO’s no-activism policy, setting off debate among tech figures

  • Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and former CEO and investor Dick Costolo are among the tech figures publicly criticizing Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong.
  • Armstrong has forbidden corporate and employee activism at his company, he said. He has told employees who dislike this to leave the company with severance, according to leaked emails.
  • Dorsey argued that Coinbase’s mission revolves around Bitcoin which is itself “direct activism” against a status quo financial system that “negatively affects so much of our society.”
  • But Costolo’s comments set off a real firestorm, when he used language invoking a firing squad.
  • Some believe that Armstrong’s move to push politics out of his workplace were necessary during a polarized time while others characterized it as tone-deaf and punitive.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Reactions to Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s hard line against corporate activism at his company set off infighting among tech figures Wednesday who disagreed over whether Armstrong’s stance was necessary or tone-deaf.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey slammed Armstrong, saying his stance runs contrary to the reasons Bitcoin exists. And investor and former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo really caused a stir with a series of tweets that not only condemned the stance but used inflammatory language about who will get “shot in the revolution.”

“#Bitcoin (aka “crypto”) is direct activism against an unverifiable and exclusionary financial system which negatively affects so much of our society,” Dorsey tweeted. “Important to at *least* acknowledge and connect the related societal issues your customers face daily. This leaves people behind”

Coinbase helps people buy and sell Bitcoin as well as other popular cryptocurrencies. Dorsey frequently praises Bitcoin. Earlier this month at a forum in Oslo, he even said he expects the currency to shape Twitter’s future.

But it was scathing comments from investor and Ex-Twitter CEO Costolo that caused the biggest backlash.

After investor Paul Graham tweeted that Armstrong was “leading the way,” Costolo replied that Armstrong’s stance was “the abdication of leadership,” and “the equivalent of telling your employees to ‘shut up and dribble.'”

Costolo followed up by tweeting: “Abandoning the social contract with employees in favor of a purely economic contract in the guise of ‘championship team’ bs makes you a bank with a mission nobody really believes. Good luck getting the best engineers in the world to work at a bank.”

Costolo went on to tweet: “Me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business are going to be the first people lined up against the wall and shot in the revolution. I’ll happily provide video commentary.”

And it was that violence-laced sentiment that set off a backlash, with dozens of comments in reply and founders and VCs squaring off.

“Makers need maker time, and Brian is protecting that,” Eligible CEO Katelyn Gleason replied. “he’s protecting the art of creating and building over the violence, hatred and outrage your later tweet exudes.”

“The ‘art of creating’??” Brooklyn Bridge Ventures founder Charlie O’Donnell replied to Gleason. “He’s not Picasso. He’s building an online brokerage for Bitcoin.”

Forbes’ Adam Brown even went so far as to characterize Costolo’s opinion as “Some business leaders should face a firing squad.”

All of this discussion sprang from a blog post by Armstrong last weekend, who set off a flurry of praise and scorn when he announced that his company would no longer engage in corporate activism and employees were forbidden to do so at Coinbase. He followed that up on Wednesday by telling his workforce that any employee not ok with this new policy should leave, and that he was offering a healthy severance for them to do so, according to leaked emails.

Blockchain investor Trevor Koverko asked Costolo whether his “shut up and dribble” critique could be applied to a quote from Snowflake CEO Frank Slootman saying he avoids “high-minded societal ambitions.”

“No.” responded Costolo.

Others agreed at least with Costolo’s “dribble” tweet.

“This,” replied Redpoint Ventures partner Ryan Sarver. “Thank you for saying it”

Coinbase’s move towards apoliticism drew both heat and plaudits from others in tech as well.

Some, such as investor Jason Calacanis, tweeted, “@coinbase is going to get 10x as many resumes after @brian_armstrong’s ‘no more politics’ at work manifesto because most folks are exhausted from the intensity of the political & social discourse in America–they appreciate a laser-focused workplace.”

Others were less bullish.

“I may be being glib, and for that I apologize in advance,” Lux Capital partner Bilal Zuberi replied to Calacanis, “but this stance feels like the ‘All lives matter’ stance.”

Zuberi expanded on those comments for Business Insider, questioning how a company can ignore employee’s personal concerns when technology connects them to their workplaces every hour of the day.

“How is it possible to avoid topics at work that affect us deeply?” Zuberi said. “If I am worried about the safety of my children at 12 in the afternoon or 12 at night, how could I not want others around me to be supportive at a high level?”

Twitter and Coinbase declined to comment for this story. Costolo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Got tips about Coinbase, tech startups, or venture capital? Email Max Jungreis at mjungreis@businessinsider.com, DM him on Twitter @MaxJungreis, or contact him on encrypted messaging app Signal at (907) 947-0299.

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