I’m joining Coinbase

Why I’m focusing on cryptocurrency after 5 years of killing passwords

TL;DR when Clef joined Twilio, I decided I wanted to focus on cryptocurrencies. I took a couple months off and I’m now the Engineering Manager of the Brokerage team at Coinbase, building coinbase.com.

I created my Coinbase account exactly three years ago. A Bitcoin was worth $447 and Ethereum hadn’t launched yet.

At the time, Clef was in what my co-founders and I refer to as “Season II*.” We’d left college to work on the company full time, but it was still just the three of us. We’d tried raising a seed round once and had failed. We’d built and launched a replacement for passwords and that month — May 2014—2,589 people used our product to log in to a website.

Over the next three years, we’d grow our team to 10, raise $2.2m, and power logins on more than 1 million websites. We’d also fail to build a product that businesses were willing to pay for, pivot to save the company, and ultimately do the thing I’d sworn off, an acqui-hire.

During that journey, there were two things that drove me:

  1. I loved working with decentralized technology, cryptography, and, when I had the time, cryptocurrencies.
  2. I wanted to build a technology that empowered everyone to own their identity in a secure, easy way.
Photos from the last Clef Cooks.

At the end of last year, as Clef began winding down, I decided that though my medium would need to change, I wasn’t ready to give up on my high-level motivators. After a ton of conversations with the team, I decided that joining Coinbase would best let me do that.

Focusing full-time on cryptocurrencies

Early in Clef’s lifecycle, we realized the cryptocurrency ecosystem was ripe for killing passwords. Cryptocurrency applications need to have both a seamless user experience (because we are still in the early stages of adoption) and an extremely high level of security (because digital assets are the most targeted assets in the world), so we posited something like Clef would thrive in the space.

And in many ways, it did.

We were adopted by 25+ digital currency businesses including Bitfinex, BitQuick, BitMex, Paxful, and SatoshiTango. With the help of these customers, we built Distributed Auth, a trustless implementation of Clef that went on to be our highest grossing product. And, most importantly for me, we got to meet and work with many of the brightest people in the space.

I was drawn in by the technology and community and became fascinated with cryptocurrencies. I built a few side-projects, stayed up-to-date on the news, and made regular investments, but since I was running a company full-time, I never had as much time as I wanted.

Over the next 10 years, I believe that cryptocurrencies will be the infrastructure layer on top of which the world’s financial systems are re-written. With this rewrite, we have the opportunity to build new structures that increase economic opportunity and level the playing field. We can give everyone access to the financial tools and freedom that, until now, only a narrow slice of the world has had.

I’m excited to join Coinbase because after 3 years of being in close proximity, I’m finally getting to work on this problem full time. The potential for change is massive—and we’re at the center of it.

Digital currency as a medium for identity

Alongside the financial impact, I also believe that Coinbase has the opportunity to make the internet more accessible to everyone by building easy to use, secure identity tools.

With Clef, we took an identity-first approach: we believed we could grow the next large identity provider by building a better login experience. After 5 years, I’m convinced that approach will not work. Identity is a second-order effect; the result of providing intrinsic value to customers in another way.

Google built Gmail and Google Docs, then exposed that value to other tools as an identity provider with Google Login. Facebook and Twitter built networks which let individuals communicate and share, then leveraged their social graphs to build their identity platforms, Facebook and Twitter Login. None of these companies set out to build an identity product, the identity product was created as a bi-product of the other value they created!

At Coinbase, we’re building the open financial system for the world. On top of this system, I believe we have the opportunity to build the next widely-accepted identity platform—and leveraging the cryptographic properties of digital currency, I think we can do it in a decentralized manner.

We’ve already started building identity products with Coinbase Connect and I’m excited to be part of what comes next.

The last 5 years of Clef have been the most important years of my life.

To my wonderful former colleagues who are now at Twilio— B, Mark, Darrell, Grace, and Aayush—thank you for working with me through the hardest moments and putting up with me as we learned together.

To all our investors, advisors, and customers, thank you for believing in us and in a world without passwords: you helped make it happen, if only for a moment.

I’m excited to get started!

If you’re interested in digital currency, identity, or are looking to join a wonderful little engineering team building the open financial system for the world, shoot me an email.

The Clef team hugging it out after our last Clef Cooks.

*Season I consisted of the time we worked on Clef in college (2012–2013). Season III, The Finale, was the time when we employed non-founders (2014–2017).

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building @coinbase; previously @getclef and @instant2fa.

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Jesse Pollak

Jesse Pollak

building @coinbase; previously @getclef and @instant2fa.

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