Olaf Carlson-Wee was recruited by the crypto exchange Coinbase in 2013 and paid entirely in Bitcoin for 3 years of work.
Coinbase was founded 9 years ago, in 2012, by Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam. The two did not hire staff until a year later.
In 2013, after posting a job offer, the two Coinbase founders received a long email from Olaf Carlson-Wee – graduated from Vassar University in 2012, majoring in sociology. Carlson-Wee has a great belief in cryptocurrencies. His graduate thesis at that time mainly mentioned Bitcoin and the big impact of this virtual currency on the financial sector in the future.
“I confidently email my resume to Coinbase. I love Bitcoin. I will do anything related to it.”, Carlson-Wee recalls the moment he emailed, attaching his 90-page graduation thesis.
Five minutes after the email was sent, Carlson-Wee received a response from Ehrsam. “Let’s talk to Skype!”, The Coinbase co-founder texted.
Ehrsam and Carlson-Wee chatted for about 20 minutes on Skype, before arranging for a face-to-face interview in San Francisco. At the interview, Carlson-Wee spent most of his time sketching out Coinbase’s development concept, emphasizing that the most important factor was “focusing 100% on security”, especially about ensuring that users’ virtual currency balances are always protected from hackers.
“The frustrating customer experience with a platform will soon be forgotten, but a security incident will not. So we need to make sure everything is very careful,” says Carlson-Wee.
After the interview, Carlson-Wee said that Ehrsam continued to pose “complex math problems” and asked him to solve them. After that, he continued to meet with Armstrong for about an hour, mainly discussing strategic vision.
Four days after the interview, Armstrong and Ehrsam discussed each other and decided to try out Carlson-Wee for two weeks. After this time, he accepted an official job offer as a Client Support, receiving a starting salary of $ 50,000 per year, paid entirely in Bitcoin. In 2013, the price per Bitcoin was just over 13 USD per coin. Carlson-Wee received about 3,800 Bitcoins. In terms of current value, this amount of bitcoins is equivalent to more than $ 200 million.
Carlson-Wee was Coinbase’s only customer support agent until the exchange reached 250,000 users. He later became head of risk solving for Coinbase, before leaving in 2016 to found Polychain Capital – one of the world’s first crypto investment funds, is currently valued at more than $ 300 million by Forbes.
According to calculations, in three years of work, Carlson-Wee may have “pocketed” about 11,500 Bitcoin, equivalent to 11.5 million USD in 2016 when the price of Bitcoin reached 1,000 USD per coin. If calculated in present value, the amount could be more than 600 million USD.
When leaving Coinbase, Carlson-Wee did not mention the amount of Bitcoin he received, as well as the number of shares he had in this virtual currency exchange. He then also returned to invest in the old company with undisclosed money.
Coinbase just went public on the Nasdaq exchange amid rising demand for Bitcoin, Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies. The IPO also helped Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong become a billionaire. Holding 39.6 million shares, Armstrong owns a fortune of nearly $ 13 billion. Ehrsam left the company in 2017 but remains chairman and holds an 8.9% stake in Coinbase.