Dan Romero, VP and general manager at Coinbase
Business Insider checked in with Dan Romero, VP and general manager at Coinbase, to find out what its like trying to grow and scale one of the hottest startups in tech.Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, saw $1 billion in revenue last year as Bitcoin surged in popularity and nearly hit $20,000 in value.Now Romero is tasked with building an organization and product that is suited to handle wild consumer demand. That includes implementing technologies like SegWit, a sometimes-controversial technology that aims to improve Bitcoin.Romero downplayed rumors that Coinbase is seeking a CFO ahead of a prospective IPO, saying instead that he’s focused on building a company that could do for cryptocurrency what Google did for search.
Coinbase is one of the hottest startups in tech — and with good reason. The cryptocurrency exchange hit $1 billion in annual revenue as this year’s Bitcoin mania sent the popular digital coin surging up to almost $20,000, before it came back down.
With a reported 10 million customers served on the platform, Coinbase is far and away the most popular exchange in the US. And investors have noticed, giving the six-year-old startup $100 million in capital at a $1.6 billion valuation in a funding round last August.
But popularity comes at a price, and Coinbase has stumbled through the difficult of scaling from a niche product to a real, sustainable business. It was under these circumstances that Dan Romero, a four-year veteran of Coinbase, took on the role of general manager and vice president of the company in January.
Romero, who previously ran the startup’s business development, is now in charge of growing and scaling both the engineering and product side of Coinbase, as well as its internal operations. Or, in Romero’s own words — “the overall customer experience, that’s what I wake up every day and focus on,” he tells Business Insider.
In conversation with Business Insider, Romero downplayed a recent Recode report that the company was hiring a CFO to go public — but didn’t deny it, either. In a bigger-picture sense, Romero says that Coinbase is trying to build a company that could do for cryptocurrency what Google did for search.
Below, find our conversation with Romero, touching on everything from upstart cryptocurrency exchange rivals like Robinhood, to the sometimes-controversial SegWit technology that could improve Bitcoin, to the future of Coinbase itself.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
With competition growing, Romero says Coinbase is focusing on the mission
Becky Peterson: The competition seems to be growing, with a lot of companies launching cryptocurrency exchanges. How do you define yourself and see the positioning of Coinbase in the long-term compared to other companies in the space?
Dan Romero: We are a first mover in the space in terms of building a consumer friendly brand. We are enabling individuals to be able to get into the ecosystem and be able to experiment with digital currency.
We’ve had a lot of challenges around with scaling. We’ve had a lot of customers come on to the platform in the last year and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure we’re giving them a great customer experience. It’s not where it needs to be today. I think hopefully soon we’ll have made significant improvements there.
But I think if we shift to long-term, Coinbase is going to be 100% focused on cryptocurrency. Our mission is to build an open financial system for the world. We’re not interested in equities or options trading or any of the other kind of traditional financial system products.
We’re a neutral platform that is focused on bringing digital currencies to the world more broadly, and not picking favorites or following a political path.
We’re focused on digital currency. Where we will be successful is if customers fundamentally think of us as “the crypto company.” That is our focus. So with other folks coming into the market, it’s validation that cryptocurrency is more mainstream. But we fundamentally don’t view cryptocurrency as a feature. It’s our business.
If you look at a couple of the more recent entrants into the market, they don’t allow you to send and receive digital currency, or they make you jump through significant hoops to do that. And I think that is antithetical to the idea of cryptocurrency to begin with.
It’s fundamentally something to be used, and you can move it around just like you can more your own files around. So the fact that a service would come in and let you speculate on price but not actually use currencies — in some ways that’s actually concerning to me.
Peterson: What do you mean? The fact that Coinbase offers payment features and things like that?
Romero: Yeah, but I think a great example, there is a competitor that’s rolling out today, where if you go to their…