In brief

  • Former PayPal employees have gone on to found several of technology's biggest companies.
  • Coinbase is probably the closest when it comes to a direct comparison.
  • However, the Ethereum Foundation has produced bigger projects.

In the early 2000s, technology journalists noticed that a disproportionate amount of Silicon Valley’s great and good had all passed through one company at one time or another. 

That company was PayPal, and its alumni, referred to as the ‘PayPal Mafia’ included some of technology’s defining names. Peter Thiel, who after founding PayPal, went on to create data analytics giant Palantir and Founders Fund, the VC firm with more than $6 billion under management and a portfolio that includes Airbnb, Lyft, Spotify, and Stripe. 

Max Levchin, who was PayPal’s founder and CTO, went on to key roles at Yelp and Keynote, and Steve Chen, a former engineer at the company, went on to co-found YouTube. Roelof Botha, PayPal’s CFO became a partner at Sequoia Capital which invested in WhatsApp, Apple, Google, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, and others resulting in a combined current public market value of $1.4 trillion - roughly equivalent to 22 percent of Nasdaq.

Then there’s Elon Musk, and we all know what he did next. That’s left many crypto watchers to ponder: Is there an equivalent company in crypto? 

Coinbase Mafia 

If the criteria is limited to one company, Coinbase comes the closest to emulating PayPal’s role as a kingmaker.

The crypto exchange’s former employees have gone on to found a whole range of different crypto projects. Olaf Carlson-Wee, the first employee at Coinbase departed not long afterward to set up Polychain Capital, the crypto hedge fund in 2016. 

Wee’s company has invested in DFinity, Coinbase, Kik, Compound and Celo. In the last 12 months, Polychain has taken part in deals worth $250 million in the last 12 months. 

Fred Ehrsam co-founded Coinbase alongside Brian Armstrong in 2012 after meeting in a Bitcoin subreddit forum. Ehrsam left in 2017 to set up investment firm Paradigm which invested in Compound, Uniswap, BlockFi, Chainalysis and crypto marketplace Zora. 

Antonio Juliano, who worked as a software engineer at the exchange for just over a year, went on to launch decentralized trading platform dYdX, which is backed by Polychain Capital. 

Preethi Kasireddy, another software engineer, left in 2017 to build TruStory, a crypto debating platform - that was shuttered in early 2020. 

Linda Xie and Jordan Clifford met at Coinbase before following in the footsteps of other alumni and launching their own investment fund. Scalar Capital invested in the likes of Dfinity, dYdX, and most recently Aleo, a privacy-focused software company. 

Nick Tomaino followed a similar tract with 1Confirmation, Joseph Urgo went on to found District0x, a network of decentralized marketplaces built on Ethereum and IPFS, Caleb Tebbe built Radar Relay, and Patrick Lorio set up MerkleX both of which offer a decentralized version of Coinbase’s exchange. 

While Coinbase’s ex-employees have gone on to define many aspects of the space, particularly around financing crypto, if we look at the founding members of the Ethereum Foundation - which is not a business in the same sense PayPal and Coinbase is - there’s an even more impressive list of former stablemates.  

Eth Mafia 

When Vitalik Buterin published Ethereum’s whitepaper in 2013, he quickly gathered a team around him that would go on to define not just Eth, but the broader crypto ecosystem too. 

Charles Hoskinson joined Buterin in late 2013, but left shortly afterwards over a dispute in the direction of the project. Hoskinson would subsequently team up with Dan Larimer to help him launch BitShares, the open-source crypto exchange - Larimer would subsequently go on to found Steem and EOS

Hoskinson meanwhile, founded IOHK, which in turn produced Cardano, one of the world’s biggest blockchains by market cap, and Emurgo, the blockchain tech company. 

Anthony Di Lorio was another early co-founder of Ethereum. Around the same time he got involved with Eth, he built KryptoKit, a crypto wallet that would be joined by Erik Voorhees, the founder of crypto trading company ShapeShift and Roger Ver - who would go on to become a proponent for Bitcoin Cash.

Di Lorio would move on from Ethereum to become the Toronto Stock Exchange’s first chief digital officer before going on to found Decentral, a crypto company that develops Jaxx, a popular crypto wallet. 

Next up in Ethereum’s original fab five is Mihai Alisie, and Amir Chetrit. Alisie and Buterin created Bitcoin magazine together to cover the growing cryptocurrency space, before starting Ethereum. Alisie left Ethereum in 2015 to set up Akasha, a social framework for Ethereum.

Buterin met Chetrit, a US-Israeli national, at a Bitcoin business conference in Amsterdam in September 2013. He was instrumental in creating Ethereum’s Swiss base, but departed the project after the second wave of Ethereum co-founders joined the fray. 

In that next wave, Gavin Wood, Joseph Lubin, and Jeffrey Wilke all became part of the project. Wood was working as a research scientist at Microsoft before joining Ethereum in 2013. In his three years at the project, he helped develop the coding language Solidity and was the Ethereum Foundation’s chief technology officer. 

In 2016, he left, along with another Ethereum Foundation alumni, Jutta Steiner to set up the Web3 Foundation, which has developed Polkadot, a network of interoperable blockchains with a market cap of nearly $40 billion.

Wilke was one of the most prolific developers on Ethereum, but left after a few years to set up Grid Games, a video game studio based in the Netherlands .

Joseph Lubin, who had previously worked in finance and was instrumental in the early financing of the project and exploring business models for the fledgling cryptocurrency. When he set sail from the project, he went on to create ConsenSys, an incubator for companies including MetaMask and Gitcoin, not to mention an editorially independent Decrypt. 

He has also been key in recruiting influential Ethereum partners—such as JPMorgan, CME Group, BNY Mellon, Credit Suisse, Banco Santander, BBVA, ING, UBS, BP, Intel, and Microsoft to take part in the space.

But the Ethereum Foundation’s role as a producer of subsequent projects didn’t stop there. The Nervos Network, an open-source public blockchain ecosystem, and collection of protocols, wallet maker Torus, blockchain and IoT company Oaken Innovations and the Raiden Network have all been built by Eth alumni. 

In true crypto fashion, the project that most emulates the payments giant is less a public listed company and more a decentralized network.

Sponsored post by Saidler & Co.

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