Picture this: You’re in a local coffee shop, innocent as you please, when you overhear someone mention “cryptocurrency.” You naturally assume the worst: here’s a libertarian tech bro funding his second Lamborghini and dreaming of a New Zealand bug-out retreat next door to Peter Thiel. Yet you look up to discover a Portland soccer-mom type and think, wait—normal citizens are into this stuff?
This is, essentially, the vision of Coinbase, a San Francisco company launched in 2012 and aiming to create an accessible, mainstream-able trading platform for crypto in all its exotic varieties: Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, ZuperBux (one of these is not real). At its simplest entry level, Coinbase facilitates investment in cryptocurrencies through a friction-free web and app interface, much like any investment site. The company thus aims to demystify digital currency. It generated a reported $1 billion in revenue last year; this year Coinbase planted an office in downtown Portland.
“We wanted to have an office we can consider as our secondary headquarters,” says Tina Bhatnagar, the Coinbase vice president of operations and technology, who headed the team that chose this city as the company’s new stomping grounds. “The technology community here is close-knit. There is a sense of people helping each other out. There is also a growing blockchain community here, which is interesting for us.”
In contrast to cryptocurrency’s popular image as an all-male domain, Coinbase’s leadership team is roughly 40 percent women, and Bhatnagar stresses the importance of equity and inclusion in the hiring process for the scores of Portland jobs touted in the expansion. “Our product reflects us trying to open the financial system up for the world,” she says. “We need to make sure [Coinbase] has a rich culture of different perspectives and different people.”
Still, there’s a dark side to all this digital dough, which has been linked to everything from human trafficking to kidnapping to drug sales. (Coinbase wouldn’t comment.) One recent study concluded that almost half of all cryptocurrency transactions are associated with illegal activity. Another suggested Bitcoin “miners” consume as much electricity as Ireland or Austria. So, perhaps it’s too early to call crypto an unqualified success. But if Coinbase can integrate into Portland’s convivial tech culture, it could stand a chance.