- Serena Williams invested in Coinbase in 2018 through her venture capital firm, Serena Ventures. But the cryptocurrency startup is no longer included on the investments page of the firm’s website.
- Coinbase is entangled in controversy after CEO Brian Armstrong wrote a memo telling employees to leave their politics and social causes at the door. At least 60 employees have quit in the aftermath.
- It’s possible that Serena Ventures has divested her stake in Coinbase, and that’s why it pulled the startup from its website. The VC firm did not respond to a request for comment.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Serena Williams is keen on investing in startups changing the world for the better.
That strategy explains her earlier investment in Coinbase, a company on a mission to “bring economic freedom to people all over” through an app that allows casual consumers to buy and sell Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
But a battle at Coinbase on the role of employee activism at work may have her tiptoeing away from the startup.
Serena Ventures, the investment firm started by Williams, has quietly removed Coinbase from the investments page on its website, even though it backed the cryptocurrency startup that’s now entangled in political controversy.
In September, Coinbase’s CEO Brian Armstrong publicly posted a memo describing how the company should take a hands-off approach to politics and social causes, and instead stay focused on the company mission. The directive was viewed by some as a “cultural reset” after employees pressured the startup to issue a statement on the Black Lives Matter movement in June, and the company’s stonewalling led some to quit and others to do a virtual walkout.
Williams revealed her Coinbase stake in an Instagram post in 2019, when she announced that she had created a VC firm years earlier. The post said she’s focused on investing in startups that promote diversity.
“In 2014, (yes I know I can keep a secret) I launched Serena Ventures with the mission of giving opportunities to founders across an array of industries,” Williams wrote on Instagram. “Serena Ventures invests in companies that embrace diverse leadership, individual empowerment, creativity and opportunity.”
At least one cryptocurrency insider says Armstrong’s memo is in conflict with values like equity and inclusion.
Cleve Mesidor, a startup founder and an activist focused on bringing women of color into blockchain-based tech, says she’s still waiting on Williams and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, also a Coinbase investor, to address the controversy.
They “have positioned themselves as champions of diversity and inclusion in tech. I don’t see how they can continue to remain silent on this issue as Coinbase investors,” Mesidor told us. “They have a responsibility to the Coinbase employees to speak out as so many of them have bravely done so under anonymity at great risk because of NDAs.”
Any employee who disagreed with the company’s priorities was asked to leave and issued a generous exit package, but one condition of that severance was agreeing not to talk publicly about the corporate policy.
It’s possible that Serena Ventures is no longer a Coinbase investor, and that’s why it pulled the startup from its website. Coinbase is a private company, so it doesn’t need to publicly name its shareholders or file any disclosures when an investor sells off their stake. This kind of sale is common especially at big startups, where investors may look to turn their shares into cash sooner than waiting for the company to go public or get acquired.
Serena Ventures and Coinbase did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The firm participated in Coinbase’s last funding round, which valued the eight-year-old company at $8 billion in 2018, according to private markets data provider PitchBook. The size of the firm’s stake was undisclosed.
Mesidor, the startup founder, who once spoke on a panel sponsored by Coinbase at AfroTech, the largest technology conference for Black tech workers, said Williams could make a difference at Coinbase by taking a public stance.
“Sporadic blog posts from Armstrong is not leadership. Knowing where investors like Williams and Ohanian stand on this issue will provide clarity for the Coinbase staff who remain and to consumers looking for answers,” she said.
Are you a Coinbase insider with insight to share? Contact Melia Russell via email at [email protected] or on encrypted chat app Signal at (603) 913-3085 (no PR inquiries, please). Open DMs on Twitter @meliarobin.