15 former Facebook employees now working in the wild world of crypto and blockchain (FB)
- Facebook is working on a secretive blockchain project, but many Facebook employees are jumping ship to work on their own blockchain and crypto projects.
- The Facebook veterans are bringing high-level tech experience and discipline to a crypto sector famous for chaos and turmoil.
- Business Insider spoke to industry insiders to track down 15 alumni from the social network now working in the space, and interviewed many of them.
The social media giant has yet to specify what its blockchain plans entail, but it is currently trying to hire crypto experts and build a team — a recruiting effort that news site Cheddar recently reported has proven more challenging than expected.
The irony is that many of the big players in the crypto world once worked at Facebook. Dozens of Facebook alumni have left the company in recent years to join the blockchain boom.
The engineering and management experience earned while working on a major tech product like Facebook’s 2-billion member social network — along with the financial windfall many employees received in the 2012 IPO — have left the Facebook veterans well-positioned to build a new crop of crypto and blockchain startups.
The former Facebook employees — and other tech workers from established companies — will have to apply their skills not only to professionalize the sector but to convince naysayers that the volatile market, currently suffering from a sharp drop in cryptocurrency prices, is not just a flash in the pan.
Business Insider spoke to people throughout blockchain ecosystem to track down some of the key Facebook alumni who made the jump to work in crypto, and asked what this shift could mean for the industry.
So, in no particular order, here are fifteen former Facebook employees now trying their luck in the wild world of crypto and blockchain:
1. David Park, a Facebook product guru brought in to manage Refereum’s operations.
Until January 2018, David Park led the product team for Facebook’s Mobile App Install Ads business.
He had been dabbling in the blockchain space and making investments since the end of 2013, but it was only then that he decided to jump into it full time — joining Refereum as its COO later that year. (By the end of his time at Facebook he was “thinking about crypto 24/7,” he admitted.)
Refereum is a startup that uses cryptocurrency to provide reward tokens to users of other apps and services to encourage growth; it has worked with triple-A game Battlefield, as well as a variety of blockchain projects.
“It was super exciting to think about jumping into this industry early on and being a player early on,” he said, citing the example of how Facebook accelerated the “career trajectories” of early employees — saying he viewed similar potential for people working in blockchain.
He’s also a founder of Orca, a syndicate of current or former Facebook employees who invest in crypto projects.
2. Veteran finance exec and initial blockchain skeptic Kahina Van Dyke.
Unlike many of the Facebook employees who transitioned into crypto, Kahina Van Dyke’s background isn’t in tech but in finance.
She’s a veteran of Citibank and MasterCard, and joined Facebook at the start of 2016 to serve as global director of financial service and payments.
She held that role for more than two years — until June 2018 — when she moved to Ripple, one of the biggest companies in the blockchain ecosystem, focused on enterprise payments. She now works as the firm’s SVP of business and corporate development.
Van Dyke was, she admits, initially “vocally resistant” to the concept of bitcoin, but started getting more interested in 2016, when the hype around blockchain (as distinct from bitcoin) first started taking off.
3. Cryptocurrency index fund pioneer Hunter Horsley.
Bitwise Asset Management launched the first cryptocurrency index fund back in 2017 — and at its helm is Hunter Horsley.
Horsley, the chief exec, cofounder the firm in November 2016 after leaving Facebook, where he was a product manager focusing on video monetization, and a product manager at Instagram before that.
Horsley was also named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 finance list in 2018.
Coinlist has built a platform to help enable token sales with an emphasis on legal compliance. Serving as its head of sales and partnerships is Michael Zajko.
Zajko worked at Facebook for nearly seven years as a client partner, including on global sales, publisher solutions, and mobile gaming, and in May 2018 left to jump ship to Coinlist.
5. Henry Liu, an ecommerce expert who’s now running a crypto family office fund.
Henry Liu is the chief investment officer at Yeoman’s Capital, a family fund for one of the founders of blockchain protocol Factom. It holds the distinction of the being the world’s first family office “investing 100% in CryptoAssets.”
Liu is also managing partner at YGC (Yeoman’s Growth Capital), a linked investment vehicle that’s currently in the process of trying to raise $200 million to invest.
Liu, who worked on ecommerce strategy at Facebook until September 2017, wasn’t initially planning to get into blockchain. He started an ecommerce business that didn’t ultimately work out, but dived into crypto after seeing what he described as a “critical mass” being built and joined Yeoman’s in January 2018.
He said he “decided I wanted to be on the forefront of this, rather than being a lagger,” after missing out on the dot-com boom and the initial rise of mobile and social media.
6. Early bitcoin convert Ben Davenport.
While many Facebook employees turned-blockchain converts experimented for years before embracing it completely, Ben Davenport jumped in early.
A software engineer who helped build Facebook Messenger and subsequently worked on Instagram ads, he left the company back in June 2014 to start BitGo, a bitcoin wallet and storage company.
In April 2018, it was announced that Davenport was stepping down as BitGo’s CTO, though he remains an advisor to the company. Davenport is now also quietly advising Facebook’s internal blockchain efforts, according to a recent report from Cheddar.
8. & 9. Mack McCauley and Michael Hunte, two Facebook alumni working on a project to build a decentralised computing platform.
Dfinity is trying to build a next-generation, decentralized computing platform using blockchain technology. It has not one but two Facebook alumni in senior positions: Mack McCauley and Michael Hunte.
McCauley was previously the director of core systems at Facebook, working on building and maintaining the core infrastructure that kept the rest of Facebook running. He joined Dfinity in September as its vice president of engineering.
Hunte, meanwhile, worked in community operations at Facebook, a role he continues at his new company, where he heads up that team. (He joined earlier than McCauley, in January 2018.)
10. Teck Chia, partner at Binance Labs
Back in the day, Teck China was a Facebook product manager, working on Mobile App Install Ads and the Mobile Platform between 2011 and 2013.
From there he jumped into bitcoin early, launching HashTrust, which developed trustless escrow contracts,” before moving on to other projects. Today, he’s a partner at Binance Labs, a social impact fund operated by cryptocurrency exchange Binance.
11. Bitcoin ultra-bull Anthony Pompliano.
If you’ve spent any time following cryptocurrency discussions on Twitter in the last year, you can’t miss Anthony Pompliano.
“Pomp,” as he’s widely referred to, was a product manager working on the growth team for Pages back in the day, leaving in September 2015.
These days, he’s better known for his ultra-bullish predictions and tweets about bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, and his day job is working as a founder and partner at Morgan Creek Digital Assets, an investment firm focused at “institutional clients and wealthy family offices.”
12. Avichal Garg, who helped build Facebook’s “local” products before switching gears to crypto investment.
Avichal Garg is another early dabbler in cryptocurrency who only started full-time relatively recently.
The former product lead for Local at Facebook (think pages, events, location infrastructure, etc.), he parted ways with the Silicon Valley giant at the tail end of 2016, working as an investor and advisor on some startups before joining Electric Capital, a crypto asset management firm, in January 2018.
Garg, a managing partner at the firm, said the influx of talent from legacy tech means teams are better acquainted with “best practices around how you actually build and ship stuff.”
13. & 14. Chris Kalani and Tom Schmidt, two ex-Facebookers helping facilitate digital goods exchanges.
0x is a startup that uses the Ethereum blockchain to facilitate the exchange of digital goods — from virtual art to video game items to stocks.
Chris Kalani, its director of design, worked at Facebook as a product designer between February 2011 to September 2013 before running his own startup, Wake, until it was acquired by InVision in early 2018.
And Tom Schmidt, a former product manager for Facebook and Instagram, also founded his own company (Amazon discovery service Nugget) before joining 0x at the start of 2018.
15. Namrata Ganatra, senior director of engineering, payments, at Coinbase
While some Facebook-to-blockchain transplants are working on projects only tangentially related to their previous roles, Namrata Ganatra’s current job ties directly into her Facebook experience.
She’s the senior director of engineering for payments at Coinbase, one of the buzziest blockchain startups around.
At Facebook she was head of engineering for payments, working there from January 2014 to March 2016. Before joining Coinbase, she served as CTO at fintech startup Stockpile.
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