Coinbase and Silicon Valley’s Losing War Against Politics

Illustration for article titled Silicon Valley Is Fighting a Losing War Against Politics

Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair (Getty Images)

You’d be excused for not following the recent brouhaha associated with Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong’s announcement that the company would no longer play politics. The statement, posted to Medium on Sunday, is a doozy.

“In short, I want Coinbase to be laser focused on achieving its mission, because I believe that this is the way that we can have the biggest impact on the world. We will do this by playing as a championship team, focus on building, and being transparent about what our mission is and isn’t,” Armstrong wrote.

He rattled off a number of examples of this, culminating in something that gave many pause: “We don’t engage here when issues are unrelated to our core mission, because we believe impact only comes with focus.”

Armstrong’s post is a direct reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, the pandemic, the election, and the civil unrest that has become a focal point in a extraordinarily tumultuous year. In June, Coinbase employees clamored for Armstrong to vocally support BLM, which he finally did on Twitter. The reaction from so-called CryptoTwitter, a loose association of weirdos and anti-goldbugs who basically pump and dump tokens all day, was swift and angry.

“I want to say unequivocally fuck coinbase,” wrote one “trader.”

Armstrong, for his part, tapped into a growing movement inside Silicon Valley, a movement that basically says, “Fuck your feelings.” Based on his statement on Medium, Armstrong believes, probably incorrectly, that his army of coders wants nothing more than to produce clean, usable products for the cryptocurrency community.

There are three types of crypto users who love Armstrong’s argument. In order of odiousness, we begin with the bored coder who once

Silicon Valley’s Next Target: The One-Person Business

With more Americans running one-person businesses than ever before, Silicon Valley is paying attention. The latest sign is the launch of Collective, a provider of back-office services for freelancers. 

Collective, which launched yesterday, offers an online management dashboard providing one-stop access to banking information and third-party software like Gusto and QuickBooks; assistance with S Corp. formation, accounting, bookkeeping and tax services; and access to advisors and its entrepreneurial community.

Members pay monthly for the services, with fees starting at $199 per month. Many freelancers already use these types of services, but they generally purchase them from separate providers. 

Hooman Radfar, CEO and co-founder, says Collective is a response to the “Passion Economy,” where many people are rethinking how they earn a living and gravitating toward independent work that gives them freedom, independence and work/life balance. It’s a trend, championed by early pioneers like Tim Ferriss, that’s been accelerated by the remote lifestyles the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in and that is increasingly popular among Generation Z. 

In 2018 there were 28.5 million nonemployer firms—those with no payroll—in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. They were generally made up of solo entrepreneurs but sometimes business partners or teams of co-founders. They made up the majority of the 30.2 million small businesses in the country. 

“We’re seeing a huge shift in the future of work,” says Radfar. “For us, it’s about supporting that movement and finding an easy solution.” 

Radfar previously co-founded and served as CEO of AddThis, which was acquired by Oracle, and is a venture partner at startup studio Expa. He was also an early investor in Uber,

Inside Palantir, Silicon Valley’s Most Secretive Unicorn

Palantir co-founders Peter Thiel and Alex Karp.

Palantir co-founders Peter Thiel and Alex Karp.
Photo: Getty Images

Back in 2003, John Poindexter got a call from Richard Perle, an old friend from their days serving together in the Reagan administration. Perle, one of the architects of the Iraq War, which started that year, wanted to introduce Poindexter to a couple of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who were starting a software company. The firm, Palantir Technologies, was hoping to pull together data collected by a wide range of spy agencies — everything from human intelligence and cell-phone calls to travel records and financial transactions — to help identify and stop terrorists planning attacks on the United States.

Poindexter, a retired rear admiral who had been forced to resign as Reagan’s national-security adviser over his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, wasn’t exactly the kind of starry-eyed idealist who usually appeals to Silicon Valley visionaries. Returning to the Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks, he had begun researching ways to develop a data-mining program that was as spooky as its name: Total Information Awareness. His work — dubbed a “super-snoop’s dream” by conservative columnist William Safire — was a precursor to the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance programs that were exposed a decade later by Edward Snowden.

Yet Poindexter was precisely the person Peter Thiel and Alex Karp, the co-founders of Palantir, wanted to meet. Their new company was similar in ambition to what Poindexter had tried to create at the Pentagon, and they wanted to pick the brain of the man now widely viewed as the godfather of modern surveillance.

“When I talked to Peter Thiel early on, I was impressed with the design and the ideas they had for the user interface,” Poindexter told me recently. “But I could see they didn’t have — well, as you call it, the