Chamath Palihapitiya responds to Coinbase controversy: Get a soapbox

Home / Chamath Palihapitiya responds to Coinbase controversy: Get a soapbox

  • Well-known venture investor Chamath Palihapitiya said on his “All-In” podcast that employees should be able to have free-form debate on any topic, on one condition — they should have to speak from a physical soapbox.
  • The investor was responding to the Coinbase controversy where Brian Armstrong told employees in a memo last week that politics and social causes had no place at the company.
  • “You put the soapbox someplace — in a safe space — where you can go and you can talk and people who want to listen will listen, and people who need to work can work, and people who don’t want to listen don’t have to be forced to listen,” Palihapitiya said on the podcast.
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The head of Coinbase, Brian Armstrong, created a firestorm in tech last week when he told employees in a memo to leave their politics and social causes at the door. Social causes were a “distraction” from the company’s mission, he wrote, and he later told employees that anyone not on board with this apolitical policy would be offered severance.

Venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya has a suggestion for founders like Armstrong running companies in these divisive times.

Put a literal soapbox in the office.

That’s what the founder of Social Capital said on his podcast, “All In,” on Friday. Palihapitiya, perhaps best known for his investment in Slack, said companies would be better served having their employees express their ideas in a designated space on campus, where people who want to participate in the discourse are able to and those who want to focus on work can tune it out.

He said companies should “allow 100% free-form debate about anything.”

But, he suggested imposing “one condition. You literally need to have a soapbox and like in the 1880s, Hyde Park in London, you put the soapbox someplace — in a safe space — where you can go and you can talk and people who want to listen will listen, and people who need to work can work, and people who don’t want to listen don’t have to be forced to listen.”

There’s some irony to this unconventional suggestion: Coinbase, a startup that allows people to buy and sell Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, previously deleted two Slack channels where employees could send their questions to leadership, reported The Verge’s Casey Newton.

As we previously reported, an incident known internally as ‘bathroomgate,’ involving the placement and later removal of gender inclusive signs on Coinbase’s bathrooms, is one example of the kind of fight Armstrong wants to avoid with this new policy.

On the “All In” podcast, cohost Jason Calacanis said Slack and email are dangerous for companies because they leave a digital record of employees talking about “highly charged issues” that creates “downstream HR issues.”

Palihapitiya’s response: Ditch the electronic forum. Go old-school with a soapbox.

“You put it on the ground, you stand on it, and you say it. And if you’re not willing to do that then it’s OK,” he 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.

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