The leading US cryptocurrency brokerage Coinbase, which has more funding ($225 million) and a bigger valuation (likely higher than $2 billion) than any other private bitcoin company, has bought Earn.com, which had the second-most funding ($121 million). Terms of the deal are not being publicly disclosed, but CoinDesk reports that it is worth around $120 million, which would fit with Earn’s total funding.
Earn.com CEO Balaji Srinivasan, who is also a board partner at Andreessen Horowitz, will join Coinbase as its CTO. (Re/code speculates that the entire acquisition is only about Coinbase wanting to hire Srinivasan, though that may be a little unfair to what Earn.com has built.)
The acquisition comes just one month after Coinbase hired is first head of M&A, Emilie Choi from LinkedIn. Choi has wasted no time in getting acquisitive: in the past week Coinbase acquired Cipher Browser, a decentralized Ethereum browser and wallet, and now Earn.com, a service that helps people earn money for responding to emails and completing other online tasks.
Coinbase has in fact made a number of flashy new hires recently. In December, it hired former TD Ameritrade COO Asiff Hirji to be its COO. That month, Facebook Messenger chief David Marcus joined Coinbase’s board. In January, it hired Tina Bhatnagar, former VP of operations at Twitter, as its VP of operations. In March it hired Eric Scro, a former New York Stock Exchange exec, to be its VP of finance. In April it hired Rachael Horwitz, formerly in communications at Twitter and Facebook, as its VP of communications.
Earn has had an interesting and circuitous path in the cryptocurrency industry. The company was originally called 21 Inc., and began as a hardware seller. Its first product was a $400 personal bitcoin computer (built atop a modified Raspberry Pi) meant for mining bitcoin or building applications on the bitcoin blockchain, like a store or game that takes payment in bitcoin. Srinivasan, at the time, told Yahoo Finance his goal was to put a bitcoin mining computer in people’s pockets, and eventually to bring the 21 software to mobile phones: “Every computer is now a bitcoin computer.”
But the company soon stopped selling its mining computer, and in 2017, it pivoted and changed its name to Earn.com. After setting up a free Earn profile, users can receive bitcoin as a reward for completing certain tasks, like responding to unsolicited emails or filling out Earn.com research surveys. “We’ve built a positive-sum social network,” Srinivasan wrote in a blog post, “where every notification is an opportunity to earn money.”
Now Earn.com says in its acquisition announcement that paid email is, “one of the first truly useful applications of the blockchain,” and that now, as part of Coinbase, “We think we can prove that at scale.” Earn.com also shares that users sending unsolicited emails get a response rate of 30% to 70% (admittedly a wide data range) within 24 hours when they offer $1 to $10 incentives—much higher than a 1.7% response rate FastCompany got in 2014 when it sent cold emails to executives.
Meanwhile, in Coinbase’s announcement of the acquisition, CEO Brian Armstrong raves that Srinivasan, “has become one of the most respected technologists in the crypto field and is considered one of the technology industry’s few true originalists.” He adds, “We’ll be doubling down on the Earn business… they have built a paid email product that is arguably one of the earliest practical blockchain applications to achieve meaningful traction.”
After making two key acquisitions in just one week, expect more acquisitions from Coinbase in the very near future, as it pursues its extremely high ambition to be the Google of cryptocurrency.
Daniel Roberts covers bitcoin and blockchain at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.