Jan 26, 2022 - Economy

Scoop: Airbnb policy vet goes crypto

Photo illustration of Chris Lehane looking up at a glowing crypto coin.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Mujahid Safodien/AFP via Getty Images

Chris Lehane, a top Airbnb exec and former Clinton administration official, tells Axios Pro Fintech Deals he plans to join the leadership team of a crypto venture-capital fund next month.

Why it matters: The move by Lehane is a sign of the growing allure the crypto world holds for tech pioneers who have already amassed power and wealth but still want to scratch the "disruption" itch.

  • Lehane, 54, isn't disclosing his new employer yet. But he tells us it's a global fund based in Silicon Valley. He'll remain in the Bay Area.
  • The fund focuses on early-stage and growth-stage startups across all layers of web3, he says.

Between the lines: Lehane, Airbnb's SVP of policy and communications, worked with municipal and national governments around the world to build a regulatory framework for online accommodation marketplaces.

Now he plans to help legitimize and mainstream crypto products and web3 startups, and help prove that massive growth is possible even among increasing scrutiny and regulation.

  • "A lot of the same challenges that drew me to Airbnb in 2015 draw me to web3," Lehane tells us.
  • He says that includes "system change needed to support regulations that will allow for decentralized business models that more fairly distribute the economics to flourish, and the mainstreaming of the services and products."

Flashback: During Lehane's run at Airbnb, the company became a noun and a verb, and went public during what originally had been seen as the existential threat of the pandemic.

  • Lehane, a Harvard Law grad, was an official in President Bill Clinton's White House, then was the press secretary of Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. Lehane will remain an Airbnb strategic adviser.

The big picture: It's a critical moment for policymaking in the crypto world. In the U.S., regulators and Congress are wrestling with how to shape the rules governing stablecoins, crypto derivatives, and all things web3. Governments around the world are facing the same challenge.

  • In November, the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets (a panel led by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen), along with the FDIC and OCC, issued a report on stablecoins that recommended Congress pass legislation to regulate stablecoin issuers, like banks.
  • Meanwhile, earlier this month the Federal Reserve issued a report on the pros and cons of developing its own central bank digital currency (CBDC) — but didn’t come to any firm conclusions.

In the absence of any concrete rules emerging from governments or policymakers around the world, VC firms and crypto companies are suggesting their own sets of rules for this new, decentralized Internet.

  • Andreessen Horowitz released a list of 10 principles for regulating web3 this month. But it isn’t the only interested party to suggest a new policy framework: Coinbase, FTX, and Binance all put out their own.

The bottom line: In his new role, Lehane will be working with governments to turn these policy proposals into actual law. And in doing so, he’ll hopefully help clear up some of the regulatory uncertainty that has plagued the crypto industry to date.

  • Lehane will continue advising Airbnb.

This story first appeared in the Axios Pro Fintech Deals newsletter. Subscribe at AxiosPro.com.

Go deeper