Oct 7, 2022 - Economy & Business

A new doc about the first crypto company to IPO

Illustration of a popcorn box filled with pixelated coins

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The new documentary about the U.S.'s leading crypto exchange is called COIN, but they might as well have called it BRIAN, after its chief executive.

Why it matters: Coinbase has taken the vanguard of the crypto industry in the public imagination (much as Facebook is synonymous with social media). COIN — which is also its ticker symbol — appears to be its effort to get out in front of the criticism that has come with that position.

Driving the news: The new documentary about Coinbase is available for purchase on Amazon, Vimeo and iTunes today.

Details: COIN was directed by Greg Kohs, who has made a number of documentaries.

  • Most notable here was 2017's AlphaGo, about the AI that won a board game.

The movie tells the story of Coinbase, from when Armstrong was young and first got a computer, to its initial public offering in Spring 2021.

  • It hits several of the major milestones and controversies that Coinbase has faced over the years, such as when it bought the company Neutrino, which employed several members of the controversial Hacking Team, and #DeleteCoinbase trended.
  • It also trots out a number of luminaries to give their take on Coinbase's stories. Folks like tech thought leader Scott Galloway, Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff and Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin.
  • NPR alum Jacob Goldstein, author of Money: The True Story of a Made-Up Thing, even appears early on to make a compelling case that money is just something that enough people agree is money.

Yes, but: The true agenda of the movie appears to be warming viewers up to its real subject, Armstrong.

  • It zooms in on Armstrong's quirky side. His particular way of moving, laughing and interacting with others. He eventually talks about how he doesn't exhibit emotions very much.
  • It also heavily focuses on a couple of relationships. His parents get a ton of screen time, but the movie really wants viewers to know this: Armstrong is still tight with his co-founder, Fred Ehrsam.

Of note: During the early pandemic days when Black Lives Matter protests broke out all over the U.S., Coinbase staff rebeled when Armstrong refused to take a stand on the issue on behalf of the company.

  • In September 2020 he published a blog post on that decision, called Coinbase is a mission focused company.
  • "I think if I were going to do it again today, I probably would have acted sooner and I would have made it even more clear," he says in the film.

By the numbers: COIN is available for $12.99 or approximately 0.000050 BTC at today's prices.

Go deeper