ConsenSys Reportedly Planning to Lay Off Up to 60% of Its Staff

Siamak Masnavi

On Thursday (20 December 2018), technology news outlet The Verge reported that ConsenSys, an Ethereum-focused blockchain incubator ("venture studio") and solution provider, was planning to spin off most off of its 50+ startups ("spokes"), and that this could mean up to 60% of the company's staff could be laid off.

ConsenSys, which was founded in 2015 by Ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin, currently has "over 1100 employees distributed globally in every continent except Antarctica." It primarily sees itself as "a venture production studio focused on building and scaling tools, disruptive startups, and enterprise software products powered by decentralized technology, specifically Ethereum," and describes its mission as using "these solutions to power the emerging economic, social, and political operating systems of the planet."

ConsenSys refers to incubator (or venture studio) part of its business as ConsenSys Labs, and says that this "incubates the best teams of Web3 across the globe, providing them capital, mentorship, and access to ConsenSys’s network of top-tier projects and talent." A few examples of the over 50 projects currently being incubated by ConnsenSys Labs are AirSwap, Civil, Gnosis, Infura, and MetaMask.

The Verge reports says:

"A term sheet reviewed by The Verge and given to at least two incubated startups within the company showed that ConsenSys is beginning to spin out its large portfolio of blockchain projects, often without the financial support they’d need to find outside funding and succeed. When reached for comment, a representative for ConsenSys did not deny that layoffs were impending, and only said that the company is speaking with every spoke and project to 'determine a path forward, whether that will be internally as a part of ConsenSys 2.0, or as an external entity.' The vast majority of people working at spokes are ConsenSys employees, and many spokes don’t yet have a revenue-viable product."

On December 6th, ConsenSys confirmed to Coindesk that was laying off 13% of its staff:

“Excited as we are about ConsenSys 2.0, our first step in this direction has been a difficult one: we are streamlining several parts of the business including ConsenSys Solutions, spokes, and hub services, leading to a 13% reduction of mesh members... Projects will continue to be evaluated with rigor, as the cornerstone of ConsenSys 2.0 is technical excellence, coupled with innovative blockchain business models."

In an interview with Coindesk on December 5th, Lubin had referred to the restructuring of ConsenSys as "a refocusing of priorities on more rigor, more structure, more sustainability, more accountability." He also said that his firm has been spending more time with external investors in order to “open up” fundraising opportunities for its startup ventures:

“Certainly one goal is to enable ConsenSys and its projects to not be dependent on the price of these value tokens, that essentially they are all thriving businesses in their own right."

Lubin also told Coindesk that ConsenSys wanted to change its focus for its ventures from cool to viable/profitable:

“We’ve definitely been more focused on doing cool things in the past, and now we’re just focused on being a set of viable and successful businesses in a real business ecosystem... Blockchain is getting very, very real. It’s about the maturation of the company.”

One source told The Verge that ConsenSys is "using the 13 percent announcement I would imagine to give comfort to potential investors about the small-scale downsizing."

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Binance CEO Sues VC Firm Sequoia for Reputational Damages

Francisco Memoria

Changpeng Zhao, the CEO of leading cryptocurrency exchange binance, has reportedly sued well-reputed venture capital firm Sequoia over reputational damages allegedly caused by a lawsuit the VC firm filed against Binance that was dismissed.

According to a filing submitted to the High Court in Hong Kong that was obtained by CoinDesk, Changpeng Zhao, referred to as CZ, claims Sequoia Capital China, a unit of Sequoia, significantly damaged his reputation and is looking for compensation.

This, according to the CEO, prevented him from raising money at a proper valuation for Binance. Sequoia reportedly damaged his reputation through a lawsuit filed in April of last year over a funding deal that went awry.

A hearing for the case is set to take place on June 25 between CZ and SCC Venture VI, a special purpose vehicle of Sequoia Capital China. An inquiry to determine whether Zhao “sustained any and what damages” is being demanded, over an injunction order Sequoia obtained in late 2017 that reportedly prevented CZ from raising funds in March of 2018.

Sequoia’s initial lawsuit was dismissed by the Hong Kong High Court, with the VC firm having to repay Binance the legal fees required for its legal representative.

In the filing, the CEO of Binance stated:

The injunction order has caused loss to me for which I am entitled to reasonable compensation by Sequoia. In particular, I have suffered i) a loss of chance to raise capital through successive rounds of financing at increasing high valuations; and ii) damage to my reputation.

Sequoia is notably seen as one of the most well-reputed venture capital firms focusing on tech startups, and available data shows it operates 22 funds across the globe and raised $15.3 billion so far.

Meanwhile, Binance has been going through a rough few weeks. The exchange was hacked for 7,000 BTC earlier this month, and considered rolling back the Bitcoin blockchain to recover the stolen funds, a move that saw him be heavily criticized on social media.

Binance recently published an extensive blog post recapping the incident that detailed hackers managed to control a number of Binance user accounts and structured large withdrawals from these. More recently, various users complained they lost funds after experiencing lag on the trading platform.