Education, Tech

NPR breaks down Bitcoin with Coinbase founder

A recap of NPR’s How I Built It: Bitcoin Edition.

words by: Natasha Marsh
Aug 4, 2022

As NFTs continue to populate, some of us have a growing fascination with the alternate currency world. Interested, I have been following along with an intricate new source, NPR, for all related things. One of them is Bitcoin. With the help of NPR’s Guy Raz, the news outlet has a fantastic way of presenting information to their audience in a concise podcast interview way, you are able to hear from founders about the road to development.


I became so engrossed with this podcast that I am now committed to a monthly column sharing information from my favorite episode from the month. First on the list is Bitcoin, the peer-to-peer digital currency.


NPR sat down with Coinbase founder, Brian Armstrong, to discover how he developed Bitcoin in 2010. It all started with his prototype getting accepted by the Y Combinator program. Criticism came from other experts saying cryptocurrency was like Monopoly money, so no one would go for it.


“It was really hard to convince people and staff of my team in the beginning. I went to a conference, I would ask people if they were interested in cryptocurrency and everyone would turn me down,” Armstrong tells NPR. “I would get 1 yes after 1o no’s and then I would do 30 more.” Little did they know, Coinbase, Armstrong’s company that holds Bitcoin, would eventually be largest cryptocurrency exchange in the world, with 7.4 million users, 2,700 employees and over 80 cryptocurrencies traded on the platform. Talk about sticking it to your enemies.


Bitcoin, along with the 6,000+ cryptocurrencies out there, is something we can’t see or touch. It’s still really hard for people to believe that holds value. But like the powerful users that are involved in this space, like Raz, believe “the future of finance is like cryptocurrency, decentralized — untethered to other governments or central banks.” Now, let’s get into his story.


Who is Brian Armstrong?

From a young age, Armstrong was always excited about technology in San Jose, the unofficial capital of the tech world. He put websites and computers together for fun and found it intriguing. As a college student at Rice University, he started a tutoring business (University Tutor) and pulled in about $1,000-$2,000 a month. But, unsatisfied with the scale of growth, he realized he would rather build products and entrepreneurial skills.


After a short expat stint in Argentina, Armstrong moved back to San Jose, where he got a job at two tech start-ups, one being Airbnb. During this time, he discovers a white paper from 2008 on Bitcoin. Fascinated and not fully understanding what it was, he began looking at it more. Soon, he realized that instead of moving information around like the Internet, Bitcoin would move around value.


Living in Argentina, he realized that a lot of countries don’t believe in bank accounts and that the global financial system is incredibly broken. With University Tutor, he had seen how hard it was to collect payment and pay out teachers, with the banks asking harsh questions and loads of delays with getting money transferred.


“I had this sense that financial services are holding back innovation in the world and it’s holding back human progress because people don’t have the freedom to participate in this global economy because of all the barriers to innovation,” Armstrong tells Raz. “Imagine if you can unlock the barriers of innovation or the trust and security that a society that the United States has but put that into 190 countries that have good internet access, a cell phone, and now they have crypto — and that just got me really excited.”


Even though he was so happy at Airbnb and could have had a beautiful career there, he could not stop thinking about Bitcoin. He knew that if he was going to store people’s money, he would need a team and assurance that it was going to work. He decided to take the jump and submit to Y Com. However, Armstrong needed a co-founder in order for them to invest. “I’m using a host that will store Bitcoin, and if you don’t know what Bitcoin is, I’ll give you a primer,” is his initial thought around the pitch.


Fast forward to getting the Y Com backing, he then had to convince real leaders to put their hard earned cash into a crypto world. It took a couple years, but as they say in the business world, the rest is history.


Fast forward to now, and Gucci is accepting Crypto payments. What’s more, mayors are getting their checks in Bitcoin.


Photo via Michael Nagle/Bloomberg