Crypto agitator Jesse Powell steps down as CEO of Kraken

NEW YORK – Jesse Powell, the outspoken and often controversial co-founder of the Kraken cryptocurrency exchange, said he’s stepping down as chief executive officer to spend more time on the company’s products and broader industry advocacy.

Mr Powell, 42, who is being succeeded by chief operating officer Dave Ripley, 45, will become chairman of the board. The transition is expected to take place over the next few months once a new COO is selected.

“As the company has gotten bigger, it’s just gotten to be more draining on me, less fun,” Mr Powell said in a video interview on Tuesday (Sept 19). “I still plan to stay very engaged with the company” as the largest shareholder and member of the board.

Mr Powell earlier this year encouraged any “woke” employees who can’t align with the company’s culture and values to leave. In July, the New York Times reported that Kraken is under a US Treasury investigation for suspected violations of Iran sanctions. Mr Powell earlier declined to comment on the report.

Mr Powell said he informed the board of his decision more than a year ago, and the firm picked Mr Ripley after considering outside candidates. Ripley, who worked with Mr Powell to shape Kraken’s culture and strategy, said he expects to continue the company’s mission.

Kraken’s leadership shuffle comes as a series of crypto firms made C-suite changes in the aftermath of crypto markets’ meltdown. Last month, crypto brokerage Genesis’s chief executive officer, Michael Moro, and Alameda Research co-CEO Sam Trabucco stepped down. MicroStrategy’s long-time CEO Michael Saylor gave up his title, after the software maker reported more than US$1 billion (S$1.42 billion) quarterly loss related to the plunge in Bitcoin price.

A Bitcoin pioneer and a philosophy major at California State University, Mr Powell formed Kraken in 2011 with the goal of creating a safe exchange, an idea that took off after then-industry leader Mt. Gox was hacked several years later.

Shrinking share

Over the years, Kraken grew to be one of the largest US crypto exchanges and was ranked fourth among global spot exchanges as of Wednesday, according to data from CoinMarketCap. Still, the current “crypto winter” has weighed on the industry as a whole. Kraken’s global market share among the top 15 exchanges has dropped by about 32 per cent since the start of the year, according to data provider CryptoCompare.

A remote-first company, Kraken shut down its San Francisco headquarters this year. The firm has over 3,300 staff globally.

Backed by major crypto venture capital firms like Tribe Capital and Electric Capital, Kraken had developed plans to go public. The company was in talks last year to raise funds at a more than US$10 billion valuation. Mr Powell told Bloomberg on Tuesday that the company is positioning itself to have the option of going public, but couldn’t provide a specific timeline for when that would happen. It currently has no active plans for fundraising, Mr Ripley added.

Last year, the company was fined US$1.25 million by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for offering illegal crypto margin products to US residents. BLOOMBERG