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Why the CEO behind one of the largest cryptocurrencies left AOL and Yahoo for blockchain

Brad Garlinghouse, chief executive officer Ripple Labs Inc.
Tony Avelar | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Brad Garlinghouse, chief executive officer Ripple Labs Inc.

It's hard to avoid cryptocurrency talk these days. Yet just a few years ago, blockchain was a little-known technology.

So for Brad Garlinghouse, CEO of Ripple, leaving behind a career at the likes of AOL and Yahoo was a risky proposition.

"For me, joining this industry was a belief that there is something, a movement, a fundamental change happening," Garlinghouse told CNBC at the Singapore FinTech Festival on Wednesday.

Financial technology start-up Ripple is the owner of XRP, currently the fourth-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization — behind the likes of Ethereum and Bitcoin — according to data from CoinMarketCap.

The California-based start-up was founded in 2012 and allows financial institutions to process their customers' payments from any place in the world "instantly" and "reliably," using blockchain.

Prior to working in the blockchain space, Garlinghouse held senior positions in other businesses, including as AOL's president of consumer applications; he worked at Yahoo for six years. Garlinghouse started at Ripple as chief operating officer in 2015, before going on to become its CEO.

Ripple

"I think there's a lot of interesting stuff going on in Silicon Valley. As I was looking around, to me, what was happening in the blockchain and crypto world was a movement," he said, describing how he wanted to work for a company that stood out from other typical industries.

"What's happening in crypto, and certainly what's happening at Ripple — we have an opportunity to fundamentally change the way global commerce is managed, from a payments point of view.

"If we're successful, then that's transformative. It allows us to put our own little dent in the universe."

In October, the company announced that more than 100 financial institutions had joined RippleNet, an enterprise blockchain network owned by Ripple. Members who have joined the company's global network include the likes of Credit Agricole, BBVA, UniCredit, Standard Chartered, UBS and the National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

Garlinghouse said: "So far, we've been extremely fortunate, we've got over 100 customers. I think given the network effects associated with that, we feel like we've really hit a tipping point where the value of participating keeps growing by the number of nodes on the network — it's an exponential increase in value."

Ripple CEO's checklist when assessing opportunities

Having worked for the likes of Yahoo, AOL and file collaboration service Hightail, Garlinghouse has made himself known in the technology sphere, before settling in at Ripple.

When asked on an episode of CNBC's "Life Hacks Live" what his deciding factors would be when considering between a new opportunity or staying put, Garlinghouse saw three areas as key.

1. Who's involved

"One of the first things I always think about is the people involved. A group of smart, motivated, ambitious people that you want to work with," said Garlinghouse.

"Some of the people at Ripple, I think are truly the smartest people I've ever worked with in my career, which makes it a lot of fun to go to work every day."

2. The market's size

"The size of the market I think is very important. I think there's sometimes people are solving interesting problems but there's a very small market — which is less exciting to me."

3. Defensibility and competitive differentiation

"The third one I would highlight is: Is there a 'defensibility'? Is there a competitive differentiation that's building a competitive moat? Such that as other competitors enter the market, you have some ability to protect your position in the market — and I think again for Ripple, all of those things exist."

Life Hacks Live is a series produced by CNBC International for Facebook, where tomorrow's leaders get to ask some of the world's biggest influencers for advice. You can watch the full interview here.