Airbnb CEO says he’s ‘really proud’ of one of his first engineers who left and started Coinbase

Key Points
  • Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong, earlier in his career, helped build Airbnb's payment platform and fraud detection system.
  • "I'm really, really proud of what he's doing" now with the crypto exchange, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky told CNBC's TechCheck.
  • Coinbase went public this week in a blockbuster direct listing.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says he's been looking at cryptocurrency
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says he's been looking at cryptocurrency

Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky told CNBC he's "really proud" of what one of the company's first software engineers has gone on to accomplish since leaving the online home-rental marketplace.

That former Airbnb employee is Brian Armstrong, co-founder and CEO of Coinbase. The cryptocurrency exchange went public and soared in a direct listing Wednesday, in a major milestone for the burgeoning digital asset industry.

"Brian actually is one of the original architects of our payment platform and our fraud detection system. So I'm really, really proud of what he's doing," Chesky said in an interview that aired Friday on "Tech Check."

San Francisco-based Airbnb, which had its own high-profile IPO in December, was founded in 2008. Armstrong worked for the company for a little over a year. Shortly after his departure in 2012, Armstrong started Coinbase along with Fred Ehrsam, a former foreign exchange trader at Goldman Sachs.

Chesky said he's "kept in touch" with Armstrong.

At the time of Coinbase's founding, bitcoin was only three years old and priced around $6. Ehrsam still serves on Coinbase's board, but stepped back from a day-to-day role in 2017. He's now a managing partner at Paradigm, a crypto-focused investment firm he helped start.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies such as Ether have been on a tear in recent months.

One factor that's been cited for bitcoin's price ascension — going from under $11,000 in early October to over $61,000 as of Friday — has been institutional adoption. Bitcoin, which accounts for more than half of the $2 trillion cryptocurrency market, hit an all-time high near $65,000 on Wednesday.

Two big Wall Street banks — Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs — are taking steps to provide wealth management clients exposure to bitcoin, and companies like Tesla have bought the digital coin using cash on their balance sheets. The electric-vehicle maker also began accepting bitcoin as payment for its products.

Billionaire Rick Caruso's real estate firm also recently invested in bitcoin and will begin allowing tenants at its residential and retail properties to pay rent using the world's largest cryptocurrency by market value.

Brian Armstrong, CEO of Coinbase (L), and Brian Chesky CEO of Airbnb.
Getty Images

Asked by CNBC's Deirdre Bosa whether Airbnb has any plans related to crypto adoption, Chesky said he did not "have anything to announce right now. But I can tell you that we've been certainly looking at this."

Chesky spoke fondly of bitcoin, though, as well as the role that Armstrong's Coinbase has played in building a crypto exchange focused on security.

"I think one of the lessons here is when you give power to people, it provides more economic empowerment and more access," Chesky said. "But in order to get more power to people, people have to be able to trust each other."

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are underpinned by blockchain technology, a decentralized digital ledger on which transactions are recorded. Proponents expect blockchain adoption to grow in the coming years, with some people comparing its disruptive potential to be akin to the early days of the internet.

"Obviously, cryptocurrencies have their own system of trust. Airbnb, our system of trust based on our reputation system, I think has been able to unlock a lot of economics," Chesky said. "So I think these general trends of unlocking systems of trust that allow more people to participate in the economy is a huge boon to the global economy."

Shares of Coinbase rose about 5% Friday to around $340 per share, about $12 above where it closed its debut session two days ago. Coinbase's market cap sits at nearly $67 billion.

Since closing up 112% in its IPO debut late last year, shares of Airbnb have gained around 20%. The stock traded around $177 on Friday, giving Airbnb a market cap over $106 billion.

Airbnb's business is benefiting from the pick up after a Covid pandemic-induced slowdown. Chesky told CNBC the company believes it will "need millions more hosts" in the coming years to keep pace. It currently has 4 million hosts.

Airbnb CEO on the campaign to attract more hosts as demand surges
Airbnb CEO on the campaign to attract more hosts as demand surges