Being Transparent About Your Long Term Strategy

Elon Musk famously posted Tesla’s long term strategy in 2006 and ended the post with “don’t tell anyone.” That has led may entrepreneurs around the world to follow suit and be transparent about what they are up to and why. I think its a great practice for companies to follow. It helps the outside world understand your company and it helps with recruiting as potential employees can better decide which companies they want to work for and why.

Our portfolio Coinbase has been doing that for a while now and Founder/CEO Brian Armstrong just posted the latest version of their “secret master plan” to use Elon’s words.

You should go read the post as I think it does a nice job of explaining where they have been and where they are going. But if you want the quick summary, here are the four steps:

  1. First, we will make it easy for consumers to invest in digital currency by building a retail exchange (Coinbase). The differentiators for this product are trust (security, compliance, etc) and ease of use (access to convenient payment methods, intuitive interface, etc). This will allow more people to own digital currency, especially non-technical people.
  2. Second, we will enable professional traders and institutions to trade digital currency (GDAX). This will support the investment use case in step one, but also scale it by driving larger trading volumes. More liquidity in the markets will reduce volatility of the underlying assets, which is important to enabling the payment network. The differentiator for this product will also be trust (security, compliance, etc) to encourage larger, traditional investors to enter the market.
  3. Third, we will create a mass market consumer interface for people to start getting value from the payment network (Token). Now that a critical mass of early users have been drawn in by the investment use case, the industry is ready for its “Netscape moment”. This product will make it dramatically easier for consumers to use digital currency as a payment network, and for developers to build applications that utilize the payment network.
  4. Fourth, by lowering the barrier to create new digital currency applications, we’ll see an explosion in the number of ideas tried. We’ll invest in, partner with, or build a number of new applications in this space, including replacements for many of the services people use in finance 1.0. Some examples include merchant processing, remittance, loans, fundraising, venture capital, escrow, credit scores, and more.

If you have a secret master plan for your company, think about posting it publicly. I think it will do a lot more good than bad for you and your company.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Vitomir Jevremovic

    Exciting times

  2. kenberger

    I wish Coinbase were more transparent right now about their support’s inability to keep up with issues over the last couple (crazy market run-up) weeks, as complained about a lot on reddit right now and elsewhere on the web.I haven’t been able to get verified due to some glitch (could be with my ID), that I can’t identify without their help. Tons of others complaining about similar issues. Makes me even more concerned that if there were a real or perceived emergency, help wouldn’t be there, either. You just don’t hear a peep from them, for days or weeks, so I’m just stuck. *I* can guess as to the reasons why that’s happening now, but they could be something of a hero if they’d communicate publicly about this. Kraken and others are having same/worse issues, and aren’t handling super clearly either.1st time I’ve ever had the bad taste to complain about a Fred portco on his blog; I admit I’m just frustrated because I couldn’t participate fully so far in said market run-up. Anyone who will tell me “actually, you’re welcome!” is missing my point here 😉

    1. JamesHRH

      Having decided to get more knowledgable (and all of about 10% there), it seems that Blockchains have two serious weak points: users and miners.A shortage of access or security for the former erases all the potential monetizable value of a DApp and the shortage of the latter strangles its utility.It seems, like all tech, that this will turn out to be a winner take all deal (Ethereum anyone?)

    2. fredwilson

      They published this yesterday…And pls feel free to share all feedback on our portfolio companies here. It’s always nice to hear good stuff but way more valuable to hear bad stuff

      1. kenberger

        wow ok, exactly what I was suggesting is now out.I hadn’t seen it since I didn’t think to check their blog or twitter.They really should link to this prominently on their homepage, buy page, etc.And if they’re listening, drop everything and fix kenberger’s account 😉

        1. fredwilson

          I think they can do even more and I am talking to them about some ideas I have to protect users from their own lack of security. I’ve learned a lot from my personal situation

          1. kenberger

            Whoever nails that will really seize the oppty.No relative or “seasoned investor” I’ve showed all this to will go near this stuff for now (which makes me and you love it).Brian’s cv doesn’t really scream years of deeply related experience.One look at the Kraken ceo’s long hair, youth, and speaking style sends most old skool investors running.But the “we are the new deal” message coupled with the “we care” part just might fly, at least to a critical enough mass to satisfy 1 of the steps Brian wrote about.

          2. TyDanco

            I agree. I switched years ago from Coinbase to Circle for exactly the reasons of comfort–both insurance offered for their vault, plus seasoned, successful repeat CEO. When Circle pivoted, I returned to Coinbase and lay dormant until December, when my interest in ETH was renewed. It’s been non-stop hassles ever since, from a ridiculous freezing of an account, weeks of struggle to get it back, then to have the misfortune of losing my phone and asking them to freeze it to protect me while I locked down the lost phone. And it’s been crickets and form letters since then, with me not only unable to trade or buy BTC or ETH, but even being afraid to get transfers into my account since I can’t even get in to verify balances. Fred, sorry, but the only reason I use Coinbase is because USV’s involvement makes me know it’s legit and honorable. But competent? I would leave it and gladly pay higher fees as soon as I found confidence in another competitor. Good will is gone. Sorry to be the bearer of such news.

          3. kenberger

            The thing I wonder is: even advanced, early adopter insider types like you and me are having tons of these issues now.Imagine if that wasn’t the case and everything was professional and well oiled, fully scalable now for the mass market? Can you imagine just how much even more volatile these markets might get?

          4. Jim Ritchie

            I’ve been using Coinbase for a couple of years now. The biggest thing they need to do to improve trust is get a 1-800 support call center set up, which I see is on Brian’s plan for the Fall. Only having email support is not enough when lots of real $$$ are involved.

        2. kenberger

          update: my account is fixed now 🙂

      2. Alan Warms

        Fred – I think there is still a ways to go on 1) – if you’re new to the space and considering buying ether/bitcoin imo I had a #fail experience. To buy something, be told it is coming, then sit there having no idea what is happening and then get a note that says, sorry we couldn’t reply – it is minor league/amateur hour. Having been following the company for years and of course your blog my expectations were for just normal – I buy, it settles when they say, if I have issue I hear about it. I had experience that makes me feel like way way unstable situation. Make sure these guys are not just talking to themselves compared to other wallets, etc. (which I haven’t tried of course) but more compared to folks who are doing research and are used to banks, etc. I think they need reality check.

      3. Salt Shaker

        Segmenting the level of customer support one receives from financial institutions based on account balances is nothing new. Private Bank customers always receive better support than traditional retail bank customers, for example. That said, a stated goal of response time support of “< 6 hours for everyone; < 2 hours in cases of large balances” not only seems quite long, it seems arbitrary and capricious. There should be more clarity w/ respect to this policy, while it prob can be expressed/worded more effectively. Seems like what Coinbase could also use is a good MARCOM resource.

    3. jason wright

      British Cub Scout motto is…’Be Prepared’.I had issues with Coinbase early last year. Frozen vault, corrupted multisig wallet. took weeks to fix. a complete shambles.The experience was a frustration, but i learned from it. I decided to cultivate multiple options as a form of redundancy. many eggs, many baskets. it’s also good risk management against being goxed.

      1. kenberger

        the thing i couldn’t be prepared for was the sudden run-up in this stuff last couple weeks and wanting to participate in the madness. Then again, I suppose that many people who did get some of that upside were rewarded for being early adopters– many of them DID follow that cub scout motto.

        1. jason wright

          there will be another surge. you can be sure of that. it may actually work out for you. catch the value as it falls.

          1. kenberger

            i’m coming off today as just some stock speculator, rather than the startup entrep and fintech developer I am.Like Fred just implied in his comment re giving feedback based on his personal experience, getting your hands dirty is the only way to really know a space (pls don’t bother responding “duh” 😉 )

    4. LE

      1st time I’ve ever had the bad taste to complain about a Fred portco on his blogYou know how many marriages have ended because one of the partners has not ‘had the bad taste to complain’ until it gets to the point of no return? Then it’s a big explosion which is impossible to fix.It’s exactly the opposite.To me if I like someone I complain and critique. If I don’t like them I keep my mouth shut to hasten their demise.

    5. Lawrence Brass

      Support is the less scalable operation within a startup or any type of company, grow too fast and leave behind some unpolished processes and/or code and you get there. It easy to underestimate its importance.Best support strategy is to don’t give any reason for a support call, in the first place. If you eventually get one, resolve it fast at your cost, then do the problem research, fix the root cause, etc.I recall once calling Apple because I thought i was being erroneously charged for an app upgrade. They reimbursed the full amount on the spot, no questions asked. Later I realized that the amount being charged was correct which left me feeling a bit uncomfortable, but I understood what they were doing.

      1. JLM

        .And, today, you are telling a story which reflects well on Apple which they could not otherwise buy?JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

        1. Lawrence Brass

          Today, I will answer that with a poem brother Jeff.“The day misspent,the love misplaced,has inside itthe seed of redemption.Nothing is exemptfrom resurrection.” ― Kay Ryan, Say Uncle

  3. cavepainting

    People join you as employees, customers, investors, and partners, not just for what you do, but more importantly for why you do it and the possibility of being a part of something truly game changing.Having a mission and long term strategy that is authentic and organic that can attract people to its cause is a big deal and not easy to pull off. It is impossible to copy or clone, for it is so unique to the founders, the company, and its culture.

    1. fredwilson


    2. LE

      People join you as employees, customersAs a ‘customer’ I care zip about all of that mission stuff and purpose. I just want something that works at a good cost and a quality product, no aggravation and don’t tell me your problems. Your social mission means zero to me actually. And if I am a customer and reselling your products or services I don’t want to hear about what is happening in the black box as an excuse for why I am not able to deliver to my customers either. I will just pick another vendor. I am not going to explain or complain.Let’s see the next time anyone cares when their sports team doesn’t win because of shit happening under the hood. Let’s see when they patronize a restaurant again after a shitty meal because the cook is out sick or had a hangover. People say one thing but their actual behavior (the masses any particular individual may vary) shows another thing.What’s particularly ironic is all of the negative comments about coinbase given the purpose statement.

      1. cavepainting

        Missions are not just social. Think of why people want to get on the Tesla bandwagon, or used Snapchat in the early days. Of course you see value in getting your specific job done, but there is something about the company and its products that wants you to sign up and invest your time or money. It is a X factor and critical for adoption. It goes beyond checking the pre requisite boxes on creating value for the customer.

      2. JLM

        .I agree more with you than you love your children.Customers care about their customer experience and not fuck all.I don’t have the energy to keep up with who is boycotting whom these days. Other than Chic Fil A. But I think they have the best chicken customer experience except for Sundays. On Sundays, they are MIA.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    3. JLM

      .I agree with you in the formative years of a venture, but eventually it comes down to is the promise of the situation a reality.Passion does not feed itself and has to be fed by progress or it dies and withers away.It will be interesting to see what the next chapters are for SnapChat. It feels like a big fail to me. We shall see.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. cavepainting

        Yes, very true. If the whole thing turns out to be a mirage or a flash in the pan with no meaningful or sustainable progress, it will eventually wither and die.

  4. awaldstein

    Love this one.Two points to add:-If we are making a market we are invariably selling the promise and the opportunity. That is what moves the needle from selling from weakness to selling from strength even as a startup-getting to articulating this long-term strategy and the communications platforms around it is not just throwing it against the wall. Lots of work. More and more of what I do.Great stuff and thanks Fred.

  5. jason wright

    A devilish way to fake pump the opposition. I must be devilish.

  6. Vendita Auto

    “First, we will make it easy for consumers to invest in digital currency by building a retail exchange” Every nation state has a retail exchange Ethereum / Blockchain structures / processes will be implemented with some / any pegged tokens $ £ yen call it what you will. “create new digital currency applications, we’ll see an explosion in the number of ideas tried” = Black Tulip miners (perception).The most exiting area IMO is Deep Learning / D-Wave / AI ability to conceptualise / redefine institutional regulations [indeterminacy] This will open new routes to markets for all and everyone including international cyber security agreements. International Nation States will be the only winners take all.

  7. Rob Underwood

    I’d add strategy needs to make it’s way “down” to the scrum board and product backlog as well. One sentence can suffice. The alignment with the day to day, week to week choices being made about what developers will work on and why is very powerful. Bugs fixes, refactoring, and plumbing items all have strategic importance too. Need not be overwrought but important that folks can tie their day to day to the big picture.

  8. Tom Labus

    Will USV participate in the next round of financing? Some articles are saying USV is exiting. This is some valuation if the 1bn figure is real!!

    1. fredwilson

      exiting??? who writes that shit?

      1. Tom Labus

        Maybe Journal on last Friday. Didn’t give an reason or quote.

  9. William Mougayar

    That’s a great approach, as long as you are already some ways into delivering it, and that you can execute on the rest of it. Otherwise, if you publish your “secret plan” too early, and you can’t execute, others will realize that and will copy you and leave you in the dust. I’ve seen this happening, but let’s not name names.

    1. Twain Twain

      Exactly, THIS.I haven’t published my secret plan, data sets or algos (that would be 1500+ slides examining the problem from all angles) — not even to the handful of people I’m trusting with about 15 slides (and, if they break that trust, the whole market will find out they’re schmuck).The main things I’ve done are share examples of data weaknesses and opportunity gaps that existing AI systems can’t solve for.

  10. karen_e

    Just before I read this post, I received an email from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts announcing their new strategic plan:…. It will be fun to follow along with some of these plans.

  11. LE

    Our portfolio Coinbase has been doing that for a while now and Founder/CEO Brian Armstrong just posted the latest version of their “secret master plan” to use Elon’s words.They posted it on medium as a recruiting tool. On the coinbase site the only things that I could find (which were a bit different) were the following:…And from March 2016:… I think it’s important that the website reflect the information on the medium post if it’s truly transparent and the company feels they need to do so.But the medium post appears to be more about recruiting and is written from that perspective (and even says ‘contact us if this sounds interest’ at the bottom).Separately coinbase’s home page is ‘pretty good’ but it doesn’t answer the following questions (in an above the fold place; you have to click to find the answers):- Why coinbase?- Why digital currency?Edit: Saying ‘coinbase is the world’s most popular way’ doesn’t answer the ‘why coinbase question’. Anyone can say that.

  12. mpesce

    What do you think about Gemini?

  13. JLM

    .”Every utterance that a company makes should contain a ‘call to action,'” said Major Obvious (recently promoted from Captain).You arm a reader with a fact and then use that fact to support a reasonable conclusion to act in a certain way. You measure the effectiveness of the utterance by the number of readers who act upon that utterance.When there is no call to action, the utterance becomes noise, background noise, dross. It also obscures the other calls for action which may compete for the reader’s time and attention.When I read an utterance like the above, I ask myself, “OK, what is the call to action? What am I supposed to do now?”In the end most of the calls to action are things like, “And, therefore, we’d like a chance to earn your business.” It doesn’t have to be too subtle or nuanced.There a lot of things which are being done today because they are “cool” and they are the mirror image of some action taken by somebody who has earned some fairly measured dose of public acclaim (Warren Buffett likes Coke and cheeseburgers from DQ, Elon Musk).In a certain way, these are testimonials. If Warren Buffett thinks this, then so should I, right?When I get done reading the above, I feel no call to action while I agree with the story being told. It is told poorly if the objective is to drive action.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Girish Mehta

      Good idea to listen to Warren Buffett about investing. Very unlikely to repeat his success by repeating his actions…that was unique to a particular time in history.Terrible idea to take dietary advice from Warren Buffett.

      1. JLM

        ,I think there is wisdom to be mined from WB as it relates to segments to invest in, but he is a little Old School. How about if cheeseburgers and Coke is the right diet for great investing?Tongue. In. Cheek.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  14. sigmaalgebra

    >Being Transparent About Your Long Term StrategyReally good idea in some cases. Really bad idea in some other cases.

  15. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:OFF TOPIC ALERT!James Comey’s prepared testimony. It isn’t surprising at all. Knew from day one the wooden nickel’s being sold and traded. Complete lies and falsehoods sold as alternative reality.This Obstruction of Justice will be difficult to prove. The Congress couldn’t even impeach FPOTUS Clinton. Don’t get you hopes up no matter the continued incompetence and malfeasance occurring.

    1. JLM

      ,Not sure where this is coming from. You may be confusing “impeachment” and “removal from office” which are two entirely different things.Impeachment is the proffering of charges by the House (impeachment) which charges are then tried in the Senate to a final verdict (removal from office being the stated penalty).For the purpose of accuracy, let’s agree on the following:1. William Jefferson Clinton was impeached on 19 Dec 1998 by the House for two charges:a. Lying to a grand jury (perjury) by a vote of 228-206; and,b . Obstruction of justice (221-212).There were two other charges (another perjury charge and an abuse of power charge) which were not voted out by the House and, thus, only these first two charges were sent to the Senate for trial.2. The Senate conducted a trial — managed by fifteen “managers” or prosecutors (historic note, Lindsey Graham, Sen of SC was one of them).The trial was bizarre in the extreme with videotaped depositions and testimony rather than live testimony.3. The final vote — after cowardly closed door deliberations — was 45 votes to convict and 55 votes to acquit.4. It would have required 67 votes to convict Bill Clinton.So, yes, William Jefferson Clinton was impeached, and, no, WJC was not convicted.As to what can get you impeached, there is a threshold in the Constitution for high crimes and misdemeanors.No serious legal scholar suggests that there is anything that Pres Trump has done — that is currently known — which is either a high crime or a high misdemeanor, meaning violates a particular Federal statute.Legal scholars, such as Alan Dershowitz, have opined there is no Federal statute which encompasses “collusion” between a campaign and a foreign power which would apply and the fact this occurred before Trump was President makes it even more remote.As to Gen Flynn, the FBI exonerated him of any wrongdoing in his contact with the Russians in January of 2017, so it is difficult to see what judicial undertaking — not an investigation — one might object to when no charges are involved.In Bill Clinton’s case, there was a lawsuit, grand jury testimony, and he lied to the grand jury. He did not get impeached for telling the whole world, “I did not have sex with that fat intern who could suck the chrome off a bumper hitch, Miss Lewinsky.” [Might have butchered the quote. My bad.]James Comey was a guy who butchered the Clinton investigation and not content to stop there, came back for seconds. Even he has agreed with the heads of the CIA, the NSA, the DNI — no evidence of collusion and no investigation of Donald J Trump.This is not even a nothing burger — no bun.If you did not catch the hearing today, you owe it to yourself to watch Senator Mark Warner make an ass of himself trying to badger the DNI, the head of the NSA, and the #2 at the FBI into saying something useful to his cause. They bitch slapped him. Warner barely speaks English in his refusal to accept “no” for an answer.Comey is a guy who needed firing. He served at the pleasure of the President. He got fired. Today, he tells a story that inches up to some mythical line. — yawn — and fails to cross it.I find the guy and his extravagant memorandi to be not credible and wonder how such sensitive documents made it into the hands of the WashPo and NYT. Now, there’s a story which includes a real felony.I do note that Trump has been using the wrong fork with shellfish and has shown a recent penchant for Russian dressing — extra salad dressing, more than his guests.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…As a footnote, allow me to add that in Comey’s prepared testimony he substantiates two important facts which the MSM has gotten terribly wrong.First, he substantiates that on three occasions, he did inform DJT he was not a target of any investigation.Second, CNN reported this to be untrue based on their assertion that they’d had the memo read to them, when clearly no such thing could have happened.How the fuck can that be true? How? None other than James Comey says they are untruthful.It forces one to wonder what else MSM outlets like CNN have gotten wrong. Or, what things they may have mistakenly gotten right?

      1. creative group

        JLM:We Yawn on anything political you attempt to grind in any form. You continue to be a liar when espousing the cult member mantra of the Rightwing talking points.The Progressives on this blog continue to think the facts against your lies, deflections and senseless dribbling essays will extinguish your lies. (That method really works, not)It only concludes you are a political Rightwing hack. (A soft description that really requires a more appropriate term)Just one proof of your attempt to lie again on this blog. You and underlings will attempt to deflect and inject opinions pushed as facts on the direct evidence of the straight out lie you posted.———–“As to Gen Flynn, the FBI exonerated him of any wrongdoing in his contact with the Russians in January of 2017, so it is difficult to see what judicial undertaking — not an investigation — one might object to when no charges are involved.”Flynn being cleared of lying to the FBI (Which the entire world knows was the main reason he was fired by POTUS for lying to VPOTUS regarding representing a foreign Government (A nd his discussions with Russian Ambassador (A Spy). The intelligent non cult members will not allow facts to get in the way of your intentional lying and deflection.https://www.washingtonpost….…Don’t even know why we even respond to your lying deceptive schemes.You engage in the art of deception and lying. We are clear on your boorish methods. This is our last time ever engaging with you. You have earned the block and minions who will justify and double down on your flat out lies.You are not even honourable. Your posts on deception don’t even afford you the audience on your operational experience. You have finished yourself with your deception and lies.

        1. JLM

          .OK, so, group, I take it you admit you have no idea about what impeachment actually means? Just pulled it out of your ass?Nice smokescreen.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  16. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:OFF TOPIC ALERT!When anyone stops questioning that which are known lies and deflection the similarities in the following begin to makes complete sense.1. The People Temple (Jim Jones)2. Branch Davidians (David Koresh)3. The Solar Temple (Luc Joret)4. Heavens Gate (Marshall Applewhite)5. The Manson Family (Charles Manson)6. The KKK (Now they will be outraged this being included)7. Children of God (David Berg- Evil thinking dude, The children thing was bad enough8. The Unification Church (Sun Myung Moon)9. So tempted!

  17. Amanda

    Tesla Inc is a public company with an insane valuation at the moment, and Musk alone has a personal networth of $17B. This makes him untouchable by 99.9999% of potential investors and entrepreneurs. The fact alone as well that Tesla still has Musk as a CEO, means no one can compete on innovation either the way they can with most public companies. Because at the end of the day, capital and innovation are the only two real ways a company can compete to the point of a monopoly status.So the much more probable lesson here is, to actually think through that strategy instead of just doing what Musk is doing.Oh wait, never mind. This is just a social pitch for Coinbase.

  18. awaldstein

    You are right of course.First, i do applaud them doing this as you and I know well, startups are all about selling the opportunitySecond, blurting stuff out without a through through narrative is shooting yourself in the foot. Good intent poor and thoughtless executive about the goals of communications. And issue in this space.

  19. awaldstein

    see ya next monday btw. we are in and out but will iisten to you of course!

  20. awaldstein

    i’ll email you!

  21. LE

    It’s intended purpose is as a recruiting tool for millenials and to that point it seems to be adequate. No?

  22. Frederico Mesquita

    Agree. And yes 🙂

  23. awaldstein

    why millenials?certainly they are not the only people working in or investing in or considering how to you use this?curious.

  24. LE

    The post ends in:”If this mission is exciting for you, please send us a note.”And the link is to ‘careers’. So this is a recruiting piece.We also have a picture at the bottom showing the team. The team looks overwhelmingly millennial. I see at most 2, maybe 3, old dudes. If that. Not the whole workforce, sure. But the people they decided to show (or who were at the event that they got that picture at).I don’t think the intended target is customers or people investing in bitcoin (if you want to call it that I call it gambling no surprise).The benefits also appear to be targeted toward the younger child bearing age crowd. That would be typically people under 35 years old let’s say. Who in their 50’s cares about getting 12 weeks maternity/paternity leave?

  25. awaldstein

    cogent and thanks.I think a possibly coherent strategy that needs to be better crafted and targeted.