Coinbase faces an atypical dilemma: the company saw its popularity snowball in 2017, and now too many investors want in. Coinbase is a platform that allows users to create a digital currency wallet, buy Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin, and link a bank account so they can exchange digital currency into and out of normal currency.
Since the company launched six years ago, the exchange service has attracted over 10 million customers and exchanged over $50 billion worth of cryptocurrency, making it the world’s largest platform for digital currency trading.
In 2017, Coinbase became the first digital exchange service to generate a billion dollars in annual revenue. Nearly half of that revenue came between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Over the past couple years, interest in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies spread to non-professionals, which helped spur Coinbase’s meteoric rise in earnings. Coinbase makes its money on the size and quantity of exchanges, charging a fee to the buyer and seller that is dependent on the magnitude of the transaction. The fee could range from .25% to 1% of the transaction size. Although, the firm has received criticism in the past for its comparatively high fees, it is clear that investors are willing to shell out the money. Coinbase had set a goal in September to net between $500 million and $600 million for the year of 2017, but Bitcoin’s impressive performance over the holiday season helped Coinbase exceed its projected revenue by almost 40%. Over Thanksgiving weekend, Coinbase added 100,000 new users in a span of three days, and over December, the company’s mobile app regularly added 50,000 new users a day. The company added total of more than two million new users in 2017. The surge in activity that the app experienced has even led the server to crash a couple times.
In recent months, outside investors have expressed interest in procuring shares in the company, but Coinbase does not allow its shareholders to sell to private brokers. The company warned shareholders that “as a private company, Coinbase does not allow trading of stock on secondary markets for a variety of reasons, including the fact that there is not full and equal information available to the market.” The company found out that multiple shareholders were approached by brokers looking to make backdoor deals so they could get around Coinbase’s policy.
In August 2017, Coinbase generated $100 million in funding, which they put towards hiring more engineer and customer support employees, building a GDAX (Global Digital Asset Exchange) office in New York. However, this fundraising effort took place before the surge in Bitcoin last December. The increase in users and earning that followed drew the attention of investors that missed out on the August fundraiser. It is unlikely that the firm will have to raise more funds any time soon, so there is not much incentive for the company to sell any shares right now. Impatient investors are looking for any way they can to tempt shareholder to dispose of their shares. Investors are worried that there will not be another fundraiser before the company inevitably goes public, which has further increased their appetites. The problem is there are more people who want to invest than there are shareholders willing to give up their shares.
Some shareholders have speculated that somewhere down the line, Coinbase will launch a tender offer which would allow potential investors to buy shares from all of the shareholders at the same time, but at a premium of the market price. It would not be surprising if Coinbase green lights a tender offer by the end of the year.