“Bought my first Bitcoin during demonetization in India”

Surojit Chatterjee says he still has that Bitcoin as he maps out Coinbase’s plans for India, which include a development center for the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange and potential acqui-hires as well

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By 

Pratik Bhakta

Madhav Chanchani

May 18, 2021

13 Min Read

Surojit Chatterjee, the chief product officer of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, Coinbase, had his first brush with the platform in November 2016, when the Indian government demonetized Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, rendering them useless.

That was when Chatterjee bought his first Bitcoin. He purchased the digital currency on Coinbase, a company he eventually joined in January 2020 and which went for a historic IPO last month. It was the first public share listing of a crypto-based company, which means it is now open to regulations and disclosures. This at a time when crypto currencies continue to face scrutiny across the world, including in India. 

The Coinbase IPO brought Chatterjee into the limelight as one of the biggest winners in the public offering. His shares, a large chunk of which were employee stock options that will vest over the next 5 years, were worth $646 million, according to a Bloomberg report. This made him the biggest gainer among company executives, after Coinbase cofounders Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam. And in just 15 months after joining the company. 

An IIT-Kharagpur computer science graduate with an MBA from MIT, Chatterjee worked at IBM, Symantec and Oracle before an 8-year stint at Google, where he was one of the founding members of its mobile search ads product. He then moved to Flipkart, where he was the head of product, for about 18 months, before heading back to Google in early 2017.

For Coinbase CEO Armstrong, it was Chatterjee’s Flipkart stint that stood out. “His experience leading Flipkart—an exciting startup in one of the world’s fastest-growing markets—arguably provided him an even closer look at the complexity and inefficiency of global commerce,” Armstrong wrote in a blog post when he hired Chatterjee. 

Chatterjee, now one of the most influential CXOs of Indian origin, recently hired his former Google colleague Pankaj Gupta to head a development center in India for Coinbase’s global tech and product expansion. The plan is to hire hundreds of employees in India, significant for a company that had just about 1,200 employees in the country as of December. 

Coinbase, which has investments in Indian crypto companies CoinDCX and Polygon, is considering acqui-hires in India to expand the center.

Chatterjee, in a video interview from the US, spoke with The CapTable on the company’s plans for India, the regulatory hurdles for crypto in India, and what his stint at Flipkart taught him. Edited excerpts:

(Cover image: Surojit Chatterjee with Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong)

Coinbase has set up a tech team in India. What are your plans for the India office?

First, we want to build a technology hub in India. I went to school in India and we see there are lots of talented engineers across the country. Also, crypto is all about decentralization. People working in this industry are spread across the globe. The early internet talent was concentrated in Silicon Valley but that will not happen for the crypto world. Our strategy is to go where the talent is. 

"The early internet talent was concentrated in Silicon Valley but that will not happen for the crypto world," Chatterjee said.

In India, there are many interesting crypto startups taking shape—Polygon (previously known as Matic) and CoinDCX, one of the leading crypto exchanges in India. There is also a lot of enthusiasm around crypto among the common people. They are investing in crypto, learning about crypto, and starting to take up crypto projects.

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