Ethereum co-founder Joseph Lubin, head of the Brooklyn-based venture studio ConsenSys, is moving to appease employees who say they’re fed up with unfulfilled promises about equity disbursements.
Out of seven current or former ConsenSys employees interviewed by CoinDesk, four said they felt misled about the company’s employee share options. Although most employees are verbally and contractually promised they will soon have an opportunity to obtain ConsenSys shares, few receive it or are able to use it, said the sources, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Now, after a year of discontent, ConsenSys is imminently expected to announce an official policy regarding employee share options, according to one of the sources. ConsenSys declined to comment for this article. We will update if we hear back.
“People would bring it up in town halls and Joe would say, ‘We’re working on it,’” one source said about Lubin’s repeated verbal assurances. “I didn’t know how important equity was or that I should fight for it. I definitely felt taken advantage of in that sense.”
With regard to shares for ConsenSys proper, which slightly over 100 early employees have allegedly received but few have tried to sell, another source who did receive equity added:
“If there’s no public offering and there’s no buyback program from the company, then that equity is not valuable.”
According to one source with knowledge of the matter, Lubin owns more than half of the equity in ConsenSys proper, in addition to ownership stakes in the firm’s incubated startups. The source said Lubin is shopping a tenth of that ConsenSys equity around to potential investors such as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
As such, few shareholders believe Lubin will be able to close this raise without diluting the value of employee shares or substituting ConsenSys equity for shares in the “spokes,” i.e. incubated projects. It remains to be seen how employee share options will be finalized in writing.
“They’ll have to set up more shares in the company or set up different entities and give people shares in other entities,” one source told CoinDesk. “Promising people spoke equity for spokes that have never launched and don’t have the ability to raise capital, because of the way the cap table is structured, is not valuable.”
As CoinDesk previously reported, some incubated projects have struggled to attract investors due to Lubin retaining the majority share in the nascent startups. (To be fair, one startup that recently managed to spin out despite the equity debacle, 3Box, raised $2.5 million from venture capital firms including Placeholder and CoinFund.)
On the other hand, one current employee had a more optimistic view of the company “maturing” through this equity reconfiguration.
“We get paid on time, when we have issues with bonuses we’re able to resolve them in a timely manner,” he said. “I think [employee share options] will be fair. I’m under no illusions. Given how much we’ve grown, that will result in dilution.”
Out of the seven current and former ConsenSys employees CoinDesk interviewed for this article, six believed the disorganized compensation system is “highly political” and leads to unfair distribution.
Some people work across various projects in “the mesh” and earn bonuses, equity, opportunities or tokens from each.
“It’s chaos, there’s no clear line of authority or accountability,” one former employee told CoinDesk.
Six sources said some ConsenSys executives took advantage of this system to siphon compensation from incubated projects without contributing significant value. The sole dissenter conceded this was happening with a few “short-term” incentives like extra bonuses, but didn’t believe this issue was widespread across the company.
Another source said they weren’t disappointed by the lack of equity, although they added the younger and less experienced employees were “definitely” misled in their onboarding process.
“Nobody is keeping track of these things,” the employee said, referring to who is owed what. “They’ve never gotten to the point where they could make good on that offer.”
The company has seen three executive departures in recent months and rumors continue to swirl about current employees frustrated with disorganization.
“What’s woefully incompetent is the continued promise of equity,” one source who did receive equity told CoinDesk. “Some folks have spoke equity in spokes they don’t even work for. It’s chaotic. There’s no reason to it.”
ConsenSys office photo via CoinDesk archives