Barry Silbert steps down as SecondMarket CEO, plans to focus 100% on digital currency spinoff

By Michael Carney , written on July 24, 2014

From The News Desk

SecondMarket founder Barry Silbert is stepping down as CEO of the company with a goal of focusing on the firm’s burgeoning digital currency business, which will soon be spun out as a standalone company. Silbert will remain Chairman and CEO of SecondMarket Holdings, Inc. the parent holding company to both firms.

Silbert founded SecondMarket ten years ago and was a pioneer in providing secondary liquidity to private company shareholders, including founders, employees, and investors, and in allowing late stage investors to get access to these maturing companies. But that market has changed dramatically in recent years.

SecondMarket played a pivotal, and at times controversial role in the run-up to Facebook’s IPO as company insiders regularly sold share-blocks over its last year as a private company at what then seemed astronomical valuations. When Facebook’s stock price didn’t “pop” following its IPO, this secondary liquidity – along with the egregious mismanagement of the listing by NASDAQ and the company’s bankers – was cited as a contributing factor.

While the company subsequently worked with Twitter and other public companies, the volume and magnitude of the opportunity is not what it was a few years ago. Many private companies took this as a learning experience and have since instituted provisions into employment contracts and equity grant documents limiting the rights of insiders to sell shares on the secondary market, a shift in policy that has hampered SecondMarket’s business. In a company blog post announcing on the transition, Silbert writes:

As with all startups, we have had some fantastic successes and some clear failures.  But along the way, SecondMarket successfully transitioned from a telephone-based broker of illiquid assets into a highly scalable, product-focused organization that has redefined how private companies and funds raise capital and facilitate liquidity for their stakeholders.  We have product market fit, a fantastic team, a record number of private company/fund customers and are very well positioned for long term success.  The future for SecondMarket has never been brighter.
But anyone who has followed Silbert’s activities over the last two years already knows that the entrepreneur long ago set his sights on another market. The SecondMarket founder has been one of the most prolific bitcoin evangelists, investing in dozens of startups in the sector, participating in a bitcoin hedge fund called Pantera Capital, and taking steps to launch the world’s first institutional bitcoin exchange. He recently tweeted that he was meeting with the representative of $250 billion of institutional capital interested in bitcoin.

Silbert’s angel portfolio includes BitPay , Bitcoin Opportunity Corp., Coinsetter, Gold Bullion International Safello, and Vaurum, among others. Within the Bitcoin Opportunity Corp, he has further invested in another 30-plus startups, including BitGo, BitPagos, BitPesa, BitPremier, BlockScore, Boost Bitcoin Fund, BTCJam, Circle, Coinbase, Coinsetter, Gyft, HashPlex, Korbit, Kraken, Ripple Labs, TradeBlock, Vaurum, Volabit, and Xapo.

With this as the backdrop, Silbert has deemed than now is the time to focus exclusively on digital currencies and leave the running of SecondMarket’s private company and fund business. Bill Siegel has been named interim CEO of that business unit.

Silbert writes:

My passion for bitcoin is no secret and I feel it is the right time to make this transition.  Our intention is to formally separate the two business lines at the appropriate point in time.
Update: 8:34pm PST, 7/24/14 – Silbert responded following publication to Pando's question about the timing of this decision and whether it was voluntary. Below is his email response:
100% voluntary.  Board fully supports the decision to separate the SecondMarket and bitcoin businesses and for me to focus 100% on the bitcoin side of things.
Decided to announce first because the CEO search is a process hard to keep quiet and I didn’t want my team finding out through the rumor mill.  Plus, we have very effective leader/manager in Bill Siegel, so we had a perfect internal solution for day-to-day while I transition and we run a robust search process.