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Chris Dixon and the Midas touch

Chris Dixon is known for having the “Midas touch” in crypto investments and was also one of the earliest supporters of this nascent space.
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writer.c98
5 min read
Published May 12 2024
Updated May 20 2024
chris dixon

Part-time programmer, full-time businessman

In 1982, ten-year-old Chris Dixon wrote to Atari, a computer and game console manufacturer, asking for computer instruction manuals. Alan Kay, chief scientist at Atari and an award-winning computer programmer, personally replied to him.

“I give him a lot of credit for my lifelong interest in computers,” Dixon wrote in a 2009 blog post.

Those initial contacts with the world of programming paved the way for Dixon's career as a developer, technology founder, eBay manager, and later general partner of crypto venture capital firm a16z, as well as the author of Read Write Own.

A16z, the VC firm Dixon works for, manages a $6.3 billion fund focused on digital asset investments, according to 2022 PitchBook data. No other investor has as much venture capital — as well as a large support team — to operate in the digital asset space as a16z.

a16z is famous, but Dixon prefers to remain private. He likes to stay behind the scenes, leaving the spotlight to others and only appearing to talk about crypto, venture capital, and technology when and where he sees fit.

Dixon is the general partner of a16z. Image: The Times

Dixon was born in 1971 or 1972 in Ohio, USA. He holds three degrees: bachelor's and master’s degrees in philosophy from Columbia and an MBA from Harvard. His passion for academics is no surprise: Dixon is one of four sons of two retired English professors at Wittenberg College.

Dixon first ventured into the venture capital industry when he became an associate at Bessemer Venture Partners. “It wasn’t the sort of job I enjoyed,” Dixon later said in 2010 about his time at Bessemer. He noted that he didn’t think he would ever work full-time in the industry again and saw himself more as a businessman than an investor.

During his time at Bessemer, he founded his first company, the security website SiteAdvisor, in 2005. A year after the company launched, he sold it to the computer security software company McAfee.

In 2009, Dixon went on to found Hunch with Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr, and two others. The startup, which offered personalized recommendations on books, movies, products, or hobbies based on users' answers to questions about themselves (such as whether they danced), immediately attracted attention upon its launch.

“By startup number two, we were clamoring to invest with Chris again,” says Conway, an investor in SiteAdvisor and a friend of Dixon’s. “We were totally in love with Chris. We knew that he was one of the smartest founders that we would ever meet. He was down-to-earth and didn’t exaggerate.”

In 2011, eBay acquired Hunch for $80 million.

In addition to being a brilliant founder, Dixon is also known for being full of ideas. While an MBA student at Harvard, along with Alex Rampell (who later became a general partner at a16z), he developed an experimental tracking product called DidTheyReadIt. This product helped embed pixels into emails to indicate when a message was read.

Dixon's book about crypto. Image: Vice

“He is very adept at synthesizing information, taking risks, and learning at an amazingly accelerated level,” said Daniel Jeffries, Dixon's former colleague. “I never met a more innovative programmer, and it wasn’t even his full-time job, just something he learned because he was interested and nobody else could do what he wanted done.”

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The greatest investor of his generation

But corporate life didn't last long for Dixon. At the end of 2012, he was on his way to a16z. Dixon was one of those who openly criticized billion-dollar VCs and large companies. But now he was about to join one of the industry's biggest VCs.

“Basically, it was an industry dominated by a few firms,” Dixon said in 2013, shortly after moving to a16z. “There was this expectation that all entrepreneurs had to go through and pitch those firms, and there was a scarcity of capital. And I think as a result, a little bit of arrogance had gotten into the business.”

However, according to Dixon, a16z is different. This VC was founded by entrepreneurs Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz and has approximately 65 employees dedicated to helping portfolio companies succeed. “I think it was started with the idea of saying, ‘If we invented venture capital from scratch, what would it look like, and what would a pro-entrepreneurial firm look like?’” Dixon said.

top deals a16z

With a16z, Dixon soon dove into what would become one of the biggest draws in venture capital: crypto. He sees blockchain as a new type of computer with the potential to lay the foundations for the next era of the internet.

His early bet on Coinbase defined Dixon's career in crypto. In 2013, he led a16z's $25 million investment round in Coinbase. By the time the exchange went public via direct listing in April 2021, a16z had accumulated nearly 30 million shares (15% stake) in 14 more rounds. At the end of Coinbase's first day of trading, those shares were worth about $10 billion — representing an approximate 60-fold return.

Coinbase is just one standout in Dixon's portfolio that has earned him the reputation of having the Midas touch. His other major deals include Uniswap, Avalanche, and Dapper Labs.

“By any measure, he is a leading crypto investor,” said General Catalyst CEO Hemant Taneja, who backed Dixon's startup more than 20 years ago. Ben Horowitz, co-founder of a16z, went further: “I think ten years from now, people will consider him the greatest investor of his generation.”

My job is not to predict the future. My job is to be smart enough to know who the smart people are who will.
Chris Dixon

However, Dixon somewhat downplays the importance of his investing abilities: “My job is not to predict the future,” he said. “My job is to be smart enough to know who the smart people are who will.”

Despite his programming background, Dixon found some surprising answers in people — not hard data and products. This is the lesson he learned through investing.

“My worst investments have been the ones where I actually understood the market the best,” Dixon said. “In those cases, I sort of fell in love with the product idea because I knew the market well, and I overlooked the fact that the team was not a great team.”

Dixon has been researching crypto topics for over a decade. He first wrote about “democratizing art” in 2009, shortly after investing in a non-crypto company that wanted to bring art collecting to the mid-market.

Since entering the technology field, he has been critical of the financial market and said that Wall Street does not contribute much to society. He has shared many of these visions in publications, blogs, and Twitter.

At the end of last year, he gathered all these thoughts and released the book Read Write Own which provides a brief history of the evolution of the web and makes a compelling case for blockchain as the inevitable future of the internet. Disney CEO Robert Iger called the book, “A compelling vision of where the internet should go and how to get there.”

Despite the praise from the community and his substantial wealth, Dixon told the press that he really has no interests other than blogging and startups.