The first decentralized cryptocurrency, bitcoin, was created in 2009 by pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto. It used SHA-256, a cryptographic hash function, as its proof-of-work scheme. In April 2011, Namecoin was created as an attempt at forming a decentralized DNS, which would make internet censorship very difficult. Soon after, in October 2011, Litecoin was released. It was the first successful cryptocurrency to use scrypt as its hash function instead of SHA-256. Another notable cryptocurrency, Peercoin was the first to use a proof-of-work/proof-of-stake hybrid.
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Coinbase was founded in June 2012 by Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam. Blockchain.info co-founder Ben Reeves was part of the original founding team but later parted ways with Armstrong due to a difference in how the Coinbase wallet should operate. The remaining founding team enrolled in the Summer 2012 Y Combinator startup incubator program. In October 2012, the company launched the services to buy and sell bitcoin through bank transfers. In May 2013, the company received a US$5 million Series A investment led by Fred Wilson from the venture capital firm Union Square Ventures. In December 2013, the company received a US$25 million investment, from the venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz, Union Square Ventures (USV), and Ribbit Capital.
In February 2019, Coinbase announced that it had acquired "blockchain intelligence platform" Neutrino, an Italy-based startup, for an undisclosed price. The acquisition raised concern among some Coinbase users based on Neutrino founders' connection to the Hacking Team, which has been accused of providing internet surveillance technology to governments with poor human rights records. On March 4, 2019, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said his company "did not properly evaluate" the deal from a due diligence perspective and thus any Neutrino staff who previously worked at Hacking Team "will transition out of Coinbase."