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Blockchain platforms such as Polygon and Circle have hired top talent from Big Tech firms lately, enticing them with the pitch of working on the next “big thing” in tech — Web 3.0, or Web3.
Ryan Wyatt left YouTube earlier this month to lead a new gaming studio from Polygon. Wyatt had joined the Google-owned video site back in 2014 to head up a push into video games content and compete more aggressively with Amazon’s Twitch platform.
“When I started at YouTube Gaming almost eight years ago, I was the first person there,” Wyatt told CNBC in an interview. “We didn’t have a team. People were really starting to show interest in gaming video.”
“I look at this opportunity very much the same way,” he added, describing the current stage of blockchain development as “early” and “exciting.”
The buzz surrounding Web3 has attracted some of the brightest minds in tech. The Web3 movement proposes overhauling the internet in a way that would move popular online services over to decentralized technologies like blockchain.
The list of Silicon Valley talent jumping ship for crypto also includes Sherice Torres, the former chief marketing officer of Facebook’s crypto and payments unit, Novi. She was hired by Circle in January. And Amazon cloud exec Pravjit Tiwana fled to join crypto exchange Gemini as its chief technology officer.
David Marcus, the former head of Novi, resigned late last year. While he’s yet to unveil his next move, Marcus has been singing the praises of Web3 on Twitter.
“I’ve never felt this connected to a community of builders like the crypto/web3 one,” Marcus tweeted last month.
Experts say tech executives are being drawn to the burgeoning industry in part due to its rapid growth.
“Naturally, people will want to work on what they view as the most exciting and innovative developments in the technology space, and currently, that is crypto and Web3,” Alex Bouaziz, CEO and co-founder of payroll software firm Deel, told CNBC.
“Many are seeing it as the future of the tech industry, in the same way that Facebook and Amazon were attractive in the past.”
There’s another thing that’s attracting talent at Big Tech companies to Web3: money.
Investment into crypto companies has surged, meaning they’ve got much more cash to spare on lucrative compensation packages for big hires. Blockchain start-ups raised a record $25 billion in venture capital last year, according to CB Insight figures.
Tech start-ups also typically let staff own a piece of their company through stock option schemes. With valuations for private crypto companies soaring, that means early employees could be in line for a big payout in the event of a takeover or initial public offering.
And the trend doesn’t just apply to the U.S.
Recruitment firm Hays says it’s seeing crypto companies target talent from the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Apple in the U.K. and Ireland, too.
“As more crypto/Web3 companies emerge, we expect the market for tech talent across all levels to become even more competitive,” James Hallahan, director of U.K. and Ireland for Hays’ technology division, told CNBC.
Web3 is still a loosely defined term. It broadly refers to initiatives aimed at building a decentralized version of the internet based around crypto networks.
In theory, platforms could reward users for their posts through blockchain-native tokens, flipping the advertising-fueled model of services like Facebook and YouTube on its head.
But Web3 has drawn criticism from some big names in Silicon Valley. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey argues it’s too centralized and controlled by a handful of venture capitalists, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk views it as more of a “marketing buzzword” than reality.
However, Wyatt said that when he started at YouTube, people were skeptical about the idea of watching others playing video games — even “endemic gamers.” Now, gaming is the second-biggest vertical on YouTube, according to Wyatt.
Similarly, he thinks that some of the backlash against crypto and Web3 will subside as more fleshed-out experiences, like blockbuster video games and social apps, start to get rolled out.
But don’t expect tech giants to take the challenge lying down.