A Bitcoin OG and founder of the cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, Jesse Powell (not to be mistaken with the Grammy-nominated American R&B singer Jesse Powell!) has become a household name in the crypto industry. Although Powell is no longer the CEO of his company — he stepped down from his role in September 2022 — he never ceased to be a thought leader of the space, staying actively involved in crypto advocacy and engaged in Kraken's day-to-day operations as the largest shareholder and chairman of the exchange's board of directors.
That being said, the enigmatic founder himself represents nearly an archetypal crypto success story, so it comes as no surprise that many members of the crypto community actively seek information about Jesse Powell's path to riches and entrepreneurial journey, be it for inspiration, guidance, or perhaps a common curiosity. If you are among them as well, you came to the right place: read one to learn more about Jesse Powell's net worth, education, and early crypto ventures.
Jesse Powell: age, background, and education
Jesse Powell was born in Sacramento, California in 1979 (44 years old at the time of writing). While Powell has long served as a public face of his company and one of the most influential voices in the industry, the crypto founder clearly prefers to keep his private life separate from work and away from the media spotlight, so little is known about his early years and family.
Coming to his educational background, Powell holds a Bachelor's degree from California State University, Sacramento. There, Powell majored in Philosophy with a concentration in Law and Ethics, which equipped him with the necessary knowledge to tackle the legal whirlwinds of the uncharted space of the cryptocurrency industry.
Before starting Kraken, one of the world's largest cryptocurrency exchanges, Powell founded a couple of non-crypto-related businesses. His first major success was Lewt Inc., an E-commerce platform and broker for virtual items and currencies for online games, which prepared Powell well for a start with digital currencies. The service also owned and operated a large content network, which featured forums and guides for the gamer community.
Besides Lewt, Powell started Verge Gallery and Studio Project, Sacramento's largest commercial contemporary art space, which he ran until 2010. Later, Powell became a board member of the Verge Center for the Arts, a non-profit that, in his own description, "picks up where Verge Gallery left off," and still holds this position.
Early start in the crypto industry
Having ventured into the world of crypto early, Powell was right on time to reap the benefits of being the first mover in the industry. His interest in Bitcoin grew while he was working on his other projects, so by 2013, Powell became a regular at San Francisco crypto meetups, where he met the Bitcoin & crypto OGs of the West Coast, namely Jed McCaleb of Mt. Gox and Ripple, Michael Gronager of Chainalysis, and Brian Armstrong of Coinbase.
Powell's first documented employment in the crypto industry was the position of a security consultant at a cryptocurrency exchange Mt. Gox shortly after the infamous heist that constituted around seven percent of all Bitcoins in circulation at the time.
At the peak of its expansion, Mt. Gox handled around seven out of every 10 Bitcoin transactions. That was when it clicked for Jesse: he could build the replacement and take the lion's share of the emerging market, filling the niche left by the closed exchange.
The creation of Kraken
In 2013, Jesse Powell finally launched his brand-new cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, along with fellow co-founders Thanh Luu and Michael Gronager. Initially, the platform only offered Bitcoin, Litecoin, and euro trades, but gradually expanded its offering to include numerous altcoins, cryptocurrency trading strategies, and staking.
As a Kraken CEO, Jesse Powell led his enterprise to become an industry powerhouse as one of the most successful cryptocurrency exchanges. In 2020, Kraken saw record trading volumes amid the pandemic bull run and furthered its global expansion, reentering the Japanese market after a two-year absence and launching for the first time in Australia.
In September 2020, Kraken was granted approval to form the world’s first Special Purpose Depository Institution (SPDI), called Kraken Bank. The announcement made mainstream headlines as Kraken became the first digital asset company in U.S. history to receive a bank charter recognized under federal and state law, and would be the first regulated U.S. bank to provide comprehensive deposit-taking, custody, and fiduciary services for digital assets.
Headquartered in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Kraken Bank would become the world’s trusted bridge between crypto and mainstream finance, providing exchange clients with seamless on-ramp and off-ramp solutions. "We have come full circle, crypto," Powell wrote in ave at the time.
In September 2022, more than a decade after he founded Kraken, Powell announced his resignation from the role of CEO but still continues to pioneer the crypto space as a member of Kraken's board of directors.
Where does Jesse Powell's net worth come from?
At the time of writing, Jesse Powell net worth is estimated in a range of $500 million to $1 billion. Such a discrepancy can be attributed to the fact that a significant part of Powell's wealth is believed to be in traditional investments such as company shares and cash, which can't be independently verified on a blockchain like crypto assets.
It is estimated that Powell's net worth primarily comes from his more than a decade-long tenure as the CEO of Kraken, which has grown significantly and became one of the leading crypto exchanges under Powell's leadership. As a founder, Powell likely holds a substantial equity stake in Kraken, and the company's success directly impacts his net worth. And since Kraken mainly generates revenue from fees paid by users, its valuation fluctuates significantly depending on the market cycle, and so does Powell's overall wealth. Moreover, as a former CEO and current board member of Kraken, Powell likely receives handsome compensation for his position in the company.
On top of that, Jesse Powell is believed to have some notable crypto holdings, namely in Bitcoin and XRP, as he was a known angel investor in Ripple in 2012. Given his early dive into the world of crypto, these holdings must have been greatly appreciated in value, earning Powell lucrative returns on his initial investments.
Finally, Powell may have made personal investments as a venture capitalist in other cryptocurrency-related projects or startups, which could also contribute to his net worth.
Controversies and legal woes
Jesse Powell has a remarkable story of controversies and legal troubles in the public eye. While working as Kraken CEO, he ignited a highly politicized debate in the company's Slack channel and even asked his employees to stop using their preferred gender pronouns, as reported by the New York Times. The CEO also reportedly called babies "a harmful addiction" for the company.
Powell himself dismissed all accusations as taken out of context and described the article as a 'hit piece," contrasting it with "softball" coverage that FTX's Sam Bankman-Fried enjoyed even after the scale of misappropriation of customers' funds at his now-defunct exchange became truly visible.
"We recognize that hurt feelings are inevitable in a global organization that is optimizing for team outcomes above individual sentiment. The ideal Krakenite is thick-skinned and well-intentioned," the exchange's culture memo reads.
Recently, in July 2023, Powell found himself as the subject of an FBI investigation involving Verge Center for the Arts, who accused Kraken exec of hacking and cyberstalking the organization. In connection with the criminal investigation, the FBI raided Jesse Powell's house and reportedly seized some electronic devices.
"Kraken has been made aware that former CEO Jesse Powell is involved in a civil dispute with a nonprofit art gallery, the Verge Center for the Arts. We understand there is a federal investigation open and search warrants were executed to gather more information about the Verge matter. The US Attorney has advised us that Kraken is not a part of the investigation in any way," the exchange said in a statement.
Powell denied any wrongdoing or unlawfully interfering with the non-profit's internal systems.
Why did Jesse Powell step down from Kraken?
In September 2022, it was announced that Powell stepped down as the CEO of Kraken, succeeded by the then-current COO Dave Ripley. The official reason behind such a sudden departure was Powell's fatigue from running the big exchange, which he described as "more draining on me, less fun."
"Dave’s proven leadership and experience give me great confidence that he’s the ideal successor and the best person to lead Kraken through its next era of growth," the former CEO wrote in the company announcement. "I look forward to spending more of my time on the company’s products, user experience, and broader industry advocacy."
However, some also speculated that his resignation may be an attempt at damage control from Kraken over Powell's anti-woke rhetoric that earned the company damning coverage in the mainstream media, particularly the New York Times. Some crypto pundits even started drawing parallels between Powell's resignation and the departure of Michael Saylor, the chief executive of MicroStrategy and Bitcoin "permabull," who stepped down in August 2022 following a $917 million loss on his company's Bitcoin investments.
While Jesse Powell had his share of controversies and his adamant personality may not make him the mainstream media darling, he nevertheless remains one of the most prominent thought leaders of the crypto space. That being said, his estimated net worth of $500 million is a testament to his success in the industry.
Powell's commitment to innovation is evident through him founding Kraken, an exchange lauded for its top-notch security and trading features. As an avid Bitcoiner, he is also known as a staunch critic of overregulation in the industry, making a number of bold public statements about regulatory efforts to impede the crypto market's growth and expansion.