Austin Hill out as Blockstream CEO amid front office shake-up


Longtime Montreal tech luminary Austin Hill is leaving the influential blockchain technology startup he helped create.

Blockstream, the defacto leader in blockchain technologies, announced Monday that Dr. Adam Back would assume the CEO role as Hill stepped down to “pursue other opportunities.”

Hill, a self-described instigator, entrepreneur, investor, cancer researcher and poker strategist, began what was the beginnings of Blockstream in Montreal in 2014. However, the company has always been international in nature with employees residing in 10 countries around the world.

Back is a cofounder of Blockstream and previously held president and COO roles. He helped build up the team of 40, contributed to the company’s product and technical vision and oversaw daily operations. In a press release, the new CEO said he would lead the company “to its full potential.”

“I am honoured to take on the CEO position at this important phase in the company’s growth and am excited about leading Blockstream to its full potential,” said Back. “We have a world-class team dedicated to building the foundation that will underpin the transformation of finance for years to come.”

Back, who received his Ph.D. in distributed systems and computer science from the University of Exeter, previously cofounded Pi Corporation, a cloud infrastructure provider that was later acquired by EMC. He has held senior roles with a number of companies, including Microsoft, EMC, PI, VMware, and Zero-Knowledge Systems (one of Hill’s previous companies), as well as advised many more companies on cryptography and e-cash.

Blockstream provides a range of software and hardware solutions and expert professional services to companies deploying new blockchain-based networks. The company, founded in late 2014, raised $76 million over two rounds from leading investors in Asia, Europe and North America, including AME Cloud Ventures, AXA Strategic Ventures, Blockchain Capital, Digital Currency Group, Digital Garage, Future\Perfect Ventures, Horizons Ventures, Innovation Endeavors, Khosla Ventures, Mosaic Ventures, Real Ventures, Reid Hoffman, and Seven Seas Venture Partners.

Hill previously founded one of the first Internet providers in Canada, Total.Net, in 1994 (Sold to BCE Emergis in 1997). After that, he cofounded Zero-Knowledge Systems, the largest and most funded research company focused around cypherpunk technologies for privacy, anonymity, and electronic cash. The company also pioneered anonymous networking technology and invented cryptographic identity trust metric systems.

Hill was also a venture partner with Montreal Startup and helped create Montreal’s Real Ventures venture capital fund.

CoinDesk said “Hill’s exit comes as the startup has moved to bolster its developer ranks. Earlier this summer, Blockstream acquired bitcoin wallet startup GreenAddress, which further boosted its employee base.” The popular blog is a subsidiary of a company with an ownership stake in Blockstream.

Bitcoinist’s Trevor Hill wrote that Blockstream’s board of directors “unanimously voted” Back into the CEO role as Hill left.

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