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Sky Mavis Taps Robinhood Compliance Exec as New Legal Chief (1)

Sept. 29, 2022, 12:00 PMUpdated: Sept. 29, 2022, 2:26 PM

Sky Mavis Inc., a non-fungible token-focused startup reeling from a massive hack earlier this year, has hired its first-ever general counsel in James Nguyen from Robinhood Markets Inc.

Nguyen, who will lead legal and regulatory affairs for the Vietnamese company, most recently was general counsel and chief compliance officer for Robinhood’s cryptocurrency unit. Robinhood, which in August cut 23% of its workforce, declined to discuss Nguyen’s exit or replacement.

Sky Mavis confirmed Nguyen’s hire. The company has also faced headwinds.

Hackers made off with roughly $600 million in Sky Mavis digital money stored within Axie Infinity, an online video game popular with cryptocurrency traders. The company vowed to reimburse gamers who lost funds in the hack and raised $150 million to stem a spate of user defections following the breach.

Bloomberg News reported last year on Sky Mavis reaching a peak valuation of $3 billion thanks to Axie Infinity, which allows users to trade and earn cryptocurrencies.

James Nguyen
Sky Mavis

Nguyen, who is fluent in Vietnamese, was a “longstanding leader of the Robinhood team responsible for building, developing, and expanding the cryptocurrency business and its products,” Sky Mavis said in a statement Thursday.

Trung Nguyen, a coder-turned-chief executive officer and co-founder at Sky Mavis, said in a statement that the company’s new top lawyer will be a “critical asset” due to his experience in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space.

James Nguyen, who Sky Mavis said is unrelated to its top executive, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about his new role.

Hack Fallout

CEO Trung Nguyen reportedly moved about $3 million in Axie Infinity’s main token, AXS, before the company disclosed it was hacked. Sky Mavis told Bloomberg News in July that its chief executive and co-founder did so to boost the company’s finances during a critical time after the hack.

A company spokeswoman said Sky Mavis conducted an independent audit over the hacking of its network and is committed to reimbursing all Axie Infinity users.

Its new legal chief is now tasked with helping Sky Mavis build a legal department for its global business and operations. Nguyen will also help the company navigate an evolving legal and regulatory environment for projects like Axie Infinity.

“Sky Mavis has already demonstrated the promise of how a decentralized future can bring people together to upend dated gaming models and make better the way we play and interact with each other,” James Nguyen said in a company statement.

Sky Mavis said Nguyen led legal and regulatory strategy for Robinhood’s “early efforts to explore and obtain a national banking license and launch a banking business,” as well as his former employer’s more recent bid to start a national payments business in Robinhood Money.

Nguyen spent three years as a senior counsel at Wells Fargo & Co. in San Francisco after beginning his legal career as an associate at Morrison & Foerster in Washington. He joined Robinhood in 2018 and subsequently served as president of the company’s cryptocurrency business, where he took over as general counsel and compliance chief this year after the departure of Benjamin Melnicki.

Nicole Trudeau, a former general counsel for cryptocurrency exchange Cex.io Ltd., joined Robinhood over the summer as a director and associate general counsel. Trudeau, whose LinkedIn profile identifies her as a legal director for Robinhood’s cryptocurrency unit, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

(Adds comment from Sky Mavis in eighth and 10th paragraphs.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com