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Former Square CTO Bob Lee stabbed to death in downtown San Francisco

Former Square CTO Bob Lee joined MobileCoin in 2021. | Courtesy MobileCoin

Bob Lee, the former chief technology officer of Square, was identified as the 43-year-old man stabbed to death in Downtown San Francisco early Tuesday morning. The news was confirmed by MobileCoin, the crypto company where Lee served as chief product officer.

The San Francisco Police Department said officers responded to reports of a stabbing on Main Street near Harrison Street at approximately 2:35 a.m. Officers found a man suffering from apparent stab wounds. The man, who police said was from Mill Valley, was transported to a local hospital, where he died.

READ MORE: Video Appears To Show Mortally Wounded Cash App Creator Bob Lee Looking for Help in Downtown San Francisco After Stabbing

Lee was a longtime member of the Bay Area software development community who had recently moved to Miami.

After five years as a Google engineer working on the Android core library, “Crazy Bob,” as he was affectionately known, was hired by Square to develop its Android app and became the payment company’s first CTO in 2011. He was the developer of its Cash App (formerly called Square Cash).

In 2021, Lee became the chief product officer of MobileCoin, a crypto payment company based in San Francisco. Early Wednesday morning, MobileCoin’s founder Joshua Goldbard tweeted about Lee’s death, saying Lee “was an incredible human being. Saying bob’s name in the past tense feels ridiculous.” In a statement emailed to The Standard Wednesday morning, Goldbard said, “Bob’s legacy is the feeling that you can make a difference if you try, and of course his amazing children.”

Bill Barhydt, the CEO of the digital payments firm Abra, said on Twitter that Lee was a father and “generous human being who didn’t deserve to be killed.”

READ MORE: Bob Lee’s Downtown SF Killing Sparks Rage at ‘Lawless’ City

The SF Chief Medical Examiner’s Office has not officially disclosed the victim’s identity or other details of the death.

‘An Electric Individual’: Tributes Pour In for Bob Lee 

A pedestrian passes memorial flowers left on Main Street where former Square CTO Bob Lee was stabbed on Tuesday in San Francisco. | Noah Berger/The Standard

Wesley Chan, the co-founder of venture capital fund FPV Ventures, met Lee over a decade ago when they both worked at Google.

“I’m devastated,” he told The Standard. “One of my friends who’s a startup founder called me up and said, ‘Bob’s gone.’ We all sat there in shock trying to understand how this could happen.”

Chan described Lee as an “electric individual” with “amazing energy” who was extremely generous toward other startup founders.

“He had the most bubbly energy of anyone you would ever work with,” Chan said. “Even if he didn’t like what you were building, he always had this massively positive energy that got people to believe in themselves.”

Lee’s experience as an engineer, startup founder and investor allowed him to advise many other startups—he was like a coach, pushing a runner to keep going during a marathon, Chan said.

“There’s a cruel irony to this: Bob was so successful at being able to be in the right place at the right time in his career,” he said. But when Lee was stabbed to death on Tuesday during the early morning hours, “he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

‘I Just Lost My Best Friend’: Lee’s Father Speaks Out

A Twitter image of Bob Lee, the former chief technology officer of Square, who was stabbed to death on Main Street in Downtown San Francisco on Tuesday, April 4, 2023.

READ MORE: Bob Lee Killing: A Tipping Point in a City Fed Up With Crime?

“I just lost my best friend, my son Bob Lee when he lost his life on the street in San Francisco early Tuesday Morning,” wrote Lee in the post. “I moved to Mill Valley, CA with Bob after his mother died in 2019 and we recently relocated to Miami in Oct 2022. Life has been an adventure with two bachelors living together, and I’m so happy that we were able to become so close these last years. Bob would give you the shirt off his back. He would never look down on anyone and adhered to a strict no-judgment philosophy. Bobby worked harder than anyone and was the smartest person I have ever known. He will be missed by all those that knew him. Thank you to those who have reached out in support.”

‘Heartbreaking’: Developer Community Mourns Lee 

Lee’s prolific social media postings spanned the personal to the professional. He was a dad, a coffee connoisseur, a traveler, a Cardinals fan, a Trekkie and a regular at all the tech events and major festivals, from SXSW to Coachella, TechCrunch and Burning Man.

In many ways, Lee could have been any one of the thousands of coding savants, startup execs and go-getters who have migrated through San Francisco’s software developer and startup community in the past two decades.  

But many said Lee stood out.

As news spread late Tuesday that Lee had been stabbed to death less than a mile from the office where he worked on the startup team of Square, leaders of San Francisco’s technology community shared their respects online. 

An Early Open Source and Web Developer 

Lee was a co-author of Bitter EJB, a 2003 book for coders aimed at helping them avoid common pitfalls when writing for the Enterprise Java Beans framework to develop web-based business applications. 

When the book was published, he was living in St. Louis, Missouri, and had been working as an open-source developer for 10 years. 

By 2004, Lee was living in San Francisco and working as an engineer at Google. His work there involved setting up the core library for the fledgling Android operating system.

Apparently a frequent target of recruiters, Lee posted a resume online that had large red type across the top that read, “NOT CURRENTLY SEEKING EMPLOYMENT” and a professional objective “To work with likeminded programmers on challenging projects in an environment where I can experiment, innovate, learn, and have fun.”

A Move to FinTech

Lee left Google and joined Square in 2010 as its 13th employee. He became CTO in 2011. Lee led the development of the Cash App, initially known as Square Cash, and helped integrate it with the fast-growing Android operating system. 

On his Facebook feed, Lee marked the mass market wins of his development career. In 2010, he wrote: “Square is the top free finance app in Android’s market” and “Android Surpasses iPhone in the U.S.”

Though he left Square in 2014, a Facebook photo from 2015 shows him on the floor of the Nasdaq the day the company went public. 

Advising Startups

After Square, Lee spent several years working with startups as an advisor and an angel investor. The work led him to take the helm as CEO of the local group-chat app Present in 2015. In 2018, he described the mission of the company as bringing local communities closer together, to make the world a happier, healthier place, adding, “If you follow the news, I think you’ll agree the world could use this now more than ever.” 

The Present app was pitched as a way for women to connect, in particular, and the company hosted a pre-rally for the 2018 Women’s March in San Francisco.

He invested in MobileCoin, a peer-to-peer payment processing system that made it faster and more secure to trade cryptocurrency from a mobile phone. The company went on to receive $66 million in venture backing. He assumed the role of CEO in late 2021. In a statement, Lee said he hoped MobileCoin could “help the hundreds of millions of unbanked people worldwide” by offering democratized access to digital cash.

A Busy Personal Life

Recent posts to his Facebook profile show concerns over police violence, the Trump administration and the management of the Covid pandemic.

Lee was a father and posted photos of himself and his children often. 

In August 2009, Lee posted on his blog that he was going to swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco to raise funds for the American Liver Foundation. He often donated to fundraisers for friends through the years. 

A friend who was planning to meet Lee in Miami this weekend told The Standard that Lee had been in San Francisco on business, had stayed an extra day and was killed on that day.

“I’m still in shock,” the friend told The Standard. “No way he did anything to provoke this, and I feel like he would just hand his money and watch to a mugger.”

There have been 12 homicides in San Francisco this year as of April 2, compared with 10 in the same year-to-date period in 2022. 

SFPD Homicide Detective Raj Vaswani asked anyone with eyewitness reports or video footage that may have captured the crime to contact police.