Every change is accompanied by many questions- why, how, when. My decision to leave Google and join Coinbase has been no different. But I’ve always enjoyed being associated with technology that is on the brink of changing how we live. Google ads has helped democratize commerce, Flipkart and ecommerce has revolutionized life in India, and I believe Coinbase is going to turn conventional finance on its head.
In my, more than a decade, stint at Google I’ve worked on payments, advertising and commerce. With my work on mobile Ads at Google (which I helped cofound) and working on mobile commerce at Flipkart, India I understood the profound impact smartphones had in terms of bringing more users and more small businesses online to enable commerce in more places. The kind of commerce that seemed impossible a few years ago, is quickly getting normalized in even previously disconnected parts of the world. My dad living in a remote village in India could now buy Nike shoes sitting at his home without doing a full day trek to a showroom in the nearest city 50 miles away! And I feel thankful to have a small role to play in helping democratizing commerce. But I think the smartphone revolution has the potential to enable something even more fundamental — create more economic freedom for everyone in the world.
I have two distinct memories around money and issues with the traditional financial system. Growing up in India in a poor middle class household, I saw very closely what lack of liquid cash does to a family’s lifestyle. As a kid I would go with my mom to a local bank to withdraw money. And believe me when I tell you that the process was epic! Once you had your withdrawal slip filled out, you had to stand in the first line for a token. With the token and slip in hand, and a prayer in your heart, you then moved on to the second line to get your signature physically matched with the signature on your account form (a signature that could be decades old). If you were lucky and the signatures matched then you would have the money at the end of, what was already more than, a couple of hours. Otherwise, rinse and repeat! The banks controlled the daily withdrawal limit. At the time there were only a few Government controlled banks and so customers didn’t really have a choice.
The second memory is more recent. Late at night on the 8th of November 2016, while I was at Flipkart, the Indian Prime Minister interrupted regular television schedule to announce, to the surprise of the whole nation, that, almost overnight, all current cash currencies would be rendered useless and the government would issue new currencies over the next few months! You had a very limited time to go and deposit all your cash into your bank account otherwise all your cash becomes useless. And this in a country where many people still didn’t have bank accounts! The lines at the bank snaked around blocks. ATMs ran out of cash. The daily limit was hardly enough for an average family of four to function normally. My carpenter’s wife went into labor that night and he had to literally pool in cash from friends and relatives to manage hospital costs (medical insurance isn’t yet common in india). He had no access to money that was sitting in his own account! It took months for everyone to deposit their existing money and get new currencies. It was one of the most destabilizing things to do and it was the poorest people who got hurt the most. My dad, who was almost 80 at that time, had been standing in a queue for 5 hours to get 2000 Rs, which was the per day limit for the first week. That’s less than $30!.
That was the time I really started thinking about the limitations of the current financial system. As an immigrant who migrated to the US more than two decades ago, I have personally felt the complexity and inefficiency of sending money to my parents. The situation isn’t too much better today.
I am excited about what crypto and blockchain technology can do to democratize our financial systems. I believe crypto currencies and blockchain technology can help open up the financial system for everyone by growing commerce and cross-border commerce, by lowering transaction costs and by providing higher security. Development of crypto technology can help reimagine the internet with less centralized control and better incentives for everyone who participates and contributes. But most importantly, it’ll help 1.7B of the world’s unbanked population transact and avail financial services using their smartphones, creating a better financial future for everyone. This is why I am inspired by Brian’s vision to create “economic freedom for everyone” and excited to be a part of the Coinbase journey.