Leaders Series: Rebecca Liao at Skuchain

Issue 30— June 6th, 2017

This series highlights the unique stories of leaders from various communities across the growing digital currency and blockchain technology industry. The goal is to showcase the fantastic work these leaders are all doing at different levels of their respective organizations, and to encourage more people at all stages of their careers join the revolution we’re creating, together!

Rebecca Liao is VP of Business Development and Strategy at Skuchain

She’s new to the blockchain industry, and has been in her role at Skuchain for the last month.

How did you get into blockchain?

Like most people, my first time hearing about blockchain was in relation to bitcoin. I thought the rise of cryptocurrencies was an intriguing phenomenon, but I never thought my career would pivot to this area. Then I went on an extended trip to China last November, meeting with tech companies in Beijing, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Everyone wanted to know more about how Silicon Valley viewed blockchain. At the same time, my colleagues in international trade were very seriously discussing the ways in which blockchain could significantly reduce current frictions in commerce. That’s when I started reading the white papers and consuming everything blockchain. As someone who’s always tried to straddle the tech and policy worlds in my professional life, the breadth of possible blockchain applications was incredibly exciting, but what made the technology even more interesting were its limitations. Not everything should be placed on a blockchain ledger, and the complexity of navigating existing relationships between institutions that would possibly adopt blockchain should not to be underestimated.

Blockchain is a vast ecosystem, and while I was able to see myself possibly fitting into various companies and roles, nothing fit perfectly until I said to myself, “Ya know what? Just google “international trade AND blockchain”. Skuchain was the first search result, and the rest is history.

What did you do before you got into this?

Right before Skuchain, I was at another startup called Globality, which provides an AI-driven platform for procurement of professional services. I also did business development there and headed up Asia efforts. Around the same time, I served on Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign as a foreign policy advisor, covering Asia trade and economic policy. I began my career as a corporate lawyer specializing in cross-border M&A and securities financings. For the last decade, I’ve also been a writer and China analyst.

What’s been the most interesting experience you’ve had in your role so far?

Typically, tech companies produce technology to sell to other tech companies or technologists. Even though blockchain is highly technical even within the wider community, being at Skuchain has brought me closer to more traditional industries like energy and manufacturing than I’ve ever been. Having grown up in the California Bay Area and lived predominantly in large coastal cities, I had little exposure to industrial towns. In the time I’ve been at Skuchain, I’ve had the opportunity to visit these places since many of our clients, who adopt our solutions for their supply chains, are located there. It’s been an incredibly eye-opening and fulfilling experience to hear the stories of people whose careers, and whose families’ careers, have been dedicated to delivering in their chosen trade, and how that trade defines their communities. Without a doubt, the most inspirational part of my job is seeing the manufacturing and tech worlds, at odds in so many respects, work together on innovative and mission-critical projects.

What problem is Skuchain solving?

Skuchain’s mission is to reduce the friction in supply chains by enabling optimal planning, agility and capital efficiency for downstream buyers and working capital relief for upstream suppliers. Given the interconnectedness of global commerce, the supply chain is at the heart of the international trade in goods. Globalization has received a bad rap lately, mostly because the liberalization of trade has not distributed benefits to all in accordance with its vision. I believe that it’s still possible to course-correct if we do our part to use cutting-edge technology in an inclusive way.

As you think about the evolution of the bitcoin and blockchain space, what is one thing you think the business ecosystem or community is missing today?

The very nature of blockchain requires that companies collaborate with one another to adopt the technology. Establishing a blockchain ledger that is wholly internal will yield some benefits, but the real promise of the technology lies in maximizing coordination between partners. For some industries where blockchain is a natural fit, the distance between that dynamic and the one that currently exists is pretty vast. Our hope is that the consortia, study groups and partnerships being formed in the blockchain industry continue to make the effort to push for that dynamic.

What changes do you think bitcoin or blockchain will accelerate in our world?

People have been floored by the success of bitcoin in the last couple of years, and the robustness of both the system and the currency has opened up a whole other set of applications. Blockchain for enterprise and governments is hitting upon that moment, particularly as people realize that adoption can potentially be pretty lightweight. That said, regulators have been adopting a wait-and-see mode for blockchain, allowing the industry to develop its products and observing the consequences in a real-world context before adding input. On the one hand, the auditability and immutability of the blockchain ought to excite regulators; the increasing sophistication of cryptography is a much more complex issue.

That said, I think it’s incredibly important for blockchain companies to keep in mind why the technology was conceived to begin with: to build trust by enabling trustlessness. Once we start to compromise on that property, the value of blockchain will significantly decrease. For all the blockchain companies who are focused on enterprise solutions, the ultimate end beneficiary is not so much the enterprise as it is the customers they serve. Imagine if you could purchase a carton of milk and know the exact path that milk took before it reached your grocery store; or if you could pay cheaper prices because the financing costs of the manufacturer were significantly reduced in producing what you’re buying; or if you had new and more secure delivery choices beyond the standard 3–5 day shipping to something like “from shop floor to living room” shipping.

Connect with Rebecca on LinkedIn!