Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha, once said: “Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart give yourself to it.” George Li is a man who has lived his life by this principle, using it to blaze a unique path through the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds. Armed with an undergraduate degree in Engineering and a graduate degree in Management Science from Stanford University, he went on to a highly successful career at McKinsey and Google.
For most people, the chance to make a top one percent salary working for an elite corporation would already be a life-defining accomplishment, but George Li is different. A high school dropout and lifelong idealist, he decided to exit the corporate ladder to pursue his dream of starting a company. With a close friend, George founded a computer vision based outfitter, CottonBrew, where they were the first to use image processing technology to identify clients’ sizes, providing both ease of use and cutting edge designs. As CEO, George built the company into a sustainable, profitable enterprise, and their well-tailored suits are now the wardrobe of choice for high level managers at technology and consulting firms throughout the world.
George found the experience of founding a successful company both exhilarating and rewarding, but he found himself craving work that was more impactful. In an era of advertising innovation and incremental thinking, he thought about what kind of service or product would be innovative, empower the user, while doing social good.
One night, while grabbing beers with a close friend, George described his search for a project that would be both challenging and would have a positive impact. His friend mentioned to George that he had just learned about the Indian concept of a “chit,” a form of savings account in which all members of a community contribute a set regular amount into a fund, until major life events force a member of the chit to withdraw money from the fund. George was incredibly excited by the idea: “chits”, otherwise known as ROSCAs (ROtating Savings and Credit Associations), could provide credit and insurance to people who don’t have access to institutions, and many that use big banks are also looking for alternatives.
In any economy, access to credit is necessary in order to build businesses, infrastructure, and new enterprises. Access to insurance is necessary to protect individuals from uncertainty, and the new businesses that credit has enabled.
Unfortunately, in many developing countries, poverty and poor financial infrastructure make access to credit and insurance cost prohibitive. In developed countries, there is increasing angst with ‘too big to fail’ financial institutions and a desire for alternatives to the institutions that helped create the 2008 financial crisis. George realized that ROSCAs (chits in India, cundinas in Mexico, hui in China, etc…), could provide these communities and individuals with the credit and insurance that they need. With the power of the blockchain, ROSCAs and chits could grow to a scale where they could rival financing capabilities of major banks, except with transparency built-in.
Vires in Numeris
The problem for George now became how to implement these ROSCAs and chits in a way that ensured both transparency and efficiency. As a long-time member of the cryptocurrency community, he had seen firsthand how the blockchain could enable fast, safe, efficient transactions. With the rapid pace of innovation and evolution in the past few years, it was now a matter of applying these tools in a way that could truly benefit society. George finally found the project he was looking for.
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