Eleven years ago, at roughly this time of the year, Dutch-Cambodian man Lim Chhay Lem took a leap of faith, leaving his home in the Netherlands for his ancestral homeland in Cambodia, a country of which he had virtually no experience or knowledge.
“All I knew was, the country’s economy is growing and people kind of looked similar to me,” says Chhay Lem (pictured), who was born in a Cambodian refugee camp in the mid-1980s on the Thai border after his parents fled the Khmer Rouge, before moving to the Netherlands as a small boy.
Chhay Lem’s return to his homeland has proved highly successful, with the young entrepreneur labelling the more than a decade he’s spent back in the Kingdom as “probably the best” years of his life.
Central to this has been a groundbreaking blockchain based social media application he established with his brother, Lim Chhay Lin, called Serey.
Created in March and launched in September last year, through Serey the brothers wanted to apply the libertarian philosophy of free-market thinkers like Murray Newton Rothbard and John Perry Barlow to a social media app.
Consequently, the brothers, along with four other co-founders, started the social media platform that rewards social interaction and community building between readers and writers through the use of blockchain technology.
Serey allows users to earn rewards for posting, commenting and curating content, with the founders saying the main objective is to encourage Cambodian people to produce quality content and be creative.
“Every Cambodian individual knows just a fraction of what is collectively known. Believing that the nature of our collective knowledge is therefore inherently decentralised, we [at Serey] would like to encourage sharing of the unique information that individuals possess through the Serey platform,” the app’s mission statement grandly states.
While social media use in Cambodia is almost exclusively dominated by Facebook, which has approximately 6.7 million users in the Kingdom, what makes Serey different from other social media platforms is the decentralisation of the created content.
This means Serey remains secure against hackers as all of the platform’s written content is stored on its own blockchain. Since it cannot be modified, the owners and administrators of the platform also can’t censor or remove the content.
CIO-Asia.com has labelled Serey as one of the top blockchain startups in Southeast Asia and among the most innovative social media platforms in the Asean region.
It said Serey follows the Steem blockchain model – rewarding users for producing and engaging with content – but it has been adjusted to suit the needs of the Cambodian public with the goal of “encouraging and rewarding self-expression and creativity through technology”.
“Whatever the user posts, if they get a ‘like’ or a ‘vote’ they got rewarded. The more active the user, the more they earn rewards,” Chhay Lem tells The Post, sitting in a busy coffee shop in Phnom Penh.
“As soon as someone joins the platform they are given a small amount of the digital currency which gives your voice weight in determining what content should be rewarded. Even their writing and proofreading skills are also rewarded with a cryptocurrency, also called Serey,” the former business student continues.
Operational for more than nine months, Serey has more than 1,000 users as of January this year. It has 20 servers in Cambodia and the Netherlands after it was also unveiled at the BitFest 2018 in Amsterdam last year.
“The first Serey users are happy to earn from what they write, post and like. They feel what they are doing on the application is given a certain value . . . our users also enjoy using Serey because they know it was created by Khmer people,” Chhay Lem says.
He also explained the lessons he’s learned, and the subsequent advantages he’s created for his platform, from the major names in the blockchain world.
“When Bitcoin was created, it was done in a 100 per cent decentralised way. Miners and nodes all across the world were running the system. The incentive to run the system was the reward coming from inflation. At the first year, inflation increased the supply several hundred per cent. Looking back, this was Bitcoin’s flaw.
“But things have changed. With new smart decentralised governance systems available . . . Serey can set the inflation rate at between 0 and 1 per cent while having the system sustain itself and be decentralised. All this is done in a democratic way. And as more people become wary of the social media platform’s motives, one thing is absolutely certain, we need more market competition in the realm of social media,” Chhay Lem says.
But while the men behind Serey have their sights set firmly on expanding beyond the Cambodian market, Chhay Lem remains grateful and reflective on the incredible opportunity life in the Kingdom has offered him.
“The experience gained through hardship and through joy has been more than I could expect.
“I don’t think I could have grown this much if I would have stayed in the Netherlands living the same simple continuously repeating lifestyle. I’ve come to love the young generation Cambodian people,” he says.