“If a person is a fool he must have motivation not to be one.” This is the opinion of Sergei Sergienko, a serial entrepreneur from Australia who has Russian roots. Two months ago, he launched the CGU gaming platform, with which people earn money by pumping the skills of NFT characters. The project was so successful, it raised $5M in investments at launch — and the company now earns over 15k a day. Yet, just 7 years ago, Sergienko was seriously considering getting a job in a brothel. We managed to learn how that turned out, why Filipinos should celebrate the millionaire’s failures, and how Australian millionaires live in a lockdown.
Sergei Sergienko lives the life of a millionaire: a mansion worth $ 4.5M, a fleet 3 cars which cost over $ 200K each, platinum cards with world airlines, a private school for his children that costs $ 50K a year… But it hasn’t always been that way.
Sergei was born during the decline of the Soviet Union in Chelyabinsk—a city in such decline that “Chelyabinsk” became a byword in Russia for depressed places. A very polluted industrial city, almost all of its residents work in a metalwork factory, with alcohol and drugs to get through the evenings. Women find it dangerous to walk in the streets.
Life for most Chelyabinsk folks follows a predictable path: birth – school – study – work at a factory (or in an office or a shop). For most, their lives are determined by birth. In my experience, very few have ever flown on a plane, let alone gone on vacation to another country.
Sergei’s father worked as a ship navigator, and his mother was a teacher of physics. The family income was extremely low. But in those days, Soviet citizens were drugged by the communist ideology. Life from paycheck to paycheck without any savings was the norm, People in “social” occupations were respected. Sergei admits that as a child he dreamed of becoming a firefighter: he was fascinated by fire-fighting equipment.
Thoughts of a possibly different life surfaced for the family when the USSR opened its borders in the 90’s and Sergei’s father had the opportunity to import cars into Russia. At the same time, he set up a service station to repair such automobiles. But this did not last long as local criminals began threatening him. Around the same time, the first Chechen war began and the parents were afraid that their son might be sent there as a soldier. So, they decided to move to Australia.
“It is not clear which political system is better,” Sergei laughs. “When leaving the Soviet Union, it was necessary to provide 3 letters of recommendation (one each from the trade union, the Communist Party and the KGB). And now, in the current lockdown, I need to collect as many as 5 letters in order to leave Australia and travel anywhere.”
In general, Australia is one of the freest countries in the world. Just like in America, nobody is going to be surprised by some extra $100M here. When travelling to Russia Sergei had to hire security personnel, but in Australia the millionaire moves independently and drives his beloved Tesla. He uses the driver only when he is really slammed at work. Interestingly, there is no cleaning lady in the rich man’s mansion: his wife is worried that a stranger might steal something.
In their free time the family travels. Before the lockdown, they could spontaneously board a plane and fly to Samoa or somewhere else for a couple of days. They travelled a lot around Australia, discovering zoos, beaches, wineries … At the moment, however, everything is closed and you have to stay at home. So, in order to fly somewhere, Sergei must provide the local authorities with a certificate to guarantee that he will not return for at least 3 months.
But there was a time when the family did not have one penny.
“When we first arrived in Australia we lived in a barracks for 2 years, social housing afterwards. By that time, I was finishing school. I was doing really well in terms of mathematics and physics and it really helped.” Sergei worked as a tutor (in the 10th grade he taught the 12th grade). “When I taught young guys advanced mathematics, I charged $50 per hour, although the average price was $10 – $20 at that time.”
A gifted analyst and mathematician in the early 2000’s, Sergei decided to try his hand at real estate. During this period, Russia was facing economic growth and rich people began investing in other countries. Real estate in the Emirates, England or Montenegro was considered a ‘must-have’. And there was great interest in Australia too, which was perceived as an exotic country. Participating in industry shows, winning gold medals and cups at trade shows, Sergei’s Real Estate business provided a stable income. Until, that is, the 2008 global economic crisis. Shortly before that crisis, however, the business went bankrupt, with a $1.9M commission evaporating.
Sergei himself considers this to be his first major failure. But through that experience he grasped the ideas behind the economics of real estate, learned to think logically, and gained experience negotiating with international investors. At the same time, he started thinking that the existing banking instruments had serious vulnerabilities, which was illustrated by the crisis of 2008.
“At that time (2009) Bitcoin began its ascent to Olympus. I thought that playing around with it would be a pretty cool idea, but the banks would stifle it and prevent the case from going anywhere. At that time, we had the largest company in Australia that trained industrial safety in the workplace. We provided training to enable people to obtain a state license to work in construction sites and factories. I tried to include the payment in bitcoin there, but it failed. And then it dawned on me that I wanted people to make money and get paid for their work in cryptocurrency. But every good idea needs to arise at the right time if it is to be successfully implemented, and it was still too early then.”
There was an experience that greatly influenced Sergei’s worldview. 7 years ago, the businessman invested in a nightclub, and his partner asked him to analyze the work of a brothel, located one floor above. In an example of a successful coincidence and his willingness to take control of that business, Sergei was on the cusp of becoming a tycoon of the night entertainment business.
“On Wednesdays and Fridays, I drank tea there and talked with the working girls. By the way, my wife was ok with this and believed that I was really there for tea. At that time, I learned a lot about drugs, unsuccessful life situations, psychological sexual deviations… I was face-to-face with the bottom of humanity and realized that it was not my choice. Perhaps I have come too close to the question of the meaning of life.”
On the whole, with indignation in his voice, the entrepreneur notes that there is no individual responsibility in Australia. No one is ever to blame, and, as in team sports, it is often difficult to find out who exactly is underperforming.
“Wrong decisions are often made in Russia, but at least they are made. In Australia, in terms of the law, if you are drunk and smash someone’s face in, it will not be you who is to blame, and not even the bartender who failed to restrain your degree of intoxication. Most likely, they would blame the bar, which allowed the bartender to pour you alcohol.”
With the introduction of the lockdowns, things became even more confusing in Australia. For instance, if a person chooses to mow his own lawn without a mask, he faces a fine of up to 500 Australian dollars. It is also forbidden to travel more than 5 kms from the house.
In general, COVID-19 has changed the world to “before” and “after”. This is especially interesting to follow when looking at the example of labor-exporting countries. Philippines, Zimbabwe, Papua New Guinea … Migrant workers were forced to return to their homeland and then the borders got closed. These people do not have jobs, and the average daily per capita income is very low in those countries. If lucky, a person can earn $ 2-3 per day.
Sergei’s project CGU, which is based on the principle of “Play to earn” became a solution and hit the point. In most existing NFT games, a gamer must first buy a tokenized character, an NFT, and then pump its skills, thereby increasing the cost of the character. These characters can cost $600-$2000; far too expensive for residents of countries with developing economies in which people earn as little as $2 per day. CGU, however, buys characters with investor’s money and then rents them to players. Most often, these are the residents of developing countries (Venezuela, the Philippines, the CIS countries (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and even Turkmenistan), Papua New Guinea, India, Sri Lanka, Zambia, Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Indonesia, Vietnam). Players can earn between $10 and $200 per day, which is decent money for them. The project currently has more than 4,000 gamers around the world.
In just 2 months, the CGU start-up popped and is gaining momentum at a frantic pace. At launch, the project raised $ 5M in investments.CGU tokens will be available on the exchange in mid October.
According to Sergei, hourly pay in cryptocurrency is not the future, it is the reality. First of all, it is convenient for an employer due to basic and fast transactions. Secondly, everyone should get what they deserve.
“Here is a simple example. A barista took a two-day course and found a job that pays $20 an hour. After 2 months of work, he makes coffee 2 times quicker and 2 times better (considering his experience, muscle memory, and being familiar with the preferences of his regular customers). The question is: Does his salary reflect his competence? The answer is: it will not. Either he was overpaid from the start, or he is not being adequately paid now. I try to solve this problem by making the working hour a commodity. Everything comes down to this.”
Back in 2017, some Russian parliamentarians asked Sergei to be a cryptocurrency consultant. Even then, the businessman developed a model for the development of the crypto-ruble. If it had been approved, Russia could have become a global trendsetter in the field of cryptocurrencies. But Sergei’s conception would have necessitated abandoning the tacit support of financial pyramids and other crypto scams, unfortunately, they did not agree.
“There are a lot of fools in the Duma. There is only a small minority of those who are trying to do something for actual development and prosperity of the country. If Russian deputies and officials received their salaries in a cryptocurrency, then corruption in the country would decrease sharply. It would be possible to assign a limited number of cryptocurrency addresses for each person, so everything would be transparent.”
According to Sergei, the current CGU project is of interest to government agencies in different countries. The logic is simple: the more people play for $10 – $200 per day, the fewer people go out to protest against the incumbent government. And the gamers themselves get the “bread and circuses” just as Juvenal, a Roman poet once said.
The millionaire encourages gaming: whenever he has the time, he plays online and does not limit the gaming time for his ten-year-old son.
“My daughter is 15 years old. She put her entire pocket money savings into the protocol on the Binance Smart Chain, which provides income. She is quite business-minded as well, advising her girlfriends on where to invest. Let her be what she wants to be. I would like her to have enough resources to be able to choose whatever she wants.”
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