EP 249 – Julia Zhou – Head of Ventures at AlphaLab Capital – The Way You Spend Your Day Is the Way You Spend Your Life

by | Dec 21, 2022

Asia Tech Podcast recorded an interesting conversation with Julia Zhou, the Head of Ventures at AlphaLab Capital. AlphaLab Capital is a technology-driven trading group that transacts over $2B daily in crypto assets on 40+ exchanges, both centralized and decentralized. 

Some of the topics Julia covered in this conversation:

  • What the early internet felt like for Julia in the early 2000s
  • Benefitting from ambiguity and uncertainty
  • How Julia found her entrepreneurship calling
  • Julia’s turning point in her business
  • The effectiveness of having an evaluation process and risks metrics
  • Julia’s experience of working with a community of people who are building their vision
  • Changing perspectives and feeling the difference

Some other titles we considered for this episode:

  1. Institutional Investing
  2. Process Over Outcome
  3. In It for the Community
  4. I Feel Like I Can Make Things Happen

This episode was produced by Stephanie Ng

Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):

Michael Waitze 0:04
Hi, this is Michael Waitze and welcome back to the Asia Tech Podcast. Today we are joined by Julia Zhou, I tried, you’re smiling so I was close at least, the head of ventures at AlphaLab Capital. Julia, thank you so much for coming to the show. I really appreciate it. How are you doing?

Julia Zhou 0:21
Thanks for having me. I’m doing well recovering from a week of COVID. But I’m back on my feet.

Michael Waitze 0:28
Oh, no, I don’t even know what to say anymore. Like, if you had told me that back in like 2020, I think I would have been nervous, I probably would have hung up on you and just said, go take care of yourself or do something. But now it feels a little bit more normal. So where are you based, by the way,

Julia Zhou 0:40
now? Just normal. I’m based in Singapore. I moved nearly a decade ago from New York. And so it’s been home work. So

Michael Waitze 0:49
can you give me a little bit of your background for some context, because I get the sense that you’re not Singaporean by birth?

Julia Zhou 0:54
Yeah. So I was born in Shanghai. And then I relocated to New York to the US with my family when I was just a kid, and grew up in New York, moved all over the different boroughs. I went to college in Philadelphia. And then I worked my early career in New York and then relocated to Singapore. Nearly a decade ago. I’ve been here since

Michael Waitze 1:17
do people think you’re from Singapore, when you meet them for the first time, particularly in Singapore?

Julia Zhou 1:22
You know, there’s this thing that happens where I look like I could be local. And so people expect that I’m local. But then when I opened my mouth, they either think that, Oh, she’s not local, or they think I’m putting on airs.

Michael Waitze 1:35
But it’s weird. So this is a really interesting topic for me, right? I have not lived in my home country for 30 something years, right? So I’m like American by birth. But there’s a part of me that’s not what I look like. I hadn’t thought about this before we started recording, right? But it’s weird. And you’re right. Sometimes people think like, Oh, can you just be you? And you’re like, actually, I am being me. Just leave me alone a little bit, if you know what I mean. You know, yeah,

Julia Zhou 1:57
I was scolded by a taxi uncle because I got in the taxi. And I told him my destination in English. And then he kind of looks at me, like, just like, No, and he goes home. And he proceeded to lecture me for the rest of the tax write about how it’s really important to like, hold on to our culture and our heritage on our ancestors. I just had to be like, I’m sorry, that not hockey in I’m sorry.

Michael Waitze 2:26
But are you a mandarin? So your parents are from Shanghai? See, are you an offender? It’s interesting. You know, I have a daughter whose mother’s Japanese. So she’s a third culture kid. And I say this a lot about myself. I feel like a third cultural adult, right? Because I grew up in a place where, for me, at least I don’t fit in at all right? Because I grew up essentially in Japan. And it’s just a weird existence. For me, I don’t know, it changes the way that I think about the rest of the world. Because I believe that the way people perceive me in the way that I really am are two completely different things at some level. And that’s never going to go away. Anyway. So what are you doing now? Like, how did you get into what you were doing now? And why did you come to Singapore in the first place?

Julia Zhou 3:05
Sure. So I spent the early part of my career the first 10 years in what was then called Tech, and what is now called Web two. But back then we didn’t know as web two is I was just the web. So I graduated university in the same year, that first iPhone was launched and when Facebook was launched, and then at the time, that was, you know, the cool, exciting new industry, everybody was hiring. So that’s how I ended up there. And I work for a succession of three different early stage startups between seed and Series B, I moved to Singapore, because there were job opportunities. Because my partner, my husband, he had a job opportunity in Singapore as well. When we came here either had ever visited, we were just sort of young. You know, just married. No kids, I decided, hey, Singapore seems like a really cool place. There’s opportunities there for both of us. Let’s just go and let’s just see how it is. If we hate it, we’ll come home. So that was our attitude when we arrived in Singapore. And I’ll never forget it. You know, we took off from JFK. This was in December. It was cold. It was miserable. It was you know what JFK is landed in Changi Airport with the orchids and you know, the tropical weather.

Michael Waitze 4:30
It’s like the exact opposite. I love how you said it’s cold and miserable. And then you had to say, and then a JFK, I thought I thought you were describing JFK.

Julia Zhou 4:41
Felt like, you know, arriving in the future. Yeah, right. That’s what coming to Singapore. And yeah, and then so when I arrived in Singapore, I joined this US headquarter software company was a SASS company. And they were just getting there. Your operations off the ground. So I spent the next four years kind of running around Asia, building up the Asia business, spending a lot of time in China and India, Southeast Asia, Korea as well, that was just like a really fun run a great time you built the team here. And then in 2017, my husband and then my really good friend from university, who I’ve known for 20 years at this point, we’re coming together and saw this opportunity in in crypto. And my husband comes from a trading background, and my friend comes from a product and finance background. And there was this opportunity to kind of build a trading business on crypto. So that’s what we did. And that’s what AlphaLab is. And I started in the early years, I wasn’t doing venture because the company wasn’t doing venture yet. I was doing business development, talking to exchanges, talking to trading, counterparties, running, recruiting, running other aspects of the business from an operational standpoint, as well. And then, in 2021, last year, that was when we got opportunity to get into venture. And so that’s where we are now.

Michael Waitze 6:15
Can you talk a little bit about the startups that you worked for in the United States? I’m just curious, like, what the sector was what the target was, because there’s so much. And look, the more I build my own business, the more I learn about just in the early stages, all these little things that you try, and you do. You’re just like learning all the time. So I want to understand where that came from, so that I can get to the future, if that makes sense.

Julia Zhou 6:38
Yeah, sure. So at the time in, you know, in New York, as I said, this is we’re talking like 2008 2009 in New York.

Michael Waitze 6:48
Welcome to the finance.

Julia Zhou 6:51
Yes, this was right after the financial. So it’s interesting. I My first job was actually an economics research at Columbia University. I was like an economics research associate. And that was during that housing bust and the ensuing economic crisis. And that was a very good to me, like in academia is that, that so the early stage startups, I work for the both places, marketplaces were a huge thing that they still are, though, you know, in a much more mature fashion. But those were kind of the early days of marketplaces. Right. And the playbook wasn’t as fully developed as it is today. So it was a lot of figuring out, how do you deal with the chicken and egg problem where you need to get suppliers, you need to get customers? You know, what is the playbook for growth. So my roles were around growth, marketing. And those were still very early days of, you know, Facebook advertising. You know, the very, very early days of social media advertising. Even Google search at the time was, was not nearly as as mature and like developed a marketplace as it is now. So yeah, those were those were exciting times. And now in web three, I feel a lot of that kind of same early excitement, where, you know, nowadays, if you’re building a marketplace, or like an E commerce site, or a SaaS business, it’s fairly well developed how to do it, right. There’s been so many successful interviews before you that you can learn from there’s a playbook for how to do these things. And that’s not to say that it’s easy, because it’s not it’s it’s a lot of hard work. But at least we have a lot of examples learn from of what to do, what not to do. In Web three, that’s not the case, we’re still very much writing the playbook. You see, these companies have, you know, spectacular successes, and also spectacular failures. And every time you see one of the failures, it’s a learning point for everybody else in the industry of oh, well, that didn’t work. So that’s good to know. And we’re going to take that into account moving forward. So you see this kind of industry as a whole, coalescing, learning, experimenting, you know, succeeding failing. And that’s kind of what early internet felt like in the in the 2000s.

Michael Waitze 9:10
There’s so much to unpack here. You went to Penn, right? I did. Yes. It’s hard to get away from the Wharton part of Penn and just the whole finance. I know you studied economics, but I know what it was like when I graduated from school. And there was a big push for people to go into consulting and to go to investment banking, or just to go to Wall Street, which is what I did, right. I worked at Morgan Stanley and I worked at Goldman Sachs. But you didn’t do that. Did you feel like a little bit of an outlier when you graduated and then just went to work in the startup world or actually went to work at Columbia? Or was that like not acceptable but was were people like yeah, that makes sense based on what you studied and what you were interested in? Do you know what I mean? Like did you feel pressure to go work at Goldman?

Julia Zhou 9:49
Yeah, know is is interesting as a I also minored in creative writing, by the way, so yes, I majored in economics because I think majoring in economics is sort of what people do when they’re like, a little bit analytical, like not quite left brain enough to be, you know, a computer science major, right? But a little bit more not fully, right, right enough to be like an English major. And you don’t really know what you’re going to do with your life, where you’re like, Okay, I have to do something practical. And economics seems like the thing. So that’s what all the econ majors are. Yes, absolutely. The universities, you know, like the consulting companies, the big banks, they come to Penn, and they do a lot on campus recruiting. And I’d signed up for all these on campus interviews. And then honestly, I just couldn’t make myself go, because I had such an impression in my mind of consulting and banking at the ethics, places where your soul just goes to die. Oh, you’re so right.

Michael Waitze 10:53
Can I just jump in for a second? You’re so right. Like, the only reason why I’m not the only reason one of the reasons why I love doing what I do today is because I’m 57 years old. And I feel like I have my 27 year old soul back. Because Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs as much fun as it was, they stole it from me. And I say this all the time, I was also an economics major, by the way. So that’s

Julia Zhou 11:11
why I, you know, I thought actually, that I was gonna go into academia, I thought I might go into a development like that was the area of economics that I was interested in, I thought I might go work for, you know, something like the World Bank, and was kind of on track to go in and do a advanced degree in economics, after two years of working in academia at Columbia, that kind of disabused me of that notion. Yeah, academia is kind of its own beast, you have to be very, very passionate about the work itself and not care about the outcome. And in certain ways, like that was one of the officers that I worked for, told me. And I realised that I did want to make an impact on the world. And I needed something that was more fast moving. And one of the early things that I learned about myself in those first couple of years out of college was that I’m a person who deals well, at a certain level of ambiguity and uncertainty, you know, so that’s why early stage startups I found was a really good fit for,

Michael Waitze 12:12
can I ask you this, and it’s really topical, right? If we had been doing this recording, even just like three months ago, I think the conversation would go in a very different direction. You mentioned early stage startups learning, I’m just looking at my notes, right. And then moving into crypto. You know, there’s so much noise going on this year with Luna, Terra and also with what’s happened recently with FTX and Alameda. What are we learning from this? What comes out of this at some level? You know, because this does create a bunch of ambiguity as you said, what did we learn from this going forward? And how does this change the future trajectory of this industry in which you’re building both trading and investing?

Julia Zhou 12:53
So surprisingly, Michael, I don’t think we’re learning anything that we haven’t learned dozens of times before. Like to me what happened with FTX, Alameda, what happened with, you know, Turner, three arrows, it is the exact same thing, as what happened with Lehman, right in 2007 2008, is a classic story of over leverage, taking on too much risk. You know, insufficient risk controls, getting greedy people piling into things that they don’t fully understand the idea of incredibly complex financial products that it and then at some point, people realise that no matter how much math you add to something that doesn’t make something unprofitable. I was reading recently about the economic crisis of 1133, which was, you know, nearly 1000 years ago, and it was the exact same story, like people got over leveraged, there was a real estate crisis, like real estate prices crashed, the emperor had to come in and you know, step in and provide like liquidity, right to resolve the crisis like this keeps happening to humanity over and over again. And to me, what’s happened this year in crypto is the exact same mistakes that we’ve keep making in our financial markets. We’re just making it with new technology. And to me the flaw here is, this isn’t really about blockchain technology. Right at all right? This is about human psychology. And I think that we need to create better guardrails to protect ourselves from the worst parts of our own natures. Right. Humans can be creative and inventive and collaborative and all these wonderful things and we can also be greedy and short sighted and you know, prone to sort of acting like lemmings sometimes. And so we need to create guardrails for ourselves and those guardrails they might come in the form of regulation, they might come in the form of technology, right? There’s ways in which a lot of the The theme this year has been about how defined smart contracts can be a form of guardrail for us. So yeah, so I think that’s, you know, unfortunately, unfortunately, we’re not learning anything new. We’re just rehashing the same lessons.

Michael Waitze 15:16
Do you see the irony? I’m sure you do. I mean, God, I love listening to you talk. But do you see the irony in this that like a smart contract basically means you and I don’t get to have our psychology unless we build it into the smart contract, right? But we don’t get to build our psychology into that so that no matter what happens, that thing just decides if we intervene, then we create a problem for ourselves, right, because now we’re going against something that had been legally agreed and built into some software. But isn’t there some irony in this in the sense that the whole idea around crypto was to decentralise things to give the power back to the people and yet the centralised exchanges like by Nance like Coinbase, like Alameda NEFT, like FTX, excuse me, are all centralised anyway. Like it’s so ironic to me.

Julia Zhou 16:00
Yes, exactly. And I think that there’s there’s reasons why that happens. Right? So yes, the centralised exchangers are absolutely they’re not an example of decentralised finance is a centralised venue, where you can buy and sell cryptocurrencies, which may or may not be decentralised in and of itself any particular token, but they are the same kind of financial forms, traditional exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange, like NASDAQ, etc, just without all of the layers of regulation and protection that traditional financial institutions have. That’s, yeah, that’s fundamentally what they are. And there’s reasons for that. There’s reasons why centralised exchanges have garnered so much popularity. And you know, so many users and so many dollars, and and the reason is that the decentralised exchanges are still a much more difficult user experience. Like there’s no obvious the obvious one is Fiat on and off, right. Like if I have US Dollars or Singapore dollars, and I want to buy some bitcoin, how am I going to do that? Right? I can go there isn’t like an obvious decentralised way to do that.

Michael Waitze 17:12
Are you worried that you’re gonna have to explain now even more than you did before, about running an exchange business in the crypto world that also has a venture business associated with it?

Julia Zhou 17:23
So just to be clear, we’re not an exchange business. We are a market maker. Right. So that makes us more similar to it would be like Alameda without the FTX.

Michael Waitze 17:35
Yeah, look, I understand that, right. Because I am was a market maker, I get all that stuff. But I mean, just the idea that this association, particularly what happened with FTX and elemental like, are you worried you’re gonna have to explain all this stuff to people that are outside that you would want to bring into the industry, but are now going to be sort of hands off?

Julia Zhou 17:53
Yeah, for sure. I think one of the things that happens in that you see in in crypto is companies getting into different lines of business, that in traditional finance are separated either by habit or by regulation. Right, exactly. By law, by regulation, or by habit, or you know, how those markets have evolved. In the traditional world, for example, you don’t see quant trading firms also running exchanges that is forfeited.

Michael Waitze 18:24
Like imagine the New York Stock Exchange. Imagine, imagine the New York Stock Exchange investing in startup companies that wanted to list on the New York Stock Exchange, like this could never happen.

Julia Zhou 18:32
Exactly. Exactly. That’s not allowed to happen. No, right? You do see quant trading firms doing venture? So for example, some of the big traditional quant trading firms like to sigma like Citadel like de Shaw, etc. They do venture they do real estate, they do lots of different things. Because they’re privately held companies and they’re not open to outside investors. Yeah. So you know, they’re not counting public markets in that way. So you know, there is precedent for that in the traditional financial markets.

Michael Waitze 19:03
God, you and I can have a conversation about this forever. I mean, look what happened to Tiger this year. And I know that that tiger entity is not associated directly with the old Julian Robertson Tiger. But But like, there’s so much stuff going on here. Can I ask you this? You talked about what was this thing that happened in the 1100s which refresh my memory?

Julia Zhou 19:20
Oh, it was just it was just a throwaway. Like so I was researching the history of financial crises. And I just found it amusing slash horrifying, that you know, you can find an economic crisis from 1133 that exactly mirrors what happened in 2007 2008. And what’s happening we’re not learning Yeah, and

Michael Waitze 19:43
again, correct me where I’m wrong here right. But a lot of this stuff is based on this human need. Well, this human greed right and this need for short term. What’s the right word satisfaction like so very few. Like I take a lot of flack because what I’m building I’m want to build slowly and I want to build deliberately and people are constantly telling me you’re not I’m moving fast enough, you’re not going fast enough, you’re not building fast enough, you know, grow and all this kind of stuff. And I feel like I have a long term view here. Like even at 57 Like, um, you know, Rupert Murdoch Say what you will about, he’s 91 years old, he’s still working. I feel like I’ve 30 something years to build something big. I want to understand how you particularly as an if you’re an investor, and if you have LPs, I don’t know what the structure is of your investment stuff. But how do you convince people that it’s more important not to have like a short term gain, right? Because for them, that’s what they want. But there’s this push and pull between what an LP wants and what an investor needs to have? Because if you’re not taking a long term view, in my mind, and again, tell me where I’m wrong here, you’re just gonna get crushed? No, because you’re going to be chasing

Julia Zhou 20:45
things. Yeah. So currently, we just invest balance sheet capital, we have no external LPs. So we’re not beholden to anybody but ourselves at the moment, I think what you’re talking about this kind of short term mindedness, it comes from a perversion of incentives for asset managers, right. So I can explain that a little bit, if you’re an asset manager, or have a VC fund or a hedge fund or any kind of fund, and you kind of swing for the fences, especially if your peer group is also doing the same things, the same kind of bets and taking on leverage, and the market goes up, right? You look like a genius you make you make a tonne of your LPs are happy, everybody’s happy. If the market takes a downturn, and you suffer severe losses, what actually happens to you is take a hit, they pull money from your fund, maybe your fund collapse, but nothing particularly terrible happens to you as an individual. And I think that’s the unfortunate truth, right? A lot of these asset managers that, that fail, they just don’t get another job. And so because of that, it’s this kind of you get very high upside, you get very limited downside. And that’s why people are taking risks kind of beyond what makes sense. And I feel like in some ways, it’s also true of VC backed startup founders, because if you’re a startup founder, you either go big, or you get Aqua hired, right? It’s not go big or go home, it’s gonna go big, or get equity hired and get a cushy job at some big company that, you know, probably would have been the alternative anyways, like it’s, there’s not there’s not really a downside to going back.

Michael Waitze 22:28
So this is super interesting to me when I first joined Morgan Stanley, and this I mean, obviously, I’ve said my age already, so I’m not even ageing myself. But like, in 1987, there was a show on off Broadway called other people’s money. And we went and we saw it, because, you know, we were kids, we were 21 or 23 years old. And we wanted to see like a show about Wall Street. And this is, I think, one of the dirty little secrets about institutional investing. And you said it right, there is a perversion of incentives, I think I’m gonna call that that’s probably gonna be the title of this episode, I’m definitely gonna mention it. But this idea that it’s not my money. So even if I lose, if I win, I win super big, I get a big bonus payment, which can’t get clawed back, and I win. But if I lose, who cares? Because I still have my house in the Hamptons, I’m exaggerating a little bit, right? And I just go on and get a job. If Lehman goes down, I just go get a job at Morgan Stanley or I get a job at Goldman or job at Nomura, which is what happened to all the guys. We’re at Lehman. So I liked this idea that you’re you’re investing with balance sheet capital, but don’t you feel like at some level that the longer term investor has an advantage, particularly when it comes? Because it’s full circle, right, particular when it comes to investing in startup companies, because as a balance sheet investor, you can then invest with founders who as well almost need to take a long term view as opposed to trying to get short term wins. Does that make sense?

Julia Zhou 23:44
Sure. I mean, I absolutely believe in taking a long term view, writing in long term view as an investor as a company builder. Yes, I believe that that is what is going to outperform in the long run for sure.

Michael Waitze 23:55
Yeah. And do you again, sit back to like what people say to you. But if you’re taking a long term view, and I use you as a proxy, not you personally, right. But if one takes a long term view, you will have these up and down swings across the board, right? And people can’t see me. But if you draw a chart, right, like success is kind of this line. And as long as the line is kind of edging up to the right, you’re winning over time. But if you’re just taking a short term view, at any point in time, you can be in a downswing. And you can’t control the timing, like market timing, investing just never works. In a way you’re always going to get it wrong. Do you again, you must take flak at some point, you haven’t been at it for that long, or like everybody else is winning, and you’re still like waiting. But aren’t you confident that this longer term thing is going to outperform the shorter term swings?

Julia Zhou 24:40
I think it depends. I think that’s a really great question. I think the answer to it depends somewhat on what you’re in it for. So AlphaLab as a company. We started at this is talking about the quant trading side of the business, talking a little bit about VC. But I think the same thing as Parallel that on the VC side, we started the same year as Alameda, actually, in 2017. And, you know, we met SBF at like some very, very early conference back in 2017, or 2018. And we’re kind of, you know, in the same boat, and then we saw them over the years just become enormous and become incredibly successful. And the same thing was also true three arrows, which was a hedge fund. And at least in Singapore, that, you know, we kind of, we knew those guys, right, because we started around the same time, and they were based in the same city. And there was a point in 2020 2021, where we were honestly asking ourselves internally, like jeans, are we doing something wrong? Because those guys have made it huge. And we’re doing well we’re doing, you know, we’re very successful, but their orders of magnitude kind of bigger, right? And then this year, we realise, oh, it was actually a mirage, right? So I think like our view all along, has been and this is written in our operating principles on our website, our view all along has been process over outcome, if you are focused on the outcome, and you focus on the numbers that you’re trying to hit, and you’re focused on being the biggest and the best in the room, that’s, that’s quite dangerous, done, right? Because outcome is a function of both your skill, as well as your luck. And you’re never sure if you know, if you’re doing well, because you got lucky. And if you double down on that, and your luck runs out, you know, too bad, right? Whereas if you just focus on your process, and improving your process, and getting better at what you do all the time, you know, I think in the long term, it’s gonna it’s gonna work out. And that’s the same kind of approach that I try to take on our venture side, like on our venture side, you know, to me, the returns are a function of everything that we do, I’m not thinking about the returns in and of themselves, right? How am I going to hit this? I’m thinking about how can I improve our deal flow? How can I improve our evaluation process? You know, how can I improve our due diligence? What risk metrics? Are we, you know, looking at? And how can we improve that? That’s what I’m thinking about on a day to day basis, like the founders that we’re working with, who are already in our portfolio? How can we better support the you know, what do they need? And I think with that focus on process, like, that’s what you know, that’s what we’re doing. Right. And there’s the saying that the way you spend your days is the way you spend your life. And I think that’s ultimately like, that’s something that’s very near and dear to my heart. Because no matter how much you succeed, or don’t succeed, like how many zeros you had, or how big your exit is, eventually, or anything like that, that’s just one moment in your life,

Michael Waitze 27:51
your life is just an accumulation of all of those small moments and all those little decisions that you make. It’s not about any one individual. I’ve got a 21 year old daughter, and I used to tell her when she was in school, no individual day is fatal. It’s the sum total of all this activity. And if you build that into actually your business building, but also you’re investing over time, you should outperform whether you win or lose is different. But I think you should outperform. You said something else super interesting earlier as well, it depends on what you’re in it for. Right? So I want to ask you, what are you in it for?

Julia Zhou 28:26
To me that that question, it has a very clear answer at the same thing I’ve always been in it for I’m in it for the community, right? I’m in it to be to have the privilege of being surrounded by and working with smart, hardworking people who have a vision of something that you know, we think is going to be a better financial future. To be working with people who are kind of building those visions who are realising things. It’s part of being the part of the workplace culture that we’ve created here. Yeah, that’s what I’m in it for.

Michael Waitze 29:02
So this is a complex thought and a complex question. So just bear with me for a second, I have this idea that I’ve kind of liked to call the fallacy of now. Right? So when people meet you, or even when they meet me, they think that you’ve always been what you are today. Right? But it’s important, because you can see this as a threat, not just in your life, but in my life as well. You know, I grew up really poor, but I ended up working at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. So I’m not poor today. But nobody knows that in a way you have a few of these, right? Because you’re in Singapore. And if somebody saw you on the street, they may think you are local. So all these little factors come together. And I don’t know if you’re rich or not, I don’t care. But like, you’re not the same little girl and I can use that term who moved from Shanghai to New York, but nobody knows that. Do you know what I mean? Um, do you think it colours the way you behave today? All of that experience that you had up until now? and all these sorts of what’s the right word? You know, like the way you appears not exactly what you are kind of thing. Does that change the way you think about how you invest in the way you build your businesses as well?

Julia Zhou 30:13
Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting. That’s a really interesting topic. Right? I think it’s definitely true. I’ve gone through a lot of changes in my life, both externally and internally, you know, changing geographies, changing social class, right, I think one of the biggest changes for me and something that I want to, you know, as much as possible impart to other people, especially people who don’t come from privileged positions, I think one of the biggest differences between those who are in a position of privilege and those who are not in belief of what can be, you know, I think in for people who grew up in, in non privileged positions, their experience of the world is that it’s very limited, and you get told no, a lot. And you have to kind of stay in your box, and, you know, be good, right? And people who are in a position of privilege, they have this feeling that they can manifest their visions onto the world, they can have an idea, and they will go and somebody will give them funding, and somebody will give them support, and somebody will come help work on this thing with them. And it will happen. And I think it would be a really great thing, if we could get more people who don’t, are not born into privilege to start thinking that way and acting that way. Because it does, it really does manifest. So one very silly example of this, right? I was in college before I realised that if you were struggling with a paper or problem set, you could go to the professor and the professor would help you, Professor was not there just to pass judgement on you, but that they had office hours, I didn’t know. And this is something that you know, some of my peers, like they knew that back in middle school. So you know, like, I’ve heard certain, like, startup founders say like, oh, yeah, I’ve always had this confidence that if I have an idea, and I work hard at it, somebody will give me back, right. And not everybody has that conference. It’s

Michael Waitze 32:20
a really interesting point, though. Like, I never did office hours, when I was at school, I always thought the professor was there to give me information so that I could learn something. And then I could do well on a test or write a really good paper. And I remember kids going to office hours, I’m like, what do you do? Like, what is that guy or gal gonna tell you? I didn’t think it was even an option. And until you mentioned it, I never saw like that little subtle difference between, hey, that person is there to help me, as opposed to that person is there to judge me? And I think it becomes systemic at some level. No,

Julia Zhou 32:47
exactly. I think that’s one of the biggest differences, right? Like, when I was younger, I went through the world, kind of waiting to be judged. And now that, you know, I have resources and experience and kind of just a different position in the world. I feel like I can make things happen. And I can find people to be with me on that journey and to work with me and support me. And it’s a completely different worldview.

Michael Waitze 33:15
Yeah, it’s I think that worldview is way better than the one of I’m not being judged. But anything is kind of possible. Can I ask you this to the you know, you said, I think that the right, the venture world itself is pretty well established as a playbook at least for building these early stage startups in marketplaces and stuff. But crypto is new. Right, like super new. And the playbook is not written on it. What are some of the other differences between and I’m curious, like what you’re looking for when you invest, too, right? So you have some balance sheet capital that you want to invest in startups or early stage crypto companies. What are you trying to invest in? And what are you trying to affect by investing in those companies, if that makes sense?

Julia Zhou 33:56
Yeah, I think fundamentally, what we see is that, you know, every once in a while there emerges a technology, which is a foundational technology. And our foundational technology is something that changes things across the world. So like the internet was obviously a foundational technology, right? Most mobile phones were a foundational technology of the printing press was a foundational technology. And I think that blockchain is a foundational technology, I think that it will change the way that assets are created, dispersed, moved, used, I think that it will change the way that our financial system is brought. So that’s the kind of overarching thesis about why we think that why we think blockchain is worth investing. Got it. And we are looking for companies that we feel like are going to be a part of that. It’s a very different investing mindset from you know, I’m gonna buy this token back cuz I think it’ll go up in the next six

Michael Waitze 35:01
months. Yeah, that’s not investing. That’s speculation to me. Again, I want to get back. I come out of a, you know, I come out of this investing background. So I can completely understand this. And I want people to understand that the blockchain technology distributed ledger technology, and I don’t care how many times I have to say it is different than speculating in crypto, because the whole crypto world itself, frankly, could go away, like every old coin could disappear. But the blockchain technology as it stands is not going to go away. Because it is foundational. Right? And I want to that’s my opinion, you don’t have to agree with me. But that’s kind of the message that I do want to get across. Do you have a regional bias or sector bias? You know what I mean? Or you don’t really care, you invest anywhere in the world? Yeah,

Julia Zhou 35:43
we tend to invest. I mean, we will invest in good founders anywhere in the world, right? We have portfolio companies, from Asia, North America, from Israel. But our our focus tends to be Asia, especially Singapore. And then the United States, because a lot of our team has backgrounds or networks, connections in the United States, we very actively sourced deals from the United States, as well as from Singapore and other places in the region, like Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Michael Waitze 36:18
So on, got it. So your family is still in, in New York,

Julia Zhou 36:21
they’re here. They’re here in Singapore, I moved them

Michael Waitze 36:23
here. I think we live in a real I’ll let you go after this. But I think we live in a really interesting generation for, I’ll say, kids, like you, I know you’re not a kid anymore. But I don’t know why your parents moved to New York. But I did. Let me just put into this context. A few years ago, I did a recording with a young, very young lady who was still at the University of Texas at Austin and was doing an internship in Vietnam and her parents were Vietnamese. So a very different story from your parents. But in a way, it’s in the same category. They left Vietnam in the 70s, they went to United States, they built a life for themselves in Texas, and the first time their daughter had an internship, it was in Vietnam, and the whole family said to her, you know, we spent our whole life trying to get over here. And now you’re going back there is again, is there a little bit of irony and maybe even a little bit of joy of like being back in Asia. For you, you

Julia Zhou 37:15
know, the burning in, in mandarins, like 30 years West and 30 years east, right, the world changes. And we’re very simple reason why my parents left China for the United States in what year was this 1989 1989 was the year they left was because there were better opportunities in the US. And the very same reason why I came to support is because our better opportunities here, right? Asia has transformed massively in the past 30 years. I think as higher growth potential, we just look at very simple metrics like GDP, or the demographics of the region. And you know how young it is relative to North America. I think it has huge potential going forward as well. You know what, I would not be surprised if years from now my children are relocating somewhere else, you know, Africa is poised to be the major driver of demographic growth for the next 30 years. Right. I think by 2050, you know, very high proportion of the world’s population will be in Africa by that right. So I would not be surprised if my kids are moving Legos, or kanessa. Or who knows. Yeah,

Michael Waitze 38:27
yeah, I mean, 1.4 billion people in Africa. One point something billion people in India and one point something billion people in China three, almost four point something billion people and about five and a half billion people out of the 8 billion people in the world. It’s 69% of the world’s population is within like for a four hour flight of both of us anyway. I’ve taken up a tonne of your time today. This has been awesome. You should do this way more often. By the way. You’re really good at this. Julia Zhou the head of ventures at AlphaLab Capital. Please tell me you’ll come back because we didn’t finish this conversation. I want to do more. Thank you very much.

Julia Zhou 39:03
Thank you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure.

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