Crypto portrait: Changpeng Zhao, the billionaire crypto globetrotter

He was simply a specialist, albeit gifted, in trading software. By immersing himself in crypto, Changpeng Zhao has become a global star.

In the foreground, Changpeng Zhao is smiling. Behind him the Arc de Triomphe in the Place de l’Etoile, photographed in the late afternoon darkness. ” Hello “, tweet the founder of Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange. at 45, “CZ”as he is called, is a seasoned globetrotter. “My family has always been a bit of a nomad”slips, as if to justify his many travels, this man with short or shaved hair.

This computer technician with thin rimless glasses loves to organize his travels around the world. Like here at Vietnam, or again in the Middle East. Selfies where he sacrifices his favorite uniform, the black hoodie, to local traditions or to the tie. In Cannes, he even donned a tuxedo. A costume that he wears for the first time in his life to go to a movie, he is surprised.

Headquarters, as old as SMS

Like his company, still without a global headquarters – a concept As old as the text, he thought: Changpeng Zhao doesn’t care about boundaries. This Canadian of Chinese descent, unknown until 5 years ago, has become one of the most prominent figures in crypto. With Binance, he once became one of the richest men in the world. His fortune is now estimated at just $10 billion, up from $96 billion last fall. poor again »he ventured on May 17th Twitterafter the collapse of the Luna cryptocurrency, in which he had invested.

A message that, however, should not be taken lightly. The engineer shows a serious detachment from wealth. Ultimately, he plans to say goodbye to “90.95 or 99% of his assets”. One might object to a luxury reserved for the very rich. “He is not a financier at all, but a technician with knowledge”recalls former cryptophile MP Pierre Person. “I’m a normal boy”he pointed out against all evidence to The echo. I am fortunate to be financially free. But I kept the same lifestyle. All I own is a van in Singapore and an apartment in Dubai. »

McDonald’s and computer 286

The tumultuous story of Changpeng Zhao begins in China. However, when he was 12, he left the coastal province of Jiangsu for Vancouver, Canada. Although it is sometimes written that his family fled because of the repression that followed the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, CZ gave a different version of the family exodus.

Admittedly, his father, a teacher, was indeed sent back to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. But he arrived in Canada in 1984, before the rest of the family joined him five years later. Without knowing if there is a link with Tian’anmen. One last note that wouldn’t be very good for business.

Changpeng Zhao on his arrival in Canada. // Source : Via Twitter @cz_binance

Be that as it may, it was at that time that CZ discovered computers. Computer 286 swallows part of the family finances. As for the young Changpeng, he will successively have different jobs, as an employee in a McDonald’s, to earn his living. This is one of the details of his career that the myth of homemade man which the engineer likes to think back to.

An interview with Changpeng Zhao on the Salt Youtube channel.

The Google of Crypto

About thirty years later, he is the head of the Google of crypto, Binance, for Binary and Finance, founded in Hong Kong in 2017. The reasons for success are simple: better exchange speed and lower costs. “At the time, most interfaces were very clunky and the systems very slow”Changpeng Zhao recalls. “The power of Binance is to list many different coins very quickly”, adds Adli Takkal-Bataille, president of the association Le Cercle du coin.

However, the platform, which has grown through outside acquisitions, has led to lawsuits with regulators around the world. An investigation by Reuters news agency published on June 6 had estimated the suspicious funds flowing through the site at $2.35 billion. Nobody is perfect, Binance replied substantively, indicating that it was still studying the best regulatory framework.

However, the company has a sulphurous reputation, that of a company that has abused its weight to shake up the administrations. “Now that they are a big player, the authorities are rolling out the red carpet, regrets Adli Takkal-Bataille. It raised eyebrows when French companies tried to sort things out. »

poker game

But whatever you think of Binance, it was far from the first foray into crypto for CZ. Rather, this project should be seen as the culmination of several years of sifting through the blockchain patiently forging tools discovered in commerce.

This passion for crypto started with a home poker game featuring two bitcoin figures, Bobby Lee and Ron Cao. Both men advise him to invest in cryptocurrency. His curiosity aroused, the engineer made the trip to Las Vegas for a conference. There he meets Vitalik Buterin, the genius behind Ethereum.

Another enthusiast explains to him how Ripple works. Before he transfers a small amount to him, it is up to him to pass it on to a future initiate. “I thought it was a pretty generous community”that prefers exchange to profit, sums up the engineer in the New York Times. “Shortly after that I quit my job and sold my house”he adds.

workaholic

This powerful workaholic “one or two days” vacation “a few times a year” had first started his career in finance. After studying in Montreal, the engineer was hired by Bloomberg to work on trading instruments. He quickly climbs the ladder. But, the young man, who likes to quote Sun Tzuc, underway. He eventually founded his company Fusion Systems in Shanghai, specializing in high-frequency trading software.

This rather, as he recalls on his Linkedin account, to branch off into crypto from 2013. He joins Blockchain.info, a transaction tracking service that had branched out to cryptocurrency exchange. After a position with the Chinese exchange OkCoin, he then founded BijieTech, another exchange service, in 2015 before opening Binance.

But the crypto mogul, who has the logo of Binance tattooed on the arm, also manages to maintain some intimacy. His current Twitter account was conveniently created in August 2017, after the launch of Binance. And nothing is known about his current family life. “For security and privacy reasons, I prefer to keep this private”he told the Guardian.

He does not hesitate to sue the media after the publication of disputed articles, as he recently did against Bloomberg. Even if that means buying them back afterwards, his complaint against Forbes magazine in November 2020 was followed a year and a half later by a $200 million investment in the media.

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