- Changpeng Zhao is the chief executive and founder of Binance, one of the largest crypto exchanges.
- Growing up, Zhao worked multiple jobs to help his family, including flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
- Today, as a crypto billionaire, Zhao told Insider his career advice for ambitious young people.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
“I actually really don’t care about what Forbes rankings are. I think that’s kind of a meaningless metric once you get to a certain point,” Zhao, the founder and chief executive of Binance, said in an interview.
But that doesn’t mean financial freedom is not important to Zhao, who immigrated with his family to Canada from China at the age of 12. To pitch in on household expenses, he flipped burgers at McDonald’s and worked overnight shifts at a gas station.
Today, Zhao, who goes by “CZ,” is “quite a bit beyond” being financially free, but he is far from being worry-free, he said.
Binance, which became the largest crypto exchange by trading volume in just 180 days, has grown into a behemoth with multiple divisions that tackle charity, investments, and acquisitions, as well as a nonfungible-token marketplace that’s set to launch in June.
“We’re still much poorer than many of the larger organizations in the world, but we have enough money to do what we want to do at our current size,” Zhao said. “Our bottleneck is not money. Right now our bottleneck is people.”
Almost four years after its $15 million initial coin offering, Binance is still growing at a blistering pace that is sometimes pressured by the limited speed at which it can hire talent to take on new projects.
“Our bandwidth constraints are much more on the people front and much less on the money front,” he said. “So even if we have 10 times more money, it does not speed us up at all in terms of the amount of meaningful impact that we can do.”
A ‘typical’ day of Zhao’s life
Indeed, Zhao, who no longer handles the day-to-day operations of Binance, spends most of his time trying to hire the right people for his company these days, he said.
“From a high-level strategic point of view, I think a CEO typically wants to spend most of their time on three things: getting funding, setting the right direction, and getting the right people,” he said. “Luckily, I don’t have to spend very much time on the first two. I only spend most of my time on the last one.”
Because of Binance’s financial strength and clear goal of providing infrastructure in the crypto space, Zhao said he largely gave teams free rein to explore projects such as launching the NFT marketplace and providing the trading of tokenized versions of certain US stocks.
While he’s no longer tethered to the minutiae of running a company, Zhao’s schedule does not resemble anything close to a four-hour workweek or enigmatic morning routines that require him to get up at 4:00 a.m. and meditate for an hour.
“I am a late sleeper and late starter, so I start at around 9 a.m., and then I go on till about 12 a.m.-ish,” he said. “There are breaks during the day just randomly. If I’m tired, I even go take a nap, but I would typically have on average about 15 to 20 meetings and calls each day.”
During the pandemic-induced lockdown, those calls could sometimes spike to 25 to 30 a day, a sign of Binance’s skyrocketing growth spurred by the roaring crypto bull market in the past year. Sometimes, the dangers of growing too quickly can lead to “internal management issues, internal coordination problems, and internal communication gaps,” which Zhao would come in to resolve, he said.
“At the beginning of this year, I actually said we wanted to slow down the hiring because I felt that our problems were attributed to the fact that we’re growing so quickly on head count,” he said.
“But then our business and the number of users are growing like crazy, and all of our teams are stressed, so we have to continue to increase people at a very phenomenal speed,” he added.
The intersection of 3 things
As the global surge in cryptocurrencies continues unabated, Binance is unlikely to slow its pace of hiring anytime soon. Zhao said the firm was looking for professionals in every field, varying from tech and finance to marketing, human resources, and legal.
The 44-year-old billionaire, who has founded six startups and hired thousands of people, recommended that ambitious young people pursue “the intersection of three things.”
“It should be something that they are good at. It should be something that they like. And it should be something that has value to other people,” he said. “You have to find the intersection of those three things. Once you do, if Binance needs that, then we want to hire you.”
Because of the “chaotic environment” that comes with the rapid growth of Binance, Zhao said the company looked to hire people who are not only technically skilled but also passionate about what they do.
“We have a lot of issues internally, and I believe so far Binance has been able to overcome that to a sufficient level is because our people are very passionate about what they do,” he said.
“They push things on their own. They push really hard to get things through this chaotic environment, to get things done,” he added. “I think that’s the No. 1 criteria I look for when we hire people.”