Coming from a poor Chinese family, Changpeng Zhao (Binance CEO) was able to earn $96 billion and ranked eleventh on Forbes, leaving behind Asia’s richest man.
A childhood of travel, a youth in exile
Changpeng Zhao was born on January 1, 1977, in China’s eastern province of Jiangsu. His childhood consisted of a series of moves as his mother, a schoolteacher, and his father, who taught philosophy at universities, frequently changed places of residence.
The reason for this was the tightening of China’s domestic politics. Mao Zedong launched a global campaign against revisionism – there was no room for dissent in a country ruled by the Communist Party. Changpeng’s father, a libertarian who held capitalist views, was instantly marked as a “pro-bourgeois intellectual”. Moral pressure was quickly replaced by threats of physical reprisal – saving not only his career but also his life, Zhao Senior went to Canada, known for its loyal migration policy.
In Vancouver, the highly skilled specialist quickly found a job, but all the modest salary of a teacher at the University of British Columbia was spent on food and basic necessities. With a constant shortage of funds, the head of the family somehow managed to save $5,000 – a fabulous sum for an immigrant, which he spent on the purchase of a computer named IBM PC XT 286. The father of the future billionaire often repeated that this acquisition was the most expensive and important in his life.
The beginning of the journey – from the gas station to the Tokyo Stock Exchange
Zhao Senior hadn’t bought the latest model for fun, he was proficient in popular programming languages and could count on extra income. He hastily passed on his knowledge of C++ and Fortran to his son – it turned out that Changpeng had a great ability to study them.
Time spent on the computer with his father shaped Zhao’s future fate – he expanded his knowledge of programming in high school and later entered McGill University’s computer science department. Zhao’s family was still in need of money, so Changpeng had to work part-time as a cook in fast-food restaurants. At night, the young programmer worked as a gas station attendant.
After a university internship, during which he perfected his developer skills, Zhao managed to get a job at a Japanese trading company. The budding specialist was successful in creating high-frequency trading systems that reduced transaction processing time to a couple of seconds. Zhao’s developments were intended for the Tokyo Stock Exchange – Changpeng saw how much money was flowing through the market and realized he wanted to tie his life to the financial industry.
Bitcoin is a start in the crypto industry
Zhao first heard about Bitcoin from his friends in 2013 – over a game of poker, cryptocurrency investor Ron Cao and BTC China exchange founder Bobby Li advised Changpeng to convert a tenth of his capital into a digital asset. The entrepreneurs assured the programmer that in a few years the value of the first cryptocurrency could grow tenfold and make him rich.
Zhao’s extensive knowledge of programming allowed him to quickly grasp the technical aspects of the crypto industry. The specialist, accustomed to frequent travels and overseas business trips, realized that he would reduce his remittance costs by converting his funds into cryptocurrency. Digital assets could give him the most important thing – the freedom of movement and constant access to money. Now the programmer could forget about bank transfers, predatory commissions and lengthy transactions. In addition, the dynamics of the Bitcoin exchange rate served as a good source of passive income.
In 2014, the value of this cryptocurrency dropped by $400 – its rate, which was steadily held at the value of $600, fell to the mark of $200. However, the asset’s volatility didn’t discourage Zhao from believing in its potential – the programmer sold his only home, an apartment in Shanghai, and invested all of the proceeds in Bitcoin. Zhao then quit his trading company and joined the founders of blockchain.info, a service focused on creating cryptocurrency wallets. Changpeng became the third person in the company – when he took the job at blockchain.info, the startup’s staff consisted only of its creator Ben Reeves and CEO Nick Carey.
After a year with blockchain.info, Zhao made the decision to return to stock trading. He was easily promoted to head of the technical department of the cryptocurrency exchange OKCoin. At first, Changpeng liked his new job as it combined his two passions at once – the exchange and digital assets. However, six months later, differences arose between Zhao and the company’s executives.
A straightforward and uncompromising Changpeng said that OKCoin heads are manipulating market processes. According to him, exchange owners artificially inflate trading volumes, using bots and automated trading technologies, as well as providing falsified audit results. In 2015, Zhao left OKCoin without being able to influence the company’s management.
Binance – the right project at the right time
Commenting on the state of the crypto market in 2017, Zhao said, “Most exchanges were very clumsy. And the systems were very slow. When the value of Bitcoin went up, all the sites went down. And worst of all, none of them had customer support. Every day hundreds of new exchanges appeared, but they all just copied each other. No one was making significant improvements.”
The crypto infrastructure really wasn’t ready for the surge in popularity and value of digital assets. Dozens of trading platforms were launched every day, but none of them could meet the demands of the growing audience. At the time, there were simply no effective solutions capable of providing customers with the security and profitability of crypto exchanges.
The moment was perfect to revolutionize the cryptocurrency community – and Zhao didn’t miss it. The programmer created the Binance trading platform, which, in his opinion, could change the crypto market forever.
The development of the project required considerable investment. In 2017, crypto start-up owners preferred to attract investments through ICOs, and Zhao decided to follow their example – he issued a token of his own platform, Binance Coin (BNB), which sold for over $15 million. Eleven days after the token sale, the Binance cryptocurrency exchange was officially launched, with a yield of $200 million in just six months.
Binance had at least two significant competitive advantages – speed and simplicity of interface. By combining blockchain technology with his expertise in high-frequency trading systems, Zhao was able to speed up the information exchange process, enabling the platform to perform over a million transactions per second. The fantastic speed allowed for lower fees, which only increased the audience’s interest in the new exchange.
Zhao paid attention not only to the technical aspects, but also to the user-friendliness of the interface – he simplified the design of the exchange, so that it was easier for clients to navigate the resource. There were no complexities, transfers to third-party sites, and functions which would take hours to understand – even inexperienced users could conduct a transaction on Binance in a few seconds. Zhao was also the first in his industry to equip the project with top-notch technical support, establishing direct communication with users.
But Binance’s list of innovations does not end there: Zhao was able to transform the trading platform into a digital asset converter by integrating a crypto-to-crypto mechanism, which allowed clients to quickly exchange funds. Changpeng was also one of the first to implement a loyalty program, allowing Binance Coin holders to receive special bonuses for exchange tokens. For example, with BNB, customers were able to reduce the cost of fees.
Binance beyond the system
The freedom-loving Changpeng, who did not accept any conventions, set a goal which seemed unattainable even for the most courageous enthusiasts at the time – the programmer decided to take Binance out of the influence of state regulators and traditional financial institutions. In other words, Binance had to be outside of the system – Zhao did not want the fate of his brainchild to be influenced by banks, laws, and governments.
To separate the exchange from the banking world, Zhao refused to work with fiat money such as the dollar and the euro – Binance now handles only cryptocurrency transactions. The platform has nothing to do with bank accounts – for the conversion of crypto assets in traditional currencies Binance uses the services of partner resources.
The level of confidentiality of Binance is extremely high – the company is registered in the Cayman Islands and does not belong to the jurisdiction of any of the existing states. Zhao doesn’t disclose information about his subordinates and office locations – the company is believed to have no headquarters or branches. The employees work remotely – all information about them is a trade secret of Binance.
In a few years the platform has turned into a full-fledged cryptocurrency ecosystem – the functionality of the site includes spot, margin and futures trading, as well as P2P-service. Binance provides a full range of tools for working with decentralized finance and applications. You can use the platform to invest funds, pay for research and educational programs, make charitable transfers, and receive advanced infrastructure solutions.
The independence of Binance and the anonymity of payments raise concerns among regulators. Authorities in Canada and Japan have repeatedly put pressure on Zhao, but he continues to operate successfully outside government and financial systems.
Asia’s Richest Man – Changpeng Zhao
In 2018, a year after Binance launched, Changpeng’s personal wealth was estimated at $2 billion, and in January 2022, his fortune had already exceeded $96 billion. The colossal amount of money didn’t turn the head of a young man who in the past had been forced to work part-time at gas stations. Changpeng has no yachts, houses or fleet of cars; he invests in business. In a rare interview, Zhao said he planned to donate his capital to charity and support promising crypto start-ups. The forty-four-year-old billionaire is also indifferent to fashion – he has never changed his favorite jeans and sweatshirts for outfits from the best brands.
Asia’s richest businessman lives remarkably modestly – even among billionaires he has managed to get out of the system. Zhao, who was once number eleven on the list of the richest men in the world, never fails to reiterate that he does not care about Forbes rankings or the size of his wealth. Zhao sees the only benefit of his wealth in being able to fly first class and rent comfortable hotel rooms.
In reality, no one has accurate information about the value of Changpeng’s assets. The programmer claims that 100% of his capital is held in Bitcoin and Binance tokens. Analysts who reported that Zhao’s fortune reached $96 billion only considered traditional finance, so it’s hard to even imagine how rich he really is.
In the summer of 2022, Binance proved that not even the volatility of the crypto market could keep it from success. On June 13, 2022, as Bitcoin plunged below $23,000 and digital asset capitalization fell below $1 trillion for the first time, Zhao announced an expansion of Binance’s functionality: exchange customers would soon be able to pay for cab services within the platform. Macroeconomic events, which had a negative impact on the industry, forced the founders of major trading platforms to conduct staff cuts – against this background, Zhao’s words about hiring two thousand specialists seemed fantastic.
Like his exchange, Zhao is completely independent and virtually elusive – he constantly changes places of residence and does not tell journalists anything about his personal life. Binance continues to develop outside of the system – the offshore company is growing, as is public interest in digital assets.