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Face of Youbi
Comfortable learning curve
YGG to USD
Company seeks missing pieces
Crypto’s glass ceiling
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Female focussed DAOs
By Monte Stewart
22:00, 27 July 2022
(This story is the first in Capital.com’s new weekly feature Women on Crypto. Stories will profile the relatively few women who lead companies in the male-dominated cryptocurrency sector. This week’s story is on Li Gong a parter with venture capital firm Youbi Capital.)
Meet Li Gong: An exception to the rule about women in crypto.
Gong is a partner with venture capital firm Youbi Capital. She is among relatively few women who play an active role in their firms’ investments and executive leadership. As a rule, most other companies’ key decisions are made exclusively by men.
“I’m the face of Youbi,” she told Capital.com. “I’m the one who will source deals and do the usual resourcing for the firm. Basically, I’m working as a scout.
“I’m the one who’s going out and looking for good projects. I usually will be the first person a project [developer] talked to in our firm. And, I also participate in the investment decision-making process.
But, I will say, my main role is more relationship-driven in our firm.”
Gong has been working in crypto since 2017, when she “fell into this rabbit hole” through her friendship with two classmates from Fudan University in Shanghai, including CEO Chen Li.
Gong, Chen Li and the other classmate studied chemistry in college in China, and she also obtained a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan and worked in the auto industry.
The other classmate launched a successful bitcoin-mining business in China.
When an initial coin offering boom occurred in 2017, the other classmate asked Gong and Chen Li to assist him periodically.
“We worked like a small investment group,” she said.
When Gong’s family relocated to the San Francisco Bay from Detroit in 2018, she joined Youbi on a full-time basis. Gong, who has less technical expertise than Chen Li, said she entered the crypto industry at a “perfect ftime,” because most projects “were just based on paper and ideas” and very little technical due diligence could be done.
“So my learning curve [was] really very comfortable at the beginning and, after four years, right now at the industry, you actually are having more materials to read and study when you start to take a look on a project,” she said. “[You’re] not limited to the technical side.
“You do have a lot of things to look at on the business side in terms of, for example, revenue models or even revenue projections, that didn’t exist back in 2017,” she said.
Youbi has focused its investments on the infrastructure side of the crypto sector.
The company has invested heavily in layer-one, or public, blockchain projects and their cryptocurrencies, such as polka dot (DOT), avalanche (AVAX) and FLOW, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and Yield Guild Games, a play-to-earn crypto gaming guild that backs the YGG coin.
She said Youbi is most proud of DeBank, which provides investors with a dashboard that tracks the decentralized finance (DeFi) portfolios.
“Recently, we are more into the social-buying sectors,” she said. “We are trying to find the missing pieces in the industry. For example, the most recent deal we closed is a decentalized [identification] and key-management solution.
Luckily, she said, Youbi has “just bet on the right sectors.” Youbi also tries to differentiate itself from other VC firms by being among a few pioneers who would like to introduce top Chinese crypto projects to the West. Although the core team is based in the US, it has a “very tight connection to the Chinese crypto community.”
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According to Gong and other women interviewed by Capital.com, females face a glass ceiling when it comes to advancing in the male-dominated crypto industry.
“I think that’s kind of a legacy from the tech industry … and has something to do with the very early stage of our industry,” she said. “In the very beginning, you would see a lot of one-man teams – just one man and their project. And, most of the time, that would be a programmer.
“Definitely, there are far fewer female programmers in the tech industry. So I think it’s quite normal [that] you see very few women founders in our industry.
But over the four years I’ve been with the industry, I’ve started to see more women join into the space, because as the industry matures, those projects also take off, so [a company will] become a much larger, larger organization. So, it will have different job opportunities and career options.
That will provide a diversity we need.
“The second reason [for fewer women leaders in crypto] is, I think, somehow based in our genes. I believe most of the women are more risk-averse. So they are kind of reluctant [to get involved] at the early stage of a new industry.”
Gong acknowledged that she is risk-averse, but said she did not feel that she was taking a major risk in joining Youbi due to her connections to Chen Li and their classmate. Because she was allowed to work parti-time initially and her company had to relocate to the Bay Area, the career move happened very naturally and was a “comfortable choice.”
Youbi’s small executive team actually has more women than men. But she rarely encounters women who are founders of other companies. And, executives that she meets often have a stereotypical view of her.
“They just assume you are in a business development role,” she said.
Gong is already seeing “a lot of good initiatives internally from the industry” when it comes to attracting and recruiting more women.
“For example, on the NFT side, which is the hottest topic right now, there [are] art collections and projects focused exclusively on the women’s side,” she said. “So it is actually very exciting to see that people actually realize the importance of women in this industry.
“And, we have some organizations like DAOs [digital autonomous organizations, decentralized collectives that act like companies] studying DAOs and social-networking events solely targeted on women to help them grow their networks and get educated on the Web3 side. That’s actually very great.”
But she would like to see an “external push” to deploy environment and social governance (ESG) principles – “like the traditional world does.”
Gong also serves as a part-time global investment advisor with HashKey Capital, the operator of one of the largest crypto funds in China, which concentrates on digital banking and financial technology (fintech) companies.
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