Zoe Niu's (Mathematics 2005) successful financial tech company, Ricequant, builds on her mathematics degree from Imperial, but her entrepreneurial journey has had its ups and down. Sprints to meetings and grasping taxation law are just some of the challenges she’s faced, but she firmly believes that setting out on your own can be immensely rewarding. We caught up with Zoe to hear about her entrepreneurial journey, as well as what she got up to at Imperial.
Tell us about your time at Imperial.
"The three years I spent studying maths at Imperial was some of the most beautiful and memorable times of my life. I met the most amazing friends – I know that’s common in terms of the university experience, but those relationships really do change your life.
In my first year we had lots of fun, and then in subsequent years, I had to work really hard. Maths wasn’t as easy as I had thought at the beginning! I was involved with some of the Chinese societies and the fencing and squash clubs, which were great, and of course, I was studying in London. It’s definitely one of my favourite cities - I keep on coming back to visit!"
What did you do when you finished studying?
"I spent 10 years in investment banking, working for German, American and French banks. Towards the end of that time, I started working with long-term collaborators on a brand new company and, in 2015, and began working on it full time.
The company is called Ricequant. It’s a financial tech quantitative trading system, and our clients are financial institutions like hedge funds, banks, and securities. We started out small but we’ve now got about 40 employees and we hope to have 50 by the end of the year. Eventually, we want to go to IPO, but it will depend on how things go. I’m a Founding Partner and Shareholder but I’m also the CMO and the CFO."
How did you come up with the name - Ricequant?
"I’m from Shenzhen originally and in Cantonese ‘rice’ means to have money, hence the name Ricequant. To be honest, it’s often a case of mistaken identity – we often have to explain that we aren’t selling rice!"
Can you tell us more about your entrepreneurial journey?
"It’s not been easy, but it’s very, very rewarding. The challenge is that it is all new – I haven’t started a company before, so you have to teach yourself a lot along the way. For example, I’ve had to learn all about compliance and governmental regulations, including immigration and tax. The other partners and I have to get super involved in the detail, but it’s so important to keep working on the company’s overall strategic direction as well.
It’s definitely a 24/7 job – I’ve just finished a 15-day travel stint. It’s tiring but it also makes me really happy. If you take care of your company in the right way, it’s amazing to see it grow in a positive direction."
What have you learnt about yourself?
"Since I began this start-up, I feel that my capability has strengthened and the pressure I can take has increased. One day, a meeting overran impacting my next meeting, so I jumped on the metro, then I hired a bike and then I ran – it was the fastest way to get to where I was going. It’s amazing how much you can extend yourself when you need to, and how much more you can squeeze out of yourself."