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Coffee shop to billion-dollar startup: Lucy Liu shares the Airwallex story

Lucy Liu shares the Airwallex story. Source: Airwallex/Getty

Lucy Liu will speak at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit on the 26th of September 2019 in the Shangri-La, Sydney. Check out the full line-up of speakers and agenda for this groundbreaking event here.

Airwallex is no ordinary Australian business.

“The first years are about survival.”

It boasts a US$1 billion (A$1.49 billion) valuation, making it Australia’s third-ever tech ‘unicorn’.

Unbelievably, the idea behind Airwallex was born from co-founders and former coffee shop owners, Jack Zhang and Max Li, who found the fees for importing goods like coffee cups from other countries way too expensive.

So Zhang and Li, enlisted the help of their university mates, Lucy Liu, Xijang Dai and Ki-Lok Wong to make it easier (and cheaper) for people to import goods from overseas.

But it wasn’t an easy road to unicorn status, co-founder of Airwallex, Liu tells Yahoo Finance.

“The first years are about survival.”

Liu says while Airwallex took a lot of ‘continuous self motivation’ to get the ball rolling, working with friends made it a little easier.

“It was organised chaos,” she said.

“Working with friends meant the trust was already there - we all had a common goal.”

Lucy Liu will be speaking on the founder's panel at Yahoo Finance's All Market Summit on the 26th of September. Source: Yahoo Finance

And that common goal led to the company’s latest US$100 million funding round, which took it to unicorn status.

Liu, who worked in investment banking in Melbourne until she quit her job to commit to Airwallex, made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia list back in 2017.

And, being a then-26-year-old female, Liu wasn’t the typical tech unicorn founder, but she insists life as a billion-dollar company co-founder is no different for her than it is for her fellow male founders.

“It’s not any easier or harder for me. I don’t understand the coding that Jack or Xijang do, so I deal with distribution because I’m better at that.”

Liu says females are better at making connections and talking, which is why she was chosen to set up the Airwallex office in Shanghai and build Chinese arm of the business.

“You just have to play to your strengths,” she told Yahoo Finance.

Two years on, she tells us what her biggest takeaway from the entire experience is.

“It’s harder than you would ever imagine,” she said.

Now, the company has over 260 employees in eight offices around the globe, and expects to expand.

Lucy Liu will be speaking on the founder’s panel at Yahoo Finance's All Markets Summit on the 26th of September. Join us for this groundbreaking event.