Unicorn Co-founder inspires budding entrepreneurs

By Alejandra Gallegos Rivera

Returning to his educational roots last month, Jack Zhang co-founder of Airwallex, addressed undergraduate students enrolled in the Entrepreneurial Finance subject at the University of Melbourne.

Airwallex offers businesses international banking solutions, which allow them to create bank accounts globally, access interbank exchange rates, and send funds across 130 countries. It is the quickest company in Australian history to achieve unicorn status, which means it currently has a $1 billion (USD) valuation.

Invited by Dr André Gygax, Zhang (BEng, 2007) treated students to a unique look into the start-up world. He spoke about what entrepreneurship means to him personally, and provided valuable insight into the Airwallex journey.

Jack Zhang
Jack Zhang.

Zhang’s overwhelming passion for what he does captured students’ attention and imaginations, with them actively participating throughout the lecture. Questions ranged from what type of startup he’d recommend for a new entrepreneur, to Airwallex related questions such as how the company earns money, and which had been the toughest market for him to get into (the surprising answer was the US).

He also shared the personal insight that he gave up a well-paying job because he just wasn’t motivated by it, and that he was already talking to venture capital companies to seek funding, while Airwallex was still an idea on paper.

Zhang not only shared his expertise in all things start-up – from having a coherent team who can help execute ideas, to the importance of figuring out investors’ personalities – but provided some useful advice for students. He pointed out the importance of making connections while studying at university. After all, he met his co-founders Xijing Dai and Lucy Liu during this time.  Each of them went their own way after graduation but reunited to work on Airwallex.

Another key takeaway was the importance of focusing on the right objectives when building a startup, and not just thinking about revenue. For Zhang, focusing on organisational growth and thinking in the long term is fundamental.

At the same time, finding people with the right professional experience is an important consideration for him when it comes to hiring. But finding someone who is a right fit for the company and its values is key. People who believe in the company’s vision and face challenges with a positive attitude and optimism is crucial. According to him, a big part of a start-up’s success relates to its people and culture.

Finally, when asked if he thought he would get this far with the company, Zhang had the audience chuckling. His honest answer “absolutely not”. He admitted to making a few mistakes when Airwallex was starting out, but believes strongly that mistakes are also part of the learnings that come when setting up a business. He then pointed out the importance of adapting to change as a key consideration to succeed, no matter what kind of start-up.

Overall, Jack Zhang’s lecture gave students the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from someone who, only a few years ago, was in the same position as them. Zhang decided to think big, and is now changing the world of payments, proving that both students and young entrepreneurs can achieve anything they set their minds to.