People of Blockchain: Tony Gu

Name and current occupation: Tony Gu, Founding Partner at NEO Global Capital (NGC)

Describe your current activity: I’m an engineer by training, with a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Nanyang Technological University. After I got my EMBA from INSEAD and Tsinghua University, I entered the financial services industry and focused on M&A and Private Equity investment. Until 2017, I had done global deals amounting to over 1 billion USD. I’ve worked across a variety of industries including financial services, consumer, healthcare, and TMT. Most recently, I joined NEO Global Capital as a founding partner to help some of the most promising projects in blockchain get off the ground, including the likes of Zilliqa, Ontology, and Bluzelle.

When did you first hear about Bitcoin/blockchain and how? I first heard of Bitcoin and blockchain technology in 2012 from an article on BusinessWeek. I tried to do some mining on my laptop, but couldn’t remember how much I mined because the laptop was damaged and disposed.

What was the last non-blockchain related job/occupation you had? In addition to my work with NGC, I also currently hold office at Rhodium Capital, a traditional wealth management firm based in Singapore, and Longstand Capital, a private equity investment firm based in China.

What made you migrate to the blockchain professional environment? I would say the opportunity to be at the forefront of an emerging, innovative technology, and by extension to be able to be in a position to help drive the mainstream adoption of blockchain. Overall, while we see that in general public consensus agrees that blockchain is here to stay, there is still an unhealthy level of skepticism and frustration with regards to the real-life applications and use of the technology. This is what makes the work we do at NGC so important as we invest in projects that present compelling use cases, with our portfolio being a clear demonstration of this sentiment as we invest in a variety of industries, including identity solutions, gaming, online content streaming, and financial services, to name a few. While I am excited to witness the growth of our portfolio companies and partners, more importantly, we understand that we are here to help these startups succeed, and we are prepared to offer this support – whether this means reaching out to our network, tapping on the experience of the founding team or even just having a quick chat.

How do you see your role in blockchain and crypto? How do you think you can influence the industry? NGC serves as a facilitator to blockchain projects. We invest in good teams with solid technologies, and help them create value by figuring out the best possible application for blockchain in the real world. When we founded NEO Global Capital, it was very clear that as a venture capital firm we had the unique advantage of being able to bank on our team’s extensive experience in traditional investments and adopt these best practices within the blockchain and crypto industry. This marriage of the best of both worlds is in line with our wider interest in moving towards a smarter economy — one that would bring blockchain and crypto transactions to the mainstream. We have continued to strive towards this goal through active and thoughtful engagement with the community, such as the sponsorship of several key blockchain-focused initiatives in higher education, with the most recent example being the National University of Singapore. I firmly believe that the meaning of our work is to help build and leverage a wider network of support for the industry, which is a significant role in bringing the future of blockchain closer to us one step at a time.

How do you see the actual situation with ICOs? Do you believe they should be regulated? Apparently, the hype surrounding ICOs is dying off. The market is getting more rational, which is certainly a good thing. It takes time for project teams to build systems and applications — investors should be more patient. I have seen significant progress in a couple of our portfolio companies. If they can launch their products and services successfully in the near future, I think this will bring some confidence back to the market. In the long run, the industry should be regulated, but not over-regulated. In the spirit of blockchain and creating a decentralized economy, I think industry self-regulation with guidance from the government might be the best option.

From your point of view, what are the main challenges of blockchain at the moment? I have had the fortune of working alongside some of the early adopters of blockchain, and from that experience have managed to obtain a solid understanding of the sectors and industries where decentralized technologies will have the greatest impact and where blockchain is most likely to exercise its greatest benefit. That being said, we have begun to see more instances of blockchain being applied as a band-aid solution without proper thought as to whether it fits the problem, or if it’s a case where the technology really only offers incremental improvement. Companies need to focus on the problem and decide if blockchain is truly the solution, or we risk having the industry losing out on its hard-earned credibility. Similarly, this guides our investment thesis at NGC, as we believe that the projects we support have a unique solution to today’s problems. Ontology, for example, provides a solution to digital identity; Certik solves security problems in blockchain with formal verification; and Hadron helps enterprises like NASA outsource their computation tasks with a large user and device population so that these tasks are done efficiently and in a timely manner.

How do you see the future of blockchain? How will it evolve? Where do you think we will be in ten years’ time? Do you see crypto as some kind of universal payment system? Do you think that bitcoin will still be king, etc? As we move towards the end of 2018, the future of blockchain continues to be a dynamic one; we are seeing the new arrival of projects across the board, stronger conversations on the ground, and certainly a more keen interest from market investors. As regulations, standards, and infrastructure become more mature over time, I expect that the market will evolve in tandem as well. At the same time, the industry will have to make a conscious decision to direct the narrative of its growth and address the demands of its members. For instance, NGC has just hosted our inaugural meetup in Boston to discuss project funding, best investment practices, and emerging industry trends. These are all examples of future projects I hope to see more of to accelerate the growth of the crypto market and industry as a whole.

Disclaimer: for the “People of Blockchain” section we have developed a short Q&A with relevant people of the industry. All answers are presented exactly as offered. The content of the answers is not altered in any way and is the sole responsibility of the respondent.