Asked to reflect on the whirlwind of events in recent years — the pomp of graduation from a top-tier university; scrappy early days as an entrepreneur; and launch of a billion-dollars-a-day-in-transactions trading firm — Christina Qi pauses and exhales before showing a rare moment of incredulity.
“I still can’t believe it,” says Qi, a Hillcrest High graduate who is a rising star in the fast-changing, tech-heavy, algorithm-reliant world of high-frequency trading. “It’s all kind of surreal.”
Qi, who left the Midvale-area school to pursue a degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has spent her life wisely since arriving in New England. After earning a degree at MIT in 2013, she and two friends hit the pavement, looking for forward-thinking investors who believed in their plan to revolutionize how trading firms do business.
Contrary to business-world tradition, Qi’s company, named Domeyard, embraces a relatively flat organizational structure. While there are employees who serve in roles traditionally reserved for a Chief Executive Officer or Chief Technology Officer, everyone in the firm has the title “partner” she said. Also, the company develops its own technologies, is selective about clients, and builds trading strategies that blend the best thinking of new and established firms, she said.
Not only has Domeyard gained a prominent foothold in a notoriously difficult field, Qi and her two partners, Luca Lin and Jonathan Wang, have received accolades for their wise-beyond-their-years instincts and commitment to hard work. Most notable: Earlier this year, the trio was named to Forbes’ prestigious “30 under 30” list of movers and shakers in the world of finance.
The magazine says the 2017 list is an “encyclopedia of creative disruption” in 20 different industries. The hot, up-and-coming talent in such fields as art and style, Hollywood and entertainment, media, energy, sports and science are nominated, vetted and selected by the publication’s “ace reporters and a panel of A-list judges.”
Qi admits to being a little star-struck at a Forbes-list summit in October. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe I am here with Joe Jonas,’” she said about the 30-under-30 honoree meet-up, which draws current and former list-makers. This year’s list includes Jonas, actress Zoe Kravitz, DJ-producer Marshmello, Tony winner Ben Platt, and Facebook Operations Vice President Jay Hammonds.
“That was definitely really cool. It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’re really real,’” she said about hob-nobbing with Hollywood hoi polloi. And it also marked quite a journey from the hallways at Hillcrest, Midvale Middle and Peruvian Park Elementary schools.
With a bit of a shy chuckle, Qi, 26, who interned at Goldman Sachs, confesses to being more than a little skeptical when a Forbes reporter first contacted the company about being featured in the publication. The former student in Hillcrest’s vaunted International Baccalaureate program also reeled from the attention when the profile on Domeyard was featured on Forbes’ homepage. “My phone just started blowing up,” she says.
The magazine tells the story of Domeyard’s early days as a dorm-room enterprise, Qi’s role as the partner responsible for raising investment funds, and the late nights spent babysitting the algorithms that Qi, Lin and Wang were using to make trades in the European market. Forbes also reveals that the name Domeyard comes from landmarks at MIT and Harvard.
“It took nearly three years for Domeyard to get up and running,” states the Forbes story. “Qi was effective at raising money, but the young traders needed to build up the technology and infrastructure required for data-driven trading—securing servers in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s data center, writing a few million lines of code, and setting up the capability to support several petabytes of data.”
But Forbes also notes Domeyard’s “brash and optimistic” nimble nature, based on youth, small size and drive for innovation.
“The Domeyard crew is operating in a field dominated by big firms with years of operating history that have spent fortunes on infrastructure and armies of mathematicians and engineers. In addition, this low-volatility stock market era has cut deeply into some of the richest strategies of high frequency traders, causing a wave of consolidation in the industry,” the story reads. “But Domeyard’s young founders think that there are some advantages to being the new kids on the high-frequency block. The firm is working to unlock profitable trading strategies by using sequential machine learning and making large scale computations of statistics.”
Qi says many of the lessons learned at Hillcrest High stay with her today. She also fondly recalls the teachers who inspired her, programs that gave her a solid academic foundation, and the spirit of the students who were proud to be Huskies.
In particular, she praises now-retired biology teacher Phil Talbot. In fact, in 2010, Qi successfully nominated Talbot for a prestigious MIT Alumni Association Inspirational Teacher Award. He was one of 37 teachers nationwide to be presented with the honor from the institution. “The way he connected with students … there were students in our class who became doctors because of the way he taught his class, she said. “Once, when I was home, I ran into him (at a local restaurant), and I just broke down. It was so good to see him before he retired.”
“Overall, I loved the spirit of Hillcrest. It was better than anything I have ever experienced, even at MIT,” she says, noting that Hillcrest High, not known for having a student body with excess personal funds, is generous to those in the community with even less. “A lot of the students don’t come from wealthy backgrounds, but they still give back … It’s a lesson for all of us.”