SANDY — As Christina Qi walked to the stage at a finance conference in New York City to give a keynote address, a conferencegoer stopped her and asked her to clear his plates from the dining table.
"He had mistaken me for a waitress. I was like, 'Well, I'd be happy to after I give my speech,'" recalled Qi, a graduate of Hillcrest High School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-founder of at Domeyard LP, a Boston-based hedge fund with a unique focus on high frequency trading.
The man later apologized and Qi said she took no offense.
After all, there are few women in fintech, short for financial technology, and fewer yet who are 26 years old and a partner in a hedge fund that trades $1 billion a day in U.S. equity futures and currencies.
Recently, Qi and her Domeyard LP partners, fellow MIT alum Jonathan Wang and Harvard-educated Luca Lin, were named to Forbes' prestigious 30 Under 30 list in finance.
The fund's investors include some of the wealthiest people in the world as well as powerful people who oversee university endowments and pension funds.
Qi, who was born in Beijing, came to Utah with her parents when she was 3 years old. After the Tiananmen Square massacre in June 1989, Li and Hope Qi decided to leave China to attend college in the United States.
The couple landed at Utah State University, primarily because of scholarship opportunities. Li Qi became a civil engineer. Hope Qi works in the state Department of Human Services.
But the family's early days in Logan were humble.
"We grew up really poor, like welfare, food stamps poor," Christina Qi said.
Her parents lived in student housing and waited tables at Chinese restaurants to make ends meet. Their young daughter often hung out at the restaurants during their shifts.
"I wanted to be a waitress when I grew up. That was my goal. I wanted be a waitress in a Chinese restaurant because that was my world, right?" Qi said.
Her parents had other aspirations for their daughter, which included college and nurturing her talent for playing piano, which came naturally because she has aural memory, which enables her to play a piece of music from memory once she hears it.
The Qi family later moved to Salt Lake County where Christina attended public school in Sandy and Midvale.
Qi said she didn't have a career path in mind but the academic rigor of Hillcrest High School's International Baccalaureate program taught her to manage her time, which served her well when she was admitted to MIT.
She confesses that she did not know a lot about MIT, which has a single-digit acceptance rate.
"I won some (piano) competitions. I may have got in through that," she said, modestly. One of them was an international piano contest, in which she topped a field of 350 professional competitors from 31 countries.
While in college, Qi interned locally at Zions Bank and Goldman Sachs as well as the Tokyo office of UBS Securities. She graduated from MIT in 2013 with a bachelor of science degree in finance and financial management services.
At that point, Qi's father encouraged her to put her newly minted college degree to work and apply for jobs.
But she wanted, instead, to make a go of the enterprise she and Wang founded in his dorm room during college, which involved trading in the European markets at 2 a.m.
After graduation, Lin joined them to launch Domeyard, which combines the names of landmarks at their respective colleges, MIT’s Great Dome and Harvard Yard.
Qi's father was unconvinced that the three could get a hedge fund off the ground. Still, the family supported her by paying her rent in Boston for a year, dipping into their retirement savings to help.
As Forbes tells it, “It took nearly three years for Domeyard to get up and running."
“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," Forbes reported.
The fund now operates out of an office in downtown Boston.
"After we raised the first penny, the rest is history. A couple months ago, I sent an email to our investors. We have like 400 investors now. I said, 'We have an additional capacity of $10 million in the fund where someone can put in 5 to 10 million dollars and we can accept one or two investors. At midnight tell me if you want to claim that capacity.' At midnight we got two emails within 5 minutes. Now, literally it takes me five minutes to raise $10 million and back then it took me 2½ years to raise a penny. It’s just insane," she said.
Qi is a sought-after speaker nationally and internationally. MIT has flown her to Utah to help the state's brightest students.
Her mother is particularly pleased with her daughter's success. The business is thriving and Qi has never strayed from her mother's counsel "to be a good person," Hope Qi said.
Qi returns to Utah frequently to visit her family. They live in an upscale home in newer Sandy neighborhood, which she helped them buy and furnish. She enjoys keeping up with her little brother's passions. He's a chess champion and a highly successful table tennis player. He also attends Hillcrest High School and is enrolled in its IB program.
Qi is at a point that her father no longer urges her to get a job working for someone else or a corporation. However, when Harvard Business School selected Domeyard's business model as a case study, Li Qi encouraged his daughter to use the connections to gain entry into Harvard to seek a master's degree in business.
He now accepts that Domeyard "is a real career path, something I can hopefully do for a while," she said.
Qi said Domeyard's successes are gratifying, particularly after such a challenging start.
"It feels really great because I know what it's like not to have that. To have it now, wow, that feels great and I'm not afraid to share that with people. It really is the American dream. For them (her parents) it is the American dream, for sure," she said.