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How To Build Authentic Business Relationships

Karen Zhang

Google Cloud

Powered By:

hsbcinnovationbanking logo

How To Build Authentic Business Relationships

Karen Zhang


Google Cloud

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Karen Zhang Google Cloud
Full transcript here

About Karen Zhang

Episode 145: In LAB #34, Amardeep Parmar from The BAE HQ, welcomes Karen Zhang, the FinTech Lead and VC Partnerships at Google Cloud.

In this episode, Karen Zhang, the FinTech Lead and VC Partnerships at Google Cloud, shares her journey of building authentic business relationships, particularly focusing on her experience after moving to the UK.

Karen Zhang

Google Cloud

Show Notes

00:00: Intro 

02:41 - The meaning of authenticity in different contexts

03:15 - Her experience moving to the UK and building a new network.

04:51 - Initial steps in connecting with community groups and the benefits of her existing Google network.

05:26 - Describes her involvement in community activities like table tennis and how it helped her build connections.

06:39 - How personal interests can transition into business relationships and the importance of gut feel and ecosystem power.

08:26 - Highlights the role of word of mouth and the importance of trust in building business relationships.

11:26 - Discusses common mistakes founders make when trying to build relationships and the importance of clear communication.

13:40 - Her approach to prioritising relationships and ensuring mutual benefit.

16:19 - Karen emphasises the importance of checking personal capacity and balancing commitments.

19:21 - Advises on leveraging social media and being known for specific personal and professional traits.

20:42 - Talks about the power of storytelling and authenticity in networking.

22:19 - Shares her experience of staying authentic in male-dominated industries and the importance of showing up as oneself.

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Karen Zhang Full Transcript

Karen Zhang: 0:00Obviously that gut feel, and I think naturally when you just when you've been in the industry for long enough, you start to get a pretty good sense of who you connect with and who can actually build something and create something with. But I did. Another thing is also the power of the ecosystem and word of mouth.

Amardeep Parmar: 0:19

Building authentic business relationships from zero. First, we define what is authentic in a business sense. Where do you find people to work with? How do you build trust with them? What mistakes do people often make when trying to work with larger organizations? How should you prioritize your relationships? I think that's one of the most difficult questions. To help us answer these questions, we have Karen Zhang, who's FinTech lead and VC partnerships at Google Cloud, and also a good friend. She moved to this country recently herself and has built up a relationship from scratch. She's the perfect person to showcase how to do this. I hope you enjoyed today's episode. I'm Amar from the BAE HQ, and this podcast is powered by HSBC Innovation Banking. So, Karen, so great to have you on today and thank you so much for hosting us recently at Google's offices for our FinTech event. If we dive straight into it, we'll talk about authentic relationships today, especially in terms of the business aspect. What does an authentic relationship even mean in this context?

Karen Zhang: 1:17

Well, firstly, Amar, thank you for having me and really great to partner on the recent event with the British Asian Entrepreneurs Community. And it's really great that you're asking this question about authentic relationships, because I really can't actually think of someone that really embodies that more than yourself and Gurvir, who founded the British Asian Entrepreneurs Community, and I was really just taken aback by both of you and the mission that you're driving within the community. So you know very grateful to be here on this episode and having this conversation.

Karen Zhang: 1:46

I think authentic relationships, it can be interpreted in so many different ways depending on the person. Because what does authenticity mean? Does it mean vulnerability? Does it mean strength? How do you show up? And we're in this ecosystem, mixing with so many different cultures and backgrounds, that authenticity for one person and showing up for one person might mean something completely different for someone else. So it's something that I constantly try and check in within myself and my dial of what authentic means might be totally different to someone else. So I really try and gauge that through other people and authenticity and connection and relationships. You can only really have that with other people. So I try and gauge those relationships through the connections that I have and be that personal, professional and just having that constant check-in. But I think you kind of know as well, you just know, you just know when you connect with someone and you're being authentic and you're just vibing on that level, it just flows. And I think that's the same when it comes to business, when it comes to other aspects. So I always just try and follow that thread and you know, take those moments, um, and then slow down, so.

Amardeep Parmar: 2:41

And what's interesting too is that you'e Asian, you only moved to a country fairly recently, so in some ways, you've had to build a network from scratch, which is quite intimidating for many people. It's probably people listening right now who maybe they're new to startup ecosystem, maybe they've just moved to this country and it's quite intimidating to try and build them from scratch. So how did you do that? Right, you've just moved here. Obviously you're with google, which does help, but you've got to try and build a new network. What were the first steps you took? Like, how did you find people to connect with?

Karen Zhang: 3:15

I guess moving across the UK thankfully there wasn't a huge cultural difference. So moving from Australia to London and transferring with Google, there were definitely benefits of being able to join a team that was already very well established and I already knew the ecosystem and the way that the organization works. So, naturally, my first kind of immediate community was my colleagues, my team. Shout out to my awesome FinTech team that I work with, so they were absolutely brilliant in just showing me the ropes, getting me grounded and established within Google Cloud and the FinTech ecosystem here. And I'd say then, beyond that, I started exploring OK, what are the different community groups that I would like to dabble and get connected into and share some background? I've been at Google for about eight years now and transferred over just over a year ago, but I was completely new to FinTech. So I'd previously looked after different verticals, industries healthcare, life sciences, manufacturing, you name it but not so much in the FinTech ecosystem, and so the first thought that I had was I want to become as knowledgeable in this space as possible. So I started looking at different courses and I actually ended up taking up a course in the Said Business School at Oxford and it was a three-month course. A lot of it was virtual, but I managed to connect with a lot of the other members within that community and then from there I also ended up organising a meetup event with a lot of the participants within that course and so just naturally started to build out that ecosystem myself and then from there they started making introductions to other people within the ecosystem. So that was kind of more on a work level and, on a personal note, share a bit about myself.

Karen Zhang: 4:51

So I grew up playing table tennis and I love that and it's a big part of me and my childhood. And so, moving here, I really wanted to get back into the sport. So I started exploring, you know where could I play table tennis? And I found a few community groups and just honestly just went over and signed up and met some really great individuals, got back into the sport and I was playing kind of like once or twice a week and then naturally I think you start to build up your social communities that way and, interestingly enough, I actually found that there was a lot of overlap between people that were playing table tennis and the tech ecosystem.

Karen Zhang: 5:26

So what became, you know, just going and playing my weekly sessions of table tennis, some of those members. We'd hang out afterwards we'd host dinner parties, board game nights, and then they started making connections and introductions. Because I was quite new to London. They would say, hey, actually I've got this friend that works in this fintech, in this startup should definitely connect you.

Karen Zhang: 5:50

And again, it was just a very organic way of meeting people. It just came from a place of being, you know, interest sports and food and connecting on that level and then from there just make bridging those gaps and then really just, I guess, people paying it forward for me and introducing me to their groups and their friendship circles. And that's, I guess, how I initially started. You know, finding myself in these different groups in London, And then from that point, i started meeting with a lot individuals like yourself. All the times, coordinating , organizing for these communities, finding ways of partnering, supporting. Because big thing for me is how can I be consuming or be part of this community, but how can I actually pay it forward and create something and actually add value to these communities? So that's something that I'm really passionate about now and I'm always looking at ways of how I can integrate and find those cross-sections between personal passions and then actually driving something valuable for those individuals.

Amardeep Parmar: 6:39

One interesting thing there is. You talked about initially doing stuff for a personal reason right, the table tennis, for example. That then becomes a business relationship too, and I think that transition is always interesting. How do you build the trust with somebody, whether it's how do they build the trust with you too, so that you can take it from a friendship or acquaintance to okay, this is something which we should do business together and we can take a bit more. It's obviously a bit more risk, right in some ways, when you're doing a business relationship versus an acquaintance, so how do you build that trust and take it a bit deeper there?

Karen Zhang: 7:11

I think a big thing is obviously that gut feel and I think, naturally, when you just when you've been in the industry for long enough, you start to get a pretty good sense of who you connect with and who can actually build something and create something with. Um, but'd say, another thing is also the power of the ecosystem and word of mouth. So, as an example, looking at my other hat, I look after VC partnerships for Google and within that role I'm supporting VCs, the likes of 8 Adventures, Gaingel s and I was running some events and one event I was hosting was for the Gaingels community and bringing the cohort of founders, angels, investors together for an evening of learning, insights, sharing and the rest. And I met someone at that event who straight away connected with and I thought you know, very interesting individual, has a wealth of background in angel investing, has invested in over 30 different startups globally and, you know, very well versed, very well experienced. I didn't have a good indication of that individual and their background and I wanted to do something with them, I wanted to partner with them. But again, just being quite new and having only just met them, you know, you kind of can't gauge. Do I commit to something and build something with this person.

Karen Zhang: 8:26

But what was quite powerful for me was that after that event, after connecting with them, I ended up speaking to a few other people, noticed that we had mutuals and they all spoke so, so highly of him and talked about the experiences that they had with him and different things, and I think that just really helped me to build trust and that really is the power of your network, right, because it's not what people say when you're in the room, it's what people say about you outside of the room.

Karen Zhang: 8:50

And so that for me was incredibly reassuring, having those other conversations following up and going, wow, this person's an absolute champion, just brings such good energy. And also, following that initial connection that we had, they were really forthcoming with their community and they said, hey, let me help you with X Y Z, let me just, you know, introduce this person, you're working on this partnership, let me, you know, I've got someone that I know there and they were just so open and willing to support and I was like I'm about that, I'm all for paying it forward, so that for me massively built trust and again just having my other contacts, um, kind of reaffirming and saying, yeah, I've worked with them in a really great way. Positive experience that just gave me the trust that I needed to go. Okay, let's do something.

Amardeep Parmar: 9:31

We hope you're enjoying the episode so far. We just want to give a quick shout out to our headline partners, HSBC Innovation Banking. One of the biggest challenges for so many startups is finding the right bank to support them, because you might start off and try to use a traditional bank, but they don't understand what you're doing. You're just talking to an AI assistant or you're talking to somebody who doesn't really understand what is you've been trying to do. HSBC have got the team they've built out over years to make sure they understand what you're doing. They've got the deep sector expertise and they can help connect you with the right people to make your dreams come true. So if you want to learn more, check out hsbcinnovation banking. com.

Amardeep Parmar: 10:08

I've said a call earlier today where there was somebody who said that they did a bit of due diligence on me, where they said somebody recommended us for this event and he said that he then talked about five different people who were all singing our praises for what we built. But it's like you said, people don't realize that that is a quite a common thing, right? A lot of people will check you up. They will see like, oh okay, this person's connected with you and people ask me all the time, right, especially in my position, against in your position too, people be like oh, what's this person like? And if I like the person that's asking me, I'm not going to drop them in, I'm not going to put them into a situation with somebody who I don't think is right for them.

Amardeep Parmar: 10:45

So that trust, which is often private, makes such a difference where, if somebody can vouch for you behind your back, that's the best way, right, people will be nice in front of your face because it's just the nature of the world, right. But if somebody asked me, for example, like oh, this Karen Zhang is messaging me on LinkedIn, what do you think? I'm like? Oh, she talks to me, she's amazing, it helps, right, and along those lines as well, then. So a lot of founders do make a lot of mistakes when trying to build relationships, and it can come off as come off as very inauthentic. What are some of the mistakes that people have made with you or you've seen other people make that you think really hinders this, especially from a founder's perspective?

Karen Zhang: 11:26

I would say that the soft skills are the ones. Other things are the hardest um to teach and I get this constantly within my role because I'm supporting a lot of founders, um and vcs and so naturally I get inundated with LinkedIn outreaches of people that just want to go for a coffee chat or want to book in time with me or just have something really kind of random and obscure, and I want to be nice and I want to, you know, help everyone out there. But the reality is we have a finite amount of time and for me I find it quite frustrating, to be honest, when I when I've received those requests, I actually genuinely I want to help them, but the pitfall is I actually don't have any background of how I can clearly help them. And you want to make sure that you're utilizing someone's time. So if you're a founder and if you're going out to a partner or someone that you're looking to broker introduction, someone that can help you, be really clear on that, ask and and also don't be afraid in being direct in a way that you know you've done your research and you said, hey, I can see that you've got this experience and you volunteered here or you've done some mentoring in this place and you know this person and why that is valuable for you. Because the power you can never discredit, the power of storytelling and that's what I've probably learned within my time is that actually, those personal experiences, those you know, the learnings and challenges that you've had. It's not actually a bad thing to share those, because that builds rapport, builds trust from the other person, it gives them a sense of you and why are you actually going to them, like, why are you actually, you know, cold outreaching, and so I find that incredibly helpful. In the calls and you know, meetings that I've had with people that have reached out to me, you know cold has normally been because of some sort of personal sharing or connection or something that they've, you know, stated in their outreach that I personally connect with and they've spent the five minutes to go. You know, look through my profile or found that mutual and said you know, I actually know this person from university or my previous startup would love to connect, and that just goes to your point. You know the person that you just previously spoke to and did some due diligence, it goes, you know, a long, long way. So I think that's just the only advice and I think a lot of founders would both heed that advice, but also they would also appreciate, because I'm sure they get inundated with, you know, outbounding requests all the time.

Karen Zhang: 13:40

I almost see relationships in this like mental model of like, almost like Venn diagrams in a way, if you imagine, like your personal, professional, and I mean personally between family and friends as well. And I have this reminder as well, because I have a like, a little like um Trinity, not and it always reminds me of those different concentric relationships that I have and also like for me, my, my family, my friends will always come first. I mean, that's just like a like, I think I can call um. But then, beyond that, when it comes to professional relationships, there is a bit of an overlap and what I'm finding especially one of the cultural nuances and differences actually I realized moving from Sydney to London was that there is a lot more overlap and interplay between personal and professional and a lot of the connections that you make. It's like once you connect with someone, you message on whatsapp, you're, you know you're going to seed runs and different, you know activities like that's when you've actually built not just a professional relationship but a personal one.

Karen Zhang: 14:38

Um, for me, in terms of prioritization, I always think about I guess I just kind of go through a list of okay, what are the outcomes that I'm trying to achieve and is there a mutual win-win? Because, to your point, there are so many people that reach out about potential collaborations and events, but the reality is I don't want to be wasting their time and they don't want to be essentially wasting my time. So I find it's incredibly valuable to be clear around. What is it that realistically, you can both achieve? Now, you don't always know that from the get go, and that is part of the, you know, getting to know that person, exploring what opportunities there might be. But for me, I'll prioritize based on that. If there is a clear you know clear immediate outcome that we can both drive together, that's going to take my priority, and so I'll always look at it from a work lens my hat within leading fintechs and then the VC partnerships lens. So if I can provide value in that and there's something tangible that I can drive, I will focus my energy there.

Karen Zhang: 15:33

But then tangentially, if there are, you know, people that have interests or they want to support or they want to learn more or there's something that you know maybe there's some benefit there I also go, you know. You never know when a relationship is going to help out some time down the track. So I always try and pay it forward and even if it's just hey, I can't help you right now, maybe I'm not the right person, but I'm always super open with my network and I'll introduce people and make that connection. So I've done that. You know a lot within now, having worked across different regions making introductions to people back in Australia, people that are looking to expand and grow the business, I'm super, super happy to pay that forward. So that's my kind of thought is again is that kind of that immediate value and just checking with yourself, are you balanced right now? Do you have the capacity? Because that's something with me.

Karen Zhang: 16:19

I always say yes to a lot of things and I guess that's even how we've collaborated in a lot of ways. I've just been super inspired and super taken back um by what you're doing with comedian. I've gone here, let's do this, let's drive this, but I'm always just checking it tying it back. Okay, is there actually an outcome that we can both mutually benefit from? And where am I at the moment in terms of everything else on my plate? So it's look. There's no perfect recipe Amar. I think we're all just trying our best at the end of the day and just um trying to do the right thing right.

Amardeep Parmar: 16:46

And then let's say you've decided somebody is important to maintain a relationship with, right, where you think there's a good outcome for both of you. If you work together, then you like them as a person, you think they're a good person to work with. But when there's so many different things flying all the time right, you're prioritizing and sometimes, after that initial I guess excitement about working together, how do you maintain that in the longer term to make sure that it's not just one event or one small thing that you do together but it's actually a long-term thing that can last for years or even longer than that potentially?

Karen Zhang: 17:19

Yeah, and I'd say that there are that's definitely where you know platforms like social media, Linkedin. All of that is super, super helpful because, realistically, you're one person and you have to scale yourself right. So I find that if there's maybe right person but the opportunity isn't quite there at the moment, what I've found is um personally for me, like I, I do share a lot of events, initiatives and campaigns that I'm driving on Linkedin and I've verbatim gotten feedback from my network that it's been super helpful. You know, sharing um, making those connections, and it might not be right now, but I've had a lot of people that, even since now being in London, have reached out and said hey, I love what you're working on in this community. I've seen you doing awesome stuff here. Can I learn more? And so in the back of their heads they have an idea of what I'm known for. So it might be, you know, fintech, table tennis, vc partnerships, and I also love food and hot pot and all of that, and so when they come to London and if they're looking to introduce someone or there's something around that space, naturally they can just think of myself, and in the same vein that's how I feel towards a lot of my network as well there's probably like three or four things that I really think of clearly about that individual, and so it might not be right now that I'm looking to tap on their shoulder and there's not something immediate that we can partner on, but when that right time comes and something else, something does come up, I know, okay, I can go to this person. So I think it's just being really clear and again, about your messaging that directness being known for something, and again it doesn't have to just be professional, but the personal things. Like, I feel like that's the one advice that I could give to early stage founders, people that are telling their story, pitching that you really want to get a feel of who you are as an individual. Like it's great to know what you're driving within your business and what your IP is, but who are you as an individual? What makes you tick, what are your values, what's important for you? And I find that incredibly interesting. Once I know that about someone that for me really sticks within them. It's like for you. I know that you love Bhangra dancing, so I know that if I ever want to go into Bhangra dancing, I know who to reach out to right. And that's funny because a lot of times association like mental models.

Karen Zhang: 19:21

We think of those things, about someone we don't exactly remember the title of them in that organization or that startup. Necessarily, we remember something uniquely about them and their personality. So I think that's one way again of just nurturing that community and that relationship. And then again, you just never know when something will pop up, and I've had that time and time again where I've had board positions that have come up for me, things on the team, for example, Australia. How that came up, it was someone through LinkedIn that had heard of me, from the grapevine, from my work that I'd done across inter-university and different associations that I was part of, and they tapped me on the shoulder because they'd heard of some of that work.

Karen Zhang: 20:01

So again, you just you never know the power of sharing, and that's why I always say it's just that piece around authenticity and authentic storytelling is don't think of it so much as you know you're trying to be boastful or sharing some sort of accomplishment. Think about you being able to share this experience and what that might mean for someone else that's listening. That might, you know, spark an interest or inspire someone to do something different or for them to reach out. You just never know, um, what that, you know, that connection is going to mean. So, yeah, I just say, you know, utilize platforms like Linkedin up, you know, whatsapp, instagram, whatever platform that your channel that you're using, you know, as a founder, make the most of that because that, um, that is powerful and that will pay dividends and pay in spades in the long term.

Amardeep Parmar: 20:42

I think what's interesting too, is that people forget, for example, LinkedIn. You see, there's way more impressions than there are engagements, for example. But what I often see when I meet people at events they're like oh, I love your LinkedIn stuff. They've never liked it, they've never commented. But that's what happens a lot, where you don't quite realize that actually some people do read your things every single day but they just, for whatever reason they don't like. They don't like anybody's stuff. That's just not their, the way they interact with the platform, and I think a lot of people forget that sometimes. Even if it's not showing up in your stats, there are real people behind that who are seeing it, who potentially could be your next partner. They could be your next investor. There's all these different things that if you keep being consistent, it does pay off, like you said. Just before we move on to quickfire questions, is there anything else on the topic of authentic relationships you want to mention?

Karen Zhang: 21:31

Yeah, I'd say just really around authentic relationships. Just I know this gets used a lot and people talk about, you know, leading with vulnerability and being open, and I genuinely mean that from the bottom of my heart is that don't feel like you need to change who you are. And I can speak about this from a personal note. Being an Asian, relatively young female working in an industry that has historically been very male dominated, I have found myself in environments in instances where I've tried to change myself. I've tried to be more forward, more direct, stronger, more stern, and I've realized over time, you know you don't want to change into the environment that is already there.

Karen Zhang: 22:19

Authenticity means showing up the way that you are right and not being accepted and being recognized for those unique traits and those unique experiences that you've had.

Karen Zhang: 22:29

So my biggest sharing and wish for founders out there, just for anyone really listening to this, is show up as you and don't try and change and fit into something else just because you might not see yourself represented in that environment. That's my one wish. And um, it's daunting for me because I also get super nervous and I sometimes you know I have imposter syndrome, like we all do, but I what really motivates me and keeps you know, inspires me is that maybe by me speaking at this event or taking part in, you know, something like this, as nerve-wracking as it is, that might be inspiring someone else and that, for me, is enough to motivate me to continue on.

Amardeep Parmar:

Well, from our perspective, you've always been incredible, so we always appreciate all your help and everything you've done for us too, and we're gonna have to go to a quick five questions now just for time, but we are in the same meeting office anyway, so the first question is who are three British Asians you think are doing incredible work and you'd love to shout them out?

Karen Zhang: 23:29

Yes, so three British Asians that I would like to shout out firstly be Sirin Cao, who is the co-founder of Mirza. They're building a platform for parents that are looking to go back into the workplace so that they can actually think through and financially plan out their personal lives, professional lives, and I think what she's doing is super profound and powerful for so many individuals. So love what she's doing. I want to give a shout out to Alex Ashford, who's the chief of staff at Continuum.

Karen Zhang: 24:00

She's a close personal friend of mine, but she's just an incredibly inspiring individual. She's a mother of a two-year-old gorgeous son called Arthur, and she inspires me every day to just show up as the baddest individual that she is on a professional level, but also the humility that she shows as a mom and friend, and the final shout out would be I can't say you know, have to put this out there Desigan Chinniah, that's actually how I guess we connected. So Des is someone that is incredibly, incredibly involved in the startup ecosystem and pays it forward and is the epitome of someone that defines community. So huge shout out to you, Des, and for everything that you do in the UK tech scene. So yeah, very happy to be part of this community now as well and having this conversation.

Amardeep Parmar: 24:49

And if people want to find out more about you and what you're up to, where should they go to?

Karen Zhang: 24:51

Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn, Karen Zhang, and yeah, if you want to drop me an email as well, it's just karenzhang@ googlecom. Beyond that, yeah, you can find me on most socials, so drop me a note, but remember, be direct and clear on what the ask is, and I'd be more than happy to connect.

Amardeep Parmar: 25:08

And is there anything that you need help for right now that maybe the audience could help you with?

Karen Zhang: 25:10

At the moment. I'd say I'm always trying to understand what makes founders tick, especially those in the fintech ecosystem, what the challenges are, what they're trying to solve for. So if there's something that is you know that you're really trying to solve for and you might think that Google myself, within my experience, may be able to help with that. feel free to reach out, because that's something that we're constantly striving for, and I would love to see how we can support you and your organization to grow even faster.

Amardeep Parmar: 25:40

So thank you so much for coming on today, Karen, and for all the help and support you've given us as well. Have you got any final words to the audience?

Karen Zhang: 25:46

No, I guess, just keep creating. I think, like my ethos for this year has just been more creation, less consumption. So, yeah, would love to see that, be that um, be it that you're a founder or you know, I see, with an organization, I think there's so many ways that you can show up um and, you know, add to the creation out there. So that's uh, that's one piece and um. Yeah, we're looking forward to more events and collaborating more with the british asian entrepreneurs community. It's been fantastic so far, so really excited for the journey ahead.

Amardeep Parmar: 26:15

Thank you for watching. Don't forget to subscribe. See you next time.

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