Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same amount of time it takes to sit through a 2-minute speed date.
On the surface, Conrad Ho wears the veneer of a rather unassuming fellow. A man with a penchant for unbranded polos, khakis, or simple activewear, he is consistently poised and well-spoken, his speech peppered with gentle self-deprecation or bouts of seemingly random knowledge about the ways of the world. Digging deeper, you come to learn that Ho’s casual, external disposition hides a tenacious ambition and earnest intellect.
“We’re trialing this new management philosophy,” Ho reveals. “It’s called the 20% time concept, initially popularised by Google. The practice is to allow employees to spend one day a week working on a self-motivated project that benefits the company. This allows our team more freedom to create, all in the hopes of keeping them motivated in their jobs and the industry.”
Ho’s passion lies deeply in empowering the startup community, both from the perspective of an investor and as a technical founding team member. A partner of PythonAnywhere, he is active across the global open-source data science communities, speaking in and chairing various international conferences championing both technology and entrepreneurship.
“We hope to democratise access to programming via our in-browser platform to write and run Python code online,” he shares. “Our users may not have powerful computers, or large supporting teams, and some are educational institutions unable to setup and maintain complex programming environments for their students. We help level the playing field for our 420,000 users. We also host 190,000 websites and respond to 50 million hits a day.”
With so much already on his plate, one would not fault Ho for taking a breather. Instead, he is pushing forward with several ongoing projects, one being GRADIA, a diamond grading platform that he founded with his good friend Anthony Choi.
“Anthony has over 10 years of experience in diamond jewelry manufacturing and retail,” Ho explains. “The industry wastes over five billion USD a year sourcing smaller diamonds. What we do is combine diamond grading with blockchain technology to modernise the trade. This was technologically infeasible a couple years ago.”
In layman’s terms, GRADIA offers a paperless verification system from three independent laboratories, ensuring fair and accurate results. The main laboratory pre-grades and pre-sorts the stones, shortening what would typically take weeks to mere days. This allows manufacturers and retailers to buy and sell diamonds faster, safer, and cheaper.
But it doesn’t take a master gemologist to see one thing clearly: The future looks bright for Conrad Ho.
Name: Conrad Ho
Neighbourhood: Central / Sai Wan
Occupation: Partner at PythonAnywhere, Founder of GRADIA
1. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Night owl by nature, 24/7 by necessity.
2. Which phone app do you think more people should know about?
3. Who is your role model?
My grandpa. He came to Hong Kong with just cents in his pocket, worked hard, grasped opportunities and built great friendships. I love going to different locations in our city and hearing him reminisce about the adventures he had there. He is also fond of telling me that his umbrella is older than me.
4. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
Cuba while it’s still authentic. It’ll be the perfect place to get out of my comfort zone and take some street photography.
5. How often do you prepare your own meals?
Once in a blue moon!
6. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
Sometimes I binge sci-fi and fantasy novels, suspend belief for a bit, and go down into the rabbit hole.
7. What is your typical Sunday like?
Sunday is family time for me. It’s a big part of Hong Kong Cantonese culture to do dim-sum with family on weekends, and I try hard to keep that tradition. Afterwards we go to the wet markets to buy fish and whatnot for dinner.
8. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?
Too many to choose from. Hoping the best one is yet to come!
9. What is your unique party trick?
Playing chess blindfolded against two people. To clarify, they do need to tell me their moves!
10. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
I have this grand plan to work remotely and rotate between Hong Kong, London, Vancouver, and one other city, spending three months in each city each year. Still working towards that.
11. What is one song you know all the lyrics to?
I once learned how to rap ‘Lose Yourself’ by Eminem to win a bet. Pretty rusty now.
12. What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Spending time at my cousins’ house – Easter egg hunts, Christmas parties. Looking back, our parents showered us with so much love, and my cousins always pushed me to try something new; learning to ride a bike, play chess, play the piano, play hockey, my first time on a trampoline and all the fun times that I look back on now and laugh at. On my first attempt to ski and to just “learn as you go”, I was not prepared for the harder slopes at all and ended up forcing everyone to walk back up the hill with me. I count myself very lucky to be so close to my cousins.
13. What is one thing you’ve never revealed to your parents?
As a kid, my sister once crawled out onto the roof and almost fell off. Our grandma found her and coaxed her back, but it was our secret that we never told our parents about until in the recent years.
14. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had, what is one important lesson that they taught you?
Mr Sumner, my high school teacher. He had this child-like curiosity that pushed us to explore new things. He shaped my passion for math and chess then, and also inspires me to take the more adventurous path today.
15. Have you ever experienced love at first sight? Tell us about it.
My first love. Smart, pretty, and eloquent; I have her to thank for encouraging me to explore the arts. We first locked eyes at a friends’ gathering, and after some fun banter we all went clubbing where she actually proceeded to discuss a math problem she was working on with me. It was so cute and magical but I was no help solving the equation!
16. How many countries have you been to?
33 and counting. I once had to travel to nine cities in a month. Nowadays I like taking it slow, spending multiple weeks to soak up everything and explore opportunities there.
17. What would you do if you won the lottery?
I like the way my life is now! Sure, I might upgrade certain things, but I’d still be spending time with the same people, and working on the same projects that excite me.
18. What’s the best or worst career advice you’ve ever received?
I wanted to be a mathematician. My mom told me to choose again.
19. What energises you about your work?
There are times when nothing works, and suddenly, something just clicks and you know you just fixed everything. When you achieve that state of flow; when you are in the zone, time flies and you feel on top of everything. One very cool aspect of technical engineering work is that you get to experience euphoria once or even multiple times a day.
20. What’s your favourite tradition?
Morning strolls with my grandpa.
21. When was the last time you felt starstruck?
Magnus Carlsen, the current chess world champion. I played in the 2018 European Club Cup and played table tennis with him, on his team!
22. What’s a relationship deal breaker for you?
Not being passionate about anything.
23. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done, and why?
Starting GRADIA, and going from math and finance to tech and diamonds.
24. If you could snap your fingers and fix one thing about the world, what would it be?
Education. I believe that giving people from all walks of life the opportunity to learn and up-skill themselves is the most impactful way to make the world a better place.
25. What is your favourite sport?
Wakeboarding and wakesurfing.
26. Your go-to coffee order?
Espresso. Cold brew during a summer heatwave.
27. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?