As the Head of the Office of the CEO and a Director of Corporate Development at Element AI, Alex Shee leads the company’s strategic partnership and investment initiatives. With a background in mergers and acquisitions law and venture investing, he brings a focused energy and passion to helping companies develop transformative AI business applications.
As one of Element AI’s first hires, he has been integral to the company’s rapid growth in Asia, having helped establish offices in Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo. Since 2017, he has also contributed to the company’s investment in OmniRobotic, partnership with Automat and joint venture with Takano, as well as the creation of a $45M global AI fund to accelerate open AI innovation with Hyundai, SKT and Hanwha.
An adventurer at heart, Alex enjoys taking on big challenges (like climbing to the 17,600 ft. Mt. Everest base camp) and brings this same drive to amplifying Element AI’s impact on people's lives around the world. An active member of the startup community, he co-founded Montreal’s Notman House Young Founders Circle, as well as Product Hunt MTL. He has also been a mentor at FounderFuel, TechStars, Innocité, and Hacking Health Accelerator programs, coaching over forty startups.
1. Let’s start with the basics. What are you doing now? In a sentence or so, describe your work/practice(s).
I work at Element AI as Head of the Office of the CEO and Director of Corporate Development. What that tangibly means is that I work on 3 main pillars: first, strategic partnerships, the second is mergers and acquisition and the third is overall strategy of the company.
2. Did you always imagine yourself going to law school?
No, I had no idea that I was going to go to law school. When I was in CEGEP, I had a political science professor that came to me one day and said, “Alex, I think given the type of interest you have and the kind of work you want to do, I think you’d be a really good fit for McGill Law and law school”. He handed me a reference letter. Law was not on my radar, but I respected this professor, so I looked into it. I wanted to have a career in something that had a direct and positive impact on people’s lives. Law school became obvious choice for that. Given McGill’s focus on human rights and the intersection between society and law, I thought it was super interesting and that’s why I decided to go to law school.
3. At what moment did you realize you wanted to take your legal education and career in your own direction?
It was after a year of practicing as a lawyer in corporate law that I realized that I didn’t see myself having a career in law. I started exploring what my other interests were and I quickly discovered that I really loved working with entrepreneurs and with start-ups. I started reorienting my practice in the law firm around helping start-ups. A few of those companies did really well. After one of the financings, the investors called me and said, “Would you like to join us?” I thought it was a joke. I told him I didn’t want to do a legal role if I changed jobs. He said, “That’s exactly why I was calling. I’d love for you to join our investment team.”
So I did 7 interviews and one case study in two weeks and then I got a job offer to work in venture capital at Real Ventures.
4. What were the steps you took and opportunities you seized in order to get where you are?
One of the most important things is that I actually followed my interests. While I was a lawyer, I was able to discover that I liked to work with start-ups. Because I liked to work with start-ups I did more and more work with them. I really followed my interests and that led me on the path to become an investor and now to work in a start-up.
I was very honest with myself and I figured, “Ok. I want to have a direct and positive impact on people’s lives. I want to operate in a business. So what can I do that will allow me to accomplish both?” I feel that start-ups often times create innovative products and shape new ways of looking at the world. They’re often a vehicle for really great positive impact. For me it became obvious by following my interests that I could get to a point where I was actually doing something that fulfilled my objectives.
5. What makes your current practice “lawfully uncommon”?
It’s not in law. I do no more legal work. I work in a field that is completely different than what I studied, artificial intelligence but it’s something I feel will have a tremendous impact on the world around us. I want to help shape it to have a positive impact on the world.
6. Is there anyone influential in your life that helped you realize your goals? Mentors or role models in the field that inspired you?
A few people inspired me. I think my biggest mentors were actually my peers. People around me inspire me with their small acts of courage. I am always motivated by people that stand up for what they believe or take the path which is more difficult to fulfil their objectives and potential.
7. What got your juices flowing or tickled your fancy while at law school?
I loved participating in student run activities. I was president of the LSA, I was involved in a ton of different extra-curricular and fundraising activities. I liked anything that had to do with meeting people with different perspectives than myself. I love debating and discussing new ideas. I also loved giving back to my peers and the community. That’s what I found fascinating and that’s what got my juices flowing.
8. What made your blood boil or made you snooze while at law school?
Civil law obligations in second year made me fall asleep. I was not a big fan. I think it was on Thursday mornings. I’m not a morning person so that wasn’t necessarily the best for me. That was not the thing that woke me up.
9. Were there challenges you faced in the transition from law school to the profession?
There’s a lot of differences between law school and private practice or even what I’m doing now. What was difficult was applying the frameworks that I learned in law school into real world situations and finding solutions that were different and imaginative. But I feel that I had the foundations to do that because of law school. For me it’s always been a really good tool. The actual material I learned in law school was less important than the way I thought about the world, the way I wrote and the way that I am now able to view problems and solutions.
10. Do you still see the law all around you?
No. I see a lot of different things around me. I see law as a tool and sometimes as a constraint, but I don’t see it all around me. I actually see a world, especially in the AI field, that has yet to define its limits.
11. What advice would you give to a first-year law student?
Be honest with yourself. Discover what you’re passionate about, go deep into that, and then try to meet people outside of your immediate environment that can teach you about that field.
12. If you were given the blessing and curse of an extra hour every day to do whatever you wanted, what would it be?
Help other people. If I could have one hour every day and I would know that it would be dedicated to doing something on a regular basis, I would try and help people within my community and do more community work.
13. Any regrets?
None. I feel really lucky because I feel like every time I felt like I needed to do a change I’ve taken it, and when I don’t know something I learn. It’s given me tons of opportunities but no major regrets.