You have to visit but one of the numerous coworking spaces popping up around the region to bump into people like Nilesh, a first time founder of an IoT start-up in Mumbai or Cathy, a rookie growth manager at a fintech start-up in Hong Kong or even Gary, a junior employee at an ecommerce start-up in Singapore. They all have one in thing in common: just a couple of years ago, they would have chosen a career path that was classically regarded as respectable in Asian culture. Their dream is no longer to be a doctor, engineer or lawyer; it’s to be the founder of the next billion-dollar start up, a unicorn or whatever the Asian version of that might be (a horned dragon?).
They face one nagging question from their peers, friends and family: how do you know that what you do is right? Will it lead to anything? As the Cathys and Garys build towards the next percentage of market share, they’ve embraced a life of endless hustle and boundless optimism. That’s needed. The path to unicorn-status or a successful exit is a journey of a thousand miles and one that needs to be cleared, step-by-step. The big uncertainty for many however lies between the first and last step. What about step twenty, fifty and hundred on this journey? That’s the uncertainty of start-up life. But should the path really be this opaque for Asian startups? Where is the ecosystem in mentors, known successful peers or readily available VC money to support these guys?
In many ways, it makes me think of that now famous TED talk from Derek Sivers on leadership. His TED talk is centered on the clip of a lone dancing nutcase at a music festival who attracts a huge crowd around him through his dancing. Sivers explains that it is the first follower who transforms a shirtless dancing guy into a leader. The lesson we take is that even the most fearless nutcase needs a little bit of help. And that it’s the supporters, not the leaders themselves who turn bemused spectators into a community and movement.
In some ways, the start-ups in Asian cities around the region are not unlike a group of disparate shirtless dancing guys. We need shirtless dancing guys like Nilesh, Cathy and Gary and then some. But in order for East-Asian startups to compete with an ecosystem like Silicon Valley, we need more than that. We need to go beyond just our respective cities like Singapore, Hong Kong and Mumbai. For Nilesh, Cathy and Gary to succeed, we need a developed support network, which can help with connections, funding and advice. We need more conferences, more funding and more people to share insights and best practices from other people in the region. Who’s prepared to do their part and potentially ridicule themselves together with all these shirtless dancing guys?
Our five cents is a project called GrowthKungFu, a platform to tell Asian growth stories. GrowthKungFu brings the growth community across Asia together and gives its new members the relatable, qualitative and actionable insights they desperately need to grow. We want to be shirtless dancing guy’s first follower. What will you do?
About the author
Pritish Sanyal and Wai Hoi Tsang are the founders of GrowthKungFu, a platform to share growth stories and insights from start-ups in Asia.