TechCrunch covered a post on Marc Andreessen’s thoughts about the tech scene in Beijing almost a month ago.
Two things were brought up on this page: one from Marc Andreessen and one from NicholasMarx in the comments sections. Both points were on point.
The first was by Marc who says that, on the surface, a lot of the planets are aligning with one another to set the foundation for a tech startup ecosystem—or a startup ecosystem in general. One of the major things that needs to be fixed before really building one, however, is the alignment of law and entrepreneurship. This is definitely true. Especially in South Korea, where the tech juggernauts: Samsung and LG have been developed the past few decades with a lot of under-the-table help from the government—to the point where its heads of state had multiple charges brought against them. (Or does that just mean the US judicial system sucks?)
It will be well within Samsung and LG’s rights to take whatever they want from entrepreneurs and, I say this confidently, the government will be of little help in terms of protection of intellectual property. At least right now.
The last century hasn’t really been friendly to the major countries of Yellow Asia: China, Japan, and Korea. There was zero stability politically, socially, and economically. The Western Hemisphere just doesn’t know much about it because, let’s face it, no one cares. There’s U.S. History, European History, but no Asian History unless a student wants to take it as an elective in college.
The one Asian country that was prospering and really taking over everyone else was Japan, until it depleted its resources, had its cities nuked, and was strategically cornered from a war perspective. China took some time to recover (and strict communism under Mao didn’t help). Korea’s identity was wrecked. For half the century, Japan tried to effectively dissolve Korean culture and heritage. Since the Korean War, America’s involvement in setting up a democratic government was upheld by trial and error. Rising companies were given a lot of help from the government to encourage economic growth.
I think understanding how history affected our culture and thought process today helps in understanding the second reason.
This one is a biggie I think Marc missed from this article was brought up by a non-Asian participant regarding the culture of Asian society. And that’s the risk factor. I couldn’t agree more that that’s really the biggest factor.
In the startup space, you will see a ton of Asian engineers (Science + Math: when was there a shortage of Asians here?) but not as many Asian entrepreneurs. The many entrepreneurs out there were raised in a home with parents who had a relatively looser grip on their children than traditional Asian parents. There’s a very real idea of having to outdo the previous generation’s financial wealth in Asian society and many of us were programmed to spit out the right answers rather than expressing our thoughts. While I may have personal reservations about some of the disorders categorized in DSM-V, Asian diagnoses on learning disorders are little to non-existent.
There are many Asian doctors and lawyers but not many of us are actually innovating in our respective spaces. Samsung is doing some really cool things with their smartphones but they aren’t quite changing the game. The consumer mobile phone was a game changer. Samsung just kept making them smaller. The first iPhone was a game changer. Samsung just kept improving on the existing platform. So far, Samsung’s offerings have been impressive, not innovative; it’s been more of a “This is really cool” than a “How did I live without this?” If Samsung can squash entrepreneurs from competing with them domestically, it’s tough for them to be competitive in the innovation space.
On a more personal level, two experiences come immediately to mind. Last year, I received a ton of flack from my mom when I quit my full-time job, convinced I belonged in a startup—preferably to learn first then potentially start my own. In our small, little world, I was insane and out of my mind. My mom’s frustration with me was similar to what I would imagine her reaction would be if I left everything to join some cult that lived in the woods. Especially with the language barrier between us (my level of Korean probably equals about a 2nd grader), it took a lot of patience and faith from both of us to make this happen. It wasn’t until I was hired full-time that she began to see that the risk was worth it—more for my mental stability and happiness than the financial safety.
I remember during Thanksgiving dinner of 2012, when I had just begun helping Alex with his BD pipeline, I was sitting with a few members of my extended family and my aunt turned to me (she works at LVMH) to ask what I was doing interning for a startup. She asked me whether I was sure this was what I wanted to do—if this were the company for me. She questioned my thought process—more out of doubt than out of concern. I affirmed that it was the right move for me and changed the subject.
It’s tough for many in cultures that had not seen as much prosperity as America has. Even during its economic struggles, the whole NSA debacle, and its sleeping in the same bed with conglomerates like GE, America still stood multiple steps ahead of other countries to facilitate such a boom in entrepreneurship. I still do think there’s hope for a movement that leads to an international equivalent of Silicon Valley, but like all things new, it’s going to take a ton of heavy lifting and tireless work.
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