A conversation about Entrepreneurship

When teaching in Asia, I saw more “Entrepreneurship” and “Startup” training than any other places but there were not many successful startups happen in Asia. A friend explained: “Most Asian like to dream but not much in action. In our culture, failure is a bad thing. Everybody is afraid of failure so they do not like to take the risk. People dream of being “Bill Gates” or “Steve Jobs” but very few would take the risk of starting their own company. Students enroll in startup class so they can talk about it but a few would dare to do it.”

I was surprised: “In order to succeed, entrepreneurs must be willing to take the risk and failure is a part of learning . All successful entrepreneurs have experienced some failures, including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. No one would start something and succeed immediately. I think every startup training should mention about learning from failure.”

Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network event in New York City. Image: Wikimedia Commons

He said: “Fear of failure is only one of many factors. The other is Asian like to read about things that interested them but they read too much about startup stories so they keep jumping from one idea to another. This lack of focus is a weak point among entrepreneurs as they are often get distracted by another better idea. They never focus on one thing at a time but jumping all over the places to find the best opportunity, but never do anything in particular.”

I told him: “In that case, they need the discipline of focusing on one thing at a time. Of course, they can do something then learning from the experience whether it succeed or fail. Jumping through the startup process without any direction is a guarantee for failure.”

He explained further: “Many entrepreneurs are not serious because they still live with their family and enjoy their support. Because they are not hungry, they do not have the motivation to take the risk. As Steve Jobs often advise: “Be hungry, be foolish.” But they are not hungry like a tiger looking for a prey else, it may die of starvation. To some of them, the startup is just a game that they play but not seriously.”

I laughed: “An entrepreneur who is “comfortable” in life and does not feel the urge to do something will never succeed. The startup is a serious business, not a game to play when you have the time. If they are not frustrated with their job or their life which motivate them to do something then it is a waste of time.”

He added: “But there are other reasons. First, there is limited sharing among entrepreneurs as everybody is hiding their ideas or their work. The environment here is not matured enough as in Silicon Valley when everybody shares their success as well as a failure with others. When you look at the main reason entrepreneurship is not successful here, it is not about the lack of skills or talents, but rather the mentorship and sharing among people. It would take time for the environment to evolve and mature. Maybe in the next few years. The second thing is our education system is many years behind others so what students learn is almost obsolete. To succeed in a start-up business, they must have the knowledge and skills in emerging technology, not something a few years old. For example, some entrepreneurs are planning to launch an online business or creating websites when the world is moving to Artificial intelligence and Quantum computing. We cannot promote a startup industry and develop more entrepreneurs based on an archaic education system like what we have now. Even there are a few smart entrepreneurs who learn these new skills from MOOCs or online tutorials and doing well, but they are the minority. To develop a large scale startup environment that can impact the entire economy, we need to change our education system first.”

I told him: “I completely agree with you. Without a proper education system. Startup business cannot be accomplished.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

You may like