Startup Culture

Understanding a Startup’s Ecosystem in Asia; Between Business Failure and Collaboration

The most common question I face when I travel back to India is how different is the startup culture in the West viz-a-viz Asia. Why in Asia, we have less success with new products or new Ideas, and more success with the replication of a western idea for the local market?

In my opinion, Asian enterprises have evolved by looking at West for directions. If we look at our daily working style, we are accustomed to work with limited resources though with a religious focus on getting the job done. In most of the cases, we do not think of finding a better way to do the job, as we wait for pointers from West for a better or a new way.

Inherently, we just play the game with same old ways, rather than trying to change the game. Unfortunately, the current ecosystem in Asia also promotes this philosophy and frowns upon drastic new ways. All new methods are only acceptable, if they have originated from the West.

What we don’t realize is that western countries have the advantage. If we measure on a scale of 10, western countries working style and way of thinking is at 7 and in developing countries at less than 4 (on an average and discounting the rare exceptions). So each time someone at West try’s to take their 7 to the next level, it also makes a good case for others lower on this scale – but when people in developing countries try to take their 4 to the next level, it generally falls short of 8, thereby not being as good as developed world and thus not worthy of emulation.

Western countries have also seen more success because everyone including family, friends and media has been supporting the entrepreneurship zeal from a very long time. Today a successful entrepreneur, is nothing short of a Rock Star in the startup community, and since everyone wants to be a Rock Star, you see lot of people joining the bandwagon, and it’s not just because they get to earn good money (since that comes to very few), but it’s because the adrenaline rush it gives to be part of the startup culture, is bigger than anything else.

Secondly, failure is an acceptable concept in West, as opposed to Asia. We Asians are raised with fear of failure, within the cohesive social environment of family and friends, where success is celebrated and failures are not. Except ‘NASA’ where failure is not an option; Failures are respected and given further opportunities across western countries. AsEdisonfamously said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Looking at the current Asian ecosystem for startups, we find that it is still evolving. We see lot of forums and communities, but they just build links and are pure-play knowledge exchanging communities.

But, what is actually required is an active collaboration and not just sharing of ideas. An ideal ecosystem is where if you have 10 ideas in one place, and someone realizes that 3 are doing similar things, the forum should encourage them to join together for a single cause – a smaller share in a bigger pie. Alternatively, people with same market or customers, but with different ideas, can agree to bundle their services or do an active joint sales. The ecosystem should also help budding entrepreneurs to judge, where they stand on the scale of 10 and the right way forward of getting to 5 or 6, and if the option allows, a direct jump towards 8.

An ecosystem which can promote the acceptability of failure; the idea of active collaboration; the concept that no Idea is perfect and every idea always evolves with time; and that Ideas are transportable across world, but execution always works when tailored to local market; can provide a great impetus to existing entrepreneurs as well as people in waiting, and in time it is very much possible, the next Google or Apple can come from Asia.