Talking Points: Entrepreneurship Isn’t For Everyone
Talking Points is a semi-regular series where we highlight some of the key topics discussed at a Generation T keynote, fireside chat or panel discussion.
What will the cities of the future look like, and how can they best serve their citizens? Hong Kong’s annual Future City Summit aims to answer these questions and more by bringing together experts who face these issues daily.
A total of 200 delegates from 24 countries—young leaders in academia, government and business—came together at Cyberport to collaborate, build networks and find solutions for the future.
Generation T partnered with the organisers to host a panel discussion at the summit, “Entrepreneurship For All”, featuring Gen.T listers Peggy Choi and Tony Verb.
The conversation delved into the future of entrepreneurship, the changing nature of work, and what can be done to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship across the socio-economic spectrum. The core question on the table: can entrepreneurship really be for all?
Tony Verb is an entrepreneur, impact investor, and even a film producer. Last year, Verb launched GreaterBay Ventures and Advisors, an investment firm addressing urbanisation and mega-cities from an angle of positive impact.
Peggy Choi is on a mission to democratise access to knowledge. Her platform Lynk builds bridges between entrepreneurs and the expertise they need to drive them forward. Businesses of all sizes, from multinationals to startups, can connect with experts for consultations, advice or mentorship.
Jay Fajardo is a serial entrepreneur with a decades-long history of disruption. His recent initiatives include development lab Proudcloud and healthtech startup Medifi. He’s also the programme director of Launchgarage, a Philippines-based startup accelerator, and a prominent thought leader in Manila’s tech scene.
Here are the highlights from their discussion.
We need to talk more about the “hidden pains” of entrepreneurship
Jay “The media shows you the glamorous side of entrepreneurship, but there’s a lot of hidden pain.”
Peggy “There are a lot of positive things—you can really drive change and create impact as an entrepreneur. But the reality is, behind the scenes, there are a lot of struggles too.
It’s a lifestyle choice, in a lot of ways, because building a business from scratch when you have nothing is really difficult. A lot of people don’t realise there’s a lot of pain behind that glossy front. But at the same time, the reason we’re doing this is because we truly believe in what we’re doing, and we’re willing to take on the pain to do that.”
As well as the hidden dangers
Tony “The mental health side is something people don’t discuss. It’s important to talk about the fact that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with depression and loneliness—it can be an extremely dark path to go down. Depression is the disease of the 21st century. If you are an entrepreneur, where your survival depends on your ability to motivate others, to sustain a framework—where you don’t just have to get to a job at 9am and get through the day—your pure existence can be on the brink. This magnifies everything.
As a consequence, having a strong mentor network and making sure you keep your human connections strong, even when you’re hustling the most, is the preventative way to deal with it. I previously made the mistake of ignoring these personal relationships myself—that’s how I know.”
Successful entrepreneurs overcome these struggles and more
Jay “To succeed, you dig deep into your passion for your product. [Plus, successful entrepreneurs] have that DNA where you’re belligerent. You have to be belligerent, otherwise you’d give up at the first sign of a negative comment. Balancing it out though is the ability to discern [useful] critique.”
But not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur
Tony “People like Gary Vaynerchuk are inspiring [with the message that] ‘It’s all about the hustle,’ but hustle is not enough. People tend to believe that if you work hard enough, success will come. But sometimes success never comes.
If you’re doing it because you want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg then you’re doing something wrong. It must be because you have an idea, you want to be independent, you don’t care what other people say, and for you it’s worth the sacrifices. And you need to be prepared that maybe you won’t get the million-dollar rewards that everyone is dreaming about. Many people along the journey will have to make peace with the fact that they are not the entrepreneurial type.”
See also: I Am Generation T: Peggy Choi
And yet, more people than ever dream of becoming a self-made success
Jay “The dot-com boom convinced people that you could make millions of dollars based on an idea on a napkin. There was some temperance after it all crashed, but that residue still exists.
The message is that you don’t have to be an Ivy League graduate or work in Wall Street to be rich. That’s the dream, and it’s now [even more pronounced] because of the cryptocurrency phenomenon.”
Tony “Entrepreneurship has been around forever. Since the industrial revolution, entrepreneurs have been celebrated. Railway tycoons were celebrated, Rockefeller was celebrated—Al Capone as an entrepreneur was celebrated.
The real change is that now the resources and knowledge [for entrepreneurs] are more accessible. These platforms and institutions didn’t exist decades ago. Technology has democratised access to successful entrepreneurial paths—and that’s a great thing.”
See also: Tony Verb Might Be One Of Hong Kong’s Most Inspiring Social Entrepreneurs. Just Don’t Call Him That
But you don’t have to found a company to be an entrepreneur
Peggy “When I worked in finance, one of my bosses at Goldman Sachs was a partner by the age of 32. How? He created his own division. He came up with an idea for a new product, pitched it and became the head of this new division he created. That entrepreneurial approach fast-tracked his path—even within a large firm like Goldman.
If you see something that doesn’t work or needs change, you should find a way to take that risk to try to perfect it. If you’re able to succeed, that’s entrepreneurship—and that’s how you can create your own opportunities within a large organisation.
For me, the idea of ‘entrepreneurship for all’ is about the entrepreneurial mindset. You can have that whether you start your own company or you’re part of a team. My company Lynk is not just about me. I’m not the only entrepreneur in the team. Everyone in my company is an entrepreneur, because everyone in the team is creating something new within their respective areas.”
Whichever direction you take, it’s a strong sense of purpose that will drive you to success
Peggy “When we started Lynk we knew the ultimate goal—to democratise access to expertise—but the path to get there wasn’t clear. It’s like sailing. I know where I want to go, but the ocean is so big and there are so many waves. I can chart a path on a map, but stuff’s going to happen along the way [to throw us off course]. So how can I steer towards our goal so I don’t drown?
Having a clear sense of purpose, our ‘why’, helped us a lot. It also helped me communicate the vision to my own team. [Modern philosopher Simon Sinek’s] concentric circles of ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’ really helped us in our communications both internally and externally. Always start with the ‘why.’”