When you think of an entrepreneur, who do you think of? Elon Musk? Jack Dorsey? What about Eric Yuan? If you are like most people, you would have a tough time naming one Asian American entrepreneur. You are not alone, but why? Do we genuinely lack entrepreneurs of Asian decent in the US? Are they just not visible? Let’s explore some of my thoughts on this topic.
Here are 5 reasons why we don’t see Asian American entrepreneurs:
1. CultureAs an Asian American myself, born in South Korean but educated in the United States since kindergarten, my culture was deeply rooted inConfucianism traditions. As the son of immigrant parents, safety and stability was key in making sure a good education in order to get land a good job was seen as a way to secure my future. Risk taking was not an option. Self-constraint, being proper, and living harmoniously were key beliefs. This culture and the desire of obtaining the American Dream pre-2000’s did not foster becoming an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs were the people who couldn’t be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. If you studied and worked hard in your job, you can achieve success through a “prestigious” profession. Entrepreneurs couldn't cut it was the belief. So as one deeply reflects on this cultural attitude at the time, does it still exist? Does our younger Asian American generation still think this way. The good news is that this is changing. When thinking about making an impact for good to the world, there is no better way than to create companies, employee people and give them fulfilling lives to create products and services that can help our generations to come. Yes companies will come and go but let’s see more created by Asian American entrepreneurs and he can list them along with Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.
Similar to culture, family is everything. Making sure your parents, siblings, even your relatives were well taken care of was always on your mind. There is always a drive to achieve success so you want make them proud but also take care of them. Shame to your family came if you did something that your family didn’t approve of, and they definitely wouldn't approve finishing college or dropping out to pursue entrepreneurship. There was fear of how your entire family would be shamed if you failed. With such backdrop, there would be tremendous pressure to follow the path of greatest stability and not risk bringing shame to the family. Being an entrepreneur is filled with risk, risk of failure, risk of not being able to make money, risk of a stable future. This is changing with the second and even third generation Asian American. For the first or 1.5 generation, our parents brought us here to achieve success but many of us did but we are still the “sandwich” generation who needs to support our parents and our kids. The good news is that our kids will not have the same pressures as we have, and we can be supportive of what they want to purse. This is the greatest things we can do for our kids.
We all want to make money. Lots of it. We think about how we can achieve that to either sustain or have a lifestyle we want. Having individual success in a sustainable income is highly sought after. As Asians, we think about “What can I do” to make that happen. We don’t really focus on how do “we” do that to make that happen. Being able to control my own destiny and not depend on others is prevalent. Being an entrepreneur means that you need to depend on others. Very few start-up can sustain being a one-person shop. You need to have teams, you need to network, you need to bring in people with talent and those that align with your mission and vision. This takes work; real work. It relies heavily on skills we many have today but skills we need to learn and develop. Relationship skills, selling skills, communications skills, empathy, etc…. These cannot be learn from reading books, you need to get out there an be vulnerable. It takes time and effort and lots of failure and as Asians, we don’t like failure of any kind. Yes we can learn from them, but when it happens, it doesn't feel good. We want to try to avoid it.
4. Role Models
This to me is the chicken or the egg syndrome. We don’t have enough Asian American role models that our younger generation can point to and say, “I want to be this person.” A rock star caliber entrepreneur. There are many that probably exist that we don’t know about so it’s hard to relate. There are many Asian Americans who have achieve professional success through the companies they have been employed by and we tend to admire them for their individual professional success based on the big job they had in corporate America. This is great and we need more of them but we need to see prominent Asian American entrepreneurs who want to be known, who want to inspire and who we can point to as role models for future Asian American entrepreneurs. Any they need to be visible so when a student says he or she want to be an entrepreneur just like this person, his or her parents also know, understand, and support.
The ultimate benefit of being an entrepreneur as explained to my own son and the many students whom I teach in school is that you can create jobs and help our economy. You can really help drive change in society through your position and what you can give back and communicate. This is “the voice.” Being able to stand out and stand up. Willing to take your position and speak your mind given the platform of achievement. Yes you can achieve great professional success and achieve the American dream but we need to think about how we can leave the world a better place after we are gone for more than just your family. Persistent and sustainable way to to create companies and really make a difference to the generations ahead by offering careers, professional development, and help drive change are key ways to do this.
In summary we need more Asian American entrepreneurs, we need them to be visible, we need them to speak up and use their platform for job creation and change. Each of you reading this should support your children to become future successful entrepreneurs whom we can admire.
The following article should be read as an op-ed and should not be construed as investment advice.
The investment banks and traditional financial institutions of the world aren’t necessarily known for innovation, but they are rapidly trying to change that perception. Even Square, which is large financial institution that doesn’t have a multi-century legacy, is growing through acquisition. 2021 has been an exciting year thus far in FinTech acquisitions, and here are the Top 3 interesting FinTech Acquisitions on our list:
$29B USD Acquisition of Afterpay (ASX: APT) by Square (NYSE: SQ)According to the statement on Square’s website, Afterpay enables 16 million customers to pay over 100,000 merchants globally increments of money over 6 weeks with no interest on products they can’t pay in full at the time of purchase. What’s curious is that those numbers do not match the numbers on Afterpay’s website, which states 14.6 million customers and 85k brands. My hunch says that Square may have inflated Afterpay’s user numbers a bit to make the $29Billion Acquisition look more reasonable, but even at 16 million users, Square is paying $147 per existing user essentially for Afterpay.
$29B is a lot to pay considering Afterpay’s “Buy Now, Pay Later” or BNPL is just a modern reinvention of traditional credit. There are many other solutions on the marketplace to help people buy things they can’t yet afford, but Afterpay is just that irresistible mint-colored button next to the “Buy Now” button on a shop’s website that also happens to promise zero interest for 6 weeks (and a cap of 25% in fees on late payments). Even if the customer pays on time every time, Afterpay can also makes money from merchants in the form of pay-per-click advertising.
The acquisition was announced on Aug 1st, 2021. Square’s stock went from $247 on Friday July 30th to $272 on Monday August 2nd, which shows that shareholders and investors are optimistic. It’s going to take some time to see how the integrations between Square and Afterpay lead to revenue generating synergies.
$2.15B Acquisition of Tink by Visa (NYSE: V)Never head of Tink? Neither have I — until Visa bought this Swedish based FinTech company that empowers financial institutions, primarily banks in Europe, to make data-driven decisions based on financial data on millions of customers. I have read a number of vague descriptions about what Tink does — It sounds both creepy and cool, but I can’t decide if it is creepier than it is cool.
The funny thing about this acquisition is that Visa originally intended to buy US based startup Plaid, which basically does the same thing as Tink, but was stopped by US anti-trust regulations. The acquisition of Plaid was announced at $5.3 Bil in cash, which is significantly higher than the acquisition of Tink at $2.15B. The regulations regarding financial data and anti-trust are different in Europe than in the USA, which may explain why Tink will remain Stockholm based post-acquisition. Although there is way less overlap in geography between Visa and Tink versus Visa and Plaid, maybe this may be a chance for Visa to further expand in the European market.
In the Open Banking Fintech space, there’s a lot of competition: Aiia, Plaid, Tink, Yapily, Railsbank — the list goes on. Without apples to apples KPIs on these companies, it’s hard to say which one is the most differentiated, but perhaps with the infusion of cash, network, and resources from Visa, Tink may be poised to grow exponentially and take market share in this space — that is, unless regulations about financial data change.
$2.24B Acquisition of GreenSky (NASDAQ: GSKY) by Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS)On Sept 15, 2021, the Wall Street giant announced an all stock acquisition of GreenSky, which has grown from 10,000 home improvement merchants at the time of the announcement to 16,000 merchants today, which two months later in Mid-November based on the latest counts on GreenSky’s website.
GreenSky and Afterpay both offer financing on a platform with terrific UI/UX experience. While Afterpay is retail and online shopping focused, GreenSky is focused on much larger and less frequent purchases. GreenSky first built their foothold in Home Improvement and become the largest player in the home improvement financing space. Since the Acquisition by Goldman, they have expanded into Healthcare as well, and also has a merchant growth of 60% in two months since the Acquisition by Goldman Sachs.
Home Improvement contractors represent a heavily fragmented industry, with a lot of family business and smaller business that specialize by trade that lack the economy to scale to build the in-house online financing tools that a car dealerships have, which makes home improvement companies a prime target to build a niche in for GreenSky.
On September 14, Greensky was trading at $7.77 a share. After the announcement, Greensky jumped to $11.90 a share. During the same time period shares of Goldman Sachs went from $403.69 to $401.95. GreenSky stockholders will receive .03 shares of GS for 1 share of GSKY.
I can’t tell you how many startup founders I talk to that can’t wait until they are acquired. I mean, I get it. I like a good payday as much as the next person.
While M&A valuations — figuring out the mix between cash/stock — is a tricky art & science, the post-acquisition activities of merging teams and corporate cultures can prove to be a bigger hurdle. Plus, there are forces beyond the company’s control, such as changes in regulations and competitive landscape.
It is too early to tell if the following FinTech acquisitions actually lead to revenue generating synergies, as many of these Acquisitions have a runway of years before they pay off. Perhaps even the acquirers are thinking along macro trends of — “Buy Now, Pay Later”.
Just like many folks before me, I came to the US from a country called Burma because clearly, I was too young and could not overthrow the authoritarian junta there. Hence, the easier option is to search for a new home and freedom of course. Being an immigrant and exploring the nits and gritty of entrepreneurship in the US has been quite a journey so far, and hence I want to build a community to help people like myself, connect and network with other like-minded folks online and offline to build things that matter instead of running circles on the corporate wheel like little hamsters.
I have done my fair share of running on the wheel at Goldman Sachs, Federal Reserve, and Exelon previously as a tech auditor and learned a thing or two about consumer technology thanks to Marcus and Apple Card. The pay was an average tech salary, maybe above average since I deal with cyber security mostly, but things get really boring to a point that I started feeling everyone around me is pretending to make big deals out of ordinary and mundane activities just to keep their sanity. So, I reached a point where I decided to leave New York to embark on a new adventure helping family office investments back in Burma instead.
However, I quickly realized that family offices are also not my type of jam and I’d rather live in New York than anywhere else in the world, not even Bangkok could keep me happy or feel at home. That’s when it hits me that I have spent all my adult life in the US that I just wanted to go back home while being at my literal home (birthplace). Luckily, there was a seat left on an emergency flight back to the US from South Korea and I got myself back to New York after spending 5 months in Burma and Thailand while narrowly avoiding the apocalyptic New York rampaged by the pandemic during that time. One interesting thing to note is that I did some research into microenterprise home kitchen concept/proliferation for my family office role and noticed similar patterns in the US. As an aspiring VC (at that time) I did my research into the US cottage laws and food delivery industry for deal pipelines, so I am no stranger to the numbers and signals in the industry at least.
To cut to the chase, I would like to share some perspectives on why I started Syr after coming back to New York after the impromptu adventure. Syr is a peer-to-peer marketplace for food where people can cook and sell food locally. In the US, the average cost of opening a restaurant is about $375,000 and the cost of starting a food truck is right around $50,000 — $175,000 depending on the location. Syr serves as an incubator for people who want to start their own food businesses with less than $1,000 cost to start.
Syr is committed to serving as a platform that manages microenterprise kitchen operations for independent food creators. The vision is to build a Shopify-like “business in a box” model that helps home chefs form an LLC, go through the proper permitting processes, and build their customers. The point is to enable food entrepreneurs to build a brand following that could transform into a professional retail business rather than create a gig economy for home cooking.
Our users are largely centered around immigrants who are looking for non-traditional ways to earn side income doing what they love from the comfort and safety of their homes. On Syr, most of our food creators are people of color and about 80% are female. The name Syr comes from the Norse Goddess Freya, who represents love, as a tribute to our chefs who made it possible for our users to enjoy food made with love and care through the platform.
Entrepreneurship sounds fun and filled with adventures to many folks today especially with the remote work environment where people have more time in their hands than they ever had before to start something as a small side hustle and to grow into a business. Nevertheless, there are also plenty of downtrodden experiences and a plethora of rejections lying in wake. Overall, everything is hard and overwhelming, the hard thing about the hard things just like Ben Horowitz infamously said, building a business is. The silver lining though is that it only needs a few wins to even out the bad, but those wins depend largely on execution and luck so you must persevere until the bitter end. It’s only over when a founder gives up, really.
Fundraising is hard, getting new users is hard, hiring is hard, managing your board and the team is also hard so there really is no easy way to live once you embark on this entrepreneurship journey. But it is all worth it because it is a billion times better than pretending to act serious about things that lack excitement to you, and you will feel alive.
Facing an uncertain future in the first half of 2020, many employers had layoffs and froze hiring. Now, they can’t hire fast enough.
According the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, resignations are accelerating at roughly +200k every month. In the US, 3.63 mil people quit their jobs in May, 3.87 mil in June, 4.03 mil in July, and 4.27 mil in August.
Talking to my friends who work in recruiting, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to sign offers and not show up on the first day or reneg. Employers don’t advertise this — but many of them have started giving out loyalty bonuses to employees who got competing offers at other companies and chose to stay. Even people who don’t have a signed offer are still quitting due to burnout, and they want to take the time to re-evaluate their life.
While attrition is expensive for any organization, it can be especially damaging for startups and smaller organizations. Depending on the position, onboarding and knowledge ramp up can take months or even over a year until someone is fully productive in his or her role at the company. Larger organizations typically have established processes and can pull from their pool of talent across the organization. Smaller companies don’t have the same cushion.
For startups especially, time to perform is of the essence and financials are tight. Imagine if your R&D lead quits for more work-life harmony. Imagine if your Sales Director who has strong relational networks in your specific niche gets a competing offer she or he can’t refuse. You can’t find someone the next day and plug and play them in the role. Therefore, attrition in key roles that involve creative decision making can pose an existential threat.
Here are our Top 3 tips for startups and cash-strapped organizations to increase people engagement and better manage risk of attrition.