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.