Singapore

Want to be formidable? Work for it

The wrong mentality and approach are what is stopping good entrepreneurs from being great ones

Since my article "Who will be Singapore's 'formidable entrepreneurs'?" (The Business Times, June 8) was published, I have received much feedback.

In that piece, we defined formidable as someone on the level of Elon Musk or Jack Ma.

Some readers have suggested that perhaps Min-Liang Tan, chief executive officer (CEO) of gaming company Razer, could be a formidable-level entrepreneur for Singapore.

Many were interested to know how I thought Singapore could produce these world-class entrepreneurs. It is difficult to answer, since it involves many complicated issues. Here I attempt to share my ideas more clearly on how Singapore can do it.

WHOSE HOMEWORK?

Let me make it clear whose effort it is to produce formidable entrepreneurs. It is not the homework of the Government, but the entrepreneurs themselves.

The reason why I posit this from the get-go is that we have a tendency to approach too many issues from a view of how the Government can fix the problem. Of course, it is related, but the main actor should be the entrepreneurs themselves.

The Government's policy and support for entrepreneurs far outweighs other governments'.

Once that support is put in place, we must argue that the ball is very much in the entrepreneurs' court. Among those regarded as formidable entrepreneurs, none of them were produced by government support or policy.

Thus, I would argue that the onus is on the Singapore entrepreneurs, not the Government, to put in the effort.

GIVE UP THE 'GOOD-ENOUGH' MENTALITY

Singapore has lots of good entrepreneurs. One problem is that good is where they stop.

Jim Collins, author of bestselling book Good To Great, says that good is the enemy of great.

We have many good entrepreneurs, but they too readily become comfortable and forget to take on bigger challenges to participate in a global market.

To do this, they need a vision that is great rather than settling for the good-enough.

BE STREET SMART

Singapore entrepreneurs' approach to market expansion tends to be from the office desk.

They rather plan and execute a product expansion from their office than going to the target market and getting stuck in.

Though Singapore has huge potential markets within a one- or two-hour flight, entrepreneurs here are oftentimes not aggressive enough to develop new markets.

They should go and stay in the target markets and understand the problems of locals experientially rather than conceptually from a pie chart.

LET THE YOUNG EXPERIENCE ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND FAILURE

I saw a 12-year-old girl listening to lectures on business idea generation and joining in discussions with a group of adult women at the Girls in Tech event, a global entrepreneurship programme for women sponsored by Facebook here in Singapore.

With that, I could see the future of Singapore's entrepreneurship as very bright.

Today's young Singaporeans will be the builders, keepers and innovators of the city tomorrow. Don't mollycoddle them - let them get out there and experience entrepreneurship and failure as early as possible.

AVOID STRADDLING

Strategy is about making choices and trade-offs. Ignoring the reality of trade-offs, or "straddling strategy", is a terrible strategy for entrepreneurs if they want to be great.

Greg Mckeown in his book Essentialism defined straddling as keeping an existing strategy intact while trying to adopt the strategy of a competitor.

One of the mistakes Singaporean entrepreneurs make is being reluctant to take clear decisions in one direction and commit to a clear focus.

LEAD ROLE

It is important that entrepreneurs get on and execute independently from the Government. It is important for everyone to contribute to innovation in whatever small ways they can, but the entrepreneurs must lead.

This, I think, will prove an integral factor in the city's future success and standing as a world innovator.

The writer is co-founder and CEO of Marvelstone Ventures. This article was published in The Business Times yesterday.

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