Learning to Deal with Failure as a Chinese Entrepreneur

 

A Chinese man’s worst nightmare. Not only did you get 0, you got 0 dollars!!

 

During an interview this week for a startup blog I was asked the question “What is the the number 1 piece of advice you’ve received from the startup world”. I’d never been asked this before, and I have to admit that I was a little stumped at first.

I wasn’t speechless because I didn’t have anything to say, but because the only piece of advice I could think of was how important failure is for every startup. It surprised me that the only thing that came to mind was failure.

Not exactly inspiring…

You should always aim to fail fast, and often. Get used to it!… was my answer

Most of of my startup friends, who weren’t raised in a South East Asian Chinese family, may not totally understand this but my childhood never involved the concept of being ok with failure.

You don’t accept failure, you don’t get cozy with it, in fact you shouldn’t even think about it lest your thoughts start actualising into real events.

Any talk of failure is swiftly followed by words like “Touch Wood” or “Choi” (it’s a way of verbally expressing disagreement with what was just said) from various chinese parents, relatives friends etc.

So if we chinese are so indoctrinated with the pursuit of success how then do we get to grips with entrepreneurship where failure is quite literally an everyday occurrence? Sure the magnitude of failure varies each day but you experience more failure than success in trying to start a business.

I honestly don’t have an answer. Failure isn’t something normal human beings finds fun, but I dare say that anyone raised in a chinese family struggles with it even more.

Each time I’ve sat in a talk where someone has spoken about failing fast, my mind automatically says “Pfft… not me, I’m gonna work my ass off to show you that I wont fail”. Did it work? Nope…. I still failed.

Truth is, you will fail more times than succeed in startups and the best step forward is not to fear it but embrace it.

Removing the fear of failure removes the hesitation of giving it a shot!

Failing fast is all about learning fast. When you try something and it doesn’t work then you know what not to do next time. Aiming to test something and hit the success or failure checkpoint as fast as possible is so important. You quickly learn what needs to be changed and can stop spending time or money on something that is going to fail.

Failing fast sure beats failing really slow…. think about it ;)

I can’t count the number of friends (chinese friends) who have told me that they want to start a business but they just haven’t. I’m cool with friends sharing hopes and dreams with me, I just hope they take the step to start. We chinese love prosperity and making money but we just don’t handle failure well.

Something I’ve become passionate about over the years is helping open up the world of entrepreneurship to those who’ve never been exposed to it. Many of us have been indoctrinated to just become a lawyer or accountant when we grow up, but never an entrepreneur.

I’m always thrilled to hear university’s running courses on entrepreneurship and spreading the word to the next generation. Education is the first step forward and my 2 cents on the first lesson ….. You should always aim to fail fast and often. Get used to it!

 

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To those who see my post as overly stereotypical of chinese, I hope you’re not offended but instead actually see the need to change perceptions of failure.

To those wondering, I’m currently on my entrepreneurial journey building Vinspi, an online retailer of tailored Mens Suits. I fail everyday, but I’m learning to deal with it….

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About Ivan Lim

I'm passionate about entrepreneurship, people, education, communications and living purposefully. I've done a few things like founding Vinspi, a startup for Tailored Suits Online and I was ex marketing manager at OZHut. I now head up marketing at Tweaky.com. I'm usually, spending time with friends, reading or eating peanut butter. God, family, friends and making this life count are my priorities.
  • http://www.cubinlab.ee.unimelb.edu.au/~lsptune/ Paul Tune

    I thought that was insightful. I think the problem with most East Asian cultures (not just Chinese, but Koreans, Japanese etc.) is the prevailing notion that once a someone fails, that said person is permanently branded a failure. Of course, as you have learned, that’s totally false. Still, a strong will and a willingness to ignore the masses probably needs to be cultivated to overcome our cultural programming.

    • http://www.ivanmelvin.com Ivan Lim

      Totally agree with you Paul. It seems that most people fear that one failure defines the rest of their life. The faster we overcome such mindsets the sooner we’ll see people daring to fail greatly.

      At the risk of looking like I want to be too cool for school… #yolo (You only live once) =P