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What's Silicon Valley's secret sauce: what Asian entrepreneurs can learn in terms of culture


“What’s the secret sauce for Silicon Valley’s startup success?”

As an advisor to Asian entrepreneurs and startup founders, we are often asked this question when we meet entrepreneurs, corporate execs, or government officials visiting Silicon Valley.

Similar to Silicon Valley, Asian startup communities draw from a talent pool from nearby universities or corporations.

Funding is plenty from private investors, venture capitalists, corporate funds, or government programs. Infrastructure and operational support are provided through co-working spaces, accelerators, and a network of well-connected mentors.

Startup communities in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and elsewhere in Asia, have produced successful startups that are changing their region. However, most Asian startups do not penetrate global markets to truly ‘change the world’.

“Yes, yes. But you still haven’t told me about Silicon Valley’s secret sauce?”

That missing secret sauce ingredient is … culture! In other words, adopting the “Silicon Valley Culture” results in a competitive attitude that helps Asian entrepreneurs not only optimise their startup’s success in local markets but also prepare them on their path to global success. We believe that, unlike American or Asian culture, Silicon Valley culture can be ‘borderless’ and represents an attitude taken by successful entrepreneurs who have moved to the Valley from all over the world.

Below are 3 Silicon Valley culture tips that are important for any Asian entrepreneur to adopt:

1. Be open-minded

It is a cultural trait across all of Asia to respect one’s elders and teachers. However, many of the elders and teachers advising today’s Asian entrepreneurs do not have the experience and insights relevant to the startup world.

Silicon Valley’s culture boasts to “disrupt tradition, break moulds.” To disrupt, we need open-minded, entrepreneurial cultures that break traditional business models. In fact, these are traditional business models that many elders may be afraid to see change.

By being open in sharing your ideas, you will gain much more rather than if you disclose as you incorporate diverse perspectives into your company vision. For example, when you talk to other startup founders or investors in Silicon Valley, most of the time you will not be asked to sign legal non-disclosure agreements.

Instead, you will find entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley actively networking and connecting throughout all constituencies of the knowledge ecosystem – from technologists, business strategists, developers, venture capitalists, academics to government officials.

The open-minded approach found in Silicon Valley encourages collaboration with everyone while inspiring friendly competition that drives constant innovation.

2. Take risks

Most college graduates in Asia are under cultural pressure by their loved ones to choose a stable career path with a major corporation to bring pride to their family.

In other words, graduates are encouraged to become a working professional.

Thus, choosing to become an Asian entrepreneur can be perceived as dishonourable to parents due to the monetary and emotional investments that they have made in their kids. In Asia, failure can be branded permanently on a person — now, that’s a big cultural risk.

But, in the United States, taking risks is a cultural trait to be celebrated! And in Silicon Valley, taking risks is an attitude, not a learned behaviour. Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, summarises it best: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk.” You will find this credo in every successful Silicon Valley founders’ DNA.

3. Think big, think different

In the last 25 years (a single generation!) we have seen technology profoundly change human behaviour. In 1992, there was no Google, Apple iPhone, Amazon, Facebook, Skype, or Uber.

A common trait for these early founders is that they were all thinking big. They were looking to change the world and solve real-world pain points. No problem is too challenging when you adopt a mindset of fearless, bold thinking.

Fear constrains an entrepreneur to be cautious, to think small. Fearless entrepreneurs, on the other hand, think big. In Silicon Valley, this culture of thinking big is exemplified by the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple.

“When you grow up, you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your job is just to live your life inside the world,” Jobs said in an interview in 1994. “That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover […] you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

Adopting Silicon Valley culture

Unlike local Asian cultures, Silicon Valley culture is borderless and inclusive to those who adopt risk-taking, open-minded, and big-picture attitudes.

Whether in Silicon Valley or in Asia, creating a successful startup is hard enough. As an Asian entrepreneur, if you apply Silicon valley culture to your startup, you will differentiate yourself from your peers and increase your startup’s likelihood for global success.

This article was first published on e27, on Sep. 28, 2019.