When I first started Amasia, I prayed hard that God would grow our firm to become a great success. I told him that I’d go anywhere, meet anyone, do anything… whatever it took I’d do it. But instead of giving me a tactic or a strategy, he gave me a picture.
In my mind’s eye I saw my oldest son Kyan come to me with a startup idea. He pitched it to me and asked me to bless his business through an investment, by opening up my rolodex and promoting his solution to potential partners. Then God asked me “under what circumstances would you want to bless your son’s startup?”
The first thought that entered my head is that because he’s my son, of course I’d want Kyan to be successful. I want him to have every opportunity the world can afford him, for him to experience every joy and victory available because that’s what dads do. Fathers love their sons.
But then the mental video continued, and I saw two scenarios, one where Kyan energetically asked for that blessing “because I’m going to buy a company Ferrari, and when we blow up and make billions I’ll be the man, and all the girls will be after me. It’s going to be awesome! Apa, I know what I’m doing. I just need that initial investment and I can run with this and make it huge!”
Then in another scenario he implored “I’ll be careful with the resources and the credibility that you lend me with your name, and when we’re successful I want to use those compounded resources to give back and make the world a better place. Also, most importantly Apa, I know I can’t do this alone, so while I’m asking for your blessing now, I know this is really just the beginning of a journey together. I’m going to come back to you every day for advice about how to run this company, because I really value our relationship and your wisdom.”
Now in the first scenario I realized I’d still want my son to be blessed, but I’d be worried about dropping a big check into his company because it’d actually really hurt him in the long term. I’d probably drip feed the investment to make sure he spent each cent wisely, and hopefully he would learn the lessons of humility and proper prioritization along the way.
But in the second scenario, I would not only want my son to be blessed, I’d feel totally confident about writing a big check and pulling every resource in my capacity behind him to make him successful because his character was mature enough for his calling.
I felt God trying to impress upon me that as a father, of course he wants my business to be successful. And as an all-powerful being, he has the means to bring about incredible outcomes in the snap of a finger. But often I’ve found that the first order concern is not what he can do through me, but what he can do in me.
Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” In our work and relationships, we often seek external change in our circumstances, but that must first start with transformation within. When we gain the humility, selflessness and love that come from an intimate walk with God, the worldly outcomes naturally follow as an outflow.
PS: Since those early days my two older boys Kyan (7) and Luke (5) have started their first company with K-Pop producer extraordinaire Elmo of Double Dragon fame. Please check out Sonically(which is also the music curriculum for my wife’s startup Trehaus). Thankfully the boys aren’t talking about a company Ferrari… yet.
This was originally published on www.faithdrivenentrepreneur.org/blog/2018/8/6/please-bless-my-business-company-ferraris-and-god-in-your-startup
About ten years ago I went to visit the US State department and asked a senior official regarding US strategy on relations with the DPRK. She replied with something to the effect of “when they give up their nukes, we’ll talk to them.”
“Do you think they’re really going to do that?” I asked.
“No not really.”
“So our North Korea strategy is to not have a North Korean strategy?”
When Donald Trump came into office he took a more incremental approach, that somewhat reminds of the Lean Startup Methodology, often cited as the bible of modern day entrepreneurship. The basic idea is that while companies were built on a longer time cycle and therefore took years and millions of dollars to build a first iteration product, nowadays costs have decreased and the world moves much faster so the optimal strategy is to build a much smaller Minimum Viable Product (MVP), get some data on how it works with a small set of customers, then iterate on it quickly to get to product-market fit.
“We’ll talk to them when they give up their nukes” is a long term, comprehensive, old world way of executing diplomacy. “Let’s give a bit and see if they give back” is much more in line with the way the commercial world operates today as exponential trends increase the rapidity of change around us.
Love him or hate him, Donald Trump through a more incremental approach has gotten more movement on DPRK issues in the last two years than we’ve seen in decades. I hope we see more lean startup diplomacy applied to a broader set of international issues ahead.
In 2008, the Goldman Sachs Commodities Trading team out of Singapore launched a search to find a junior trader. The three main criteria they searched for in candidates were
- Korean Heritage
- Understanding of Oil Markets
- Understanding of Financial Derivatives
After two years of scouring the markets with little to show, the hiring manager decided to relax the bar slightly, later saying “we figured a new hire could learn the oil bit, while derivative knowledge takes longer to pick up. And being Korean… well that’s pretty difficult to learn. So we started looking for Korean Derivatives traders who we could teach oil to.”
In early 2011 I was contacted about the role and in my first interview the manager explained to me that every trader on the desk held a different passport.
“While our colleagues in New York have all sorts of public information published by the government and various consultancies, in Asia information is much harder to come by. Because we need information from a number of different countries around the region, we make sure we have folks who can develop deep relationships in these countries to help us get a more complete picture, and Korea is a big hole for us right now.”
I had heard many times that Asia is a more opaque and more relationship driven business environment than the west, but it only really sunk in when I got the job, arrived in Singapore and found myself drinking 6 nights a week until 3am (and arriving at the office at 7am the next day) with the Korean refiners and shipping companies. I had to get my oil chops up over time, but a common cultural heritage and overlapping human network counted for much more than domain knowledge.
Because information is sparser in Asia, and because the culture leads to a focus on relationships as a competitive advantage, we have seen families that started in one line of business, then leverage their competitive advantage to enter other industries. While focus on one industry vertical is the norm for western companies, in the east a handful of families in a given country often control every industry through diversified, sprawling conglomerates.
The combination of a relationship driven culture and paucity of information leads to a unique concentration of wealth and power in Asia.
In the west the public citizens, through institutionalized asset managers, generally control the largest companies. Only 20% of the top 50 companies in the S&P are family controlled whereas that number jumps to 61% for Asian indices.* The Forbes Asia Fab 50 is even higher at 82% family controlled.
One could argue that state owned enterprises also act much more like family businesses in their control structure and “strategic” considerations than typical public companies. (Political dynasties within party and family control are also much more common in Asia than the west). Adding SOE’s to the mix ups the number even more.
So what does this mean for startups looking to do business in Asia? Building the best product and dominating with domain expertise are necessary but not sufficient. Influence sits with a much more concentrated group than in the west, so deals can get done incredibly quickly with the right sponsorship. But if you don’t have necessary access, make sure you find partners who do.