Writer: Maurice Lee
With the coronavirus economic recession, we are like facing World War III. We are ransacked by devastating declines in GDP, real income, employment, service production and retail sales.
The Irish said, “Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free! I follow the plan God laid by me.”
Now, you are poor and get nothing to lose. It goes without saying that when survival is the only issue, struggles erupt between narcissism and reality. Instead of exercise in a gym, you train your muscles by being a delivery worker. Instead of fine dining in SoHo, you stir-fry pig liver with luncheon meat to imitate pâté de foie gras. Instead of dressing up for work in the morning, you ask your mum to buy you some nice Uniqlo pyjamas so that you can still be a dignified laid-off man at home.
Being jobless and frustrated with looking for a job, you suddenly remember an idea that you just cannot stop thinking about. That is probably a perfect timing to set up your own business which you have been thinking for years.
I know it is not easy to afford business startup costs such as equipment, office space, office furniture and supplies, incorporation fees, marketing, payroll and insurance. Compared with the startups in the 1980s, the entrepreneurs nowadays are definitely not less fortunate:
(1) For the past years, Hong Kong government always recorded a budget surplus. Government used billions of dollars to establish more than 50 funding schemes ranging from Incubation Program, Market Development Support to Corporate Venture Fund. There is more to come. In our days, there were more Poor Dads than Rich Dads. They could not lend or help. What is nicer than nice by having a government like a sugar daddy?
(2) As people are richer and a lot are singletons without a family burden, you can painlessly identify a bunch of business partners especially those still at a young and energetic age. Education is powerful. Well educated graduates bring good skills to the different core dimensions of the startup task. Let me give you an example. When you build an attractive App, you cannot run away from an IT engineer, a graphic designer and an E-marketing expert.
(3) ‘Co-working space’ is a new notion of sharing an office space by different companies allowing cost savings and convenience through using common equipment and receptionist. In the 80s, it was cumbersome to set up an office, rent a space for 2 years, design the floor plan, find the telephone and internet provider, decorate and buy furniture. Now, you carry a Notebook, sit down in the co-working space, order a cup of coffee and bootstrap yourself out of poverty into dreamlike business. This is the luxury which has never existed.
(4) There are 2 kinds of middlemen: good and bad. Good ones may be such as importers and distributors. Bad ones are such as pimps and drug dealers. Good ones are being eliminated but bad ones remain. The use of internet platform has made it possible for many to directly trade online without a middleman. The process is called ‘disintermediation’ which is ‘cutting out the middlemen’ in a transaction. Sellers can bypass the middlemen (wholesalers and retailers) to reach a customer who is also happy to buy in the one-to-one relationship as he will pay less. In the 80s, it took many years for one to know the middlemen, win their trust and transact through them. A young designer can now just order goods from factory and simply sell his goods online. Such E-commerce enables a seller to transcend boundaries and make deals worldwide.
Do not start a company unless it is an obsession that you firmly believe. Sustaining a business for several years is a lot of work and feeling desperate is half the battle. So, beginning a startup purely for money is the inevitable fate to fail. You start a business about which you are passionate because you want to be free. You want to be a free human being with an independent will and soul, away from the mournings of a monthly salary and fear to step out of your comfort zone.
Reprinted with permission