This post was contributed by Mikaal Abdulla, CEO of 8Securities, an innovative and social online trading portal based in Hong Kong. 
I love risk. Not so much the bungy jumping off a bridge or telling a triad I don’t like his tattoo kind of risk, but taking real risks in business. Perhaps it is the potential that compels me as there is a simple & direct correlation between risk and reward. After spending 12 years working for someone else, I decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. With three small children in school and a hard to swallow Hong Kong lease, it was not an easy decision. But I took a chance and invested all of my savings in an idea and a business with complete and utter confidence in its future. I told my wife we would either be able to buy an island in the Pacific or we will be financially ruined (and the statistics say we will be financially ruined). Like me, she is a risk taker so we went for it. Check back with me in 3 years and we can judge the gamble a success or failure.I have had the good fortune of living in Silicon Valley, New York, London, Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore and now Hong Kong. Something that has struck me is Asia’s general intolerance for risk taking compared to the rest of the world.

After all, our Asian parents did not invest so much money and effort in our education for us to turn down a prestigious and well paying job. We have a very high cost of living and our monthly rent for a small apartment is more than a mortgage for a 5 bedroom house in Florida. Culturally, we simply were not raised to take big professional and personal chances. Recruiting individuals to join a startup in Hong Kong was near impossible despite market pay, flexibility and lifestyle it provided. I could see in peoples eyes that their heart wanted to take the risk but their head, with its aversion for risk, generally prevailed.

There are varying degrees of risk and I don’t suggest that leaving your job to start a company is right for everyone. But not taking risks for fear of failure alone must be overcome in Asia. In the US, people wear failure on their sleeve like a badge of honor. It says “I had the guts to try and here I am…stronger and smarter from the experience”.  In Asia, our family, society and companies view failure as the simple converse to success. Asia is no doubt becoming the leading force in the global economy and that will not change. But how much do we leave on the table by not being the innovating force of the global economy. China, in particular, is often cited as being unoriginal. I believe this is largely true. But it is not due to a lack of creativity but due to unseen societal and institutional boundaries. One can not innovate without some degree of risk taking and overcoming the ever present fear of failure.

So my plea to you is to take a risk today. If you are sitting at your desk set free that edgy banner ad or headline you have always wanted to try. Have a coffee with friends about the startup idea that has been lingering in your mind and work on it on the side. Simply, challenge convention in one way or another. You will find it is not only liberating but it will spark a more creative side of your being. We need to get comfortable with being less functional and more creative. Taking chances one by one is the only way we can change. And for all of those out there that don’t tolerate personal failure, don’t judge those that try something different.

Jason Lim

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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5 Comments

  1. Seems we were on the same boat when we ventured into own start-ups.  Let the story of  Mikkal be a motivating factor for others. 

  2. interesting points. I also feel many countries in Europe do not “get” it. we all know of fabulous IPOs like Google, Zynga & soon Facebook. Yet few people have the guts & vision to DO it

  3. There’s some truth in this – an aversion to risk and failure amongst Asians. But there’s also a lot of entrepreneurs in Asia too, that are willing to take risks. Perhaps its about creating and nurturing a startup environment that is supportive of risk-takers and allowing easier access to hiring, capital, etc…

    I met Mikkal at Techcrunch Disrupt Beijing, and we were demo-ing in startup alley alongside all these other Asian entrepreneurs. From Korea, Taiwan, HK, China, Australia, Japan. There just needs to be more of them! 

    Matthew Ho
    Native Tongue

    1. Matthew, its a good point you raise. I would add successful startups need an ecosystem around them. The investors (both VCs and Angels) also need to show some guts and start to invest in innovative and unproven business models. Not enough of that is happening. I can only speak to my own experiences but I see too many venture investors chasing “safe” businesses. They are not taking the risks either.

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