On September 7, I was invited to join the first Asia Clean Tech Entrepreneurs Community (ACTEC) meetup in Bangkok as their Entrepreneurship keynote speaker. The event was co-hosted by Energo Labs, a growing clean tech startup from Shanghai, and Tech Grind, ASEAN's first private technology incubator and venture capital.
My session revolved around Entrepreneurship In The Age of Sustainability. I started off by walking my audience through the paradigm shift from the 20th century to the 21st century. The business world significantly changed from being egocentric (driven by scale and scope, rapid and continuous growth and expansion, profit maximizing, and cost cutting) to being eco-centric (driven by shared values, shared responsibilities, and shared prosperity in the long run). From survival of the fittest (the biggest, strongest, and "scariest") to survival of entrepreneurs and businesses with agility, adaptation, innovation, and strong collaborative networks. From power of capital to power of people. From broadening (and hence lacking focus and relevance) to deepening (and hence getting to the root of problems or the foundation of sustainable solutions and being really good at doing your job). It is crucial for businesses and entrepreneurs to evolve and shift from the old paradigm of doing business to the new paradigm not only because they should, but also because they have to. Opportunities and challenges in today's world are so complex and so interconnected. Therefore, a successful and sustainable business is one that can solve persistent problems and make life better for people and the future brighter for the planet, rather than one that solely makes a lot money for its owners and shareholders.
Successful entrepreneurs in the age of sustainability are those who aren't afraid to get their feet wet (from field research and exploration), their hands dirty (from taking action), and their faces sweaty (from the total amount of work). These entrepreneurs work from the ground up or where end users and their problems actually are rather than from the top down or based on co-founders' subjective views, experiences, and assumptions.
Instead of making assumptions, entrepreneurs in the age of sustainability ask smart questions. Instead of doing all the work themselves, they work smart because they work directly with and constantly learn from their end users, causes they care about, experts in their fields, and likeminded team members. They immerse, connect, and engage. If growing a business was like growing a tree, they would not simply harvest. They would study everything they must know about the soil, changes of weather conditions, factors that they can and cannot control and so on and so forth. From experts, from people who have tried and succeeded, from people who have tried and failed, as well as from "learning by doing." Yes, learning as you go is a great skill for entrepreneurs. But it's certainly not enough. At the end of the day, a strong foundation is always crucial and will be an excellent competitive edge for any business. Just like growing a tree, for your business to be successful and sustainable in the long run, for it to bloom and thrive, you need to get it right from the start. How? Start from the ground up. From the root, the foundation. Work your way up the many layers and through all the complexities involved.
Ultimately, the success of a business is heavily dependent on its entrepreneur. Now we know the paradigm has changed. The winners today aren't necessarily the winners from a year, a decade, or a paradigm ago.
Let's be Game Changers and Change Makers of our society. Let's ALL be winners.