#Asia How Singapore dismisses startups the same way an intolerant Left betrayed the USA


Is Singapore really the mecca of startups in Asia?

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What is happening in the west is happening in Singapore. People stay within safe zones of not pissing anyone off and don’t say what needs to be discussed.

For all the politically correct rhetoric about Singapore supporting startups or new businesses, the reality for 95 per cent of us is really dismal. Society shuns and laughs at us, friends and family want to dissociate from us, and the gatekeepers who control access to startup programs and investment funds will not support anything that goes against the grain of what’s the “in-thing” right now (typically IOT, on-demand services and fintech).

It’s ironic when you think they keep preaching about ‘thinking out of the box’ and ‘reimagining realities’ and being the first to innovate. Shouldn’t we already realise that what’s happening in the USA with the left establishing a toxic culture of sweepingly silencing, invalidating and delegitimising anything that they find unacceptable is also happening here in Singapore?

You don’t realise what’s lost until a Black Swan event happens — Trump got elected and everyone starts missing Bernie Sanders. The Tories happened, Brexit happened. All outcomes in the west that before their time of occurrence were unthinkable. When are we ever going to learn that we’ve got to have to start addressing the massive echo chamber that we live in? When do we allow people to stand for what they really feel instead of always dismissing their (unpopular) opinions?

This comment by Ian Loon in this article is especially salient:

“Often startups get shot down because the stakeholders don’t believe in new solutions. They always want to stick within their comfort zone, with companies like Facebook and Google … [t]he industry is relying a lot on Google and Facebook to innovate the media experience that we’re delivering.”

People of influence and clout would say one thing but practise just the opposite. They preach about having to be innovative but when it comes down to it, they themselves continue to stay in their comfort zone, playing the same game Google and Facebook basically forced upon the throats of media companies in the USA, their potential limited by these platform overlords.

The stories pertaining to this stark reality are an elephant in the room, clear for all to see, yet everyone in Singapore resigns themselves to the same plight befalling these US companies, including Mediacorp and SPH. It’s not just about exposure and visibility of content — it’s about real revenues being taxed to fulfil distribution goals.

Everyone falls back to appease short term exposure goals but in reality their business is encumbered for the long haul, directly and systematically. They’re picking the low-hanging fruit instead of building ladders to reach higher.

Recently, an established Singaporean business owner suggested that if Fessup can’t make it in Singapore, then don’t think about the world. This is the kind of resistance Ian Loon of NextTechNow talked about — people want to stay within their comfort zone and set limits on the potential realities I imagine. By people, I don’t just mean established businesses I also point fingers at an emergent culture emanating as a whole across the startup ecosystem and Singapore in general.

People won’t commit before you reach escape velocity

If there’s anything wrong about the validation recognition process in Singapore, it’s that anything that hasn’t yet accumulated into a big ball of quantifiably large metric demand gets immediately dismissed as being unworthy of further interest or investment.

Elsewhere in the social sciences we understand that quantitative ways of verifying the validity of a hypothesis doesn’t always reflect what’s really happening. Sometimes, knowing you are on to something is derivative of ethnographic observation  —  the kind of qualitative epistemology that happens largely in the social sciences and humanities. Business folk don’t recognise this . I even meet people who were trained in social science who dispute this manner of validating the worth of an anonymous app like Fessup.

So you mean I’m going to ignore the spontaneity of the back and forth replies on Fessup? I’m going to disregard loyal users who use the app everyday because the app provides them a distinct experience they would be hard pressed to find elsewhere because their numbers are small? Do note that Reddit communities do not represent actual offline communities or reflect the way society is organised offline like Fessup does.

Cultural Malaise: getting Singaporeans to download your app is like asking them to buy insurance

There’s this overwhelming culture of equating anything that dares to be different to mediocrity. For example, I imagine a vast weak ties network for people who don’t already know each other on Fessup, an anonymous app that is divorced from the usual expectation of what Facebook offers in terms of socialisation and stigmergy. I imagine an anonymous collective hive mind by default, rather than a network with individuals identified by default:

Individual entities → Collective entities

Identified by default → Anonymous by default

That’s completely alien to investors and one of them I had the misfortune to interact with (more than once) when I was pitching at Ideasinc and SITF Awards kept telling me that the above cannot apply to “an Asian culture”, as if it is an untouchable and unmalleable sacred thing.

Yet we see anonymous apps like Everytime and Dcard in Korea and Taiwan. We’re shortchanged just because investors and support programs cannot recognise that all major innovations in the last decade brought about massive social impact. Facebook and messaging apps changed how we talk to people we know; Airbnb made the supply of temporary residences more liquid; Uber made getting a taxi incredibly frictionless.

And here we are dismissing a startup because we find the prospect of running afoul of the establishment here terribly unnerving.

If you don’t dare to promote yourself, who would? Your friends, your family? They won’t. Their first intuition would be: “what would my friends think of me if I associate with such mediocrity with such a dismal following?”

Yet every great project starts off with a dismal following! In fact, early rejection by incumbents might as well be a heuristic predicting later recognition as being truly revolutionary . Just look at how people treated Alibaba, Snapchat and AirBnB in their early days. Your first genuine supporters are usually strangers, people who would adopt your solution because they believe in it for the same reasons as you do.

Why should that be the case? Why can’t our friends advocate for us instead of just fire and forget Facebook likes (sometimes they even refuse to give a like  — yeah most of my likes are legit organic). A friend even commented that he would only consider me a ‘legit entrepreneur’ only after I made my first ‘legit paycheck’  —  startling because what’s so difficult in being part of a bandwagon after the bandwagon has been established?

Why should social media in Singapore be about Facebook and Instagram all the fucking time? My Korean friends laugh at us when I tell them we don’t have our own social networking brands like the Koreans have Kakao. We just use Zuckerberg’s stuff.

Manifest cultural malaise saps founders of happiness

Most founders and creative people I know suffer from depression. We live from day to day sapped of the happy chemicals necessary for mental wellness because of a culture that penalises different ways of thinking. The depression also manifests itself in physiological ways  — such as bleeding from acid reflux and a bowel system turned topsy turvy. I personally go through a minimum of two hours attending to a physiological manifestation I don’t have to contend with if the people around me were more supportive. When would we learn from experiences elsewhere and correct this predicament afflicting our most creative minds?

To my fellow entrepreneurs (or really anyone at all who face the same cultural roadblock): do you have grievances you would like to share? Why not support our Thunderclap?

I’m starting a campaign for startup stories: contribute your stories here if you are from Singapore: http://ift.tt/2fLbFQU.


Herbert Eng is founder at Fessup.sg, an app that lets users share stories and engage anonymously. Download Fessup to contribute your stories anonymously!

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your post here.

Image Credit: flynt / 123RF Stock Photo

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