‘Yes we can, too!’

  • Malaysians just don’t have enough faith in our own ideas, talent and ability to create global companies
  • Lack of belief, courage and faith is holding us back, and we need to break from this

‘Yes we can, too!’BY now you would have already heard and read enough about the proposals in the 2013 National Budget for entrepreneurs, the best probably being the deduction of an angel investor’s investments against his entire annual income.
 
This is an awesome incentive for angel investors and should drive more investments into entrepreneurial ventures. Kudos to Cradle Fund for driving and pushing this initiative over the last two years.
 
Equally awesome is the fact that Malaysia may have an international best-seller on its hands with the film War of The Worlds: Goliath. This Malaysian-made 3D animated movie received rave reviews at film festivals around the world prior to its public release next month.
 
Congratulations to Leon Tan of Tripod Films and I must add Malaysian Venture Capital Management (Mavcap), Tripod’s funders, for the faith they had in Leon and his team.
 
The reason I am writing about this is because after 13 years of working with startup entrepreneurs I am disappointed that most Malaysian entrepreneurs rarely have the belief and faith that they can build global companies. Even when they have ideas that have global potential, they often focus on Malaysia, South-East Asia or, at best, Asia  -- and even that is quite rare.
 
We just don’t have enough faith in our own ideas, talent and ability to create global companies, and that is a huge disappointment for me.
 
And it is not just entrepreneurs that don’t have this belief; even investors and mentors don’t believe and hence don’t provide enough support to companies that actually have such potential.
 
Therefore it is not surprising that we can never have that elusive creature, the “world class company,” that we crave. Is this a Malaysian thing, this lack of faith, of belief? Because if we truly believe that we can, then we actually can, and Leon Tan is proof of that.
 
I postulate that we are actually conditioned to think like this because we are not brought up to believe that we can be world-beaters. Psychologically, we fear thinking global because we are conditioned to think that we can only be “jaguh kampung” (village champions) and at best do well in South-East Asia.
 
A friend who does leadership coaching explained this “conditioning” to me. We all have a certain “identity”, how we identify ourselves as who we are and what we can do. Hence we “identify” ourselves as Malaysians and as Malaysians we can only do so much. We can build a Malaysian company and if we work hard we will be lucky to build a regional company.
 
However, because we are Malaysian, we are not good enough to be able to build a global company. No, only Americans and maybe the mainland Chinese can build global companies. The rest of us, especially Malaysians, cannot do that.
 
Hence its best we resign ourselves to the fact that we should focus on building local companies, at best list on Bursa Malaysia, and that would mean a great success story already.
 
The problem is most investors and venture capitalists have that same belief, which is why they often advise investee companies to focus on Malaysia, South-East Asia or Asia as a whole.
 
If an entrepreneur goes to them with a global idea, they will often say that building a global company is hard and expensive so it’s best to build for Asia and be the biggest in this region. They will not fund a company that targets the world, because even they are conditioned to think that it cannot be done.
 
I know many of them will say it costs too much to go global and all that and will not agree with me, but it’s conditioning and it’s therefore psychology, and that is a difficult thing to accept.
 
The strange thing is that American investors believe that we can produce global winners. The proof is companies like Piktochart, which received very positive reviews in its recent trip to Silicon Valley. Many investors there absolutely loved Piktochart and said it had true global potential.
 
Unfortunately, even in companies that I work with, many members of the teams there think like that. Even when they have a company with global potential, their thinking limits their potential, and I have had many frustrating moments trying to convince them otherwise.
 
Now, if we can break this mold, if everyone from entrepreneurs to investors to team members can break this “identity” crisis and start believing in their true potential, and if investors are willing to support these entrepreneurs with the funds necessary to build a global company, then we will have many more Leon Tans and we will have Malaysian companies that become global players.
 
Sadly, this “identity” crisis is so deeply ingrained in us that it is hard to break. That is why we have so little global success.
 
I truly believe that it is not talent or a lack of ideas. It is a lack of belief, courage and faith that hold us back. For us to reach our true potential we must have more faith in ourselves and in our entrepreneurs.
 
We, including investors, must believe – only then will Malaysian companies break out of the doldrums of being “jaguh kampung” and instead become “juara dunia” (world champions).
 
I still believe we can. I still have hope. But then again I have always been a dreamer.
 
Siva’s designation is chief evangelist because he evangelises entrepreneurship, coaches and mentors entrepreneurs, and invests time and money in them, in the belief that one day we will create a true “jaguh dunia”. He hopes that angels and VCs will dare to dream with him.
 

 
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