"People without hope, can rotten a nation"
When I read the news of migrants and refugees risking their lives to reach the shores of Europe and trek hundreds of kilometres to build a life in Germany, UK, or Sweden, I can empathise. I'm no bleeding heart liberal, but from what I read about the growing opposition to immigration and how to solve this crisis: 1. people should stay in their countries to develop it and create jobs 2. Most of these "refugees" are young and military aged men abandoning their families in war zones, who illegally cross through all the safe countries in Europe, how could they leave women and children behind, their economic migrants! I do believe in borders, legal migration (humans migrating for over a millennia), and there are genuine refugees that face real danger at home. However, what many don't understand about this crisis, is that globalisation and technology has given people a window to see what life is like in the outside world, and most importantly, hope. Hope is such a powerful force. I don't remember where I read this quote, I think it was in Obama's acceptance speech when he won the noble peace prize, but he said "A people without hope can rotten a nation" and I think that is very true. People living in abject poverty, unemployed, torn by war didn't have much hope...until internet and mobile phones enabled them to see the world. So, this "migration crisis" that Europe is going through of young men and few women and children from North Africa, the Middle East, Eurasia, all have hope and stories of those that were able to make it to Europe to have a better life. We all need more humanity.
As more and more people are connecting to the internet and have smart phones, their hopelessness and living in generational poverty is no longer a hinderance. So long as one family member can escape and find work abroad, usual a man, life can be a lot better. What they see on TV or in shopping malls are all attainable, and no longer completely out of reach. They too can have a beautiful home, feed and send their children to school, have nice things (not everyone wants what the West has, but basic stuff) so why not risk it all and go to Europe, Australia, Dubai, Qatar, Canada, or America where they can make 5X more money and send money to support their families? Multi-national companies are hungry for cheap labour,there are no jobs at home, and their weak governments and non-existence infrastructure is not giving them a better life. So staying home to many is not an option. Just as America was "discovered" the global poor has seen what life in the West through a screen, or books, or working as nannies, maids, taxi drivers, etc., life can be better, but not at home.
I will never forget my trip to Cambodia being stuck in Poi Pet, near the border and seeing 3rd world poverty. From mothers begging on the street with their naked and fragile children, crowds of men with motorbikes asking tourists if they needed rides, piles of garbage and makeshift landfills along the road, and dust everywhere (there were a few trees). So. much. dust! But I could see the hope in people's eyes. I asked myself, "What keeps these people so hopeful?" It was quickly clear that the endless stream of tourists and and casinos, cash exchange, little market stores, visa runs, and hotels at the border was creating jobs and opportunity for the local people. Many people I saw had some kind of smart phone (nothing fancy) and it was humbling to observe how happy people were with their phones and connecting with the world through Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube. The internet enabled them to escape and enter the digital world. The internet allowed them to get jobs and opportunities. For me, I was fortunate to grow up in a home with computers and the internet in the 90s. I cannot imagine what it's like now for people that just were exposed to the internet and it's endless possibilities and window to the outside world.
Given that I'm American and educated, I have a lot of privileges, that obviously sets me apart from refugees, migrants, and the developing world. But we share a hope for creating a better life for ourselves and going to a country that can give us opportunity (You know, how America was built and marketed itself as the land of immigrants?) What the world is experiencing is rapid globalisation and technology that has enabled opportunity for all kinds of people. Faster than what people may be comfortable with or what immigration systems can handle, but people will continue to leave their home in hope for a better opportunity, and Google Maps and Facebook Messenger makes it a lot easier to navigate the world. If your not too familiar with the history of "Asian tigers" like Singapore, South Korea, 30+ years ago were poor, torn from war, and quite under developed. But with industrialisation, globalisation, economic development, trade deals, and visionary leaders, these countries have rapidly developed their countries to the ranks of wealth and development found in the West. And in South East Asia projects like ASEAN and AEC demonstrate the vision of economic and trade unity in a region that has over 600 million people, this is an exciting place to be as an entrepreneur and businesswoman/man.
As a female entrepreneur living abroad, when I tell my story many people think I've made "ballsy" and courageous move (I don't know why they say balls, because they are sensitive, a vagina is a lot tougher!). Plus, I'm no feminist, but men have been moving around the world and going on adventures, pilgrimages, business trips, etc. for a long time. Eventually women would go tired of sitting at home, so I don't see myself as unique, I see that I live in an era that has given me the opportunity to move and go and build a global online business.
Each country, job, and relationship has been an experience that has led me closer to building Healthy Hair Asia. Which all began in the summer 2013 studying French at Université Laval in Quebec, I learned that my little database of hair blogs around the world had a lot of potential, and a friend invested $1000 so I could work on my idea. My graduate research of drone strikes operated by Israel led my curiosity to learn more about Israel. And once I learned more about it's innovative tech sector I read the book "Start-Up Nation" that inspired me to move to Israel. And once I found my way to Israel, I took up every chance to explore the start-up world, met many great people, gained new skills, joined a women tech group, and gained a new confidence (chutzpa!) that I would need in the business world. Israel was my launchpad, to moving to Asia. I traveled for a few weeks, first to Hong Kong, where I got my Chinese visa, was amazing, but outrageously expensive. I continued my adventure to Chongqing, China but I hated the isolation and size of the city. So I talked with someone who said to go to Thailand, because it's cheap, has an expat community, and entrepreneurs. So I packed my bags and left for Bangkok with no intention of staying just "feeling out" the place.
After 3 weeks in Bangkok, perfect timing to get a teaching job, and a lot of networking I have built a solid foundation and vision for Healthy Hair Asia. In addition, I had a chance to visit home and took the time to explore Silicon Valley (see what the hype was all about) and with a network of friends in the tech world, I was lucky to crash a few couches and see Google's Campus, Facebook Campus, visit The Computer History Museum, go to a few meet ups and talk to other founders and techies! In summary, San Francisco is a great place for start-ups, but overly expensive, too much homelessness (I cannot get used to that), saturated with too many start-ups, and over-valuations of start-ups that promise to "disrupt" some industry. Asia is the best place to be an entrepreneur!
Now, that the school year is over, I am trying my luck in Singapore. From what I read, it's THE place (in SE Asia) to find funding, which from my last post (thanks for everyone's positive feedback), is the next step to build Healthy Hair Asia. My hope, hard work, weird luck, network, and timing has gotten me this far, I cannot wait to explore Singapore!
If you asked me 5 years ago where I see myself in 5 years, I would never say that I would live in Bangkok teaching English and starting a cosmetic Ecommerce business. Nor would I have guessed that I would pack my bags to study and live in Israel for 1 year, trek through Europe on a caravan, or simplify my wardrobe to 4 shoes and a handful of shirts and dresses (I used to have such a beautiful wardrobe!)
Never would have imagined this life, but I knew that I would travel the world and making a difference in people's lives. But to live my dreams would come at a cost of delayed gratification, living humbly before "making it big," and to never stop learning. When I started on my entrepreneurial journey, I received good and bad advice. The worst advice that I've ever gotten was "Just do it" or I'm sure many have read "Do what you love! and the money will follow!" Complete bullshit! The best advice or wisdom I read was "Closed mouths don't get fed" so ask for help, and I do!
From my experience this is what I learn what I need to build an idea to a profitable business (not necessarily in order):
1. Money and capital: seed funding, venture capitalist, angel investor(s), or at sizeable savings or income
2. A talented and dedicated team, mentors, and advisors
3. A diverse professional and personal network
4. Time or flexible work schedule
5. Know how to sell and market your product (especially if you want to "disrupt" your market)
6. Know what customers want (not what you think they want) and give it to them
7. Attitude: be yourself, confident, humble, assertive, and don't be afraid to ask for help (you do not know everything, that is okay, don't be hubris or an asshole/jerk)
8. Location, location, location
9. Take care of yourself: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually and maintain friendships and family relations
10. Know when to pivot, know when to be stubborn, and know when to admit an idea just doesn't work
The best ideas can go unnoticed or stolen because an entrepreneur does not have at least half of these core necessities to turn their idea or hobby into a profitable business. I've read many stories of startups that did have a lot of money, talented team, and a global network and connections, but still failed, i.e. Better Place, that had nearly $1 billion in funding, great idea to disrupt the automotive industry and create cheap electric cars, and had a global network and a great team. However, they failed because they were disconnected from their potential customers, hubris CEO, and many other things. Another example is Nasty Gal, amazing startup story of Sophia Amoruso who started selling vintage clothes on eBay back in 2006 and built it organically from the ground up with a loyal and niche customer base. I read her book #Girl Boss and was inspired, here is a female entrepreneur that "made it" and is sharing her humble story and advice! A few months ago I read that Nasty Gal is filing forbankruptcy and has to restructure the business (in fact she stepped down as CEO in 2015). To sum up what happened, she abandoned her niche customer base and gave into the interests of shareholders, accepted too much money and pressure to expand (yes there is such thing!), and attitude (yes sexist when women in business "act like men" they are seen as bitches, and nobody wants to work for a bitch) towards employees (best advice from Jack Ma, first employees, then customers, then shareholders). Oh, and attitude also applies to men, given the continuing bad press of Uber, no matter how successful a company is if employees are unhappy (or sexually harassed), they are not immune from criticism or consequences.
So here I am at 27 years old, great attitude, living in Bangkok, teaching English so I have the time and flexibility to build my business, a small and growing network of friends and entrepreneurs, and a good product and idea. After 4 years and 2 pivots I have now reached a point where I need a team and seed funding to really build this business. I'm proud to be an English teacher, it has given me housing, a work permit, and the ability to pay off my private student loan, but I can no longer be a "one woman team" with little funds to grow Healthy Hair Asia.
My vision for Healthy Hair Asia is to sell and delivery products all over Asia & Eurasia and Middle East: from Bangkok, Hong Kong, Asanta, Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta, Manila, Mumbai, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, Singapore, Dhaka, Ulaanbaatar, Hanoi, Tehran, Macau, Dubai, Doha, Tel Aviv, Muscat, and cities across the silk road. I cannot do this by myself, and over the next couple of weeks I am working to make major changes to build this vision into a reality!