Wednesday, October 2, 2013

My thoughts on Taiwan's start-up scene

Taipei City, Taiwan
Let me be blunt and get to the point: Taiwan is not the best place (nor more supportive place) to start a startup. When everyone and anyone hears that I work at an internet startup in Taiwan, the first thing they want to know is the startup environment here on this island.
No need to sugar coat it -- the culture, social expectations, government, education, and simply just the mindset of people across all spectrums of industries here are pretty much... not too fond of startups. You'll get the handshake, the slap on the back, and that smile that says: good luck! and... that's it. There is no one and nothing to point at and say that that's the root of all the problems.

Of course, there is always the silver lining.
Taiwan is the best (and probably even ideal place) for startups that are focused on business, trade, and manufacturing related. In my view, Taiwan's startup environment is not for the young, unexperienced, fresh-out-of college folks; it's for the more mature, business savvy, culturally-tuned, and to some extent: the witty and fearless bunch. Connections and networking is vital, and understanding how "business is done here and there" is essential in just surviving in the environment here. Thinking and planning in global terms is necessary, unless you just want to be a startup that focuses on the tiny population on the island. And, to my fellow Taiwan peers who are planning to do a startup: business is cruel, get used to it. It's a dog eat dog world no matter where you are, stop whining and just do what you have to do to make your startup survive and succeed. Because if you're not willing to give 120%, then go find a 9 to 5.

Personally, I love working in a startup in Taiwan. The challenges are immense, and overcoming them becomes a daily routine. There is nothing like seeing a clash of cultures, traditional and modern, normal and insane; and yet, somehow it all works somehow.  What makes unique is that our team members all have work experience, and all came from different industries and backgrounds. Our company culture is more akin to our western counterparts; where we don't have a rigid chain of command, and there is no such thing as a silly question. Look past the coffee bar and the sound of guitar music coming from YC's desk, and you'll see the true face of our company culture. The laughing at jokes, the brain-storming sessions, the squeaks of writing on the white boards, the tapping of keyboards, and the sound of rolling wheels of our chairs as people scoot all over to find others in the office. What made us different was the willingness of management to listen and think through the ideas and proposals of the younger crowd and embrace sound ideas at lightning speed. There is no employee-employer feeling, but a feeling of: each person contributes in the thing that they do best at to reach that ever raised bench mark.

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