In this article, I am going to write why it is hard for Singapore to produce an entrepreneur who can think, succeed and live life to the fullest like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs.
Even though I wrote a few articles about internet marketing and other topics, I have never written one about my country and the reason why I do not do and probably never do again is because I might get heavily criticized by my own people.
Especially those in from the elite rich and upper middle-income group who are able to cope with the system be it education, national service for men, work, dating, marriage and family planning.
Even though I am telling you the truth.
As I mentioned before in my bio of the last few articles, I came from the Southeast Asian island which is also considered as a little red dot in the entire world.
If you asked any foreigner coming to my country, most of them will tell you that it is a great place to live, work and play at. And that includes major celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Jamie Foxx, Tom Cruise, Andy Lau etc.
However here is the daunting truth which the media has never covered on TV and newspapers.
In terms of education and career, we have very limited choices and opportunities. Even though things have slightly improved now, that is not the case in the 1970-90s during my growing up years and pre-internet era.
Moreover, the baby boomers in Singapore – especially those born in the 1940-60s such as my parents and grandparents – are among the most skeptical Asians when it comes to creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation of any kind.
At first glance, you might be asking me why I am mentioning these and why does it have to do with our country challenges in producing an entrepreneur like the American counterparts.
To begin with, my country has no natural resources. Hence a lot of emphasis has been placed on manpower productivity. In studies, work, play and even personal affairs like dating, marriage and family planning.
While that may seem good at first look, there is one major flaw with this system.
Which is different people have different levels and speeds of comprehending and understanding things. Especially in our education system to begin with which proves to be the catalyst and gradual point of our adult years from childhood.
Those who have no problems coping with their studies graduated with top degrees and get jobs. Those who have have to contend with low to middle-income jobs. But whichever path they took based upon their school grades, the stress level is very high for three reasons.
The first is because their salaries have not been growing in alignment with the rising costs of living be it medical, housing and pension funds. Even with mid and year end bonuses, they are still not sufficient especially for those who are married and have kids to support.
The second is because the company owners – be it entrepreneurs or employers have difficulties coping with the high costs of running businesses and taxes.
And third is because since most of our products and services are foreign imports, we suffered when those countries we depended indirectly upon suffered. Such as US, UK and other Western and Asian countries.
But while the younger generation suffered, the older generation are very happy with the current system and expected the young to be the same out of respect for them and the government.
Study hard, get a high paying job, work hard, marry and retire with ONE single income source as pension.
Otherwise known as Central Provident Fund or CPF in my country which not only focuses on our retirement but our medical, housing and children’s education needs as well if some of us are married with kids.
Even at the expense of sacrificing our passions and dreams we once have had and want to pursue as our careers when we grow up.
Why is that so you may ask again?
In order to understand the present, I have to rewind and need you to rethink the past when Singapore was still fighting for independence in the 50-60s. I am not just rehashing the upcoming Transformers movie slogan but am stating the truth and story behind their way of thinking which may seem right from a moral point of view but is clearly outdated with the current global trends of economy uncertainty and the need for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.
It might be hard for you to believe let alone understand this.
When our forefathers come to Singapore in search for better jobs and pay they can provide to their poor families in China, India and Malaysia, they are very open to all kinds of opportunities be it employment or entrepreneurship.
But a few things happened.
First they were being conned and taken advantage of by the Westerners who are the British in our pre-independence era. And secondly, they and their families suffered the same when the Japanese occupied my country which sparked World War II.
After Lee Kuan Yew took over as Prime Minister with the promise of providing better jobs, education and standard of living which he did, they found paradise because of the huge changes taking place and shaping my country into a beautiful garden city with the highest home ownership.
Not just Asia but worldwide.
His speeches also sparkled the spirit of self-belief, self-reliance, hard work and determination in what we do to achieve success. And the only way – I am talking about the 1950-70s -, is through studying for good grades, work hard in a high paying basic salary job and retire comfortably with just one income I already mentioned above but still like to mention again.
Those are the pros.
Now here are the cons.
Because of their bad experience with Westerners and Japanese, most people – growing up in those years – developed strong anti-entrepreneur sentiments even though some of our foreign imports are from those countries.
Just to give you a better understanding of what I say, let me give you an example.
If you liked cooking and food, Singapore is a great place for you.
If you liked being involved in social activities as in interacting and helping others. you are also gladly welcomed into our little red dot.
But if you are an introvert, likes to be creative, wants to pursue entrepreneurship and being in entertainment business, Singapore may not be suitable for you.
Because most of our parents are skeptical of these due to high costs of living and wanted to leverage on their children to reduce their burden in both their living expenses and taxes. Especially those from poor to low middle-income families who bore the biggest burden of working and paying probably for the rest of their lives.
Hence for all their ambitions, enthusiasm and passion as children, they are only reduced to working in administrative, sales and service-based jobs. Even if they want to be actors and actresses, they will have to do a lot of work convincing their parents for their approval. Same for entrepreneurs.
That is also why we have shortage in those and the government decided to bring in foreign entrepreneurs and celebrities to make up the shortfall.
I myself also faced the same challenges.
My mom did not like and understand the reasons why I have been staying at home even though I explained that I was learning the basics and fundamentals online to learn about web design and marketing online.
She is not much different from other parents.
For those who become successful because they could afford the high-end coaching programs, they could afford to be their own bosses and live life on their terms.
For those who are not, they ended up working to fulfill the dreams of those entrepreneurs who have already fulfilled what they like and want to do.
Even worse, when they get married and have children, they will have to continue working to support them besides paying bills. By the time their children have grown up and they are free from all responsibilities, they will be too old and weak to even remember their childhood past let alone what they like to do as kids.
Quite simply, if you want to do what Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs did when they got started in my country Singapore, it will be very hard but not entirely impossible.
Because out of every 100 who ever tried, few will ever succeed.
Even if there are entrepreneurs, they are setting up their business on government and banks loans. Therefore they have to work harder and much longer hours than anyone to make as much profits as they can and repay the loans back in the shortest time possible.
The way I see it, though many of my fellow compatriots will disagree and even chided me, they are not entrepreneurs. As long as they are working and not expanding on loans, they are still working like self-employed employees.
To me, my meaning of entrepreneur is the same as how Eben Pagan defined it.
Working from scratch and build your way to success on shoe-string budget.
And for those who succeeded, even fewer get to last say 5, 10 or even 20 years. Because as their business expanded, most of them are more interested in making profits with little or no regards to delivering value to customers.
Which our government took a very tough stand against and –
Reinforced the Singaporean baby boomers’ perception and belief that entrepreneurship is evil which leads people to the dark side of the force and employment – to be earned through studying for good grades – is the one and only way forward for our nation to progress as one united people.
And it is because of that mentality that resulted in my country lacking sufficient competent and capable entrepreneurs and our government having to negotiate with other countries to bring in their own entrepreneurs.
To make up the shortfall and create jobs for people like you and me if you are fellow Singaporeans reading this.
And ultimately help to fulfill their dreams just to meet ends meet and as a result, losing all enthusiasm, drive and passion we once have had as children.
With that all said, that explains why it is hard for most of my people – including me when I got started in my business – to be like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. Or even George Lucas who created Star Wars movies, merchanise and movie / animation studio.
Not just in the way we worked to make money.
But in the way we lived our lives.