There have been many CEOs who are also brilliant orators, so much so that historically, the personalities and tour de force of many Founders have been commented on and elevated into iconic status. Brian Chesky from Airbnb and Parker Conrad from Zenefits are a couple of very inspirational and charismatic speakers who both have very interesting stories to tell and have faced a lot of hardships as they were starting their companies, with the latter even overcoming a diagnosis of cancer.
The United States is a great country because it is a forgiving nation. Many entrepreneurs there have failed many times and even declared bankruptcy before launching successful companies since the time of Henry Ford in the late 1800s. However, I think in many nations, especially in the UK and on the Asian continent, there is a tendency to idolise Silicon Valley, especially from media influences such as TV and film.
Another one of my favourite speakers, Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba, gave a very insightful KBS televised interview in front of young South Koreans earlier this year talking his personal philosophy, tidbits about the first year of Alibaba, to what he amusingly thinks about MBAs. (ie, "Many smart people were smart before they went to do their MBA, but after they come back, I don't know...they start to think in a box, so I train them to unlearn what they have learned at Business School").
A twenty-something South Korean asked him what kind of preparations should he make to launch a company in Silicon Valley, as he thought Asia lacked companies with panaché such as Uber, Airbnb and Dropbox, and he wanted to emulate these sorts of startups?
Full interview on YouTube
Jack Ma thinks for a minute and then tells the young man that when he had been younger, he idolised people such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, but that later, the people around him became more of a role model to him: his neighbours, his aunts, his uncles. He then tells the young man that Silicon Valley has been around for a long time- 50 or 60 years, and that it's got a great infrastructure and ecosystem but that we should not always put Silicon Valley as the ultimate example because essentially, it is hard to tackle a large, dominating infrastructure that already exists, and that he believes entrepreneurship begins at the local level first; to influence the local community, and that begins a process of the creation of your own infrastructure instead of becoming dependent on the government.
For Londoners who want to move to Silicon Valley, there are pros and cons. Silicon Valley is great for many reasons, and the United States is a wonderful nation, but for entrepreneurs who want to move there, one has to consider living in an area where you have to pay inordinate amounts for your own health care, skyrocketing rent, high overhead, and being completely dependent on your car within a landscape that is always sunny, but in dry heat surrounded by flat landscapes and concrete buildings aren't exactly ideal places for entrepeneurs, unless you have parents like Mark Zuckerberg who were willing to re-mortagage their house to finance your start-up.
One of the great things about London, and the UK in general, aside from universal health care, the smart-city infrastructure, the proximity to other European nations to faciliate inspiration and trip-planning, the arts, the educational opportunities, excellent public transportation, reasonable real estate outside of zone 1 and 2, 200% tax refund for startups, is the sense of community. What Jack Ma talks about- people building their own infrastructure to support the small businesses around them; making impact on a local level first before trying to conquer the world.
I'm always surprised by the startups and small businesses that are thriving in and outside of London, in places like Devon or Brighton or Cambridge. People are doing amazing things in the UK, even if they are not well-known and don't give as many media interviews as people do in the United States.
Jack Ma also says later in the interview that the one thing he regrets is becoming public in the media, in essence, because he lost his privacy. He mentions that his wife often told him that he didn't belong to her, but to the media, and that he would rather spend more time with his family and not travel as much.
Ah, the price of fame.
By Sierra Choi, Director of Marketing