September 30, 2012
This week, as I complained about apartment hunting in San Francisco for the hundredth time, a friend reminded me that I’m lucky. I have a choice about where to live, even if it’s in a city that’s ridiculously expensive and Olympicly competitive.
The same goes for entrepreneurship. It’s also ridiculously expensive, in terms of the stable, higher salaries you are giving up. And it can be Olympicly competitive. Ben Yoskovitz of Year One Labs used to tell founders, “Trust me, there’s 100 people working on your idea right now.” But, at least for many startup entrepreneurs in the United States, you do have a choice. And you chose this hectic, uncertain, thrilling life.
I spent six months in Asia interviewing entrepreneurs like this: entrepreneurs by choice. But I also saw tons of entrepreneurs by necessity. The sidewalks of Vietnam, Thailand, and China are cluttered with small-business entrepreneurs selling everything from passionfruit and mangoes to ties to bootlegged DVDs to garlands of flowers. I passed by tailors and young clothing designers with tiny boutiques in Vietnam, and merchants hawking their fake brand-name clothes in narrow Bangkok malls. I heard stories about Hong Kong women heading over the border into China to sell powdered milk to Chinese consumers concerned about domestic food quality. I sat under the awning of a pho stall in Vietnam as the rain pattered down; the owner would be serving hot soup well into the night, collecting less than $2 per bowl.
Many of these entrepreneurs don’t have a choice. Launching their own business is something they have to do to survive. “Most Vietnamese households are small businesses. To make ends meet, many convert the bottom floor of their homes into businesses,” one founder told me.
Undoubtedly, I will keep complaining about apartment hunting, and entrepreneurs will keep commiserating about the hardships of the startup life. But it’s a chosen hardship, and we’re fortunate that we can choose it.
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