October 15, 2015

The Underdog

"You got no time for the messenger,

Got no regard for the thing that you don't understand,

You got no fear of the underdog,

That's why you will not survive."

- Spoon, The Underdog

October 13th, I'm sitting on a bright orange couch in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, sifting through business cards from this past weekend. I was invited to attend a TEDx event as a guest of CoCoon – a startup incubator/community that also provides seed capital – i.e. the initial capital that launches companies to a Series A (the first significant round of venture capital financing).

I apologize up front for the "look over here I'm a VC!" language but let me tell you why I'm incessantly speaking startup and I think you'll understand why.

It's been a little over a week since I started my apprenticeship as an Investment Fund Associate for CoCoon and I already have an understanding of how the investment process (or investment pipeline) works well enough to explain in detail why any entrepreneur should consider joining CoCoon instead of remaining bootstrapped (funded by a company's personal resources) and isolated, praying a Series A will magically appear and fund them toward their dreams.

Enter TEDx Hong Kong’s after party on Oct. 11th. I'm at a standing table with three suited up young men and we're speculating about how to remove the taboo from being a startup in the largely corporate Hong Kong. In contrast to the U.S. where entrepreneurialism is often romanticized or at least recognized, there is a prevalent "underdog, why do you even try?" that is tagged onto any Hong Kong startup mantra. One man at my table recalled a woman blatantly laughing in his face when explained he was developing his own company.

Although this conversation sounds rather bland, there was something much greater inferred through it. We weren't just talking about startups in Hong Kong, we were talking about a stifling societal pressure. A professional stigma that keeps people with great ideas from believing in themselves, and taking a stand. We were all underdogs around this table, united by our own internal struggles to do what we believe in. Two of the business owners confessed they have part-time jobs to supplement their startup projects.

As the conversation came to an end, I jumped on the subway and realized how grateful I am that I took a stand to come to Hong Kong. Too often, we ourselves reasons why we can't do what we believe in. My plane ticket, my rent in Chicago, fearing I won't learn enough – any one of those could've been the obstacle to keep me from where I am now: Sitting on an orange couch about to go and be briefed by the Investment Director for a seed capital fund in Hong Kong.

If I've learned anything so far it's this: don't be afraid to be the underdog, you aren't alone.

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