Watching Chinese entrepreneur interviews gives me anxiety, watching that of American entrepreneurs gives me confidence.
I paused the interview of a Chinese entrepreneur to talk to my husband “I’m watching an interview with a Chinese entrepreneur, it gives me anxiety!”
“Well then don’t watch it“.
“No I want to, I need some pressure, I’m losing motivation here!”
It’s much harder to push myself in the US compared to China. Self-motivation is like a pill that you need to remind yourself to take three times a day. In contrast, Chinese society functions like a collective reminder that one must always thrive and succeed, three times a day, every day.
I grew up in China. After undergrad, I worked for a few years before getting my MBA at Columbia University. 8 years later, I became an entrepreneur in America. My background has allowed me to hear stories from both sides.
China and the US are two of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. I watch interviews of both Chinese and American entrepreneurs, both in Chinese and English.
What I just experienced shows the different motivations and approaches to entrepreneurship in China and in the US.
1. Different types of self-motivation
America: Financial freedom, lifestyle
The best-seller “Rich Dad Poor Dad” put the concept of financial freedom and passive income in the minds of Americans and then the whole world. I learned about these two concepts after I came to America and fall in love with that idea.
Most people who started working for themselves because they want financial freedom, a better lifestyle where they can take vacations and be with their families when they want. And most importantly, not having to work for people we don’t like and things we don’t like.
To achieve all these, one better have a solid bank account balance. Entrepreneurship is one way to reach that.
China: bigger success
Chinese entrepreneurs start their business because they want to be successful and look successful. They see lifestyle and family time necessary trade-off to achieve success. It’s acceptable to do things one doesn’t like. The end justifies the means.
2. Different entrepreneur approach
America: keyword focus on the entrepreneur: what’s your passion, do what you like.
Because you will burn out if you don’t do what you naturally love doing.
Yet in Chinese media: key words is the market: market size, opportunity. Find a lucrative market and be fast.
But why the difference? Economists believe humans are rational. Besides culture, value, there might be rational reasons behind these differences.
3. Reason 1: Different development of the market economy
The US market is more saturated than the Chinese market. It’s more beneficial to pick an area one is good at and enjoy doing so you can compete in the long run and not burn out.
There are more opportunities in China, therefore, it’s more rewarding for fast movers people who pick a less crowded space and start moving.
4. Reason 2: Different return on investment financially and socially
9 out of 10 entrepreneurs fail. Entrepreneurship is calculated gambling. One risk not going to the beach, not spending time with family, working on weekends and all the stress. The pay off is a marginal improvement in Financial and social status.
Compared to the status quo, how much you can improve your living conditions and social status by working double hours and taking the risk, stress as an entrepreneur?
In the US, most people are quite comfortable. I have never seen people who live in the basement with eight roommates. I have visited houses of tech-millionaires and regular single moms, they all have standard rooms and garages. The millionaire may get his carpet from Europe and some collectibles from an art auction from an overseas trip.
In China, one can go from living in a dark, wet basement with eight roommates to in million-dollar houses in Beijing and Shanghai. People love overnight success stories. You can have a home run.
5. Social bias is a key entrepreneur motivation in China.
Much more respect you will get when you are “Rich and successful “?
When I lived in New York, There’s a maintenance guy in our building. He lives with his wife in the $3000/month apartment as his job perk, with tenants who work on wall street. When we see each other in the elevator people treat him nicely politely and ask about his dog. This is hard to imagine in China.
Sadly, in China, people show videos of how if food delivery guys are yelled at for hours for being late.
To be respected by friends and family and society is a strong motivation for entrepreneurship in China.
In China, people more or less a chip on their shoulders. Yet in the US, unless one is truly passionate about what he is doing it’s also hard to convince oneself to give up going to the beach and work while the others are partying.
In parties in US people are more interested when they hear that I have done a Ted talk versus when they learned that I run my own company. In China, business success is the most attention-getting topic.
6. This taught me to things:
First: Even when people are doing the same thing, they can have completely different motivations and approaches depending on their social and economic environment.
It gives me an alternative to understanding people‘s behavior. Help me understand that people have different opportunity costs, and how that can affect what they do, and predict how dedicated they will be as an employee, as a co-founder, as an investor.
Second: When to apply self-discipline and when to pursue passion.
I am cultivated by both China and America. China is like an anxious and tough mother. She gets an unpopular role but teaches me self-discipline and resilience. America is like the popular father, who plays with me on weekends, teach me how to have fun and work smart.
When you start the entrepreneur journey, you need self-discipline to push things forward. Over the long term, you must choose what you truly love to win the game.
At the end of the day, it doens’t matter what motivates you, what matters is the result: you get sh*t done.