Every country wants to rival Silicon Valley: here’s how Singapore can
Thousands of people visit Silicon Valley every year to learn how to replicate the magic that has produced Apple, Google, Facebook (though it started in Boston), YouTube, Pinterest, and Twitter.
I am a Silicon Valley insider, and I’m going to explain a way to build your own “Silicon Valley” without getting on an airplane or paying consultants.
Focus on educating engineers
The core of Silicon Valley’s success is the constant stream of engineers from Stanford, Berkeley, and other San-Francisco area schools. By definition, good engineers solve problems, and this is the starting point of great companies. Solving problems, improving people’s lives, and changing the world is called making meaning, and meaning drives entrepreneurship, not money.
There is no better place to fail than Silicon Valley—it is ironic, then, that it is known for success. This isn’t an accident nor mere correlation. The opposite of succeeding is learning, not failing.
The problem where entrepreneurship is unattractive is that failure is a humiliating experience that can harm people’s reputations and families for many years. Thus, young people go for safe jobs in the government, schools, and established companies.
Celebrate your heroes
Saying that it’s okay to fail/learn doesn’t make it true. Entrepreneurial heroes are people such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Steve Case, Anita Roddick, and Oprah Winfrey. Heroes in Asia include Jack Ma, Chong Moon Lee, and Lip Bu Tan.
Young people need proof that taking a risk can pay off. This doesn’t mean every entrepreneur will succeed, but at least there are tangible examples. Who are the heroes in Singapore? If they are only government officials, politicians, educators, and large-company executives, you can’t expect people to want to start companies.
Don’t focus on creating jobs
The goal of entrepreneurship is to create customers, not jobs. Companies create customers out of people who were using a competitive product or who were not in the market at all.
A natural outcome of creating customers is more jobs, but jobs are a by-product, not the reason for existence, of companies If you start a company to create jobs, you are motivated to employ more people which increases costs which makes a company more likely to fail. Bureaucrats want to create jobs; entrepreneurs want to create customers.
Minimize government management
This may not be true for Singapore, but it’s a fact of life in Silicon Valley. Generally, we want state and local governments to stay out of the way, not lead the way. Sure, government can finance fundamental scientific research for industry to commercialize, but it cannot inspire, lead, or catalyze entrepreneurship, so try to get your government to build great engineering schools, reduce red tape and regulation, and sponsor scientific research.
It’s taken Silicon Valley more than seventy years to get to where it is today. You’re not going to replicate Silicon Valley in a few years by creating a venture capital fund, building an incubator, and creating tax incentives for investors.
What you’re trying to do isn’t easy. It starts with a great engineering school and will take ten to twenty years to fulfill. This is a slow and organic process that requires patience and intelligence more than money.
One last piece of advice. If you truly want to be a Silicon Valley, you should aspire to more than mere parity. You should take the best lessons of Silicon Valley and create something so good that Silicon Valley wants to copy you. That’s the kind of delusional ambition that’s necessary to succeed and is part of every successful entrepreneur’s psyche.