Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why We Must Succeed

Yesterday I attended a newly formed Taiwanese forum to discuss and study a particular game technology. Participants include both students and industry professionals who've used the technology. The presentation (the first in a series to come), was given by a grad student, who, although did not understand all the details of the materials (as he had no practical experience with the technology), still demonstrated his efforts to understand, which I could tell from his presentation. Afterward, the industry participants exchange a few name cards and left, while I continued to talk with the students (as we all came from the same school / lab) and later had dinner together. During dinner, we talked about the game technology, their current situations at school, what their expectations for the future, among others. The dinner ended with me encouraging them to do the right software, so they can retire before 30. I also mentioned that the study now would be a good opportunity to learn and establish their technical expertise.

Although I had a busy day, I was unable to sleep for hours (to my surprise), and had a strange (but strong) sense that I must succeed at our start-up effort. I could not tell why at the time, but this morning after getting up, it just hit me: we need more success stories of young entrepreneurs who can retire before 30, and help the world to become a better place.

In the profession of software, because replication is easy, if you make it right, in no time will it be copied and used by millions of people, creating impacts and fortunes to its creator. The Google Guys (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) created Google when they were 25; Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both founded their companies in early 20s; John Carmack founded id software and started the whole First-Person Shooter (FPS) game genre before he was 20. While the stories are all amazing and told countlessly worldwide, the main characters are all Americans, and few similar stories exist elsewhere.

I'm not here to talk about why stories like this only happen in America, but would like to raise the point that we need more stories like this outside of America. Why is that? Because this will help the world to become a better place.

Two things happened at yesterday's events sort of irritated me, the first was the lack of interest of the industry participants to talk with the students, or get familiar with them after the formal meeting. Apparently there was no private social events afterward, except my dinner with the students. The second thing was the lack of courage or willingness from the students to change the world and get themselves retire before they turn 30. And somehow I felt the two are connected.

As publicly known, among Google's initial funding was one check of US$ 100,000 given by Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, before the company Google was even formed (they registered the company partially so the check can be cashed). Among Facebook's early advisers, was Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster, who later became Facebook's president. Facebook also received its first funding from PayPal's co-founder Peter Thiel. Steve Jobs mentioned in his graduation speech at Stanford in 2008 that after he was kicked out from Apple, he met with David Packard (founder of HP) and Bob Noyce (founder of Intel) and tried to “apologize for screwing up so badly”. Obviously, he felt that he was responsible to live up to the support and expectation of the tech giants.

The moral of these stories is: success breeds success. People may become successful more easily if they've received good advice and help from others who've already walked the path. People will also be encouraged, and may indeed become more courageous, if they've received supports, or know that they can find such support if they need it. Most importantly, having faith that you will succeed may be the first step for any adventuring business. If you don't feel that you've got a chance or a shot at making it happen, you won't even make the first step. Yesterday, the problem with the professionals was that they somehow did not pass on their knowledge and experience to the younger, and the problem with the students was that they somehow did not feel that they have a chance (to make something great and retire before 30).

This phenomenon makes me uncomfortable, and I suspect that this may be why besides America, few other places have yet bred the type of tech success stories Americans enjoy. However, if the established or experienced, are willing to help the unestablished to succeed, or that the unestablished can see that success is indeed possible and thus are willing to take the first step. We might see more success stories, that will breed more successes.

And why having more successful entrepreneurs will make the world a better place? Because when you no longer need to worry about the livelihood of your family when you reach 30, your attention likely will turn elsewhere to find meanings in life, and helping others to succeed may be one of the most satisfying experiences. With more people who have crossed the hardship of starting a new enterprise, the more resources and experiences there will be to help others to start. Successful businesses ultimately are making something of value to the society and the people at large, so this too creates social values.

Luckily, I'm among the fortunate few who's not in America but still thinks that he has a shot. I hope that I can still remember to help others to succeed, in years to come.