Sunday, May 24, 2009

The 'invisible' entrepreneurs

He is ordinary-looking, plainly dressed, hard-working but not so articulate. He is the bread earner of his family, but he takes big risks by putting all his savings into something called 'business'. He has limited education and no idea of business etiquette, but he IS in the business.

There is a culture of entrepreneurship in some regions of southeast provinces in China. About 4 years ago, I had the chance to have a glimpse of the small business of one of those entrepreneurs. At that time, my father, a retired electrical engineer was invited by someone to work for his startup business in a small city in Zhejiang. The business was to develop a product to be used to adjust the speed of battery-powered bicycle. Being bored at home, my father decided to move to the city and work for him. I was a bit worried and decided to accompany my father to go and have a look at the place where my father was supposed to live and work. The living and working conditions were anything but appealing. The boss (entrepreneur) was not rich and rented an unfurnished 3.5-storey apartment in the countryside, which was used for accommodation and workshop. The guy was married with a son. He employed some migrant workers. His family and all the employees including my father lived and worked in the unfurnished apartment. As the photos show, the floor was rough and uneven; The makeshift staircase looked dangerous; and, there was NO third floor! I had a chat with some migrant workers. They were young (between 17-23 yrs old) and worked 12-13 hours a day seven days a week. Actually, one 'migrant worker' turned out to be the niece of the boss. The boss' mother-in-law also worked as a cook in the apartment. Anyway, my father made the decision to stay and work. I was assured by the boss that he would take good care of my father. Then, I left the next day. My father only worked there for about 3 months. Later, I learned from my father that the business failed but the boss didn't quit and decided to start a new business.

In this story, the guy started with limited fund and utilized all the possible resources available to run his startup business. He was down but not out. He is the one that fits the description in the first paragraph of this post. Actually, there are many entrepreneurs like him working against the odds in the manufacturing industry in China, but they are 'invisible' to many because they are not in the fancy IT or high-tech industry and they are not in big cities. I know that less than 20% (or even a lower percentage) of those small businesses can survive over a period of five years. Win or lose, they are still the heroes in the economy. Nobody knows where the next Li Shufu (李书福, Chairman of Geely Automobile) comes from, right?


Ramesh said...

Hats of to these entrepreneurs. We hear of successes, but rarely hear of those who failed, but try and try again. On the shoulders of people like these are economies built. Great post Hang.

Mia said...

The entrepreneur is much braver than most people who are afraid of leaving the cozy office in the commercial building to start a business of their own. I really admire his courage and believe he will succeed one day!

Hang said...

Ramesh - We hear many success stories and many of those successes were built on the lessons learned from repeated failures.

Mia - Thanks for your suggestion to use Mailtoblog to post. As you can see, it works well. Your comment is very true. I've had the idea of starting my own business for a while. But, I'm still not as brave as those entrepreneurs who take great risks to start a business. I am not ready yet. I admire their courage and never-say-die spirit, too.

Aimee said...

Great post, Hang. I'm really enjoying your blog and look forward to reading more from you. These entrepreneurs will lead China's future with their tenacity, spirit, and perseverence-a great lesson for us all.

Hang said...

Aimee - Thanks. It's an encouragement to me that you enjoy reading this blog.