Entrepreneurial Stories

Commentary: Shame is still prevalent among failed Singaporean startup founders

PM Lee spoke about startup founders are able to fail with no shame in Singapore’s culture. He has good intentions in encouraging aspiring Singaporeans to try new businesses and succeed. I, for one, am eager too to promote this culture of entrepreneurship.

However, it is a stark difference in reality. For ten years, I have been a mentor and advisor to many early-stage Singaporean founders. And from where I stand, Singapore has a long way to go in encouraging and supporting Singaporean startup founders in failing.

While improving, Singapore’s education system is still pre-dominantly about a guided path to success. Granted, there are now many varied options to pursue studies, but it is about succeeding consistently to advance to the next stage.

If you fail, your education options become limited.

Entrepreneurship runs a different pedagogy which thrives on failure. Successful startups will share the key is to success is by many trial and errors until the right solution is found.

But this mindset is not well accepted in Singapore. As an Asian society which still talks of their children who are successful doctors, civil servants, scholars and so on forth, parents are not the most supportive when their child wants to be an entrepreneur.

Parents are pragmatic. In a high-cost society like Singapore, choosing a startup life does not help their child obtain their HDB flat, nor financially support them during their golden years.

To them, failing once as a startup is bad, but failing multiple times before you succeed, that is unacceptable.

I mentored one startup founder who underwent bankruptcy charges a year ago, where he made debt guarantees on his startup. His parents went hard on him, saying his fate was well deserved, as he gave up a stable paying job for his startup.

Young startup founders usually obtain funding from angels, family and friends in the early stages.

While supportive, the funders are unaware of the inherent risks of startup failure, placing immense pressure on the founder not to fail. And when the founder does fail, relationships get affected. These entrepreneurs feel lost and depressed when the support system is not there.

The acceptance of failure is still not in the DNA of Singaporeans. It is an embarrassment which startup founders tend not to talk about.

It takes a whole nation to support entrepreneurs, similar to that of our National sportspeople.

Perhaps it is time to rethink our support and encouragement to our Singaporean founders. They too carry our national flag when they succeed. Moreover, they are the key to our nation’s economic future.

This article first appeared on e27. Image Credit: Mitchell Hollander