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Imagine this: You’re sitting on the back of a motorcycle in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Your knuckles are white, your face is green, and your eyes are red—bloodshot from the abject fear that this ride may be your last moment on earth. You look ahead at a pedicab driver who’s staring you down, daring you to collide with his vehicle. You wonder, “Is this the Asian economic miracle that the West talks about?” Your knuckles grip whiter as you begin to look around. Your first moment in Ho Chi Minh might be characterized by fear. But your second may be characterized by awe: You look up and notice the construction of the 460-meter high Vincom Landmark 81 Tower. You look to the side and see the groundbreaking ceremony for a metro system set to open in 2020.
You look down and remember you booked your motorcycle on Grab.How could a Western entrepreneur make it in rising Asia? The question has led me to Ho Chi Minh City—the economic center of one of the fastest growing Southeast Asian economies. Their stories of success and failure highlight three factors that foreign entrepreneurs should consider: environment, enterprise, and the entrepreneur. Can a Western entrepreneur make it? Yes—with caveats. The entrepreneurs I spoke with answered yes, but not forever and not in every industry. Before entering an Asian market, entrepreneurs need to ask two questions: What are their competitive advantages and disadvantages? For how long can they reasonably maintain their edge? If you’re interested in entrepreneurship in Asia and you’ve weighed the pros and cons, then it’s time to take a leap. In Mandarin, there is an expression that mirrors this situation well: Opportunity knocks but once.
Stephen Turban is a recent graduate from Harvard College and a current analytics fellow at McKinsey & Company. This is an excerpt of the article published on Tech in Asia. You can read the full article here.