The Startup Ecosystem Is NOT A Zero Sum Game (Or, How Generosity Breeds Success in Startups)

90% of startups fail. That means if you are in a startup right now, you will most likely fail. You can either hunt, or be hunted.

No.

Failure is an illusion. Driven by the media and society at large to pump negativity into our lives - to drive interest and play with our minds. The concept of total failure as a startup is a dangerous one that causes selfishness, greed and a driven-by-fear sense of conservatism. The naked truth is that there is no such thing as "total failure" in business - startup or otherwise.

The fact is, successful businesses, and the ecosystems they reside in, are built on relationships that bolster each other's strengths - and fill in for each other's weaknesses. These relationships are known as "Virtuous Cycles" and if you pause to think about it, have an impact on everything we do. These cycles create value, but only if the participants think beyond themselves.

Being successful means asking for help and believing in the goodwill of others.

Two examples to illustrate.

A Virtuous Cycle:
1. A new startup is formed.
2. The founders are honest to potential investors.
3. Investors are not interested - give advice to founders on how to pivot/fix/etc..
4. Founders run out of money - ask for free incubation from a mentor.
5. Founders are incubated until they are able to come up with a workable product.
6. Investors see potential in the reworked idea - invest in the startup.
7. Startup grows - hires more, creates news that penetrates the mainstream media.
8. Startup exits - founders now have capital of their own.
9. Founders are asked for help from a friend - they need incubation but have no money - founders help their friend.
10. The cycle continues.

A Non-Virtuous Cycle:
1. A new startup is formed.
2. The founders are honest to potential investors.
3. Investors are not interested - emails are not returned.
4. Founders run out of money - incubator takes 30% of equity (it's risky).
5. Founders are incubated for a year, but still have not come up with a workable product.
6. Founders are forcefully ejected from incubator - pull a personal loan from the bank to keep the lights on.
7. Founders pitch to investors - investment is secured but investors want control of product design (to protect their stake). Founders lose majority control of their company.
8. Startup grows - no-one is interested in directing talent to the new startup, what if they need that talent themselves?
9. Startup exits. Founders walk away with crumbs.
10. Founders exit the startup ecosystem - they have had more then their fill of sleepless nights and 100+ hour workweeks.

At every step of the way, generosity paves the way to mutual benefit. Sometimes, it's hard to quantify and when viewed from a narrow-minded perspective, can be seen to be risky. But when we take a step back - think about the bigger picture, about how we fit into the greater ecosystem - it's easy to see failure as just another opportunity in disguise.

It goes beyond our immediate ecosystem. In the bigger picture of the entire Korean economy, even the global economy, we are only one interconnected part. Sharing our successes (and failures) with others - promoting other young startup communities, helping the government solve big problems, feeding the poor and needy - all of the positive generosity we as a community create is magnified and returned tenfold.

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Inspiration

Encouraging travel and cultural exchange, sharing of information, a platform for honest uncensored news and discussion, inspiration for the future and many, many other things... It's hard to grasp just how much benefit we have all received from things that we have had no hand in creating.

Opening your eyes to this way of thinking truly is a complete change in mindset.

Think about going to a networking event. With this new perspective on things, what do you do? You are looking for ways to help other startups grow their business; thinking about how you can add value and connect others to your own network. When everyone gives, everyone benefits. This is the foundtaion of successful investments and partnerships - they are born from honesty, real grit and building on each other's successes and failures.

Consider the alternative mindset. You go into the event desperately looking for someone to invest in your idea. "Why won't anyone pay any attention to me?" you ask yourself. Well, in this scenario, Mr.Johnson Highnetworthian doesn't even glance in your direction. He sees your faded white sneakers, casual gait and poor taste in fashion. He doesn't know you - why would anyone in his network say anything about you?

The point is, if everyone came into the event with the mindset of trying to help others, opportunities besides the short term, direct ones would be much easier to find and make. On the other hand, when all are laser focused on serving only immediate needs, the long term goals of both themselves and others are sacrificed. This sort of thinking just doesn't work.

When everyone is looking out only for their own short-term interests, no-one is looking out for their long term interests.

Truly embracing this mindset - not just in business, but also on a personal level - is scientifically proven to improve our lives.

I've lived in Korea for more then eight years. Sure, it has it's flaws, but when I think about the people, I remember why I have adopted this wonderful country as my home. People here already have embraced much of what I have said. Mothers help daughters, Sons help Grandfathers, employees help their boss to another helping of soju... Small circles of generosity are ingrained into the culture here.

I think that is why the startup ecosystem has grown so fast here. I think that is why our community here can become even more explosively successful. I think people here are ready to embrace change and disruption.

Together, we succeed

Together, we succeed

beGLOBAL is our contribution. Provide a place for everyone to get together, make connections and help each other out. It's about helping local friends and startups reach out to the rest of the globe. Through inspiring speeches, tasty food and commitment to the ideals that bind everyone together, we make something worth remembering.

Now, more then ever, we have the means to work towards creating a better future for ourselves, Korea and the entire world.

So let's do that and forget about who gets what.

Leland Creswell
Leland is an avid startupaholic and programmer living and working in Seoul with beSuccess. He's worked as a co-founder before (Pickple Communications) as well as teaching English and marketing to businesses in the past.