In the United States and around the world, Asians struggle to reach the leadership ranks. Compared to their share of the population, Asians are severely underrepresented in both mid-level management and C-Suites. This is due to a number of reasons, including traditional traits such as modesty that are seen as negatives by western business standards and a tendency to avoid risk. The avoidance of risk also makes it more difficult to become successful entrepreneurs, as starting a new company always involves a level of risk. However, there are a number of young, Millennial Asian entrepreneurs bucking the trend and finding success. By discovering who they are, what they do, and why they’re successful, any young Asian professional can learn to succeed.
Most well-known for his role as Co-founder and CEO of FiscalNote, a software analytics company specializing in tracking government and legislation. Tim Hwang is the son of immigrant parents from South Korea. After being raised in Potomac, Maryland, he attended Princeton University and later was admitted to the Harvard Business School. As a student, he founded FiscalNote with the help of two peers. FiscalNote is a software company specializing in government relations, enabling organizations to more efficiently track and manage the effects of the government on individual businesses. FiscalNote tracks legislation, regulations, and filings and uses artificial intelligence to smartly display the data. The product has a wide customer base, from non-profits, lobbying agencies, to private corporations.
As a student, Hwang worked with two classmates, Gerald Yao and Jonathan Chen to launch the company. Deferring his admission to Harvard Business School, Hwang dedicated a year to building the business. As an Asian entrepreneur, he has created one of the largest software employers in the DC region and his company’s product has millions of users. Hwang’s success as an entrepreneur is far from luck—work ethic and dedication are what ultimately paid off. The ability to accept risk and reach out to others is essential. Convincing venture capital funds to invest, managing a team, and sharing ideas all require communication. Although outgoing personalities and communication are traditionally weak areas for Asian professionals, proper coaching and practice can improve these skills.
While Tim Hwang makes waves in the Washington D.C. private sector, Yin Qi’s company Megvii is revolutionizing personal identification in China. Having founded the artificial intelligence company in Beijing with two college classmates at Tsinghua University, Qi has overseen the rise of Megvii into one of the most prevalent personal identification services in China and around the world. With experience working at Microsoft Research Asia, he led a facial recognition team before leaving to build his own company. Megvii’s product is a facial recognition platform called Face++, which is used by Chinese apps, banks, organizations, and the government to verify identities. The company has grown rapidly, with more than 1,500 employees and implementations of its flagship platform in more than 220 countries.
The success of Megvii is due in part to Qi’s focus on product strategy and target markets. An advantage of launching initially in the Chinese market is the embrace of the product at both the consumer and government level. Compared to the west, where a system such as this would have been confined to the consumer space, Megvii’s product gained broader reach and deeper market penetration by focusing on the state and public markets in China. Furthermore, an emphasis on privacy has also boosted business: instead of uploading sensitive personal data to the cloud, all personal identification information is processed on the device locally. This has also helped propel the product into adoption in western markets warier of Chinese vendors. In business, choosing the market and including specific features is crucial to developing a successful product and business.
As a student at the National University of Singapore, Ms. Guan found inspiration after visiting Silicon Valley and observing the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of the area. Upon graduation, Guan held positions as a software engineer and later an analyst at Credit Suisse before co-founding PatSnap. PatSnap is a service that enables organizations to quickly search and filter patents. The powerful analytics engine quickly found investors and funding, growing its clientele to include IBM, MIT, and the US Department of Defense. As the business has progressed, Guan has become the chief marketing executive for Asia and has helped expand the customer base to organizations such as Xiaomi and China Mobile. Overall, more than 3,000 organizations around the world use PatSnap’s product to analyze intellectual property assets.
Guan, as a millennial Asian entrepreneur, shows the value in building up experience. Holding two previous jobs before founding a startup, she gained valuable skills and experience. While many people picture technology startups as founded by college dropouts, Guan demonstrates that founding a successful startup can occur at any stage of a career. For young Asian professionals, seek opportunities that will impart skills and experience that will benefit you in the future.
Not every entrepreneur has to be in traditional white collar industries such as technology or enterprise. Tracy Change, the daughter of a Taiwanese immigrant family, pursued her dream and opened a restaurant instead of becoming a doctor. Small business owners are a key demographic of entrepreneurs, and often overlooked. In America, 39% of Asian women identify as entrepreneurs, many of them like Ms. Chang. Empowering young entrepreneurs to start their own businesses, regardless of size and scope is essential for transforming the expectations for Asian Americans. While becoming the CEO of a multi-billion dollar startup is aspirational, a large portion of entrepreneurs are small business owners. However, managing an organization, regardless of size, requires leadership and management skills.
As Asians find more and more success in the business world as entrepreneurs, the misconception that Asians are poor at leading will diminish. To help continue this trend, it is essential to develop and empower the rising generation of Asian leaders. These four Asian millennial entrepreneurs show that truly anyone can find success, as long as they hold the right skills and mindset. Success is always the result of a combination of factors, but there is a common element: determination, resilience, and ingenuity.
naisA Global is a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization dedicated to helping talented young Asian professionals unlock their potential and become great leaders.