5 Valuable Lessons I Learned From Starting A Business In Asia

This past March, I set off to Hong Kong as a 23-year-old with grand ambitions of riding the next wave of economic growth in Asia.

Caught up in the business media’s fascination with “The Next Economic Superpower,” I was expanding an existing online training company I had helped to build in the UK.

Despite the fact that I had never stepped foot in Hong Kong before, I was hungry, determined and convinced it would be a straightforward, first step on my path to global domination.

Humility led to the following lessons:

1. Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone

Don’t worry; I’m the first to acknowledge how clichéd this remark is. However, most clichés possess an element of truth. I knew that when it came to trying to get a business going -- and a life, for that matter -- in a completely foreign environment, I needed to do something that pushed my desire to succeed and push past limits.

The world’s tallest bungee jump in Macau, standing 764 feet tall, was the ideal starting point. When you do something like that, it provides an anchor from which there is no turning back. Any doubt about attending that networking event or giving a difficult presentation pales in comparison.

2. Talk To Everyone

Within the first month of arriving in Hong Kong, I had some meetings set up in Bangalore, India with potential clients. Bangalore is the Silicon Valley of India, so I located the main post-work drinks road and within a few minutes, was talking to a Scottish man who ran a local stem-cell research company.

By talking over beers and pizza, he set me up with a friend in charge of one of India’s fastest growing accountancy training companies. I met him the next morning and he proved to be a valuable contact.

Whilst in Asia, I was blown away by how much people wanted to help out expats, mainly because they knew what it was like to be in your shoes. All you needed to do was open your mouth and start talking.

3. Stand-Up

Keen to improve in all areas of my life, I wanted to find a way to actively practice public speaking on a regular basis. I wasn’t a huge fan of the somewhat formulaic approach organizations, such as Toastmasters , so I went to a stand-up comedy class.

When you go to something like that, you open up your mind and perspective and it automatically sharpens the competitive spirit. A voice inside you urges you to go that one step further and perform. Before you know it, you’re in front of a paid audience and drastically outside of your comfort zone, yet again.

If you approach things openly, without being tied to a specific outcome, it becomes easier to quickly improve, as you can objectively assess your development and tweak your approach.

4. Form Independent Judgment

As any entrepreneur is painfully aware, the ability to buy into enthusiasm can be your most potent weapon and at the same time, it can be your greatest liability. As an ardent believer in the economic miracle underway in Asia, I bought into the story that China’s ride to the top of the economic pile is linear and assured.

However, as with most things in life, when I was actually on the ground there, reality didn’t align with the fantasy. Without delving too much into the details, the laughable restriction of the Internet is symptomatic of a country perilously positioned to make the next step in its development.

Have the confidence to go into the world and test out your beliefs because what you think you know is often heavily biased.

5. Persevere

I had a great time in Asia and while my business aspirations did not work out as I hoped they would, the lessons I learned by stepping into the unknown will be of extreme value to me moving forward. Persevering through challenging experiences is the surest way to develop in your career, life and relationships.

I strongly encourage people to get out there and try a new business or travel to a place that intimidates them because anything that pushes you outside of your comfort zone forces you to adapt and grow. That’s the only way to create the future of your dreams.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain

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