Two Paths to Changing the World

So you want to change the world – who doesn’t, right? Many of us feel this tugging compulsion to create large and impactful change in the world; some of us feel it more strongly than others. As we are faced with the daunting challenge of choosing a career path, we may tend to evaluate our choices based on the amount of impact our job could have in our society. This is why many people dream of becoming doctors – saving lives must be the most impactful thing anyone can do. Others dream of becoming teachers or lawyers or politicians, as these jobs create obvious benefit to our society.

However, one of the career paths which is often overlooked in terms of value creation is entrepreneurship. Most people would consider starting their own business for multiple reasons – to make more money, to have autonomy, to escape from the evil boss at work. But what many people miss is that entrepreneurs have the largest capacity to create positive impact. Yes, this is a bold claim, but hear me out.

The keyword here is scalability. For majority of jobs, the single largest limitation which holds us back is our physical capacity. Surgeons only have 2 hands to perform operations, and once they hit their physical limit of working (16 hour workdays at best), their ability to treat more patients comes to a halt. Similarly, a teacher can only teach a single class at a time and is limited by his or her physical constraints. Even engineers who build airplanes or cars require an entrepreneur to make the inventions accessible by the masses. An entrepreneur’s capacity is extremely large because he or she is not constrained by physical limitations and is able to scale the business operations globally – in turn impacting millions, or even billions, of people.

This isn’t saying that everyone should become an entrepreneur. Some people want a career where they can express themselves creatively, build awesome inventions, or travel the world and talk to people. However, for the people who want to create large and impactful change in the world, entrepreneurship is definitely a good option to consider.

Now that you’ve decided to travel this entrepreneurial journey, the biggest question is ‘What kind of business should I start?’. This is a question that every wantrepreneur asks himself. Personally, I believe that there are two paths which you can take to create the biggest impact – New Technology or Globalization.

The New Technology path is one which many entrepreneurs think they should take on first instinct. This path entails building something completely new, or as Peter Thiel describes it ‘going from zero to one’. Such companies rule the world today – Google, Oculus, Uber, Airbnb, and so on. These great companies disrupted industries and overthrew conventional wisdom on what was possible. Google’s advancements in Artificial Intelligence and Oculus’ Virtual Reality technology were truly the first of their kind. Looking at these companies, it is obvious that many people want to build a never-been-done-before company. However, this is extremely difficult. Often times, it requires a very unique or contrarian insight into an industry. For example, it is not easy to know that people with cars would be willing to become drivers and that other people would be willing to take rides from strangers – but Travis Kalanick from Uber believed it. Other times, it takes a very high technical skill level to create these technological breakthroughs. Only a handful people in the world had the skill and expertise required to build driverless cars a few years ago. Hence, although this New Technology path is awesome in many ways, it may be for many of us, an unreachable goal.

The other path entrepreneurs can take is Globalization, or as I would call it, the Copycat Strategy. In my younger and more idealistic days, I looked down on this strategy. I told myself that this strategy was not creating any new value in this world, and that the people leading technological advancement were the truly impactful people. However, as I was exposed to more of the local entrepreneurial scene in Malaysia, one thing became clear – the companies which had copied successful models from the US were doing extremely well: Grabcar, a local iteration of Uber, iFlix, a local version of NetFlix, and Lazada, a local version of Amazon, are prime examples of local success. Had these companies created something completely novel? No. Had these companies created value in the local community? Yes. These companies have achieved resounding success and are products Malaysians (and other countries in the region) use every single day. This observation that the Copycat Strategy was creating immense value made me realize that there was a lot to be gained by entrepreneurs who copied a proven concept in a different location. This is, in essence, Globalization at its core.

With this new understanding of the distinction between Globalization and New Technology, I feel strongly that the Globalization strategy is one which can enable many wantrepreneurs to create value in their respective communities. Personally, this revelation changed the direction of my ambitions – from wanting to be at the forefront of technology in Silicon Valley to returning back to Malaysia and building a company here. I’ve shaken my ego of dreaming of building the next big thing to rationally considering “Where will I be able to make the biggest difference”. Yes, Malaysia is riddled with problems, but that makes me see it as fertile ground for problem-solving. Many people – my friends, my family, my friends’ families – are constantly expressing their disdain for this country without doing a single thing about it. In fact, I believe that these flaws in Malaysia make it amazing, because what value can you add in a perfect country?