In 1990, a psychologist quoted in the New York Times reported that people “turn on the TV when they feel sad, lonely, upset or worried, and they need to distract themselves from their troubles.”
Another psychologist also said:
“People who watch too much television from childhood grow up with a deprived fantasy life. For them, watching television substitutes for their own imagination.”
How the phenomenon above has impacted our lifestyles and wellbeing is not new. Way back in the 1930s, a sociologist named Herbert Blumer published a paper titled “Movies and Conduct”. The observations from the research suggested that content shown on television and in the movies shape not only how young people interact socially, but also their attitudes to life and also how they choose to groom themselves. Although it was done decades ago, it isn't that different from how social media impacts our behavior and thinking today.
Naturally, the adverse side-effects from watching too much TV made people start to moderate and minimize their "TV time". But did we stop watching the television and reading the news?
The TV conundrum.
Watching the television (much like browsing the Web on our mobile devices today) had been a significant part in our lives for a long time. In any interior design mock-up, the TV is almost always part of the living room. For many people, it might even be considered odd not to have one in the house. Not only was the TV an important part of the decor, it also enabled us to receive up-to-date information and news from around the world.
And if you think about it, the time spent facing the screen in the old days aren’t very different from we are indulging in Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok in present day. With the Internet, those same feelings of deprivation, loneliness and worry are simply just manifested in different ways.
In a similar way, the online ads that show up on our mobile devices technically aren’t that different from the paper advertisements and billboards that we see on the sidewalks and highways.
Every advert out there - online or offline - is reaching out to you and saying something, in hopes that they’ll eventually change your mind and perception on something “don’t use their product, use ours, we are better.”, “do this, don’t do that.”, “Do the right thing, invest in your wellbeing.”, “Vote for us, make the right choice”.
Can you blame the companies for putting out the advertisements that led you to buy their product? Were you under duress to act? Did you not have a choice?
Newspapers have been around since the 17th century, and television since the 1920s. In the same way, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and many other apps are probably also going to stay around for a very long time. Like it or not, these will become the norm for how anyone with a decent Internet connection will stay connected with the rest of the world. Along with that, our thoughts, our perspectives and bias on various topics will also be largely shaped by them - the same way TV, movies and print advertisements have shaped civilisation since the early 1900s.
Media, in its various forms, new or old, will always be a tool for commercial and political propaganda.
We can choose to extricate from this dilemma by renouncing all social media, but one thing for sure is that we are ultimately responsible for how we let them influence the way we think.
Webinars and Zoom calls have now become a defacto way of life. Therefore, it should have been no surprise that Zoom launched its events marketplace last week, which involves allowing people to buy tickets for online events. I see this as a first part of a bigger plan that involves a gradual cannibalization of market share from companies such as EventBrite and XING, as well as a potential game changer for other industries such as education.
Event registration and management are incredibly commoditized processes and highly competitive on pricing. While it is relatively easy for Zoom to move into ticketing, the learning curve would be much steeper for companies such as Eventbrite and XING to acquire and successfully integrate good video conferencing / webinar capabilities.
The possibilities for Zoom going forward will be interesting:
Ticketing & Events (launch of On Zoom). Will this cannibalize market share from Eventbrite/XING?
Education (similar to Blackboard, Coursera and Masterclass). Is there a longer-term play at online learning and will this remain sustainable after recovery?
Telehealth. Should Zoom make a huge move into telehealth or continue to function as the reliable connector between telehealth companies and their customers?
Home electronics. Should they move into home appliances and electronics since video calls are going to be a huge part of our lives going forward? Check out Norwegian start up Neat.
In each of these scenarios, the question that Zoom needs to answer is whether it makes more commercial sense to (i) acquire capabilities in this area or (ii) better off playing the role of a technology enabler to their customers (and incumbents).
This is how most employees sees their business:
He lives from paycheck to paycheck with the constant fear of retrenchment as he progresses up the corporate ladder. He is concerned only with his salary, the amount of increment at the end of the year, the size of his bonus and the number of leave days.
This is how an entrepreneur sees the business.
Not only is he aware - strategically - about the cost structure of his business, but also motivated to be creative and innovative so as to maximize his profits.
Four years into trudging and bruising, I retraced my steps and got myself thinking about what makes an entrepreneur, a business owner, a founder, and what drives them to do the stuff they do.
Most people go into a new venture for the money. Some do it for the publicity. The media does a successful job of dramatizing those who start a business or raise their own fund. In fact, to me, it should always be about the money. I'm not being a mercenary, it's just more commercial. Unless you are operating a charity or social enterprise, starting a new business should always be about maximizing profits. Companies are sometimes willing to provide incentives and discounts to key customers or early takers at the expense of profits. This is fully understandable. That discount is an intangible marketing and relationship building cost - the company expects that goodwill to pay off in the future.
There's a lot of fun in building a business. But beyond the fun and the congratulatory notes from supportive friends, I sometimes wonder if people really know what they are getting into?
I caught up with a friend recently and shared with him what I'd been up to the last few weeks and months. Despite all the gloom around travel restrictions and crimping of dealflow, etc, I was sanguine and I got him enthusiastic about what we've been doing, the multiple platforms we have, the result of our hard work over the years, translating to tangible and "pursue-able" opportunities. He'd loved to be part of the "action".
I really don't think people really appreciate or know, first-hand, the pain and struggles experienced by being a business owner.
The pain of having to put up cash for operating overheads, do payrolls, pay for expenses, source for new revenue, execute, and yet, all at the same time, not having to draw a salary for yourself.
So many choose to see only the rosy side.
And because they see only what they want to see, they tend to be ignorant of what it really takes to operate a business and crystallize those nice sounding opportunities.
I am not trying to be a wet blanket. Neither am I belittling our achievements over the past 4 years, nor am I trying to discourage people from pursuing a dream of starting up. But the struggles undertaken by someone on the path of entrepreneurship cannot be adequately described through conversations, the sharing of anecdotes in webinars, or inspiring commencement speeches and classroom workshops.
Some years back, I'd closed a huge cross border M&A deal. Because of its size and complexity, it drew the attention of senior management, and as a result, I got an accelerated promotion (I think).
More than just the vote of confidence at the workplace, the project gave me breadth to exercise a great deal of autonomy throughout the negotiation process. Although fairly junior at that point in time, I was effectively thrown into the deep end of the pool to learn on the job.
I ran negotiations with various stakeholders in the project, piloted the financial model between two contesting bidders and coordinated the work streams between the stakeholders and lawyers. It wasn't a perfect process: I mucked up some of the translation at some of the meetings between the parties, ran into impasses at negotiations where I felt helpless, and broke some parts of the financial model.
Bankers who work on similar multi-million M&A and IPO deals often wear these similar deal creds like a badge of honour when they speak to their peer or at interviews. Some of them unfortunately become arrogant and get carried away by the false impression that they are highly sought after professionals just simply because they were on the deal team. I loosely coin this the 'hero mentality'.
It is also this misplaced sense of glory and pride that makes bankers arrogant. The hero mentality also leads many disgruntled employees from large organizations into starting their own business, falling flat on their faces and realizing later that it is not that easy after all.
When you are running a deal in an enterprise, your clients see you as the face of the institution you are working for. Most of them deal with you because of where you work, and not for the hero you think you are. Don't give yourself more credit other than the fact that you think you know what you are doing.
When you are operating your own advisory firm, your clients work with you because of who you are personally. You no longer wear the brand of a global institution. You have a significantly smaller reach and network. No one in the market knows you unless you have a personal dealing with them. The strength and extent of these networks are often smaller and weaker than what you think they are.
Assembling an M&A deal takes more than just execution. Beyond financial models and info memos, there are "hidden" work streams involving years of investing into relationships. Most clients will not deal with directly with you or pay you at a commensurate level working for a large financial institution. For them, the credibility and the branding of engaging with an internationally recognised firm is what they paid for.
So if you think that you did a lot of work in executing that M&A deal and deserve more credit than the organization employing you, think again - you probably would not be able to pull it off without leveraging on the global network and brand that is on your name card.
Adding it all up, it looks like the net result between staying as an employee and starting a new business, making profits and then eventually selling it for a buttload of cash could ultimately be the same. Perhaps one key difference there is that: While you can almost certainly live as an employee with a fixed income for most part of your life, there is no guarantee you can exit your business profitably as an entrepreneur.
That being said, the life skills you acquire from being a business owner is starkly different from an employee.
How does one define success in entrepreneurship? Can someone be considered a successful entrepreneur even when you are flat broke? Is the goal always to achieve a billion dollar valuation on your business? Is size the definitive metric for measuring entrepreneurial success?