The Best Is Yet To Come: Two Stories about Entrepreneurship

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“If you have the courage to step out of the comfort zone and seize the opportunity, the best is yet to come”. Dr. Winnie Tang, founder of Esri China, shares her experience of trailblazing GIS in Hong Kong 25 years ago through two stories about entrepreneurship.

Featured image: Dr. Tang at the Esri Office. Via Dr. Tang’s website

Reading the news recently, I was reminded of the challenges and difficulties that it takes to make it with your own business. The difficulties have only been compounded with the global economic downturn following the COVID-19 pandemic. I started my own business Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited 25 years ago in order to promote geographic information system (GIS), a software which is essential for modern city planning and management. It was a great success and now I wish to give some personal advice to entrepreneurs leading their own start-ups through two stories:

Get out of comfort zone: Nike

On 1st May, 1972, Blue Ribbon Sports received an official notice from the Japanese running shoes company Onitsuka Tiger to end the agency contract. All of a sudden, the company lost seven to eight years of business patronage. It had to start anew and sell products of its own brand.

Philip Knight, one of the company’s founders, recalled his thinking on the company’s 50th anniversary this year.

Instead of capitulating, when the company received the termination notice, he thought, “This is it – this is the moment. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Our moment. No more working for someone else. If we’re going to succeed, or fail, we should do so on our own terms, with our own ideas, with our own brand.

And just like that, Nike was born”.

From the comfort zone of being an agent of a famous Japanese running shoes company, to facing the fierce market competition, strict customer requirements, ups and downs of economies with its own brand, it is like walking on thin ice every day but in high spirits

In early May, Knight posted on Twitter a letter he sent to the company commemorating the day Nike became its own. I was deeply moved.

I started my own company 25 years ago, switching from a stable university teaching job to an uncertain digital mapping business. Just like how Knight wished his products could unleash the potential of every athlete around the world, we were committed to using the geographic information system (GIS) to enhance Hong Kong’s capabilities on urban planning, transportation, environmental conservation, disaster relief and flood control.

I have worked hard for the past 25 years. Fortunately, I have a team of good colleagues along the way and customers who appreciate our service. However, if I did not take the first step out of my comfort zone that day, I will not be able to enjoy the good prospect today.

Seize the opportunity: Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart. Image via Wikimedia Commons

A century ago, a young American girl, Amelia Earhart, dreamed of becoming a great aviator. But at that time there was a general preference for men over women, and women were treated as a protected group. Although Earhart had learned to fly aircraft, it was difficult for her to get employed in pilot work like men. One day, however, she was offered a sponsorship to be the first woman to be flown across the Atlantic Ocean. She was not a pilot, though. “Just baggage, like a sack of potatoes” as she described herself in the journey during which she sat in the back row of the two male pilots. She was only responsible for recording and taking pictures.

From Earhart’s description, you can feel her frustration. But she deeply understood that the opportunity might never come again, and she could not wait for every desirable factor to be ready before acting. Therefore, she resolutely accepted the invitation.

25 years ago, information technology was far from popular in Hong Kong; not many people had heard about GIS. It was my belief in advanced technology that pushed me to seize the opportunity to rewrite the market dominated by paper maps. Like Earhart, she later set a number of world records, including the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean in an aircraft alone, and successfully reversed the image of females as underdogs.

Today, with the global economy having been weakened for more than two years by the COVID-19 epidemic, everyone is timid about the outlook. When we look at the global financial crisis in 2008, the global economy was also gloomy at that time, but many companies, such as WhatsApp (2009), Instagram (2010) and Uber (2009) seized the oppourtunity despite the challenges and changed the world.

If you have the courage to step out of the comfort zone and seize the opportunity, the best is yet to come. This is what I want to share with all the startup companies.