Chancers of a lifetime

Jim Morgan in Hong Kong pays his respects to the high priests of enterprise

Jim Morgan in Hong Kong pays his respects to the high priests of enterprise

Typhoons buffet Hong Kong on an annual basis and the Philippines even has a few volcanoes to boast of. It puts a whole new urgency into writing your disaster recovery plan

Some would call it entrepreneurial spirit. Other, less charitable people might refer to it as 'winging it'. The guy in the red robes and the white wig has yet another name for it, and will probably send you to a small dark place to contemplate on all of these meanings should he have occasion to talk to you about it.

Asia is famous for it, although its distribution is not altogether even. China, Thailand and the Philippines probably have the greatest concentrations, with Hong Kong coming in not far behind. Singapore seems to have tempered it with a somewhat draconian approach to law-making, but it is still discernible beneath the surface.

It takes many forms. In the technical field, you may notice that many people seem unaware that software should be paid for. Even big businesses will occasionally get hauled up for running a pirated version of Oracle every now and then. And given that there's a difference of about £10,000 between a pirate copy and a registered version, just think of the difference in cash flow it could make. In fact, don't think about it too long, and if anyone asks, I didn't tell you.

Somewhere between entreprenurial spirit and winging it lies the reluctance to back up servers vital to the functioning of your business. When you look at it statistically, sure, it's not going to fail, well at least not in the first year - so why bother? As it happens, Asia is probably one of the more likely places to have a natural disaster. Earthquakes abound in Japan and the Philippines, and recently made an appearance in Taiwan, and typhoons buffet Hong Kong on an annual basis although they normally miss the city and trash Guangdong province instead. The Philippines even has a few volcanoes to boast of. It puts a whole new urgency into writing your disaster recovery plan, I can tell you, but I digress.

On a macro level, whole businesses can be set up and dismantled without ever having a clear business plan. This is entrepreneurial spirit in its highest incarnation, and is both admirable and disturbing in equal parts.

The idea goes something like this: You have a rich dad/uncle/business contact who is prepared to endorse your company. You hawk your nebulous idea around the VCs and give it some fancy marketing buzzwords. Let's try "B2P integrated ASP vortal (dot-com)". Of course, you should only use the choicest, ripest buzzwords. The next step is to spend a fortune on a totally inappropriate, but snappy sounding domain name. Then, on the strength of your association with the famous name, you float on the stock market.

The general public knows you don't have a business plan, but that doesn't matter, because they also know the buzz is enough to double the value of their shares. You now have an extraordinary amount of money, so you hire a load of staff. None of them have job descriptions, but that's OK, they'll somehow work it out amongst themselves, armed with the description of the P2P vortal. Huh? The description changed? That's the Internet, baby!

At some point down the line it occurs to you that you aren't making any money. Well that's OK too. You just buy some real businesses with all that money left over, and get revenue that way. You probably have a couple of relatives who'll help you out with this, or maybe there's the odd teleco up for grabs. Oh, and don't forget to lay off the staff who've been working on your vortal. Congratulations! You now own a real bricks-and-mortar business with real profits, parlayed up from nothing on sheer entrepreneurial spirit. And what about the Internet? Ah, that was just a fad.

This was last published in December 2000

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