5/2015 – The next generation (Unpublished article)

by Tan Thiam Hock

(Author’s note: This article was not published in The Star)
Saturday, 21 March 2016

Since my University days, I have always wanted to have my own business. Nobody had a clue back in 1979 that wanting to be on your own meant being an ‘entrepreneur’. Don’t remember anyone using that long ‘difficult to spell’ word.

As I had zero inheritance lined up for me from my parents, my only opportunity to amass wealth was to dream of the day that I could start my own business.

Thinking back to the 80’s, multi level direct selling was the rage. Amway was growing at a crazy pace creating many diamond level leaders who became millionaires. All because they believe they were managing their own business. The harder they work, the more they reap. Direct selling concept works because it gives everyone the opportunity to dream.

Nowadays, Generation Y and Z only dream of creating an app that they can sell for USD 100 million. They don’t really need to make immediate money because their parents do not need financial support from them. Instead their parents continue to extend financial support beyond graduation day so that their children can fulfill their dreams.

So far my children have not discussed with me their dreams and aspirations post graduation. So far so good. No misdirected dreams of trying to create something out of nothing. And no indications of any financial aid requirements for some hare brained ideas and concepts.

But I am worried. What if suddenly my son makes the news that he has made USD 100 million before he turns 30 and claims he has an inheritance of USD 1 billion (must be from a different father?) That he is an international playboy and linked to the biggest financial scandal ever seen in our national history?

His dream is now my nightmare. I will have nowhere to hide my face and I won’t be able to sleep well at night. And my wife will surely blame me for not educating him on what is right and what is wrong in life. Now he is ‘your’ son and not our son.

After the joy and pride of sending him to the best universities like Cambridge and Imperial College, just imagine how heart broken I will be. It will be like being stricken with Stage 5 cancer and asking maligned God Balotelli ‘Why me?’.

Since progressing from Stage 4 to 5 means very little time left for me, I had better asked my son now if he would like to go into business. I would advise him that there is no such thing as fast money nor easy business. It will be 94% perspiration and 6% GST. And he should be a ‘responsible’ entrepreneur.

If he lacks charm to sell lipsticks, try selling nyonya kuih. Feeding the populace is noble. Feeding off the nation is at best a scumbag. Do not waste precious time pursuing an idea. App means appropriate application of capital and talent. Be responsible towards yourself, my pocket and your customers. Be productive. Do good.

Armed with a Maths degree and MFinance, he will feel comparatively smarter than his old man and will not listen to such sound wisdom. Maybe it is more app for him to focus on personal wealth management for politicians. Just be good with large numbers, make no sound and share no wisdom. And if he is responsible and smart, to avoid Paris, social media and private jets.

Thankfully not all young entrepreneurs dream of such dreams. I have had the fortune to meet some of these fresh eye eager tech.preneurs and fnb.preneurs some years back. Full of life, they spoke excitedly of their dream projects and their search for financing. Some have started their businesses by pooling their savings and borrowings from parents. Some are non starters. The app which was very much liked by their friends failed to gain traction as angel investors turned down their projects due to inability to scale and difficulty in monetizing the idea.

Those that have started have either developed teary eyes or glazed eyes. Teary because they realized their business is going nowhere, just stuck in survival mode in perpetuity. Glazed but battle hardened with 2-3 years of hard work and not progressing at the speed of their dreams. But they are a happy lot. Still cheerful and willing to share their learnings of the hard knocks in life. And why they need more financing.

To all the well to do parents, how would you respond to your child if he/she ask for a loan (with a promise to pay back) to pursue their dream projects? That is after you have spent millions giving them the best education money can buy? Would you consider extending their life education with a loan that was meant for their MBA? If you can afford, why not? The 2 years spent in self discovery will enrich their lives more than any MBA program.

To the parents who would have to dip into their retirement funds, my recommendation would be a difficult No. There is no return on investment other than your wish of seeing them do well in life. This is a non performing loan from the start and your government will not guarantee your personal loans unless you deal with some Saudi royalties (with a promise to pay back). Ask your child to get real and get a job. Lots of good jobs around since the entire new graduates from the last few years have all decided to become entrepreneurs.

As for me, I am about to start getting worried as my two boys will complete their academic education this year and the next. But I have more urgent matters at hand. I have to book my room in Hilton, Paris, my plane tickets and probably buy 2 new cars before the government discount my 100% hard earned savings. There goes the money that was meant to fund my son’s dreams.