Korean Entrepreneurs First Need to Learn How to Fail

Korean Entrepreneurs have a larger fear of failure than those in the western world. That might be mainly because of the strict standards set by their parents. In Silicon Valley, it is expected that you fail when starting a startup. Through failure, you can learn from your mistakes. However for Korean entrepreneurs, if they fail their first startup company, most give up and go back to corporate jobs.

Why Failure is Good for Korean Entrepreneurs

From my experience covering the Korean startup ecosystem, failure is actually better for you in the long run. For Koreans, they are able to face their fears head-on and realize that it is NOT the end of the world. If you read many of the great startup success stories in Korea, many have had failures but were able to rise above it.

Korean society looks down on failure. Similar to Japan and many other Asian countries. So it is implanted in us that failure is associated with some kind of flaw. Try to break away from this. Failure, in reality, propels your further and at a far greater level than you ever imagined. Failure is important because it gives you the strength and the fortitude to dig deep within yourself and find out what you are truly made of.

It has been said that failure is the greatest teacher of all time. It allows you to see the problem in a whole new way. You need to step away from what you know or you think you know and look for another answer to the problem.

One Problem has Many Answers

Successful People

Koreans usually take problems in a mathematical way of thinking. One problem with one answer. However, in the startup world, one problem can have hundreds of different ways of solving it. So if you fail, just know that there are answers still out there. Use these failures as a way to learn from your mistakes and what not to do in the future. It took Thomas Edison over one thousand tries to get the lightbulb right. However, Edison didn’t think of it was failing one thousand times but rather having one thousand steps in getting to the final product.

Always Keep in Mind the Worst Possible Outcome

Most Korean Entrepreneurs do not have a problem with this but what I mean is to just keep it in mind. So if it does happen you will be ready for it. What I noticed with many Korean startups is that they have unrealistic expectations and don’t go over the possible failures. Sometimes it is almost like a cult and everyone has to live this delusional lie. Unrealistic expectations are one thing but to not think about the possible problem and failures are leave a company unprepared and unequipped to deal with them. Taxes in Korea for foreigners can be tough and I have seen many startups in Korea started by foreigners that have failed due to simple tax-related issues. No one knows what issues might arise so always know that SOMETHING will arise. 

So Why are Korean Entrepreneurs Afraid of Failure? 

This goes back to when many Korean Entrepreneurs were students. In Korea, there is a national high school exam called Suneung and it is the most important test for Korean high school students. It will determine which University they will enter.  It is such an important test, that cars are not allowed to honk their horns, airplanes take alternate routes to reduce noise, and buses and subways run more often to decrease traffic. All this is aimed to lower the stress for over 600,000 high school students in Korea. The test itself takes around 9 hours to complete. Many begin studying for the Suneung as early as 12 years old. 

The goal, in the end, is to enter one of the three top Universities in Korea referred to as SKY. These three are Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University. Only 2% of those that take the exam will enter one of the SKY Universities.  

Therefore at an early age, Korean students have massive pressures to enter a top University in Korea. Going to SKY will increase the chance to get a job for one of the top Korean companies like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, etc. Failure is not an option. Those that don’t make it will continue to self-study in order to get a job with the Korean government. Studying for these public-service exams is a full-time job in and of itself.  Many of these exams can be life-changing tests. Koreans are programmed to take tests and study hard to pass them. So when they become Entrepreneurs they look at it as a test, which they must pass.  

Entrepreneurship offers a way out for Korean Students

One crucial lesson Entrepreneurship offers is that there is more to life than studying. Failing is not the end of the world. That is what entrepreneurship is all about. It is not all about working for a traditional Korean company. It is about taking risks and exploring new possibilities. The lessons learned from starting a startup in Korea prepares young Koreans for real life. Instead of spending 20-30 years of their life studying for exams, Koreans need to gain experience in the real world. The real world is not a multiple-choice test and not all questions will have exact answers.