Do Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs Spend The Holidays A Distinct Way?

Getting the party start-upped

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BY Adelle Chua - 08 Dec 2016

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It’s December and aside from the excitement over the year that is about to come, many companies, big and small, also partake of the festive season.

Southeast Asia is a melting pot of religion, culture, and tradition. For example, in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, the date December 25 is just another working day. If at all, Christmas is purely commercial, with decorations done for tourists rather than for the locals. More relevant is the King’s birthday, which is celebrated December 5th but celebrated all month long. This year, though, Thailand mourns the death of the king – certainly no festivities.

In Vietnam, celebrations are most pronounced on Christmas Eve. In Ho Chi Minh City, for instance, people go to the city center, enjoy the light show, food, and confetti and admire the décor. French influence apparently remains in traditions such as these.

In the Philippines, Christmas is a big, months-long event with more than 90 percent of the population Christian. Carols begin playing and decorations start appearing as early as September – the start of the ‘ber’ months – and people always find an excuse to have a reunion with friends and family over good food, usually exchanging brightly colored presents.

These varying traditions are for common folk. But do start-up entrepreneurs, given the unique nature of their business, also celebrate the season a special, distinct way?

Simple restaurant meal

Donny Soh, co-founder of Singapore-based 9 Degrees Freedom that produces and distributes sensors for tennis players, says he usually hosts lunch at a restaurant for his colleagues on Christmas Eve.

A restaurant meal may be more practical for start-ups given the small number of employees. Reservations in hotels and banquet halls – with employees encouraged to bring their families – may be along the lines of bigger companies.

Joining forces

Some start-ups spend their Christmas parties with other start-ups, says Carlo Valencia of Start-up Mentorship, which is currently being set up with both local and foreign mentors providing guidance to entrepreneurs in the Philippines.

This is especially practical when the companies are part of the same portfolio, or when the employees share working spaces and are thus familiar with each other.

Quiet time

The office is closed during the last week of the year, says Soh, and so he uses the break to plan for the next year, do courtesy calls, do some reflection and thanksgiving.

The group’s holiday lunch or dinner can also turn out to be a mini-planning session. “We do the retro,” Valencia says, albeit informally. “We look at what we did right, what we did wrong the previous year.”

Ushering in the new

And then, on the first working day of the year, Soh says he hosts a breakfast for his team to kick-start the new year. This allows them to ease back into working mode with each other while still relishing the break they had over the holidays.

Ultimately, Valencia says, the size of holiday spending per employee will depend on whether the start-up is making money in the first place.