Why Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs Should Embrace Failure

It’s the key to overcoming your fear of it

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 17 Oct 2016

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Most Asian cultures value excellence and saving face. Failure is not discussed, much less celebrated, among peers. Yet insecurities and fear of failure keep many Southeast Asian entrepreneurs up at night.

Former investment banker-turned-entrepreneur Shannon Kalayanamitr says, “I have a high sense of achievement and drive—just to get things done and with an impact.”

Kalayanamitr is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of female-focused e-commerce site Orami. In January, two e-commerce brands—Indonesia’s Bilna and Thailand’s Moxy, which was co-founded by Kalayanamitr—merged to become probably the biggest online shopping site for women in Southeast Asia.

She adds that she is constantly challenged by two factors—feeling undermined by the people around her and the high expectations she set for herself.

As for one’s fear of failure, the key to overcoming it is to embrace it. Here are four lessons to get you started:


1. Failure hones resilience

Success can be taken for granted, especially when it comes easy. But when you know how it feels to fail or be underestimated, success becomes that much sweeter.

“In my life, I have always been the underdog,” Kalayanamitr says. She says she was not at the top of her class and, in fact, barely graduated from university. She felt that her abilities were underestimated “in every single job” from PwC to Lehman Brothers to the T.V. channel she spearheaded, simply because she did not look or play the part.

“I was judged by my gender, my education, and even my out-of-the-box mannerisms (not being completely Asian or American), and thus was often overlooked,” she says.


2. You define your own success

“I now speak for those who didn’t conform to the stereotype—there are many types of successful people in this world. We don’t all have to be Warren Buffets, or Steve Jobs, or abrasive Type A leaders.” Kalayanamitr says.

She admires the likes of Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Stephanie Horbaczewski of StyleHaul, and Oprah Winfrey because they have done things “exactly their way.” She says, “There is no template for how to be successful.”  


3. It boils down to the right mindset

Doubt or anxiety is completely normal—especially when you encounter a new situation or work environment. What will set you apart is the right mindset.

“I now welcome [anxiety], as it means I am excited and my senses are heightened to put my best foot forward and give the best effort into whatever I do—whatever is thrown my way,” Kalayanamitr says.


4. Remember your “wins”

When confronted with failure, it becomes easy to forget your achievements and how far you’ve gone as an entrepreneur. But try to remember them just as well because it will give you the confidence boost you need.

Kalayanamitr says, “Practice makes perfect and lock down some key wins—that confidence goes a long way—and forget the haters!”

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