Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Entrepreneurial Approaches from the Mayor of Taipei

November 4, 2018

Listening to the Mayor of Taipei talking about his city, four things really stood out and aligned neatly with some entrepreneurial concepts and approaches:

1. Value Proposition: We were introduced to a really great paper on value propositions when we were in Babson College this summer at SEE43. Customer Value Propositions in Business Markets by Anderson, Narus and van Rossum (available in the Harvard Business Review) lays out a really simple model for developing a good VP. They classify three ways that companies tend to think of value propositions. First, and most simple, companies can focus on what makes their product good; the “all benefits” approach. Second, they can find “favourable points of difference”. Finally, they can look for a “resonating focus” whose “one or two points of difference will deliver the greatest value to customers” based on their actual needs. Dr Wen-Je Ko is a competent speaker who had all the facts to hand but spending time telling a room full of 200 entrepreneurs that they should expand their businesses to Taipei because they had universities, good public transport and investors felt very much like the “all benefits” type value proposition.

2. Leveraging Contingencies: Taipei is aging and some of the statistics are pretty startling: 25% of the population are over 65 and in 25 years over 40% of the population will be over 65! Traditional managerial thinking would see this as a problem to be overcome. Aging population? Introduce policies to encourage couples to have more children or kill people at the age of 30 (OK, the latter is the plot of the movie Logan’s Run). Effectual thinking sees problems as opportunities to move in a different direction and it was impressive to hear Dr Ko discussing it as such. Aging population? Turn this into a strength rather than a weakness. Push hard for more AI in every level of society to reduce the need for humans to provide all the labour. Many countries talk about the population dividend in countries such as India, Malaysia and Indonesia. Young populations who will make the next generation boom. But could this lead to an oversupply problem? In Taipei, they are looking at old people as the future and focusing on AI, automating services, industries for retirees and increasing ecommerce; all systems that require less people but offer a continued growth in living standards.

3. Hunting the Niche: Whilst Babson is still floating in my mind, it is worth noting their mantra: “don’t be the best, be the only.” It was interesting to hear Dr Ko talk about Taipei like a business: “We’ve all been racking our brains thinking how we are different, and how can we utilise this difference to do something that no one else can. We haven’t worked it out yet. But we will.” One of the possible niches he discussed was medical technology and biotech, leveraging his background in medicine (he’s a former doctor) and Taiwan’s deep expertise in software and hardware.

4. Future Proofing: Although Dr Ko was clear that Taipei cannot predict the future he talked about providing a platform for ongoing success. It was impressive to see him not only talk but also provide clear examples of how his city could think far longer term about potential changes. It’s hard to know how far to try and look in the future, we still don’t have the hoverboards or holographic phones we were promised in the 1980s, but it also seems foolish to live off the fumes of an industry which is being eaten away by phones and watches (Taiwan has 90% global market share of laptops).


Entrepreneurial Approaches from the Mayor of Taipei

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