At 16, Pak Chau established his first startup. Now aged 23, he’s got five businesses under his belt, recovering from several failures along the way. The high-spirited entrepreneur and son of notorious casino tycoon Alvin Chau breaks down seven things he learned the hard way, and the value he feels we should all see in failure.
Failure is often a source of humiliation, especially in Asia, where people’s pursuit of success can be hindered by a fear of any possible missteps and a pervasive culture of shame associated with vulnerability. However, it’s something serial entrepreneur Pak Chau has had to face throughout his career. Fighting to find his footing beneath the weight of his father Alvin Chau, the founder of Macau’s biggest junket operator Suncity Group, the unassuming entrepreneur several times over has become a firm proponent of the ‘try, try and try again’ school of business.
At 16, Pak put his first idea into motion by starting a strategy and advertisement service for small businesses in Kent, England, where he was a boarding school student. Skipping out on a university career, he has since founded five companies including Gamico, a gaming platform, and WOW Sports, a platform used to showcase athletic feats in 10-second videos.
Having lived through several defeats, he now feels a suffocating need to flip the script, fight his city’s fear of failure, and destigmatise the feelings associated with striking out. Here, he argues the case that the world of entrepreneurialism in Asia needs to change. Driven by the philosophy that failures are just repackaged opportunities – and absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, he shares his top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Be self-driven and decisive, regardless of cultural norms and expectations
Deciding on a career can be incredibly daunting, especially in a culture where the pressure to pursue a vocation is etched in pride and monetary success. In Asia, parental expectations and the ‘but-your-cousin-is-a-doctor’ argument are often in play. “I had a chip on my shoulder – to prove something – until I decided that wasn’t a game I wanted to play,’ says Pak Chau. “Now, I understand that if I lived according to someone else’s expectations, it would be because I don’t know who I am, or what I want.”
Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability
If it is lonely for you at the top, you’ve done it wrong. Vulnerability breeds openness and invites honest discussion and production that’s moulded from authentic effort instead of obligation. Success isn’t achieved without establishing relationships that allow for growth. For Pak, “The key indicators for a successful life are intimate, meaningful relationships and the way to lead a team is to actually be human. When you’re closed off, you’re not giving anyone a chance to help you, which hinders a team’s creativity and makes people unsure of their place in the company. But, if you ask for help, people will come and they’ll feel a greater sense of belonging.”
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In a world where people show only the most picturesque parts of their journey on social media, it’s easy to get fixated on the proverbial end of the road. Instead, Pak’s approach is to focus on what can be done each day, rather than the ‘means-to-an-end’ method. “I feel like people always start off with a result-driven view. But, if you don’t love exactly what you’re doing, then someone who does is going to get there before you do. As you mature, you begin to understand, through times of struggle, that the best way to play the game is to get a perspective on the process and surround yourself with people who are in that same process.”
Remember: You are the only factor within your control
“The fact of life is that, in any situation, you can always find really terrible things or really great things,” says Pak, who fought to prove to his family that opting out of university was the right choice. Despite having to relinquish two of his startups, Pak survived those detours thanks to his stoicism and the ability not only to accept failure when it comes, but to anticipate it: “Yes, life can be amazing, but it can also be pretty depressing, so you need to get perspective.”
If things aren’t working out, regroup and pivot
Entrepreneurs gravitate toward risk over stability, so when you put all your eggs in one basket and things start to fall apart, the easy choice is to give up. But Pak’s story makes a case for readjusting and learning through the process. “I’m so grateful to be 23 and have all those failures under my belt,” he shares. The reality is that some things are not going to work, but knowing that – and preparing for the possibility of failure – provides an opportunity to shift and recalibrate.
Be authentic in your purpose and mission, rather than working toward superficial goals that look good from the outside
Knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it consolidates your brand and your identity as an entrepreneur amid an ocean of people who are just trying to achieve #Instagoals. If you’re in it purely for the sake of appearance or financial freedom, you’ll lose your voice in the startup industry very quickly. “I say what I want to say. Yes, I’m going to listen to criticism so that I can become better at relaying what I mean, but I will never change what I believe to please anyone,” says Pak Chau.
Learn to slow down
At a dinner with Hong Kong actor Louis Koo, the topic of Pak’s inability to slow down was brought to light. Koo noticed his tendency to juggle things, which made Pak realise that focusing on one thing at a time grants a “cool head to approach things from new angles.” These days, ‘the hustle’ is something that’s celebrated and praised, but it’s essential to know that focusing on one thing at a time permits efficiency and a clear mind. “Don’t be bound by the perfect situation. There will never be a perfect situation, so do one thing right now, today, and give it your full attention.”