As most of you know, in addition to growing a baby I've also been traveling around talking about my new book, Brilliant Crazy Cocky. My goal is to sell books (duh), but also (hopefully) to inspire people outside of the Silicon Valley ecosystem by telling some of the stories of innovation and jaw-dropping human triumph that I discovered along my forty week journey in emerging markets.
A few people have asked to see a video, and until now I didn't have one. But Next11 just posted one on its site today. The time slot was a bit shorter than I'm used to and I was fighting a cold, so I'm not sure it's my best performance. But lucky for me, the entrepreneurs I met reporting the book are so amazing, it's hard to mess this keynote up too much! Check it out here. My next talk will be at the Creative Company Conference in Amsterdam.
Btw, I should give a shout out to my speaking agents at the American Program Bureau. Not only have they been booking a ton of dates for me this year, but I've never had an organization take such good care of me, prepping me for events, organizing logistics and asking again and again if there's anything they can do to make the baby and I more comfortable. Thanks guys.
Well, I am back from most of my jetsetting. My trips to Berlin and New York were great, but towards the end the travel and pace got pretty brutal. Particularly, my flight back from JFK. I'd asked to be booked on an early flight, because all Hell seems to break loose after 12 pm at JFK. But AOL Travel booked me on a 7:15 pm flight.
Evening before Memorial Day weekend-- you can imagine how packed that place was. The security guy told me the flights leaving JFK were collectively at 95% capcacity. Mine was overbooked, and people were already being rolled over to Saturday. Then a storm West of us meant forty planes could not take off, leading to an epic backup of flights that meant we sat on the plane for more than four hours. (Per the FAA rules, we went back to the gate at three hours, but I didn't get off the plane. I was basically staging a sit-in until I got to San Francisco.)
In case you've never been pregnant, let me tell you-- 4+ hours with no water in an upright coach seat isn't a good idea. I landed at 4 am dehydrated and with about ten pounds of extra fluid in my legs, but thankfully no blood clot.
None of this has to do with Reid Hoffman. But the general insanity of the last week explains why I'm only now linking to this TechCrunch story I wrote on him on the eve of LinkedIn's rocket-ship IPO. If you haven't read it, you should. Not because I wrote it, but because the insanity of LinkedIn's stock has twisted the mass-media story into something about greed and capitalism and OMG! ANOTHER BUBBLE! Unfortunately, that obscures the core of who Hoffman is as an entrepreneur and what made LinkedIn so successful.
I have followed LinkedIn since I was an unknown reporter at the San Jose Business Journal-- nearly ten years ago. I've written magazine stories, blog posts, books and done video interviews about LinkedIn and Reid as my career has twisted and turned since then, and LinkedIn's future has slowly but steadily mapped up and to the right.
I won't pretend I'm totally impartial here: Hoffman is one of the more generous, good-hearted people I've met in my 15 year career interviewing entreprenuers aorund the world. It's almost impossible not to like him. But what's important about Hoffman is that he's also incredibly good at what he does. I argue in the TechCrunch piece that he should be the model for wide-eyed entrepreneurs looking to the Valley for role models, not Mark Zuckerberg.
I didn't mean this as a knock on Zuckerberg at all. He's one of the most impressive founders I've ever met. But Facebook is a once-a-decade phenomenon. You are likely not a Mark Zuckerberg. But with hard work, talent, dedication, and vision, you could be a Reid Hoffman.
And certainly no one should emulate the phony Mark Zuckerberg that Ben Mezrich and Aaron Sorkin invented to enrich themselves. Just after "The Social Network" came out, I had lunch with Valley entrepreneur and angel investor Shervin Pishevar and we were talking about the movie's potential impact. He said he was worried that a generation of kids would watch the movie and think that's Silicon Valley-- the same reason a generation of douche bags went into finance after watching Wall Street-- a movie that was supposed to be warning America about glorifying greed.
I was reminded of this conversation at Disrupt earlier this week. I don't want to get into the details (again) but a company named Lumier was set to demo. Instead, a guy who looked to be clearly mimicking the Sorkin version of Zuckerberg got up, bragged about his role in the Windows ecosystem (who knew people bragged about that?), demoed little more than an animation he was proud of, and essentially told the panel of esteemed judges, the audience that had paid thousands of dollars to be there, and a room of startup hopefuls who didn't get the opportunity to launch their companies on stage, that "that should be enough" for us.
The way he spoke sounded a lot like Zuckerberg from the movie, which I chalked up to a coincidence. But several people who've worked with him before have since emailed me to say he never talks like that normally, and it was as if he was affecting an accent.
I have no idea if that's true. I've never met him before, and have no desire to talk to him ever again. But I do know this: This kid gained nothing but contempt for his performance. No one thought he was badass. You know what made the real life Zuckerberg badass? BUILDING A HUGE $50-BILLION COMPANY.
I first met Zuckerberg when he was 19, and he was a bit of a punk. (Still nothing like the movie's depiction, by the way.) But tellingly, no one was feting him then. It was only when he rapidly grew out of that bratty mid-college phase, surrounding himself with people he could learn from, and conciously working to become a better person that Facebook became the phenomenon it is today and Zuckerberg became the person that would-be entrepreneurs aspire to be. The person who was worthy of a film. Too bad one wasn't actually made about him.
So to sum up: You probably aren't the next Mark Zuckerberg. But if you're going to try to be anyway, pick the right one to emulate. You know, the actual one.
Paul Carr came over to explore Berlin with me after my Next11 keynote and his book launch in London. We wandered through Mitte for a few days, checking out shops, restaurants, starups and galleries and both kind of fell in love with the city.
It helped that we made a great choice in hotel staying at the Weinmeister. The site looks sort of pretentious and awful, but it was the textbook good, local boutique hotel.
Since Paul is the hotel expert, we decided to do a quick video about it, that also became a wistful description of how much older and calmer we are since our first books launched in 2008. And then there's a dog fight.
Note that Paul seems fit and refreshed thanks to his sobriety; whereas I look like a woman who is six months pregnant, tired and traveling too much.
In Berlin for the Next11 conference and hitting a wall. I actually think it has less to do with being pregnant and more to do with jetlag and a cold. I am just hoping to get through my keynote today without coughing too much.
Speaking of, I am the closing keynote for the conference, which can be the kiss of death attendance-wise. If you're at the conference- please stay!! I'll be good! I promise!
I'm staying a few days after the conference with Paul Carr to see some of Berlin before we head to TechCrunch's Disrupt NYC. (No sense flying back across the country.) I'm excited to see a bit more of the city and do a few more meetings with entrepreneurs. Only a few more quick trips after Disrupt before I'm (somewhat thankfully) grounded!
I started out with a photo essay about "Computer Village," where many Nigerians go to buy technology or get it repaired. One or two attention-seeking Nigerian bloggers got upset about this post saying it wasn't reflective of Nigerian tech entrepreneurs. Um.....yeah, that's why I didn't say it was. I don't consider the Best Buy in San Francisco the braintrust of Silicon Valley either. But it's always interesting to see how everyday people around the world buy and consume technology produced by US companies. To check out the post, go here.
*This* was my post on Nigerian tech entrepreneurs. The scene is definitely more nascent than what I've seen in countries like Brazil or Indonesia, but I was really impressed by a few companies I met. My favorite was a company called Gyst. Read all about them and the other startups I met here. The article also talks about some of the unique challenges to starting companies in Nigeria: In particular an insanely skewed dual economy thanks to oil money and corruption and the stigma Nigerian scammers have cast over the legit tech community.
My next two stories were about the insane world of Nollywood, or Nigerian filmmaking. It's the second largest film industry in the world by volume, a potential goldmine and an industry that captures all the unique nuances of the Nigerian spirit-- both good and bad. If the post on tech entrepreneurs represents the hopeful case for the country, and the reality of 419 scamming represents the most troubling side of the country; Nollywood is right down the middle. A good story turned into a great story when we got detained by a vigilante court and had to bribe our way out. You have to click on a story that starts out: "It was when they pulled out the machetes that I started to worry."
For glimpses of the chaotic market where Nollywood movies are bought and sold, go here.
Finally, today I posted what I expect will be the most controversial story from my trip. It's about the world of 419 scammers in Nigeria. I spent my last day in Nigeria talking to about a dozen current and reformed scammers, and it was chilling and fascinating at the same time. Westerners will probably feel like I'm glorifying criminals; many Nigerians will feel like I'm bringing more attention to the national stereotype that plagues them. But, as I argue in the post, Nigeria has to face and tackle this problem if it is going to realize its potential in the emerging world, and I wanted to understand the people behind the emails and attacks.
Not surprisngly, they share a lot of the same characteristics of great entrepreneurs-- which is terrifying and encouraging for Nigeria's future, depending on the path the country takes. I tried to present their stories without judgement, but I found the toll that a life of crime had taken on these "Yahoo boys" heartbreaking. From one current scammer:
“You white people have very flexible hearts. We’ve seen it. That’s why there can be no true love in Nigeria. Your closest friends rip you off here.” He continued, “I wish I could stop. I’m not into the black man power like some people. I don’t want to make someone sell their house; I don’t want to take everything. I just can’t find a job. If I had a junior brother I wouldn’t teach him. You get addicted to it.”
For the full story, head here. It's a fascinating country that will change a lot in the next five to ten years. I hope we get to go back.
Later today, I head to Berlin to speak at the Next11 conference, and meet with several German entrepreneurs. After that, I'll head directly to New York for TechCrunch Disrupt. Wish the baby and me luck kicking an annoying cold that came back from Omaha with us.
I'm only doing three unpaid speaking gigs this year as the baby needs a new pair of....everything. They're all special cases.
One is in Berlin next week, and I committed before I knew I was pregnant and my travel schedule would be this mental. But I've been dying to go to Berlin, so I kept the date. Paul Carr is meeting me after the UK launch of his book and there are several interesting startups I'm going to meet with.
Another one is in my hometown of Memphis, and the day before my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. It's the family's only chance to marvel at my massive pregnant belly-- something my parents were starting to doubt would ever happen. And I can influence the kid's taste buds with some Memphis BBQ. That one is a quadruple no brainer.
The third is Big Omaha, where I'm speaking today. Omaha was one of my favorite spots during my User Generated Book Tour in 2008. I met Jeff Slobotski while I was here, and told him he needed to capitalize on the connections and energy between the 150 or so people who came out to my event.
He organized Big Omaha later that year, and it has become huge in a short period of time. There's an amazing roster of speakers this year, and tickets sold out in a flash-- with a 300 person waiting list to get in. I told him yesterday he needs to bite the bullet and make it a bigger event next year. The Midwest is clearly hungry for what he's doing.
They agreed to fly me here and buy some books, so I was thrilled to come back to speak-- even though I only had a few days between Nigeria and Berlin. The baby: Not thrilled. His catch phrase this month is rapidly becoming, "Oh, FFS." (I don't know where he picked up that kind of language.)
Anyway, last night I get and not only have they booked me into a gorgeous room at the historic Magnolia hotel, they left me a goodie bag-- complete with cow-themed baby toys. When I begged off the opening night party to catch up on work, they recommended an amazing restaurant-- Flatiron Cafe-- half a block from the hotel and offered to make a reservation.
It was a perfect evening. I finally got the headspace to draft the rest of my Nigeria posts (two big ones running this weekend) and had a phenomenal meal of crispy jumbo prawns and a Berkshire pork chop with sweet corn brulee. The restaurant is completely surrounded by windows and a surging thunderstorm outside only added to the mood. (In addition to BBQ, thunderstorms was someting I had to give up moving to California eleven years ago. I always miss them.)
Of course, when I went to pay, Slobotski had already picked up the tab. What??? As anyone from the South or Midwest knows, hospitality isn't just about spending money on a guest-- it's thinking of little details like that.
This morning I'm headed off to a breakfast organized by the Kauffman Foundation, my knights in shining armor who funded part of Brilliant Crazy Cocky and also support Big Omaha, then to the conference. My keynote is this afternoon and I'll be talking about the innovation I found around the world during my book. The message is: If Rwanda can innovate, Omaha certainly can.
Then I gotta fly home to catch up on work and leave Sunday for Berlin. After Berlin, I'll see you all in New York for TechCrunch Disrupt!
If you're here and you have a book and want me to sign it, don't be shy. I'd be honored.
Today I spoke at the Platform, an event in Nigeria put on by the Covenant Christian Centre aimed at inspiring Nigerians to think outside the box. I was a little intimidated. Not only was the site on the same grounds where Nigeria declared independence, but I was sharing the stage with some amazing speakers. And there were 10,000 people in the audience and millions more watching on national television and the livestream online. Quite the gig.
Here's a glimpse of what it looked like-- only the audience fanned out from the stage in a T-shape, so the camera only captures a fraction of the people there. (I'm the tiny speck on stage above.) It was amazing looking out at all the faces, hungry for inspiration. Hopefully they left happy!
After the big keynote, we did smaller breakout sections. I did my first keynote about the different types of innovation I found during my 40-week journey around the emering world. For the second one, I talked about lessons entrepreneurs should learn from Silicon Valley's ecosystem, and traits of Silicon Valley they shouldn't try to replicate. Pregnant lady on parade!
My poor baby must be sick of my keynotes. I remember once in junior high someone asked me the definition of existentialism, expecting to stump me and I rattled it off without batting an eyelash. I wasn't a prodigy-- my dad was just a philosopher and I grew up listing to that stuff. Likewise, after all these keynotes my baby is going to be born knowing the GDP, population and growth rates of the seven largest emerging markets.
Finally, here's me with Pastor Poju-- the head of The Covenant Christian Centre and the organizer of the event. And below, there's me with some of the staff. They put on an amazingly seamless event.
During my book travel, I posted a series of International Travel Tips. Most of them revolved around how I managed to live out of a tiny green suitcase for up to five weeks and three countries at a time. Now, I'm doing it pregnant.
For me, traveling pregnant isn't near as difficult as many people imagine. I'm having an insanely easy pregnancy, and the doctor has ordered anyone who wants me to fly across oceans to speak has to fly me business class-- a luxery I've never had before. Still, there are some pregnancy-travel necessities that I've come to appreciate.
1. COMPRESSION SOCKS. Other than a Passport, this is the only thing that would get me to turn around and drive back to the house mid-airport dash. The only real threat of this kind of travel is the increased risk of bloodclots, and one of the best ways to guard against it is wearing maternity support hose. Blech. I wore them on my flight to Indonesia and was miserable. They're just not comfortable and I look about as cool as a 1980s secretary who's switched her heels for tennis shoes for the commute home. Even the maternity ones squeeze my belly more than my ankles.
But I picked up these compression foot-less socks at The Nest, a great maternity boutique in San Francisco, earlier this month, and I adore them. Anytime my ankles turn into elephant feet, I throw them on just like I'd put on legwarmers during a flight or in the evenings and the swelling goes down dramatically. Last week, I wore them under some boots walking all over New York, then caught a flight home in them, and still got home to normal, non-cankles.
They're actually comfortable too. No one minds compression around their ankles-- it's like a massage. It's the full pantyhose pushing on the belly that suck.
2. ThinkThin Bars and Decaf Green Tea Bags. I discovered ThinkThin bars when I was crashing Benchmark Capital's offices a month ago and fell in love with them. Low on sugar, high on fiber and protein and yummy, they are my new favorite ready-snack. And those are more important to have on hand pregnant, because I can't do two things I do constantly when I travel: Skip meals and then eat anything in sight.
I've also found that "decaf" doesn't exactly translate in most places. Having some tea bags in my purse at all times makes it easier to turn down coffee when I'm horribly jetlagged.
3. Maternity Trenchcoat. I got this awesome coat at The Bump, a maternity boutique in Brooklyn that Mr. Lacy discovered while he was working in NYC earlier this year. It's hands-down the best maternity store I've found, and this trench was one of the best things I bought. No jackets button these days-- obviously-- and that's a problem living in windy San Francisco. This trench is great on the road too, because it keeps the wind out, but is incredibly lightweight, packs easily and doesn't wrinkle. It's an instant way to look pulled together-- looking fitted and classic up top, with plenty of room to flare at the belly.
4. Atlas Visa. Regular readers know the most annoying part of all my book travel was dealing with VISAS. Because my husband and I were bootstrapping this book and strapped for cash, I couldn't afford expediters and spent days at consulates, mostly begging to get documents in the short windows I had between trips. Thankfully, a full-time job has changed that, and the best visa expediter I've worked with is Atlas Visa in Washington DC. They've got great relationships with each consulate and are super efficient.
5. Pinky Ball. For those who don't know the way around a pilates studio, this is a hard pink ball about the size of a fist that rolls out all your tense muscles. It takes up little space, and put it on knots in your back and rock back-and-forth in your seat or against a wall, and you've got an in flight massage.
My first book had a rather non-traditional book tour. It was a sprawling, spazzy user-generated affair where I weedled some money out of the publishers, matched it with my own and hit the road to go visit entrepreneurs and social media enthusiasts in fifteen different cities, doing about three events per city. I picked those cities based not on anything qualatative, but based on feedback I got over social media to the question, "Where should I go?"
We did a lot of corporate events, but most of them were held in bars, drinking and talking entrepreneurship until the wee hours. Attendance ranged from thirteen people at one event to more than five hundred at another, and collectively I met thousands of entrepreneurs I may have never heard of in the Silicon Valley echochamber.
What I loved most about this tour was the other conversations that pulling like minded group of geeks together spawned. I'm most honored that the Big Omaha conference grew out of it-- and I'm happy that I'm going back to speak at that event this month.
But return trips to Omaha and my hometown of Memphis aside, this time around book promotion is different. And that reflects not only the very different book I've written, but also how much this book-- considered a reckless gamble when I started it more than two years ago-- has changed me.
The biggest difference: It's an entirely sober tour since I'm carrying precious baby cargo. See also the lack of strappy heels and waist-hugging dresses. (Before picture to your right coming into my SF party for "Once You're Lucky"; I don't even know that I have one from this book's launch party. But trust me, that dress is now in a space bag under the bed to make room in the closet for maternity wear.)
I'm not complaining about any of those. I'm always surprised at the look of horror on someone's face when I say, "Look at me! I'm HUGE!" and the "Oh, no, no, no....you're not..." back-pedal. I know women have conditioned men NEVER to tell us we look "huge" but at least for me, that's not an insult for the next five months. I am reveling in it. I've never been more proud of how I look.
Another big difference: People are actually paying me to show up, rather than just indulging me. Most of this "book tour" -- if you could even call it that-- are just paid speaking gigs from places as diverse as Colombus, Ohio to Lagos, Nigeria. And there's a limit on how many I can do, because unlike the last time around I have a full time job and I can only travel during the second trimester. I'm pretty much booked-solid as you can see here. But I'll likely pick up some more dates after November.
I was deeply terrified of public speaking during my last book tour. Almost pathologically so. But as I've written before, the experience of reporting this new book, spending forty weeks in megacities, slums, villages and in more than one dicey situation has totally reshaped my relationship with fear. It's made me a zen mother-to-be, because I've seen what most pregnant women around the world go through. News flash: We have it very easy. This tour's catch-phrase should be: I'm pregnant, not disabled.
And of course, this tour is fittingly international. The most exciting destination is the one I'm going to next: Nigeria. Nigeria was on the short list of countries I didn't get to during the book's reporting that I really, really wanted to get to, so I was ecstatic when my speaking agents called with a perfectly good excuse to get on a plane and go.
It's our first family vacation, as I'm taking not only the baby but Mr. Lacy too. We're spending an extra week in Nigeria to see the country and do some reporting. If you're as fascinated as I am with this 150-million person nation that's mostly known in the West for 419 scams, stay tuned here and to TechCrunch for my thoughts and experiences. And since Mr. Lacy is coming, expect some amazing photos.
I am writing this from one of my least favorite places in the Jakarta-- the Soekarno Hatta International Airport. Almost a year ago I was on my last leg of travel for my book and my health, stamina and bank account were all running on fumes. I spent a brutal nine-hour layover in this airport, most of it slumped in a chair at Starbucks, half-stricken with a fever, my nose raw from blowing it on cardboard-like napkins watching the only thing I had downloaded on my iPad-- America's Next Top Model. (Don't judge.) The minutes seemed to go in reverse, and I spent most of the time trying not to cry or pass out. I vividly remember it every time I'm here.
My loathing of this airport stands out because there are so many places in Jakarta I adore, and I'm sad I didn't get to spend more time here on this trip. Most of them have to do with food, and conversations with entrepreneurs I've had around that food. There's Bandar Djakarta-- the huge restaurant in Ancol that's a cross between an Indonesian Chuck E. Cheese and a Fudruckers in a beach town like Panama City.
Any live seafood you can imagine-- and some so prehistoric looking you're not sure how they still exist- can be found in Bandar Djakarta's coolers. You point to the ones you want, loosely describe how you want it cooked, then wedge in at one of the long tables where middle class Indonesians come to celebrate their birthdays. A jazzy version of "Happy Birthday to You" plays in Bahasa about twenty or thirty times a night.
There's Pondok Laguna-- yet another seafood place where I usually order at least six things, all of them as spicy as they'll possibly give an American. My first time there I wondered how to break into the crab without crackers, when I looked over and saw an old Chinese man, stone-faced, smashing his mug of Bintang on the crab like a WWF wrestler doing a body slam.
Laguna is open-air and cavernous, loud, steamy and full of sprawling Indonesian families enjoying a night out together as kids run between tables. They fully expect you to make a pig of yourself-- the tables aren't bussed once you're done, as much as waiters take the scraper-side of a long carwash squeegee and slide everything on the table into huge tubs. The squeegee is flipped around, and voila! The table is mopped down and ready for the next diners.
And during this trip, I had a meal that rivaled both of those in Makassar. At an unassuming spot, we were served beef spare ribs slow-grilled to perfection out on the busy market street and slathered with a complex, spicy peanut sauce. We gnawed on the bones like rabid animals, using our fingers and the rice to sop up an even more tongue-numbingly spicy peanut sauce.
I love the full sensory experience of Indonesian food-- the sticky mess, the taste, the smell (unless Durian is involved) and of course the tingling burn in my mouth from the spice once I'm done. It's the only country in the world where I can't figure out what in the hell could be in the sauces making them so complex, layered and unlike anything I've ever tasted. Indonesia is home to more indigenous herbs and spices than any place in the world, and yet, I'm convinced they've held some back for their own cooking that the rest of the world has never heard of. A sort of revenge for 350 years of Colonialism, spurred by that same bounty of spices.
But one of my favorite places in Jarkarta is called Loewy's, and it isn't authentic at all. If you've been to Pastis in Manhattan, you've essentially been to Loewy's-- at least structurally. There are some Indonesian-inspired touches-- like the Tom Yum Martini and flavorful rice dishes. But there's no denying that Loewy's is pretty Western.
I used to feel guilty about liking it so much. You never want to be the American going to an American place in a country like Indonesia where the local dining experience is so rich. But I couldn't help it. There is something infectious about Loewy's. The atmosphere is hopeful and electric, and yet, it's comfortable and familiar. It's one of those places I could sit in all day reading a book or working on a blog post and never feel pressured to leave.
More than that, there was always something I couldn't explain about it. Somehow, it doesn't feel like an expat-haven, although there's a feeling of being amid a group of people who don't quite fit; people seeking sameness in a strange place. But that just confused me more, because Loewy's is usually filled with hip, affluent Indonesians, not Westerners.
It all made more sense to me once someone explained that Loewy's isn't owned by Americans-- it is actually a local place. It was opened by some Jakarta kids who studied in the US and loved Pastis. When they came back home they wanted to take a piece of that, so they recreated it Indonesia-style. It explains the strange expat vibe: Not only are there Americans like me going to Loewy's to feel a bit of the West-- but Indonesians who used to live in the US are going there for the same thing. Even though we're from different places, the Americans and Indonesians in Loewy's are all trying to get a sense of home and a sense of exotic at the same time. In my case, it's just reversed from those I'm dining with. Put another way, some of the diners in Loewy's are actual expats and some go there to pretend they are again.
I haven't found a place like this anywhere else in the world. Most expat bars and restaurants are pure-expat with locals and people wanting to mix with locals turning their nose up at the idea of them. Then there are the TGI Fridays and Chilis that dot the emerging world. In my experience, these are mostly frequented by locals, fascinated with the exoticness of Americana, but few actual Americans go there. But a place like Loewy's that's somewhere between the two, filling the need for both groups is unique.
It makes more sense once you understand the typical Indonesian who studies in the US. More often than not, these are sons and daughters of Indonesia's wealthiest industrial families. They get to study in America, and the lucky ones get a bit more time to play around in cities like New York and LA post graduation. But "the call," as they refer to it, always comes eventually.
The family tells them on "the call" that the fun is over, and it's time to come home and be groomed to take over the family business. Some look forward to coming back, but most wish they could stay longer. But almost all of them uphold the families' wishes. That was-- after all-- the terms under which they got to study in the US to begin with.
This isn't just anecdotal. While it's all but impossible for Indians to get granted US student visas these days, Indonesians get approved at a rate north of 85%, according to the Embassy folks I traveled with for the last two weeks. "It's amazing," I was told. "They just never overstay."
That helps explain the puzzling lack of Indonesian restaurants in the US, since Chinatowns and Little Italies sprung up as a way for immigrants to build a business and replicate some sense of home. It has also lead to yet another phenomenon that makes Indonesia unique for an emerging market: It hasn't had a brain drain to the West. The kind of reverse brain drain that we're now fretting about with India and China-- where people study in the US but go back home to build companies-- has long been happening with Indonesia. But is that a good thing or a bad thing for the Indonesia? I could argue both sides.
On the downside, it's another reason that Indonesia-- its population, its natural resources, its potential-- is such a well kept secret, because you don't have a diaspora out evangelizing it. India's huge population aside, one of the biggest reasons so much capital flows from Silicon Valley is because Indian entrepreneurs have made such stellar entrepreneurs here. People feel like they have reference points and cultural bridges. The lack of Indonesian reference points hurts the flow of foreign capital-- especially given the insane amount of opportunities to invest in the emerging world. Best case: Indonesia is simply not top of mind. Worst case: The lack of these "cultural ambassadors" can reinforce negative stereotypes, like the idea that Indonesia has a more radical Muslim population than it does.
On an individual level, successful expats who spend time in the west develop marketable skills necessary to bridge the two markets from an operational standpoint. And of course many expats can achieve greater success in the West, leading to a flood of remittances coming back home, enriching family members.
But there's an upside for Indonesia too: The best educated Indonesians almost always return home, reinvigorated with what they've seen in the US, whether it's the entrepreneurial spirit of Silicon Valley, the glamour of LA or the style of New York. They don't seek to replicate it, but longing for it, they build things like Loewy's that combine the two cultures. Rather than building a piece of home in the US-- ala Chinatown-- these Indonesians build a piece of the US at home.
The brain-drain debate is a bit like the catch-22 of multinationals. Western companies can provide a quick-fix for an economy when they charge in and offer thousands of highly-skilled, high-paying jobs. But as we've seen in India, multinationals only help the small percentage of people who are lucky enough to land those jobs. Building a creative-class of local entrepreneurs takes far longer, and requires government and private sector coordination that's lacking in many emerging markets. But it's the only sustainable way to transform an economy in the long term. So too, might the lack of a brain drain hurt Indonesia in the short term, but prove and advantage in the long term. It's all up to these kids trapped somewhere between a native and an expat in their own homeland.
Two weeks ago, I spoke at a dinner of US alumni in Surabaya. I was told the audience represented most of the money in the second largest city on the island of Java, and most of them had lived the story above. They spoke flawless English and had many of the earmarks of being American-educated. But as I looked over the audience it was unmistakably Indonesian. No Western brands here; it was a sea of the same Batik shirts their parents and grandparents had worn at formal events before them. Like Loewy's, the conversations about global business made me feel at home, and yet, looking around, I was still clearly in Indonesia.
While I've never been a big believer that trustfund kids change the world, I've become convinced that this frustrated generation will be pivotal to what happens to Indonesia next. Unlike their parents, they've spent time in the West and if they can't stay, there are parts of it they plan on bringing home with them. Unlike Americans seeking to profit from Indonesia's growing middle class, they get the country. But unlike many Indonesians, they get what modernization and technology can make possible.
It's not just Loewy's-- many of these kids are angel investing in Web startups following models they saw in the West. They may not be free to run them, but they can fund someone who can. Many of them are pushing the government to improve Indonesia's infrastructure or forming powerful private sector coalitions that can make changes faster than the government. Some may well run for office one day. If they're forced to come home, they're determined to make life in Indonesia better. And better doesn't just mean Western -- it means a modern Indonesia.
An unforgettable portrait of the emerging world's entrepreneurial dynamos Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky is the story about that top 1% of people who do more to change their worlds through greed and ambition than politicians, NGOs and nonprofits ever can. This new breed of self-starter is taking local turmoil and turning it into opportunities, making millions, creating thousands of jobs and changing the face of modern entrepreneurship at the same time. To tell this story, Lacy spent forty weeks traveling through Asia, South America and Africa hunting down the most impressive up-and-comers the developed world has never heard of....yet.
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