Chefs make something completely different. A great example is Elon Musk. From a startup perspective this is the act of Category Creation. A Cook on the other hand follows a recipe. Most of us are Cooks. From a startup perspective, this is competing in an established industry.

BUT you can start as a cook, mastering the basics. Over time, you mix, re-mix and add in new things and end up as a Chef. Thinking about Chinese Internet ecosystem, most of the big players like Alibaba, Tencent, Netease, Baidu all started as Chinese copies of similar US internet giants. But they all morphed into completely different and arguably more dominant internet giants in their market.

For example, Alibaba was a B2B Marketplace, which turned into an online classifieds business, Alipay (Paypal), Taobao (Amazon) & fast growing cloud business like AWS.

Tencent started as a messaging product QQ, morphed into a massive gaming giant (globally i might add), Weibo (Twitter), Wechat the world’s first super App which is a mix of Whatsapp, Instagram, Microblogging, & business sites. All underpinned by Wepay, the immensely popular mobile payments service.

Same with some of the Japanese internet giants like Rakuten (Amazon) or Yahoo! Japan (Yahoo! started as a portal but ended up adding a dominant consumer auctions business like eBay, Broadband & Mobile phone business). Or even GRAB in Southeast Asia, which started as a clone of Uber but ended up as a major player in the payments space.

This reminds me of my friend Hiten Shah’s framework. You can start business as an Explorer or Pirate. Explorer wants to explore the frontier and build something no one else has seen before. A pirate literally takes an idea that is out there already and will try to do it better. A company example he uses is Drift, who in the first couple years basically cloned Intercom. But over time, they completely changed their product and business where it became something totally different to Intercom. And a very successful business just like Intercom.

As per the examples from the Chinese, Japanese & Southeast Asian markets, you can start as a Pirate but end up being an Explorer. This is similar to many of our careers, it’s good to have mentors, heroes and roadmaps to model ourselves on but over time as you get your own experience and learn more about ourselves, you can start to find your own path.

As I’ve said many times, it’s not where you start, it’s where you end up that is important.

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Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything!

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