Sabir x Dave Liu
How To Succeed As An Asian American Entrepreneur With Dave Liu
Dave Liu is an incredibly accomplished and gifted entrepreneur with decades of experience behind him. He has worked in multiple fields and has driven billions of dollars in revenue for numerous brands.
In the latest episode of This Week With Sabir, Liu spoke about some of the things that matter to Asian American entrepreneurs such as himself, including:
- The Challenges that Asian Americans Face: All minorities in the United States face challenges that white Americans don’t need to overcome. These include investor biases and language difficulties, which makes it harder for them to get to where they want to go.
- Why Asian Americans Become Entrepreneurs: Asian Americans often take the leap into entrepreneurship because they are frustrated working for others and toeing the line. They crave the freedom that working for themselves can bring.
- Keeping Up With the Joneses: Young entrepreneurs often fall into the trap of trying to keep up with the Joneses, only to spend money they can’t afford and get themselves into masses of debt. It’s important to live within your means.
- Be Great at One Thing: Asian Americans, like other children of immigrants, often have high demands placed on them by their parents and so they tend to be good at everything. But if you want to succeed in the business world, it’s better to be great at one thing than good at many things.
Watch my full video with Dave above or read the accompanying guide for a deep dive into the topics that we discussed.
Tips For Asian American Entrepreneurs With Dave Liu
I have filmed dozens of episodes of This Week With Sabir and have spoken with countless experienced entrepreneurs, business owners, and executives in that time. Dave Liu, who joined me for the latest episode, is one of the most experienced.
Liu is an advisor, investor, philanthropist, author, and entrepreneur. He has worked under these labels for more than 30 years and has generated over $15 billion for many top companies in that time.
Dave Liu is also an Asian entrepreneur. As an immigrant myself, and someone who lives in an area of New York that’s often described as a cultural melting pot, I can sympathize with the struggles of Asian and minority entrepreneurs.
To highlight these issues and get some helpful insights, I invited Dave Liu on the show.
You can watch the full episode in this blog or on YouTube. In the guide below, I’ll expand on some of the points we discussed and provide some helpful tips on surviving and thriving as an Asian entrepreneur.
What Are The Challenges That Asian American Entrepreneurs Face?
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there are close to 2 million businesses owned by Asian Americans. That’s a staggering number when you consider that Asians are not the biggest minority in the United States.
In fact, Asians account for less than 6% of the US population, which is nearly 10 times less than White Americans, 3 times less than Latino Americans, and half that of African Americans.
These Asian American businesses are very successful on the whole, and they are growing at an incredible rate.
As with all minorities, Asian Americans face a lot of challenges when creating their own businesses, but some of these are unique to Asians.
Firstly, it has been estimated that around a third of Asian Americans don’t speak English while over 75% of them prefer to speak their own language. This is partly cultural, but it’s also far harder for someone from countries like Korea, Japan, and China to learn English than it is for someone from countries that speak a Romance or Germanic language.
Secondly, and as noted during my discussion with Maribel Lara regarding Latinx entrepreneurship, Asians are often placed in a single category. They are not Chinese, Japanese, South Korean, Taiwanese, or Vietnamese, they are often just “Asian”. It seems normal to an American with no connection to Asia, but we’re talking about a vast continent with numerous countries and cultures.
It would be akin to classifying everyone from North, Central, and South America under the same banner, thus placing people born and raised in Canada in the same categories as those from California, the Caribbean, and Peru.
Attitudes like this feed the xenophobia that Asian Americans experience on a regular basis and it can also make it hard for them to create successful businesses and succeed in the executive world.
Dave Liu knows all too well what it takes to overcome adversity. He was born with a cleft lip. He had dozens of surgeries as a child, and he faced a lot of bullying and harassment as a result.
These challenges can be overcome, just like Liu overcame his issues and just like countless others have overcome theirs, but it means that the playing field is not level and Asian Americans always have to work harder.
Why Asians Become Entrepreneurs
There are a lot of Asian American businesses, so it stands to reason that there are a lot of Asian American entrepreneurs.
So, why are so many of them taking the leap?
Dave Liu believes that most people aspire to entrepreneurship.
Go into any office or factory and ask everyone what they want from a career and they’ll say that they want to be in control. They want to work for themselves, not others. They want to choose whether to go to work or stay at home. They want a job that will reward their hard work, commitment, and time; a job that will pay more when they work more.
That’s what being an entrepreneur is all about.
For Asian Americans and children of immigrants in general, there’s more of a push to be in control of their own destinies.
During my discussion with Dave, we talked about the high demands that our parents placed on us. It’s something that any child of immigrants can sympathize with. If you return home with a report card that has all As and one B, your parents will focus on the B and ask why it’s not an A.
It’s not a case of “Well done for getting so many As” but “What’s with the B? What did you do wrong? Weren’t you listening?”.
It instills a need to overachieve in every possible subject, and it’s a need that stays with immigrant children throughout high school, university, and into their careers.
They are expected to toe the line. Overachieve. And be at the top of their class or career.
At some point, as happened with Dave, they reach a point where they get tired of doing what is expected of them. They crave freedom and control.
But entrepreneurship is not something that you can rush into. Running your own business and being your own boss is great, but there are exceptions.
If you run a grocery store, you’re forced to adhere to strict hours and may spend your days lugging stock around and dealing with customers. Your low margin means you’re never going to be rich and you’re always one unexpected outcome—pandemic, illness, natural disaster—from complete disaster.
If you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, consider a job that will make good use of your time and skill.
That’s why Dave Liu took his career into the digital space and it’s why an entire generation of entrepreneurs is doing the same thing.
Keeping Up With The Joneses
On the subject of digital entrepreneurs, there is a trend for them to show off their wealth. In the social media age, it’s almost expected. You can’t just make money, you have to flaunt it, with means spending your earnings on expensive cars, big homes, and luxury watches.
They live beyond their means, and when their business takes a hit, they nose-dive into mountains of debt.
It’s not just about showing off to their followers, either. They buy those expensive cars, homes, and watches because they see other successful entrepreneurs doing the same thing.
They’re keeping up with the Joneses.
You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to fall victim to this mentality. We’re all prone to it. We can’t really enjoy what we have because we’re constantly comparing ourselves to neighbors who have bigger cars, go on better vacations, and send their kids to private schools.
It’s a cruel irony, and it’s a reality that many of us deal with.
Dave told me the story of a managing director of a company he used to work with. The MD was earning about $500,000 a year and had just been given a $2 million bonus check.
Rather than accepting the money with glee, as Dave had expected, the MD was incandescent with rage. He wanted more, and when he wasn’t getting what he wanted, he resorted to a sob story.
The MD told his boss that he couldn’t possibly live on $2 million as he had alimony to pay and mortgages to cover. He spoke about sending his kids to private school and stressed that he lived a very expensive lifestyle.
By the end, even Dave began to believe him. The idea that someone couldn’t live off $500,000 a year and a $2 million bonus initially seemed preposterous, but once everything had been explained, it all made sense.
The man was living far beyond his means, and it’s something that many of us do.
I’ve known several people who started with very little and then eventually earned 6 or 7 figures a year. The story is always the same. When they’re living on the breadline, they look to people earning $100,000+ and think that they have it all.
Upon hearing about money struggles and debt, they dismiss them outright, because how can you possibly be struggling if you’re making so much?
But then they get there themselves and experience it first-hand.
We have an almost in-built need to scale up. When we make more money, we buy a bigger house and a better car. We shop at better supermarkets, spend more on vacations, and put more money on credit cards and private loans.
The end result is that we have nicer things and a bigger house, but we often have the same percentage of debt and the same amount of stress.
Dave, however, has always adopted a frugal lifestyle. He has lived within his means, and as a result, he never needs to stress about money and always feels like he has more than enough.
If you want true comfort and happiness, you should think about adopting a similar approach to wealth and frugality.
Education Is Essential
The trend for increasingly younger entrepreneurs means there are now countless successful entrepreneurs claiming that you don’t need to go to school. You don’t need qualifications or experience.
They didn’t need them, and so that automatically means that you don’t need them either.
But just because someone buys a single lottery ticket and wins the jackpot doesn’t mean that you will do the same thing.
I know many people who have made it without going to university. I know several who became rich and successful even though they dropped out of high school. But if you’re privileged enough to have access to a good education, you should take it.
Even if that education doesn’t directly relate to what you eventually do with your career, it will still help you on your journey. It could also help you make up your mind about what it is that you want to do.
Dave used his mathematics background to advance his career and transition into entrepreneurship. I did the same thing. I make my money growing businesses and most of what I do revolves around e-commerce and marketing, but the qualifications and knowledge that I earned when I was younger still help me.
As Dave noted during our discussion, Education provides the foundation for developing the muscle memory you need to learn.
The act of learning at the highest level, along with the information that you acquire, can help you throughout your career.
You need the basics in the business world. You need to be a capable writer as you’ll be communicating a lot and must do so professionally. It also means that you don’t need to defer to a proofreader every time you send an email to a client.
Think about how many business owners and entrepreneurs have their own books. Sure, those books have editors and proofreaders, but the same can be said for every other published author out there.
Basic math is also key.
Business owners aren’t always the academic types, but they have a breadth of knowledge, know all of the basics, and are usually ready to jump in if basic writing, calculations, marketing, customer service, and other skills are required.
The Best Advice From Dave Liu
Dave saved his best piece of advice for last.
When I asked him for his most valuable insight, he talked about the importance of being great at one or two things, as opposed to just being good or mediocre at many things.
As noted above, Asian children are expected to excel in all subjects at school and at home, from math and English to music practice and more.
It’s the idea that you need to be good at everything, otherwise you worry about returning home and facing your parents with your near-perfect report card.
As you enter the corporate world, that mentality remains and it begins to hold you back.
When you’re competing at the highest level, you need the attention of your boss or an investor, and you could be going up against someone who is great at something compared to all the things you’re just good at.
If you’re the best at one thing, people will forgive the things you’re not good at. If you’re an excellent innovator, people won’t care about your social skills or marketing as they can hire others for that.
Focus on the one thing you need to be great at, the thing that will set you apart from everyone else.
Double down on the things that matter the most and stop worrying about everything else. You’re not trying to impress your parents with your report card. You don’t need to be the most accomplished person in the room in every single subject. You just need to be the best at that one thing that really matters.
Resources For Asian American Entrepreneurs
Dave mentioned a few different resources during our discussion. You can find links to these below:
- Asian Hustle Network: A 200,000-strong network of diasporic Asians involved in creative and entrepreneurial fields.
- NAAAP: The National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) is a leadership organization for Asian professionals.
- AAPA Mentoring: The Asian American Professional Association is a non-profit organization for Asian entrepreneurs and executives.
- LEAP: A leadership organization for Asians and Pacific Islanders.
- GoldHouse: A community and network that provides support and assistance to Asians and Pacific Islanders.
- AsAmNews: A news portal devoted to stories that impact Asian Americans.
- BAYCAT: A California-based company that provides support and growth opportunities to youngsters.
- Smile Train: A charity that helps and supports children with cleft lips.
ABOUT DAVE LIU
Dave Liu is a 30-year veteran of Wall Street and Silicon Valley. He started his investment banking career working for Goldman Sachs and then joined Jefferies. During his 25-year corporate career, Dave progressed from the entry level of analyst to Managing Director, co-running all digital media and Internet investment banking activities. He completed over $15 billion of transactions with hundreds of companies including IBM, Google, Microsoft, Sony, Yahoo!, and Yelp.
After retiring from Wall Street, he became an entrepreneur and started four companies in technology, merchant banking, asset management, and media. He is CEO advisor and investor to multiple companies, several of which have reached multi-billion dollar status including Internet Brands WebMD, MobilityWare, FIGS, and Vobile. He’s also involved in the entertainment industry with investments in Stampede and TEG+, and was previously CEO advisor to ProSiebenSat.1 Media, one of the largest media companies in Europe.
He recently wrote a humorous career book called *The Way of the Wall Street Warrior: Conquer the Corporate Game Using Tips, Tricks, and Smartcuts* which was published by Wiley in November 2021. It is an award winning best seller and he wrote the book to help underrepresented communities achieve their career goals. Dave has pledged 100% of his net proceeds from the book to charity.
Dave completed the Management & Technology Program at the University of Pennsylvania where he received a BS in Engineering and a BS in Economics from the Wharton School. He also attended Harvard Business School where he received his MBA. He currently serves on the Executive Board of the Management & Technology Program at the University of Pennsylvania and on the Trust Advisory Committee of Tau Beta Pi. He is also Chairman of the Philanthropic Advisory Council of Smile Train, the largest cleft-focused organization. Finally, he is Vice Chairman of AsAmNews, one of the top news sites for Asian America.
Dave can be reached at his website, [www.Liucrative.com], or any of his social media handles:
- Facebook @ Liucrative: [www.facebook.com/liucrative]
- Instagram @ LiucrativeEndeavors: [www.instagram.com/LiucrativeEndeavors]
- Twitter @ Liucrative: [www.twitter.com/liucrative]
- TikTok @ Lucrative: [www.tiktok.com/@liucrative]