October 25, 2019

Living Free

Living Free

Protestors are taking to the streets in Hong Kong, Chile and Spain for different reasons, but there’s one thing they all have in common: They want to make their voices heard. Many or most are putting themselves at personal risk.

Seeing the demonstrations in the news is a stark reminder of the many freedoms we take for granted here in the U.S. Our country is far from perfect, but at least we don’t have to worry that if we show up at a protest, we’ll be carted off under martial law. That’s a luxury a lot of people on the planet don’t have.

We may not love the media, but we can generally figure out what’s really going on, even if we have to read or watch two or three different newspapers or TV news programs every day to piece it all together. Who here doesn’t realize what slant on actual events we’re going to get flipping between FOX and MSNBC? But at least we have the channels to flip through. Did you know that only 13% of the world’s population has access to a free press? Many people are forced to rely on media that’s controlled by the government or where the journalists reporting are literally putting their lives on the line.

We can also enjoy the pursuit of happiness – by or our own definition, not a drab, government-issued one. For many of the people we serve at Marcum, happiness includes going after their dream of building a scalable business, whether it’s a toy manufacturing company, a construction firm or a healthcare organization.

Many people around the world don’t have that luxury. Some live in countries where poverty has cut off opportunities or are subject to a dictator like Kim Jong-un and forced into running gray-market businesses. Others live in places where starting a business is so heavily regulated it’s next to impossible for the average person to break through the bureaucracy.

Still others face real physical risk when they start a business. In Mexico, many entrepreneurs don’t want to share news about hitting big funding milestones because they’re afraid kidnappers will see it as potential ransom money, according to a report I just read from Reuters. These business owners are giving new meaning to the term “stealth startup.”

The challenges entrepreneurs face around the world are one of the reasons so much of the new business creation in the U.S. is driven by immigrants. eBay, Google, Kohl’s, Panda Express, Yahoo! and YouTube are just a few of the well-known companies started here by immigrants.

Zoltan Acs, a professor at George Mason University, ranks the countries of the world in the Global Entrepreneurship Index every year, based on how friendly their business environments are to new business creation. He has concluded that what mothers think about entrepreneurship as a career option for their children is a good proxy for what the culture thinks about it.

Many parents in the U.S. would be very proud to tell their friends that their child was a budding Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg who had just launched a hot new tech company. It would be impossible to encourage a child to join the startup scene in a country where doing that would turn them into an enemy of the state – or even in a country where being an entrepreneur isn’t seen as a legitimate or socially acceptable form of employment.

There are many things we in the U.S. can learn from how other countries do things, as I often find when I’m traveling for business. (I keep hoping some of the folks who run our airports will study up on what Singapore’s Changi Airport is doing right). But overall, we’re still very lucky. Even in politically divided times, we’re free to speak our minds and try to work things out – and make a living however we want. We can build companies that allow us to make a difference in our own way, without asking for anyone’s permission. It’s the American way.

Halloween is next Thursday, one of the days I make sure I’m not traveling and home early with Lily, Kate and Max to go trick or treating. Many of you would be surprised that trick or treating in New York City is not that different from doing it in the suburbs, where Isaac and Leo grew up. We go building to building (sometimes vertically), store to store, lobby to lobby, and come home with bags full of goodies. At about 8pm, Lily & I head to our corner on 6th Avenue to observe the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, always the highlight of the night for us.

Last year Tracy (who surprises me each year) had me dressed as a minion (I know, the visual is disturbing). This year, who knows?