The shame faced by Singapore startup founders who fail is real. Here’s what we can do

At a recent fireside chat with undergraduates, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about how he does not think that there is any stigma or shame attached to startup founders who fail.

He had good intentions in encouraging aspiring Singaporeans to try new businesses and succeed. I, for one, am eager too to promote this culture of entrepreneurship.

The reality, however, is starkly different. For the last 10 years, I have been a mentor and advisor to numerous early-stage Singaporean startup founders. And from where I stand, Singapore has a long way to go in supporting them and understanding the concept of failure in the startup industry.

We often celebrate news of startups receiving funding. But away from the news is a larger group of startups that have failed and quietly disappeared. I have noticed that startup founders who regularly posted on social media about their startup activities would suddenly go quiet once their venture failed to take off.


Khailee Ng of 500 Startups has spoken previously about how entrepreneurs face high stress and this is not discussed openly with investors, staff and other founders. Mr. Ng cited a Harvard Business School study done in 2012 which attributed 65 percent of startup failures to personal stress.

Shame prevents founders from openly sharing their problems, and this can be a vicious circle that further perpetuates a culture where no one wants to talk about failure and the shame associated with it becomes worse.

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