FF Insights #578: The local multinational

January 27, 2022: Restart and prepare; The kinds of founders; Abnormal people

Founding Fuel

[From Unsplash]

Good morning,

In Driving Honda: Inside the World's Most Innovative Car Company, Jeffrey Rothfeder explains how Honda sidestepped some of the issues multinationals face when they operate in a setting that’s different from their own.

He writes, “Globalization has foundered because it is predicated upon countries’ acting in ways that are, well, foreign to them. Countries are protectionist, insular, suspicious, nationalist, colonialist, or competitive precisely because global financial power depends upon some combination of these behaviours—none of which are conducive to globalization. But it is naive to think that countries would break these ancient habits for a concept based on a cooperative new world order that elevates multinationals while lessening the influence of the nation-state.

“By contrast, localization, as Honda practices it, is designed to camouflage the multinational in the colours of the country’s culture itself. In the United States, Honda is American; southern sometimes, midwestern other times. And in Thailand, where Honda is the number-one automaker by sales, the company is Thai. Honda’s current factory in Thailand, located in Ayutthaya, about an hour north of Bangkok, opened in 2000; since then, it has been the scene of a series of intriguing new car designs aimed at a country with the biggest auto market in southeast Asia yet not known for much besides plain vanilla vehicles. For example, the $13,000 and up Honda Brio, conceived in large part by the Ayutthaya R&D ‘and engineering team in 2011, began life as an ultrasporty, hatchback subcompact that tightly hugs curves in the road like more expensive vehicles and is light and efficient enough to get 40 miles to the gallon. The target audience: the many first-time car buyers with a limited amount of money to spend but who are willing to pay a bit more for style and quality. Since then Honda’s Thailand subsidiary has released slightly pricier two-door and sedan models of the Brio, which is by far the most popular native automobile line in the country and a top seller among all vehicles, including imports’”

Restart and prepare

In a column in The Times of India Dr Devi Shetty points out that Covid has changed, and we need to change our strategy too. “Our top priority now is to revive the economy and prepare our health system for future pandemics,” he writes. 

He offers a few suggestions on what needs to be done now and going forward. Here are three that we wanted to highlight.

  • No more lockdowns. The only reason for a lockdown and restrictions on people’s movement should be overwhelmed hospitals that are unable to take care of the patient load. Test positivity numbers should not be the criterion.
  • Schools starting from kindergarten to higher education should open soon with all the safety precautions. However, online education should continue. IGNOU should be transformed into a modern online university offering the theoretical part of engineering lessons to young migrant workers toiling at construction sites.
  • Every hospital with over hundred beds should be encouraged to start a nursing and paramedical school. Covid proved that nurses’ contribution in patient care is as significant as that of doctors. Every country is trying to revamp their healthcare services by recruiting Indian doctors and nurses. It is an excellent opportunity for young girls from poor families to earn big money overseas as a nurse.

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The kinds of founders

One of the most fascinating podcasts we’ve turned to in recent times is on Farnam Street where the founder Shane Parrish engages Marc Andreessen, entrepreneur, investor and software engineer who created the first web browser Mosaic. Old timers remember him as the man who launched Netscape.

In response to a question on how he identifies founders to back, we thought his answer was most insightful. He placed them in two buckets.  

“There’s the ones who’ve done it before.” The advantage with them is that it’s easier to sift through their history “for obvious reasons”. They have a track record. “And you can talk to the people, who they worked with. And it’s like, okay, how were they under pressure? How were they in terms of inventiveness? How were they in terms of persistence? How did they make the decision about when to give up or when something just simply wasn’t going to work and so forth.”

Then there are first-time founders, the kind who are fresh out of college. This is where it gets hard. But this is where you strike on the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg as well. How do you look for a track record here? “You could ask for their high school GPA or something, but there’s no track record. Gates and Zuckerberg are college dropouts.”

So what goes? “The reality is the kids that make new things work from scratch, it actually turns out that they actually have been deep in the domain for a long time. In almost every case they’ve been thinking hard about the problem that they’re trying to solve. Actually in a lot of cases for many years.

“And what that actually means, this is actually really interesting and maybe software is this unique area like this. But as a consequence, in software you can have a 21-year-old, who’s basically been a professional level programmer for 10 years. And we hear the story all the time. I really loved video games. And so therefore when I was 11 or 12, I learned how to code so that I could figure out how to make my own video games. Based on that I found it really interesting how, for example, clans or tribes form inside games.

“And so when I was in high school, I built this app that did people matching for whatever World of Warcraft guilds or whatever it is.

“And then in college I got a degree in computer science and then I did this project which is to do this new social networking app. And now I’ve been thinking about that and building that for the last five years. And now here I am. And now after 10 years of thinking about this, now here’s my new social networking idea. This is not a rare thing. And literally they’ve been thinking about this specific thing for five years and the general pattern or category for like 10 years. And of course for things, this of course is heavily biased toward domains in which kids get to participate.”

Absolutely fascinating. Time invested listening to this conversation is worth it.

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Abnormal people

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And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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