For Hiro Tien, an ambitious entrepreneur from the South-East Asian nation of Brunei, the constraints of a tiny home market were fast becoming apparent.
Having established several successful ventures in the oil-dependent nation of just 500,000 – including a leading e-commerce company and a fast-growing escape-games business – Tien sought new ways to expand to markets in Asia and beyond.
Exploring books from world-renowned start-up experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tien came across MIT’s Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp – an intensive, week-long course offering entrepreneurs the chance to ‘drink from the firehose’ of the famous institution.
“I applied wanting to learn a thing or two from MIT about taking my business global, including networking with entrepreneurs around the world. I was also applying to top MBA programmes in the US, and thought of using the Bootcamp to send a signal about my ability to thrive at MIT classes,” says Tien.
Tien placed his Brunei businesses in the care of trusted confidantes before flying to MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he met a team of like-minded entrepreneurs. Their goal: to establish a start-up in five days.
“As CEO, I worked with an Indian process engineer, a Norwegian lawyer, a Mexican doctor and an Australian robotics engineering graduate to start a fitness gaming company. The idea was to create a mobile game app that marries Fitbit’s fitness tracking capability with the interactive and fun gaming experience of games like Pokemon Go.”
For an entrepreneur from Brunei’s tight-knit business community, the contrast could not have been greater.
“In Brunei we don’t have a very developed start-up culture. It’s very traditional – we start a business, hire people and pay them a salary. At Bootcamp, it was very different. We formed a team and everyone was super-smart, accomplished, and hardly follow orders.”
The clash of diverse experience and mercurial talent made for a lively process. As team tensions threatened to boil over, crucial mentor advice kicked in.
“The mentors really came to the rescue and gave me pointers on how to navigate situations like this. The Bootcamp taught me the art of managing conflict resolution while working with a high performing team. We had several team breakdown moments but emerged much stronger.”
Tien believes those lessons will have a lasting influence.
“The people you start a business with are so important. I didn’t believe that in Brunei, where the mind-set is that of the one-man-show.”
Having made crucial connections with mentors and forged lasting relationships with fellow Bootcampers through MIT’s extensive alumni network, Tien is ready for his next challenge – an MBA at Stanford Graduate School of Business. The options appear limitless.
“I went into the Bootcamp thinking I would return to consolidate my businesses and journey towards growing them abroad. But I realised I had walked out of MIT with much more. I now have a stronger network and toolkit to pursue that original path or to start an entirely new, innovation-driven start-up that could change the world.”