Dan Primack

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Emerging market entrepreneurs are brilliant, crazy & cocky

January 25, 2011: 11:11 AM ET

My goal this morning was to offer a comprehensive review of Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky – a new book on emerging market entrepreneurship by TechCrunch scribe Sarah Lacy. But time is running short, so here is an abbreviated version: Go buy it.

Seriously. This is an outstanding piece of journalism, based on Lacy's ten months of travel to Israel, Brazil, China, Rwanda and Indonesia. She obviously touches on the macro trends affecting each market, but does so via seamless examples of entrepreneurs who have launched companies to make everything from mobile apps to toilet paper.

A brief excerpt from the open, about Marco Gomes – now CEO of social media advertising network Boo-Box, but then a young boy living in a dangerous Brazilian slum:

One afternoon Gomes fell asleep on the bus and missed his stop. He found a policeman, walked up to him, tugged on his sleeve and demanded: "Take me to your general." The amused cop took the gangly five year-old to the station, where Gomes informed the captain he'd missed his stop and recited his address. The captain gave him a ride home in the front cabin of a paddy wagon normally reserved for hardened drug runners and smugglers – the ones Gomes knew in his neighborhood and extended family. The paddy wagon pulled into Gama, sirens blaring, and his frightened neighbors poured out of their homes to see what the trouble was. Five year-old Gomes bounded out with his backpack, saying "It's just me everyone."

Lesson 1: No matter what happens, I can make it on my own.

Lacey takes pains not to sugarcoat the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in each market, and does not believe that each country holds the same potential to become the next generation's Silicon Valley (or one of the next generation's Silicon Valleys, since Lacey believes that centralization of innovation is an anachronism). For example, she pulls out some long knives for India:

There's glamour to being an entrepreneur in Bangalore, and there are certainly some legit players... But I was repeatedly pitched by kids in their twenties and thirties who saved up money, quit their job at a multinational, and said that if their Silicon Valley-cloned Web company didn't take off in a year they could always go back to another multinational. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs trying to build a company for the long haul frequently complain that Bangalore coders will only join for multinational-sized salaries, because compensation in the form of stock options carries little cultural weight... This is play-acting, not entrepreneurship.

For Lacy, this stands in stark contrast to China (the country to which India is most often compared). Not just the entrepreneurial culture, but also the overall infrastructure. Lacy has a particularly tough time stomaching India's devastating poverty -- including how many of its more successful entrepreneurs take pains to gate themselves off from it -- but pays little attention to China's economic have-nots. Maybe it's just a byproduct of her travels -- focusing more on the urban that remote rural (where China's problems are most acute). Or perhaps she simply believes that China will do a better job of mass modernization due to ability to learn from others' mistakes, including those of India.

Anyway, so much for not writing much. Let me finish up by stealing a closing line from Paul Carr's review of Lacy's book: "If you only buy one book this year, you're almost certainly an idiot – but you should at the very least make it this one."

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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