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P R E N E U R S HIP,

TRE
DIGITAL EN E R S E C T I O NALIT Y
D INT
GENDER AN
A s ia n Pe rs pective
An East

-Fai
Leung Wing
Dynamics of Virtual Work

Series Editors
Ursula Huws
Hertfordshire Business School
Hatfield, UK

Rosalind Gill
Department of Sociology
City University London
London, UK
Technological change has transformed where people work, when
and how. Digitisation of information has altered labour processes out
of all recognition whilst telecommunications have enabled jobs to
be relocated globally. ICTs have also enabled the creation of entirely
new types of ‘digital’ or ‘virtual’ labour, both paid and unpaid, shift-
ing the borderline between ‘play’ and ‘work’ and creating new types
of unpaid labour connected with the consumption and co-creation of
goods and services. This affects private life as well as transforming the
nature of work and people experience the impacts differently depend-
ing on their gender, their age, where they live and what work they do.
Aspects of these changes have been studied separately by many different
academic experts however up till now a cohesive overarching analytical
framework has been lacking. Drawing on a major, high-profile COST
Action (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) Dynamics
of Virtual Work, this series will bring together leading international
experts from a wide range of disciplines including political economy,
labour sociology, economic geography, communications studies, tech-
nology, gender studies, social psychology, organisation studies, indus-
trial relations and development studies to explore the transformation of
work and labour in the Internet Age. The series will allow researchers to
speak across disciplinary boundaries, national borders, theoretical and
political vocabularies, and different languages to understand and make
sense of contemporary transformations in work and social life more
broadly. The book series will build on and extend this, offering a new,
important and intellectually exciting intervention into debates about
work and labour, social theory, digital culture, gender, class, globalisa-
tion and economic, social and political change.

More information about this series at


http://www.palgrave.com/gp/series/14954
Leung Wing-Fai

Digital
Entrepreneurship,
Gender and
Intersectionality
An East Asian Perspective
Leung Wing-Fai
King’s College London
London, UK

Dynamics of Virtual Work


ISBN 978-3-319-97522-1 ISBN 978-3-319-97523-8  (eBook)
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97523-8

Library of Congress Control Number: 2018950413

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2019


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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the Taiwan Fellowship, which enabled my stay


in Taipei for three months in 2014. I was a visiting scholar hosted by
the Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, in Taipei during those three
months and again from January to August 2016. I sincerely thank the
staff of the Institute, and especially Professor Chang Chin-fen, for sup-
porting the periods of fieldwork that formed the foundation of this
research project, and for giving me valuable feedback on the issue of
gender in the Taiwanese context.
I would like to acknowledge the peer review and insightful comments
from Professor Chang Chin-fen, Dr. Sophie Frost, Dr. Alessandro
Gandini and Dr. Juliet Webster. However, any shortcomings and mis-
takes are my own.
I also thank colleagues in the School of Asian Studies, University
College Cork (UCC), Ireland, especially the late Professor Jackie
Sheehan for her support during my tenure at UCC. The COST Action
Dynamics of Virtual Work network (2012–2016), led by the tireless
Professor Ursula Huws, was instrumental in prompting and encourag-
ing my research in this subject area. I was inspired by the wonderful
conversations I had during meetings with colleagues whose expertise

v
vi    
Acknowledgements

was inspirational. Thank you to the series editors, Professor Huws and
Professor Rosalind Gill, and the great team at Palgrave Macmillan for
their faith in the value of this monograph.
I owe a debt of gratitude to the Department of Culture, Media and
Creative Industries, King’s College London (KCL). Without the gener-
ous interest my colleagues have shown in my research, the writing pro-
cess may have been a lonely one. The Publication Subvention Grant
(2017–2018) from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at KCL funded
additional editorial help.
I would also like to thank all from the startup community in Taiwan
and Hong Kong who have generously given of their time to speak to
me about their work and life. This study would not have been possible
without their openness and enthusiasm.
As always, thanks to the support of Benjamin J. Heal and Audrey
P. Y. Heal, without whom none of this research and writing would ever
get done.
This book is dedicated to my mother, Law Wan Tai (1936–2016),
whose spirit and sense of duty exemplified women’s independence and
strength. I have learned from her my entire life.
Contents

1 Introduction 1
Studying Entrepreneurs 5
Focusing on Taiwan 8
The Taiwanese Society and Women 12
Restructuring and Change in East Asia 15
The Startup Environment and the Traditional Tech Sector 18
Gender and Intersectionality 26
Research Strategy and Methods 32
Concluding Remarks 34
References 36

2 Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal 45


Introduction 45
Network and a Gendered Sector in the East Asian Contexts 48
Entrepreneurship and the Family 54
Network, Close Ties and the Nerd 62
The Entrepreneurial Ideal 69
Concluding Remarks 78
References 80

vii
viii    
Contents

3 Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture 85


Introduction 85
Gendered Culture and Entrepreneurship 86
Women and Technology in Taiwan 91
The Female Entrepreneurs 94
The Gender Discourse Among Start-Uppers 105
Intersectionality: Gender, Age and Class 114
Concluding Remarks 116
References 119

4 Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production of Social


Spaces and Class 125
Introduction 125
The High-Tech Sector and the Startup Ecosystem:
The Context 132
Spatial Practices 139
Concluding Remarks 153
References 157

5 Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal 161


Introduction 161
Critical Discourses on Gender and Technology 164
Challenging Careers in Silicon Valley 169
The Priestesses of Global Technology 178
Concluding Remarks 184
References 192

6 Conclusions 197
The Times They Are a-Changing 197
The Generations 201
Digital Entrepreneurship, Intersectionally 208
Digital Entrepreneurship: An East Asian Perspective 214
References 218

Index 221
List of Figures

Fig. 2.1 Breakdown of entrepreneurs by gender and marital status,


2014 46
Fig. 4.1 Open Lab, maker space with shelves and boxes jam packed
with materials and equipment 151
Fig. 6.1 Age distribution of entrepreneurs, 2014 and 2016 202

ix
List of Tables

Table 4.1 Workspaces of 48 interviewees 136


Table 5.1 Gender and ethnicity of Facebook employees in 2014 172

xi
Note on Romanisation and Translation

The personal and place names follow the spellings already in existence.
Since I refer to terms used in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan
and Hong Kong where hanyu pinyin, the Wade-Giles System and
Cantonese transliterations are present, it is inappropriate to completely
standardise. My Romanisation of Chinese terms is given in hanyu
pinyin, based on Mandarin Chinese, and presented in italic. All transla-
tions of the interview transcripts are mine. Chinese publications will be
listed by the Romanised names of their authors alphabetically and the
translation of the titles is provided in the list of references.

xiii
1
Introduction

Taiwan’s original economic system is not working anymore. The hard-


ware, integrated circuit industry has really declined, compared to the
condition in 2010. Naturally, we must find a replacement. (Principal at a
startup accelerator,1 Taipei)

From 18 March to 10 April 2014, students in Taiwan occupied the


government building housing the Legislative and Executive Yuan, an
event which would become known as the Sunflower Movement. They
were protesting the passing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement
(CSSTA) by the ruling party, the Kuomintang (KMT), without a
proper review process. KMT argued that the trade agreement between
the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Taiwan (ROC) was vital to
Taiwan’s economy. However, the occupation indicated a widespread fear
of how close trading links between the PRC and Taiwan might leave the
island country vulnerable to Beijing’s political pressure. As one scholar
noted at the time:

For the opponents of the CSSTA, in a fear that also echoes the m
­ artial
law period, Taiwanese identity will dissolve in a media, cultural and

© The Author(s) 2019 1


L. Wing-Fai, Digital Entrepreneurship, Gender and Intersectionality,
Dynamics of Virtual Work, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97523-8_1
2    
L. Wing-Fai

educational environment gradually dominated by the Chinese identity


politics that will come with mainland investment. (Harrison 2014)

As one of the four ‘Asian tigers’—countries which experienced rapid


economic and social development in the 1970s and 1980s—Taiwan has
been renowned for its consumer electronics industry and its demon-
strated expertise in the production of hardware, including micropro-
cessors, chips and motherboards. Taiwanese corporations manufacture
most of the major global computer and mobile phone brands under the
original equipment manufacturing (OEM) system (in which the equip-
ment is purchased and sold under another company’s brand name),
albeit the actual assembling processes are mostly done offshore, espe-
cially in mainland China.
With the increased competition in the global trade of electron-
ics goods, I wanted to examine if the Internet and mobile technology
sector could provide a way to diversify and rejuvenate the ailing elec-
tronics industry. I therefore went to Taipei in June 2014 and stayed
three months, hosted by the Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica,
the country’s leading research organisation. I planned to investigate an
ecosystem surrounding digital entrepreneurs, which consisted of the
entrepreneurs—their resources, networks and culture—as well as capital
and the regulatory environment (Up Global 2014). Such an ecosystem
includes individual start-uppers and organisations such as accelerators
and business incubators, training programmes, conferences and events,
crowdfunding platforms, government departments, co-working spaces
and universities. What are the relationships between the new media
sector and the broader economic, social and political conditions? The
Sunflower Movement was at the back of my mind. I expected to see
social and political changes in Taiwan, but I wondered if these changes
would have direct effects on the people who were starting Internet and
mobile companies. The discourse of change was in the air, although my
academic colleagues and the entrepreneurs I interviewed lamented on
the lack of immediate impact following the Sunflower Movement.
I returned to Europe after this period of fieldwork armed with the
transcripts of over 70 interviews and other data. I continued to pay
close attention to the political climate in Taiwan. The sense of change
1 Introduction    
3

that I noted in the summer was heightened around the time of the local
elections on 29 November 2014. The Taipei mayor election is tradition-
ally the most important litmus test to gauge the public opinion towards
the two major parties. The main contest in 2014 was between the two
candidates, the independent Ko Wen-je and KMT’s Sean Lien. Ko won
support from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the KMT’s main
opposition, and the Taiwan Solidarity Union, and he defeated Lien by
nearly 17 points. Ko’s campaign video captured my attention. Entitled
‘How Long Has It Been Since You Last Listened to Your Kids?’, the
video used visual and textual elements to convey a sombre black-and-
white narrative that asked questions about a dystopic future. Though
devoid of specifics, it suggested how Ko would safeguard future genera-
tions against barriers to social and economic mobility. Polls showed that
Ko was indeed most popular among voters aged 20–29 and those over
60 (Sung 2014). Lien’s campaign video, ‘One World’, differed from Ko’s
by its use of break-dancers and upbeat music. Although it appealed to a
younger audience, it ultimately failed to address whether or not any of
his policies would benefit the young voters in Taiwan.
In September 2014 the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong began
when the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in
China issued a decision on the future of the city’s electoral process. The
candidates for the Chief Executive role would be closely controlled and
vetted by the Chinese state. The Umbrella Movement was inspired by
the Sunflower Movement and was initially led by university students.
Many of the supporters were also young students, and awareness of the
event spread through social media. The occupation ended when the
police cleared the central areas in Hong Kong after 79 days. I returned
to Taiwan for eight months in 2016 to witness the landslide win (25
points over the KMT candidate) of DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen on
16 January, making Tsai the first female president of the country and
returning the DPP to power after eight years of KMT rule. A red thread
of change shaped my fieldwork experiences during both the 2014 and
2016 stays in Asia. At the same time, in Silicon Valley in 2015, three
lawsuits were brought by Asian American female employees against
major tech corporations and a venture capital firm. The suits alleged
sex and race discrimination, which prompted me to consider the range
4    
L. Wing-Fai

of personal characteristics, including family, age, work experience and


ethnicity, which may contribute to discrimination and act as barriers to
global female tech workers’ careers. Taking the discrimination that the
Asian American female workers experience, I set out to examine the
impact of gender and how it intersects with other characteristics for
these workers.
I became preoccupied by the social and cultural transformations
taking place in Taiwan: an emerging tech sector in conjunction with a
strong industrial history; the political manifestations arising out of fear
of mainland China’s influences in Hong Kong and Taiwan; the popular
demands for change, especially from the younger generation; and the
mobility and marginality of Asian tech workers in Silicon Valley. In this
introduction, I explain what a study of digital entrepreneurship from
an East Asian perspective can contribute to our understanding of social
and political change.
I employ the term digital entrepreneurship to refer to new economic
activities that are carried out online or on mobile platforms; these are
nascent businesses that provide services or products using the Internet
or mobile technology. This emerging phenomenon within the digital
economy has been characterised by the new technologies (computer
networks) and new types of workers (the digital artisans) (Barbrook
1998). Digital artisans are mostly university-educated Millennials who
want to participate in the ‘hipster economy’ (McRobbie 2016, pp.
50–56), inspired by the rhetoric of disruption (Scholz 2014), and who
are lured by the utopian idea of ‘changing the world.’ Angela McRobbie
describes the urban hipsters as cultural elites who understand fashion
and cool lifestyle (McRobbie 2016, pp. 50–56). In an article in The
Guardian entitled ‘Silicon Valley’s New Politics of Optimism, Radical
Idealism and Bizarre Loyalties,’2 it is asserted that most of those in exec-
utive positions in Silicon Valley share a kind of optimism about change
and are supporters of the Democratic Party in terms of their political
outlook. Another article about the contributions made by Silicon Valley
in politics is simply entitled ‘Change the World’ (Packer 2013). In the
first episode of the HBO drama series Silicon Valley, the founder of a
fictional startup proudly announces during a launch party that their
company ‘will change the world.’ Easy access to digital technology has
1 Introduction    
5

provided an opportunity for entrepreneurs from around the world to


join in the global capitalist race. Technology developed by super-start-
ups like Uber or Lyft is duplicable, and firms the world over (for exam-
ple, Ola in India, Grab in Southeast Asia, Didi Dache in China) have
adapted and localised the platforms.
In this study, which relies on my fieldwork experiences in Taiwan,
I focus on the digital entrepreneurs within a startup ecosystem—a
highly uncertain environment. The manufacturing industry and a
strong electronics and computer sector began to experience stiff com-
petition, and the export-oriented OEM system suffered from the effects
of the global downturn of 2008, resulting in a need for the restructur-
ing and expansion of the fields of industry. The involvement of nascent
entrepreneurs in the development of Internet and mobile technologies
is illustrative of the economic and social contexts in a time of change,
which can have political significance. I am particularly interested in
the personal characteristics of digital entrepreneurs, such as gender and
class, and how they influence their experiences of the startup culture.
What are the characteristics of the entrepreneurs in the nascent Internet
and mobile businesses? How does digital entrepreneurship in Taiwan,
and its Asian tiger counterparts in Hong Kong and Singapore, signal
economic, social and political change? Do these entrepreneurs experi-
ence barriers to participation due to their personal characteristics? The
current study investigates how start-uppers deal with the risks and pre-
carity associated with entrepreneurship. What contribution does this
study make to the academic research of the digital economy in the East
Asian context? These research questions form the basis of my enquiries.

Studying Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs exploit ‘situations in which new goods, services, raw
materials, markets and organizing methods can be introduced through
the formation of new means, ends, or means-ends relationships’ (Shane
and Eckhardt 2003, p. 165). Entrepreneurship can be defined as the
exploitation of new economic opportunities, which may include cre-
ating new products or changing existing products in order to develop
6    
L. Wing-Fai

fresh markets and new organisational systems (Wennekers and Thurik


1999). Entrepreneurial behaviour is based on ‘a focus on innovations
satisfying a market need in a more satisfactory manner,’ where innova-
tion transforms inventions and ideas into economically viable entities
(Stearns and Hills 1996, p. 2). Investigations of entrepreneurship may
therefore include the economic system, the entrepreneurs, the risk-tak-
ing behaviour, resources, and the creation and realisation of value for
individuals and societies (Stearns and Hills 1996). Entrepreneurial
activities always involve a degree of uncertainty since entrepreneurship
is about identifying new but unexplored opportunities, and it often
attempts to exploit unknown markets. Entrepreneurial leaders are likely
to possess a risk-taking propensity, the need for achievement, and high
levels of autonomy, control and self-efficacy (Vecchio 2003). However,
it can be argued that ‘the Western model of entrepreneurship is not
totally applicable to developing economies’ (Stearns and Hills 1996,
p. 1). If that is the case, little has been written about the conceptual-
isation and significance of entrepreneurship outside of the Western
model. This study partially fills this gap, taking Taiwan as an example.
Pierre Bourdieu (1986) considers non-economic resources which
play a role in the class structuring of society. Dilani Jayawarna and col-
leagues (Jayawarna et al. 2014b) employ a Bourdieusian approach to
social and economic capital in order to examine how the position of
the family that a person is born into influences their childhood and
adult resources, and therefore their capacity to found a business. They
examine the relationship of family context, education, and childhood
and adolescent experiences to adults’ predisposition to business own-
ership. ‘When parents socialize children to achieve in education, they
are also developing attributes useful to start-up, such as ambition, per-
severance and drive for achievement’ (Jayawarna et al. 2014b, p. 289).
As class division is inter-generationally transmitted (p. 290), the occu-
pational status of the parents is closely related to the likelihood of their
offspring being involved in a startup. Adult work experiences are also
related to entrepreneurship (p. 300). Children raised in business-own-
ing families understand the contingency of entrepreneurship in terms
of resources and opportunities, and children from families with lim-
ited resources may see entrepreneurship negatively (Jayawarna et al.
1 Introduction    
7

2014a). While a good standard of education underpins entrepreneur-


ship, the research team found that higher levels of education not only
block risk taking but also mean high costs in giving up mainstream
employment (Jayawarna et al. 2014a, p. 934). At the same time, busi-
ness ownership can be a means of mobility for the more poorly edu-
cated. Dilani Jayawarna, Oswald Jones and Allan Macpherson conclude
that ‘mediators and moderators of the relationship between education,
human capital and entrepreneurship are also identified by accentu-
ating the importance of family processes’ (p. 918). Despite this, men
remain more likely to start businesses (p. 927) and the intersection
between gender and class/social capital remains unexplored, especially
in non-Western contexts.
Along with personal characteristics, the individual choice of entrepre-
neurship may be affected by global cultural currents. Technology epito-
mises the American ‘can-do’ optimism (Ong 2006, p. 159), and ‘the late
twentieth century American values of education, innovation and entre-
preneurialism have now been adopted by elites the world over’ (p. 173).
In the Asian tiger economies—Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore—
scores of nascent entrepreneurs start Internet and mobile technology
companies using their educational capital and technological know-
how to bring about innovation. Many aspire to become tech elites of
Silicon Valley. Even though they own companies, these start-uppers can
be considered knowledge workers (Drucker 1999) who manage them-
selves; they thrive on autonomy, innovation and learning; they gener-
ate qualitative rather than quantitative output; they are assets rather
than costs. They are ‘symbol analysts’ (p. 159) who work with language,
ideas and icons. Andy Pratt calls the new media a ‘weightless econ-
omy,’ in which production can be cost-free and distribution is mostly
virtual, and therefore relatively little attention is paid to the impact of
these industries on geography (Pratt 2000). Pratt’s research was carried
out through in-depth interviews and participant observation in Silicon
Alley, Manhattan, New York City. Entrepreneurs in effect perform ‘ven-
ture labour’ (Neff 2012). Like Pratt, Gina Neff’s research project of the
early 1990s was also based on observing individuals in Silicon Alley
who were affected by the dot-com bubble. Digital entrepreneurs are the
8    
L. Wing-Fai

‘new model workers’ in contemporary capitalism (Ross 2009) who have


to face uncertainty in their careers as start-uppers.
Precarity of starting a business is analogous to the precarity of cul-
tural and creative work, which is often ‘discursively sweetened’ in the
guise of entrepreneurialism and risk taking by the cool and creative gen-
eration (Gill 2002). Many decidedly choose ‘the Brave New World of
work’ (Beck 2000) rather than a traditional, structured, corporate work-
ing life. Entrepreneurs are individuals who take risks, and Pratt argues
that conventional business models do not apply to the new media firms;
the workers involve themselves in a community of like-minded workers
because ‘network [is] a constitutive and constructive process and entity’
(Pratt 2000, p. 432).
Despite the virtual nature of the products and services of the new
media industry, the studies mentioned above illustrate the importance
of human relationships (networks, trust and sociality) within the sec-
tor. Start-uppers rely heavily on networking, to the extent that interper-
sonal relationships become ‘compulsory sociality’ (Gregg 2006), which
is the need to socialise outside of work in order to be part of the work-
place. They also need to form social relations which are informational
(Wittel 2001). Like creative and cultural workers, business founders
in the Internet and mobile technology startup ecosystem take on risks
and manage the uncertain business conditions. I have argued elsewhere
(Leung 2016) that these networks help the entrepreneurs to cope with
some of the uncertainties.

Focusing on Taiwan
To understand the young generation of nascent business owners, it is
necessary to explore recent cultural, social and political developments
in Taiwan which serves as the backdrop of the current digital econ-
omy. At the end of the Second World War, Taiwan was decolonised
after 50 years of Japanese rule (1895–1945). Governance came from
mainland China, which had been under KMT rule. The new admin-
istration brought political and social instability, including the
February 28 Massacre of 1947 (The 228 Incident), which sparked an
1 Introduction    
9

anti-government uprising. It was the beginning of a period of martial


law (which lasted until 1987) and the White Terror, during which thou-
sands of civilians were killed by the government in order to suppress any
anti-government factions. Following the end of the Civil War with the
Communist Party, the Chinese Nationalist Party (the KMT) retreated
from mainland China and re-established the Republic of China on the
island of Taiwan as an independent sovereign country in 1949. The
Communist Party founded the PRC on the mainland at the same time.
Taiwan is a small island country with a population of around 23 mil-
lion, mostly of Han Chinese descent. The capital, Taipei, in the north of
the country has a population of around 2.7 million while, the surround-
ing metropolitan area of New Taipei has nearly 4 million inhabitants.3
In 1971, the United Nations expelled Taiwan in favour of the PRC as
the sole recognised Chinese nation. In terms of international relations,
Taiwan balances between the PRC and the rest of the world through
a delicate arrangement under the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), which
includes a commitment by the USA to provide military support in the
event of cross-strait aggression from the mainland. The one-party rule
of the KMT persisted until 2000, when the DPP assumed office for the
first time because the KMT was seen by the populace to be catering to
the underworld and the powerful business community (Thorbecke and
Wan 2007, p. 58).
The Taiwanese government’s economic policy has been consistently
concerned with maintaining stability while encouraging progress and
growth (Thorbecke and Wan 2007, p. 55) through tight control of the
government budget, a policy which managed to achieve ‘full employ-
ment over five decades, and a reasonably equitable income distribution’
(p. 56). This long-term state strategy is underpinned by the political
ideology first proffered by Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Republic
of China in 1912, that combines the Confucian ethos, industrial and
social change, and free market forces (Myers 1984, p. 522). Until the
1990s, the Central Bank tightly controlled national finances. Most
banks on the island were also owned by the government and restricted
lending, resulting in an economy based mostly on small and medium
enterprises (SMEs4) (Thorbecke and Wan 2007, p. 57). This changed in
the 1990s when 15 private banks opened to compete with state banks
10    
L. Wing-Fai

and provided some capital investment, but the SMEs remained reliant
on family and friends for capital (Myers 1984, p. 524).
Industry in Taiwan began to develop after the Second World War and
the end of Japanese colonisation in 1945. By the 1950s, the manufac-
turing industry had begun to flourish, especially in Taipei and some of
the East Coast cities. In the 1950s and 1960s Taiwan’s dependency on
agriculture continued to shift to manufacturing (Myers 1984), much of
which was export oriented. The turn to manufacturing benefitted the
overall economy, and unlike many other developing nations, Taiwan did
not experience the mass rural-urban migration or the unemployment
and other urban problems associated with mass migration (Thorbecke
and Wan 2007). The shift from agriculture to manufacturing and, later,
the service industry was therefore relatively balanced. The Taiwanese
government’s control of financial channels through the Central Bank
of China was important to deal with inflation from 1949 to 1953
(Chu 1989, p. 666). There was the separation of political power (exer-
cised by the KMT) from the native Taiwanese business community.
Subsequently, the state began to form links to local business elites as this
was seen as imperative for the country’s political and economic stabil-
ity. Nonetheless, ‘a true coalitional relationship between the state-based
Mainlander minority elite and the Taiwanese industrial capitalists [had]
always been prevented by the latter’s potential threat to the former’s
political dominance at the national level’ (Chu 1989, p. 666).
Electronics production in Taiwan was started by Japanese and
American multinationals in the 1960s to take advantage of the avail-
ability of cheap labour (Kraemer and Dedrick 1996, p. 235). Taiwan
soon developed economically to become one of the four Asian tigers,
alongside Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. From 1966 to 1986
strong growth in the plastics and electronics industries was accom-
panied by a modernisation programme led by the government. In the
1980s Taiwan began to develop more complex products, such as moth-
erboards, and the hardware sector continued to grow, with 95% of the
products being exported (p. 237). However, the OEM system made
the electronics industry vulnerable to the world economy because the
majority of its industrial products were bound for export. The computer
and semiconductor industry in Taiwan was greatly encouraged by the
1 Introduction    
11

government in the 1980s, resulting in a sector with many upstream


and downstream SMEs, and a few larger firms, such as Acer and First
International Computer (Kraemer and Dedrick 1996, pp. 216–19).
The Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) was set up in 1973
under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), and a comprehensive
range of services to the industry was provided, such as the co-ordination
of research and development (R & D). The Institute for Information
Industries (III) was also established under the MOEA in 1979, focus-
ing on computer software and providing skills training and in-service
training. The majority of the electronics and computer corporations are
now co-located in the Hsinchu Science-Based Industrial Park, which
opened in 1980 and is close to ITRI, thus creating a corridor of tech-fo-
cused industry near Taipei. The park has been accessible by a 30-minute
high-speed rail journey since 2007. The clustering of companies is sim-
ilar to that in Silicon Valley. The closely co-located businesses benefits
from cooperation in the design of chips, circuit boards and final systems
(Kraemer and Dedrick 1996, p. 229). The Taipei to Hsinchu corridor
engenders ‘close cooperation between suppliers and manufacturers,
personal networking between engineering and technical staff, natural
just-in-time or near JIT cycles’ (p. 245). A similar cluster, the Nankang
Software Park, has been developed by the City of Taipei with the goal
of offering a low-cost, supportive environment for export-oriented soft-
ware companies.
The Taiwanese government has mainly provided infrastructure for
industrial development through pragmatic policies, such as export-ori-
ented trade and investment incentives, offering ‘a competitive but not
entirely laissez-faire environment, a commitment to human capital for-
mation and the avoidance of concentrated economic power’ (Thorbecke
and Wan 2007, p. 67). The role of the state has included organising
the economy through the protection of specific firms, sectors or indus-
tries (Zhang and Whitley 2013, p. 306). The Taiwan Semiconductor
Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC), for example, was jointly owned
by Philips, the Taiwanese government and private investors. As of
1987, computer companies represented 28% of the total number of
companies that received assistance, such as the help with R & D and
low-interest loans, under the Strategic Industry Assistance programme
12    
L. Wing-Fai

(Kraemer and Dedrick 1996, p. 230). The KMT also supported hun-
dreds of government-owned large enterprises and a dozen key financial
institutions, investing enormously across a wide range of capital-in-
tensive and manufacturing sectors (Zhang and Whitley 2013, p. 307).
SMEs in the export-oriented, high-tech sectors developed collaborative
partnerships in which they could jointly perform R & D (p. 319). The
Taiwanese government has therefore always seen economic stability as a
vital part of good governance. With the recent economic difficulties, the
involvement of the Taiwanese government in the development of the
software sector has become all the more urgent.

The Taiwanese Society and Women


In the following, I will give an overview of Taiwanese society and con-
sider the role of women in the industrial development of Taiwan, which
will contextualise their involvement in digital entrepreneurship. Taiwan
closely follows the East Asian social welfare model, according to Arne
Kalleberg and Kevin Hewison (2015, p. 17), which is distinguished
from Scandinavian, European (Germany and Austria) and Anglo-Saxon
models. In Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, the model is about facilitat-
ing the economic development while individual welfare is expected to
be the responsibility of the employers and the family.
The Chinese population in Taiwan is about 95% Han Chinese,
mostly Hokkien from Fujian province and later Hakka from
Guangdong. The mainland Chinese arrived with the KMT in 1947.
Hokkien women were likely to be housewives with traditional female
roles (Chang 2006, p. 215). Women were granted suffrage in 1947.
Nine-year compulsory education was introduced in 1968, thereby giv-
ing some groups, such as women, greater economic opportunities. As
manufacturing industries developed, young, unmarried women began
to work outside of the home environment (Diamond 1979). By the
early 1970s, 20% of the employed were working in the manufactur-
ing industry, 33% of which were women, most of whom were young
15–25 years olds (Diamond 1979, p. 317). Industrialisation brought
about changes to women’s rights in Taiwan. Although these changes
1 Introduction    
13

primarily benefitted the bourgeois class, other women were also posi-
tively affected (p. 318). Young women provided low-cost labour, and
they were mostly unmarried and lived at home. Many factory owners
would not hire married women, and therefore few continued to work
after marriage. In Diamond’s sample, some rural households began to
urbanise when the younger generation left farming and migrated to
work in factories in the city (p. 326). The family’s hope for mobility
though was mostly placed in the male siblings (p. 327), whose studies
might be funded by their sisters’ work. During the 1970s, women held
only a third of senior high school or college places (p. 328), but many
hoped to achieve middle-class status through marriage and sending their
children (especially sons) abroad to study, preferably to the USA. This is
indicative of Taiwanese women’s submission to the Confucian ideals of
filial piety and obedience to husbands and sons.
Gender roles and standards of equality in Taiwan have changed since
the 1950s. The traditional, extended family has been reduced to nuclear
families, with the birth rates dropping to below replacement rate (total
fertility rate of 1.12 children per woman, according to the 2016 esti-
mate in CIA fact book).5 The family unit now often consists of only
one child and working parents bringing in two incomes. Feminism and
gender studies on the island developed from the 1970s onwards, with
the US-inspired feminism brought by foreign researchers. However,
the feminist movement has been counterbalanced by a combination of
Christian and conservative groups that uphold more traditional Han
Chinese values (Damm 2015).
Chinese family firms have traditionally operated through nepotism,
paternalism and family ownership (Wong 2014), and women have
played important roles in small family businesses, often as ‘the boss’s
wife’ (Lu 2001). These women usually play a supporting role and pro-
vide free labour in their husband’s companies, but they are not rec-
ognised as the owners. Family members working together provide a
‘cheap, steady, flexible and efficient work force that enables Taiwanese
manufacturers to produce goods at a low price while ensuring reliable,
on-time delivery’ (Lee 2000, p. 5). In 2010, the then Taiwanese presi-
dent Ma Yingjiu gave the number of female entrepreneurs as 454,000
or 36% of the total number of entrepreneurs, which demonstrates the
14    
L. Wing-Fai

significant role women have played in the nation’s economic develop-


ment.6 However, women owned a disproportionately large number of
SMEs, according a government white paper (The Government of ROC
2004). Female owners of 390,442 SMEs accounted for 99.04% of all
female business owners in Taiwan. (The Government of ROC 2004,
p. 211). In 2003, 35.57% of new enterprises had a woman as the owner
(pp. 205–6). However, only 3802 women were heads of large enter-
prises, as opposed to 20,047 men (p. 211). Only 0.29% of female-
owned companies were large enterprises according to the number of
employees or 0.96% if measured by revenue (p. 215). Furthermore,
83.31% of female-led enterprises were for products and services aimed
at the domestic market, as opposed to 73.40% for those with male
owners (p. 212). The average revenue of women-owned businesses was
only 30% of that of male-owned businesses (p. 211).
Also indicated by the government white paper cited above, among
female entrepreneurs, 43.41% (nearly 40,000) were 25–44 years old
and 30.14% were 45–54 years old. Self-employed women were mostly
aged 35 or older as they needed to accumulate experience and knowl-
edge (The Government of ROC 2004, p. 215). Most female employers
(70.55%) had a spouse or partner (p. 215). The government provides
support to female entrepreneurs through business incubator centres,
funding, low-interest loans (p. 230), and ‘on-the-job entrepreneur-
ship training’ (p. 233). The expansion of the service sector is particu-
larly significant (p. 208); 86.42% of all female-headed enterprises are
in the service sector. ‘The development of the knowledge economy had
led to the transformation of traditional forms of production, favour-
ing mental output over physical labor’ (p. 209). The government white
paper assumes that women are more suited to work in the service sec-
tor because they ‘have been able to leverage their managerial and inter-
personal-relations skills’ (p. 209). Women-owned SMEs are also more
likely to be undercapitalised (p. 228). Insufficient capital prevents com-
mercialising of the enterprises, and some women end up selling their
businesses. From these statistics, it is apparent that although there are
female entrepreneurs in Taiwan, they tend to run small businesses that
are domestically orientated; the businesses are often in the service sector
and are more likely to fail due to under-resourcing.
1 Introduction    
15

Restructuring and Change in East Asia


In the 1980s, the newly industrialised territories of Taiwan, Singapore
and Hong Kong began to diversify and upgrade their export-oriented
manufacturing bases (Chu 1989). Yun-han Chu describes a ‘marketer’
strategy in Hong Kong, with minimal government intervention to
allow for a free market, minimal state ownership, no national control,
and macroeconomic management only (Chu 1989, p. 652). Singapore’s
policy at that time was an ‘internationalist strategy,’ with discretionary
control of structural incentives to assist with the market, preference
for joint-ventures and foreign investment, and macroeconomic man-
agement as priority (p. 652). Taiwan’s ‘statist strategy,’ facilitated by its
one-party rule until 1987 when the martial law was lifted, used dis-
cretionary control of structural incentives to assist industries in their
response to market changes. The strategy was also built on a preference
for state ownership and joint-ventures, and a macroeconomic manage-
ment policy was implemented to complement industrial restructuring
objectives (p. 652). Taiwanese economic policy during the 1980s has
been described as ‘organizationally centralized, ideologically close-knit’;
the state controlled ‘virtually every form and function of interest inter-
mediation above the local level and penetrated into all major sectors of
society’ (p. 667).
The Singapore and Taiwan experiences in the 1970s and 1980s were
similar in that they both adopted strong bureaucratic control of eco-
nomic policy and the banking sector. However, Singapore was keener
to attract foreign capital and transnational companies and therefore
provided incentives for foreign investors. Singapore’s banking system
has a long history, and its administration was renowned for efficiency
as a result of its colonial legacy. Singapore, the city-state, also provided
a laissez faire business environment. For instance, organised labour was
practically prohibited, creating a depoliticised workforce (Chu 1989,
p. 663). In the early 1980s, the Taiwanese government was so alarmed
by the huge domestic savings and foreign reserves that it stepped up its
economic policies to encourage inward investment from foreign high-
tech firms and to develop state enterprises in key industries (p. 667).
16    
L. Wing-Fai

In Taiwan, joint-ventures with transnational corporations compensated


for the domestic firms’ reluctance or inability to engage in R & D and
industrial upgrade. In Hong Kong there was a tendency to allow the
market forces to lead. Its positive non-intervention policies resulted in
financial stability and a vibrant manufacturing industry through the
1980s and early 1990s (p. 661). It was not until the 1997 Asian finan-
cial crisis that the Hong Kong government intervened in the financial
sector directly (Abbas 2001).
From 1996 to the early 2010s, the Taiwanese economy transitioned
to a focus on high-tech industrialisation, with information technology
(IT) exports as the key sector (Hsieh 2014). According to the White
Paper on Small and Medium Enterprises published in 2012 by the
Taiwanese MOEA, there were 1.279 million SMEs in Taiwan, mak-
ing up 97.6% of total enterprises and employing 80% of the island’s
workforce. One in 18 people were therefore business owners.7 More
than 770,000 companies were in the two categories of ‘wholesaler and
retailer’ and ‘restaurant and lodging.’ Moreover, 85% of their revenues
came from domestic consumption, which meant that the majority of
enterprises did not have access to overseas markets. Over-reliance on
domestic sales and not enough competitiveness internationally for the
export markets made these companies vulnerable to recession and clo-
sure during poor international trading conditions. This became espe-
cially apparent when Taiwan suffered from the 2008 global economic
downturn.
Taiwan’s OEM industry has faced strong competition from indus-
trialising countries in Asia, most notably the PRC. In 2013, Taiwanese
corporations still built over 90% of the world’s laptops for brands
such as Dell and Apple under the OEM system (Sui 2013), though
the manufacturing under license had been shifting to mainland China
due to lower labour costs. Meanwhile, the very few Taiwanese global
brands, such as Acer and HTC (High Tech Computer Corporation),
were increasingly under threat from other major competitors Samsung
(South Korea) and Apple (USA), and mainland Chinese firms includ-
ing Lenovo, Huawei and the latest rising mobile brand Xiaomi. By the
mid-2000s the DPP for the first time faced negative annual growth and
unemployment caused by the dip in the American economy and the
1 Introduction    
17

migration of manufacturing industry to China. This was one of the fac-


tors leading to the re-election of the KMT in 2008. Some, such as the
principal of the startup accelerator cited at the beginning of this chap-
ter, felt that the DPP’s eight years of rule localised Taiwan’s economic
performance, making its industry less export oriented and global facing.
My colleagues at the Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, have
been researching the effects of globalisation on Taiwan’s economic devel-
opment since it has often been assumed that Taiwan lacks the capacity
to exploit international distribution networks and may be vulnerable
to global economic currents. Given the strong presence of traditional
SMEs, Taiwan may find it difficult to compete in a global market
because of its inability to innovate. For example, the major Taiwanese
mobile brand HTC suffered a massive reduction in profits in the early
2010s, while its Chinese counterpart Huawei saw 70% growth in 2015,
beating both Sony and HTC. Foxconn (trading as Hon Hai in Taiwan),
the Taiwanese corporation known for producing consumer electron-
ics for leading global brands like Apple and Sony, laid off a number of
workers and closed several plants in mainland China when sales of the
iPad and iPhone stagnated. To maintain its competitiveness and eco-
nomic advantages, Taiwan needs to encourage further transition from
OEM to OBM (original brand manufacturing), but some observers
argue that the country suffers from a lack of innovation and entrepre-
neurship (Sui 2013). Thung-hong Lin (2014), however, finds that large
Taiwanese corporations have seen recent growth in size since the late
2000s, showing adaptation to the recession. Acer, for instance, had a
reputation for poor quality in the 1980s, which the company needed
to overcome. It reorganised in 1998 and 2013 in order to rejuvenate
an entrepreneurial culture within the company. The company has been
investing in the product development of robotics and virtual reality to
stay ahead of technological change.
Political developments in Taiwan since the end of the martial law
have been reflective of economic transformations. When the electronics
industry developed in earnest in the 1980s and part of the 1990s, gov-
ernment funding was necessary because independent financial backers
were wary of the high levels of risk. Early state investment in this regard
was mostly in the semiconductor industry, but now the Taiwanese
18    
L. Wing-Fai

economy needs to diversify both its industrial sectors and sources of


funding. To ensure global competitiveness, Taiwan must shift from
hardware to the Internet and mobile sector, the knowledge economy
and original design manufacturing (ODM). These areas are, however,
more volatile, fast-moving and competitive than hardware, and com-
puter and mobile phone manufacturing. Many of the companies in the
Taiwanese online economy are also SMEs, and the population size of
Taiwan (23 million) makes it an inadequate domestic market for these
firms. This explains the involvement of the Taiwanese government in
supporting the Internet and mobile startups. The software sector also
does not attract the same level of investment as hardware manufac-
turing, especially after the housing bubble of 2008, when capital was
reduced. Taiwan did not escape the dot-com crash, but some digital
entrepreneurs have taken on the risk in the 15 years since. The sector,
though volatile, has a low entry threshold. It is attractive to the ‘22k
generation,’ which refers to the average monthly income of recent grad-
uates (USD738.00 at June 2018 exchange rate). Similarly, when there
are staff reductions, experienced tech professionals may also leave large
corporations like TSMC to strike out on their own. The KMT’s sign-
ing of the ECFA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement) in
2014 was seen by many as rendering Taiwan too open to the Chinese
economy and influences, one cause of the election of the DPP’s Tsai
Ing-wen in January 2016. I went on fieldwork to Taiwan during these
crucial times to understand the software sector, and my perception of
the importance of Internet and mobile technology in Taiwan’s economic
transition was confirmed by these industrial and political contexts.

The Startup Environment and the Traditional


Tech Sector
AnnaLee Saxenian asserts that geographical proximity of clustered
firms, such as in Silicon Valley, promotes ‘repeated, face-to-face inter-
actions’ among individuals with diverse knowledge and expertise (1996,
p. 57). Informal networks allow businesses to share knowledge and
1 Introduction    
19

better understand production processes and employee practices, which


helps to promote a regional focus on innovation (Scott 1988, p. 39).
It is assumed that industrial districts and clusters allow for sharing and
engender innovation and entrepreneurship because workers ‘interact
and cooperate with other high-ability people… [and] communicate
complex ideas with them’ (Storper and Venables 2004, p. 365). The
proximity of like-minded individuals allows face-to-face interaction
and the sharing of creative ideas, products, services and even human
resources, contributing to economic success (Landry 2000, p. 133).
Informal social networks therefore promote a ‘buzz’ (Bathelt 2008,
p. 86), a strong sense of belonging, and engender innovation through
‘collective learning processes’ (Camagni 2002, p. 2405). In this section,
I will consider the relationships between the existing industrial infra-
structure and the startup sector in the Taiwanese context.
Taiwan’s computer industry was built on flexibility, domestic and
international market co-relations, and the specialisation of parts,
resulting in ‘tight linkages between firms along the supply chain that
enhance the prospects for inter-organizational knowledge creation’
(Ernst 2001, p. 98). Dieter Ernst attributes early promotion of SMEs
through government policy, which nonetheless did not create national
champions like the Korean chaebol, large family-owned conglomer-
ates (pp. 99–100). However, this strategy presented difficulties later in
the face of increasing competition because many family businesses had
little capital to carry out R & D, innovation or internationalisation
(p. 101). Many of these high-tech firms have relied on informal peer
group networks, including classmates, especially those from elite
schools, and former colleagues. These peers formed tightly knit groups
who might go on to found new companies (p. 101). Not only do these
groups possess technical knowledge, they also have confidential infor-
mation about potential partners and competitors. Ernst claims that in
Acer’s first three years of operation (1976–1979), it trained 3,000 engi-
neers, and this helped to establish an extensive network of social con-
tacts (p. 102). In the 1990s and 2000s, there were relatively broad and
deep inter-firm relations, which helped to strengthen the internal and
external business associations of big high-tech firms (Brookfield 2010;
Zhang and Whitley 2013, p. 312). Therefore, ‘contrary to conventional
20    
L. Wing-Fai

wisdom, large firms have played a central role in the co-ordination and
development of the Taiwanese production system ’ (Ernst 2001, p. 104,
original italics). Large corporations rely on many small contractors and
pass a portion of their profits on. The small sub-contractors can in turn
avoid risky trading with foreign suppliers.
Many of the companies dealing with the online economy in
Taiwan are also SMEs, and this sector is a particularly risky field with
a fast-moving and highly competitive market. The knowledge-based
economy has the potential to become an important growth area for the
island, and the government recognises that it needs to support the digi-
tal entrepreneurs as it has done with the electronics sector. For instance,
MOEA’s Small and Medium Enterprise Administration (MOEASMEA)
is responsible for many such projects, collaborating with universities
and ITRI in promoting business incubation and accelerators. The gov-
ernment has also initiated joint research projects with private firms,
such as those through ITRI, to promote venture capital to finance high-
tech startups (Zhang and Whitley 2013, p. 314). ITRI (funded 60%
by the government and 40% from industry, and research and devel-
opment projects) has also had its own venture capital fund for over 30
years to provide seed money for the institute’s spin-off companies. ITRI
organises a Tech Venture Club, where venture capitalists (VCs) meet
and listen to pitches from startups. The club provides opportunities for
20 teams and plays a match-making role between VCs and founders.
DOIT (Delivering Open Innovations for Tomorrow), supported by the
Department of Economics, promotes entrepreneurship among young
people. In July 2014, I attended the IDEAS Show sponsored by III, an
annual event for startups that has since 2008 brought together inter-
national entrepreneurs, VCs and mostly Asia-based startup teams. The
winners of the pitching competition receive incubation, and coaching
and access to global capital and accelerators. The winning team in 2013,
Gogolook, was subsequently acquired for NTD529 million by NAVER,
a Japanese corporation, which subsidiaries include the LINE messag-
ing and call application.8 The National Development Council (NDC)
of Taiwan was planning a new initiative in 2014 called HeadStart
Taiwan when I was on fieldwork. I was invited by the NDC to serve as
an expert on digital entrepreneurship to the HeadStart project, which
1 Introduction    
21

gave me insight into the mindset of the council towards supporting


startups. To stimulate the startup economy, the NDC aims to ensure
high-quality human capital, the consolidation of the hardware/manu-
facturing sector, a free and open trading environment, and foreign-
er-friendly and liveable cities. HeadStart tries to help the startups to
expand and reach markets outside of Taiwan as it is recognised that the
domestic population is inadequate to sustain the sector. Another initia-
tive is the government-funded Taiwan Startup Stadium, which focuses
on helping startups reach the global market. Other plans evolve around
deregulation, global fund attraction and cluster building, an example of
which is the proposed Expo Park in the Shilin area of Taipei, which uses
Singapore’s Block 71 as a model.
Related to the existing industrial framework is the involvement of
large OEM corporations in some of the software-oriented companies
and the startup sector. The Asia America MultiTechnology Association
(started in Silicon Valley) annual conference in Taipei in 2014 had
the theme of hardware-software integration. TMI (Taiwan Mobile
Innovation), a leading venture capital fund based in Taipei that focuses
on emerging technologies, has launched a programme called HWTrek
(Hardware Trek) for startups specialising in hardware-software integra-
tion. Hon Hai established Kick2Real, an online platform, to support
prototyping of ideas. Hon Hai also announced in December 2013
its plans to build an industrial park, Syntrend, aimed at developing
­electronic wearables9 and to offer a new startup fund (Culpan 2013).
Inspired by the US restaurant booking application Open Table, one of
the teams that graduated from the Taipei startup accelerator AppWorks
launched EZTable, which received USD5 million investment from
MediaTek and TSMC, and subsequently expanded into markets in
Southeast Asia. Established tech corporations therefore tap into the
software startup sector through venture capital, and as a result they
explore other, mostly Asian, markets through their investment portfolio
companies.
Hon Hai, Trend Micro and HTC have been known to act as angel
investors for small startups, such as iCook (a recipe sharing social net-
working site). One of my interviewees was encouraged by his former
employer to start his company, which later supplied to his former
22    
L. Wing-Fai

employer. Epoch Foundation, which runs the Garage+ incubator pro-


gramme, is formed by many such corporate member companies and
educational and training institutions: Acer, TSMC, Quanta, Hon
Hai, MediaTek, Wistron, National Chiao Tung University and ITRI.
Another programme called FITI—From IP (Intellectual Property) to
IPO (Initial Public Offerings)—leverages the business sector and gov-
ernment through the National Science Council. FITI operates an entre-
preneurial camp consisting of 200 teams and chaired by Acer’s founder,
Stan Shih, who selects the top four to six teams for final considera-
tion. Investments from large corporations like Hon Hai and Quanta
are often about supporting upstream/downstream production, which
can help nascent enterprises. For the startup sector, therefore, another
means of being embedded in the existing infrastructure in Taiwan is
to be involved in the integration between the software industry and
the established hardware manufacturing industry. One founder (hard-
ware-software integration) whom I interviewed suggested that since
there are established skills in the longstanding hardware industry in the
country, finding vendors to collaborate on a prototype or produce a
hardware-software integrated product is not difficult. However, another
co-founder of a team producing such a product told me that while it
is possible to find manufacturers to work with them within hours, the
OEM industry cannot leave their mass market mentality behind and
will invariably expect large orders. Payment terms and support for the
samples and prototypes disadvantage small companies. As a result, his
company turned to someone they knew to assist with production.
The startup ecosystem in Taiwan is mostly centred on the capital,
Taipei, with clusters in Hsinchu, Taichung and Kaohsiung. There is
no adequate measurement of how many startups there are at any one
time in Taiwan because nascent companies often fail within their first
two to three years. The website Startup@Taipei lists 26 incubators, 32
investors, 43 co-working spaces and 12 co-creation/maker spaces.10
However, the startup ecosystem in Taiwan is not insular but instead
has close links with other Chinese territories, such as Hong Kong and
Singapore and, increasingly, mainland China. Some entrepreneurs set
up their businesses in China. One Taiwanese startup specialising in
prototype production is based in Shenzhen, China, a city famed for its
1 Introduction    
23

hardware manufacturing. Taiwanese startups have received venture cap-


ital and angel funds from high-profile individuals from different global
locations, especially across the Taiwan Straits. Although TMI, the ven-
ture capital firm that runs HWTrek, is headquartered in Taipei, it is
backed by capital from different sources. One of its original principals is
Kai-fu Lee, a Taiwanese who was head of Google China and has started
an accelerator programme in China called Innovation Works. Other
investment and support comes from WI Harper (a Silicon Valley capital
firm) and ITRI. Mark Hsu started Pinehurst Advisors, a venture capital
fund focusing on online and mobile companies. Hsu was a co-founder
of Sinanet (predecessor to Sina.com, one of the key Chinese Internet
companies). He had cut his teeth with the aforementioned TMI
before founding Pinehurst, and he is also an angel investor and men-
tor to startups. Startup founders look to VC s and angel investors for
resources, know-how, mentoring and networks. On an organisational
level, there is a highly networked group of high-tech businesses, includ-
ing startups and major corporations, in Taiwan, as well as in Greater
China and the Asian region. In my published analysis (Leung 2016),
interviewees stated that access to the investors is closely guarded, availa-
ble only to new entrepreneurs who are able to gain exposure by market-
ing their products and services at industry events, where they are able to
meet and negotiate with established venture capital executives.
In the past, technical talent in Taiwan tended to be absorbed into
large corporations and the jobs with these companies were considered
very stable. With the increased uncertainty brought on by the recession,
working for these large companies is no longer the default choice for
tech graduates. Among my interviewees, I did not find evidence of a
commonly cited push factor for entrepreneurship, meaning people who
have lost their jobs start businesses out of necessity. However, many
startup founders, especially those from technology backgrounds, have
served terms with large corporations. Nathan Chiu, who has a doctor-
ate from National Chiao Tung University, worked at IBM in Silicon
Valley and at Taiwanese global security firm Trend Micro. Together
with Brian Yang, an engineer at TSMC, the pair founded cacaFly, a
company that trades on Internet advertising, in 2005, when Facebook
had only just started. One founder, who had worked as a head hunter
24    
L. Wing-Fai

for the high-tech sector for eight years, commented that after 2008
many technical professionals and engineers in Taiwan felt that they
were not able to develop their careers in the OEM or even ODM envi-
ronments, and some felt devalued. In my sample, many founders had
indeed left large corporations by choice to start up their own ventures.
In AppWorks’ ninth programme, 43% of the founders had quit their
jobs in large high-tech corporations to start companies.11 Its 12th
batch of ‘graduates’ from 21 teams (June 2016) had an average age of
31 year; 58% were graduates from the top universities in the country:
National Taiwan University (NTU), Tsinghua, Chiao Tung, Chengchi
and Cheng Kung.12 Of 24 founders, ten were serial founders, nine had
left large corporations to become entrepreneurs, seven had left other
Internet companies to strike out on their own, and four were female.
Vincent Guo from the China University of Technology sets out the
positive and negative aspects of the startup environment in Taiwan in a
presentation at the Epoch Foundation, Taipei, in August 2014. Taiwan’s
historically strong computer hardware industry means that there are
already trained and experienced world-class engineers and computer sci-
entists. Members of the hardware industry also serve as investors and
advisors to the startup sector, as I detailed earlier. Compared to other
locations in East Asia, Taiwanese cities offer a low-cost but good stand-
ard of living and health care, and relatedly low operation costs, such as
cheap rents. A co-working space costs NTD4–5000 or USD135–165
per month. However, the software industry is relatively new. Similarly,
the business model of the past still dominates, with most computer
and hardware manufacturers operating as business to business ven-
tures. By comparison, the business to customer model is underdevel-
oped. While the Taiwanese government has attempted to support the
digital economy, many in the industry complain about outdated laws
and regulations that benefit the manufacturing sector. Some examples
are immigration policy that makes it difficult to attract foreign talents,
antiquated company laws, and government subsidies with draconian
matching fund criteria. The startup sector has much to catch up on
compared to other locations with concentrations of high-tech compa-
nies, such as Silicon Valley and Taiwan’s rich neighbours, South Korea
and Singapore, whose governments make concerted efforts to support
1 Introduction    
25

initiatives to develop the digital economy. Some startups in Taiwan


seek investment from abroad, especially from other Asian VCs. Venture
capital groups such as TMI encourage startup teams to register abroad,
especially in Singapore, where the business environment is much more
welcoming for new companies.
Qualitative research into the human capital of Taiwanese businesses
has come mainly from geographical and anthropological approaches,
including studies on female entrepreneurs of family businesses (Lu
2001; Simon 2003). Since the advent of the online economy, there has
been a lack of research into the individuals who start small high-tech
enterprises. Much of the research on Taiwan’s high-tech sector focuses
on the transnational activities of workers and entrepreneurs (Chang
1992; Leng 2002). There are some highly mobile, international techni-
cal workers who are central to the long-standing links between Silicon
Valley and Taiwan and the flow of venture capital (English-Lueck et al.
2002; Sabel and Saxenian 2008; Saxenian 2002). This flow of human
and monetary capital is linked to the history of education and eco-
nomic migration. Although Taiwan has developed an educational sys-
tem that trains people in technology, engineering and science, since
the 1970s many graduates have chosen to study abroad. Some 77% of
Taiwanese students’ doctoral degrees in natural science and engineer-
ing were earned in the USA (Myers 1984, p. 221). During that time,
100,000 overseas Chinese have worked in the USA, including 30,000 in
Silicon Valley (p. 221). Those who return have often been instrumental
to the computer industry, first in Taiwan and more recently in mainland
China.
The ‘brain drain’ of Taiwanese students to the USA in the 1980s has
been well documented (Chang 1992), but state policy and the oppor-
tunities in Asia since the 1990s mean that the movements of Asian
technical professionals have evolved in more complex directions. This
has resulted in a shift to ‘brain circulation’ of Chinese scientists and
engineers between the USA, Taiwan and China as ‘networks of scien-
tists and engineers are transferring technology, skills, and know-how
between distant regional economies faster and more flexibly than most
corporations’ (Saxenian 2002, p. 183). There has been increasing inter-
dependence between Silicon Valley in California and Hsinchu-Taipei
26    
L. Wing-Fai

through the ‘reciprocal industrial upgrading by transferring capital,


skill and know-how’ to Taiwan and collaboration between the two
regions (Saxenian and Hsu 2001, p. 893). AnnaLee Saxenian (Sabel and
Saxenian 2008; Saxenian 2007) uses the term ‘Argonauts’ to describe
those US-educated but foreign-born entrepreneurs with international
networks in Israel, India, China and Taiwan. The two-way flow of skills,
knowledge and capital have contributed to technological upgrading in
the Argonauts’ home regions, and these mobile ‘techies’ are influencing
the different locations where they operate in (Saxenian and Hsu 2001).
Notwithstanding research conducted on social networks between
Asian firms (Hitt et al. 2002), networks within the startup sector in East
Asian countries and the experiences of Asian diaspora workers in Silicon
Valley have been rarely studied. With the amount of attention on the
transnational flow of technical expertise, the more localised places of
work in East Asia, such as startup clusters and co-working and co-cre-
ation spaces, have been largely ignored in academic studies. The litera-
ture based on North American and European examples is epitomised by
talk of ‘creative cities’ and the ‘creative class’ (Florida 2003). Dynamics
of interpersonal sharing of social and economic capital to construct
new place-based sharing forms part of the discussion of network (Pratt
2008). However, few studies have been undertaken empirically within
startup ecosystems and places of work such as co-working spaces. These
areas of research form the basis of this study.

Gender and Intersectionality
In this section, I consider what an intersectional approach means in this
study, an approach which has been adopted to allow me to make refer-
ence to the social structures (Carastathis 2014). I argue that intersection-
ality provides a frame of references in the discussion of the construction
of the subjects as they are positioned inter- and intra-categorically, and
this explanatory frame will be combined with the concerns of the work-
ings of late capitalism that have spread to developed countries of the Far
East. This analysis also responds to a lack of literature on gender and
entrepreneurship in Asia (Henry et al. 2016, p. 223).
1 Introduction    
27

Technology can be defined as ways of making and doing things


(Lerman et al. 1997, p. 3). ‘There is a gendered order whereby women
are positioned as designated end users of technologies, whereas men
have primacy as innovators and designers’ (Marlow and McAdam 2015,
p. 795); as a result, women constitute only between 5 and 15% of tech-
nology entrepreneurs within Europe, and they also register only a frac-
tion of patents. Women in the tech sector as start-uppers have to adapt
due to their gender identity, which is usually done through learning
coded behaviour in the way they dress and speak; in effect, they have
to be inducted into the tech sector (p. 807). Wendy Faulkner concludes
that ‘technology is—both materially and symbolically—a huge, often
critical, element of hegemonic masculinity’ (2001, p. 90). ‘Computer
nerds’ have the obsessive concentration and/or self-absorption required
for Silicon Valley careers that favour presenteeism and total dedica-
tion to work (Acker 2004, p. 32), and they are almost always male.
Existing research on gender in technology therefore focuses on the lack
of women in science and technology (Faulkner 2001). The domination
of men in technology means that designers make gendered assumptions
(Faulkner 2001, p. 84). Stereotypes of men and women in technology
consist of a digital gender divide of male nerds and tech women who
employ their feminine traits, who are flexible and take on more peo-
ple-friendly roles within tech companies (p. 87). In the information
society, men continue to take up occupations of technical competence
and to ‘dominate high status and powerful occupational positions of
the future’ (Stanworth 2000, p. 20). Because women are considered
innately collaborative or consensual, their skills are rendered different
from male workers’ and devalued (Gill and Grint 1995).
The startup sector therefore can be understood loosely as a gendered
organisation. Following Joan Acker (1992), there are four sets of pro-
cesses which constitute such organisation. The first set are those which
produce gender divisions through job segregation, rewards, power and
hierarchical distribution. The second set involves the generation of sym-
bols and consciousness that legitimise (or oppose) the divisions. The
third is the multiple daily interactions within and between the sexes
which continually re-enact and recreate gendered relations. And the
fourth is the internal construction of perceptions and interpretations of
28    
L. Wing-Fai

the gendered structure of work and opportunity. In the startup sector,


since most enterprises are small, it is possible to consider the ecosystem
as a whole as an organisation with its own internal logics. Organisations
are one arena in which widely disseminated cultural images of gender
are invented and reproduced, and thus they are important for under-
standing gender constructions. Organisational processes contribute to
conceptions of femininity and masculinity. For example, domination/
submission along gender lines can be a feature of organisations, and the
use of gendered language, the presentation of self, and clothing norms
are features of such an organisation (Acker 1990, pp. 146–47).
In the 1980s, there was a ‘fall in the status of the [high-tech] occu-
pation, and possibly a male flight from the industry, leading eventually
to a vicious circle of Taylorised work [production efficiency achieved
by breaking work down to small, routine tasks] performed mostly by
women whose skills would go unrecognised and poorly rewarded’
(Panteli et al. 2001, p. 7). Alongside this shift, female entrepreneur-
ship in the postindustrial West has been part of the move towards a
post-feminist sensibility (Gill 2007), in which individuals have to be
entrepreneurial instead of looking for collective solutions to gender
discrimination. The dominant gender discourses have material aspects,
as we ‘perform gender’ repeatedly, reiterating these subject positions
(Butler 1990). This has detrimental effects on women, who often retreat
back to traditional expectations of gendered behaviour. Mark Banks
and Katie Milestone discuss how new media work re-traditionalises
gender, ethnicity and class and how women are expected to use their
natural, gender, caring attributes (2011, p. 81). As a result, existing lit-
erature on women’s representation in the tech sector usually focuses on
their under-representation or the assumption that they are expected to
perform gendered roles which are usually not as ‘technical’ as those of
their male counterparts (Guerrier et al. 2009; Michie and Nelson 2006;
Trauth 2002; Wajcman 2007).
Johanna Shih compares the respective experiences of immigrant
Asian male and female workers to native-born white women in Silicon
Valley and suggests that racial/ethnic and gender bias work hand in
hand, but that highly skilled workers are able to cultivate gender- and
ethnic-based networks as resources in order to ameliorate bias (Shih
1 Introduction    
29

2006, p. 200, original italic; see also Daniels 2012, p. 697). The expe-
riences of East Asian digital entrepreneurs and workers are part of the
global flows that have prompted my discussion of race and gender in
Chapter 5. In that chapter, I present the experiences of the Chinese
American and Taiwanese American workers in Silicon Valley and the
careers of two high-profile Taiwanese female entrepreneurs.
I argue that an appropriate approach for examining the combined
influences of individual characteristics is intersectionality, which refers
to overlapping systems of discrimination (Brah and Phoenix 2004;
Crenshaw 1991) and interlocking systems of privilege and disadvan-
tage (Collins 2000). Intersectionality often means the intersections of
race, ethnicity, gender, class and nation (Holvino 2010). Intersectional
studies challenge pre-existing boundaries of ‘race, class, gender, and
ethnicity as categories of analysis, theories that cross borders … blur
boundaries—new kinds of theories with new theorizing methods’
(Anzaldúa 1990, pp. xxv–xxvi). Kimberle Crenshaw (1991) demargin-
alises the intersection of race and sex and points out that black wom-
en’s experiences are unequal to those of black men or white women.
The realisation that white women are privileged, too (Holvino 2010),
comes out of the recognition that the liberal feminist paradigm is dom-
inated by white, middle-class women’s experiences (Holvino 2010, p.
255). An intersectional approach began with the questioning of a sin-
gle-category associated with the anti-discrimination law in the USA,
in which there is a clear distinction between sex discrimination and
racial discrimination. Instead of the single-category (sex or race) used in
anti-discrimination law, ‘intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way
of thinking about identity and its relationship to power,’ and it should
bring ‘to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups’
(Crenshaw 2015). The emergence of the intersectional approach is part
of ‘the intersectional turn in feminist theory’ (Carbin and Edenheim
2013), which can be seen as a theory, framework or politics (Carbin and
Edenheim 2013, p. 234). Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, feminists
began to address race and class concerns and to advocate thinking inter-
sectionally (p. 236) about the triple oppression of racism, sexism and
classism (Yuval-Davis 2006, p. 194).
30    
L. Wing-Fai

Floya Anthias defines positionality as ‘the space at the intersection of


structure (social position/social effects) and agency (social positioning/
meaning and practice)’ (2001a, p. 635). The individuals’ positionality
has much to do with social categories (ethnicity, gender and so forth),
which Anthias suggests are already formed or shaped via each other,
and inequalities are produced where categories meet (Anthias 2012, p.
128). As such, these categories, their definitions, and the ways that they
intersect are always provisional, heuristic, along with social location and
translocation as analytical categories. Positional power can be argued to
be organised and maintained in interrelated domains: structural (insti-
tutions), disciplinary (practices that sustain bureaucratic hierarchies),
hegemonic (images, symbols and ideologies that shape consciousness),
and interpersonal (patterns of interaction between individuals and
groups) (Dill and Zambrana 2009). Bonnie Dill and Ruth Zambrana’s
discussion lends itself to the recognition of the complexity of hierar-
chical social stratification in which social locations, not groups, are
the analytical categories (2009, p. 130). It is the intersections between
these positions that become arenas where inequalities are found.
Intersectionality also deals with the complexity of social life, which ‘is
considered too irreducibly complex—overflowing with multiple and
fluid determinations of both subjects and structures—to make fixed
categories anything but simplifying social fictions that produce inequal-
ities in the process of producing differences’ (McCall 2005, p. 1773).
Leslie McCall further defines two types of complexity. Intercategorical
complexity is the ‘relationships of inequality among social groups and
changing configurations of inequality along multiple and conflicting
dimensions’ (p. 1773), while intracategorical complexity takes a crit-
ical stance towards categories, especially regarding the language and
discourses that constitute genders. The influences on the categories of
gender, ethnicity and class, however, can also arise from geographical
origin and national identity and the flows of culture and language.
In this study, I take up the tradition of feminist scholarship and
treat the categories of gender, ethnicity, class and other personal factors
as fluid and intersectionally related. By approaching gender this way,
I aim to achieve critical realism by taking into account the material and
discursive constructions of social categories and examine the ‘processes
1 Introduction    
31

by which they are produced, experienced, reproduced, and resisted


in everyday life’ (McCall 2005, p. 1783). Angela Martinez Dy and
her colleagues have analysed disadvantages faced by UK women digi-
tal entrepreneurs arising from gender, ethnicity and class in enterprise
activities that are supposed to be meritocratic and egalitarian (Martinez
Dy et al. 2014, 2016). The broader context (after McCall 2005) of
cultural and national specificities also interacts with categories such as
gender, ethnicity and class. Critical realism is about the study of lived
experience, especially when it is ‘normalised and made to seem natu-
ral’ (Martinez Dy et al. 2014, p. 456). A critical realist approach seeks
to address the relationship between structure and agency, where struc-
ture is the ‘durable relationships that position, constrain and/or ­enable.
Social positioning [is] a continuous process, negotiated by agency’
(p. 462). In these complex senses, marginality is not a monolith but
a subtle and nuanced experience of privilege and oppression (p. 462).
This is particularly pertinent with regard to careers in the Internet and
mobile media, which can be erroneously perceived to be entirely online
and virtual, while their integration with the offline world, especially
with the social divisions of gender and race (Daniels 2012), needs to be
central in a study such as this.
If we think of class as the production and reproduction of economic
life, gender as the production and reproduction of sexual difference,
then ethnicity is the production and reproduction of collective iden-
tities relating to origin or cultural difference (Anthias 2001b, p. 377).
Social stratification along the lines of gender, class and ethnicity results
in ‘material inequality, as a set of outcomes relating to life conditions,
life chances and solidary processes … informed by claims and struggles
over resources of different types, undertaken in terms of gender, ethnic-
ity/race and class’ (p. 368). Hence, social stratification involves the con-
struction of unequal opportunities and conditions (p. 370). To adopt
an intersectional approach allows for the ‘contingent and fluid character
of the social construction of the categories’ (Browne and Misra 2003,
p. 493). ‘Gender … is defined as inequalities, divisions, and differ-
ences socially constructed around assumed distinctions between female
and male’ (Acker 2004, p. 20), which explains the concentration of
research on women in gender studies. Given that ‘different kinds of
32    
L. Wing-Fai

technological knowledge are valued hierarchically, in reciprocal relation


with the race, class, and gender of the groups of people with whom they
are identified’ (Lerman et al. 1997, p. 6), there needs to be an inter-
sectional approach in the study of technology, which has been lacking,
while feminist technology studies continues to focus mostly on the
experiences of women. The Internet is often considered free of gender
and race bias, even though there is evidence that discrimination offline
continues online and in employment in the tech sector (Stanworth
2000, p. 21). To fully understand these dynamics, an intersectional
approach is urgently required.

Research Strategy and Methods


For over 30 years, studies of gender and entrepreneurship have tended
to compare men and women with little methodological innovation, and
these studies initially failed to address feminist concerns (Henry et al.
2016). Most of the early studies (1986–1992) used large-scale, quantita-
tive instruments, such as questionnaires constructed by adopting men’s
language to talk about entrepreneurship; these instruments were simply
superimposed on studies of women entrepreneurs (Henry et al. 2016,
p. 219). The studies also focused on comparisons between male and
female entrepreneurs with gender as a variable. As such they tended to
assume essential gender differences with little, weak or no feminist cri-
tique. Quantitative research overshadowed qualitative methods (such as
case studies, ethnographic, life history) until the 1990s, when ‘in-depth,
qualitative interviews and an explicit feminist agenda’ emerged (p. 219),
and studies moved towards constructionist approaches and viewed gen-
der as a process (p. 233). Factors such as family, culture and goal ori-
entation help to explain female entrepreneurship around the world,
especially in developing economies (p. 220). In 2009, the International
Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship was launched. More and more
research takes up a feminist standpoint and reflects post-structuralist
feminism (p. 221); ‘A post-structural perspective builds on the assump-
tion that gender is socially and culturally constituted’ (p. 221). Through
this approach it is possible to consider the intersections between an
1 Introduction    
33

industry and domestic arrangements, educational background, house-


hold and family structures, labour market structures (previous work
experiences), organisational structures and cultures in order to under-
stand women in the technical field (Castaño and Webster 2011).
During my stays in Taiwan between June and August 2014 and
between January and August 2016, I was a visiting scholar at the
Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica. I was hosted by my academic
sponsor, Professor Chang Chin-fen, who has expertise in the sociol-
ogy of work and gender in Taiwan. I employed social network analy-
sis and visualisation (of the networks within the startup ecosystem in
Taiwan), content analysis (of materials including online sources, offi-
cial documents and company information), semi-structured interviews
and observation. Interview questions for the startup entrepreneurs dealt
with the factors influencing their businesses, including personal back-
ground, education, training and management experience, as well as
national and transnational social and cultural networks. I branched out
from the set of questions and probed deeper when appropriate. During
my fieldwork, I also conducted observations at many events and trade
shows connected with the online industry. During the second period of
fieldwork (January–August 2016), I was able to revisit a proportion of
the interviewees and organisations in order to carry out a longitudinal
study of the changes during the two-year interim.
In my previous published work on the startup ecosystem in Taiwan,
I use visualisation to show the result of social network analysis of per-
sonnel and organisations involved (Leung 2016, p. 1054). The analysis
revealed that the most central individuals in the network were associ-
ated with the business incubators and accelerators and the portfolio
companies that had gone on to raise capital funds. Venture capital funds
and major startup backers and industry events also featured centrally
in the ecosystem. Out of 101 individuals identified, 12 (13.5%) were
women (p. 1054). The research presented in these chapters builds on
these findings, but it relies chiefly on the discourses illustrated through
the semi-structured interviews and observation. This research, the result
of a triangulation of methods, is underpinned by feminist concerns and
seeks to understand gender as it intersects with other personal charac-
teristics, including age and class. The research strategy is qualitative,
34    
L. Wing-Fai

and the research ethos supports the constructionist perspective. The


evidence is interpreted with a firm understanding of the social, politi-
cal, cultural and economic context of East Asia. My multidimensional
approach builds up a complex analysis of digital entrepreneurs, and it
is aimed at going beyond gender to examine the positionalities arising
from the personal characteristics that define us. Such an approach does
not make for easy theorisation, but it views entrepreneurs as having
agency and is respectful of their decisions, views and actions.
I employed grounded theory to categorise the key words, phrases
and terms used by my research subjects and to organise the results into
themes and chapters. The themes that arose out of the interview tran-
scripts were analysed through discourse analysis, where the ‘discourse’ is
a social practice that is constructed by and constructive of social reality
(Hall 1997, pp. 73–81). ‘Discourse is about the production of knowl-
edge through language. But … since all social practices entail meaning,
and meanings shape and influence what we do—our conduct—all prac-
tices have a discursive aspect’ (Hall 1992, p. 291, original italics). By
writing about the discourse around digital entrepreneurship, this pro-
ject fully acknowledges the subject positions (as they are constrained by
ethnicity, class, gender, age and so forth) that are constructed through
discursive practices.

Concluding Remarks
I have come across many innovative, digital producers in Asia, espe-
cially connected with startup companies and SMEs, who are seeking to
exploit the online economy. It is vital to understand not only creativ-
ity and innovation but also the interpersonal dynamics within digital
entrepreneurship in order to nurture the talented individuals who can
bring about the next stage of industrial development. This study seeks
to understand these entrepreneurs, their relationships with established
economic drivers, and the place of a local ecosystem in the nation-
al-political, regional and global contexts. I examine how digital entre-
preneurship represents both a disjuncture and a continuation of the
tradition of business networks in Asia, and I investigate whether the
1 Introduction    
35

digital sphere has engendered new forms of social relations in the face
of political, cultural and economic change. I consider the gender identi-
ties of the business founders, intersectionally with age, family and class
as personal factors that contribute to the entrepreneurs’ experiences,
approaching the research through qualitative methods with underlying
feminist concerns. In doing so, I seek to understand some of the social
and cultural changes in Taiwan, other Chinese territories in East Asia,
and within the Chinese diaspora in the global technoscape. I employ
an intersectional approach in order to capture the intersections among
personal characteristics that explain the experiences of digital entrepre-
neurs. With reference to recent political, social and economic events in
Taiwan, the digital sphere is a barometer of social change and a signifi-
cant site worthy of examination that provides many valuable lessons of
entrepreneurship.

Notes
1. The idea of the startup accelerator originates from Silicon Valley and
offers a short-term support programme (typically three to six months)
to new digital entrepreneurs, usually including mentoring, a free office
and opportunities to pitch to potential investors.
2. Gregory Ferenstein, 10 November 2015. https://www.theguard-
ian.com/us-news/2015/nov/10/silicon-valley-politics-tech-industry.
Accessed 20 February 2017.
3. http://english.gov.taipei/ct.asp?xItem=1084529&ctNode=29491&mp=
100002; http://population.city/taiwan/adm/new-taipei-city/. Accessed 11
March 2017.
4. The SME Administration defines SMEs as enterprises with paid-in
capital of NTD80 million and fewer than 200 employees; micro-busi-
nesses have fewer than five employees. https://www.moeasmea.gov.tw/
ct.asp?xItem=70&CtNode=261&mp=2
5. http://www.indexmundi.com/taiwan/total_fertility_rate.html. Accessed
2 January 2017.
6. Taiwan Today, 29 May 2012. ‘Ma spotlights importance of female entre-
preneurs.’ http://taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xItem=191372&ctNode=420.
Accessed 5 March 2017.
36    
L. Wing-Fai

7. http://www.taiwaninsights.com/tag/taiwans-entrepreneurs/. Posted 13
September 2013. Accessed 15 June 2014.
8. Ideas Show catalogue, 2014, p. 5.
9. By 2016, however, the initiative had yet to take off.
10. https://www.startup.taipei. Accessed 19 March 2017.
11. AppWorks Demo Day 9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UI-

9HTzOYnq0. Accessed 15 November 2014.
12. https://appworks.tw/appworksdd12/. Accessed 16 March 2017.

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2
Family Metaphor, the Geek and the
Entrepreneurial Ideal

Introduction
In 2014, during three months of fieldwork in Taiwan, I interviewed
60 nascent entrepreneurs and 17 people in associated roles (venture
capitalists, business angels and mentors; and managers of business
­
incubators, accelerators and co-working spaces). The types of fields the
entrepreneurs were working in included data and information services,
hardware-software integrated products, cloud computing, mobile appli-
cations, e-commerce, social media platforms, games and Internet of
Things. In 2016, I conducted further interviews with a new startup sup-
port project, two additional startup founders, the manager of a venture
fund, and I re-interviewed ten founders to gain insight into the changes
in their entrepreneurial experience since 2014. Also in 2016, I attended
seven industry events, such as pitches and the launch of She Means
Business, an initiative by Facebook to support female entrepreneurs,
which opened a chapter in Taiwan. I participated in as many Girls in
Tech meetings as possible (see Chapter 3), and I visited co-work-
ing spaces, hackerspace and maker spaces in Taiwan and Hong Kong
(see Chapter 4).

© The Author(s) 2019 45


L. Wing-Fai, Digital Entrepreneurship, Gender and Intersectionality,
Dynamics of Virtual Work, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97523-8_2
46    
L. Wing-Fai

On the basis of the information the interviewees provided dur-


ing the interviews in 2014, I categorized the 60 entrepreneurs into six
groups (see Fig. 2.1). Twenty (33%) were men who have started their
companies single-handedly (Single/Male) or acted as the front man of
their startup teams. Nine (15%) were members of startup teams made
up of majority-male co-founders. They had a strong team identity and
therefore fell into a separate category: Single/Team/Male. These two cat-
egories accounted for 48%, or almost half, of the entrepreneurs I inter-
viewed. The majority of the entrepreneurs in the ‘Single/Male’ sample
worked full time. A game programmer had his own studio in collabo-
ration with a colleague based in the USA, but he also worked freelance
for another American company. A male founder initially kept his job
in the electronics sector while getting his company to a stage when he
could afford to give up his job (male co-founder, eco-digital camera).
The ‘Single/Team/Male’ startup groups were made up of almost all male
members; only one of them included a female co-founding member.

Breakdown of entrepreneurs by gender and marital status, 2014 (n = 60)


Married/Female, 1, 2%

Single/Female, 8, 13%

Single/Male, 20, 33%

Husband/Wife, 9, 15%

Married/Male, 13, 22%

Single/Team/Male, 9, 15%

Fig. 2.1  Breakdown of entrepreneurs by gender and marital status, 2014


2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
47

In this chapter and in Chapter 3, gender will be my main concern.


I will analyse the gender, family background and age distribution of my
interviewees in greater detail throughout this chapter.
Local networks and global interaction mesh in ‘silicon places’
(English-Lueck et al. 2002), in which elements of trust include com-
petence, consistency, integrity, interpersonal loyalty and openness
(English-Lueck et al. 2002, p. 95). In the Chinese context, the cultur-
ally specific concept of mianzi, the Confucian understanding of face,
can also be an important factor. Taiwanese businesses have tradition-
ally relied on the all-important extended family network to ensure trust
(Wong 1996). Furthermore, traditional family businesses in Chinese
communities are usually governed by the hierarchy within the family
(Yeh and Tsao 1996). The most popular inter-family business partner-
ship in Taiwan is traditionally brother with brother (Lee and Chang
2014, p. 9), although partnerships are also organised along the patri-
linear line (among parents and children), through marriage alliances
(between spouses) and between relatives (among more distant relatives).
Network capital, especially what is known as guanxi (interpersonal
connections), plays a central part in inter-firm relationships; forming
powerful networks with political elites has traditionally been a way for
businesses to gain access to resources and information (Hitt et al. 2002).
In addition, because Taiwan has a strongly centralised and conservative
banking system, it is extremely difficult for nascent companies to bor-
row funds or for growing companies to be incorporated, and therefore
new enterprises must rely on their own social and financial resources.
However, Internet businesses differ from traditional firms in that they
typically cost less to set up and can therefore be developed by individu-
als with relatively little economic capital. Among my samples, few of the
new generation of entrepreneurs started businesses with their relatives.
Only two of my interviewees founded companies with brothers because
they happened to have the complimentary skills necessary for the busi-
ness (namely in computer programming, design and business). Among
the famous ‘four Fs’ of business startup resources (family, friends,
founders and fools for investment), friends therefore have become more
prominent as co-founders in Taiwan. Peer group networks, in particular,
are central within the digital startup ecosystem.
48    
L. Wing-Fai

Network and a Gendered Sector in the East


Asian Contexts
Much of the existing literature of entrepreneurship and cultural and
creative labour assumes the entrepreneur to be an individual who inno-
vates and creates and who is, especially in earlier studies, mostly male
(Abdnor 1988; Bygrave and Hofer 1991; Sarason et al. 2006; Mungai
and Velamuri 2011). Much entrepreneurship literature tends to con-
sider the individual’s personality and knowledge base to understand why
he or she becomes involved in business opportunities (Ardichvili et al.
2003), while some researchers use psychological explanations or behav-
ioural models of new venture creation (Gartner 1988; Shaver and Scott
1991).
Manuel Castells put forward the concept of the network society
(2000), and various scholars since then have considered the importance
of networks in the cultural, creative and technology sectors. Melissa
Gregg uses the term ‘compulsory sociality’ (2006), while Andreas Wittel
employs ‘network sociality’ (2001) to describe the necessity for workers
in these sectors to be in circles with others who are similar to them in
terms of social characteristics. Not only is homophily (the tendency for
people with similar characteristics to associate with each other) vital in
these kinds of new industries, forming social networks is in fact a com-
pulsory part of the creative process. According to Andy Pratt, the new
media industry is a community of like-minded workers where ‘network
[is] a constitutive and constructive process and entity’ (2000, p. 432).
Mark Granovetter (1983) suggests that job seekers utilise weak ties in
order to improve their chances of gaining work: ‘The argument asserts
that our acquaintances (weak ties) are less likely to be socially involved
with one another than are our close friends (strong ties )’ (Granovetter
1983, p. 201, original italics). Therefore, job seekers who reach beyond
family and close friends to acquaintances gain important information
or assistance. Moving in this wider social circle can help the job seeker
find work (p. 205). Granovetter suggests that social systems that lack
weak ties are in fact fragmented and incoherent (p. 202), for instance
in situations where groups are racially segregated. People tend to form
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
49

strong ties with those from the same social class (p. 210). Although
people tend to favour others like themselves (homophily), people who
are more highly educated or in professional roles often interact with
more acquaintances (p. 207). This is beneficial to their work-life because
Granovetter’s research indicates that innovation comes from the margins
of close-knit groups (p. 216).
Related to Granovetter’s work is the structural hole theory. According
to James Coleman:

Social capital is defined by its function. It is not a single entity but a vari-
ety of different entities, with two elements in common: they all consist
of some aspect of social structures, and they facilitate certain actions of
actors - whether persons or corporate actors - within the structure. (1988,
p. S98)

Social capital can also be defined as ‘the sum of the resources, actual
or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possess-
ing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of
mutual acquaintance and recognition’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992,
p. 119). In the view of Walker and colleagues (1997), networks become
increasingly structured over time and are significantly influenced by
social capital; ‘a network tends toward the reproduction of an inherited
pattern of relationships due to the value to the individual in preserv-
ing social capital’ (Walker et al. 1997, p. 109, original italics). Ronald
Burt (1992) proposed the concept of ‘structural holes’ between dense
pockets of relationships in networks. Burt argues that the network posi-
tions associated with the highest economic return lie between rather
than within these dense regions of relationships; these structural holes
provide opportunities for brokering information (Walker et al. 1997,
p. 112). When entrepreneurs strategically exploit these structural holes,
their startups can push industry boundaries into new fields and increase
competition in traditional markets (p. 110). Walker and colleagues also
point out that in some industries (such as biotech and semiconductors)
the dominance of large firms is based on startup alliances (p. 119). They
find new biotech firms form important relationships with established
corporations. The entrepreneurs will likely form important networks
50    
L. Wing-Fai

within their nascent firms and seek importance alliances through more
distant relationships such as those with the established firms.
While much of the entrepreneurship literature is based on studies in
the West (mainly North America and Europe) and treats the individual
as the unit of study, previous studies of Chinese family firms have dis-
covered that ‘nepotism, paternalism and family ownership’ are central,
though the importance of these dimensions varies, depending on the
phases of development of the companies (Wong 2014, p. 58). Rong-I
Wu and Chung-Che Huang’s report (2003) shows that in the more tra-
ditional small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector in Taiwan,
owners are often blue collar workers who have become bosses, and the
bosses’ wives and business networks are all-important cultural aspects of
these small businesses. Social capital operates in the local and national
contexts (such as guanxi networks in the Chinese context), but, when
Asian firms seek to expand globally, they may not have access to inter-
national business networks (Hitt et al. 2002).
To understand the intense sociality within the new media and cre-
ative workforces, it is necessary to also consider how the technology
firms and work places are gendered. Men are assumed to be the ideal
information and communications technology (ICT) workers because of
their perceived rationality, while women are traditionally thought of as
having better social and emotional skills. In addition, men’s supposed
carefree lifestyle allows them to be flexible in the highly demanding tech
sector (Kelan 2007, p. 52). The ideal worker in any organisation is dis-
cursively masculine (Acker 1990). This is what Acker would go on to
call ‘hegemonic masculinity,’ especially typified by a kind of ‘trans-na-
tional business masculinity’ marked by arrogance, a passion to control,
ruthlessness, and aggression (Acker 2004, p. 30), characteristics that fit
the highly competitive environment in tech clusters like Silicon Valley.
Elisabeth Kelan (2007), in discussing the gendering of ICT skills, finds
that social and emotional skills have become increasingly important;
that is, both technical and emotional/communication skills are neces-
sary for the ideal ICT worker. Nevertheless, when women enact social
skills, they are seen as performing gender roles, but when men do the
same they are simply doing what an ideal ICT worker does (Kelan
2007, p. 63) because of the rise of hybrid job roles in the technology
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
51

sector, which combine technical ability and emotionality (Woodfield


2002). It is possible therefore that conforming to and participating in
close social networks or compulsory sociality in the sector is part of
the role of the digital entrepreneur, who is ‘ideally male.’ My task in
researching digital entrepreneurship in Asia was to assess whether the
existing discourse on the ways networks function in the digital economy
is reflected in the East Asian contexts.
Entrepreneurs in East Asia can be thought of as adopters of the neo-
liberal ideals of the West, whereby advocacy of free markets and indi-
vidualism as reflected in the late twentieth century ‘American values of
education, innovation, and entrepreneurialism’ has been embraced by
social elites globally (Ong 2006, p. 173). Starup entrepreneurs who fit
into the discourse about information and creative workers have been
named in a variety of ways by scholars, including knowledge workers
(Drucker 1999), venture labour (Neff 2012) and new model workers
(Ross 2009). All these workers have rejected traditional work structure
and placed themselves in risky careers that rely on the monetarisation
of knowledge. Many of these types of jobs are taken up by people who
imagine the sector to be ‘cool, creative and egalitarian’ (Gill 2002). The
reality is that twenty-first-century digital entrepreneurship offers oppor-
tunities that are as precarious as those of freelance and contract workers
in the creative industries (Gill and Pratt 2008). Moreover, the startup
ecosystems in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore are not Silicon Valley,
no matter how communities of digital entrepreneurs may aspire to be
like it. Despite Aihwa Ong’s description of ‘elites the world over’ (2006,
p. 173), there is little empirical evidence thus far that the American
style of entrepreneurship has manifested outside of Euro-American con-
ditions, and there is a dearth of literature on entrepreneurship that con-
siders interpersonal relationships and the wider political, social, cultural
and economic contexts outside of the West.
The literature on social networks and social capital, for example,
rarely takes into account cultural differences, while scholars who focus
on the Chinese context tend to discuss interpersonal relationships
(guanxi, for lack of a better word) in isolation. Interpersonal relation-
ships are a part of business relationships that are highly relevant and
unique in the Chinese context (Redding and Witt 2007). Priscilla
52    
L. Wing-Fai

Chu, for instance, talks about different kinds of relational content in


Chinese businesses: ‘transaction relations’ (which utilise physical or
symbolic media), ‘communication relations’ (the transmission of mes-
sages), ‘instrumental relations’ (which secure goods, services or informa-
tion), and ‘sentiment relations’ (the expression of feelings) (Chu 1996,
p. 359). She finds that Hong Kong entrepreneurs ‘follow … an evolu-
tionary network model to meet the different needs of different stages’ in
the development of their businesses (p. 359). In the pre-startup stage,
they rely mostly on family, friends and associates (high communication
and sentiment relations), or in other words, they rely on close ties. At
the startup stage, they mostly work with partners and staff buyers/sup-
pliers, relying on high transaction, communication and instrumental
relations. In the mature stage of the business, the influential members
of networks are more likely professional organisations and government
agencies, and the dynamic shifts to high on transaction, communication
and instrumental relations and low sentiment relations (p. 360). In this
model, therefore, entrepreneurs move from close social ties to more dis-
tant professional relationships. While Chu makes distinctions between
different stages of entrepreneurship, the current study focuses mostly on
startups and therefore, according to Chu, on company founders who
may rely mostly on close ties.
Mary Brinton and Takehiko Kariya (1998) discuss the social and his-
torical contexts in Japan, specifically the institution of the school, and
they argue that job search after completing school in Japan is usually
dependent on high levels of institutional embeddedness. They distin-
guish between ‘atomic job searching’—that is, cold calling prospective
employers—and jobs found through interpersonal ties and institutional
ties (Brinton and Kariya 1998, p. 183). They find that the second and
third types of employment searches are more common for skilled jobs
because organisations trust schools with which they have connections
to send them high-quality, reputable workers. Nepotism is the most
common form of social embeddedness. As the Japanese population
raised its level of education to high school and university, institution-
ally embedded job searching also increased, and those benefiting from
institutional ties have mostly been high school and university graduates
(p. 191), with graduates of prestigious universities destined for white
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
53

collar jobs. Brinton and Kariya also describe a semi-institutional


­pattern, similar to the ‘old boy networks’ found in the Euro-American
contexts, in which alumni mentor recent graduates who enter the same
companies (p. 199).
My fieldwork in Taiwan in 2014 (Leung 2016) showed that the estab-
lished electronics and computer hardware companies in Taiwan are
important for the Internet and mobile startup sector, and the networks
that digital entrepreneurs form are complex and are in fact made up
of close and weak ties. Startup founders usually set up companies with
trusted colleagues, close friends and family members (especially hetero-
sexual couples) because they work very closely and have to be able to rely
on each other. Colleagues are often from the same universities or previ-
ous workplaces, much like in Brinton and Kariya (1998)’s discussion of
institutional embeddedness, which I argue is particularly significant in
the Asian context. At the same time, I also discuss how weak ties and net-
works within the startup ecosystem, such as contacts with business incu-
bators and venture capitalists, allow entrepreneurs to gain knowledge and
access funding opportunities (Leung 2016). Both strong and weak ties
are therefore useful in the context of digital entrepreneurship. I conclude:

While the sector, influenced by rapidly changing Internet and commu-


nication technology, presents potential for innovation and disruption
to existing business models, the knowledge workers and venture labour-
ers rely on social networks similar in construction to their more tradi-
tional counterparts, as a means to reduce or mitigate risks. (Leung 2016,
p. 1057)

Networks have been shown to be important for entrepreneurs, who


make contact and socialise with those with similar social and cultural
capital. While the family often provides financial support, family firms
are rare among modern startups except among married couples (see
Chapter 3). Other networks have become more central among profes-
sional workers (as discussed in Granovetter’s concept of the weak ties
[1983]). In Asian contexts, interpersonal relationships and networks
formed during education and in the workplace provide the close ties
which help individuals to mitigate risks.
54    
L. Wing-Fai

Entrepreneurship and the Family


James Werbel and Sharon Danes state that having a spouse is an impor-
tant resource for new business owners, not only as a source for finan-
cial and emotional support but because ‘family and business interact
by exchanging resources and capital across boundaries,’ which includes
social capital (2010, p. 424). Dilani Jayawarna and colleagues also sug-
gest that startup founders are likely to benefit from a supportive family
that invests in their social capital. Their study demonstrates how child-
hood human capital, influenced by the parents’ socioeconomic status,
work experience and high level of education, contribute to the choice
to become entrepreneur. While the entrepreneurs in their study had
solid education, they were usually not highly educated, as high aca-
demic achievement deters high-risk behaviour (Jayawarna et al. 2014,
p. 934). Children’s perception of the value of education is influenced
by their family background, and early childhood human capital engen-
ders positive development of knowledge, skills and attitudes (Jayawarna
et al. 2014). In a study by Edward Mungai and Ramakrishna Velamuri
(2011), parental influence was researched and shown to be particularly
significant for young adults aged 18–21 years. Nonetheless, Mungai
and Velamuri (2011) suggest that an entrepreneurial role models from
the parents’ generation can be positive or negative. For instance, the
parents could become negative role models if their business failed.
In their study, however, the researchers examined only male entrepre-
neurs, and there is no explanation as to why and how gender might
have played a part in the study.
Internet and mobile businesses can be relatively low-cost start-
ups. In my article ‘The Strengths of Close Ties: Taiwanese Online
Entrepreneurship, Gender and Intersectionality,’ published in
Information, Communication and Society (Leung 2016), I state that
the famous four Fs of founding business startups—reliance on fam-
ily, friends, co-founders and fools for investment and support—have
not changed even though these companies are dealing with the latest
developments in Internet and mobile technology. During my field work
in 2014, I found that family support was important even if it was not
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
55

always in the form of financial backing or human resources; rather, it


is the influence of the family’s economic and social status and emo-
tional support that are significant for current startup entrepreneurs
(see Leung 2016). As the co-founders rarely come from the traditional
extended family, such as father-son, and brother-brother, entrepreneur-
ial teams are often made up of groups of founders who have become
close through previous education and work relationships, and who share
social and educational capital. Having said that, I will discuss the most
common type of ‘family firms,’ namely husband and wife teams, in
greater detail in Chapter 3.
According to the World Competitiveness Scoreboard released by the
International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne,
Switzerland, Taiwan ranked seventh in competitiveness in 2012, fall-
ing to 14th out of 61 countries in 2016.1 In another index, by the
Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute, Taiwan was
ranked 11th worldwide and first in Asia (Taiwan Revitalizes Spirit of
Entrepreneurship 2013). Taiwan has a vibrant entrepreneurial culture:
there are 1.279 million SMEs among a population of 23 million. Since
the 2008 global economic downturn, however, the national economy
has seen signs of a slowdown, though 85% of revenue from Taiwanese
SME companies still comes from domestic rather than overseas markets
(Taiwan Revitalizes Spirit of Entrepreneurship 2013). In sum, Taiwan,
with its high number of SMEs, lacks the capacity to exploit interna-
tional distribution networks and remains vulnerable to global economic
currents. This contrast between a strong ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ and
the intersection of Taiwanese businesses within the global economy is
important element in understanding the context in which digital entre-
preneurship exists on the island.
Younger founders are influenced by the political, social and eco-
nomic circumstances in Taiwan, but they are also aware of the global
currents in the Internet and mobile technology sector. A founder whom
I interviewed (male founder from a husband and wife team, social
media) explained to me that he graduated in 2000 at the height of the
dot-com boom, so he felt that starting a business would be interesting.
He stated that the Taiwanese were always interested in entrepreneur-
ship and had an entrepreneurial spirit, indicated by the fact that there
56    
L. Wing-Fai

were a lot of SMEs in the country. The Internet companies, according


to him, were like traditional businesses in that they needed to trade out-
side of Taiwan because of the small size of its domestic population. The
Internet and mobile technology sector demonstrates a collective con-
sciousness of the global knowledge economy. Nonetheless, the sector
must be understood within Taiwan’s social and economic history.
In Taiwan after the Second World War, the population faced diffi-
cult economic and political conditions, which explain the beginning of
the country’s recent history of entrepreneurial activities. The indigenous
Taiwanese (benshengren) experienced the decolonisation of the nation
from Japanese rule, while the arrival of the Kuomintang (KMT) admin-
istration from mainland China meant that the benshengren were margin-
alised in terms of access to the professional jobs and political leadership.
As a result, many native Taiwanese participated in public life as entre-
preneurs because it was often the only way to earn a decent living. This
long history of private entrepreneurial activities might be understood
as baishou qijia (starting from nothing; building a life from scratch, see
also Chapter 5). Most of the businesses started during this period, how-
ever, were small-scale, such as street and market stalls and other fami-
ly-run shops and services (Myers 1984, p. 521).
One entrepreneur’s explanation of his own extended family’s history
of starting businesses allows us to contextualise the sector in terms of
the country’s industrial development:

My family includes me, my grandma, parents, a brother and a sister.


I mentioned starting a business to my parents, and they felt that I should
perhaps work for a bit longer before becoming an entrepreneur. They
thought it was too soon as I had only worked for a couple of years after
graduation. But my grandma was supportive of my business venture.
In the generation of my grandparents, around 1945, there was [post-
war] economic development in Taiwan, so that generation had to rely
on themselves, and they started businesses to make money. They believe
you have to take the opportunity. Their thoughts about entrepreneurship
and entrepreneurial opportunities are different [from my parents’]. (Male
founder, Internet of Things)
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
57

What the founder referred to was the generations since the Second
World War who had faced economic and political circumstances that
impacted on how they might make a living and whether they pursued
entrepreneurial activities. There were push and pull factors. As benshen-
gren, native Taiwanese were excluded from public life dominated by
the mainlanders after Taiwan came under KMT rule, and professional
work opportunities were restricted. At the same time, the founder’s
grandmother represents the Taiwanese who found themselves in a posi-
tion to start up businesses and make use of the economic development.
However, the interviewee’s parents would have benefitted from the later
industrialisation, which engendered a preference for corporate careers
and the formal economy. I shall return to a consideration of genera-
tional identity in the concluding chapter.
A traditional upbringing can also create barriers to digital entrepre-
neurship. The manager of a co-creation space suggested that this has to
do with the education system in Taiwan, which is too demanding and
competitive, with a lot of pressure put on children to achieve education-
ally in the more traditional subjects. According to her, it is hard for par-
ents educated in such a school system to see the value of creation and
innovation. Children need to have the exposure to ‘being able to mess
around’ and be encouraged to be creative. She lamented that there is
no time for extracurricular learning within the hectic schedule of formal
education. As a key figure in the co-creation movement in Taiwan, she
blamed the conservative attitude to upbringing and education on the
lack of interest in creativity and innovation. She observed that children
who go to the co-creation space and participate in the events by them-
selves are more creative; when parents participate with their kids, the
parents are opinionated and try to control the children.
Natalie Wreyford argues:

It is difficult to talk about women and work without talking about child-
care. The same is not true of men and work[,] and this is still one of the
most obvious difficulties to be managed by working women, even those
who choose not to have children. (2013, p. 1)
58    
L. Wing-Fai

While female entrepreneurs often talk about family, marriage and child-
care (see Chapter 3), I found that my male informants were equally
open to discuss family responsibilities. An entrepreneur (electronic
identity service) told me that his wife looked after the children. He
lamented that his son might question why his peers’ parents took them
out to play but his dad could rarely go out with him. He concluded
that the worst thing about entrepreneurship was not worrying about
whether the business succeeded but that he had to sacrifice his family
life. Another male entrepreneur (a designer who ran a successful crowd-
sourcing campaign):

Starting a business has a lot of implications [for the family]. Stability is


very important for me. Before, when I was single, income and time were
the big issue. I could work till three, four o’clock in the morning. Now
I don’t have the time, I won’t be able to spend time with my family and
kids… My wife sometimes gets angry, and she tells me that I’m not look-
ing after our children. She’s generally okay with it, but it’s hard for one
person to take care of two children.

It is evident that starting a company affects not only the founder and
his or her partner, but also their children, and this is an issue that male
founders also experience. Given the kind of consciousness seen in my
interviewees, I assert therefore that for digital entrepreneurs with family
responsibilities, whether male or female, beginning a new venture is not
an individual decision; rather, the family should be seen as the unit for
analysis. For instance, whether a founder can engage in digital entre-
preneurship depends on the family income. A male founder who was
working from a co-working space explained that since he and his wife
had some savings, their housing costs were low, and his wife had a sta-
ble job, they had enough capital to invest in the company. In fact, sev-
eral male founders said they were able to start their businesses because
their wives had a steady job that provided the necessary income for the
households.

In our generation, many Taiwanese families are two-income households.


My wife is still working. So as long as she’s working, there isn’t much
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
59

pressure on the startup. Even if I haven’t earned much money, we can sur-
vive for a while. Her salary is enough. The household income has been
greatly reduced, so initially she objected … but that’s understandable.
(Male founder, Internet of Things)

In a situation like this, the female member of the nuclear family


becomes the main earner, which enables the husband’s startup experi-
ment. This founder, in his forties, asserted that his decision to give up
a stable job in a tech corporation to become an entrepreneur had direct
effects on his family:

My wife of course asked whether I had thought about this clearly. I’m
of an age now. At first, she objected, but I will give myself some time. If
within this period, after putting in good effort and I fail, I’ll go back to
working part time. (Male founder, automobile technology)

The awareness of male founders of their family roles reflects the rise
of the ‘new men’ in Taiwan (Chang 2008). They are willing to express
how they take their family responsibilities seriously and share house-
hold chores. Yet, only one of the male founders among my interview-
ees had taken on the majority of the childcare while managing his own
enterprise. In this instance, the nuclear family had moved to another
city when the wife found a new post. The founder used the flexibility
of being an entrepreneur to work from home and take care of their two
children. In this way, the couple managed to balance income, childcare
and the demand of the startup. A female designer also commented on
the flexible working arrangements of being an entrepreneur. She set
up the company with her husband, and she adapted management of
the startup to her childcare responsibilities. They are in the minority,
however, in that most entrepreneurs expect long working hours, and in
some instances those with family responsibilities encounter difficulties
in balancing work and family life. Only one married female founder
among my interviewees had not started her business with her husband;
the fact that her husband had stable employment allowed her to take on
the risky venture.
60    
L. Wing-Fai

Several of the male founders I interviewed started businesses while


holding onto their current jobs in case the startups proved not to be
viable. In 2014, one married male founder (business-to-business man-
agement tool) tried to grow his company while working full time. He
conceded that, at the time, the startup did not generate enough income
for him to give up full-time work. The couple were also expecting a
child. He impressed upon me, though, that ‘it was way more than just
a hobby.’ When I returned in 2016, the company had grown to such
an extent that he was about to give up his job to focus full time on the
company. The couple had plans to migrate, as well; because of the vir-
tual nature of the startup they were not tied to Taiwan.
The influences of the family for entrepreneurs who have parents who
have run a business can be positive or negative, and at the very least the
entrepreneurs will have witnessed the effects of entrepreneurship on the
family unit. A male founder (gaming) stated that since he was from a
business family, and although his parents had expressed some concerns
and knew that entrepreneurism was difficult, they were supportive.
Another male entrepreneur (social media) stated:

My dad’s an entrepreneur. When I was young, I saw that starting a busi-


ness was difficult and he worked really hard without making a lot of
money. Before I started this business, I thought I wouldn’t want to be an
entrepreneur … Later, as I could make a living working as a freelancer,
I thought I’d try. My family doesn’t object. My two co-founders’ parents
are also in business, so there’s no problem.

As Taiwan has a high number of business owners, many digital entrepre-


neurs have first-hand experience of business practices from their parents’
generation. As the above interviewee stated, the experience gave him a
sense of the reality of entrepreneurship. Even so, some parents who are
business people still worry about their children taking up a risky ven-
ture rather than staying in a stable job. Eventually, however, both par-
ents and children tend to accept the new reality. A male entrepreneur
(sports application) said, ‘My parents understand what it’s like to start a
company, how we don’t have much income at the beginning and things
are unstable. They don’t criticise why I gave up a stable job and income.’
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
61

I found that interviewees with first-hand experience of entrepreneurship


through their parents and grandparents were more realistic about the
difficulties they faced.
Even though few digital entrepreneurs collaborate with family
members, the support of the extended and immediate family remains
important. Class is an important aspect of family support for entrepre-
neurs’ ventures, whether they are directly involved or provide financ-
ing. Although few interviewees directly referred to their class identity,
the acknowledgement that most of them came from families that were
financially comfortable explains their decision and their ability to take
up a risky venture. A male founder (fashion website) commented that
his family was comfortable. He had wanted to be an entrepreneur and
experiment since he was young. While earlier in Taiwan’s history, work-
ing-class and rural families relied on their children to work in the newly
developed economy in order to support them, the new generation of
children from middle-class families do not face the same pressure to
take care of their siblings and parents. A female founder of a co-working
space stated:

My family status is slightly higher than other people, a little higher than
middle class. Because my parents are teachers, we have a steadier financial
situation than many others. I am lucky. My parents are supportive; they
gave me money for my education. They pay some of the money towards the
rent here. I will eventually pay them back, but so far, they are supportive.

For many of founders in their twenties, their middle-class background


explains why they have the freedom to experiment in the risky startup
sector. One female entrepreneur told me that her father had always been
rather ‘democratic.’ He had always let his kids to freely choose whatever
they wanted to do. While many of the entrepreneurs were able to pursue
their ‘dreams’ with family support, many of them accepted the reality that
they might not profit from their venture, a fact that this female entre-
preneur alluded to: ‘If I can get to do the things I like and get paid, then
it’s great. But it’s not my reality for now.’ The fact that the younger gen-
eration does not have financial responsibility towards their parents and
siblings means that they can experiment with the risky business ventures.
62    
L. Wing-Fai

Entrepreneurship in Taiwan has a long history, especially for those


excluded from public life after the end of the Second World War. The
influence of family features strongly in an entrepreneur’s decision to
start a business. Many older entrepreneurs must balance their career,
income and childcare responsibilities. Meanwhile the extended family
also has emotional and practical impacts on the entrepreneurs. A fami-
ly’s business history can positively or negatively influence the decision to
start a business, while middle- and upper-class families provide a safety
net for entrepreneurs through their wealth. In these ways, the family
can be understood as a vital unit of entrepreneurship in Taiwan. The
different manifestations of these resources are determined by the inter-
sections of the age, family status and class of the entrepreneurs.

Network, Close Ties and the Nerd


In my previous study (Leung 2016), I determined that weak ties, or
the wider social network, are important resources for digital entrepre-
neurs despite the fact that this group tends to found companies with
those closest to them. One team I interviewed was made up of three
very good friends who, before they started their business, had organised
and fundraised a bicycle tour from Beijing to Rome that lasted seven
months. This epic journey demonstrates the trust and closeness of the
team members. The relationships to be found in the larger startup eco-
system are weaker but nonetheless important to many digital entrepre-
neurs. However, a combination of close ties and relationships within the
wider network helps the start-uppers. This executive of an accelerator
programme agreed that weak ties are important, and he indicated how
business incubators can help:

A lot of founders are only in their twenties, just graduated [from univer-
sity] and finished with military service. They don’t have wide social net-
works and don’t understand the finance environment and what resources
the government offers. I feel that an important role of the incubator is to
accumulate resources and to provide social network connection.
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
63

Indeed, when asked how participating in business accelerators or incu-


bators helped their nascent enterprises, most founders agreed that it was
the social networks more than the actual programmes that benefitted
them most. One of the principals of a private accelerator explained that
there were several hundred alumni of their programme, so the network
and its social media group had become a valuable resource. Most of
those connected with the accelerator agreed that they were able to find
advice within the network:

The accelerator programme helps you meet friends. Even though we have
different companies, we feel like brothers [sic.]. We are all starting up …
So, it’s a community more than an incubator. Of course, the incubation
process is valuable—they have mentors and courses and a weekly happy
hour where lots of Internet entrepreneurs come. (Graduate of a startup
accelerator, Taipei)

In Chapter 4, I will discuss the concept of community as it is mani-


fested in spatial practices. While I was immersed in the startup ecosys-
tem in Taiwan, I also attended the happy hour of the accelerator that
the above interviewee referred to and saw firsthand how the interper-
sonal relationships worked. When I informed the entrepreneurs that I
was interested in the startup community, they introduced me to others
and suggested contacts. Soon I was speaking to other digital entrepre-
neurs through snowballing recruitment. All the alumni of the accelera-
tor that I interviewed stated they found the interpersonal relationships
to be very valuable as they could introduce contacts and friends to
each other. Access to the principals of the accelerator, industry mentors
and the venture capitalists associated with the startup ecosystem were
equally valued. Hence, while the entrepreneurs worked most intensively
with those close to them, they relied on weak ties in the wider networks
for contacts, resources and, sometimes, funding. The new generation
of digital entrepreneurs are far more likely than previous generations
to work with close friends and colleagues with whom they share edu-
cational and social capital (Leung 2016). There are differences between
male and female founders, however, as can be seen from Fig. 2.1. While
family plays an important part for both male and female start-uppers,
64    
L. Wing-Fai

many married women or those with partners choose to found businesses


with their husbands or partners (see Chapter 3).
Family as metaphor also arose during my interviews, with many dig-
ital entrepreneurs likening the founders of their company to a family. A
male founder (electronic platform development) asserted that his team
not only saw themselves as part of a company but that they ‘treat[ed]
the company like their home.’ This founder used the family metaphor
to denote how close the co-workers were and how devoted they were
to the enterprise. The homophily of co-founders explains how they
get on and trust each other and can therefore work together closely,
often under tremendous pressure to succeed. A team that produced
digital scientific instruments contained four members with engineer-
ing backgrounds who had all completed the same degree and worked
as researchers in the same lab before breaking away to start the busi-
ness. Another team (educational application) was also formed of four
co-founders who worked in the same lab and had an electrical engi-
neering background from one of Taiwan’s top universities. One of the
co-founders talked about their relationship:

We have been colleagues for a long time, so we understand each other’s


personalities, needs, ethics. We work well with each other. We often say
this is like a marriage. Yes, we have the same goal and work side by side
towards it.

The marriage metaphor was echoed by another interviewee (male


co-founder, sports fitness application). Close relationships and having
the same purpose were discursively constructed as vital for many of the
startup teams.
As I mentioned earlier, there are specific social practices concern-
ing interpersonal relationships in the Asian contexts, whether it is the
Chinese guanxi, the institutional embeddedness in the Japanese labour
market (Brinton and Kariya 1998). In my published article (Leung
2016) on this subject, I discuss the existence of senpai/kohai networks in
Taiwan: the reliance on those who have met each other through school,
university or work and to whom one turns when seeking co-found-
ers or employees. Several interviewees explained that they met their
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
65

co-founders while they were at university. Sometimes they were from


different cohorts. Male students from a previous year are called xue
zhang, while those from a later cohort are xue di (di means ‘younger
brother’) or xue mei (mei means ‘younger sister’). Introduction by teach-
ers, university professors and other friends and colleagues are also com-
mon. Those who are already friends from school have known each for a
significant number of years. Co-founding companies with good friends
means that it is likely they share common interests and support each
other’s business ideas. In other words, the founders are able to trust each
other.
When I asked a founder (social media) how he recruited his team,
he told me that the original founding team were all graduates from
National Chengchi University, one of the most prestigious national
universities. When they later needed to recruit more staff, they found
some fellow students and xue di and xue mei. It was only when they
needed to expand even more that they used open recruitment by post-
ing the openings on the company’s website. This pattern of recruiting
founders and early staff through the alumni network and opening to a
broader network once the startup had grown was typical. Many of my
interviewees said they sought recommendations from friends when they
needed to recruit staff. When it comes to hiring co-workers, personal
recommendations from friends are the most trusted source of contact,
as this entrepreneur related:

We find that the most suitable [candidates] are through introduc-


tion by friends. Going via someone like a friend, you can find out
what this potential recruit is like. They can also find out about the
company through the mutual contact. Last year we started to recruit
openly. We are already six years old, and doing quite well. We have
a brand name. We put adverts on our website or through 1042 … We
recruit less now through friends. (Female entrepreneur, personal health
products/e-commerce)

Granovetter’s (1983) idea of finding more employment opportunities


among weak ties, especially after close contacts have been exhausted,
explains the recruitment practices in this case. The case also illustrates
66    
L. Wing-Fai

my own findings that the digital entrepreneurs rely on a network of


both close ties and more distant relationships that enable them to tap
into different kinds of contacts (Leung 2016).
One entrepreneur believed that ‘shared values, the right abilities
and good standards’ could be found through personal recommen-
dations. Another entrepreneur teamed up with friends from high
school, who had also moved from their hometown to Taipei, because
he felt that they would make good colleagues. A highly successful
startup (online reservation system) that expanded to several Asian ter-
ritories was founded by four friends from high school. The principal
of an accelerator in Taipei, commenting on this particular startup, said
that their friendship ran deep and they all knew each other’s personal-
ities, strengths and weaknesses and hence were a close-knit team. The
choice of a supporting team is vital for startups because of the need for
trust. Since trust takes time to build, it is more likely to be found with
long-term friends, colleagues or college friends, as this female founder
explained:

My two male co-founders are really good. After graduation, I kept in


touch with one of them. We continued our friendship. So you under-
stand this person, not only about his ability but his personality. It’s about
integrity … The bottom line is, you know he’s not going to betray the
company. You have confidence in him. Entrepreneurship deals with
money. It’s about trust. Some founding teams end up having arguments.
It has not happened to us. (Female founder, personal health products
site/e-commerce)

Homophily, the preference for teaming up with those who are similar
to oneself, makes it harder for women to get into a male-dominated sec-
tor, so this woman was a rare example of a female entrepreneur who
works with two male co-founders. The three co-founders all studied
finance at one of the most prestigious universities in the country. This
female founder therefore shared educational capital with her two male
co-founders. Her case indicates that having similar educational and
cultural capital can be more important than gender for the choice of
co-founders.
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
67

In Taiwan, men continue to dominate university programmes in


electrical engineering and computer science and the related corporate
sector. During my fieldwork, I found myself in the Department of
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science of the National Taiwan
University, where I counted three female faculty members among 127
professors. The close association of the Internet and mobile startup sec-
tor with electrical engineering and computer science has created a par-
ticular gendered identity within the Internet and mobile startup sector.
Several of the male founders I interviewed have talked about being
‘geeks’ or ‘computer nerds,’ such as this entrepreneur who stated:

My co-founders are all friends, and we studied together. Well, we were


from different disciplines but from the same university. When I was at
university, I had good relationships with students from other subjects,
otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do this. My own college of management
was quite isolated; the students liked to socialise with each other, go to
parties and night clubs. But I preferred to hang out with other students.
I liked being with other geeks. [laughs] (Male founder, contemporary art
website)

In the American context, the geek or nerd is generally male, ‘white,


Jewish, and/or of Asian descent’ (Tocci 2009, p. 19). The stereotyped
Asian nerd also had some currency among the male entrepreneurs in
Taiwan who were aware of this particular identity. A founder/program-
mer’s email address identified himself as ‘the nerd.’ He also told me that
he was doing what he liked, usually alone and at home, which was the
way he preferred it. He took on outsourced jobs from North America
and worked with a co-founder for the game company that he set up, all
from the comfort of his home in New Taipei. He spoke English fluently
because his education and work experience in the USA have given him
good command of the language and allow him to work remotely. He
admitted to working long hours alone, but he did not mind since he
did not have to ‘deal with people.’ Because of Taiwan’s strong computer
technology sector, many young people, especially boys, have grown up
learning to programme and code. Taiwanese parents often consider
computer skills vital for employment. An entrepreneur (fashion media)
68    
L. Wing-Fai

taught himself programming as a teenager. He considered having stud-


ied computer science at university helpful, though he thought it was not
so relevant to the business side of the startup. He felt that a lot of the
tacit knowledge required by entrepreneurs, such as business manage-
ment, could not be learned from courses alone but had to be learned on
the job, an opinion shared by many startup entrepreneurs from com-
puter science or electrical engineering backgrounds.
The founder who told me he ‘liked to being with other geeks’ started
his business with a friend who was still completing his Master’s degree
and another friend who was in military service. The compulsory con-
scription for military service in Taiwan has been in existence since 1949
for adult males between the ages of 18 and 36. Ying-Chao Kao and
Herng-Dar Bih assert that military service is one of the key examples of
how Taiwanese men practise and construct masculinities (2013). Many
of my interviewees discussed the effects of military service on male
entrepreneurs in terms of delaying their startup ventures. For example:

I still haven’t completed my military service. This is compulsory in


Taiwan. I think this is detrimental to Taiwanese young people’s busi-
ness entrepreneurship because a lot of people have ideas at college, but
they can’t work on prototypes and products. As soon as they leave uni-
versity, they have to do military service. This is our regulatory limitation.
(Founder, educational technology)

Similarly, a principal of a business accelerator commented that the


25- to 35-year-old age group is a critical time for entrepreneurship. The
compulsory military service is seen as having an immense impact on
younger entrepreneurs, by restricting their participation when they are
at their most creative. This principal stated that the founders of global
tech startups such as Uber, AirBnB and Dropbox were all under 25,
which indicates that youth is a prime time for innovation. The princi-
pal was in fact incorrect. Brian Chesky started AirBnB in 2008 when
he was 27. Travis Kalanick was born in 1976, and Uber was founded
in 2009 when he was 33, though he started his first business in 1998,
when he was in his early twenties. However, the principal I interviewed
believed that American founders are younger because they do not have
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
69

compulsory military service, and American young people tend to do


internships and gain work experience when they are in university. He
believed the Taiwanese are only able to have work experience when they
are past 25 because of military service. ‘[Americans] leave home when
they are 18,’ he said, ‘so by 25 they are already on their way to maturity.
Taiwanese young people leave home when they are 30, so they are late
bloomers by comparison.’ Contradictorily, he recognised that though
younger entrepreneurs may have passion, their products perhaps reflect
rather superficial ideas aimed at a limited market, that is, their peers.
Therefore, although some of my interviewees suggested that the younger
entrepreneurs have a lot of ideas, they are also simultaneously seen as
not mature enough to consider the wider market.
Startup teams tend to be made up of close-knit colleagues, who are
often good friends from school, university or previous work teams. This
ensures trust. At the same time, the startup ecosystem provides a loose
support network, which includes business incubators and entrepreneur-
ship programmes that provide business advice and capital investment.
The sector remains dominated by male entrepreneurs, many of whom
identify with the male tech geek identity originated from Silicon Valley
and the American context in general. Military service, which is com-
pulsory for young men in Taiwan, also has a unique impact on young
entrepreneurs, according to the discourse—commonly held ideas—that
exists within the startup ecosystem. In particular, when compared to
their American counterparts, young Taiwanese entrepreneurs are seen as
being less innovative and creative because their prime years for entrepre-
neurship are spent in formal education and military service.

The Entrepreneurial Ideal


The economic crisis in North America and Europe in 2008–09
adversely affected Taiwan’s export-dependent high-tech industry. The
low incomes of the 22k generation have a negative effect on their career
motivation. The industrial restructuring in Taiwan is seen as reduc-
ing opportunities in the more traditional technical professions, which
were a common career choice among computer science and electrical
70    
L. Wing-Fai

engineering graduates in the past. Low wages, long hours and lack of
autonomy in the traditional job market were identified by many of my
interviewees as push factors for either not entering or for leaving jobs in
traditional tech corporations, which were once seen as providing life-
long, stable employment. This executive of an incubator explained the
choice between employment and entrepreneurship:

The questions facing young people are many. First, when am I going
to be able to develop within the company? Some of them are not con-
tent with a NTD30–40,000-a-month salary. This is the present condi-
tions in Taiwan … so there is likely to be a wave of young people leaving
companies.

My interviewees offered many reasons for their choice of becoming


start-uppers, a choice that is often a negotiation between the push and
pull factors. Despite the difficulties faced by the hardware and con-
sumer electronics manufacturing sectors in Taiwan, few of my inter-
viewees were forced to leave standard employment (for example,
through redundancy). Rather, a principal of an accelerator in Taipei
suggested that a combination of reduced opportunities in the large cor-
porations in the tech sector and more opportunities for entrepreneur-
ship had led some highly skilled workers to choose the startup route.
Younger workers are likely to be relatively low paid when they join
a large corporations. At the same time, they are also inspired by the
entrepreneurial opportunities offered by global digital media, especially
Web 2.0. For example, the founder of a fashion social media site began
his entrepreneurial journey with friends from university in 2012, when
Facebook first became popular in Taiwan. The friends were inspired by
the Facebook founders, who were very young; Mark Zuckerberg was
only 20 when he launched Facebook in 2004. The founders of the fash-
ion site understood the business opportunities and felt that they should
strive for success through such a venture while they were still young.
This case contradicted the idea that Taiwanese youth tended to start
businesses later than their American counterparts. Some of my inter-
viewees referred to the choice between corporate life and ‘working for
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
71

themselves.’ One government officer asked if I understood the proverb


‘ningwei jishou, buwei niuhou ’ (Better to be the head of a chicken than
the tail of an ox).3 Many entrepreneurs feel that rather than toiling as
one of numerous employees for a large corporation, it is better to lead
a small company and control one’s own career. Digital entrepreneurs
may be encouraged by successful examples of digital startups, such as
Gogolook. This Taiwanese company produced the Whoscall caller
identification application, which was bought by the Japanese Internet
firm LINE for NTD529 million (about USD17.6 million) in 2013.
This kind of success encourages people to consider new business ideas
using the Internet and mobile technology. The officer went on to
suggest:

So many younger people think ‘I have talent. Why should I work for big
corporations?’ I have to work over ten hours a day to generate profit for
the boss. My annual salary is only 1 million or so. In Taipei, I can’t afford
a house, don’t dare to get married and have children. I don’t have a car
because even a parking space will cost 2 million.

One founder who used to work for a technology company described


how he would work from nine a.m. to nine p.m., and sometimes even
until three in the morning, only to get up and go back to work a few
hours later. His experience was typical of many workers in Taiwan. He
decided to start a company to change his work life. With the low sal-
aries and arduous working conditions, it is not difficult to understand
why many employees trade in company life to become digital entrepre-
neurs. This risk-taking behaviour was discussed by many interviewees
as a distinction between younger workers in Taiwan and the more con-
servative outlook of their parents’ generation. There appeared to be a
consciousness among my interviewees that many parents are conserva-
tive and would worry about their children’s decision to become entre-
preneurs. The risk-averse attitude towards entrepreneurship is seen as
common among the Taiwanese, while American parents are perceived
as encouraging their children to try new things. After sharing how he
struggled with a previous failed startup, a serial entrepreneur explained:
72    
L. Wing-Fai

Parents don’t usually encourage their children to take risks … my parents


would say, you can go to work and have a regular income every month.
Why do you choose to do something with an uncertain outcome? But we
like risks. My business partners also like risks. My co-founder gave up a
job at the IBM. His family probably doesn’t appreciate that. It’s not easy
to find work with a large corporation, with an income of NTD130,000
a month, which is pretty good in Taiwan. We have to revolutionise. Our
parents may get angry but ultimately we should do what we want to do.

As this interviewee pointed out, the entrepreneurs—the majority of


whom are fairly young—have consciously chosen to accept the uncer-
tainty involved in being in the startup sector. The idea of revolution can
be interpreted as a new way of working and living that distinguishes
the younger generation from their parents, who are more risk-averse,
though the reasonably well-off seem to be supportive of their children’s
entrepreneurial experiment. The passion to create and to experiment
and freedom to do so were often cited as reasons for starting a busi-
ness. This idea of doing what one wants to do, giving up stability to
pursue something that is highly precarious, is culturally challenging
in an economy mostly founded on manufacturing. Many interviewees
mentioned family expectations that they should stay with a stable job
in a large corporations rather than taking the risk of starting a business.
This means sometimes startups have problems recruiting people to fill
key rolls, such as engineers. Having said that, many older Taiwanese
founded businesses after the Second World War and the arrival of the
KMT. Entrepreneurship, though risky, was the only way to earn money.
Nascent entrepreneurs from business families often stated that their
families were better at understanding their decision to start company.
Others interviewees viewed the excitement and learning opportuni-
ties of startups positively:

When I was working, I liked to run projects. From zero to a hundred.


It’s a great feeling and very exciting. That made me want to try this. I
was only 26 then, so I wondered if I could succeed. And the startup cost
was very low. I thought if it didn’t work after a couple of years, even if I
couldn’t get the money back, I’d have learned a lot. I talked to my boss.
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
73

He’d come back from Silicon Valley, so he was on my side, and he under-
stood that I wanted the challenge, to take the risk. (Male founder, media
subscription service)

In effect, digital entrepreneurship provides an opportunity to take con-


trol of one’s own life (often from leaving mundane work as an employee
for a large corporations) and to change society and culture. A young
female entrepreneur (dating site) rejected the corporate life, saying:

The boss may ask you to do things that you don’t want to do. Being your
own boss, if you choose to work eight, twelve hours a day, it’s your own
time. You have the freedom to control what you do.

Autonomy was presented as her main reason for becoming a startup


founder. A game programmer who worked as a freelancer and had his
own studio stated, ‘I don’t really fit into the big company culture. So
I work on my own. But, I do still work with a team. It’s virtual so I
can control my time and do what I like to do.’ For many, the control
and autonomy afforded by entrepreneurship and freelancing outweigh
the risks. One of my female interviewees stated that she could not
find a regular job as she was naturally ‘boss material.’ Others have also
expressed the fact that they did not like being controlled at work. This
finding was particularly prominent among the entrepreneurs in their
twenties. One female entrepreneur (streaming website) said she had
always done exactly what she wanted to do. Her parents wanted her to
stay with her previous company for a little longer, so she stayed with
the company for just over a year, but then left to start up a venture.
To some extent, this rejection of traditional work conditions signals a
new culture and it is engendered by the way technology has changed
our relationship to work. As one interviewee stated:

Technology is really just a tool. It should be a tool that serves our pur-
pose, not the other way round …You should work because it fulfils you,
not because you have to be a slave to your work or your job. I think suc-
cess is to achieve basic income as a guarantee for all citizens, regardless of
whether you choose to work or not. (Male entrepreneur, big data)
74    
L. Wing-Fai

This male founder wanted not only creative freedom but also greater
autonomy to choose where he worked and to control his time and work
content. His company allowed flexible working hours and one day a
week for the co-founders and employees to use as a ‘study day.’ As start-
ups usually have a small staff, many co-founders are able to adopt a new
kind of company structure. Some entrepreneurs are able to work flexi-
bly, fitting their work around their lifestyle, including childcare (see also
Chapter 3). Not only do entrepreneurs feel they are doing something
they are passionate about, they also believe they can control their com-
pany’s culture, and as such entrepreneurship offers an alternative to regi-
mented corporate culture.
While freedom is proffered as a reason for becoming an entre-
preneur, it is often balanced against other factors, such as the ‘public
good.’ A male founder of a consumer rights website stated: ‘Freedom
is not always good. I feel that self-discipline is also important. At the
very least I like to think that I’m doing something right.’ He went on to
explain that even if the service his company provided had not generated
income, it was benefitting society, which made him proud.
The analysis thus far demonstrates that the discourses around entre-
preneurship are always contextual, whether they are about national
characteristics, family traditions, generational differences or educational
backgrounds. Those in the sector can assert their creativity and their dif-
ference from the more traditional, conservative segment of society. The
emphasis on freedom from a conservative upbringing and education is
part of the discourse of entrepreneurial ideals, which include identifying
opportunities, experimenting and innovating (Stokes 2010). As part of
the discourse of risks and change, many founders intimated that they
saw entrepreneurship as a fundamental life choice:

The Taiwanese seem to think that they are only alive after work or dur-
ing the weekend. So my co-founders and I feel that starting a company
is a lifestyle choice. This is a choice to make our lives meaningful, to have
an impact. Other people don’t have to work in the evenings or at week-
ends, but we choose to work and give up our time. Entrepreneurship
is passion and responsibility. It is about persistence and growth. We
have a responsibility for other colleagues, for the consumers; we are
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
75

responsible for their expectations. (Female entrepreneur, personal health


products/e-commerce)

This long quotation sums up many of the reasons entrepreneurs told


me they chose to start their businesses. Escaping mundane work condi-
tions, doing something meaningful, and making an impact on society,
social responsibility and passion—these terms were repeatedly offered
by many of the interviewees. Most interviewees discursively dismissed
the idea that entrepreneurship is only about making a profit. This is part
of a worldview that is very different from their parents’ outlook. Among
the entrepreneurs I interviewed, many saw starting a company as a way
to understand their roles in life. In particular, the experience of the
startup culture was compared to the corporate environment. Working
for a company brings a regular salary, benefits and social status. The
female founder quoted above explained that ‘women may have another
choice: the family, being a full-time housewife. The majority of people
see their careers reflecting the role they play in life.’ The idea expressed
by my interviewee suggests that entrepreneurship reflects the search for
a meaningful role.
Before choosing to start a company, most of the digital entrepreneurs
in my study carefully weighed the risks against remaining in their pre-
vious work. Other personal factors were also relevant. A male entrepre-
neur (sports application) pointed out that working for others meant
often producing products that he did not feel passionate about. With
his own co-founded company, he was content that the team had cre-
ated something great, that they were ‘producing value.’ This gave him
a sense of achievement, even if his income was low. The choice between
stable employment with an established company and starting a business
venture is open to the relatively well off and is particularly appealing to
the younger workers. One of my interviewees began to prototype her
website while still working for another company. When she eventually
showed her parents what she was doing and gave up the job, her parents
were supportive. She decided to give her startup two years:

Success or failure in these two years won’t matter. If I fail, I am young


and I can return to study [for an advanced degree]. I can still have the
76    
L. Wing-Fai

opportunity to become a professor [Her parents were both teachers and


wanted her to become one] … I don’t like being told what to do. I like
finding out for myself. Lots of people go to work and complain about
the company, the salary, the boss. If you are going to complain, why don’t
you do what you like to do?

There were several factors in this young entrepreneur’s choice. She felt
that she was young enough to experiment; she did not like the tradi-
tional work environment, even if it was more stable; she chose to do
something she felt passionate about. It was also clear that her mid-
dle-class parents were supportive. We are beginning to see how age
intersects with class as factors in the decision of many of the younger
generation of entrepreneurs to start up their own businesses. Many
are also free of responsibilities which might prevent those from poorer
backgrounds from being able to walk away from stable employment.
Many founders in their twenties indicated that they thought of starting
a business as an experiment, a mindset not as common among the older
entrepreneurs with family responsibilities. This female entrepreneur
(makeover service) told me:

I feel that I’m still young and I want to try different things. A lot of peo-
ple are scared of failure, so they won’t try. I’m afraid, but I still want to try
it. I’m only in my twenties so I’ve got nothing to lose. If I succeed, it’s my
success, I’ll have learned many things … I’m not afraid of failure. I’ve got
the courage to chase my dreams. Some people will dream, but they don’t
dare to want.

Her view was that following one’s passion when still young is liberating,
something that speaks to the young and the creative. A male co-found-
ers of a driving application commented on how young entrepreneurs
are brave enough to chase after ‘cool dreams’ or exciting ideas. These
comments can be considered an indications of cultural change, a mes-
sage about the generation of start-uppers who are not afraid of embrac-
ing the precarity that come with entrepreneurship. They are part of the
first generation of Taiwanese who have grown up with the Internet and
mobile technology. They understand that many startup companies fail,
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
77

but they see entrepreneurship as a learning experience. The low cost of


starting an online business enables innovation by this group of younger,
relatively well-off entrepreneurs.
The influences of well-known digital entrepreneurs of global com-
panies is keenly felt, as when my interviewees mentioned Steve Jobs
(founder of Apple) and other American examples. A male founder (driv-
ing application) told me that he admired Steve Jobs and Apple prod-
ucts. He said, ‘Jobs is so cool. I want to be like him, to make cool things
and do something different.’ Many entrepreneurs in the Taiwanese
startup sector look to the success stories of American Internet corpo-
rations for inspiration. It can be argued that the entrepreneurs I inter-
viewed shared the kind of optimism that is seen in Silicon Valley.4 This
enthusiasm for the entrepreneurial spirit, defined as discovering and
making the most of opportunities, can be explained by the spread of
the neoliberal ideal (Ong 2006), which includes individualising the
response to political, economic and social issues. The changes that many
digital entrepreneurs want to bring about are not necessarily sought
through political activism on the public scale, but through the indi-
vidual act of making an impact through business. This female founder
(games) claimed that entrepreneurship itself is a kind of demand for
change, “If more and more people want to change, then the society will
change. It’s not about being angry with your parents, angry with your
government. But, can we start from ourselves?”
She expressed a sentiment similar to that of American president John
F. Kennedy who said in his inauguration address in 1961: ‘Ask not what
your country can do for you; ask what you can do to your country.’
Setting aside the nationalistic undertone, the idea is that individual
decisions, rather than direct political acts, are important in the quest
to make a difference. Numerous entrepreneurs in my study expressed
their enthusiasm for change and making a difference, as part of their
rationale for entrepreneurship. Many saw entrepreneurship as an indi-
vidualised solution to wider political and social conditions. The rheto-
ric of value, the worth of one’s own creative solutions, is an important
aspect of the ‘changing the world’ ethos of the startup culture I have
witnessed. Since the Sunflower Movement in 2014, people have looked
for an alternative to direct political action. The sense of exclusion from
78    
L. Wing-Fai

public life and yet opting to be in the more precarious position of entre-
preneurship define many in the 22k generation in Taiwan.

The parents want you to stay in the comfort zone. They hope you’ll
choose stability, to protect you. We are the 22k generation because we [as
a nation] failed to innovate. If we say that the young people are willing
to create new concepts, new products, the investors in Taiwan should be
able to support that and invest in us. We will change slowly. If we criticise
the government, why don’t we take action? (Male founder, online adver-
tising agency)

I was in the audience at a startup event when this founder talked about
the young, disaffected generation. However, what he offered was entre-
preneurship as an alternative to direct political action, and the audiences
applauded. Entrepreneurship for the relatively young in Taiwan pro-
vides an alternative to the more traditional hardware electronics indus-
tries and corporate life. Taking such a risk is proffered as a life choice to
be carried out with passion. Entrepreneurship provides autonomy and
freedom for a generation who aspire to neoliberal ideals and see these
individual choices as a form of personal empowerment. In the conclud-
ing chapter, I shall return to an analysis of the political meaning of this
emerging startup culture.

Concluding Remarks
Digital entrepreneurship in Taiwan reflects a shift in society. It is mostly
carried out by a generation that has known life only after martial law
and under democratic governance. Digital and mobile startups are pre-
dominately founded by male entrepreneurs and their colleagues, many
of whom identify with the tech geek or nerd identity. Members of
startup teams tend to have close relationships with each other, as found-
ers choose to work with people they know from university or a previous
workplace. Their shared cultural, educational and social capital gener-
ates trust and engenders homophily. Startup entrepreneurs often liken
their closeness with their fellow founders to a family relationship.
2  Family Metaphor, the Geek and the Entrepreneurial Ideal    
79

While most of the nascent companies in my survey were not fam-


ily businesses in the traditional sense, the decision by entrepreneurs to
begin a risky venture affects their immediate families, especially those
who have responsibilities towards partners and children. The family of
origin also affects the younger generations in their decision to pursue
entrepreneurship. Many of my interviewees came from business families
in Taiwan and therefore had a sense of the positive and negative aspects
of startups. At the same time, as Taiwanese middle-class families have
become increasingly affluent, the 22k generation does not have financial
responsibility towards their parents, and are free to pursue an entrepre-
neurial dream denied to those from poorer background.
Digital entrepreneurs in Taiwan share the neoliberal ideal prevalent in
the West, an ideology that privileges individualism. While few entrepre-
neurs are forced out of stable jobs, many are adversely affected by lack
of opportunity, a low salary and work pressure, leading them to seek
greater autonomy and control of their own careers. Risk taking, doing
good and ‘changing the world’ are given as rationales for digital entre-
preneurship. From the analysis presented in this chapter, it is apparent
that age, class and gender are personal characteristics which influence
the start-uppers’ choice to participate in digital entrepreneurship, as well
as who they choose to found their companies with and how they view
their ambition in a world of risks and business opportunities.

Notes
1. https://worldcompetitiveness.imd.org/countryprofile/TW. Accessed 13
February 2017. Taiwan ranked third in the Asia Pacific region in 2016.
2. www.104.com.tw. This is one of the most established ‘job bank’ websites
in Taiwan, used by both recruiters and jobseekers.
3. The English equivalent is ‘Better be the head of a dog than the tail of a
lion.’
4. See also Introduction for a brief discussion of the ‘change the world’
optimism of the startup sector.
80    
L. Wing-Fai

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Based Creative Labour in the UK Film Industry.” Studies in the Maternal
5, no. 2 (2013). http://www.mamsie.bbk.ac.uk/documents/Wreyford_
SiM_5(2)2013.pdf.
Wu, Rong-I, and Chung-Che Huang. “Entrepreneurship in Taiwan: Turning
Point to Restart.” In Entrepreneurship in Asia, 1–17. Washington, DC: The
Mansfield Foundation, 2003.
Yeh, Kuang Shih, and Li-Chin Tsao. “A Network Analysis of Ownership
Succession of Family Owned Business.” Journal of Management 13, no. 2
(1996): 197–225.
3
Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a
Gendered Culture

Introduction
Technology education, careers and entrepreneurship in Taiwan are
dominated by men, as they are in Europe and the USA. Taiwan ranked
16th in the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Index1 but only 26th in the
Female Entrepreneurship Index (Terjesen and Lloyd 2015). According
to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor women’s entrepreneurial activ-
ity was only half that of men’s in Taiwan in 2015.2 I have previously
argued that the gender inequality of the sector is partly the result of the
fact that small new enterprises rely on family and close social networks
built on shared social, cultural and educational capital for support
(Leung 2016; see also Chapter 2). The male dominance in technical
education and careers means that few women are able to join the sector
with male friends and colleagues. Among my female interviewees, half
started their nascent companies with their husbands or male partners
(what I am calling husband and wife teams) for reasons of trust and also
because men are more likely to have the technical skills. In this sense,
women’s participation in the startup companies has not changed vastly
from their role as ‘the boss’s wife’ in the more traditional industries

© The Author(s) 2019 85


L. Wing-Fai, Digital Entrepreneurship, Gender and Intersectionality,
Dynamics of Virtual Work, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97523-8_3
86    
L. Wing-Fai

(Lu 2001). In this chapter I seek to understand women’s participation


in the tech sector in Taiwan as entrepreneurs and workers and the chal-
lenges they face.

Gendered Culture and Entrepreneurship


Technology’s ability to enable more equal access to the Internet can
open up opportunities for both men and women to start compa-
nies that utilise the digital sphere. Judy Wajcman states that ‘cyber-
feminism conceives of the virtuality of cyberspace and the Internet
as spelling the end of the embodied basis for sex difference and thus
liberating for women’ (2006, p. 7). She also suggests that the relation-
ship between women and technology is changing due to feminist poli-
tics rather than because of the advancement of technology per se. These
views represent a degree of optimism. In relation to work, the labour
market is still clearly characterised by a hierarchical sexual division of
IT skills and expertise (p. 14). Women are under-represented in the
technical sector, are assumed to be less technical, and when they gain
work in the sector they often take on gendered roles, such as project
and people management (Guerrier et al. 2009; Michie and Nelson
2006; Trauth 2002; Wajcman 2007). Women’s under-representation in
computing work is often attributed to a masculine-gendered, laddish
culture, where men hang out with those similar to them (Panteli et al.
2001, p. 12). In Silicon Valley and other startup ecosystems, venture
capitalists (VCs) typically prefer to fund young ‘alpha-male’ types over
and above more experienced female entrepreneurs (Bury 2010, p. 233).
One of Rhiannon Bury’s female respondents argued that VCs do not
care whether or not young male ‘geniuses’ have business skills because
they want to mould them.
Within the technical sector, women are under-represented in man-
agement, technical, network support, and operations work but highly
represented in systems, analysis programming, and help desk (user
support) work (Panteli et al. 2001, p. 9). A disproportionate number
of women are in part-time, promotion restricted roles (p. 10). If tech
sector roles are divided into hard (technical) and soft (people-facing)
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
87

areas, women are over-represented in soft roles and under-represented in


hard roles. This is especially true of older women who may have taken
time off to have children and may have worked part-time while the
children were young, a choice that is often seen as an indication that
they are not committed to the organisation (p. 10). Although the rep-
resentation of women in tech careers varies among different roles, they
are generally paid less (for instance, women aged 40–44 typically earn
85% of what men earn) than men for similar jobs (p. 10). Meanwhile,
‘women can use innate sociality, empathy and caring traits to the ben-
efit of firm performance’ (Marlow 2014, p. 114). Women’s ‘choices of
career pathways, technical skill set, age and experience are factors that
affect career progression and job satisfaction in a masculinist culture of
computing’ (Bury 2010, p. 223). The kind of roles that most women
take up include writing, editing, communications, PR, marketing, office
administration, customer service, content management and librarian-
ship (p. 226). Technical skills and masculinity are assumed to be essen-
tially linked. Alison Adams and colleagues suggest that women must
‘develop a number of strategies to cope with the challenge that they feel
is being made to their own gender identities and those of the men with
whom they work’; they either distance themselves from IT work or dis-
tance themselves from their gender identities (2006, p. 368), which may
include adopting more masculine clothes or masking their femininity in
order to fit in.
Joan Acker (1992, p. 11), using an organisational studies approach,
states that there are four sets of processes which constitute the gen-
dered organisation: (1) job segregation, rewards, power and hierarchi-
cal distribution; (2) the generation of symbols and consciousness; (3)
multiple daily interactions within and between the sexes; and (4) the
internal construction of perceptions and interpretations of the gen-
dered structure of work and opportunity (see also Introduction). Acker
explains women’s low occupational grades (compared to men) by the
gendered organisational structure and the stereotyping of women’s tasks
and positions (pp. 12–13). In the tech sector, long working hours, pre-
senteeism and gendered informal networks are also the norm (Griffiths
et al. 2007), factors that prevent many from accessing it. Lisa Adkins
describes this kind of work environment as a premodern occupational
88    
L. Wing-Fai

structure which is built on networks, reciprocity and informality leading


to the exclusion of women (Adkins 1999, p. 126). These practices help
explain the male-dominated networks in the startup scene I detailed in
Chapter 2.
The rise of the Internet and mobile sector can be seen to level the
playing field by offering low-cost startup opportunities to many, includ-
ing female entrepreneurs who might previously have been excluded
from the digital sector. The optimism, however, is not often reflected
in the reality of female entrepreneurship in the digital sphere. Empirical
research has found that the hierarchy that exists offline crosses over to
the digital sphere, and female entrepreneurs often suffer discrimination
in the startup sector (Leung 2016; Martinez Dy et al. 2016). When
women engage in digital entrepreneurship, they tend to focus on highly
feminised cultural production (such as fashion, beauty and shopping
websites). Brooke Erin Duffy defines the concept of ‘aspirational labour’
as ‘a forward-looking, carefully orchestrated, and entrepreneurial form
of creative cultural production’ (2015, p. 446). This kind of cultural
and creative work can be explained by the postfeminist ethos of doing
what you love (p. 442) and having passion in the workplace (Tokumitsu
2015). Duffy also asserts that there is a class dimension in that most
digital entrepreneurs are young, white recent graduates who downplay
their social and economic capital in order to appear ‘authentic’ to ‘real
women’ (2015, p. 449).
For women who have family commitments such as childcare, it can
be challenging to balance motherhood and work/entrepreneurship
(Ekinsmyth 2013; Knight 2016). To maintain a new media career is
extremely difficult for women with childcare responsibilities unless there
is ‘a radical restructuring of heterosexual gender relations’ (Gill 2002, p.
84). Men are generally more able to maintain the ‘bulimic’ patterns of
overwork followed by under-employment (Ross 2009) that can charac-
terise the early years of a tech career. Coupled with this is the need to
network and remain knowledgeable about what goes on in the sector,
which is difficult for those who do not share social and cultural capi-
tal with others in the mainstream tech sector. Jayawarna and colleagues
assert that ‘educated women in their childbearing years favour employ-
ment due to its greater provision of maternity and childcare protection’
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
89

(Jayawarna et al. 2014, p. 291). The scarcity of women entrepreneurs


with childcare responsibilities can be partly explained by their unwill-
ingness to leave stable employment and its related benefits and support.
In the case of women who set up companies with their (male) part-
ners, the personal relationship and the business operation are likely to
impact on each other. Adkins asserts that married teams mobilise the
relations between the partners (husbands and wives) and the ‘produc-
tion of goods and services in such establishments are significantly based
on family relations of appropriation; or on what might be regarded
as non-market, non-cash nexus, traditional relations’ (Adkins 1999,
p. 130, original italics). In such cases, women often work long hours
under no formal contract and without pay. Women’s career patterns are
shaped by both domestic labour arrangements and workplace factors
(Castaño and Webster 2011, p. 364).
Taking into account this wealth of existing knowledge about women’s
participation in the technical sector and women who are entrepreneurs,
several research strategies have been developed to examine the complex-
ity of female entrepreneurship. Karen Hughes and colleagues consider
the research thus far to mostly focus on the main differences between
men and women (Hughes et al. 2012, p. 432). They delineate four dif-
ferent perspectives. The individualistic explanation/objectivist model
seeks to explain firm performance according to the different strategies
used by male and female entrepreneurs. The contextual explanation/
objectivist model considers the different working and work-life condi-
tions in various countries. The individualistic explanation/construction-
ist approach examines how men and women construct entrepreneurship
and growth and how they understand opportunities. Finally the con-
textual/constructionist approach studies resource acquisition in differ-
ent contexts and how gender roles are reconstructed in time and space.
The writers conclude that feminist perspectives are needed. The current
study triangulates several aspects of these approaches to consider con-
text from a subjective/constructionist approach, which examines the
experiences of the entrepreneurs themselves as a specific practice that
is fully located in a national culture. In doing so, I seek to understand
gender divisions, the experiences of the entrepreneurs and the discourse
of gender.
90    
L. Wing-Fai

Women’s entrepreneurial activities are affected by family relations


and influenced by offline hierarchies based on personal characteristics.
Martinez Dy and colleagues consider how gender, race and ethnic-
ity intersectionally affect the experience of female entrepreneurs, both
inside and outside of the digital sphere. They propose the use of a crit-
ical realist approach to address the relationship between structure and
agency, where structure is the ‘durable relationships that position, con-
strain and/or enable’ individuals (Martinez Dy et al. 2014, p. 462). The
social positioning of individuals is not static but is rather a continuous
process that is negotiated through agency. To employ a critical realist
approach therefore involves considering the subtle differences that
explain the ‘experiences of privilege and oppression’ (p. 462). Despite
the fact that these products and services of digital entrepreneurs are
virtually produced and distributed, the personal characteristics of the
entrepreneurs and other new media workers affect their business expe-
riences. Women continue to focus on goods and services that are aimed
at a female market, and they are most likely to take on people-facing
roles, such as project management, administration and marketing.
Gender, class, family and childcare responsibilities continue to impact
on knowledge workers and nascent entrepreneurs. Because of these
intersectional factors, a complex approach to understanding the experi-
ences of digital entrepreneurs is needed, in which subjectivities, agency,
contexts and national culture are combined to explain the subject
through a critical realist lens (Martinez Dy et al. 2014, p. 462). Such
an approach is adopted in this chapter, and it will be utilised to answer
these four research questions in relation to female digital entrepreneurs:

1. What are the characteristics of female entrepreneurs?


2. What kinds of businesses do female entrepreneurs found?
3. What kinds of experiences do female entrepreneurs have in setting up
new businesses?
4. Through an analysis of the first three questions, what can we under-
stand in relation to the discourses of female entrepreneurship in Taiwan?

During my fieldwork in 2014, I targeted female entrepreneurs in my


sampling of interviewees. In 2016, during my second substantive
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
91

period of fieldwork, I attended eight industry events and five Girls in


Tech (GIT) events as a participant-observer, and I visited four co-work-
ing spaces in Taipei and three co-working spaces in Hong Kong. This
chapter relies heavily on the series of the GIT activities I attended.
The organisation was founded in August 2015 in Taiwan. So far it has
organised and hosted a series of events, sometimes in conjunction with
other industry partners. It offers monthly meetings, and has initiated
training programmes (boot camps and hackathons) and a mentorship
(as of 2016). The byline of the organisation—‘Women. Technology.
Entrepreneurship’—shows why I chose to participate in the organisation
while on fieldwork. Girls in Tech is a relatively new initiative in Taiwan,
but by the summer of 2016 it had hosted 32 activities in eight months.
GIT, a mainly middle-class, professional organisation, campaigns for
equality for female tech workers and entrepreneurs in Taiwan. However,
although only a quarter of the attendees of the GIT events I went to
were men, more men than women spoke publicly at these events. At the
August 2016 meeting, five men and two women asked questions during
the question-and-answer session. As will be discussed throughout the
chapter, these types of observation relate to the confidence of men in the
sector, and the gendered behaviour can be understood through an analy-
sis of the entrenched gender discourse within the startup ecosystem.

Women and Technology in Taiwan


In 1981, 38% of women in Taiwan over age 15 were in the labour
force, and this had risen to about 48% in 2015 (Directorate-General of
Budget, Accounting and Statistics 2016). Women in Taiwan have tradi-
tionally sacrificed their educational and career aspirations for others in
the family. In the 1970s, when the country first became industrialised,
young, unmarried women took manufacturing jobs in order to support
their families, and sometimes specifically to allow their brothers to con-
tinue their education (Diamond 1979). In a recent study by UNESCO
(2017) of gender gaps in science and maths in secondary schools,
Taiwan was the 11th worst out of 47 countries, while Hong Kong was
the fourth and South Korea ranked the tenth worst.
92    
L. Wing-Fai

How marriage and having children have traditionally affected wom-


en’s careers is dependent on the job status of both wives and husbands,
as well as on gender role attitudes, such as the views of motherhood,
and the husband’s ethnic background. These factors have important
effects on women’s decisions in regard to their job market participation
(Chang 2006). Women complete more housework, and if they have
children, engaged in more childcare. Despite the 2002 Act of Gender
Equality in Employment, women working for private employers may
not receive the statutory maternity benefits (Chang 2006, p. 212).
Women in manufacturing earned about 66% of men’s wage levels in
2001 (p. 213). Most of the owners of small and medium-sized enter-
prises (SMEs) were men. Their wives were usually expected to assist the
family enterprise by giving up their own career, and many women were
also likely to give up work upon marriage, pregnancy or the birth of
their children (pp. 214–15). Married women might work without the
title of being recognised as the owner or receiving pay (Yu and Su 2004,
p. 397), much like the situation described by Adkins (1999, p. 130).
The workforce of the service sector has been predominantly female,
and women’s self-employment in this sector has increased (Yu and Su
2004). Unlike the mass-production factories in other Asian territories
(e.g. Hong Kong of the 1960s and 1970s), factories in Taiwan often
produced parts, allowing for a high number of family business units
with small capital investments (Yu and Su 2004, p. 393). ‘Strong ties
in self-employment, regardless of whether they serve as contributing
family workers, increase the survival rates of self-employment’ (p. 415).
While for immigrants and minorities, employment at large firms was
closed off due to structural constraints (p. 394), there was ‘easy entry’
into self-employment by ‘black hands’ (blue collar workers) who were
less educated than the employed (p. 406) because the small businesses
they started often required low capital investments and little skills. Poor
working conditions, such as non-unionised workplaces, low job security
and poor benefits, also prompted skilled and unskilled self-employment
(p. 411). Data from the mid-1990s showed that Women entrepreneurs
were highly concentrated in the service industry; 45.9% of them were
hairdressers and beauticians or provided other personal services. More
men were in executive and directors positions (55.5%) than women
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
93

(29.8%), but more women were managers and administrators (19.1%)


than men (11.5%) (pp. 400–401).
The feminist movement in Taiwan has been largely a top-down
phenomenon, beginning with elite women in the Kuomintang ruling
party from the 1940s to the 1970s. It was then taken up by women in
academic and cultural circles who were concerned with gender equal-
ity. It was only in the mid-1990s that the feminist movement entered
the mainstream in Taiwan (Lin 2008). The women’s movement of
the 1990s was more active than before, and women’s organisations
gained greater access to the government when the Commission on the
Promotion of Women’s Rights was established in 1995. The movement
has been primarily aligned with political parties, policy makers and pro-
tests, and changes have been mostly imposed from the top. Feminism
in Taiwan has not yet penetrated to the grassroots level, and bottom-up
demand is not high. Although educational and work opportunities
for women have increased since the equality legislation in 2002, there
has also been entrenched oppression. Jens Damm (2015) suggests that
this is because of fear that feminism is a threat to ‘conservative fam-
ily values’ that combine Christian values and more traditional Han
(Hakka) values. Similarly, when the economy is poor, women are more
likely to be discriminated against in the labour market.
The importance of family lineage, and the influence of Confucian
ethics in China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan partly explains the
persistence of traditional gender role attitudes (Raymo et al. 2015),
though there are also differences between these countries. South Korea
and Taiwan have experienced sharply declining birth rates. These two
countries, along with Japan, are all ‘aged societies’ (Sechiyama 2013,
p. 278). At the same time, women’s labour participation has been stag-
nant (Lee 2017; Takeuchi and Tsutsui 2016). Among these four East
Asian countries, Taiwan is the most positive in terms of female labour, but
traditional attitudes towards gender roles prevail in the home, more so
than in Japan and South Korea (Lee 2017, p. 77). Regarding work-family
organisation in terms of childcare, 80% of people across the four coun-
tries favour the father working full time and the mother not working
or working only part time, and one in ten (a little more in China and
Taiwan) think that both parents should work full time (Lee 2017, p. 78).
94    
L. Wing-Fai

In Taiwan the majority worry that family life will suffer if women work
full time (p. 84), while, contradictorily, three quarters of respondents dis-
agree that the family would suffer if the mother works at all and more
than half disagree with specialised gender roles (p. 83). Therefore, in
Taiwan, ‘female homemaking roles are not necessarily perceived as com-
plementary to (or as a substitute for) female income-earning roles’ (p.
77), and women are expected to contribute to family income (p. 83). In
other words, in China and Taiwan women are supposed to fulfil contra-
dictory roles (economic contributor and housewife) (Yang 2016). In the
PRC, traditional Chinese cultural norms were revived in the 1980s with a
state policy encouraging married women to leave work and ‘return home’
to become full-time homemakers (Sechiyama 2013, p. 279). Women in
China generally hold more traditional views than those in Taiwan (Chia
et al. 1997). Men’s participation in household chores is greater in the
China and Taiwan than in South Korea and Japan, and this can also be
explained by gender role attitudes (Hsu 2008). Respondents in Taiwan
are more egalitarian about education and political and economic leader-
ship (Yang 2016). Overall, there has been relatively little change in gen-
der role attitudes in East Asia, compared to the more equal division of
domestic labour, especially among young couples in Western countries
(Goldscheider et al. 2015). These studies indicate that people in East
Asia support women’s participation in the labour market but still expect
women to carry out traditional gender roles within the home. How do
digital entrepreneurs themselves think about gender roles and the partici-
pation of women in this new type of economy?

The Female Entrepreneurs


Due to homophily and the social networks within the sector (detailed
in Chapter 2), it is difficult for women to be part of close-knit startup
teams. When I attended an event for a startup funding scheme and
interviewed several of the female attendees, one pointed to the room
and said:
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
95

There are few women in this sector, so I am not that active in networking
… You can see that 80 to 90 percent in this social circle are men. They
are probably already connected from previous occasions, other networks.
Women need to be more proactive to join in these social networks.
(Founder, messaging service)

This female entrepreneur’s comment illustrates the way networking


often works in the startup scene, which also explains the domination of
men in the sector. As a participant-observer at numerous industry gath-
erings during my fieldwork, I too felt that most of the industry events I
attended were very male-dominated, and as a woman it was often dif-
ficult to join a conversation. While I gradually got to know some peo-
ple within the sector and occasionally met them at these events, I still
felt uncomfortable in networks that were, as the above founder stated,
already entrenched. These networks reflect social ties, usually through
education and previous work. Several of my female interviewees talked
about prejudice that barred them from joining certain networks and
hampered their ability to represent their companies. A female inter-
viewee (co-founder of a games startup with her husband) explained that
women’s technical ability is often doubted in the business world, but
she stated, ‘If others don’t give me a chance … I have a very good [male]
partner. So on lots of occasions, he can go out and represent the com-
pany.’ It would seem that despite being co-founders, women entrepre-
neurs like her defer to their male partners to represent their businesses.
A few of my interviewees related experiences of direct discrimination;
this female techie in a product development role said:

I am the only woman in a male team. I always have to prove myself in


order to work with men who think they are better than me. It’s difficult
to claim discrimination because I have to communicate and work with
them. (Interview during GIT meeting, 14 May 2016)

The need to network and maintain good working relationship makes


it difficult for women to raise the issue of discriminatory practices.
Women’s participation in the workplace is construed as interfering
with their ability to have a home life and take care of children, if they
96    
L. Wing-Fai

have any. Melissa Guzy (Arbor Ventures) was one of the guests during a
Silicon Dragon Salon event in Hong Kong (2 June 2016). When asked
whether women in venture capital really made a difference to women’s
participation in startups, she replied that diversity matters because con-
sumers are diverse, so if VCs are too homogeneous, there will be less
able to access certain markets. She acknowledged that female partners
in venture capital firms were still in the minority. Jenny Lee (GGV
Capital), who was present at the same event, stated that investors bring
resources and personal aptitude to the startups they fund, and there-
fore women VCs offer specific advantages and values to their invested
companies. She asserted that conditions for women in investment had
already changed. For example, 15 years ago women who wanted to get
into the sector would be expected ‘to learn golf ’ [in order to socialise
with male colleagues], but that is no longer the case. Guzy admitted,
however, that there was not enough discussion about gender and diver-
sity among venture capital firms, while she also commented that ‘it’s
the wrong way to think about [diversity by ensuring there are women].’
She went on to explain that her firm did not ‘invest based on gender,’
even though four out of six of the partners were women. When asked
about her response to alpha males in the sector, she simply said that
men usually toned down their demeanour when they faced a female
VC, and she basically refused to deal with men who were rude and
dismissive. Despite recognising the business case for women’ participa-
tion in the sector, Guzy refused to proactively support women. Rather,
women who hold relative positions of power (e.g. access to venture cap-
ital fund), such as Guzy, often feel that women are not excluded from
opportunities within the sector because of structural discrimination but
they have not been funded because of their business ideas or products.
Despite the opinion of women like Guzy who suggested that the sec-
tor is open to entrepreneurs of both genders, from the data discussed in
this and the previous chapter, we can deduce that women are excluded
from close-knit teams in the startup culture, resulting in a dispropor-
tionate number of women who participate in tech entrepreneurship
with their husbands or male partners. Among those I interviewed in
2014, nine had founded companies with their husbands, representing
exactly half of the female founders I interviewed. All but one married
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
97

woman were in husband and wife teams, which suggests that married
women seldom start companies by themselves. The other eight women
who founded companies were unmarried or single and without chil-
dren. Among those I re-interviewed in 2016, one female entrepreneur
had had a child in the meantime, but, exceptionally, she continued to
run her business. One of the husband and wife teams had had a baby,
and the female founder no longer worked with her husband. In this
instance, the couple’s startup had ceased operations, and the husband
had taken up a job with another tech company. These examples indicate
that female entrepreneurs are similar to women who work in traditional
small family businesses: most support their partners’ advancement and
sacrifice their own careers as the family grows.
As my colleagues and I suggest in an article on film and television
workers in the UK, women are often expected to shoulder the child-
care responsibility, which is unmanageable for the workers and unspeak-
able in the workplace (Leung et al. 2015). I want to employ the word
‘unspeakable’ in two ways. In this section, I discuss the first meaning.
Female workers feel that they cannot talk about their childcare respon-
sibilities without risking their jobs. Even wanting to have children may
be questioned in a sector that demands long hours and presenteeism,
and whether women have children or not, it is assumed that it may
become a ‘problem,’ while the same is not true for men who have chil-
dren (Wreyford 2013, p. 1).
As Chapter 2 shows, however, the men and women I interviewed
were open to talking about their childcare responsibilities. For exam-
ple, one of the female entrepreneurs (designer goods) had a female
employee with children. She allowed the employee time off when her
child was sick and allowed her to bring the children to the studio dur-
ing the summer. In Taiwan, despite the fact that after-school care and
other classes are relatively expensive, many parents place their children
there until very late in the evening, leaving little time for the fam-
ilies to be together. It is not only entrepreneurs who find it difficult
to balance family, childcare and work. This is reflected in the fact that
Taiwan has a very low total fertility rate of 1.12 children born to one
woman (2016 estimate according to the CIA fact book; this is below
replacement rate).3 A 2010 comparison between Taiwan and China,
98    
L. Wing-Fai

Japan and South Korea finds that the fertility rate in Taiwan was
0.9, and the mean age at first marriage was 31.8 years for men and
29.2 years for women (Raymo et al. 2015, p. 8.4). The later marriage
age in Taiwan was comparable to that in Japan and Korea, though
the fertility rates in these countries were higher (1.4 for Japan, 1.2 for
Korea). In China, the ages for first marriage were lower (26 for men,
23.1 for women) and the fertility rate was 1.6. The divorce rates was
1.8/1000 in China, 1.9 in Japan, 2.3 in Korea and 2.4 in Taiwan (p.
8.8). Late marriage and low fertility rates are indicative of the contra-
dictory expectations women face regarding marriage, childbearing and
career (p. 8.9). James Raymo and colleagues state that ‘East Asian mar-
riages continue to be characterized by expectation of rapid transition
to parenthood, a highly asymmetric division of domestic labor, and
strong expectations of intensive mothering and maternal facilitation of
children’s success in school’ (p. 8.10), while despite these expectations,
many women choose to work outside the home.
In 2014, only two of the nine husband and wife teams in my study
had a child. One female founder told me that working freelance allowed
her to take care of her daughter. Many women in the sector accept that
there will be difficult choices to make because there is an assumption
that women are the only ones who struggle with balancing childcare
and work. It is not unusual for women to give up their businesses when
they have children. Anita Huang of Taiwan Startup Stadium acknowl-
edges that there are challenges for female entrepreneurs, especially those
with children, and that when considering entrepreneurship women have
to think about traditional expectations. Huang is a single parent, and
her own history as an entrepreneur included a three-year break for her
to focus on her children. There is a tacit acknowledgement that work-
life balance is nearly impossible for female entrepreneurs because of the
contradictory demands of their work and traditional gender roles. Anna
Fang (partner, ZhenFund, investment firm) stated clearly:

I don’t believe in work-life balance. I made a choice—I don’t think I


spend enough time with my son but there’s no perfect solution. That’s the
choice I have to make. The nursery is across from my office and I sneak
out for an hour during the day to see him, and I employ a nanny. But
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
99

there’s no perfect solution. (Women in Venture Capital, Silicon Dragon


Salon, Hong Kong, 2 June 2016)

Rather than demanding change in the sector, Zhang implies that the
work environment is unlikely to change to accommodate women, so
women individually have to make difficult choices. There seems to be
no corresponding expectation that men need to do the same, which
can be conceptualised as ‘unspeakable inequality’ (Gill 2014). The con-
sciousness conveyed in this comment reflects a postfeminist sensibility,
specifically concerning individualism, choice and empowerment (Gill
2007). Although Rosalind Gill focuses her arguments on postfeminism
in popular culture, the concept is relevant here in that while women
have achieved a degree of equality, they are autonomous subjects who
are ‘demanded by neoliberalism’ to negotiate with individual choices
(Gill 2007, p. 154). In the following discussion, the reassertion of sex-
ual difference (p. 158)—justification for traditional gender role atti-
tudes—will also become apparent. The idea that there are natural sexual
differences that cannot be overcome explains why people accept inevita-
ble, separate roles for men and women with little collective demand for
change. In this way, as Gill suggests, ‘postfeminism constructs an artic-
ulation or suture between feminist and anti-feminist ideas, and this is
effected entirely through a grammar of individualism that fits perfectly
with neoliberalism’ (p. 162).
Few women in the startup sector discuss whether their (male) partners
are able to support them or if they too make sacrifices or find it impos-
sible to balance their work and home lives. However, as mentioned in
Chapter 2, an over-emphasis on women’s difficulty in achieving work-
life balance obscures the fact that many male founders in the sector face
a similar issue and have to consider their work commitments and their
effects on the family as well, even if the expectation on them may have
been different. I had a lengthy discussion with a female entrepreneur
who was not married and did not have children. She talked about the
idea of ‘having it all’ and referred to Facebook Chief Operating Officer
Sheryl Sandberg, who had raised the issue of family and children in the
American context. This entrepreneur felt that women could never have it
all and there would always be hard choices to make.
100    
L. Wing-Fai

During these two years, I have realised that if you have to be highly
devoted to the profession and being a business owner, then … hav-
ing children is one question and the role you play in the [nuclear] fam-
ily is another. I have to be realistic. It depends on the woman to choose
because there is no [work-life] balance. Everyone wants work-life balance,
but I think there will never be balance.

She thought, though, that entrepreneurship offers good working con-


ditions for women because it challenges traditional work and profes-
sional structures. As she was a founder, no one controlled her and told
her what to do. Balance, family, children and work are all topics that a
female entrepreneur needs to consider. This interviewee was over 30 and
felt that perhaps she had to give up on the traditional idea of family and
children if she continued to be the co-owner of the company.
This can be compared to a study of ‘mumpreneurs’ that found they
feel spatially constrained and isolated, and some suffer from workahol-
ism, all leading to ‘a negative impact on home-space and family lives’
(Ekinsmyth 2013). Although some female start-uppers highlight the
flexibility of entrepreneurship, there is an assumption of the unmanage-
ability of childcare for women entrepreneurs. This is in despite of the
fact that the Taiwanese traditionally rely on the extensive family for sup-
port, including help from grandparents. Similarly, the long school day
and the prevalence of after-school clubs and care are helpful for work-
ing parents. The couple I interviewed in 2014 and 2016 who had had
a child between the two periods and folded their company are another
indication that women with children are unlikely to become or remain
entrepreneurs. This supports the gender role attitudes that I have previ-
ously discussed.
Many single and unmarried female entrepreneurs accept that the
challenges of starting a company mean that it is not a career choice
compatible with the traditional expectations for women. This was con-
firmed by a married female founder who told me: ‘My father is okay
with [my entrepreneurship] because he was also a businessman. My
mother thinks I am not too responsible to my [nuclear] family by mess-
ing about with these things.’ This interviewee was a rare example of a
female entrepreneur who was married, had children and did not start
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
101

her business with her husband. The founder’s husband, who had a stable
job, was supportive of her entrepreneurship, though. It was her mother
who expressed the more traditional view of the incompatibility between
home life and outside employment for women. Her involvement in
entrepreneurship was seen as a challenge to traditional women’s roles, as
she went on to explain:

Women should have family. Traditionally men are more likely to take on
risky jobs. So, with me, a lot of people ask, ‘What are you doing? Why
are you not at home with your children?’ I don’t take much notice of
them. But very few women are likely to think like I do. Everyone knows,
when you have a baby, you don’t even get any sleep in the first year, so
how can you start a business? I have two children. When I get home,
I am so tired. [Sigh]

Although she admitted to the difficulties of caring for her children


and starting a business, this entrepreneur did not think the combina-
tion was impossible. Rather, her mother and others suggested that her
business venture and her role in the family were incompatible, while
feeling that men are ‘naturally’ more predisposed to taking risks. This
shows that women internalise the sexism that exists within the gender
discourse and often assume that having children and running a business
at the same time is unmanageable (Gill 2014). Other interviewees also
suggested that it is more unusual for married women to be involved in
startup entrepreneurship. One of the single female founders (designer
household furniture) commented that Asian women are expected to
get married and have a family. Her startup made her an exception,
as did the fact that she did not feel the need to be married. Instead,
entrepreneurship allowed her to encounter new experiences, which she
cherished. However, she also seemed to accept the gender discourse
that being an entrepreneur is not compatible with meeting the expec-
tations of being a married woman. Another female entrepreneur (per-
sonal health products/e-commerce) faced the same attitude from her
mother, who thought that a happy ending for her daughter would be
marriage and family. Her mother worried about the risk and level of
commitment involved in starting a business like hers. This interviewee
102    
L. Wing-Fai

had previously worked in a large corporate office. Her mother assumed


that she had more opportunities to meet a suitable marriage partner as
an office employee, while being an entrepreneur made her a less eligible
candidate for marriage.
Although fewer women start Internet and mobile technology busi-
nesses, there is little evidence that women with children cannot be
startup founders. In 2016 one of the female entrepreneurs I re-inter-
viewed had had a baby, and she had adjusted her work accordingly. She
explained: ‘I have to focus on one thing at a time. The [eight-month-old
baby] has taken up all my time. So I have to slow down.’ She had child-
care help from her mother, and her partner’s work was relatively flexi-
ble. She went to her business every day to work, although not ‘nine to
five.’ When I asked her if she had considered a stable job with another
company for her or her partner, she said she could not simply drop her
business and find another job though they had thought about it. She
explained that ‘there’s a reason why I want to open a business, because
I can’t work for other people.’ This interviewee’s experience reflects
entrenched traditional gender role attitudes rather than reality, as many
women combine entrepreneurship with family life.
Of the husband and wife teams I interviewed, the majority were
made up of husbands in technical roles and the women in manage-
rial positions. Job segregation can be explained by the gender division
described in Acker’s thesis on the gendered organisation. Through
interviewing husband and wife teams, I am able to analyse the daily
interactions between the partners, and understand their perceptions of
the gendered structure of entrepreneurship (1992, p. 11). Most of the
male founders of the husband and wife teams were from computing
or engineer backgrounds, leaving the female partners to adopt execu-
tive and secretarial roles. Only two of the women entrepreneurs I inter-
viewed (both in husband and wife teams) had technical roles (one as
a graphic designer, the other as a games programmer). Many female
partners in husband and wife teams accept the gendered division of
labour and defer to their male colleagues when it comes to technical
matters or representation of the company. This gender division is also
seen in other teams with mixed genders. When I re-interviewed one of
my male informants in 2016, he folded his previous company but had
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
103

since founded another with his wife and a friend. His wife was a suc-
cessful entrepreneur herself, but now she worked with her husband. My
interviewee told me that he assumed the decision-making role, while
she would carry out those decisions. This is an example of how female
entrepreneurs are often subordinate to their male partners within the
companies.
I am particularly interested in the daily interactions and the views
of husband and wife teams on how they worked together and how set-
ting up a business affected their home life. The idea of startups being
family concerns and life choices is particularly important for husband
and wife teams. A female entrepreneur (games) stated that she and her
husband had been together for 14 years. Becoming business partners
too had not changed their lives that much because they had integrated
their working life into their home life. She felt positive about improving
and growing together as both spouses and business partners. However,
there are downsides to having the family unit become the basis of entre-
preneurship. This interviewee continued to explain that as startup entre-
preneurs, they suffered from financial problems, and this caused tension
in their marriage. Nonetheless, she still felt that they had gained other
experiences that could not be bought by money and had enriched their
lives. Husband and wife entrepreneurial teams qualify as family firms,
which are a strong Taiwanese tradition, while the attitudes of the female
partners had changed. This interviewee emphasised personal fulfilment
and experiences, and downplayed the fact that she was working hard for
little pay.
Nonetheless, the negative aspects of working together ‘24/7’ were
acknowledged by most of the husband and wife teams I interviewed.
Running a business this way tends to have a profound impact on the
home life because there is no separation between work and home when
the family unit becomes the entrepreneur team. This male entrepreneur
explained:

Of course there are some difficulties. The good thing is that my wife
knows about the conditions of the company, so when you are at home,
you don’t need to communicate why you’re so busy, why you’re tired.
104    
L. Wing-Fai

The negative side is that you’re together 24 hours a day. Things at home
became merged with business … Gradually business became our life.

He went on to talk about how his wife would worry and they would
argue, especially when there were money problems, though he said the
partnership had got easier as they became accustomed to being busi-
ness partners. Arguments were common among the husband and wife
teams. They were attributed to the tensions of running a business,
being together constantly and worrying about the risks and uncertain-
ties of the nascent business. One team (travel service) was founded by
a boyfriend and girlfriend, both of whom had studied at a prestigious
Taiwanese university, though the male partner was the senpai (from
an earlier cohort). The female partner weighed up the pros and cons
of such relationship and said that they understood each other, which
made the communication and working together easier. However, as they
spent a long hours working, they rarely found time to go on dates. One
husband and wife team I interviewed at length in both 2014 and 2016
were open about the pressure on their relationship. He had given up
his highly paid work to open a designer crafts business in New Taipei,
which was his wife’s choice. The pressure of starting a business led to
many arguments. By 2016 the husband had returned full time to his
job as an engineer, leaving the female partner mostly working by herself.
She subsequently hired two co-workers. As he worked long hours, she
felt that she had to do most of the work related to the startup and be
more independent. As she was offered a stall in one of the cultural parks
in Taipei, she had to negotiate the contract herself and physically trans-
port her products. Although the couple were very supportive of each
other, they told me that they continued to have many arguments.
The working relationships between husbands and wives does vary, as
this team (dating application) suggested:

Of course, if a couple has problems, then the business will also have prob-
lems. (Male partner)
The good thing is, because we are husband and wife, we commu-
nicate easily. We can be more direct with each other. The bad thing is,
the pressure he gives me is not really pressure … If a boss tells me to do
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
105

something, I probably listen to him and quickly complete the task. As he


is my husband, I’ll think about whether I’ll do it now or later. That’s the
way we react to each other. (Female partner)

This team was made up of a husband from a computer background and


a wife who was a humanities graduate. They met while studying abroad.
The women in husband and wife entrepreneurial teams may have a
greater sense of power than women in typical business situations. Some,
like this female founder, feel they can put off executing tasks suggested
by their male partners.
To sum up, female entrepreneurs have accepted that they are less
likely to carry out the traditional roles expected of them, whether or
not they in fact have difficulty of balancing their home and work lives.
Married women mostly found husband and wife teams and they are
likely to use complementary skill sets, resulting in gender division of
labour within these startups. The working dynamics of these teams dif-
fer, while the pressure of starting a business spill over into their home
life.

The Gender Discourse Among Start-Uppers


During my interactions with entrepreneurs within the Taiwan startup
ecosystem, gender discourse was often invoked to explain the differing
participation in the sector by men and women. Most male entrepre-
neurs take on the technical and decision-making roles of the nascent
businesses, while women are more likely to be in development, pro-
ject management, customer service and marketing. Most entrepre-
neurs, whether male or female, have come to accept the differences
between the genders as ‘natural,’ corresponding to the biological dif-
ferences determined by birth. Women are thought to be more peo-
ple-orientated, sensitive to others’ needs (especially the needs of other
women), and to have an eye for detail. They are weaker physically and
are believed to be more risk-averse and afraid of standing up to peo-
ple. These are all entrenched ideas about women that I heard from both
men and women in the tech sector time and again. The importance of
106    
L. Wing-Fai

female entrepreneurs is understood as a commercial necessity in that


it is thought that women entrepreneurs will be better able to under-
stand female customers. Rather than hiring a woman for her particu-
lar expertise, her inclusion is justified by the company’s business case.
The rationale for women’s participation in the sector therefore reiterates
gender differences, and so the utterance of the gender discourse is per-
formative (Butler 1990, 1993) in itself and repeated as evidence of the
existence of gender differences:

Men are more rational, while women are more emotional. In a team,
it’s vital to have both elements for a smooth operation. If they are all
men, they will be too rational and there will be conflicts and fighting …
Women are born more inclined to accept others, to listen. (Female entre-
preneur, wearables)

Stereotypical gender differences are presented as the reason for women’s


participation in the tech startups; they are expected to perform gen-
dered roles within the team. The fact that many women also internalise
the perception of the innate differences between men and women sup-
ports my assertion that the startup scene is a kind of gendered organ-
isation. One female development executive of a startup reiterated the
gender differences by mentioning that male programmers write the
technical, ‘hard’ stuff while women mostly deal with the end-users
because they are better with soft, emotional skills.
This entrenched discourse of a gender dichotomy (rational versus
social) was proffered equally by men and women I interviewed and is
used to explain why women take on certain roles within the companies
or start gender-specific enterprises. One male entrepreneur stated that as
his company dealt with an online arts and design magazine and because
the magazine attracted mostly female readers, he wanted to hire more
humanities graduates, whom he also assumed would be mostly female.
He said that ‘men usually like technology and cars, or business.’ The
founder wanted to ensure a balance between male and female work-
ers and planned to recruit women in order to understand the interests
of their readers. The recruitment of women and the existence of gen-
dered products can thus be explained through the business case. In this
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
107

sense, even though these businesses are digital, the gender division of
labour and the founding of service-rich businesses by women persist.
Despite selling her design products online, a female entrepreneur sug-
gested that she could not really help with the website. Rather, her goal
was ‘to manufacture products that come from a female angle and reflect
women’s sensibility.’ Few of the my interviewees acknowledged that
these seemingly fixed and essential differences are in fact discursive. The
interviewee quoted below was an exception, as he attributed ‘typical’
feminine traits to socialisation, though he paradoxically characterised
men and women in rather traditional ways:

Women usually have higher ability to think in other people’s shoes while
men are normally more self-centred. So, I feel that women [entrepre-
neurs]’s chosen business ideas are also more considerate, but at the same
time because they are more considerate, their businesses are also likely
to be smaller in scale. Women are usually socialised in a way that makes
them less ambitious; they don’t think big and found great companies. Of
course, I am over generalising. There are also ambitious women. (Chief
executive, startup accelerator)

As I discuss in the previous section, women, including entrepreneurs


who have successfully negotiated the tech sector, accept the traditional
gender discourse and take on business roles based on assumptions about
gender (Marlow and McAdam 2015). Both male and female inter-
viewees repeated the traditional gender role assumptions: that women
are social, more considerate and not as ambitious as men. For instance,
during my participant observation, I saw how the discourses repre-
sented during the Girls in Tech events focused on the performance of
femininity based on assumed gender differences, especially where fam-
ily and childcare responsibilities were concerned. It is often celebrated
that female entrepreneurs and workers in the tech sector continue to
take on gender-specific responsibilities, such as management and pro-
ject development, rather than technical roles. Furthermore, many of
the women found companies that offer products and services aimed at
the female customers. One example is the popular Internet retailer and
online community, iFit, which is aimed at the weight-loss market and
108    
L. Wing-Fai

targets female consumers. Another business, Womany, provides online


information about fashion, cosmetics, love and family, and their team is
entirely female and encourages women in technical roles. BossLady sells
underwear online; Mamilove is an online business for baby and infant
products; and Good Life, founded by a couple, ‘aggregates daily shop-
ping deals’ in Taiwan, according to its website. All these businesses are
about fashion, health, family and shopping, interests which are tradi-
tionally assumed to be women’s pursuits.
Maggie Chen is one of two mothers who started the company
Wonderful Food, which works with farmers in Taiwan to source ‘safe
food’ for the family. Chen said that the concept came from ‘worries
about what the children eat,’ and the startup aimed to provide safe food
for the family (She Means Business,4 21 July 2016, Taipei). Chen had
worked before having children, and she started her new business based
on her experience of being a mother. Another female entrepreneur
explained:

Women’s sensibility towards the market is different from men’s. So, we


target a market segment: the young women. When we were recruiting
before, a lot of men saw the product and thought it was too girly and
too feminine, and they didn’t have any interest in it. (Female co-founder,
social media aimed at women)

Numerous female entrepreneurs explained their choice of business


through a similar dichotomised discursive construction of masculinity
and femininity. One young entrepreneur involved in a dating service
said:

We women are better at conversation, more empathetic and more eager


to understand user experience. There are websites that are specifically for
women, and there is a big market. As female founders, we are better at
understanding the female market.

She went on to refer to ‘group buying’ (or collective buying; tuangou


in Chinese) as a female-focused activity that male founders did not
understand.5 Another entrepreneur who was a games developer told
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
109

me that ideas about the technical roles within startup companies were
rather fixed. She explained: ‘Technical means programming and coding.
Unless you are a programmer or coder, you cannot call yourself a devel-
oper.’ As one of the few female developers and the technical expert for
her company, she encountered these fixed gender roles within the tech
sector and had to fight hard to challenge them.
Being a female entrepreneur challenges the idea that men are more
suited to starting a business and to risk-taking. Yet many female found-
ers in the sector continue to hold traditional values about the appropri-
ate male and female behaviour and accept that there are distinct, fixed,
innate characteristics of the two genders. However, a female entrepre-
neur (organic health products/e-commerce) questioned the view that
men were more suited to entrepreneurship because she felt that women
dealt with risks and instability better:

Starting a business is a very difficult career path, but I feel that women
are more resilient and stronger … perhaps because I am a Hakka person6
… Most think that Hakka women are strong and persistent. They are dil-
igent and are not afraid of hard work. We have an ancient idiom: Use
gentle power to reach far (ningjing yi zhiyuan ).7 So it says that you can be
low-key but go far. I think woman entrepreneurs are like that; they can
use their feminine power to organise and manage.

Many of my interviewees also talked about gender within the specific


Taiwanese context. In this case, the entrepreneur invoked her own
ethnic origin as well as gender discourse to assert a coping strategy for
women entrepreneurs. In turn, these discourses about men and women
are used to explain why women usually found companies that pro-
vide gender-specific products and services, further restricting the kinds
of roles women can play in the tech sector. Female entrepreneurs find
themselves in a paradoxical position of challenging their under-rep-
resentation but then having to accept traditional gendered expectations,
as this female game designer suggested: ‘Women who start businesses
may seem very rational, so other people would say you’ve lost your fem-
ininity, [which is] negative … I can only work hard to prove myself.
Despite being a woman, I have chosen to be an entrepreneur.’
110    
L. Wing-Fai

Not only is the discourse of gender differences entrenched and prof-


fered by both men and women, women are sometimes expected to
‘make use’ of their attributes. Anita Huang of the government-funded
Taiwan Startup Stadium suggested that female co-founders were par-
ticularly useful in business for their communication abilities (She Means
Business, 21 July 2016, Taipei). She remarked that human resources
and management were women’s best skills. Thus, even the female lead-
ers and mentors within the sector propagate the idea of women’s pre-
destined roles. It can be argued that there is a collective consciousness
about gender division, and it is reflected in discursive practices.
Another high-profile woman entrepreneur in Taiwan, Cate Xie
(co-founder, SkyREC), reported on the discrimination she wit-
nessed while pitching in Japan at the Slush Asia startup event. Unlike
in Taiwan, she observed that very few women in Japan have founded
startups. She stated that she had met fewer than five Japanese women
involved in the sector. Women are also not taken seriously in the wider
business world, while men go to ‘after, after party,’ referring to the kind
of gendered gathering that I will discuss shortly. She offered advice on
how women should interact with investors in this kind of environ-
ment and especially how they should adapt their demeanour: ‘Be care-
ful to show stability and maturity and reflect your personal qualities,
but don’t talk about yourself too much’ (GIT meeting, 22 June 2016).
Xie also said that it was particularly important for businesswomen to
think about their appearance in Japan, so she suggested wearing tights
and appropriate make-up in order to appear ‘respectful.’ For Taiwanese
startups doing business in Japan, she also recommended finding local
staff and employing men who can speak Japanese in order to commu-
nicate in the male-dominated environment. Instead of challenging the
deeply gendered organisation of the startup sector, the advice of this
successful female entrepreneur was to adapt one’s own conduct and
appearance in order to fit into the male-dominated business world. It
is evident that despite the changing gender discourse and the newness
of the sector, gender role constructions remain traditional. Women are
advised to change their engagement with the sector rather than chal-
lenge the gendered practices.
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
111

Many women entrepreneurs see personal contacts such as networking


and mentoring as important, and taking time to advise and help other
women is increasingly common in the sector. On Women’s Day 2016
during the GIT meeting, key speaker Nancy Liu discussed empower-
ment and self-confidence while avoiding the issue of the male domi-
nance of the tech sector. After her talk, she invited a famous local fitness
coach to help the participants ‘get physical.’ In the discursive construc-
tion of the Girls in Tech ethos, the self and her struggles are individual-
ised. Most of the advice to other women from the GIT ‘40 under 40’8
list of successful women in the tech sector represents the self-improve-
ment rhetoric of postfeminism; for example: ‘Instead of standing by the
sidelines, sit at the table during your next team meeting. Volunteer one
more idea at the next group brainstorm’ (Stephanie Lin, Partnerships
and Community Relations, Hush Inc., and Miss. Asian America
2015–2016). As an alternative to collectively tackling the issue of wom-
en’s under-representation and gender discrimination, the acceptance
of women’s low status means that the advice is usually about adjusting
one’s own appearance and behaviour. This is in line with the ‘makeover
paradigm’ that Gill discusses in relation to the postfeminist media cul-
ture (2007), except changes are not made as a means to improve oneself
but for access to a sector dominated by male colleagues. This reflects
the second meaning of unspeakable inequalities (Gill 2014); women
should accept their expected roles in family and childcare, which has no
equivalent in relation to the men in the sector. Middle-class, well-edu-
cated young women are aspirational, and many view entrepreneurship
as an experience to be had before taking on family responsibilities, while
the same cannot be said about their male counterparts. While work-
ing in the sector, especially in an environment like the Japanese macho
business environment, it is up to the women to change their dress and
behaviour to appeal to other (male) colleagues. In this sense, the dis-
course around female entrepreneurs’ participation in the male-dom-
inated sector demonstrates a postfeminist sensibility. The concept of
empowerment sits well with the neoliberal ideal of ‘rational, calculating
and self-regulating’ individuals—and to that list I would add self-im-
proving—individuals who have to construct their own life biography
even when facing societal barriers (Gill 2007, p. 163). While women are
112    
L. Wing-Fai

expected to improve themselves in a variety of ways, there is little expec-


tation that men need to change.
Contrarily, there are also those in the industry who deny gender dif-
ferences. One event organiser for a tech magazine argued that female
owners of SMEs such as snack shops and beauty salons may be less edu-
cated and have limited access to resources. These women ‘have not been
university-educated’ and do not have commercial awareness, so they
have to rely on manual labour. She was convinced that with Internet
and high-tech startups, women entrepreneurs in Taiwan do not face
barriers, and there is full equality between men and women. Women
who choose to start up businesses are not discriminated against; they
have simply chosen to take on certain roles:

In each startup team, there are perhaps three or five co-founders who take
on different roles. The man may be the CEO and the woman the finance
or sales person. I don’t think it’s because she can’t take on other roles, but
that these are her own interests.

What she suggested is that while the more educated women are quite
free to enter the Internet and mobile sector, their roles, freely chosen for
themselves, tend to focus on the less technical aspects of these compa-
nies. Not only did this interviewee have confidence in gender equality
in Taiwan, she also attributed the gendered roles within companies to
individual interests and preferences. I would suggest that this is another
aspect of the second meaning of unspeakable inequalities (Gill 2014):
that equality has been achieved between men and women in the tech
sector, and no further improvement is necessary.
Furthermore, the above interviewee referred to the educational capi-
tal of most of the digital entrepreneurs who are indeed college graduates
and appear to have the resources to take on the risks of their nascent
businesses, an issue I shall return to shortly. Many in the sector share
the opinion that the sector’s reliance on knowledge renders it open to
both genders as long as the entrepreneurs possess the necessary educa-
tional capital. A female founder (travel website) suggested: ‘Our com-
pany deals with information, so from that point of view, there’s little
difference between men and women.’ One of the GIT’s ‘40 under 40’
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
113

women, Jocelin Ho, a Taiwanese software engineer at Facebook, states


that ‘Gender is the least important thing to care about in [a] tech career.
You are no different than your male colleagues!’9 On the one hand, the
traditional gender discourse is ingrained, while on the other end, there
is a gender blindness because of the assumed openness of information
and technology. The view that women in the tech sector are as capa-
ble as men is not inherently contradictory to the discourse of gender
differences that result in women being confined to certain roles and
are sometimes directly discriminated against. Rather, the experiences
faced by women are simply swept under the carpet through the sugges-
tion that the Internet and technology afford the same opportunities to
everyone. Digital media is perceived to have levelled the playing field
for women. Some interviewees hold the opinion that men and women
enjoy equal status in tech, while others diminish women’s status by
claiming that their ‘natural qualities’ suit them to certain types of posi-
tions in the sector. In both positions, gender inequalities are rendered
unspoken.
In sum, time and again, both male and female founders offer a busi-
ness case explanation to justify why women are important in the startup
sector, citing the fact that many consumers are also female. Charlotte
Yu (project manager at the successful social media advertising com-
pany cacaFly) suggests: ‘Take advantage of our gender. Male-dominated
industry may lack female [viewpoints], which can contribute to the
objectification of women. We play a more significant role in building
an innovative and diverse team.’10 My female interviewees accepted the
assumed innate differences (men are more rational; women are more
social and caring), and they see their business ideas as representative of
femininity, which explains the subjects they chose for their products
and services. In addition to the expectation for women to get married
and have children, it is also unconventional for women to take risks,
and therefore entrepreneurship is seen as ‘more suited’ to men. While
acknowledging that entrepreneurship is seen as a male, rational pur-
suit, female entrepreneurs, simply by starting businesses, have cho-
sen to question that notion while still accepting that they are the ones
who have to change to fit into the gendered environment. The belief
that it is the woman’s responsibility to adapt herself to the tech startup
114    
L. Wing-Fai

ecosystem rather than expecting the ecosystem to evolve, or, that the
sector affords women and men the same opportunities means inequal-
ities have become unspeakable; the result is that the gender discourse
witnessed in the startup sector in Taiwan reflects neoliberal and post-
feminist sensibilities.

Intersectionality: Gender, Age and Class


As can be gleaned from the discussion in the previous sections, the
division of labour within many tech startups is often along the gender
line, with many women preferring to defer to their male co-founders,
whether their husbands or other colleagues, for what they see as more
masculine roles. I am also struck by how gender intersects with other
personal characteristics which impact on the experiences of startup
entrepreneurs. The idea of GIT’s ‘40 under 40’ celebrates younger
women’s brilliance while at the same time suggesting that the achieve-
ments of those who are relatively young is more exceptional. Indeed, at
all the GIT meetings in which I participated, most of the guest speakers
were women in their twenties and thirties, which implies an age bias in
the sector that can be explained by the fact that older women with fam-
ily responsibilities tend not to be involved in the sector. A female princi-
pal of a venture capital firm observed:

Men in Taiwan face pressure from their families [of origin] to work for
large corporations. Families [of origin] expect more from men, but the
younger generation of women can do something different as they don’t
have much pressure.

While men are expected to launch careers that meet the family expec-
tations, women who are from comfortable backgrounds are absolved
and can pursue something they feel passionate about, even if it does not
generate enough income (see also Duffy 2015).
Due to the fact that few startups succeed financially, many women
can participate in the sector only because they are relatively well
off. Many of my interviewees were aware of their economic capital.
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
115

One female entrepreneur took over her parents’ brand when they
moved onto another business in mainland China. Another young
female entrepreneur returned from studying in New York. She was from
a middle-class family of teachers, and they did not have financial wor-
ries like many other people. Her parents were supportive of her venture
and had provided financial backing. In this analysis, intersectionality is
therefore not evoked to explain discrimination, but rather it helps us to
understand the participation of overwhelmingly well-educated, young
and relatively well-off entrepreneurs in the startup community.
However, barrier to the male-dominated social network also criss-
crosses with different personal characteristics for women, despite their
social and cultural capital in the form of higher education and mid-
dle-class background. A young female founder (in her early twenties,
electronic payment), for example, explained that her gender and age
were both factors when she interacted with potential trading partners:

I feel [my gender] definitely affects my work, especially when I talk to


merchants, because I’m female and I look young. So recently I have
started to put on make-up to look more mature. Lots of merchants tend
to be older, and are mostly male. They often call me meimei (little sister)
and feel that I don’t understand the business. There’s also smoking and
drinking. They won’t invite you along.

I saw little evidence of guanxi in the form of hostess clubs,11 which


were often the traditional means for men to form business relation-
ships (Hwang and Bedford 2013). In the tech sector, social gatherings
with food and alcohol were common. At the happy hours I attended,
which were mostly organised by the Taipei startup incubators such as
AppWorks and MOX, there was a mixture of male and female partic-
ipants, locals and expats. As a female researcher, if there was further
socialising in the hostess bars, I was not privy to the practice. As the
above interviewee pointed out, it can be difficult for a young, female
entrepreneur to develop relationships with older, male business con-
tacts when the traditional means of maintaining mianzi (face) and the
exchanging of renqing (favours) take place during social gatherings that
include heavy smoking and drinking—activities which are not usually
116    
L. Wing-Fai

practised by women. Hwang and Bedford’s study (2013) shows that


these practices build exclusively male-male business contacts and net-
works. They conclude that this has important implications for women,
who will find it more difficult to form business connections and acquire
management positions. Gender intersects with age in influencing the
ways that women participate in the startup sector. The founder quoted
above went on to state that although sex discrimination was not so
obvious in Taiwan now, she felt that there were still barriers for women
entrepreneurs like her. Although she was the founder, she was one of
the youngest members of the team. For example, the engineer in her
startup team was a father and had 15 years of industrial experience. She
was content to deal mostly with communication and allow the men on
the team to socialise and network with their male business contacts.
Pierre Bourdieu’s seminal work on the different forms of capital (eco-
nomic, social, cultural and educational) serves to explain how class and
educational background are closely related (1986). In Chapter 4, I will
further delineate the coupling of class and startup entrepreneurship, but
it suffices to say here that most entrepreneurs in the sector are university
graduates who possess the social, cultural and educational capital associ-
ated with higher education qualifications. I argue that intersectionality,
a term usually only associated with discrimination, can in fact provide
an interpretative framework to understand the interlocking effects of
age, gender and class on digital entrepreneurs’ experiences.

Concluding Remarks
Despite women’s increasing participation in technical work and entre-
preneurship in Taiwan, many assume traditional roles and identities
within the technical workplace. In my fieldwork, I came across men
and women who talked about how they struggled with their personal
lives while being startup founders, issues already described in existing
literature. For example, those in the tech sector usually work long hours
and need to devote themselves to developing strong networks, which
makes work-life balance difficult. Workers and entrepreneurs with
childcare responsibilities find it hard to devote as many hours to work
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
117

or networking, a disadvantage that particularly affects women. Because


starting a business is a risky enterprise, it is more likely to be rejected as
a career choice for those with family responsibilities.
What I have focused on in this chapter is how women participate
in the sector, who they choose to found companies with and how they
work with them, which roles they take on and how they have internal-
ised the gender discourses. While being the minority gender in the tech
sector is a challenge in itself, women and men both expressed accept-
ance of the way the sector works. Most of them agreed that being an
entrepreneur and raising children was difficult, but women were more
likely to sacrifice their work to spend time with children. Some inter-
viewees plainly stated that there was no possibility of work life-balance.
What we witness is that women who are married or partnered, with or
without children, are expected to take on traditional roles within the
nuclear family that hinder them in the high-risk world of entrepreneur-
ship. However, this choice is mostly due to traditional gender role atti-
tudes, which are ingrained in both male and female interviewees. For
working women to seek change in regard to the issue of childcare is dif-
ficult. Improvements to women’s position in the sector, as discussed in
the interviews and observed at various events, were said to be due to
individual choices and performance rather than to collective action to
redress barriers that women face in establishing themselves or advanc-
ing in a tech careers. The acceptance of the gender division of labour
and the individualised ethos of improvement are indicative of both the
gender role attitudes in Taiwan and of a postfeminist sensibility (Gill
2007). There are also men and women in the startup culture who claim
that gender equality has already been achieved. For these reasons, gen-
der inequalities have been rendered unspeakable.
Female founders usually take on the non-technical roles within
their nascent businesses, such as project management and marketing,
and they tend to start companies and services that are gender-specific.
Founders and those involved in the startup sector whom I interviewed
mostly agreed that these gender differences were naturally aligned to
sexual differences, and did not mean that women were disadvantaged.
Married women almost always worked with their husbands. Within
these husband and wife teams, men and women tended to take up
118    
L. Wing-Fai

gendered roles. When asked about the working relationship, these teams
admitted to both advantages and disadvantages. The startup ecosystem
operates in effect as a gendered organisation (Acker 1992), evident by
gender division, and the acceptance of gendered structure of opportu-
nity by those within the startup culture.
Finally, gender is not the only personal characteristic that has an
impact on how women participate in the tech sector. As the discourse
around gender is intricately linked to marital status and family respon-
sibilities, gender often intersects with age. The younger women in my
interview samples tended to be unmarried and to found companies with
friends and colleagues rather than with their personal partners. Class
and educational background also play a part. By their own admission,
most of the founders were highly educated, and some of the women
freely discussed the fact that their families of origin were well off and
some were able to offer financial assistance to the new businesses. My
findings reflect changes in Taiwanese society since the economy took off
in the 1970s and 1980s. Women nowadays have better opportunities,
and middle-class women no longer have the burden of taking care of
their parents and siblings like many of their working class counterparts
used to. All these factors intersect to explain the experiences of those
who have chosen to embark on entrepreneurship. On the basis of this
analysis, I assert that intersectionality not only explains discrimination,
but intersectionality—between gender, class and age—adds complexity
and subtlety to explaining the experiences of the new generation of tech
entrepreneurs in Taiwan.

Notes
1. https://thegedi.org/global-entrepreneurship-and-development-index/.
Accessed 2 January 2017.
2. http://gemconsortium.org/data/key-aps. Accessed 2 January 2017.
3. http://www.indexmundi.com/taiwan/total_fertility_rate.html. Accessed
2 January 2017.
4. This was an initiative supported by Facebook in conjunction with
Taiwan Startup Stadium and Girls in Tech.
3  Girls in Tech: Progress and Barriers in a Gendered Culture    
119

5. This is an online shopping practice that is popular in Greater China, in


which consumers get together to purchase an item in bulk in order to
reduce the price. There are websites dedicated to group buying.
6. Hakka are people from farming communities that migrated to and
settled in the Southern provinces in China. The Hakka are the sec-
ond largest ethnic group in Taiwan. See Taiwan Literature English
Translation Series, issue 16: Taiwan Literature and Hakka Culture,
published by the University of California, Santa Barbara, Center
for Taiwan Studies. http://www.eastasian.ucsb.edu/taiwancenter/
publications/ets.
7. From Admonition to His Son (by Zhuge Liang/Kongming). Zhuge
Liang was the Chancellor of the state of Shu Han during the Three
Kingdoms period (220–80) and was renowned for his military
strategies.
8. http://taiwan.girlsintech.org/2016/03/07/git-taiwan-40-under-40-
women-in-tech-2016/. Accessed 5 June 2018.
9. http://taiwan.girlsintech.org/2016/03/07/git-taiwan-40-under-40-
women-in-tech-2016/. Accessed 5 June 2018.
10. http://taiwan.girlsintech.org/2016/03/07/git-taiwan-40-under-40-
women-in-tech-2016/. Accessed 5 June 2018.
11. Hostess clubs are traditional night clubs in East Asia where female host-
esses provide a variety of services (e.g. as drinking partners) to a male
clientele.

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4
Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production
of Social Spaces and Class

Introduction
This is not only an office setting. It is a lifestyle and your way of achieving
success for your career. (Facebook, CreativAsia Space, Taichung)

In the previous chapters I discuss the identity of digital producers in


Taiwan who are seeking to exploit the online economy, especially those
connected with startup companies, and how gender and other personal
characteristics impact on digital entrepreneurship. This chapter focuses
on the work places inhabited by this group of entrepreneurs and asks
why these physical spaces are important in a sector dealing with the
online economy. As I conducted interviews in the spaces where these
digital entrepreneurs worked—both company offices and co-­working
spaces—I became intrigued as to the reasons for the clustering of these
spaces and what these work places indicate about the digital entre-
preneurs. Given the fact that digital startups deal with the virtual and
mobile technology, the physical work spaces must have been chosen and
used for specific reasons.

© The Author(s) 2019 125


L. Wing-Fai, Digital Entrepreneurship, Gender and Intersectionality,
Dynamics of Virtual Work, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97523-8_4
126    
L. Wing-Fai

The overarching research question of this chapter is the relationship


between space and digital entrepreneurship, especially the significance
of the use of the new kind of shared workspaces by relatively young
startup founders. I will consider different types of work and creative
spaces, mainly in Taiwan but with a foray into comparable organisa-
tions in Hong Kong. What can they tell us about the importance of
social spatialisation for startup entrepreneurial work in East Asia? Most
of these spaces import and localise existing models of co-working and
co-creating, and they are sometimes part of business incubation or
startup acceleration programmes. Some are underpinned by the ethos
of the maker movement. What are the specific characteristics of these
spaces in East Asia?
Studies of the Taiwanese high-tech sector tend to focus on the trans-
national movements of the workers and entrepreneurs. This interna-
tional, jet-setting group of entrepreneurs represents the longstanding
links between Silicon Valley and Taiwan and the flows of venture cap-
ital involving these two locations (Sabel and Saxenian 2008; Saxenian
2002). Taiwan’s brain drain of highly educated graduates in the 1980s
(mainly to the USA) has transformed to a more complex web of mobil-
ity. These highly mobile ‘techies’ have an impact over a wider geograph-
ical area as they now also operate in mainland China (Saxenian and
Hsu 2001), effectively forming a USA-Taiwan-PRC triangle. These
studies have paid little attention to the arrangement of space within the
national and urban contexts. In addition, the actual workspaces con-
nected with these enterprises have not been studied.
The rise of co-working spaces in North America and Europe began
late in the first decade of the 2000s. They have been called ‘serendipity
accelerators,’ places that blur the boundaries and breach the processes
between technological, economic and social activities (Moriset 2014,
p. 1). These spaces are also connected to the concepts of the creative
economy and the creative city, seen to be occupied by the ‘creative class’
(Florida 2002b). Richard Florida’s conceptualisation of the creative class
is mainly concerned with demographic diversity, which attracts groups
of the creative workers, and the subsequent impacts on urban clusters
(Florida 2002a, b). Talent in Florida’s creative class refers to ‘individ-
uals with high levels of human capital, measured as the percentage of
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
127

the population with a bachelor’s degree and above,’ and he hypothesises


that talent is attracted by diversity and ‘low barriers to entry for human
capital’ (Florida 2002a). His ‘diversity index’ measures the proportion of
coupled gay households and general openness to individual differences
in the creative city, while the ‘coolness index’ refers to the cultural and
recreational amenities, such as bars and night life. Florida focuses on the
places that attract creative workers and the linkages of these urban areas
with regional development. The argument here is based on the choice of
geographical locations by a defined class of workers, with disregard for
social and cultural barriers to mobility. Creativity in his conceptualis-
ation can refer to technological creativity (regional innovation and the
high-technology industry) or cultural creativity (the presence of artists,
musicians and cultural producers as measured by the ‘bohemian index’)
(Florida 2003). This approach to conceptualising space assumes a uni-
fied understanding of the terms used to measure the characteristics of
the creative workers—diverse, cool and bohemian—an understanding
which may not exist in different national, regional and cultural contexts.
Philip Lawton and his colleagues’ article on the residential prefer-
ences of creative workers in Dublin describes an attempt to test Florida’s
theory and the finding that housing costs and ease of travel are fac-
tors influencing where creatives choose to live (Lawton et al. 2013).
Furthermore, life course plays a part, as older workers with families tend
to move out to the suburbs. It can be argued that housing costs, the
availability of transportation and life course are factors that likely affect
the residential choices of most urban dwellers. Besides, while existing
literature tends to use the term ‘creative class’ to explain the choice of
urban areas by creative workers, there is a lack of research on where
entrepreneurs set up their nascent creative businesses or where they
congregate to work. A paper by Enda Murphy and colleagues addresses
these two criticisms and discusses what they call hard and soft factors
(Murphy et al. 2015). Hard factors include rent, the availability of
paid labour and setup costs, as well as the availability of software, tal-
ent and technology (Murphy et al. 2015, pp. 98–100). Soft factors are
urban amenities and other features of social and cultural environment,
as in Florida’s concept of the coolness index (pp. 108–9). I would argue
that since software and technology allow people to work virtually, it is
128    
L. Wing-Fai

inappropriate to consider them hard factors. Karima Kourtit and Peter


Nijkamp (2018) discuss ‘urban ambience,’ cultural heritage and spatial
distribution as factors that influence the location decisions of creative
entrepreneurs (2018). Further research into Richard Florida’s idea of the
creative class thus tends to focus on the geographical location choices of
workers and entrepreneurs. There is a paucity of research into the actual
spaces where creatives work and the relationships among creative work-
ers as they are mediated by spatial arrangements. The characteristics of
the creative class in existing literature are also conceptualised in rela-
tively elusive terms and applied universally to different cultural contexts.
Instead of focusing on the cool quotient of an imagined creative class,
the research described here builds on my earlier work with creative and
cultural workers in the film and media sector in the UK (Leung et al.
2015; Randle et al. 2007) and with digital entrepreneurs in Taiwan
(Leung 2016), which examines the complexity of the experiences of cre-
ative work as a result of the workers’ identities. My informants in the
current project, mostly company founders within the startup ecosystem,
take on risks and live in precarious conditions, so while they are aspir-
ing capitalists (as business owners), they are also performing ‘venture
labour’ (Neff 2012). Relatively little research has focused on the spaces
and places associated with this kind of work. Andy Pratt argues that
the rise of new media, such as e-commerce, has engendered a ‘weight-
less economy,’ in which reproduction can be cost-free and distribution
is through software, and therefore there has been little interest in the
sector’s impact on geography (2000, p. 429). Gina Neff’s sociologi-
cal research follows individuals in New York City in the early 1990s,
who were affected by the dot-com bubble. Pratt carried out in-depth
interviews and participant observation in Silicon Alley, New York. He
suggests that conventional business models do not apply to these new
media firms, but instead those involved are attracted to the community
of like-minded workers, where ‘network [is] a constitutive and con-
structive process and entity’ (2000, p. 432). While transactions costs
are already minimised in the case of a new media clusters, the chang-
ing cultural and production environments are important factors for the
development of these nascent companies. ‘Firms are neither self-evident
nor stable; that they are commonly continually under reconstruction,
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there is an heuristic and iterative relationship between product, mar-


ket and firm’ (p. 435). By extension, the places and spaces associated
with the ‘weightless economy’ are also under constant construction and
reconstruction. While clusters like Silicon Alley denote geographically
bound communities, their relationships with wider industrial contexts,
and the human relationships (networks, trust, sociality) within, have
not been studied in depth. I establish in the previous chapters that the
startup ecosystem is an uncertain environment (most new companies
fail within the first three to five years), and nascent entrepreneurs rely
on network sociality (Wittel 2001) to minimize these risks. Networking
is so important to the extent that it can become ‘compulsory sociality’
(Gregg 2006), with the possibilities of exclusion for those who fail to
connect. I consider here how this kind of sociality has developed within
the new kinds of Internet businesses and how this has impacted on the
social construction of spaces associated with the industry.
The users of co-working spaces can be conceived to be ‘lone eagles’
who either work for themselves or run ‘micro-businesses’ and are, in
the majority of cases, knowledge workers (Drucker 1999). They are
defined by their abilities to make knowledge products and to gener-
ate and use knowledge. Enabled by technology, co-workers are mobile.
They can work from home without requiring the traditional office
space. This spatial separation between home and work, I will argue, is
part of the narrative construction of these new working spaces as social
spaces, its social aspects rendering them distinct from the home office.
Bruno Moriset employs a description of co-working as fun, friendly,
creative and social ‘third places’ (2014, pp. 6–7), citing sociologist Ray
Oldenburg’s ‘third place.’ Moriset also evokes Starbucks president and
CEO Howard Schultz’s idea that the coffee shop chain provides a place
for conversation and a sense of community: ‘Beyond the room layout,
coworking is first an atmosphere, a spirit, and even a lifestyle’ (p. 7). As
the CreativAsia Space (CVS) Facebook message cited at the beginning
of the article states, these places are thought to be about lifestyle as well
as career success.
Henri Lefebvre’s work on the social production of space provides
a schema to understand space as a result of practices: ‘First, the physi-
cal, nature, the cosmos,—then the mental (which is comprised of logic
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L. Wing-Fai

and formal abstraction),—finally the social’ (Lefebvre and Nicholson-


Smith 1991, pp. 11–12, original italics). The physical, mental and social
dimensions of the production of space correspond to what Lefebvre
calls spatial practice (perceived), representations of space (conceived)
and spaces of representation (lived).1 According to him, space can only
be grasped dialectically because it is a ‘concrete abstraction,’ the con-
crete abstraction being one of Marx’s categories, such as exchange value,
which is simultaneously a material, externalised realisation of human
labour and the condensation of social relations involved in produc-
tion (Gottdiener 1985, p. 128). The concrete abstraction is at the same
time a medium of social actions because it both structures them and
is a product of those actions. It is the transformative relations connect-
ing space and structures, and their relationship to labour and capitalist
production (Lefebvre and Nicholson-Smith 1991, pp. 398–400) that
have the most relevance for understanding the spaces in which Internet
startup entrepreneurship takes place.
Lefebvre’s conceptualisation that ‘the social space is produced and
reproduced in connection with the forces of production (and within
the relations of production)’ (Lebebvre and Nicholson-Smith 1991,
p. 77) explains the three spatial elements of the Internet startup eco-
system: first, the industrial history and context; second, the actual
spaces of work (such as co-working spaces); and third, the lived and
social experiences of those connected with the sector. As aspiring cap-
italists, these entrepreneurs participate in the production of the social
spaces in the organisation of their labour. They are both producers of
and restrained by the specific spatial contexts. Physical spaces are sup-
posed to be less important in this sector because the products and ser-
vices are communicated mainly online, yet the mental and social aspects
of the industry and the specific incubators/co-working spaces remain
important in the constitution of social spaces. Michel de Certeau’s work
also has theoretical relevance for understanding specific social practices
within the co-working and co-creation spaces. The spatial-social prac-
tices imply that space ‘is composed of intersections of mobile elements,’
and therefore ‘space is a practiced place ’ (de Certeau 1984, p. 117, orig-
inal italic). This idea applies to co-working spaces as they have many
highly mobile elements, such as different instead of fixed users, hot
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131

desks—where an office space is used by multiple workers—and flexible


usage (for example, office during the day and event space at night), and
they encourage a high degree of interaction between the place and those
who use it. In the current discussion, de Certeau’s concept of spatial
‘stories,’ which ‘carry out a labor that constantly transforms places into
spaces or spaces into places’ (p. 118) will be used to explain the mental
and social dimensions of the production of spaces in the Internet and
mobile startup sector.
Lefebvre asks a series of questions in relation to the social produc-
tion of space: Who produces it? How? Why and for whom? (1991,
p. 69). This chapter delves into some of these questions in order to
understand the working spaces of digital entrepreneurs. While these
companies are producing software and services on the Internet and with
mobile technology, where do the founders work? How are clusters of
these companies co-located in relation to the wider industrial landscape
in Taiwan? What do the physical spaces in connection to co-working and
maker spaces tell us about the working environments of the sector? How
are these spatial practices supposed to encourage innovation and creativ-
ity? Is sociality in these workspaces important for startup entrepreneurs?
If so, why? In the following analysis, I will first consider the urban con-
text and spatial arrangement of co-working spaces, focusing first on three
case studies in Taiwan and then on the social construction of a commu-
nity through the lens of creativity, cultural capital and sociality.
In order to investigate the relationship between space and digital
entrepreneurs, I carried out ethnographic research, immersing myself
in the ecosystem. I also conducted interviews with those managing
co-working and maker spaces in Taiwan, and I interviewed digital entre-
preneurs about their experiences of different work locations. During
my year of fieldwork I visited 27 co-working and maker spaces, four
cultural and creative parks in Taiwan, and three additional co-work-
ing spaces in Hong Kong, sometimes attending events as a participant.
I interviewed the co-ordinators or executive staff of five co-working
spaces, two incubators with co-working spaces, four maker spaces, a
hackerspace, two accelerators with co-working spaces, and a venture
capital fund programme with a co-working space. I then employed
grounded theory to categorise the key words, phrases and terms used by
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L. Wing-Fai

my interviewees and organised the results into the relevant themes. The
interviews and observations over time enabled me to interpret the phys-
ical, mental and social dimensions of these spaces. As part of the wider
project described in this book, I relied on the semi-structured qualita-
tive interviews with nascent entrepreneurs, funders and venture capital-
ists. Among other topics, they were asked about workspaces within the
sector. In discussing the social construction of space, I focus on three
case studies: AppWorks and the Ching Long Business Club (CLBC) in
Taipei, and CVS in Taichung. The justification for these choices will be
discussed shortly.

The High-Tech Sector and the Startup


Ecosystem: The Context
Taiwan has been experiencing a period of industrial re-structuring.
However, there is a dearth of research considering the relationships
between the existing industrial infrastructure and new online economy.
Before discussing these relationships, I shall outline the geographical
locations and existing infrastructures of Taiwan’s computer technology
sector in order to provide a framework for understanding the impor-
tance of the industrial context in my analysis of the social construction
of space within the digital media sector. Taiwanese traditional high-
tech firms rely on informal peer group networks, which are made up
of people from different contexts, such as classmates, especially those
from elite schools, and former colleagues (see also Chapter 2). These
peers form tightly knit groups who found new companies (Ernst 2001,
p. 101). Not only do these groups possess technical knowledge, they also
have confidential information about potential partners and competitors.
In the 1990s and 2000s, relatively broad and deep inter-firm relations
helped to strengthen internal and external business associations between
large high-tech firms (Brookfield 2010; Zhang and Whitley 2013,
p. 312). ‘Contrary to conventional wisdom, large firms have played a cen-
tral role in the co-ordination and development of the Taiwanese production
system ’ (Ernst 2001, p. 104, original italics). Large corporations rely on
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
133

many small sub-contractors and pass on a portion of their profit margins


to them, allowing sub-contractors to avoid risky trading with foreign
suppliers. These upstream/downstream relationships effectively integrate
small- to medium-sized firms (SMEs) into the production system.
As early as 1980, the Taiwanese government began a programme to
develop technology-intensive industries in order to stay competitive
with other industrialised economies. The transition of the country’s
manufacturing industry base to a knowledge economy was encouraged
by, for example, investing in infrastructure such as the Hsinchu Science-
Based Industrial Park, where the majority of the country’s tech corpora-
tions are now co-located. Hsinchu is an hour from Taipei by car and a
mere 30 minutes by High Speed Rail. The Hsinchu and Taoyuan High
Speed Stations are ten minutes apart, the latter serving the main inter-
national airport in Taiwan. To the west of the Hsinchu Science Park are
two of the country’s best universities: National Chiao Tung University
(NCTU) and National Tsing Hua University (NTHU). NCTU is
famed for its computer science and electrical engineering degrees. In
turn, much of the tech sector in Taiwan has been founded by graduates
from NCTU, who are often involved in teaching courses at the univer-
sity. Many alumni of NCTU have also become engineers, entrepreneurs
and angel investors in the Internet sector. NTHU specialises less in
technology but excels in the sciences. Among its alumni are three Nobel
Prize winners (two in physics and one in chemistry). Large corporations
are also involved in the development of some of the software-oriented
companies. Investments from large corporations like Hon Hai (trading
as the more well-known global brand Foxconn) and Quanta Computer
are often about supporting upstream/downstream productions, which
can in turn help nascent enterprises. Hon Hai, Trend Micro and HTC
have been known to act as business angels that invest in small startups.
For instance, the Yes Startup Program, funded by the government, is
located in Hsinchu and has a longstanding relationship with NCTU.
Leaders and executives from the high-tech companies in Hsinchu have
become involved with the programme as speakers and mentors. The
programme itself and the associated co-working space are housed in a
Hon Hai building. National Taiwan University, the country’s most
134    
L. Wing-Fai

prominent university, has its own alumni fund that has supported enter-
prises set up by its past graduates.
The government, the higher education sector, large corporations and
industrial leaders have all played a part in supporting new startups.
Taiwanese venture capital funds and the principals of these funds are
usually conservative with their investments, avoiding the highly risky
new media sector. However, high-profile individuals, sometimes con-
nected to the Taiwanese high-tech business empires, have begun to
engage in the investment of startup companies. National Cheng Kung
University’s Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Centre is an
incubator that has the support of Gou Shou-cheng, the son of Terry
Gou, founder and chairman of Hon Hai. Gou Shou-cheng, chairman
of the Syntrend Creative Park, ear-marked the centre for researching
Internet of Things technology (for example, wearable products such
as 3-D glasses). These organisations and individuals demonstrate the
close-knit nature of high-tech businesses in Taiwan (and increasingly
in Greater China and the Asian region), with large corporations in the
sector supporting nascent enterprises.
While early state investment in the high-tech sector was mostly in the
semiconductor industry, the Taiwanese economy needs to diversify its
industrial sectors and sources of funding. This has led to the emergence
of a relatively small network society centred around a bid to develop
innovative startups in Taiwan. This network is mostly located in Taipei,
with smaller clusters in Hsinchu, Taichung and Kaohshiung. The
main hub of Internet businesses in Taipei is along Keelung Road near
City Hall. The major private accelerator AppWorks and its co-work-
ing space occupy two floors of a building. AppWorks graduate teams
are able to rent out office space in the floor above at a lower cost than
in the open market, enabling the graduates to remain in contact with
the programme’s principals and staff. When I attended their Friday
happy hour, I was introduced to current teams and some graduates
who came downstairs to join in. In the same building are the offices of
other startup companies; sometimes three or four companies are co-lo-
cated on one floor. Due to this concentration of nascent companies, the
building has grown organically into an industrial cluster. On the other
side of Keelung Road is the Taiwan Mobile Innovation (TMI) office.
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
135

TMI is a venture capital fund that supports software and hardware


startups. The fund also has an open-plan co-working space for its port-
folio companies. Only five minutes’ walk from the back of AppWorks’
offices is Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. Branded as the creative
hub of Taipei, it was converted from a series of tobacco factories and
the former Taiwan Provincial Tobacco and Alcohol Monopoly Bureau.
Compared to Hsinchu, however, the Keelung Road industrial cluster
is mostly made up of private concerns. The boundaries of Hsinchu are
clearly demarcated, and due to the sensitive nature of the material dealt
with in the high-tech sector, the buildings are symbolically fortressed
by their security arrangements. When I visited the Yes Program in the
Hon Hai building, I had to exchange my identity document for a visi-
tor pass. Symbolic and actual boundaries around the Hsinchu industrial
park can be compared to the more organic arrangement of the Keelung
Road cluster. During my fieldwork on and around Keelung Road,
I was having difficulty gaining access to a venture capital fund. As I was
interviewing a startup entrepreneur in a café at the City Hall station
one day, he made a phone call to the fund’s office and we were able to
visit and interview the staff and principal straightaway. These encoun-
ters demonstrate that the Internet industries ‘rely on the spatial logic
of territorially concentrated milieu of innovation, with a multiplicity
of interactions, and face-to-face exchanges at the core of the innovation
process’ (Castells 2001, p. 228).
Florida’s creative class consists of people with high levels of human
capital, especially the possession of higher education qualifications.
There is no doubt that the digital entrepreneurs in my study were, as
a group, highly educated and internationally experienced. Out of the
startup entrepreneurs I interviewed in 2014 and 2016, the educational
qualifications of 54 were made known to me. All but three graduated
with at least an undergraduate degree. There were also nine expats or
individuals—North Americans and Europeans—who had moved to
Taiwan to work, and 19 interviewees had studied abroad; furthermore,
several had international work experience. The 19 who had studied
abroad included the Taiwanese Americans who had moved to Taiwan
to live and work. Therefore, 94% of the 54 interviewees had at least a
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L. Wing-Fai

bachelor’s degree, and 52% either came from abroad or had interna-
tional work or study experience.
My interviewees worked in a variety of settings. Although I con-
ducted interviews with 62 entrepreneurs, I was able to learn their places
of work for only 48. Table 4.1 gives a sense of the different workspaces
the digital entrepreneurs chose.
The most common type of workspace was a company office, though
this arrangement tended to be used mainly for startups that were more
established and employed more than a few workers. In fact, 24 (half ) of
the startups were located in some kind of co-working space, especially
those supported by additional infrastructure, such as an accelerator pro-
gramme, government entrepreneurship programme or university indus-
trial cluster. The benefits of these supported spaces are that they tend
to be cheaper to rent or even free if the startup is part of a specific pro-
gramme. An entrepreneur who rented a co-working space in a govern-
ment-supported cluster stated: ‘I used to work at home. It is very easy
to get distracted there. So I rent a space here for NTD 3000 a month.

Table 4.1  Workspaces of 48 interviewees


Types of workspaces No. of interviewees No. of female
(startups teams) interviewees (out of 11)
(out of 48)
Company office space (not on 15 3
the Keelung Road cluster)
Co-working space provided by 11 3
incubators/accelerators
Work at home 6 2
Co-working space provided 5 1
by government-supported
industrial clusters
Co-working space provided by 3
venture capital funds
Co-working or office space 3
provided by university entre-
preneurship clusters
Company office space within 3
the Keelung Road cluster
Privately owned co-working 2 2
space
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137

That is about USD100.’ He went on to explain that in a co-­working


space there was peer pressure to concentrate on work, and it also helped
that he could ask for technical support and meet other entrepreneurs.
Those who worked at home tended to be individual entrepreneurs
or part of a husband and wife teams. A couple of entrepreneurs had
remote working arrangements with their co-founders or employees.
One designer worked from home and collaborated with a colleague in
America, and once a week or so they would have a virtual meeting on
Google Hangouts.
In contrast to Florida’s conceptualisation of the creative class (2002a),
there is a lack of demographic diversity in Taipei. Rather, a closed
homosocial membership of the creative class (for example, in terms of
ethnicity, class and age) has engendered the networks within the startup
businesses in Taipei, as I detail in Chapter 2 and this chapter. There are
relatively ‘low barriers to entry for human capital’ (Florida 2002a, p.
743); that is, for many of the digital startups, computers, software and
technical skills are the main requirements, and these resources are gen-
erally widely available among the highly educated workforce in Taiwan.
This entrepreneur explained: ‘Doing something on the Internet, the
startup cost is relatively low. Basically it’s only human resources. You
don’t really need an office, but only a computer.’ Since working from
home or working without a fixed office space was possible, dedicated
company offices and co-working spaces were chosen for other reasons.
Co-working spaces were prominently used by many of the Internet
companies I met in Taiwan because of the comparatively low physical
requirements of their nascent businesses. The principals of a private
startup accelerator in Taipei were initially attracted to the locale because
of its availability and reasonable rent. Indeed, through speaking to the
entrepreneurs, it became apparent that access and rents were the main
determinants of the types and locations of their offices.
On the other hand, Florida’s measurement of the proportion of cou-
pled gay households, coolness index and cultural and nightlife amen-
ities did not feature strongly in the reasons for choice of company
location among my sample of Taipei entrepreneurs. The assumption of
the importance of ambience and cultural heritage (Kourtit and Nijkamp
2018) is also specific to the Dutch case. Taipei offers infrastructure
138    
L. Wing-Fai

for the LGBTQ communities, but it is concentrated in the Ximen


area and around the National Taiwan University and National Taiwan
Normal University. Neither is particularly close to Keelung Road.
As a whole, Taiwan is one of the most progressive countries in Asia
when it comes to visibility and rights of the LGBTQ population. An
annual Pride parade has taken place since 2003, and in May 2017 the
Legislative Yuan voted to legally recognise same sex marriage, making
Taiwan the first Asian country to do so. The capital city also offers cul-
tural and social facilities and a vibrant nightlife, but these are mostly
found in the downtown areas. The Keelung Road cluster, on the other
hand, is built around the success of the AppWorks Accelerator, the
availability of affordable office space and the presence of local venture
capital investors.
Although hard factors such as rent, availability of labour and overall
living costs play a part in the enterprises’ location decisions, soft fac-
tors such as social networks play a more important role here, as I will
discuss shortly. The discussion around soft factors, however, needs to
be delineated. The universal concept of a cool creative class bears little
resemblance to the startup clustering I encountered in Taiwan, where
a relatively uniform community of entrepreneurs choose different types
of workspaces according to their company size and needs, and the costs
and additional support of the spaces. While the Hsinchu hub has a
close relationship with existing industrial infrastructure, similar to the
clustering seen in Silicon Valley and other high-tech city hubs, Keelung
Road is a relatively new, organic space, more akin to the creative clusters
in cities known for their culture and creative capital (see for example,
Brooklyn in Zukin 1989). I would argue that the co-working practices
of many startups in Taipei can be understood through the concept of
the social construction of space.
The startup ecosystem in Taiwan does not exist in isolation but is
deeply embedded in the wider context of regional development. For
example, there is strong govenment support in the Hsinchu tech clus-
ter, and the associated electronic and computer industries and estab-
lished corporations have also assisted the nascent companies. On the
other hand, Keelung Road in Taipei is an organic cluster of mainly
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
139

private office spaces and venture capital investors. This analysis is there-
fore firmly embedded in the industrial and economic history of Taiwan.
Unlike Florida’s universalising notion of a creative class and subsequent
research explaining urban areas as attractive to those with cultural capital
because they are diverse, tolerant and bohemian, the findings discussed in
this chapter reveal that spaces are not intrinsically more or less conducive
to creativity and collaboration. It is evident that the majority of digital
entrepreneurs are middle class and are highly educated, and are thus pos-
sessors of social and cultural capital. Yet they are not pulled towards the
co-working spaces by particular hard or soft factors. Rather, they partici-
pate in and are in turn instrumental in the spatial practices that together
support their digital entrepreneurship within the co-working spaces.

Spatial Practices
My research on the social spatialisation of the places of work inhab-
ited by startup entrepreneurs focuses on three examples: CLBC,
AppWorks and CVS. AppWorks is a business startup accelerator that
also offers co-working space for the teams in its programmes and for
recent programme graduates. CVS was in Taichung, which is the
third-largest city in Taiwan with a population of 2.7 million and is
located on Taiwan’s midwest coastline. Due to high rent, the owner
moved the operation in 2015 to a much smaller co-working space/
café located in a government-supported cultural and creative zone in
the same city. I also consider the maker spaces in Taipei, which have
adopted the ethos of the co-creation movement originated in the USA.
The co-working spaces in Taiwan import the Western model and have
similar offerings, including office space, hot desks, meeting rooms and
other facilities. Many co-working spaces also provide a ‘virtual office,’
where users can utilise the postal address and have telephone calls
answered and messages delivered. CLBC, one of the biggest commercial
co-working spaces in central Taipei offers high-end furnishing. It offers
a fixed-desk monthly rental for NTD 6000 (approximately USD 190).
The co-ordinator asserted the benefits of co-working:
140    
L. Wing-Fai

At the moment in Taiwan, we need to promote the co-working culture.


Co-working greatly saves resources, reduces waste, and it helps to build
interpersonal relationships, which can engender creative ideas. I think the
Taiwanese are shyer [than mainland Chinese and people in Hong Kong];
they don’t like to share with other people.

Although some people find the enforced sociality of co-working alien-


ating, the spaces are popular among money-strapped startup entre-
preneurs, many of whom are attracted by the perceived benefits of
co-working (creativity and sociality). To fully understand the social con-
struction of the workspaces, I will in the following consider co-working
and maker spaces through three different forms of spatial practices.

Physical Space/Spaces Perceived

Co-working spaces provide a particular kind of physical presence,


and are discursively related to the idea of a ‘creative lifestyle,’ as the
Facebook page of CVS asserts. When I visited CLBC, one of the ques-
tions that the co-ordinator asked me was how much I thought their
office chairs cost. He proudly informed me that each Herman Miller
Aeron chair, which ‘adapts naturally to virtually every body,’2 had
cost USD 1500. According to the CLBC website, the Aeron chair is
favoured by ‘even Steve Jobs.’3 This material arrangement within the
co-working space appeals to the target audience through its articulation
to creativity and technological prowess. Even though co-workers are
often attracted to the open office arrangements for their low rent, the
physical spaces aspire to provide luxury to symbolically, and paradoxi-
cally, appeal to a certain kind of user and distinguish themselves from
other similar settings, such as more traditional shared offices. CLBC
also boasts free coffees and other beverages, a power shower and a mas-
sage chair, all representing the kind of prestigious services that the cre-
ative worker supposedly requires. The title of this chapter is inspired
by another comment made by the business development manager of a
successful startup when we discussed the uniqueness of Taiwan’s startup
ecosystem. We began to compare Taiwan with Hong Kong which,
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141

it was often asserted by Taiwanese entrepreneurs and investors, appears


to be more capital-intensive and affluent. This interviewee said simply:
‘Even the co-working spaces in Hong Kong have so much money—they
have Louis Vuitton chairs!’ Whether this is in fact the case is debata-
ble, but it was the imagined difference between the two ecosystems that
the interviewee was attempting to emphasise. The Hong Kong startup
ecosystem has seen much growth in recent years, although the city’s
high-risk-averse business culture is similar to Taiwan’s. The startup scene
in Hong Kong also relies on a population of extensive human capital,
according to a study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.4 Based
on responses from 612 startup entrepreneurs, 72% of the entrepreneurs
were male and 38% were between 21 and 25 years old. They are also
likely to hold a bachelor’s degree (58%), mostly from a local university
(83%) (see note 4). From 2009 to 2014, the number of co-working
spaces in Hong Kong grew from one to 22, with a corresponding rise in
the number of startup accelerators and incubators and the involvement
of the local businesses and the higher education sector.5
The co-working spaces in Hong Kong are scattered around the
main geographical areas: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New
Territories. Brinc, located in the central district (the bohemian and cool
SoHo area) of Hong Kong, specialises in Internet of Things technol-
ogy and acts as an accelerator for hardware startups. Its slogan, ‘Get the
best of both worlds: manufacture in China, live in Hong Kong,’6 refers
to Hong Kong’s proximity to Shenzhen, Southern China, which is
famed for its hardware fabrication. Close to Brinc is the PMQ creative
and design hub, housed in a building converted from college student
and married police quarters. The complex contains studios for design-
er-entrepreneurs and also serves as a trendy venue with dining outlets.
In April 2016, there were around ten co-working spaces in Central
District and Sheung Wan in Hong Kong, areas that usually command
high rents. The co-working spaces on the Kowloon Peninsula, across
the Victoria Harbour, are more spread out, although many are found
in the traditionally working-class areas, such as Mongkok, Kwun Tong
and Lai Chi Kok, which offer cheaper rents. SoHo on Hong Kong
Island, is the kind of urban areas which would have higher bohemian
and coolness scores in Florida’s conceptualisation. PMQ exemplifies
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L. Wing-Fai

as spaces built on urban ambience and cultural heritage (Kourtit and


Nijkamp 2018). Although I have not found proof of the use of Louis
Vuitton chairs in the Hong Kong co-working spaces, these spaces tend
to offer more luxurious physical spaces than those in Taiwan. There has
also been a recent trend of real estate groups investing in office spaces in
Hong Kong. Swire Properties opened a co-working space and startup
accelerator programme at Taikoo Place, a large residential and commer-
cial complex in Quarry Bay.7 Swire Properties is the biggest landlord in
Quarry Bay. Its co-working space at Taikoo Place marks the first startup
initiative organised by a commercial property developer in Hong Kong.
Nest and Level 39 have partnered in a startup incubator supported by
the British property developer Canary Wharf Group, which has other
co-working spaces that specialise in financial technology (fintech) start-
ups in Hong Kong and London.
The co-working spaces in Taiwan tend to evoke a prestigious, cosmo-
politan culture through physical representation, as in the office chairs at
CLBC. At the CreativAsia Space in Taichung, the owner and her part-
ner designed and built a mobile desk suitcase, which opens to reveal
workstations or closes to be ‘parked’ away. When I said they reminded
me of Ikea space-saving solutions, the owner countered that they in
fact had the Louis Vuitton suitcases in mind when they designed them.
While co-working spaces can be thought of as a relatively low-cost office
solution for creative workers, they are often distinguished by high-end
luxury details. The Executive Centre, a private group of co-working
spaces, has various office spaces in Asia, operating as service offices, vir-
tual offices and conference centres. All are at prestige addresses, includ-
ing Taiwan’s famous landmark Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings
in Asia, which is both a tourist attraction and office block. For TWD
5800 (see note 7) per month a worker can use a virtual business address,
while TWD 17,800 buys the ultimate virtual office, including phone
answering and messaging services, some hours of physical office use and
conference room use.
These private spaces trade on cultural distinction and taste, as much
as on the actual physical work spaces. Thorstein Veblen’s early work
depicts the leisure classes as non-industrial and made up of those who
can afford precarious, risky ventures (1899). Though many digital
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
143

entrepreneurs have to make a living and are serious about creating suc-
cessful businesses, the fact that they are able to take on the risk of a nas-
cent venture can be contrasted with workers involved in ‘manual labour,
industry, whatever has to do directly with the everyday work of get-
ting a livelihood’ (Veblen 1899, pp. 2–3). To appeal to the tech startup
founders and freelance workers, private co-working spaces must display
power and distinction. While these are ‘work’ spaces, they are also phys-
ically set up as conspicuous consumption for those embarking on wor-
thy and honourable ventures (p. 9). Pierre Bourdieu’s works on culture
and distinction (1980, 1984) expand upon Veblen’s earlier arguments.
With their luxurious furniture and designer brands that emphasise form
rather than function, these co-working spaces are articulated to taste
and self-image (Bourdieu 1980, p. 235). While it is possible to provide
functional office spaces with the minimal provisions, the use of expen-
sive, branded furniture is a form of ‘gratuitous luxury and conspicuous
consumption’ (p. 252) symbolic of the workers’ and entrepreneurs’ cul-
tural capital (Bourdieu 1986). In the case of the startup ecosystem in
Taiwan, human capital mostly reflects entrepreneurs’ educational and
class backgrounds and, subsequently, their ability to work in a high-end
cultural environment: the co-workspace.
The current discussion employs Henri Lefebvre’s (Lefebvre and
Nicholson-Smith 1991) work on the production of the (social) space,
understood through seminal writings on conspicuous consumption
and class (Bourdieu 1984; Veblen 1899). In private co-working spaces,
physical objects, such as chairs, were used to assert the privilege and lux-
ury. The articulation to luxury was shared by some co-working spaces
in Hong Kong, where central locations are often more luxuriously fur-
nished and expensive than those in downtown Taipei.

Social Space/Lived Space

AppWorks is the key private accelerator in Taiwan, situated only min-


utes from the City Hall metro station on Keelung Road. Since its
first batch of graduates in 2010, the accelerator has expanded to two
floors in a building that is full of other new technology small and
144    
L. Wing-Fai

medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups. Every six months, it


accepts 25–30 startup teams, and by 2015 it boasted around 275 teams
and 580 alumni in its network. Teams are placed on a six-month pro-
gramme during which they receive mentoring from successful tech
entrepreneurs, an open-plan office space and the use of other office
facilities (open 24 hours with free coffee).8 There are weekly train-
ing events, practice demonstrations and office hours for consultation
with AppWorks principals. After six months, teams can opt to move
to another floor of open office space with rents that are lower than are
available elsewhere. Though there is no age limit, the entrepreneurial
teams are predominantly young. I was invited to one of their Friday
happy hours, which included fast food (pizza, fries, fried chicken,
snacks, frizzy drinks and beers) and socialising. Previous AppWorks
startup teams and other friends in the same area often pop in, as do the
principals of the accelerator. One of the startup entrepreneurs stated:

AppWorks is great. There are pizzas every Friday! Ha ha. [The accelerator]
is really good to us. We can ask any difficult question, and they can find
some solution, and help solve issues as much as possible … AppWorks’
biggest strength is its human network. (Female founder, social media)

The reasons for choosing a shared office, then, often go beyond the
physical needs of the entrepreneurs. A staff member of a startup sug-
gested that Taiwanese startups often cooperated with each other,
and sharing offices facilitated mutual support and information shar-
ing. Despite competition, information sharing is important when
the startup teams need to find supportive venture capitalists to invest
in their companies. In turn, this interviewee pointed out that a good
venture capitalists, from the perspective of a startup, not only provides
financial support but also shares their experience and network.
Another co-working space I visited in Taichung was basically a café.
It was situated in a cultural and creative industry village supported by
the government. The complex, converted from disused military hous-
ing units, caters to entrepreneurs under the age of 35 who are start-
ing up in the cultural and creative industry. The entrepreneurs receive
a TWD 22,000 a month government subsidy. The owner of the
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
145

co-working space told me that ‘it is café style, so is closer to the cen-
tral idea of co-working where people are more open to meeting others
… It is all about connections and word-of-mouth among friends.’ One
of the founders of AppWorks agreed that the most important learning
opportunities for new founders come through its alumni and mentor
networks, not necessarily through the accelerator process per se. The
networks are also a very valuable asset to alumni if they hope to sur-
vive. This reason for choosing their workspaces has little to do with the
diversity or coolness of the environment. Another entrepreneur (male
founder, hardware-software integration) agreed that the most impor-
tant benefits of accelerator and incubator programmes were friendship
and contacts—in other words, the interpersonal relationships. Partners
and mentors met through participating in the business incubators may
introduce their industry contacts to the startup teams.
The sociality engendered by co-working spaces in Taiwan is assumed
to increase creativity and generate serendipity production. CLBC boasts
weekly social events. For example, I was invited to a pizza and Wii gam-
ing night when the tenants played against an American company that
one of the CLBC tenants worked for. CVS also organised many events,
such as language exchange, yoga classes, movie nights, and ping pong
and gaming sessions. The owner of CVS admitted that these events were
really a marketing tool meant to introduce the concept of co-working to
entrepreneurs in Taichung. She also asserted, ‘I’d like to make Taichung
more cultural. I don’t know who started using the term, but they call
it the “Cultural City.”’ In all three examples—AppWorks, CLBC and
CVS—social events are seen as opportunities for introducing people
to a specific ‘culture’ of entrepreneurship and to engendering network
sociality (Wittel 2001). The fact that these co-working spaces have to
promote the ‘working together’ culture suggests that serendipitous
production is a social construction. It has already been demonstrated
that many of the digital entrepreneurs share similar educational back-
grounds and social capital, and they are in networks that are the result
of homophily. These co-workspaces, socially constructed to support
a fun and creative lifestyle, are accessible only to those with the right
social, cultural and educational capital. Networking can be considered
a soft factor, but here it combines with the hard dimensions (low rent,
146    
L. Wing-Fai

business support and the prestigious physical environment) to produce


agglomeration of co-workspace (Murphy et al. 2015, p. 107). At the
same time, especially in the case of tech startups, the sharing of inno-
vative ideas might be more guarded (see for example the discussion
around open innovation and intellectual property among high-tech
small firms in Oakey 2013), despite the encouragement of openness and
co-creating in shared spaces. Nevertheless, a principal from an Internet
venture capital firm observed:

I know there are people who feel that there may be companies working
in similar areas sitting next to each other. When the team members dis-
cuss their products, they may feel uncomfortable. I don’t think it matters.
There are lots of ideas around. Lots of people can have the same idea.
The important thing is who can quickly execute it. I think an open space
where startup teams can exchange is a good thing.

There is an assumption that being physically together engenders social


interaction and sharing, and even co-creation. The disadvantage for
some companies may be the fear of leaking information to their com-
petitors. I would argue that the idea of the benefits of sharing is in fact
discursive. This can be seen in the differences in the construction of
sociality between private and publicly funded co-working spaces, with
claims of sociality of the former and the latter prioritising functional-
ity over conspicuous consumption. App ePark, a space located in the
Xinyi area of central Taipei, is a non-profit service of the Industrial
Development Bureau of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. I visited
several of the startup teams there and noticed the space was cramped,
equipped with approximately 20 desktop computers in rows that
accommodated around ten companies and enterprise teams. As stated
on its webpage, the space is created in response to the rise of the ‘shar-
ing economy’ and it is chiefly intended for startup teams working to
produce applications.9 Entrepreneurs must apply and be selected, unlike
at CLBC and CVS, which operate as private, profit-making co-working
spaces. The ePark is functional, without luxury in its furnishings or a
conscious effort to promote sociality.
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
147

It can also be argued that there is a gender dimension alongside the


homosocial spatialisation which co-working spaces tend to optimise.
Although the number of female interviewees in my sample was small
(see Table 4.1), the two female entrepreneurs who worked at home were
both part of husband and wife teams, and the three who used accelera-
tor co-working spaces were in the AppWorks programme. Throughout
my experiences of entering co-working spaces and attending industrial
events, I observed the domination of male entrepreneurs and attendees
(see this chapter). For instance, male participants at the events tended
to raise questions more often, reflecting the fact women can feel intimi-
dated in these spaces. Sociality, especially compulsory sociality, can both
include and exclude on the bases of social and cultural capital. In the
case of women in the high-tech startup sector, it can be difficult to join
networks that are dominated predominately by men, even though some
spaces, such as the AppWorks office, are relatively open. The female
entrepreneurs present in co-working spaces and venues associated with
the startup scene possess sufficient social and educational capital to
compensate for the gender hierarchy found in the startup sector.
In Taiwan, both users and managers of co-working spaces emphasised
networks and homophily, themes that are already familiar in this study
(see Chapter 2). Social activities are offered by the work spaces to build
networks of digital entrepreneurs and freelancers in order to construct
the myth that these spaces can stimulate serendipitous creativity. It is
also possible to compare and contrast public and private spaces. The for-
mer are more likely to focus on functional rather than luxury features,
and many are supported by government ministries or are associated
with public universities.

Mental Spaces/Representations of Space

As part of the articulation to innovation and creativity, those con-


nected with co-working spaces in Taiwan set out a discursive boundary
around spatial practice through the way they have ‘narrated the spaces’
(de Certeau 1984, pp. 115–16). The narration is a means of setting lim-
its and is part of a kind of everyday tactics that serves to organise places
148    
L. Wing-Fai

mentally. The narratives of places in my analysis do not necessarily map


the territories, as Michel de Certeau (1984) suggests, but they construct
boundaries, especially around the communities of co-workers. For some
in the Internet startup sector in Taiwan, the narratives also assert a dis-
tinctive eco-system that says ‘We are not like Hong Kong (or China),’
referring to the use of luxury furniture and luxury brands mentioned
above. Those connected with the co-working and maker spaces assert
social unity beyond the physical places, and as such they construct com-
munities, whether real or imagined.
This construction of community is particularly prominent among the
maker spaces that have emerged in Taiwan since the 2000s. The asser-
tion of distinctive communities around maker spaces is of particular
significance because the maker movement has been built on the con-
cept of open access and open source innovation and sharing. The maker
movement is often seen as a source of empowerment and a way of ‘mak-
ing subjectivities’ (Lindtner 2014). Silvia Lindtner’s work (2014, 2015)
focuses on Chinese netizens whose use of the Internet and subsequent
interest in hacking and the Internet of Things can be seen as a kind
of collective expression. Similar to the mainland Chinese makers that
Lindtner (2014) describes, the maker movement in Taiwan is a rela-
tively new import, while the country’s tech sector and digital consumers
are generally more open and developed than those in China. The open
source movement in China is connected to the open manufacturing of
shanzhai, or counterfeit and pirated foreign-branded goods, which are
originally fabricated in the southern city of Shenzhen. The term liter-
ally means ‘a country stronghold traditionally enforced by bandits.’
Open manufacturing has since evolved and matured, as exemplified
by successful companies like the Chinese smart phone brand Xiaomi,
which utilises China’s strong manufacturing base (Shih et al. 2014). The
Taiwanese maker and co-creation communities, on the other hand, are
inspired by the maker movement of the West, which focuses more on
principles of participating and sharing, or ‘doing it together’ (Schön
et al. 2014). Taiwanese makers have learned from early American
advocates of the movement, like Chris Anderson, and translated Make
magazine into traditional Chinese. The annual Maker Faire began in
San Francisco in 2006, and it was first replicated in Taipei in 2013.
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
149

Nonetheless, as a recent phenomenon, the maker movement in Taiwan


has to discursively construct a community built around its chosen prin-
ciples, and so these spaces also become part of the mental construction
of the movement. One maker space organiser suggested that Taiwanese
participants need to be educated about the ethos of co-creation because
many of them still wonder why people are willing to share software
openly.
A co-ordinator of a maker space in Taipei described how their man-
agement team considered themselves a kind of co-working space with
hardware and how they aspired to create a community:

There are probably two or three times more co-working spaces than
maker spaces in Taipei. We are not in shortage of co-working spaces
at all, but for a co-working space with a focus on hardware, that’s very
unusual. We’re a hardware-based co-working space. We have a lot of
participants who are doing this for fun, but for the management team,
it’s important to bridge the gap between design and industry … What
[a maker space] creates is something intangible, that is, the building of a
community. So you have a community, where people have ideas to collab-
orate, to make things together.

She went on to tell me that since the production cost has dropped so
much that it was easy to produce prototypes. Taiwanese entrepre-
neurs have used crowdsourcing platforms, such as Kickstarter, and the
Taiwanese equivalent, Flying V, which allow makers to test the market
and their ideas. The maker space mentioned above actively promoted
success stories and encouraged people to participate in the maker move-
ment. There are several elements of this spatial story. For this maker
space, there was an underlying aim that the activities should not result
in amateurish creations but that there should be some economic ben-
efits. This interviewee also pointed out that the maker community is
a relatively new one in Taiwan, but the space would not be ‘complete’
without the creation of a community. Within the community the phys-
ical (tangible) space engenders innovation with the availability of hard-
ware. However, many in the maker community also integrate software
and the virtual (crowdfunding) with the hardware. What this evinces is
150    
L. Wing-Fai

the complex construction of the ‘creative’ space from lived experiences,


as well as the perceived and conceived dimensions of the place, which
combine to support a union of creativity and innovation, a community
of workers together generating economic activities while working indi-
vidually. Again and again, the importance of sociality was put forward
as the reason for the existence of the spaces, while the combination of
the physical, social and mental dimensions of the places was said to
increase creativity and the possibility of innovation through serendipity:

We have ten members who drop in. The ten people are part of startup
teams themselves. So they are freelancers who come here to work every
day. What’s interesting is that they are software developers. It’s not only
hardware producers who are interested in our space. That’s why it’s so
interesting, running a community. We had a pizza lunch and shared expe-
riences, and we realised that some of our users had hardware backgrounds
… it’s easy for them to mingle and come up with something … When
something like that happens, new ideas pop out. (Organiser, a maker
space)

The basis of the maker movement is shared creation, and therefore the
term ‘community’ featured strongly in the narrations of the organisers
I interviewed. The origin of the Taiwanese maker community is often
attributed to someone called Honki, who started the Open Lab in a
dedicated artists’ cluster called Treasure Hill in Taipei, which was built
on the concept of collaboration back in 2008. For Honki, the most
important aspect of the Open Lab is community spirit, while ‘space
is not important’ (interview with the author). As Fig. 4.1 shows, the
Open Lab is a small, one-room studio that is jam packed with mate-
rials for building anything from robots to drones. When I spoke to
Honki, he was teaching another would-be maker about 3-D printing,
sharing his knowledge and expertise. By definition, the maker com-
munity is established on the basis of trust, with open source being the
driving force behind co-creation. The contrast between Open Lab and
private co-working spaces such as CLBC is stark. In the maker space,
there was no articulation to luxury or class. Richard Florida and sub-
sequent researchers on the creative class rarely comment on the mental
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
151

Fig. 4.1  Open Lab, maker space with shelves and boxes jam packed with mate-
rials and equipment
152    
L. Wing-Fai

representation of spaces; rather, the creative class seems to passively


respond to environmental factors in their choice of space. The organis-
ers of these spaces and the makers who use them, on the other hand, are
agents who seek to construct their own place in the Taiwanese context.
These communities are about changing the culture of work and entre-
preneurial activities, and, as discussed previously, there is a recognition
that potential users of these spaces need to be more receptive to this, as
one young female entrepreneur (founder of an electronic payment ser-
vice) who led a team in a co-working space called Changee (a company
with several locations in Taipei) stated: ‘I like the atmosphere here. It’s
very relaxing, like a coffee shop. We don’t like being in [a traditional]
office.’
I wish to emphasise the differences in the mental representations of
the distinct kinds of co-working spaces, which demonstrate how the
narratives delimit and categorise the spaces. Maker spaces, especially an
organisation like Open Lab, contrast with the private co-working spaces
that seek to appeal to potential users through class distinction. Some
publicly funded spaces, such as the Yes Accelerator Program based in the
Hsinchu High Tech Park, established through a government initiative in
the 1980s, and the App ePark, supported by the Ministry of Economic
Affairs, offer co-working locations, but they tend not to emphasise cul-
tural capital the way that private spaces like CLBC do. Instead, these
publicly funded spaces are designed for functionality; the manager of
a public co-working space told me that since the space was funded by
the government, any expenditure had to be accounted for. The low rent
(TWD 3000 for a hot desk) at the Yes Program is partially subsidised as
the accelerator programme is publicly funded. It does not boast luxury
services, but it offers the benefits of partnership with established cor-
porations, including Hon Hai. Indeed, the office and co-working space
are located in a Hon Hai-owned building, with tight security making it
difficult for outsiders to access. The programme taps into the extensive
network of NCTU alumni. This close relationship translates into busi-
ness opportunities for startups and the possibility to access private and
public funding. Therefore, the co-working spaces I have investigated
often utilised an existing proximity to infrastructure (the broader indus-
trial context), supported by government policy and strategy, or created
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
153

their own social spaces assumed to engender the sharing of knowledge


through community building.
The maker spaces in Taipei are relatively new and follow the princi-
ples of the maker movement of the West. Rather than focusing on the
physical arrangement of the spaces or the social networks that are built
around them, the organisers and key players in the maker movement
discursively construct the spaces as central to the building of a commu-
nity. These are de Certeau’s ‘oral descriptions of places.’ However, for
co-working spaces, the narrations do not map the physical space and
guide the listeners, as in the original conceptualisation, but their most
important function is to mark out the boundaries (de Certeau’s bornage )
(1984, p. 122) of the user communities. In particular, as the co-work-
ing and co-creation communities are relatively new in Taipei, organisers
assert themselves as those who are responsible for ‘founding and articu-
lating spaces’ (p. 123), that is, constructing a community and making
connections across different entrepreneurial practices within the ecosys-
tem. My interviewees’ depictions of the maker spaces in Taipei exem-
plified Michel de Certeau’s concept of spatial stories (1984), through
which new communities of knowledge workers and entrepreneurs are
articulated spatially, and the boundaries around them are narrated.

Concluding Remarks
(Social) space is not a thing among other things, nor a product among
other products: rather, it subsumes things produced, and encompasses
their interrelationships in their coexistence and simultaneity—their rel-
ative order and/or (relative) disorder. (Lefebvre and Nicholson-Smith
1991, p. 73)

In this chapter, I examine the spaces and places connected to the


Internet, software and mobile sector in Taiwan, which operates largely
online and are therefore ‘virtual.’ These physical places have been
assumed to have some connection with creativity and innovation, but
these assumptions have not been tested empirically and theoretically.
This study examines co-working and co-creation spaces and the maker
154    
L. Wing-Fai

movement in Taiwan, using a comparative perspective in relation to the


emerging co-working scene in Hong Kong. I consider digital startup
founders as knowledge workers. The startup ecosystem, especially the
co-working and co-creation spaces, has provided an infrastructure spe-
cific to their work. The places and spaces associated with co-working in
Taiwan do not exist in isolation, but they have synergy with large com-
panies and are firmly part of the wider industrial infrastructure. In turn,
the existing industrial and national context, including large electronics
corporations and government ministries, has played a part in the startup
scene. There are in fact close links between startups and the industrial
and economic contexts in Taiwan. Co-working spaces are often part
of government initiatives aimed at supporting industrial restructuring.
Sometimes, these workspaces are provided by programmes associated
with universities specialising in training engineers and computer scien-
tists. In Hsinchu and Taipei, large corporations and startups are often
co-located.
This analysis also contributes to our understanding of the social con-
struction of space. Virtual workers and digital entrepreneurs in Taiwan
do not need to have a shared office. Indeed, some of the digital entre-
preneurs in my study worked at home or collaborated remotely with
colleagues. There are practical considerations for co-working spaces,
such as cheap rent and an environment conducive to concentration.
However, co-workers are attracted not only to the lower costs of an
open office but also to the infrastructure, support, social and cultural
aspects, and the assumed intangible benefits of ‘working together alone.’
Three kinds of spatial practices—physical, social and mental—help
to construct these places of work. Co-working spaces and co-crea-
tion spaces distinguish themselves through physical arrangements that
aspire to cultural capital and distinction. Sociality is often enforced, and
it contributes to the social network of the ecosystem. The co-workers
and organisers told spatial stories about the importance of the commu-
nity. However, sub-categories of co-working spaces, whether private
or public, and maker spaces, were narrated differently in the workers’
delineations of the boundaries around the communities. When exam-
ining these relevant spatial practices, this chapter demonstrates the
importance of close networks and sociality. While there are similarities
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
155

between the co-working spaces in Taiwan and the West, specific prac-
tices and ‘stories’ distinguish the relatively new startup culture and the
maker movement that has developed in the East Asia.
While users of these spaces are involved in virtual work and they deal
with new knowledge, the heightened sociality, cultural networks, cul-
tural and social distinctions, oral stories, social and cultural capital, and
imagined community all recall longstanding sociological problems, such
as the exclusion of those without equal cultural capital and the gender-
ing of spaces. Richard Florida’s idea of the creative class (2002a, b) and
subsequent urban studies focus on the clustering of creative talents in
specific geographical locations without reference to industrial develop-
ment more widely, and his approach tends to ignore the agency of the
workers and render them passive in their geographical mobility. The
current analysis challenges the concept of the creative class by focusing
on the articulation of class distinction and the formation of networks.
The chapter argues that it is necessary for knowledge workers to be
part of the social networks that form the basis of the startup eco-sys-
tem. The places of work for these nascent entrepreneurs and co-work-
ers can be explained through a spatial articulation of social and cultural
capital that marks the boundaries around an imagined community of
the young, creative and middle class. Social networks, moreover, inter-
sect with other characteristics, such as gender, which have been previ-
ously discussed. Given the social, cultural and educational capital that
digital entrepreneurs possess, their choice of workspace is related to
their relatively privileged position. These workspaces and the assertion
of an imagined community also reveal an aspiration to a Western ideal
of an entrepreneurial lifestyle. For instance, the entrepreneur of a pri-
vate co-working space studied in New York and saw the similar spaces
there, which inspired her to open up an office in Taiwan, where such
spaces were lacking. The social production of space in Taiwan cannot
be explained through a congregation of diverse, bohemian workers, as
in Florida’s conceptualisation of the creative class, but rather the entre-
preneurs and freelancers are agents of change as their class position
intersects with gender and transcultural backgrounds to become the
experience of a new generation in Taiwan.
156    
L. Wing-Fai

In conclusion, there are two levels of spatial arrangement: the spa-


tial connection between traditional high-tech industries and the startup
ecosystem, and the co-working and maker spaces as places of cultural
and social networks. Physical spaces can be thought of as less relevant
in the online economy, and yet the cultural and social aspects of these
spatial practices explain the importance of sociality for digital entrepre-
neurs and why these places of work remain significant in the organisa-
tion of the startup ecosystem and digital labour in the new Asian cities.
The digital entrepreneurs in question engage in physical, social and
mental practices to construct a community for themselves. Analysing
the social construction of workspaces in the digital sector foregrounds
the importance of sociality among the entrepreneurs, and shows that
the virtual and the tangible are not mutually exclusive parts of the
startup community. Through examining the spatial constructions asso-
ciated with co-working spaces, I argue that social spaces remain highly
relevant in relation to the virtual economy.

Notes
1. Space is perceived when it is observed and interpreted in everyday life.
Representations of space demonstrate the discourses on space—the
regimes of theories and expert knowledge. The representational space is
‘directly lived through its associated images and symbols’ (Lefebvre and
Nicholson-Smith 1991, pp. 33, 39–42).
2. h t t p : / / w w w. h e r m a n m i l l e r. c o . u k / p r o d u c t s / s e a t i n g / p e r f o r -
mance-work-chairs/aeron-chairs.html. Accessed 25 November 2016.
3. http://clbc.tw/coworkingspace/. Accessed 15 August 2015.
4. http://mba.cuhk.edu.hk/news_post/booming-startup-ecosystem-sig-
nals-bright-future-hong-kong-entrepreneurs/. Accessed 25 November
2016.
5. http://mba.cuhk.edu.hk/news_post/booming-startup-ecosystem-sig-
nals-bright-future-hong-kong-entrepreneurs/. Accessed 25 November
2016.
6. http://brinc.io. Accessed 4 November 2016.
7. http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/technology/start-ups/article/1747842/hong-
kong-tipping-point-becoming-fast-growing-and. Accessed 25 November
2016.
4  Luxury Chairs and Pizzas: The Production …    
157

8. https://appworks.tw. Accessed 4 November 2016.


9. http://app2.epark.org.tw/rule.php. Accessed 15 October 2016.

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5
Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal

Introduction
In the summer of 2017, sexual harassment scandals plagued Silicon
Valley, which supposedly prides ‘itself as being progressive, open and
supportive to all, especially the most marginalized people,’ while also
paradoxically, being well-known for its a male-dominated culture and
‘frat-boy lifestyle.’1 The Silicon Valley scandal has been echoed in the
#MeToo campaign, which began in October of the same year after reve-
lations of the sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer
Harvey Weinstein. The movement generated millions of responses,
demonstrating the extent of sexual misconduct, mostly against women,
happening in the workplace. The #MeToo campaign illustrates the kind
of barriers which are found in the male-dominated cultures, including
that of Silicon Valley, and how these barriers serve to discourage women
from formally complaining about sexual harassment.
The allegations in Silicon Valley brought to light that many tech
companies tacitly endorse sexual harassment when they asked female
employees to agree to non-disparagement clauses. The spats of accu-
sations in 2017 began when a female engineer, Susan Fowler, alleged

© The Author(s) 2019 161


L. Wing-Fai, Digital Entrepreneurship, Gender and Intersectionality,
Dynamics of Virtual Work, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97523-8_5
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L. Wing-Fai

sexual harassment while she was working at Uber. After accusations of


sexual harassment from many female tech employees and startup entre-
preneurs, several male executives, including Dave McClure (founder
of 500 Startups), Travis Kalanick (Uber) and Justin Caldbeck (Binary
Capital), publicly apologised or resigned. Malaysian born Cheryl Yeoh
detailed how McClure kissed her and suggested she sleep with him
when he stayed behind after drinks in Yeoh’s apartment with other 500
Startups employees and friends.2 Yeoh’s startup had received investment
from 500 Startups. At first she did not want to speak up and jeopardise
her business relationship with McClure because he had agreed to take
the accelerator programme to Asia. This kind of experience has been
repeatedly disclosed by female founders, including many women of col-
our. For example, in a CNN report, six female startup founders, includ-
ing Susan Ho, Leiti Hsu, Cecilia Pagkalinawan and Lisa Wang, accused
Silicon Valley investors of sexual harassment.3
The overwhelming majority (89%) of decision-makers at the top 72
venture capital firms are male, according to data cited by the CNN. In
2016, venture capitalists invested USD64.9 billion in male-founded
startups, compared to only USD1.5 billion (2.25%) into female-
founded startups.4 These figures point out that women who are looking
to obtain funding face an imbalanced power dynamic weighted towards
successful male investors and business support leaders. This imbalance
often makes women vulnerable to sexual harassment and prevents
them from speaking out when it happens. Susan Wu, an entrepreneur,
reported being touched and propositioned by male investors, includ-
ing Justin Caldbeck of Binary Capital, on several occasions. She com-
ments, ‘There is such a massive imbalance of power that women in the
industry often end up in distressing situations’ (Benner 2017). Another
Asian American entrepreneur in San Francisco, Lindsay Meyer, told
the New York Times that Caldbeck put USD25,000 of his own money
into her fitness startup in 2015 and subsequently groped and kissed her
and propositioned her by text. Mayer says she felt that she had to toler-
ate the sexual harassment ‘because this is the cost of being a nonwhite
female founder’ (Benner 2017). The latest scandals in Silicon Valley
have not been isolated incidences of discriminatory practices facing
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163

Asian females. Asian female workers in the global tech industry have
engaged in legal challenges to their employers in recent years.
This chapter focuses on Asian women’s involvement in the global
tech industry through an examination of discrimination experienced
by women in Silicon Valley and the career history of two high-pro-
file female entrepreneurs from Taiwan. Ellen Pao, a former partner in
the Silicon Valley venture capital investment firm Kleiner Perkins,
announced in September 2015 that she would not pursue an appeal
against the company after she brought a lawsuit for sex discrimination
in 2012. Pao’s case directly inspired a study, ‘Elephant in the Valley,’5
which surveyed 200 women who were in executive positions, venture
capitalists, or startup entrepreneurs, and it found that 60% had expe-
rienced unwanted sexual advances. Ninety percent had witnessed sex-
ist behaviour at company offsite events or at industry conferences. In
March 2015, a former employee of Facebook, Taiwanese-American
Chia Hong, alleged sex discrimination, sexual harassment and racial dis-
crimination after she was fired and replaced by a less qualified and less
experienced male. In May 2015, software engineer Tina Huang alleged
gender discrimination while she was employed by Twitter.
Asian and Asian American women who work for global corpora-
tions in Silicon Valley or who own tech companies have entered the
upper echelons of the digital sphere. Nonetheless, they face many bar-
riers in their careers, as demonstrated by the sex harassment scandals,
lawsuits, and economic and management difficulties. This chapter will
first expand on the critical discourses on gender and technology work-
ers detailed in the Introductory chapter of this book. It will examine
the spate of lawsuits against Silicon Valley firms around 2015 and
their implications. These court cases in the USA explain some of the
reasons for the exodus of women from technical careers. This will be
followed by an analysis of the careers of two Taiwanese female entre-
preneurs, Cher Wang (b.1958), founder and CEO of the Taiwanese
mobile phone corporation HTC (High Tech Computer Corporation).
Wang was expected to turn the company around after shares lost more
than 90% of their values between 2011 and 2015.6 Eva Chen (b.1959)
founded the security firm Trend Micro. The examples of Wang and
Chen will serve to explain some of the challenges faced by women in
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L. Wing-Fai

tech and the discourses surrounding successful women in the sector.


The current analysis compares and contrasts their experiences with
those of women who are tech workers in Silicon Valley. The analysis will
also enrich the research I have done with female digital startup entre-
preneurs. Because the companies that Wang and Chen lead are global,
transnational corporations, it is possible that their cases will show dif-
ferent gender dynamics to that in the startup sector. In the discussion
that follows, I will examine what these cases tell us about gender and
women in the digital media industry and offer insight into how gen-
der intersects with ethnicity and other salient personal characteristics in
determining women’s positions on- and off-line. Finally, the following
questions will be addressed: If female workers remain under-represented
in the high-tech and digital media sector, how does an analysis of these
high-profile and successful women entrepreneurs who run global tech
companies, and those who have experienced discrimination, contribute
to existing scholarship on gender and technology? How does the current
research, which offers insights that go beyond gender and utilises a com-
parative perspectives from a non-Western vantage point, contribute to
the discussion?

Critical Discourses on Gender and Technology


The information society is not necessarily a level playing field for all
who want to work within it. Women have long been under-represented
in the technology and digital media industries. As can be seen from the
Introduction of this book, numerous studies have documented how
women in the industry are assumed to be less ‘technical’ and therefore
are more likely to perform gendered roles (Guerrier et al. 2009; Michie
and Nelson 2006; Trauth 2002; Wajcman 2007; Xia and Kleiner 2001).
Most studies focus on the gender dimension when discussing the struc-
tural and organisational barriers that exist. Technology is a socially con-
structed concept (Trauth 2002), and it has long been associated with
masculinity (Cockburn 1983). Work places in the tech sector are gen-
dered organisations (Acker 1992) which harbour a masculinised culture
(Bury 2010) that promotes ‘masculine’ values. The importance of caring
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
165

is not recognised (Sorensen 1992, p. 18), and little space is allocated for
alternative social values. Techies face high expectations; ‘technical bril-
liance, innovation, creativity, independent work ethics, long hours, and
complete dedication to projects are the main requirements for compa-
nies trying to position themselves on the cutting edge’ (Cooper 2000,
p. 385). Socially and discursively constructed innate differences between
men and women view the two genders as a dichotomy, with men more
attuned to IT skills and women attuned to emotional and social skills
(Kelan 2007). Men are perceived to be best at rational work. Their skills
are conceived to be more suited to ‘hard’ technical roles (Woodfield
2002, p. 125). When male workers come out of their workstations and
communicate with others, they are seen to be performing a kind of
hybrid role (Woodfield 2002; Glover and Guerrier 2010; Bury 2010).
Men in hybrid roles are seen as techies who have social skills, but when
women take up similar roles their social skills are not recognised or
rewarded (Woodfield 2002). Women in the sector either challenge the
masculinised culture that has become synonymous with technology, or
they take up ‘softer’ roles—non-technical, more informal, people-facing
roles—within the organisations. In other words, in order to maintain
careers and fit into the culture constructed around technology, some
women render their gender invisible by downplaying their femininity
(Adam et al. 2006) or performing gender through taking up expected
roles (Bury 2010).
Niki Panteli and colleagues discuss a gendered pattern of labour
where women are under-represented in management, technical roles
and hardware but over-represented in administration and in software,
so ‘women remain disproportionally distanced, symbolically and prac-
tically, from power and authority’ (Panteli et al. 2001, p. 13). Susan
Adams and Joseph Weiss (2011) dispute the idea that women progress
to leadership only when they take on more ‘people-oriented’ roles.
Instead, they suggest that there are three kinds of leadership role: tech-
nologist, change agent and business expert (Adams and Weiss 2011,
p. 225) and women tend to focus more on change and business man-
agement. The cases examined in this chapter reveal highly accom-
plished women—some in management and technical roles—who have
worked with some of the world’s most recognisable companies or have
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L. Wing-Fai

established and run global tech corporations. What kind of barriers do


such women still face, and are these barriers the effects of individual
traits, gendered cultures within organisations, or a combination of these
factors?
I would argue that by focusing on gender alone, the literature so far
does not account for the combination of factors that form barriers for
women (and sometimes men) working in the tech sector. For example,
tech employees are often expected to work extremely long hours. One
report suggests that the average workweek is 71 hours, which makes it a
very difficult field for anyone with a family.7 It is likely that women who
have children and other care commitments find it difficult to continue
the long working hours. Life course and age are therefore factors that
need to be taken into account, as Rhiannon Bury asserts: ‘As women
age, they lose their “power” and become invisible and overlooked in
multiple contexts, including hiring and promotion’ (2010, p. 234). This
is endemic in the sector, including among startup companies and their
founders. While venture capitalists in Silicon Valley are more likely to
fund younger ‘alpha males’ because they are confident and can ‘talk the
talk.’ Lafrance (2015) observes that ‘women founders were pushed out
or into lesser roles as a condition for investment, while similarly inex-
perienced male founders were given the benefit of the doubt and sup-
ported.’ Personal history and family responsibilities usually change with
age. Marie Griffiths and colleagues write that it is difficult for ‘techies’
to care for their families and strike a work-life balance due to expecta-
tions of presenteeism, long work hours and being available outside of
the traditional nine-to-five work day. Many female techies feel unable
to voice their family commitments for fear they will not appear to fit
into the ‘masculinised’ work environment (Griffiths et al. 2007, p. 344).
Having said that, it has been shown that men also remain silent about
conflicts of work and home life, especially on the subject of childcare,
in order to avoid taking family issues to work (Cooper 2000). As shown
in Chapters 2 and 3, the oft-assumed gender differences in the way that
men and women balance their work and family commitments are some-
times over-exaggerated. In response to the focus on gender in existing
research perspectives, my analysis in this chapter will expand upon the
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
167

issue of gender as it criss-crosses with other personal characteristics,


including age and ethnicity.
In the previous chapter, I discuss how homosocial networks of people
with shared cultural and economic backgrounds bring together those
who possess similar capital. Family background also plays an impor-
tant part in the formation of class identities, which in turn influence
individuals’ potential for entrepreneurship. Jayawarna and colleagues
suggest that ‘differential standards of educational attainment and
labour market experience during childhood are significantly linked to
the potential for entrepreneurship,’ and ‘family resources, parental sup-
port for education and their business experience moderate this relation-
ship’ (Jayawarna et al. 2014, p. 920). In my own research on cultural
and creative industry professionals in the UK, intersections between
gender, age and parental status are shown to affect their careers (Leung
et al. 2015). While in Taiwan and the Asian region, ethnicity is not as
strong a factor in influencing the experiences of the tech workers and
entrepreneurs, for Asian workers in global companies based in the West,
race and ethnicity are pertinent characteristics that affect their careers.
‘Intersectionality has become the predominant way of conceptualizing
the relation between systems of oppression which construct our mul-
tiple identities and our social locations in hierarchies of power and
privilege’ (Carastathis 2014, p. 304). Intersectionality can account for
multiple forms of discrimination and allow us to understand the com-
plex choices workers make, with intersections usually found between
gender, race and class (Browne and Misra 2003).
A study by Angela Martinez Dy and colleagues (Martinez Dy et al.
2016) confirms that gender, race and class play an important role in
replicating the offline disadvantages faced by women digital entrepre-
neurs in the UK, even without visible markers online. Women have
to deal with disadvantaged positionalities that reduce their ability to
access the beneficial conditions that assist individuals to get ahead in
the digital economy, including the access to ‘finance, social networks,
and educational and employment experiences that contribute to human
capital’ (Martinez Dy et al. 2016, p. 18). Yet, the authors state, ‘how
social positions affect entrepreneurial activity in the allegedly neu-
tral digital environment remains under-investigated’ (p. 4). In a study
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L. Wing-Fai

in Manchester, North West England, Sandra Fielden and Marilyn


Davidson (2012) find similar barriers for BAME (Black, Asian, minor-
ity ethnic) women business owners in gaining access to formal and
informal support. Traditional gender roles prevail in family business
networks, so many of these women are not registered as business owners
but rather participate in family enterprises as members of husband and
wife teams (Fielden and Davidson 2012, p. 561), a finding similar to
mine in Taiwan.
While existing critiques of the tech industry focus on gender, they
have neglected the contingent, multiple forms of identification (as
women, belonging to minority ethnic groups and so forth) that can
explain the overlapping systems of subordination (Crenshaw 1991; Brah
and Phoenix 2004). This is relevant for Asian American female employ-
ees operating in a predominantly male and white environment. It is not
always straightforward to pinpoint the characteristics that are causal in
creating discrimination or barriers to women’s careers. However, Asian
workers’ experiences would be qualitatively different from those of
white women, even though they share similar subordinate positions in
the gender hierarchy (Carastathis 2014). East Asian Americans as ‘the
model minority’—a hardworking, high achieving racial group (see Poon
et al. 2016)—may be seen to conform to a stereotype that distinguishes
them from the cultural, racial and linguistic forms of the host nation
and the majority (Lowe 1996, p. 6). Minority women in the tech sec-
tor therefore have to address issues of both race and gender to negotiate
their positions within masculine settings (Ong 2005).
The framework of intersectionality is particularly pertinent for the
two subject areas studied in this chapter: women who brought lawsuits
against major Silicon Valley corporations and the female Taiwanese
entrepreneurs who founded global tech firms. An intersectional frame-
work will allow my analysis to consider the complex social, institutional
and cultural factors affecting women’s tech careers, rather than the
leaky pipeline metaphor, which seeks to explain why women disappear
from science and ICT (information, communication and technology)
careers. Cecilia Castaño and Juliet Webster criticise the metaphor for its
lack of attention to complex structural barriers and denial of women’s
agency (Castaño and Webster 2011, p. 368). It is imperative to consider
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
169

women’s life courses through the lens of gender constructions, as well


as the effects of family, age, work and ethnicity. In other words, a study
of technology and women needs to make visible gender, race, class, age
and related personal characteristics, such as family. The enterprises these
women are involved in are global corporations, and a critical under-
standing guided by intersectionality will allow this analysis to consider
the systems of oppression and the power hierarchies in existence within
them, while locating the intersecting factors within global capitalist sys-
tems. These case studies are narratives of the women’s lives built from
media reports, company details and court proceedings. I examine fac-
tors influencing the female entrepreneurs’ businesses and the workers’
reasons for leaving their tech careers, including their personal back-
grounds, education, training, management experience, social and cul-
tural capital, and the specific national context.

Challenging Careers in Silicon Valley


The participation of Asians in the development of Silicon Valley is
undeniable. As AnnaLee Saxenian (1999) points out in her study, a
quarter of the entrepreneurs who founded businesses in the area were
from China or India. The strong presence of immigrant and minority
ethnic workers in Silicon Valley means that it is a place ‘where intense
specialization in a single technological sector (computers) and par-
ticular flows of capital may well profoundly determine the shape that
ethnoscapes, ideoscapes, and mediascapes may take’ (Appadurai 1990,
p. 47), The participation of the Asian workers in the mecca of techni-
cal innovation demonstrates the collision between Arjun Appadurai’s
‘scapes,’ which determine global exchange of information. He considers
the cross-border flows of people, technology, capital, ideas and media
as disjunctures that engender complex interrelationships. A technos-
cape in Appadurai’s framework is about the movement of hardware and
information across previously clearly defined borders. It is surprising
that little attention has been paid to diversity within the industries in
the Valley until relatively recently, which speaks to these complex social
relations. Until the recent past Silicon Valley companies refused the
170    
L. Wing-Fai

release of workforce data, which they argued could harm their compet-
itiveness.8 In 2014 Google began an industry-wide initiative to disclose
workforce figures relating to diversity (Lafrance 2015). In the mean-
time, the poor record of achieving and managing diversity among the
workforce in the tech sector has been demonstrated through a series of
high-profile lawsuits brought by Asian American workers against Silicon
Valley global corporations.
Ellen Pao was a former junior partner of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield
and Byers (KPCB), a venture capital firm. Located in Menlo Park in
Silicon Valley, KPCB is one of the most well-known venture capital
providers. It has backed Amazon, Google and Symantec, among doz-
ens of other top Valley companies. Pao joined Kleiner Perkins in 2005
and was fired in 2012. She subsequently brought a three-and-a-half-
year legal case against the firm for gender discrimination and retali-
ation. Pao exemplifies the Chinese American model minority myth,
and her personal background appears to demonstrate meritocracy as an
American ideal. Her parents grew up in China and studied in the USA
with scholarships, staying on and bringing up Pao, who also took the
education route to upward mobility.9 She earned a bachelor’s degree in
electrical engineering from Princeton, followed by a law degree and an
MBA from Harvard. Pao claimed that at KPCB she heard conversations
about pornography, was excluded from an all-male ski trip, and experi-
enced sexual harassment from a partner and retaliation after she ended
a relationship with a married co-worker.10 The partner, Ajit Nazre, later
left the firm when another investor at KPCB accused him of sexual
harassment.11 Pao reported overhearing male co-workers discounting
a talented woman CEO by saying that she was a board member only
because she was ‘hot.’12 Some of the testimony described situations and
interactions all too familiar to women in a highly competitive, cutthroat
sector: a senior male colleague calling a female co-worker ‘a bit too
opinionated,’ and high-ranking women being asked to do administra-
tive tasks, such as note-taking during meetings, or being asked to sit in
the back row. ‘The trial sheds light on the double standards women con-
sistently face at work, including assertions that Pao “raised her voice”
yet “could not own a room.”’13
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
171

Pao lost the first case in March 2015 and was ordered to pay
USD276,000. She lodged an appeal, but announced in September
2015 that she would not continue with the appeal, claiming that ‘my
experience shows how difficult it is to address discrimination through
the court system.’14 In Californian courts, discrimination has to be
proved to be intentional, and harassment and discrimination claims
have to be filed within one year of the alleged incident. KPCB had
ample resources at their disposal to delay the court date, which would
add to the costs and stress for Pao. She also claimed that the firm hired
a public relations team to pursue trolling tactics against her and her
family. The firm countered that she was fired for poor performance and
that her personality ‘was simply not right for the firm.’15 The media also
reported how her husband, Buddy Fletcher, brought a lawsuit against
the apartment building where they lived, and the hedge fund he ran
filed for bankruptcy, raising questions over the motives and timing of
Pao’s suit.16
The all-male, oppressive environment described by Pao recalls the
existence of the ‘boys’ clubs’ found elsewhere, including the media
industry (Leung et al. 2015; Randle et al. 2007). The sitcom series
Silicon Valley (HBO, 2014–) satirises the power of global corporations
and the dynamics between them and startups, detailing the kind of geek
culture dominated by young alpha males. The startup team in the series
is made up entirely of young male geeks. Women in technology have
been advised to learn golf and hangout at bars, drinking or pretending
to like sports in order to advance their careers.17 According to Browne
and Misra, ‘individuals not only generalise from ideas regarding social
groups to individuals, but they tend to perceive those like themselves
more favorably’ (2013, p. 501). As I have demonstrated in the previous
chapters, sociality can include or exclude, depending on one’s social and
cultural capital, and this dynamic especially affects minorities includ-
ing women and ethnic groups. For women in the tech sector, it can be
difficult to join the networks that are occupied predominately by men
(Leung 2016). Pao’s case, though disapproved by the court, suggests
that all these longstanding discriminatory practices exist among top
Valley firms. Pao was extremely vocal during and after the case, and her
analysis provides supporting evidence for the unwillingness of the sector
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L. Wing-Fai

to admit and keep female entrepreneurs or workers. ‘Actually, it’s about


how the system treats people before and after they enter tech,’ Pao said.
‘At this point, we’ve heard enough excuses. Know that when people use
dog whistles like “the pipeline problem,” they are saying: We haven’t
done anything wrong, and we don’t care to fix it.’18 After raising the
issue of diversity so forcefully and losing her legal battle, 2015 proved to
be a year of media attention on Ellen Pao. After leaving KPCB, she had
become the CEO of Reddit, where she cracked down on hate speech
and revenge porn.19 However, she was forced to give up that position in
2015 after ‘one of the largest trolling attacks in history’ (a petition for
her to leave the company had 213,000 signatures). Pao’s attempt to raise
the issue of sexism and racism in Silicon Valley and in relation to the
content of social media generated a great deal of backlash.
Some of the biggest global tech corporations have been compelled to
face their lack of diversity through the media presence of employees and
former employees. For example, in 2013, Pinterest coder Tracy Chou
revealed that the number of female engineers at the firm was just 11 out
of 89 (12%).20 The sexist culture of these corporations has been writ-
ten about in a 2012 book called The Boy Kings: A Journey into the Heart
of the Social Network by former Facebook employee Katherine Losse,
who joined the firm in 2005. In response to some of these challenges,
Facebook implemented a generous maternity leave policy and hired
Sheryl Sandberg, who had long advocated for women in technology, as
Chief Operating Officer in 2008.21 The profile of the employees and
leadership at Facebook in 2014 is presented in Table 5.1.22

Table 5.1  Gender and ethnicity of Facebook employees in 2014


All employees (%) Senior level (%)
Female 31 23
Male 69 77
White 57 74
Asian 34 19
African American 2 2
Hispanic 4 4
Two or more races 3 1
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
173

Despite these efforts, another legal challenge was brought by an


employee of Facebook, the Taiwanese-born Chia Hong, who claimed
sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination against
the company. She asserted that she was fired and replaced by an Indian
man who was ‘less qualified, less experienced.’23 She also claimed that
her professional opinions were often ignored at meetings where she was
the only employee of Chinese descent present.24 She hired the same
lawyers who had represented Ellen Pao. Hong worked for Facebook
from June 2010 to October 2013, first as programme manager and
then as a technology partner. She singled out a particular manager, Anil
Wilson, for asking her why she did not stay home to take care of her
children instead of having a career, and for reprimanding Hong for
taking time off from work to visit her child at school. Hong was also
ordered to organise parties and serve drinks to male colleagues, tasks
that were clearly not in her job description.25 Wilson was also alleged to
have told her that he ‘had heard she was an “order taker,” by which he
meant that she did not exercise independent discretion in the execution
of her job duties.’26 The stereotype of ‘order taker’ comes from the rep-
resentations of Latinas and Asian women as docile but manually agile,
traits that therefore make them good factory workers but poor manag-
ers (Holvino 2010). The race discrimination claim was also based on
the fact that Hong was told she was not part of the team because her
looks and speech set her apart from other team members.27 All these
accusations support the existing literature in that Hong was expected
to take on gendered roles within the company. The expectation of her
less capable and therefore unable to progress to leadership roles was a
result of both her ethnicity and gender. Hong’s childcare responsibili-
ties were also called into question. Even though men in the tech sector
also have family responsibilities, many of them simply understand the
gendered culture well enough to silence the conflict between work and
care and to hide any home issues from the workplace (Cooper 2000).
Hong’s case shows that if one does not, it is often raised by management
as a problem.
Hong claimed that during her time with Facebook, she in fact had
good performance reviews and received raises until she complained
about Wilson and gender and race discrimination, after which she was
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L. Wing-Fai

given a negative evaluation and wrongly terminated.28 Hong’s case


sends a signal about the complexity of the barriers that exist for women
seeking careers in Silicon Valley. A combination of different personal
characteristics are at work. According to Hong, an Indian man who was
less qualified and less experienced replaced her. So was the discrimina-
tion because she was of a particular race or because she was a woman, as
well as an ethnic minority? Although age was not mentioned, the man’s
lesser experience implies that Hong was prevented from progressing
despite having the necessary experience and qualifications. Finally, sim-
ilar to Pao’s case, the company, when faced with accusations of sex and
race discrimination, claimed that it was Hong—as an individual—who
did not fit in and that she was not a team player, rather than admitting
that the organisation’s culture which was discriminatory. Hong dropped
the law suit in October 2015 without giving a specific reason.29
My third case study involves software engineer Tina Huang, who
worked for Twitter from 2009 to 2014. She alleged that there were no
formal procedures for job openings and promotions but that the com-
pany instead relied on a ‘shoulder tap’ process that prevented women
from progressing to top engineering positions. In other words, the pro-
motional system in the corporation discriminates on the basis of gen-
der.30 When she complained to the CEO Dick Costolo, she was put
on leave, and after three months passed without a clear explanation of
her suspension or a time frame for her to return to work, she resigned
from the firm and initiated a lawsuit. It is worth listing the ten com-
plaints that Huang made as part of her suit because they represent
informal procedures that prevent women from progressing in many
organisations31:
a. Reliance upon subjective, gender-based and/or arbitrary criteria uti-
lised by a nearly all male managerial workforce in making promo-
tion decisions;
b. Failure to follow a uniform job posting procedure to guarantee that
all employees have notice of openings;
c. Effectively discouraging women from seeking or applying for senior
level and leadership positions;
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
175

d. Failing and refusing to consider women for promotion on the same


basis as men are considered;
e. Failing and refusing to promote women on the same basis as men
are promoted and compensated;
f. Failing to provide women with accurate and timely notice of pro-
motional opportunities;
g. Providing women employees interested in promotion shifting,
inconsistent and inaccurate statements about the requirements and
qualifications necessary for promotion;
h. Establishing and maintaining arbitrary and subjective requirements
for promotions which have the effect of excluding qualified women
and which have not been shown to have any significant relationship
to job performance or to be necessary to the safe and efficient con-
duct of Twitter’s business;
i. Failing and refusing to take adequate steps to eliminate the effects of
its past discriminatory practises; and,
j. Retaliating against women employees who complain of unequal
treatment.

Huang’s complaints therefore centred on informal promotion practices


that are likely to favour people similar to those already in leadership
positions (homophily). So in this case, these practices help promote
white males because, by objective measurements, Twitter has been
dominated by a such a workforce. Its 2014 employment statistics show
that 30% of employees were female, but that figure dropped to 10%
for tech-related job roles. It also failed to find a single woman to sit on
its board prior to its initial public offering in 2013.32 Huang sought
class-action status for the case, and called for all current and former
female employees of Twitter who had been denied promotion in the
three years prior to the complaint to come forward.33 Twitter responded
in September 2015 by announcing its commitment to increase the per-
centage of women in global technology jobs from 13 to 16%, and to
raise the minority ethnic workforce within the tech sector in the USA
to 11 from 2% for African Americans and 3% for Latinos. It would
also increase leadership roles of women to 25%, up from 22%. Twitter’s
own figures show that its high-paying tech jobs were overwhelmingly
176    
L. Wing-Fai

held by white and Asian men.34 Whiteness and masculinity therefore


explain the elevated status of these men in the hierarchy of tech careers
while Asian men conform to the Asian American computer nerd stereo-
type, which does not apply to Asian American women in the same way
(Espiritu 2000).
The three women discussed in this section all achieved the American
dream by conforming to the image of model minorities who succeed
in their professional life. The Chinese have been coming to the United
States since the nineteenth century, and a job in Silicon Valley is the
holy grail of the global tech workforce. So when these high-achieving
female workers were dismissed from some of the world’s most well-
known tech and tech-related corporations—KPCB, Facebook and
Twitter—it begs the question, why? All three women brought lawsuits
against their former employers claiming gender discrimination, and in
the Chia Hong’s case, race discrimination as well. When Chia Hong
was replaced, it was by an Indian man who she claimed to be less quali-
fied and experienced. Age and family responsibilities tend to go hand in
hand, and experience is accumulated through time. These three lawsuits
demonstrate that gender and ethnicity work in tandem, while the domi-
nant construction of technology as ‘men’s work’ continues. In particular,
a masculine culture prevents women from being promoted, effectively
forming a glass ceiling within the companies. Organisational prac-
tices favour white male workers, while Asian women’s positions are not
comparable to those of their Asian male counterparts. For the female
plaintiffs in these cases who happened to be married, their home cir-
cumstances came under scrutiny. Pao’s family was subjected to trolling
and public scrutiny, and Chia Hong claimed that her childcare respon-
sibilities were the target of discriminatory abuses. As such, there is a
level of complexity in these cases which a research focus on gender alone
fails to capture.
In the above analysis, there appear to be multiple layers of oppres-
sion within these companies and ‘the ostensibly detraditionalized …
economy continues to play host to some markedly repressive traditional
social structures’ (Banks and Milestone 2011, p. 73), most notably at the
intersections of gender and race. The gender issue at stake clearly inter-
sects with discrimination based on ethnicity. The fact that Asian male
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
177

tech workers are able to climb the company hierarchy in these tech cor-
porations demonstrates the intersectional working of these tech workers’
identities: gender and ethnicity are factors in the organisational practices
which give rise to and maintain discrimination against Asian female
workers, such as calling their family commitments into question and
individualising their oppression while shielding the effects of the gen-
dered organisation. Asian American masculinity conforms to the long-
standing tech geek or nerd stereotype, and so Asian American men often
‘land a job at a high-tech company or they start their own’ (Wu 2002, p.
44). The nerd is a gatekeeper for technoscience, tasked with maintaining
its elitism and exclusivity (Eglash 2002, p. 50). It is telling that all three
court cases were initiated by Asian women who were portrayed by their
former employers as non-conforming and aggressive. These companies
also asserted that these female workers were not good team players and
did not fit in with the majority male-dominated social network.
The masculine culture formed a barrier for these women, who fought
back through legal challenges. The lawsuits were about institutional
biases, such as informal promotion procedures, but the counter-attacks
from the tech industry were targeted at individual traits. Powerful insti-
tutions, including the defendant KPCB in Pao’s case, launched media
campaigns against the women. In this way, the claims of discrimination
were dismissed, and the organisations rendered the women’s experiences
a result of their personalities rather than discrimination on the basis of
gender and race which the companies needed to collectively acknowl-
edge and tackle. It can be argued that both men and women are simi-
larly affected in terms of life course. Nonetheless, the combination of
all these factors—gender, ethnicity, age and life course—does not pro-
vide conclusive evidence for why women continue to be discriminated
against in the tech sector. Instead, they show how an intersectional
approach is appropriate to an understanding of the multiple dimensions
that influence the careers of workers in this sector. In the following,
I turn to two Taiwanese female entrepreneurs who have founded global
tech companies. Comparing the treatment of Asian American women
in Silicon Valley corporations and the careers of these two women will
allow a rethinking of the experiences of tech workers and entrepreneurs
who negotiate the global technoscape.
178    
L. Wing-Fai

The Priestesses of Global Technology


Taiwanese businesses have traditionally relied on family networks. These
all important networks ensure trust (Wong 1996) and makes it more
likely that the governance structure of the businesses will stay within the
hierarchy of the family (Yeh and Tsao 1996). Cher Wang comes from
one of Taiwan’s richest families. She is the daughter of the petrochemi-
cal tycoon and founder of Formosa Plastics Group, Wang Yung-Ching.
When he died in 2008, his estimated wealth was USD5.5 billion.35 He
married four times, and Cher is the third daughter of his second wife.
Two of his other daughters were also on the Formosa Plastics Group’s
executive team.36 Many wealthy families in Taiwan in the 1970s and
1980s sent their children abroad to study, especially to the USA. Wang
studied Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating
in 1981.
Cher Wang insists that it was her mother, not her rich family, who
used her own property to borrow USD3.5 million from the bank to
help Cher to set up her first venture in 1988.37 The fact that her mother
was independently wealthy enough to support her this way, so she could
access formal financial institutions such as the banks, is another indi-
cation of her privileged background. Cher’s experience was similar to
that of BAME women in the UK, who mostly obtained their financial
assistance through personal contacts because they find business support
institutions, such as government grants or banks, difficult to access on
their own (Fielden and Davidson 2012). The difference here is that
Wang’s family support would have been substantial and her wealthy
background also gave her a class advantage, unlike many of the research
participants in Fielden and Davidson’s study. Despite Wang’s assertion
that she started her company herself and made her own fortune, the
backup provided by her family’s investment cannot be denied. Taiwan
is known to have a rather antiquated banking system that makes it
extremely difficult for new companies to borrow funds or for growing
companies to be incorporated, and therefore family enterprises typi-
cally rely on their own social and financial resources. Cher Wang later
founded HTC in 1997 to make personal digital assistants (PDAs) and
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
179

mobile phones.38 The PDAs did not sell but Wang invested millions of
dollars of her family’s wealth to improve the design and technology of
the company’s products. HTC began to make personal computers for
Compaq and Hewlett-Packard in 2000, and later focused on mobile
telephones, although most were sold under other brand names, such as
Palm and Verizon in the USA. Later, Wang secured the rights to make
the first Android phones for T-Mobile, and she has established a good
relationship with Microsoft, adopting its operating system into HTC
products.39
The most popular inter-family business partnership in Taiwan
has traditionally been between brothers (Lee and Chang 2014, p. 9),
although this is rarer now, especially among the tech startups (Leung
2016). Patrilineality, marriage alliances, and equity between rela-
tives usually play a role within family businesses, all of which charac-
terise Wang’s entrepreneurial history. Cher Wang’s sister Charlene
founded motherboard manufacturer First International Computer in
1980. In fact, upon graduating from university Cher worked for First
International. Cher is also chairwoman of silicon chip developer VIA
Technologies, whose Chief Executive since 1992 has been Chen Wen
Chi, a US-trained electronics engineer whom Cher married in 2003.
In my research of Internet startup companies in Taiwan, I found that
women are most likely to establish companies with their husbands or
boyfriends in what I call husband and wife teams (Leung 2016; see also
Chapter 3). Wang and Chen are a well-known couple in the tech sec-
tor in Taiwan and one of the richest couples in the country. Even at
the level of a global tech company, women entrepreneurs’ participation
remains traditional in its reliance on family resources and partnerships
with close relatives, especially husbands.
Wang is reported to have been influenced by her mother’s philoso-
phy that she should ‘treat workers like family’ and ‘protect the workers
for life.’40 She recalls that her mother used to cook for her father’s col-
leagues,41 acting as ‘the boss’s wife,’ a typical role for women since the
postwar period in Taiwan when family firms started to spring up (see
Lu 1998, 2001; Simon, 2003). The history of the Wang family’s entre-
preneurship parallels the industrial development of Taiwan, especially
during the country’s rapid economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s.
180    
L. Wing-Fai

Wang has invoked the ethic of baishou qijia (starting from nothing;
building a life from scratch) to characterise her family’s entrepreneur-
ial history and her own career path. Successful female entrepreneurs in
Greater China often talk about philanthropy and giving back to society,
and Wang has perpetuated this discourse in the media.42 In 2011, Wang
and her husband donated USD28.1 million to found a charitable col-
lege in Guizhou in southwest China for pupils from low-income fam-
ilies and where one third of the students receive a full scholarship.43 In
2012, Wang donated 6000 HTC tablet computers to 60 high schools
in Taiwan.44 Wang has also asserted a public persona that is modest and
pious. Her Christian faith has been well reported.45 She told the New
York Times, ‘I don’t need to be the center of attention.’ She does not
want to be defined by her family’s wealth but instead has always main-
tained that she had a strict upbringing which trained her to work hard
and be modest.46 However, her husband Chen characterises her also as
a strong leader: ‘She is very demanding in one sense … If she wants
something changed, she’ll speak up about it.’47 Similarly, she has been
reported to be relentless in business negotiation.
Wang’s career, tied to HTC, mirrors the recent industrial history of
Taiwan. The industrial transformation of the country was closely related
to its transition to an economy of high-tech industrialisation, with
hardware exports as the mainstay (Hsieh 2014). However, since the
1990s Taiwan’s original equipment manufacturing industry has found
itself competing with industrialising countries in Asia, most notably
the People’s Republic of China. HTC was one of the first successful
Taiwanese brands and is therefore a source of national pride. However,
even such high-profile enterprises have encountered competition from
other, more dominant global corporations. In the fourth quarter of
2009, 95% of HTC’s revenue came from phones under its own brand,
and it had 4.6% of the global share of the smartphone market.48 It was
also the fourth most valuable Taiwanese brand after Acer, the anti-vi-
rus company Trend Micro, and Asus. In 2011, however, HTC suffered
financially from a series of patent disputes with Apple, which appeared
to be an attempt by the American firm to slow down the success of its
competitors, especially in relation to the Android devices that HTC
excels in.49 HTC was caught in the competition between Apple’s and
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
181

Google’s mobile operating systems, though Apple and HTC subse-


quently reached a licensing agreement in 2012.50 Shares of HTC have
lost more than 90% of their value since 2011, when Wang and Chen
topped the list of richest people in Taiwan compiled by Forbes.51 The
couple went down to number 13 in 2013 after HTC’s revenue dropped
41% in the fourth-quarter.
HTC has been under severe threat from mainland Chinese compet-
itors, including Huawei and the rising Android mobile brand, Xiaomi
(Sui 2013; see Zhou 2008), as well as from Samsung and Apple in the
top-end mobile phone market. In 2013 HTC announced that Wang,
who was Chairperson of the company, would take on the role of Chief
Executive Officer, especially in sales and marketing, while Peter Chou
would shift from CEO to product development and innovation.52
Innovation at HTC has recently translated to wearables and tablets,
including a virtual reality set called Vive that was launched in January
2016.53 Wang has also appealed to the Taiwanese public to support the
company’s products, as the only successful mobile phone brand in the
country, in order to help it ‘revive and face the challenges of the global
market.’54 HTC launched a flagship new smartphone model, One, in
2013, aimed at the high-end mobile market in China. Despite these
efforts, Wang’s position on the Forbes list of most powerful women
dropped from 46th in 2013 to 54th in 2014.55
Even with Cher Wang’s global success, HTC can be seen as a close-
knit family concern, and Wang is in a de facto husband and wife team,
similar to many of the female entrepreneurs whom I discuss in Chapter 3.
When working with emerging, sometimes disruptive technology, com-
pany founders need to establish trust and compatibility with their busi-
ness partners, so entrepreneurs tend to choose those with whom have
close ties, which often translates to family members. Wang’s career sug-
gests that class often plays an important role as an intersectional factor
in entrepreneurial success. It is, however, pertinent to point out that her
career decisions are comparable to those of other female startup entrepre-
neurs. While Asian American workers are subject to the gender and race
hierarchy in the USA, Wang’s entrepreneurial trajectory needs to be inter-
preted in light of the national industrial history and the social class struc-
ture in Taiwan.
182    
L. Wing-Fai

Eva Yi-Hwa Chen, another Taiwanese entrepreneur, her older sis-


ter, Jenny, and Jenny’s husband, Steve Chang, founded Trend Micro,
one of the companies that dominates the global Internet security mar-
ket alongside Symantec and McAfee. Like Cher Wang, Eva Chen
also comes from a wealthy background as the daughter of a banker in
Taichung. She earned an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from
the National Chengchi University in Taiwan and a Master of Business
Administration from the University of Texas at Dallas. She worked for
Acer in Taiwan before joining Jenny and Steve to found Trend Micro.
The company was incorporated in Japan, and Eva Chen is the cur-
rent CEO. Her husband, Daniel Fong-Nian Chiang, joined the com-
pany in 1990 as president. Like HTC, the firm used private resources
at the beginning; Eva and Jenny’s parents helped fund the firm in its
early years.56 Eva describes Jenny as the more outgoing sibling, and
therefore Jenny and Steve were responsible for sales and marketing in
the early years of the firm.57 Eva Chen was the Chief Technical Officer
from 1996 to 2004. She recalls an incident that demonstrates the male
dominance of the sector as well as how she has had to adapt to different
cultural gender expectations as head of a global company. At a meet-
ing in Japan, one of Trend Micro’s engineers ‘very politely asked, “Eva,
could you not give out your name card?” He was embarrassed because
his boss was a woman.’58 Speaking in 2013, she reported that only ten
years or so ago she often had to pretend to be an assistant or secretary
and take notes at meetings herself. so the engineers of other firms would
not realise she was the CTO. As the company was incorporated in Japan
and had many business dealings there, she even made two sets of busi-
ness cards, one as CTO and the other as a secretary of the development
department, because of the cultural bias in Japan against women in
authority.59 This remains the experience of many female tech workers
who regularly interact with the Japanese business sector, as discussed in
Chapter 3.
In due course, Jenny and Steve Chang and Daniel Chiang all left the
day-to-day operation of the company, leaving Eva in charge. Chang
passed the role of CEO to Eva Chen in 2004, after the death of her
father in the previous year. Chang challenged her ‘to grow up and
shoulder responsibilities’ and questioned whether she was ‘still afraid
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
183

of failure.’60 She rose to those challenges. Eva expanded the firm and
boosted Trend Micro’s brand in the retail market, especially in the USA.
Within four years of becoming CEO of Trend Micro, the company
profits had increased more than three fold.61 Like Cher Wang, Chen
is modest and has said that she is intimidated by the role of CEO.62
She much preferred dealing with technology and patents.63 Although
Chen found the leadership role challenging, she was ‘brought in’ when
the company needed change. Even though Chen had been CTO, her
biggest contribution to Trend Micro is presented, paradoxically, as her
lack of training as a software engineer: ‘I am not that kind of CEO,
who puts up a poker face and pretends to know everything,’ she says.
‘I keep asking why … Maybe it’s because I am a girl or I am not a hard-
core electronic engineer; I am just never afraid of raising stupid ques-
tions.’64 Here, she downplays her knowledge and power, meeting the
expectations of the role of a woman working in tech: as the ‘non-tech-
nical girl.’ In an interview by CNN, she explained her business acumen
as a change agent by saying, ‘I have this philosophy to create an envi-
ronment for employees to freely innovate and have fun—to learn and
allowed to fail.’65 Chen has also stated her belief that engineers should
interact with consumers in order to understand their needs first hand,
in other words, they should perform a hybrid role.66 The Chinese
media have used the term ‘soft power’ to describe both Wang and
Chen.67 In interviews, Chen appears modest, saying, ‘When I retire,
I want to live by the sea and sell paintings.’ She also intends to carry out
charity work, which she feels will make her happy.68
While both HTC and Trend Micro are influential companies that
have been at the forefront of technical innovation, the way that the
two female entrepreneurs have founded them is not dissimilar to how
other family businesses are typically started in Taiwan. At the heart of
the business foundation is the family, especially the support of the male
partners. Instead of the financial institutions, the family effectively acts
as security against high risks. Wang and Chen have been supported by
their husbands and siblings and have utilised the financial resources of
their well-to-do families. The famous four Fs of starting an enterprise
(reliance on family, friends, founders and fools for investment) remains
largely true, with family members playing a key role within these two
184    
L. Wing-Fai

corporations. When women participate in entrepreneurship, they


almost always do so with family and relatives they can trust, and take
on gender-specific roles. Wang and Chen reluctantly accepted leader-
ship roles and then acted as change managers when their firms needed
to develop and seek new opportunities due to competition in the global
marketplace.
Wang and Chen come from traditional business families that have
influenced the way they have run the businesses as well as the wom-
en’s social and cultural outlook. These corporations started in the 1980s
and 1990s, paralleling the height of industrial development in Taiwan
as the country became one of the four ‘Asian Tigers.’ Though HTC
and Trend Micro are tech companies, the founding and management
of the companies is conventional in the context of family enterprises.
The industrial and developmental history of Taiwan is reflected in the
backgrounds of Wang and Chen’s generation of entrepreneurs, many of
whom have come from established family businesses. At the same time,
both HTC and Trend Micro have had to adapt over the last 20 years to
the world market and changes in the tech sector landscape in order to
survive. HTC, in particular, has struggled with these global challenges,
and Wang has appealed to consumers, using the arguments of economic
stability and national pride. The women are both highly qualified, but
when Chen took up the role of CTO she downplayed her ability. Both
have been involved in more traditional people-oriented roles as exec-
utives and change managers. They assumed the role of CEO of their
companies when their enterprises faced particularly difficult times, and
yet they have expressed some reluctance to take charge and to manage,
as leadership can be interpreted as unfeminine. They have both empha-
sised to the media their more traditional ‘feminine’ characteristics,
including hard work and ordinariness. Their iron lady images are also
softened by the acts of charity and talk of caring for their employees.

Concluding Remarks
This chapter contributes to the research examining female workers in
the high-tech industries, who are under-represented even after decades
of awareness of the issue. After reviewing existing research approaches
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
185

that tend to explain the barriers facing women in the sector by way
of the masculinised culture and structural and organisational factors,
I assert that there are overlapping systems of subordination (Crenshaw
1991; Brah and Phoenix 2004) at work in the tech sector, a view which
offers a contingent yet more complex and subtle interpretation of the
experiences of female workers. The discussion begins by referring to the
sexual harassment scandals in relation to male venture capital inves-
tors in Silicon Valley and analyses the cases of three Asian women who
were forced to exit global corporations in Silicon Valley due to discrim-
ination. It then considers the careers of two successful, high-profile
Taiwanese women entrepreneurs who run global tech companies. The
consideration of the three court cases in Silicon Valley makes it appar-
ent that although gender is a prominent factor in creating barriers to
women’s careers advancement, other characteristics overlap with gen-
der, including class, age and life course, work experience and ethnic-
ity. Despite the fact that the corporations in question create innovative
social media and mobile technology, the workforce and entrepreneurs in
the sector continue to reflect offline inequalities and social hierarchies.
The lawsuits brought by the three female workers against their for-
mer employers are a direct indication of women’s agency in the face of
barriers. These high-achieving women worked for some of the world’s
most well-known tech and tech-related corporations. The cases demon-
strate that within these corporations, traditional social structures con-
tinue to repress women and minority ethnic groups. On the other hand,
the counter-attacks from the corporations individualised the women,
blaming them for how they as individuals failed to progress and fit in.
Asian American women in the workforce are expected to perform gen-
der and race by conforming to the idea that they cannot lead but are
more suited to ‘take orders.’ While Asian males share the technical nerd
or geek stereotype that helps them to progress in the Silicon Valley hier-
archy, their female counterparts are the Other to the white alpha males
who dominate the executive positions and social networks. Apart from
gender, related personal circumstances, including age, family responsi-
bilities and ethnicity, must be taken into account, and thus an exclu-
sive theoretical frame around gender can only present a partial view. The
combination of all these dynamics does not conclusively explain why
women continue to be discriminated against in the tech sector, but
186    
L. Wing-Fai

gender as a dominant issue is intersectionally related to multiple dimen-


sions of oppression which influence the careers of female tech workers.
The Silicon Valley examples are contrasted with the careers of the
two female entrepreneurs who founded HTC and Trend Micro. Even
though they have established global tech corporations, their history of
entrepreneurship is not dissimilar to that of other women who run fam-
ily businesses in Taiwan. Their careers are also reflective of the recent
industrial history of Taiwan. The two corporations started in the 1980s
and 1990s during rapid economic development in Taiwan. In these
instances, class and family, intersectionally with gender, explain their
choice to collaborate with husbands and close relatives and the roles
they have undertaken within the companies. Due to the class back-
grounds of the two entrepreneurs, their firms initially relied on family
resources rather than the government or other official financial insti-
tutions. The recent developments at HTC to tackle the challenges of
global economic conditions reflect the problems of the export-facing
tech sector in Taiwan, as indicated by Cher Wang’s appeal to consum-
ers using the arguments of national pride. In contrast to the women
who brought lawsuits against American firms, ethnicity has not played
a key role in shaping Chen and Wang’s careers. In terms of the personal
relationships surrounding the two entrepreneurs, a wealthy family effec-
tively acts as security against high risks. Wang and Chen sought the sup-
port of husbands and close siblings when they started their companies,
as well as financial investment from their well-to-do families. Despite
the fact that these companies have been at the forefront of the digital
revolution, the two women participate in entrepreneurship with family
and relatives whom they can trust, and have taken on gender-specific
roles. Chen denies herself the technical prowess that many CEOs of
global tech companies appear to command, and both Chen and Wang
have assumed more traditional people-oriented, feminine traits while
taking up executive positions only after being forced to. They were
effectively recruited internally as change managers at difficult times, and
in general, both have emphasised that they do not want to ‘take charge,’
downplaying leadership roles that may be interpreted as unfeminine in
the context of an Asian society.
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
187

The careers barriers that Asian women face in the global technos-
capes, to use Appadurai’s term (1990), are a reflection of a ‘matrix of
gendered, racialized, sexualized and international relations of power,
as well as … the experiences and perspectives of women of colour in
the context of new global capitalism’ (Holvino 2010, p. 260). They are
the Other in the technoscapes of global tech companies dominated by
white male founders and workers, so despite their knowledge and expe-
rience, women of colour are assumed to be technically inferior regard-
less of their educational capital. The examples of Cher Wang and Eva
Chen need to be understood within the national and Asian context.
Their careers reflect Taiwan’s economic development while at the same
time revealing the constraints of the traditional gender hierarchy and
gender roles. I have evinced in this analysis that while gender plays a
vital part in explaining the career experiences of many women, other
factors, such as ethnicity, class, personal life history and national con-
texts also clearly need to be taken into account. The Silicon Valley cases
and the examples of the two Taiwanese women entrepreneurs offer
a contrasting yet an interrelated framework to research Asian wom-
en’s positions in the global tech economy. Using my empirical exper-
tise of the East Asian context, I am able to compare and contrast these
women’s experiences and draw insight from a research approach that
has hitherto rarely been attempted. An intersectional approach should
inform social scientists concerned with the sociology of work, gender
issues and the application of information and communication technol-
ogy in human society.

Notes
1. http://uk.businessinsider.com/sexual-harassment-scandals-tech-in-
dustry-2017-7/#earlier-in-july-a-hrefhttpwwwbusinessinsidercomsili-
con-valleys-old-boy-power-structure-is-getting-toppled-and-the-reper-
cussions-will-be-huge-2017-7targetblanka-number-of-high-profile-vcs-
resigneda-after-women-came-forward-with-complaints-of-sexual-har-
assment-3. Accessed 24 November 2017.
188    
L. Wing-Fai

2. http://money.cnn.com/video/technology/business/2017/07/07/sexu-
al-assault-silicon-valley-investor-cheryl-yeoh.cnnmoney. Accessed 24
November 2017.
3. http://money.cnn.com/technology/sexual-harassment-tech/?iid=EL.
Accessed 24 November 2017.
4. http://money.cnn.com/technology/sexual-harassment-tech/?iid=EL.
Accessed 5 March 2018.
5. https://www.elephantinthevalley.com. Accessed 24 November 2017.
6. http://www.forbes.com/profile/cher-wang-wenchi-chen/. Accessed 10
February 2016.
7. http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/319212/Why_Women_
Quit_Technology. Accessed 19 February 2016.
8. https://www.wired.com/2016/03/year-ellen-pao-verdict-tech-still-gets-
diversity-wrong/. Accessed 6 December 2016.
9. http://www.lennyletter.com/work/a151/ellen-pao-silicon-valley-sexism-
is-getting-better/. Accessed 1 February 2016.
10. http://recode.net/2015/09/10/ellen-pao-i-have-decided-to-end-my-
lawsuit-against-kleiner-perkins/; http://news.yahoo.com/ellen-pao-
talks-to-katie-couric-in-exclusive-interview-040627016.html. Accessed
1 February 2016.
11. http://uk.businessinsider.com/sexual-harassment-scandals-tech-indus-
try-2017-7/#in-2012-vc-ellen-pao-famously-sued-kleiner-perkins-alle-
ging-sexual-discrimination-not-harassment-but-in-the-trial-she-alleged-
that-one-of-her-coworkers-tried-to-retaliate-a-hrefhttpwwwbusinessin-
sidercomellen-pao-on-ajit-nazre-2015-3targetblankafter-she-ended-an-
affair-with-hima-she-ultimately-lost-the-case-that-partner-ajit-nazre-
left-the-job-and-was-accused-of-sexual-harassment-by-another-female-
vc-at-the-firm-12. Accessed 24 November 2017.
12. http://www.lennyletter.com/work/a151/ellen-pao-silicon-valley-sexism-
is-getting-better/. Accessed 1 February 2016.
13. https://www.wired.com/2016/03/year-ellen-pao-verdict-tech-still-gets-
diversity-wrong/. Accessed 6 December 2016.
14. http://recode.net/2015/09/10/ellen-pao-speaks-i-am-now-moving-on/.
Accessed 1 February 2016.
15. http://recode.net/2015/09/10/ellen-pao-i-have-decided-to-end-my-
lawsuit-against-kleiner-perkins/. Accessed 1 February 2016.
16. http://news.yahoo.com/ellen-pao-talks-to-katie-couric-in-exclusive-in-
terview-040627016.html. Accessed 1 February 2016.
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
189

17. http://www.networkworld.com/article/2337222/infrastructure-man-
agement/female-it-professionals-cope-in-a-male-dominated-industry.
html. Accessed 19 February 2016.
18. http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/10/technology/lenny-ellen-pao-diver-
sity/. Accessed 22 February 2016.
19. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/dec/22/reddit-el-
len-pao-trolling-revenge-porn-ceo-internet-misogyny; https://www.
theguardian.com/technology/2015/jul/12/ellen-pao-reddit-trolls-femi-
nist-silicon-valley. Accessed 6 December 2016.
20. https://www.wired.com/2016/03/year-ellen-pao-verdict-tech-still-gets-
diversity-wrong/. Accessed 6 December 2016.
21. http://mashable.com/2015/03/19/facebook-discrimination-law-
suit/#0mSElrfAFgq8. Accessed 2 February 2016.
22. Adapted from https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2014/06/building-a-
more-diverse-facebook/. Accessed 8 June 2018. Detail not given for the
types of senior level positions.
23. http://uk.businessinsider.com/ex-twitter-employee-tina-huang-
sues-over-gender-discrimination-in-promotions-2015-3. Accessed 1
February 2016.
24. http://www.law360.com/articles/712826/ex-facebook-employee-drops-
suit-alleging-gender-race-bias. Accessed 6 December 2016.
25. http://uk.businessinsider.com/a-former-facebook-employee-is-su-
ing-her-former-employer-for-discrimination-2015-3. Accessed 1 February
2016.
26. http://venturebeat.com/2015/03/18/highlights-from-the-sex-discrim-
inationharassment-lawsuit-just-filed-against-facebook/. Accessed 1
February 2016.
27. http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/18/technology/facebook-discrimina-
tion-suit/. Accessed 1 February 2016.
28. http://money.cnn.com/2015/03/18/technology/facebook-discrimina-
tion-suit/. Accessed 1 February 2016.
29. http://www.law360.com/articles/712826/ex-facebook-employee-drops-
suit-alleging-gender-race-bias. Accessed 6 December 2016.
30. http://uk.businessinsider.com/ex-twitter-employee-tina-huang-
sues-over-gender-discrimination-in-promotions-2015-3. Accessed 1
February 2016.
31. http://uk.businessinsider.com/ex-twitter-employee-tina-huang-
sues-over-gender-discrimination-in-promotions-2015-3. Accessed 1
February 2016.
190    
L. Wing-Fai

32. h t t p : / / u k . b u s i n e s s i n s i d e r. c o m / e x - t w i t t e r - e m p l o y e e - t i -
na-huang-sues-over-gender-discrimination-in-promotions-2015-3.
Accessed 1 February 2016.
33. http://mashable.com/2015/03/20/twitter-sex-discrimination-law-
suit/#Z3U_neWuC8qU. Accessed 1 Feb 2016. https://www.
bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-23/ex-twitter-engineer-seeks-to-
show-women-can-climb-only-so-high. Accessed 30 November 2017. At
the time of writing (November 2017), Huang planned to represent 133
female engineers at Twitter.
34. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/does-twitters-reset-on-race-and-gender-
go-far-enough/. Accessed 1 February 2016.
35. http://www.fastcompany.com/3017000/women-in-tech-2011/the-
most-influential-women-in-technology-2011-cher-wang. Accessed 16
February 2016.
36. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/27/technology/companies/27wang.
html?pagewanted=print#h. Accessed 15 February 2016.
37. http://news518.org/article.php?ano=21&no=130. Accessed 17 February
2016. In Chinese.
38. http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2005-07-10/taiwans-priestess-of-
the-pda. Accessed 15 February 2016.
39. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/27/technology/companies/27wang.
html?pagewanted=print#h. Accessed 15 February 2016.
40. http://news518.org/article.php?ano=21&no=130. Accessed 17 February
2016. In Chinese.
41. h t t p s : / / w w w. f a c e b o o k . c o m / s m a r t p h o n e q u e e n / p o s t s /
139553739513569. Accessed 17 February 2016. In Chinese.
42. See http://news518.org/article.php?ano=21&no=130. Accessed 17
February 2016. In Chinese. Wang recalled her mother saying, ‘Money
should be used to help others, for matters that benefit the public.’
43. http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20110924
000084&cid=1104. Accessed 14 August 2013.
44. http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20110924
000084&cid=1104. Accessed 14 August 2013.
45. http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20120824
000077&cid=1103. Accessed 2 June 2013.
46. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/27/technology/companies/27wang.
html?pagewanted=print#h. Accessed 15 February 2016
5  Cool, Creative, But Not so Equal    
191

47. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/27/technology/companies/27wang.
html?pagewanted=print#h. Accessed 15 February 2016.
48. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/27/technology/companies/27wang.
html?pagewanted=print#h. Accessed 15 February 2016.
49. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/04/technology/04htc.html?hpw&_
r=0. Accessed 15 February 2016.
50. http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20120824
000077&cid=1103. Accessed 2 June 2013.
51. http://www.forbes.com/profile/cher-wang-wenchi-chen/. Accessed 10
February 2016.
52. http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/229534. Accessed 16 February
2016.
53. http://www.fiercewireless.com/story/htcs-wang-takes-over-some-ceo-chous-
duties-he-focuses-products/2013-10-21. Accessed 16 February 2016.
http://technews.tw/2016/01/09/htc-vr-save-smart-phone/. Accessed 10
February 2016. In Chinese.
54. http://www.nownews.com/n/2013/12/04/1040997. Accessed 16
February 2016. In Chinese.
55. http://www.cnbc.com/2014/04/29/25-cher-wang.html. Accessed 10
February 2016; http://www.forbes.com/profile/cher-wang/. Accessed
10 Feb 2016.
56. http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesasia/2013/02/27/asias-women-in-the-
mix-eva-chen-battles-the-hackers/#41d3a85c34f3. Accessed 17 February
2016.
57. http://www.forbes.com/2009/10/29/trend-micro-security-intelli-
gent-technology-chen.html. Accessed 17 February 2016.
58. http://www.forbes.com/global/2007/1210/040.html. Accessed 17 February
2016.
59. http://www.gvm.com.tw/Boardcontent_14401.html Accessed 18
February 2016. In Chinese; http://www.networkworld.com/article/
2337222/infrastr ucture-management/female-it-profession-
als-cope-in-a-male-dominated-industry.html. Accessed 19 February
2016.
60. http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesasia/2013/02/27/asias-women-in-the-
mix-eva-chen-battles-the-hackers/#41d3a85c34f3. Accessed 17 February
2016.
61. http://tech.sina.com.cn/i/2009-04-13/00262994697.shtml. Accessed
18 February 2016. In Chinese.
192    
L. Wing-Fai

62. http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesasia/2013/02/27/asias-women-in-
the-mix-eva-chen-battles-the-hackers/#41d3a85c34f3. Accessed 17
February 2016.
63. http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesasia/2013/02/27/asias-women-in-
the-mix-eva-chen-battles-the-hackers/#41d3a85c34f3. Accessed 18
August 2018.
64. http://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesasia/2013/02/27/asias-women-in-
the-mix-eva-chen-battles-the-hackers/#41d3a85c34f3. Accessed 17
February 2016.
65. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXB-R_lO7uw. Accessed 18 July
2013. In Chinese.
66. http://tech.hexun.com.tw/2011-09-15/133379043.html. Accessed 18
July 2013. In Chinese.
67. See for example, http://tech.hexun.com.tw/2012-09-10/145675798.

html. Accessed 18 February 2016. In Chinese.
68. http://tech.sina.com.cn/i/2009-04-13/00262994697.shtml. Accessed
18 February 2016. In Chinese.

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6
Conclusions

The Times They Are a-Changing


Digital entrepreneurship is a phenomenon that has developed in East
Asia in recent years. Much existing literature on entrepreneurialism has
emerged from the Western context, while relatively little research has
been done into its significance in the Far East. The study described in
this monograph combines empirical research about the digital entrepre-
neurs and of their diverse experiences as a result of their personal char-
acteristics and in specific contexts. I conducted long-term fieldwork in
Taiwan, which has a strong electronics and computer hardware industry.
I also made short visits to Hong Kong and Singapore. The research that
led to this monograph relied on a series of methods, all of which were
underpinned by a feminist concern to examine the intersecting factors
that result in discrimination and barriers to digital careers for women.
I focus in particular on gender, age and class, and, in the cases of Asian
workers in Silicon Valley, ethnicity. The overall research strategy is qual-
itative, with a research ethos that adopts the constructionist approach in
order to understand the experiences of the individuals involved in the
digital economy in the specific social, political, cultural and economic
contexts of East Asia.
© The Author(s) 2019 197
L. Wing-Fai, Digital Entrepreneurship, Gender and Intersectionality,
Dynamics of Virtual Work, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97523-8_6
198    
L. Wing-Fai

Digital entrepreneurs in East Asia can be thought of as a new class of


‘creative workers’ who aspire to the neoliberal ideals of the West, which
emanate from a free market economy and advocate innovation, flexi-
bility and individualism. These ideals reflect the late twentieth-century
American values of entrepreneurialism, which appeals to elites in differ-
ent parts of the world (Ong 2006, p. 173). Although digital entrepre-
neurship offers low-cost startup opportunities, it is at the same time a
highly precarious career choice, both features that make it more attrac-
tive to the younger rather than older workers. Angela McRobbie (2016,
p. 38) argues that:

Creativity is designated by current modes of biopolitical power, as the site


for implementing job creation and, more significantly, labour reform; it is
a matter of managing a key sector of the youthful population by turning
culture into an instrument of both competition and labour discipline.

Much of McRobbie’s argument applies to the situation in the UK, while


a whole generation of young entrepreneurs in the developed and devel-
oping economies of East Asia are demonstrating new discourses of work
against a backdrop of changing political and economic realities in their
respective countries. The current study responds also to rising academic
interest in creative workers in the East Asian contexts, which focuses on
the political governance of cultural workers (Lin 2018; Chow 2017, pp.
43–62), and it presents research of ‘different social-political contexts, [in
which] cultural work becomes historically and geographically situated
processes’ (Lin 2018, p. 15). I employ the term creative worker broadly
in my examination of the experiences of those who are involved as sole
traders, freelancers, and entrepreneurs of startups and small-to-medium-
sized companies.
Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore industrialised rapidly in the
1970s to become ‘Asian tigers’; however, they have divergent political
and economic approaches to development. In Taiwan of the 1970s and
1980s, engineers and computer scientists sought training at prestigious
universities in order to enter large tech corporations that offered jobs
for life. Taiwan’s industrial policy has been described as ‘statist’ (Chu
1989); compared to Hong Kong and Singapore, it has been much less
6 Conclusions    
199

dependent on the local markets. Through the 1980s, the Taiwanese gov-
ernment welcomed international high-tech corporations and supported
domestic companies, especially computer hardware manufacturers. This
strategy resulted in the domination of electronics and computer man-
ufacturing firms, along with the small and medium-sized enterprises
(SMEs) that supplied them. The 1990s was a transitional period when
many major electronics corporations began to suffer from fierce inter-
national competition. The country’s electronics and mobile phone man-
ufacturing industries have been under threat from rising South Korean
and mainland Chinese brands and the continuous domination by
American tech giants. As a result of its export orientation, the Taiwanese
economy remains vulnerable to the world market. With the decreasing
competitiveness of computer hardware and mobile phone manufactur-
ing businesses, the national economy requires new products, new mar-
kets and new distribution methods. Digital startups are one possible
response to the quest for economic renewal and competitiveness. Given
the mobility of many digital entrepreneurs and the flows of capital and
technical know-how, the multiple dimensions of global circulations of
the digital economy resemble Arjun Appadurai’s concept of the medi-
ascape, ethnoscape, finanscape, ideoscape and technoscape (1990; see
Chapter 5).
Around the time of my periods of fieldwork, economic difficulties
contributed to political change, and the dissatisfaction of the popula-
tion with state policy strategies, such as the signing of the Cross-Strait
Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA), had important political ramifica-
tions. The threat of the likely domination by Chinese identity politics
(Harrison 2014) prompted the Sunflower Movement of 2014, a protest
sparked by the passing of the CSSTA by the KMT without due pro-
cess. The KMT argued that the trade agreement between China and
Taiwan was important for the revitalisation of the Taiwanese economy.
Subsequent shifts in party politics built up to the election of Tsai Ing-
wen of the Democratic Progressive Party in 2016, after eight years of
KMT rule. Taiwan’s high-tech industry is particularly dependent on the
global trade, and the financial downturn in North America and Europe
of 2008–2009 adversely affected its economy. This, coupled with a
domestic economy which continued to suppress wages, meant that at
200    
L. Wing-Fai

the time of my fieldwork in 2014–2016, Taiwanese college graduates


had become known as the 22k generation, with reference to their likely
low salaries once they entered the workforce. This has had profound
effects on the career choices of the new generation. The job security of
the past has become untenable during the past decade, and Internet
and mobile startup entrepreneurs in Taiwan reject standard working
practices.
The low wages, long hours and lack of autonomy in traditional cor-
porations are push factors for either not beginning work at such a cor-
porations or for leaving to start one’s own business. Many pull factors,
such as autonomy and personal challenge, also prompt start-uppers to
become digital entrepreneurs. For the younger generation, these pull
factors are particularly attractive because they have not yet established
firm career paths or family responsibilities, and so they often feel they
have little to lose. For startup founders, ‘working for oneself ’ instead
of toiling for a large company is about embracing liberal values. Digital
entrepreneurship can therefore be thought of more as a lifestyle choice
rather than an economic necessity, as most startup ventures fail within
their first few years of operation. At the same time, these digital entre-
preneurs have opted to be part of an increasing global army of precar-
iously employed and informal workers, a lifestyle affordable only by
those who have educational, social and cultural capital. These choices
are available only to a few because entrepreneurship is a form of risk
taking in which the workers are involved in the monetarisation of
knowledge while rejecting traditional work structures. The start-uppers
have to be reliant on economic, social and cultural capital to mitigate
risks, and strong networks based on shared capital help ameliorate the
precarity of venture labour. I have argued previously (Leung 2016) that
startup entrepreneurs turn to both close friends and family and to wider
networks within the ecosystem for support. The weak ties in these net-
works include international tech infrastructures, especially the American
startup institutions (such as accelerators, major startup events and the
maker movement), other members of co-working and co-creation cul-
ture, and venture capitalists and angel investors.
The digital entrepreneurs in my study were mostly young (under
40 years of age), highly educated university graduates. Many of them
6 Conclusions    
201

also had postgraduate degrees and work experience with national or


multinational tech corporations. Digital entrepreneurship is reflective
of the social, cultural and political changes in Taiwan. The startups
focus on software development rather than hardware, which has been
a particularly strong focus of the Taiwanese economy since the 1970s.
Instead of the collective drive to conform to corporate working life with
companies that are export oriented, these start-uppers express a strong
preference for working together in small teams and for technical inno-
vation. They represent the increasing penetration of technology into
everyday life and active engagement with, as opposed to passive con-
sumption of, technology. Internet and mobile companies also prioritise
creativity and quality, in contrast to the mass export–oriented hardware
manufacturing mentality of the past. Digital entrepreneurs also pose a
challenge to the school system in Taiwan, which is often criticised for
its focus on competitive examinations and conformity, while the start-­
uppers prefer collaborative production and encourage innovation, team
work and leadership skills in their work practices.

The Generations
Among the 62 interviewees in my study, start-uppers in their twen-
ties and thirties dominated (see Fig. 6.1 and also Chapter 2). Given
the industrial and social history of Taiwan, I would propose to analyse
these digital entrepreneurs as three different generations. The interview-
ees in their forties were born in the 1970s and come mostly from the
traditional electronics and manufacturing corporations. Some are serial
entrepreneurs or have had several years of business experience. A princi-
pal of a business accelerator told me that they were more realistic than
first-time entrepreneurs because they had already experienced the chal-
lenges, and sometimes failures, of business. Even with the downturn of
the electronics and manufacturing sector, these entrepreneurs were not
pushed to leave the large companies, where they worked; rather, they
chose to leave stable jobs to start their own companies. The continued
low salaries in Taiwan (even experienced technical staff may receive
only NTD30,000–40,000 per month) makes entrepreneurship more
202    
L. Wing-Fai

Fig. 6.1  Age distribution of entrepreneurs, 2014 and 2016

attractive. Digital entrepreneurship is therefore a personal, conscious


choice. They were the first generation of people in Taiwan to receive
training in and to benefit from the success of the electronics industry,
experiences which they take to their new digital businesses. At the same
time, the older start-uppers are likely to have financial obligations and
family responsibilities, and therefore they tend to be more prepared
when they choose to start a company. This generation of entrepreneurs
are also likely to have more resources, such as savings, and some are
6 Conclusions    
203

confident that even if their startups fail they can return to work part or
full time for the corporations. Several interviewees were supported by
their partners’ stable jobs, which helped mitigate the risk of starting a
business venture. For instance, one founder suggested that most of his
generation had two incomes within the family unit. His wife was able
to support his business because of her stable job, and therefore there was
little pressure on him to succeed. Even without much income from his
business, the family would be able to survive for a while. While family is
an important support source, the other three Fs—founders, friends and
fools—have also become central, especially among those with shared
educational and cultural capital (homophily). Although the entrepre-
neurs in their forties may have substantive work experience, they some-
times lack a wider network (or weak ties, for example, access to venture
capitalists) within the startup sectors. In this sense, they experience
challenges similar to those of other start-uppers. Entrepreneurial teams
are usually made up of close friends, typically former classmates or work
colleagues, and entrepreneurs often use the metaphor of marriage or
family to refer to the close relationship they have within the team.
Many of the digital entrepreneurs in their thirties are electronic engi-
neering or computer science graduates. Team members often come from
the same universities and degree programmes and introduction through
classmates is a regular recruitment practice among nascent firms. Although
this is similar to the nepotism and ‘old boys’ networks’ seen in Western
countries, I argue that in the East Asian contexts, the senpai/kohai networks
(Chapters 2 and 3) explain the strong ties to others from the same schools
and universities. This also describes why many digital startup teams are
made up of members of the same gender, since electrical engineering and
computer science programmes are likely to be dominated by male students.
These networks of trusted colleagues help to ameliorate the risks of starting
a business through provision of assistance and support (Leung 2016).
The entrepreneurs in their thirties are members of the first genera-
tion to have grown up with the Internet. They share some characteristics
with the business owners in their forties. Many have had several years of
work experience with large corporations. Some are serial entrepreneurs
who have previously started businesses. They were first attracted to the
digital sector during the dot-com boom, but they had also witnessed the
204    
L. Wing-Fai

crash of the 1990s. Some aspire to the ‘Silicon Valley dream.’ They also
see themselves as part of the creative class and have a strong interest in
the way that the Internet and digital media work in today’s world. This
generation best represents the shift in focus in Taiwan from hardware
to software and a newer kind of digital culture where active participa-
tion is welcomed. Some have family responsibilities. For many, entre-
preneurship is a deliberate decision to leave corporate company culture,
to transform one’s lifestyle and change society. There are also some who
see entrepreneurship as a way to achieve personal freedom and empow-
erment. In other words, these entrepreneurs opt for the riskier path
as opposed to choosing the stability of a job with a tech corporation,
which are becoming more untenable. This is one way that this group
differs from their parents’ generation:

Mums and dads will say, ‘Try to find stability.’ They want to protect you.
But we are the 22k generation because there has been no innovation [in
Taiwan]. If this generation of young people are willing to think of new
ways of doing things, new products, Taiwanese investors shouldn’t be
worried about investing. We feel that we can change society gradually. If
we are going to blame the government, we may as well go and do some-
thing ourselves. (Female entrepreneur, games)

This start-upper’s comment exemplifies the idea that entrepreneurship


is an individual attempt to bring about political change, an issue I shall
return to shortly. Although many of the interviewees’ parents or grand-
parents had started small businesses in the past, their entrepreneurial
ideals were different from those of the digital entrepreneurs in that the
Internet generation does not need to engage in business merely to sur-
vive. Rather, they actively choose precarity as a life choice. As a princi-
pal of an accelerator stated, ‘Those below 35, they are doing startups to
chase a dream. They want to do something they like.’ People in their
thirties are also members of the last of the generation who have not fully
digitalised their everyday life:

For the thirty-somethings, the Internet is only seen as a work tool …


while they maintain an offline life like watching television or going out.
6 Conclusions    
205

For the young people who are under 30, they meet friends, play games,
listen to music and watch movies online. This is their lifestyle. The two
generations are very distinct, with two completely different world views.
(Principal of a startup accelerator)

Entrepreneurs in their thirties grew up during the ascendance of the


Internet. They are inspired by the possibilities of Internet and mobile
technology, and they look to North America, especially Silicon Valley,
and Europe for inspiration. Despite the importance of the hardware
industry to the Taiwanese economy, these younger entrepreneurs see the
possibilities of software development. An entrepreneur described how
he became interested in software development at a young age: ‘I was still
in secondary school, and my father was a computing teacher, so I really
liked writing programmes. Later I became interested in the Internet as it
could be used by lots of people.’
Many entrepreneurs see the startup route as the beginning of change,
a way to independence, as these start-uppers suggested: ‘If you’re going
to sell yourself for others, you may as well work for yourself ’; ‘I hope
this company will empower its members. You can freely do things you
want to do.’ Although some of my interviewees chose entrepreneurship
for mostly personal reasons, many expressed a desire to contribute to
society, which is analogous to the ‘change the world’ rhetoric seen in
the Silicon Valley tech scene (Packer 2013). Some of my interviewees
saw their participation in the startup sector as a way not only to change
their own work lives but also to change the tech sector in Taiwan and its
economy and society more broadly.
In sum, start-uppers in their thirties are often the children and grand-
children of the first generation of post-1949 entrepreneurs, but they
consciously embrace an alternative, usually precarious, lifestyle. One
of my interviewees stated: ‘You get to fully control your life and your
time.’ This group of digital entrepreneurs recognise their parents’ wish
for them to gain secure employment. However, many of them identify
with the 22k generation and feel that they need to bring change and
innovate. For many, digital entrepreneurship is an individual choice to
seek a freer lifestyle as well as to make a difference, to change Taiwan
or even the world. Paradoxically, many start-uppers remove themselves
206    
L. Wing-Fai

from direct political action and view the informal networked digital
economy as an appropriate individual solution to political, social and
economic difficulties.
The last group of digital entrepreneurs in my study were still in
their twenties and had grown up with the Internet and mobile tech-
nology. Many had been programming and producing Internet content
from an early age. They had also grown up participating in chatrooms
and later social media networks. Like their older counterparts, entre-
preneurship presents an opportunity for this group of younger people
to do something they like as a career. Most of their families do not
expect them to be financially independent or to care for parents or
siblings, unlike individuals from more impoverished postwar work-
ing-class families. The start-uppers often described a liberal environ-
ment, where children were allowed to make their own decisions, and
this social change allowed them to engage in the startup sector. This
generation of entrepreneurs looks to their startup businesses as mean-
ingful work and as an opportunity to experience control over their
lives and their time. My interviewees were aware of their counterparts
in the USA and Europe, and some mentioned well-known tech entre-
preneurs, such as Steve Jobs, as their role models. These entrepreneurs
understood the risks of their career choice. However, because they had
limited personal responsibilities, they felt there was little to lose:

If I spend all the money and haven’t succeeded, I’m still doing things that
I like to do. I’ll have learned a lot during this time, experienced things
and met people I wouldn’t otherwise if I had a job with a company.
(Female founder, music website)

The founder went on to explain that the venture was about doing
what she wanted to do instead of working for a company. Not every-
one can afford this kind of risky career choice. Many start-uppers
stated that they were attracted to entrepreneurship because it enabled
them to meet new people and to experience things that they would
not otherwise encounter. Some interviewees mentioned that entrepre-
neurship required courage not to be afraid of failing. One female entre-
preneur concluded that she ‘dares to dream and want [while others do
6 Conclusions    
207

not].’ Many of the startup ideas from this generation of entrepreneurs


are aimed at their own peers. One of the female entrepreneurs had a
startup called Blink, an ‘electronic purse’ for shopping and entertain-
ment, which targeted young students and graduates.1 The founder was
a recent graduate herself from National Taiwan University, and she
appeared in her own promotional video, which I witnessed on public
transportation in Taipei. One of the principals of an investment firm
suggested that this generation of entrepreneurs often have product and
service ideas that are too narrowly focused because they are aimed at
young audiences to the exclusion of the wider market.
Although often lacking in wider social networks or substantial work
experience, the entrepreneurs in their twenties nonetheless share edu-
cational, cultural and social capital, especially with colleagues they have
met while at university. Some of the male digital entrepreneurs assume
the nerd/geek identity, and they might have just completed their com-
pulsory military service. Several of the interviewees intimated that
Taiwan’s compulsory military service was an impediment to entrepre-
neurship among young men in their twenties. The age of the entre-
preneurship in Taiwan was compared to that in the USA, which my
interviewees assumed was younger because the Americans start their
business ventures while they are still at university and they do not have
to complete military service. A principal of an accelerator stated:

Those in their thirties have creativity and certain thought processes, and
resources … They may be more mature and can think out of the box,
so their success rates may be quite high … But to be really successful, I
think the chance of the younger generation is higher. Those under the
age of 30 can think out of the box. Look at the most successful American
corporations: Facebook, Google and Apple. Their founders were under 25
when they started.

He continued to compare young people in Taiwan and in the USA


and suggested that although Taiwanese graduates have a strong techni-
cal background, the American start-uppers start young and are able to
accumulate experiences earlier. The principal believes that the Taiwanese
do not mature as business people till later. Because their entrepreneurial
208    
L. Wing-Fai

experience occurs later, there is greater pressure to succeed, which causes


them to take fewer risks. The perception of the innovative youth in
Silicon Valley is more myth than reality (see Chapter 2). Rather, these
were projections from the principal’s experiences, but he was also rep-
resenting a discourse about entrepreneurship that tends to compare
American and Taiwanese experiences, valorising the entrepreneurial nar-
ratives originating from the West.

Digital Entrepreneurship, Intersectionally


This study focuses first on gender as it affects the experiences of dig-
ital entrepreneurs in Taiwan. Women have played an important role
in the development of Taiwan’s economy since the end of the Second
World War. In traditional SMEs, women’s participation was often as
‘the boss’s wife’ (Lu 2001). Many of them worked for no pay and were
not recognised as the owners of these small businesses. Although this
project deals with a new area of entrepreneurship, the traditional gen-
der hierarchy, intersecting with other systems of oppression, continues
to exist and is influential in the online mediasphere. Empirical research
has found that female entrepreneurs often suffer discrimination in the
startup sector (Leung 2016; Martinez Dy et al. 2016) even though their
businesses operate online. The tech sector in Taiwan is male-dominated;
with many of the startup teams formed of close-knit male friends, often
former college mates or work colleagues. I therefore argue that homo-
phily in the startup sector, exemplified by the majority-male teams,
explains why women find it hard to be part of the networks. The close,
male-dominated networks explain why my female interviewees were
either childless single women or women who had started companies
with their male partners. While working within startup groups, often
in husband and wife teams (see Chapter 3), women usually take up
the roles that conform to gender expectations, such as administrative
or managerial support roles. Husband and wife teams acknowledged
both positive and negative aspects of working so closely together; many
said their partnership deepened, but arguments and pressures regarding
finances were mentioned by quite a few of these teams.
6 Conclusions    
209

Traditional expectations about gender differences prevail in the


startup sector. Men are seen as more predisposed to technology and
taking risks, and therefore men are considered more likely to suit the
role of entrepreneur. Those with traditional gender role attitudes expect
men to be more rational and women to be more emotional and car-
ing, and many involved in the sector refer to the necessity of gender
division within the companies. This is often explained in ‘business case’
terms by stating that having a better gender balance in the team will
help reach out to more diverse consumers. When women set up their
own businesses, they are more likely to provide highly feminised cul-
tural products aimed at female consumers (fashion, beauty and retail).
For women, the official channels of financing, such as banks, are likely
to be less accessible, so family support becomes all the more important.
Women are also more likely to take up roles within companies, even
those they found, in project management, administration and market-
ing, which require what are considered ‘soft’ skills. In Chapter 5, we
see that when HTC suffered a massive drop in profits due to compe-
tition, Cher Wang switched to the CEO role in order to innovate and
revive the company. Wang and Eva Chen (Trend Micro) both assumed
leadership, but only in people-oriented and change management capac-
ities. They have represented themselves in the media as caring employ-
ers rather than as harsh, tough ‘iron ladies’ or powerful entrepreneurs
because this kind of image may be seen as unfeminine.
Acceptance of the entrenched gender discourse was displayed by both
male and female interviewees, though a few indicated that they thought
that gender differences are discursive. Some interviewees denied gen-
der differences and suggested that technology levels the playing field.
While female entrepreneurs are themselves a challenge to the traditional
gender hierarchy and discourse, they often participate in reinforcing
stereotypes by taking on certain roles within their companies. Women
are discursively assumed to be the chief carers for their children, and
childcare responsibilities are conceived as unmanageable and even rais-
ing the topic in the tech industry is at times difficult. As entrepreneur-
ship requires long and unsocial hours of work, and there are usually no
or few employment benefits for the self-employed, women with child-
care responsibilities can indeed find it difficult to found a company.
210    
L. Wing-Fai

On the other hand, women who start companies with their part-
ners have to deal with the demands of both work and domestic
labour arrangements. As a result, women with children are less likely
to become or remain entrepreneurs. These insights about the experi-
ences of female start-uppers are further confirmed by the cases of two
high-profile Taiwanese tech entrepreneurs detailed in Chapter 5. Even
within the upper echelons of global corporations, women continue to
negotiate the traditional gender role attitudes about home and work
life. Instead of demanding structural changes in the sector, individuals
are expected to put their work and careers first. Women are advised by
other women in the sector to seek individual solutions, to modify their
own behaviour and appearance, rather than to collectively challenge
gender discrimination, so that barriers encountered become ‘unspeaka-
ble inequalities’ (Gill 2014).
To fully understand entrepreneurs’ experiences, however, I have aug-
mented the analysis by examining the combination of subject position-
alities as a result of personal characters, which in turn enables a study
that recognises the agency, power and resistance in the global capital-
ist system. The digital platform is assumed to give everyone an equal
chance to succeed, but gender, ethnicity and class continue to play an
important part in the access to and the power dynamics within the tech
sector. My discussion of generational differences, for instance, demon-
strates that age intersects with gender in the day-to-day experiences of
entrepreneurs. Younger women keenly feel the difficulties of asserting
themselves in a male-dominated sector, especially with older and more
experienced male colleagues.
While in postwar Taiwan, working-class and rural families had to
send their children out to work in the newly developed manufactur-
ing industries in order to support the family, younger Taiwanese from
middle-class families have no such pressure to earn money to support
their siblings and parents. This change frees these young people to
make riskier career choices. Most digital entrepreneurs are from fam-
ily backgrounds that afford them economic, social and cultural capital.
In the case of tech startups, the majority of the entrepreneurs are well
educated, usually with higher education qualifications, and many have
international study and work experiences. This background gives them
6 Conclusions    
211

the knowledge and skills to set up tech companies, and their cultural
and educational networks also play an important part in their choices of
co-founders and co-workers. The middle-class background explains how
many entrepreneurs are able to manage risks, as they have the family’s
support to fall back on. As most new digital companies do not provide
a living wage for their founders—in fact, many fail within the first few
years—entrepreneurship offers a romanticised version of the neoliberal
self, which is more readily available to the middle and upper classes, for
whom subsistence is not a daily concern.
The significance of class can be further seen through my analysis of
spatial practices (Chapter 4). Within the tech startup sector, co-crea-
tion and co-working are championed as a new kind of work practice,
particularly prominent among nascent companies and freelancers in the
cultural and creative industries. At first glance this seems to demonstrate
Richard Florida’s idea of the creative class, whose membership is char-
acterised by cultural and social diversity, which in turn attracts other
creative talents to specific urban clusters (2002a, b). Florida’s idea of
the creative class, however, rarely refers to the industrial development
or societal structure more widely, and the creative workers in his con-
ceptualisation do not face barriers to social and geographical mobility.
The global adoption of Florida’s framework often neglects the negative
impact of the influx of creative workers into urban areas on the sustain-
ability of economic structure (Kratke 2010, pp. 835–53), such as gen-
trification and the fact that many creative workers live in precarious and
insecure conditions (Pratt 2011).
The places of work for these nascent digital entrepreneurs and
co-workers are often articulated to social and cultural capital. In
my interviews with those involved in these spaces, they attempted to
mark boundaries around an imagined community of young, creative
and middle-class aspirants. The social aspects of co-working spaces are
actively encouraged, especially by those attached to accelerators because
the social network is seen as an important feature of the programmes.
Sociality is an important aspect of digital entrepreneurship in general,
and those who share social and cultural capital occupy virtual and phys-
ical spaces together. Digital entrepreneurship is a lifestyle choice, one
which is affordable only by particular groups in society, resulting in the
212    
L. Wing-Fai

spatialisation of the digital startup sector in Taiwan and Hong Kong,


even though the products and services the startups provide are vir-
tual. Network sociality is an important aspect of digital entrepreneur-
ship, and it is in shared spaces within the startup ecosystem that it is
frequently manifested. By contrast to the spaces in Taiwan, workspaces
in Hong Kong are often located in high-rent areas, while lower-rent
spaces in working-class areas and disused industrial units are less com-
mon. The physical arrangements of the private co-working spaces in my
Taiwanese samples appeal to the consciousness and tastes of the target
audience of middle-class professionals and aspiring startup entrepre-
neurs, who seek to affirm their cultural capital. The idea that bringing
people together results in ‘serendipity production’ is an assumption
that has never been empirically tested. The organisers and founders of
co-working and co-creation spaces often assert that their spaces help to
construct communities of like-minded individuals, which are usually
exclusive to those rich in social capital. These spatial narratives of net-
work and community help to delineate class difference and to mark out
the boundaries around the startup ecosystem.
The empirical research I have presented through this book show that
the focus on gender reflects only a partial view of the digital entrepre-
neurs’ experiences. The intersections between gender and ethnicity
are significant in the cases discussed in Chapter 5. In Silicon Valley,
younger ‘alpha males’ are more likely to be listened to and accepted
in the boardroom, as attested to by the 2017 sexual harassment scan-
dals. While Asian male geeks are able to fit into the Silicon Valley
culture, African American and Hispanic workers have the lowest rep-
resentation across the board in the tech sector. The case of Ellen Pao
shows that companies may attempt to silence dissenting voices among
Asian American women through media campaigns and online trolling.
The case of Taiwanese American Chia Hong demonstrates the impor-
tance of an intersectional approach in understanding discrimination.
While Asian male tech workers are considered geeks and nerds, a ben-
eficial designation in Silicon Valley culture, Asian women are thought
to be ‘order takers,’ and when they assert themselves they are likely
to be seen as challenging male authorities. Instead of addressing the
6 Conclusions    
213

institutionalised racism and sexism that exist in global tech corpo-


rations, the companies that were sued for sexual harassment and gen-
der discrimination blamed the women for not fitting in or performing
poorly because of their individual characteristics. Although gender and
ethnicity are the central issues in intersectional studies, the cases of dis-
crimination detailed in Chapter 5 demonstrate that while these two fac-
tors are prominent in creating barriers to Asian women’s access to tech
careers, family, age and work experience are additional characteristics
that intersectionally overlap with gender.
Through the examples given within this book, I argue that intersec-
tionality not only offers a framework to understand discrimination, but
it is an approach that helps cultural and sociological studies scholars ref-
erence the complexity of social strata in the experiences of creative and
digital workers today. Given the social, cultural and educational capital
that digital entrepreneurs possess, their choice of career represents the
privilege of being able to choose precarity. Their social networks are
marked by gender, age and class similarities. The start-uppers are not
generally interested in diverse, bohemian lifestyles. Rather, start-up-
pers are agents of change, and their precarious position intersects with
personal characteristics and life experiences to reflect the new genera-
tions in Taiwan. These social identities are further complicated by the
intersections between gender and ethnicity, a dynamic I investigate in
the examples of Asian and Asian American female tech workers in the
global media-, ethno- and technoscapes. Adopting an intersectional
approach, this study considers personal characteristics—ethnicity, gen-
der, class, age—in broad terms. These personal characteristics, the
relationships between categories of people with certain personal charac-
teristics, and the relationships between the groups of people and social
hierarchies are constantly shifting and highly elusive. Through the four
substantive chapters, the analysis progressively complicates the role
gender identities play in the experiences of digital entrepreneurs and
creative workers, demonstrating the significance of an intersectional
approach. To understand the new generation of creative entrepreneurs
in East Asia, I propose a contingent matrix of analytical framework that
takes into account gender, age, class and ethnicity.
214    
L. Wing-Fai

Digital Entrepreneurship: An East Asian


Perspective
Many new venture labourers are attracted to digital entrepreneurship
because it is thought to be ‘cool, creative and egalitarian’ (Gill 2002).
In particular, the new creative workers may be seen as risk takers, in
that they are involved in the monetarisation of knowledge while reject-
ing traditional work structures. Throughout this study, digital entrepre-
neurship has proved to be a pursuit that is heavily influenced by the
intersections of personal characteristics rather than an open playing field
that offers egalitarian and meritocratic opportunities, a discourse per-
petuated by the Western entrepreneurial ideal of an individual quest to
identify opportunities and innovate. The rise of digital entrepreneur-
ship in developed and developing economies in East Asia demonstrates
the spread of the neoliberal ideal (Ong 2006) that individualises the
response to political, economic and social issues. I have taken a more
complex and nuanced approach to considering digital entrepreneurs—
people who found Internet and mobile startups—by situating their
experiences in the national and local contexts and rethinking personal
characteristics intersectionally.
Digital entrepreneurship is arguably an informal economic strategy.
Although the startup entrepreneurs aspire to be capitalists, in reality
they perform precarious labour for their companies. The risk is rep-
resented as an individual life choice and a form of personal empow-
erment, while precarity signals autonomy and freedom for those who
aspire to a neoliberal Western lifestyle. Digital entrepreneurs often work
long hours with no formal employment structure, voluntarily opting to
perform labour in a sector that sometimes gives them little or no mon-
etary reward. In addition, the entrepreneurs rely on informal support,
such as the four Fs of startups: co-founders, friends, family and fools.
The goals of these entrepreneurs are frequently not only about finan-
cial rewards, but the startups also provide a biopolitical function. In
Taiwan, the informal economy has a long history mostly associated with
the working class. The middle class and political elites have access to
national and global corporations and the public sphere. I argue that
6 Conclusions    
215

digital entrepreneurship represents a new informal economy that co-­


exists with the formal economy represented by national and global cor-
porations. The startup culture occupies a relatively marginal economic
position in Taiwan when compared to the large tech corporations. The
digital entrepreneurs are, in fact, in the pursuit of a modern-day ‘indus-
trious revolution’ (Arvidsson 2017) because most digital entrepreneurs
are unable to create enough monetary value. They often rely on the
national economic strategies, such as the provision of business support
to startups or the existence of infrastructure and funds from the venture
capital industry, in order to survive the initial period of their business
ventures.
In the Taiwanese startup scene, the middle-class social networks
contribute to and exacerbate informality. The state has increasingly
encouraged and co-opted the startup sector through entrepreneurship
programmes and funds, especially as the formal tech sector has been
facing difficulties. The middle-class entrepreneurs’ experiment with
informality and precarity means they also absent themselves from main-
stream political and economic life. One startup founder (games) said:
‘The young generation wants to try new things. If we are going to get
angry with the government, we may as well do something ourselves.’
As the interviewee suggested, digital entrepreneurship has become an
individual response to recent political and economic events in Taiwan
and an alternative to taking part in direct social action. When another
founder advocated similar ideas at a startup event in Taipei in 2014, the
audiences applauded him. The digital sphere therefore provides a forum
for the examination of entrepreneurship as a barometer of social change.
The rise of digital startup entrepreneurship in Taiwan is a response to
the country’s recent difficulties as a global competitor in computer and
mobile phone manufacturing. My interviewees in Taipei were knowl-
edge workers who have taken on the risks of the ‘brave new world’ of
work. These nascent entrepreneurs are aspirant capitalists who share the
same struggles as other information workers, such as precarity and the
need to maintain informal networks. The extended and nuclear family
provides resources and financing for new ventures; even for families that
are not directly supporting the nascent enterprises, the younger gen-
eration is better able to take up the risks of entrepreneurship as they
216    
L. Wing-Fai

possess economic, social and cultural capital (Bourdieu 1986). Their


startups represent an attempt to change their own work and personal
lives. Even if their businesses fail, these entrepreneurs justify it by learn-
ing experiences. Furthermore, they are part of the middle-class elite in
East Asia that aspires to be part of the global entrepreneurial class. In
my discussions with many interviewees, they mentioned the careers of
famous American entrepreneurs, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Steve
Jobs, who provided the inspiration for their own digital entrepreneur-
ship, indicating that they shared the optimism associated with technol-
ogy originating from the West, especially Silicon Valley.
Digital entrepreneurship in the developed territories in East Asia
indicates a new worldview that has been adopted by a generation
rich in educational, cultural and social capital and whose experiences
of work are often very different from their parents’. The Internet and
mobile startup entrepreneurs in Taiwan reject standard working prac-
tices, which have become untenable in the past decade. For the found-
ers, working for oneself instead of toiling for a large company is about
embracing the liberal values; rather than being an economic necessity,
digital entrepreneurship is a lifestyle choice connected to conspicu-
ous consumption. With the choice of digital entrepreneurship, many
start-uppers follow the examples of their Silicon Valley counterparts and
suggest that they want to serve the public, to ‘change the world.’ This
kind of entrepreneurial ethos has been promoted actively to the younger
generations, often through official channels, such as subsidies, business
accelerators, startup programmes and centres.
Digital entrepreneurship offers a means to effect change without
directly challenging the key players of the economy and the state; the
new informal economy and the neoliberal ethos towards work and
career, in fact, replaces collective political action. Given the middle-class
and elite background of workers in the digital economy and the way
that it has been co-opted by the state and the mainstream tech indus-
try, the emergence of the digital sphere forces a revision of the original
understanding of the informal economy (made up of small businesses
and providers of traditional services). These young, middle-class entre-
preneurs have turned to precarious creative work as an alternative to
the formal economy, and they voluntarily subsume themselves into the
6 Conclusions    
217

new informal economy.2 The entrepreneurs seek individual solutions


to economic and political problems as the formal economy transitions.
These new informal workers are both empowered and subsumed by the
political currents. Through my analysis, I explain how the digital entre-
preneurs, as creative workers, are absorbed into two separate hegem-
onic forces: the national political and economic conditions, and the
American neoliberal entrepreneurial ideal.
The analysis of the experiences of startup entrepreneurs from East
Asia reveals an important facet of contemporary political lives which
has been hitherto under-researched. My findings support the concept
of intersectionality as a central tool in understanding the effects of tech-
nological change on workers and entrepreneurs in Taiwan, set against
the backdrop of rapid industrial and social change in recent decades.
The intersecting characteristics of gender, age, ethnicity, class, family
and national contexts enable a consideration of how entrepreneurship
is discursively constructed and practised by Taiwan’s new Internet and
digital producers. Digital entrepreneurship can be argued to be a form
of virtual work and precarious labour, and this research project offers a
distinctive analysis of how these new forms of work and labour condi-
tions in various contexts—East Asia, Silicon Valley, multinational tech
corporations—acutely reflect the social stratifications that exist in the
global digital economy.

Notes
1. http://www.blink.com.tw/?gclid=CjwKEAjwr6ipBRCM7oqr-
j6O30jUSJACff2WHbqb1QpqXA3xzXKw37b9ffJMayQg9lu-
WzR-v0A8o1nxoCp3Hw_wcB. Accessed May 2015.
2. In my co-authored article with Alberto Cossu (forthcoming), we use
Agamben’s (1998) concept of the bare-life: the contemporary political
order which gives priority to the biological fact of life (zoē) over the way
in which a life is lived (bios). We propose that this concept describes
how workers and entrepreneurs, who often can barely survive through
their labour, are excluded from political life.
218    
L. Wing-Fai

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Index

A B
Acer 11, 16, 17, 19, 22 benshengren 56, 57
Acker, Joan 27, 28, 31, 50, 87, 102, Bourdieu, Pierre 6, 49, 116, 143
118, 164 business case 106, 209
Act of Gender Equality in Butler, Judith 28
Employment, the 92
age 68, 70, 76, 114, 118, 176, 210
agency 90 C
AirBnB 68 capital 2, 10, 14, 15, 18, 19, 26
Appadurai, Arjun 169, 187, 200 economic 47, 116, 210
AppWorks 24, 115, 132, 134, 138, educational 7, 66, 213, 216
139, 143, 145, 147 human 7, 11, 21, 25, 54, 126,
Asian American 3, 4, 28, 162, 163, 127, 135, 137, 141, 143, 167
169–177, 181, 185, 212 social 6–7, 26, 49–51, 53–55,
Asian financial crisis (1997) 16 63, 78, 85, 88, 116, 139, 145,
Asian tigers 2, 7, 10, 198 147, 155, 200, 210–212, 216
autonomy 70, 73–74, 78, 79, 214 Castells, Manuel 48
change the world 77–78, 205, 216
Chen, Eva 163, 182–184, 187, 209

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2019 221


L. Wing-Fai, Digital Entrepreneurship, Gender and Intersectionality,
Dynamics of Virtual Work, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-97523-8
222    
Index

childcare 57, 59, 62, 74, 88, 90, 92, discrimination 4, 29, 32, 95, 96,
93, 97, 100, 102, 107, 111, 110, 171, 212
116, 166, 173, 176 race 3, 29, 163, 173, 176, 213
China 1, 9, 93, 148, 169, 180. See sex 28, 29, 111, 116, 163, 173,
also PRC 174, 213
class 6, 13, 29, 31, 49, 61– 62, 76, distinction 143, 154, 155. See also
79, 88, 90, 91, 111, 115, 116, Bourdieu, Pierre
118, 139, 143, 150, 155, 167, diversity 96, 127
169, 178, 181, 185–187, 206, DPP 3, 9, 16, 18, 199
210, 214, 216
CLBC 132, 139, 140, 142, 145,
146, 152 E
co-creation 126, 146, 148, 150, 153, ECFA. See Economic Cooperation
154, 212 Framework Agreement
co-creation movement 139 Economic Cooperation Framework
Confucianism 9, 13, 47, 93 Agreement 18
conspicuous consumption 143, 146. electronics industry 2, 5, 10, 17, 19,
See also Veblen, Thorstein 69, 70, 132, 134, 199, 201
co-working 139, 211 Entrepreneurship 5–7, 20, 55, 60,
co-working space 2, 22, 24, 61, 103, 109, 111, 113, 167, 186,
126–155, 211, 212 206, 214
creative class 126–128, 135, 137, women and entrepreneurship
138, 150, 155, 204, 211 13–14, 86
creative cluster 126, 138 ethnicity 29–31, 90, 92, 164, 167–
creative labour 48, 198 169, 173, 175–177, 185–187,
creative work 88, 198 213. See also race
creative worker 128, 140, 211 ethnoscape 169
critical realism 30–31
Cross-Strait Service Trade
Agreement, the (CSSTA) 1, F
199 Facebook 45, 70, 99, 113, 163, 172,
crowdsourcing 149 173, 207
family 13, 54, 58, 61–62, 85, 88,
90, 91, 93, 97–101, 103, 107,
D 111, 203
de Certeau, Michel 130–131, 148, family responsibility 58, 59, 76,
153 114, 117, 118, 166, 200, 202,
Democratic Progressive Party, the. 204, 209
See DPP metaphor 64
Index    
223

family business 13, 25, 47, 50, 53, Hong Kong 3–5, 7, 10, 15, 16, 22,
55, 60, 62, 79, 92, 97, 103, 45, 51, 52, 91, 126, 131, 140,
168, 178 141, 143, 148, 154, 198, 212
femininity 107–109, 113, 165, 184 Hon Hai 17, 21, 133, 134, 152
feminism 13, 28–30, 32, 33, 89, Hsinchu 11, 22, 25, 133, 134, 138,
111, 197 152
feminist movement 93 Hsinchu Science-Based Industrial
fertility rate 97 Park 11, 133
Foxconn. See Hon Hai HTC 16, 21, 133, 163, 178,
freelance 46, 51, 98 180–184, 186, 209
husband and wife team 55, 64, 85,
96–98, 102–105, 117, 137,
G 147, 168, 179, 181, 208
geek. See nerd hybrid role 165, 183
gender discourse 91, 101, 105–114
gendered organisation 27–28, 87,
102, 106, 110, 118, 164. See I
also Acker, Joan imagined community 148, 155
gender role 28, 50, 89, 92–94, 98, Industrial Technology Research
107, 109, 110, 112, 164–166, Institute, the. See ITRI
173 informal economy 214–217
gender role attitude 93, 94, 99, 100, intersectionality 26–32, 90, 114,
102, 117, 209, 210 118, 167, 168, 186, 208
Gill, Rosalind. See postfeminist sensi- ITRI 20, 22, 23
bility; unspeakable inequalities
Girls in Tech 45, 91, 107
GIT 91, 111, 112, 114. See also Girls J
in Tech Japan 12, 52, 93, 94, 98, 110, 111,
Google 23, 170, 181 182
Granovetter, Mark 48, 53, 65 Japanese colonisation 8, 10
guanxi 47, 50, 51, 64, 115 Jobs, Steve 77, 140, 206, 216

H K
Hakka 12, 93, 109 Keelung Road 134–136, 138, 143
Hokkien 12 KMT 1, 3, 8, 9, 12, 17, 18, 56, 57,
homophily 48, 49, 64, 66, 78, 94, 199
145, 147, 203 Kuomintang, the. See KMT
224    
Index

L nepotism 52
late capitalism 26 nerd 27, 67–68, 78, 177, 207
Lefebvre, Henri 129–130, 143, 153 network 8, 18, 19, 23, 26, 28, 33,
34, 48–53, 62, 88, 95, 128,
134, 144, 154, 208, 211
M business network 50
maker movement 126, 148–150, informal 86, 214, 215
153, 155, 200. See also co-crea- networking 8, 11, 95, 117, 145
tion movement network sociality 48, 129, 145,
maker space 22, 131, 139, 140, 211
148–150, 152–154 network society 48
marriage 47, 58, 64, 92, 98, 101, social 48, 51, 53, 62, 63, 85, 94,
103 115, 207, 213
martial law 1, 9, 15, 17
masculinity 27, 28, 50, 68, 87, 108,
164, 166, 168, 176, 177 O
McClure, Dave 162 OBM 17
mediascape 169 ODM 18, 24
mianzi 115 OEM 2, 5, 10, 16, 17, 21, 22, 24
military service 62, 68–69, 207 old boy networks 53
Ministry of Economic Affairs 11, 20, original design manufacturing. See
146, 152 ODM
model minority 168, 170 original equipment manufacturing,
MOEA. See Ministry of Economic the. See OEM
Affairs

P
N Pao, Ellen 163, 170–172
National Chiao Tung University performativity 106
22–24, 133, 152 PMQ creative and design hub 141
National Development Council, the positionality 30
20 postfeminism 99
National Taiwan University 24, 67, postfeminist sensibility 88, 99, 111,
133, 138 114, 117
NDC. See National Development PRC 1–5, 8, 9, 16, 17, 22, 23, 25,
Council, the 26, 94, 126. See also China
neoliberalism 51, 77–79, 99, 111, precarity 8, 51, 72, 78, 109, 112,
114, 211, 214, 216 142, 204, 211, 213–215
Index    
225

production of space 129 South Korea 10, 12, 19, 24, 91, 93,
mental 129, 147 94, 98, 199
physical 129, 140–143 Spatial practice 139–140
social 130, 143 startup 6, 18, 19, 21–24, 26, 27, 34,
54, 95, 96, 106, 113, 133–
136, 144, 146, 166, 181
R accelerator 21, 23, 35, 63, 115,
race 29, 90, 167–169, 176, 177, 134, 136, 137, 139, 141–145,
181, 185. See also ethnicity 147, 152
Republic of China, the 9 cluster 138
ecosystem 2, 5, 8, 22, 28, 33,
34, 47, 51, 53, 62, 63, 69,
S 105, 128, 132, 138, 140, 143,
Saxenian, AnnaLee 18, 25, 26, 126, 154–156, 212
169 ecosystem in Hong Kong 141
science and technology education 25, fintech 142
67, 68, 91, 203 hardware 141
Second World War, the 8, 10, 56, structural hole 49–50
57, 62, 72, 208 Sunflower Movement, the 1–3, 77
self employment 92
senpai/kohai network 64, 104, 203
sexism 101 T
sexual harassment 161, 162, 170 Taichung 22, 125, 132, 134, 139,
Silicon Alley 7, 128, 129 142, 144, 145
Silicon Valley 3, 4, 7, 11, 18, 24–28, Taipei 3, 9, 10, 21, 22, 25
50, 51, 69, 77, 86, 126, 138, Taiwan Relations Act, the (1979) 9
161–163, 166, 169–177, Taiwan Semiconductor
185–187, 204, 205, 212, 216 Manufacturing Corporation,
Silicon Valley (TV series) 171 the. See TSMC
Singapore 5, 7, 10, 15, 21, 22, 24, Taiwan Startup Stadium 21, 98, 110
51, 198 technology 163, 164, 169, 171, 175,
small and medium enterprises. See 176, 179, 181, 183, 201, 209
SME technoscape 169
SME 9, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 50, Trend Micro 21, 23, 133, 163, 180,
55, 56, 112, 133, 199, 208 182–184, 209
social production of space 131, 154, TSMC 11, 18, 21–23
155 Twitter 163, 174, 175
social stratification 30, 31
226    
Index

U venture capitalist 20, 23, 25, 53, 63,


Uber 5, 68, 162 86, 96, 139, 144, 146, 162
Umbrella Movement, the 3 venture labour 7, 51, 128, 201
unspeakable inequalities 97–98, 111,
112, 117, 210
W
Wajcman, Judy 86
V Wang, Cher 163, 178–181, 183,
Veblen, Thorstein 142 186, 187, 209
venture capital 20, 21, 23, 25, 33, weak ties. See Granovetter, Mark
96, 114, 126, 134–136, 138, work-life balance 58, 89, 98–100,
162, 163, 170 117, 166