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Abstract

We study the psychological bias underlying the decision to become an entrepreneur in the online business context. Using entrepreneurs affiliated with Taobao Marketplace, the world’s largest online shopping platform, as our sample, we find that people who observe the emergence of successful stores in their neighborhood are more likely to become online entrepreneurs. Relying on the Taobao store rating system and detailed geographical information for identification, we find that in rural areas of China, an increase in the online rating (upgrade event) of a store leads to a significant increase in the number of new stores within a 0.5-km radius. This effect increases with the magnitude of the upgrade event, decreases with physical distance from the focal store and is robust to a wide range of rigorous model specifications. However, such decisions to enter the market may be suboptimal, as entrants whose entrepreneurs are motivated by these upgrade events underperform relative to their peers in terms of sales and have a higher probability of market exit. Overall, our results are most consistent with salience theories of choice and cannot be explained by regional development or rational learning.

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