Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Two separate and independent events prompted me to write this. One was from a friend, E, upset about people telling her she’s lucky to have her new job. Another is from Mark Cuban’s blog post about with the same title as this post. I had just came across an episode of Shark Tank where Mark Cuban was on and another friend, W, highly recommended his blog so I added it to my RSS feed.

People tell me I am lucky all the time. I do feel fortunate and blessed to be doing what I do now at 27. Not a day goes by w/out me being thankful for what life has given me. However, I get the feeling that people tends to credit others’ success to luck b/c they don’t comprehend it. It reminded me of the closing scene of one of my favorite movies of all time: Rounders

If you have not seen this movie, Matt Damon plays a young poker player while going to law school at the same time. His girlfriend makes him quit because she doesn’t understand it. She thinks it’s gambling and well… luck. Speaking as another poker player myself, poker takes an incredible amount of discipline, training, focus, patience, and hard work. It’s actually pretty boring sometimes. You do a lot of folding, waiting for the right opportunity. This was also a common misconception when it comes to trading.

It makes me wonder sometimes, maybe people don’t understand what it takes to be rich. I am not the first to say this, but getting rich is incredibly boring (have you read Mark’s post yet? go read it!). You get there by hard work and saving. I see so many of my friends that clearly do not understand this concept. Believe it or not, I don’t even own a personal credit card(I only have one for business purchases). I hardly ever go out to eat or downtown to drink anymore. I’ve been on a minimalist purge lately and I literally looked at all my expenses and brutally slashed out everything I was not happy about. It’s not about being cheap. It’s about value for me and my opportunity cost is much much higher. People thinks I’m joking when I say this, but this is one of my favorite mantras now:

Jesus saves. So should you.

There’s a saying that “luck is when preparation meets opportunity,” it is so true. If you don’t save and not have the capital when buying opportunities presents themselves, especially during market downturns where there are tons of bargains, how can you take advantage of it? We don’t even have to talk about real estate or stocks, just think about even sales down at your favorite retailer. Assuming credit cards don’t exist, if they’re having their biggest sale ever known to mankind and you can’t take advantage of it if you don’t have the cash, it’s the same thing. If this double-dip recession thing does come true, I hope you’ve saved up some capital to get some real bargains. I hope you’re like me, camouflaged and patiently waiting. Waiting for that big game to come right into your gun sight and ready to pull the trigger.

I blame the media. People see other millionaires driving fancy cars and big houses on TV, soon enough you start believe that it happens all the time. What’s worst is you start believing that’s the norm and now comes the credit cards, car payments, mortgages. Real millionaires don’t live like that. Pick up The Millionaire Next Door at your local library/bookstore/Kindle if you haven’t read this book yet. People read about 100 stories about the success of Google and they start believing entrepreneurship or starting a business is easy. Yes, those are 100 stories, but they’re about ONE company.

It’s the same about travel and crime. One story about mugging and people are so quick to jump to conclusion about the overall safety of a country or city. I can’t even count how many times someone tells me backpacking is dangerous, so and so place has high crime rate. I backpacked around the world for ninety days. I didn’t die. I didn’t get mugged. I didn’t even get pick-pocketed despite not using my money belt (Looking back, I’m almost disappointed and offended… I was basically daring all the gypsies in Europe to come after me and they didn’t). I even went down to exactly where they were protesting in Bangkok on their one year anniversary and the whole safety issue is just totally blown out of proportion. How dangerous is a guy yelling into a bull horn, because that’s all that happened. The only danger you have is if you stand too close to him and it might damage your hearing.

The opposite is also true. Just because people don’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Just because you don’t see me working doesn’t mean I’m not putting in 60, 80, 100 hrs a week working to make my dream come true. Just because you didn’t see it didn’t mean I’ve not been working out on the factory floor everyday after school since I can walk.

So the next time you want to say someone is lucky, think about this: are they lucky, or do they deserve everything they got?

Alright I’m off my High Horse brand soap box now.


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If you have a good personal negotiation tip or story I would love to hear it.

Most everybody knows to bargain and haggle when you shop in Asia but some people don’t really know how to do it or they think they’re getting a good deal but they’re really not. One day some of the backpackers at the hostel I was staying at in Hanoi was asking the staff “how to not get ripped off”, whic prompted me to write this post. I’m not saying I’m a negotiation expert or this is the best way to do it, but the following are just some guidelines I’ve learned from my 13 yrs growing up in Asia, lots of travels, and tips passed down from my parents. I’ve also taken a graduate level course in negotiation during my time at McCombs, so some of these concept might not be that foreign to you, especially if you’ve read Getting to Yes before.

1. Shop around, get some information
Nobody said you have to buy at the first vendor you see. Shop around and see what kind of price range people are quoting you. You wouldn’t dare negotiate a job salary w/out knowing at least the avg pay for someone w/ your background, why buy something w/out first scoping out the market.

2. Know how much you’re willing to pay for it
If I am feeling really aggressive I usually have a set price in mind for how much I am willing to pay. If the market price happens to be lower, cool; if not I will not buy it unless I can get the price that I want. For example, I was buying a pair of sunglasses at the Ben Tanh Market in Saigon. The vendor quoted me 380,000d and I countered w/ 100,000d. She did manage to lower down to 250,000d before I started to walk away. I just keep pressing 100,000d on her calculator. Eventually she reluctantly agreed to it after I took about 5 steps and just was about to disappear down another isle.

3. Counter w/ about 1/3 of the initial offer:
Generally speaking at least. It all depends on how touristy the place is. If I see a lot of locals shop there as well I won’t be as aggressive. If it’s really touristy I might even counter w/ something ridiculous just as an attempt to find out their cost or bottom line is, not doing it to piss the vendor off. Trust me, you’ll know when they don’t want to sell or even talk to you. The most common sign is they’ll take the calculator away and put it back in the drawer. It’s just my way of getting more information.

4. Know your BATNA
BATNA stands for Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement. basically, what are your options if the deal falls through. When you are shopping in a market like Chatuchak, you have more leverage. What do you do if you can’t get what you want at the price you want at a vendor? Go to the next one 3 ft away of course.

5. Be willing to walk away
Don’t fall in love with what you are trying to buy. Again, there will be other places that sell it, if not in the same market at least other places in the city. Some time when you threantens to walk away and take your business elsewhere it give the merchant an extra incentive to meet you att your price.

6. Negotiate around the secondary issues
Price is obviously the primary objective in transaction like buying souvenirs abroad, but talk about some of the other topics as well. I like to talk about the poor quality of hand craft or material sometimes to have the vendor come down a bit just before finalizing the deal. Or if I bought more than one item I’ll ask for like a bulk discount or tack on something else I kind of like as well at a lower price. Also rounding up or down to the nearest whole number or bill denomination helps.

Of course this is somewhat generalized and doesn’t apply to everyb situation. This is not so you can take advantage of the vendors but more for your own protection. Sometimes you end up spending half an hour just trying to save 50 cents and it doesn’t make a whole lot of economical sense at that point.

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My Little Things

I’m always surprised that little things can make the biggest impact in making connections and building relationship.  I just arrived in Durham today.  While riding the courtesy bus to my car rental, I started talking to the driver.  He mentioned to me that he’s from Algier and after confirming that they speak Arabic there I said to him ”asalaam alikum,” which is the common greeting in Arabic.  Its literal translation is like “peace be with you” I think.  You can after that his interaction w/ me was just that much warmer. 

Normally as a member of the car rental company they’ll have the car ready for me and I can literally just drive off.  Today, they instructed to him over the radio that I had to go inside the office to pick up the car keys b/c it just got out of the wash.  Upon arrival he sees a huge line of people waiting he told me to just wait outside and ran in to get the keys for me.  How nice!  Would this had happened if I didn’t establish that rapport earlier just b/c I spoke his language, which I don’t… I only knew one phrase and thank you (which is “shokran”).

It reminded me of the time I was in Thailand over New Years, Kho Phi Phi to be exact.  I had learned how to say “Happy New Year” in Thai and while on an island tour I said that to one of the crew.  He reacted as if I was his long lost twin brother.  I can’t blame him… driving fat Scandinavian tourists around on a boat all day has got to get old pretty fast.  He actually brought me up to where the captain is, with the best view of the islands.

Although I would rank myself above average in establishing rapport with total strangers, I wouldn’t say I’m some kind of magician.  You really just have to try, at least put in some effort.  In Dale Carnegie classes people often say they have a hard time remembering names.  Looking at how they interact with me though I can just tell they’re not even remotely putting in the effort to try to remember the other person’s name.

It might sound silly, but it really is the little things that exceeds our wildest expectation, especially in business.  I can’t think of how many times a bar or restaurant become a friend of mine’s go to spot just b/c the bartender or owner send them a drink or small dish on the house, or even just remembering our names.

Take that extra step or just some extra effort to show other people that you care.  You’ll be amazed.

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My Not Enough

Do you want to be successful?  I came across Chase Jarvis’ post the other on the subject.  Unfortunately, to want to be successful is not enough.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are times I could’ve worked harder, but b/c it was too hard or any other excuses I called it quits earlier.  It’s really interesting to see some of the companies in Europe I contacted earlier this year that I thought I struck out to come around and started conversation again.  Imagine if I had not gotten discouraged and contacted even more companies, would I have even more leads in the pipeline now?

To know what you want, that’s more important.  Success is an intrinsic matter.  Now ask yourself: what’s your passion?

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My Entrepreneur

For some reason I have always had a problem w/ the word “entrepreneur.” It became one of these cool catchy words flowing freely from people’s mouths during undergrad, just like consulting and investment banking. The same people who have no idea what the word means to them personally or what it is like to be an entrepreneur, consultant, or i-banker. All they see is the money and glamor. Yes, they have heard about the 100+ hour work weeks, etc but really, how bad can it be right? That is until you’re actually there and burn out in 2 years.

Listen to the beginning of this podcast from HBR for a definition of entrepreneurship that I agree with a lot more. I had previous settle on a loose definition for myself that entrepreneurs are people who engage in enterprising activities. So why do I still feel that me, running a family business, not really an entrepreneur. I’m paraphrasing here, but entrepreneurs should be someone that’s moving the world forward, creating jobs, real value creation. Yes, a landscape business owner provides value, but is he really benefiting the world in a significant way?

I was also happy to hear the discussion on the entrepreneur DNA around the 12:00 mark.  People talk about entrepreneurship DNA as if there’s something genetic or inherently different about these amazing people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.  It bugs me to no end when someone makes the claim “a natural born” entrepreneur, or leader, or anything else really.  I like how they talk about it as a more general background, a more social environment if you will.  Which means that someone can learn to be an entrepreneur, a leader, and anything else you want to be.  There are different staging and preparations that go into building an entrepreneur, which is really cool b/c it happens to echo what I write in my MBA essays.

Does that mean genetics don’t matter? Of course not.  For me it just play a smaller factor.  I do believe each person have certain genetic disposition for a certain position, but the work you put in after birth matters more.  Imagine how many people had the genetic markups to be the next Michael Jordan, but they didn’t have the drive to succeed like MJ and only ended up riding the bench.

A friend of mine and me were talking about what Tim Ferriss had to say about getting an MBA.  TF had said to invest all the money you’re gonna end up spending on an MBA, the tuition, traveling, GMAT prep course and test registration fees, and use that to start a business and you’ll learn more than you would in an MBA program.  It’s debatable.  I do believe the experience in a multinational company and the MBA education would pay as the “staging” the podcast mentions.  While it’s fun to do it on your own and figure it out, meanwhile the big boys have been at it for much longer than you have and perfected the industry’s best practices, what better way to learn than to actually join them?

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My Face Palm

Running your own small business, you pretty much have to do everything yourself.

Yeah, you think it’s fun and cool and sexy to be your own boss.  You didn’t realize you used to have an accounting department that keeps all the books, there’s an HR department to do all the tax withholding and hiring/firing, and geek squad to help you with every tech support problems.

My least favorite is tech support… for my dad.

Me: “Why didn’t you call in this order?”
Dad: “I didn’t receive it.”
Me: “It’s sitting right here in your inbox’s trash”
Dad: “How’d that get there?”
Me: “Probably because you deleted it”
Dad: “I didn’t delete it”
Me: “Right, and I didn’t eat all those cookies in the cookie jar when I was 7.  The email was marked as READ”
Dad: “Well, how do I get it back?”
Me: “Mooooove….”

[…. oh btw.  YOU’RE WELCOME!]

If you can tell me which SNL skit I’m referring to you win some cool points.

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My Buying Signs

“Is there a minimum order?”

That’s a buying sign. Stop talking and close the deal.

I was meeting w/ a prospective client and this question came up.  I was happy I recognized this.  I knew it was a commitment, albeit a soft one since both parties were venturing into something new.

When people talk, there are the words they say but there’s also emotional value behind what they’re saying.  As you proceed through the sales process, at a certain point the table will turn and the prospect will start asking question, essentially to make sure he/she will not regret this decision, aka buyers remorse.  *Usually in the beginning of the conversation or meeting I’m the one asking tons of questions.

Unfortunately sometimes sales people keeps on talking… talk and talk their way out of a deal.  Look, if you were asking someone out on a date and she’s asking you what time the movie is and if you can come pick her up what would you do in that situation? You answer the questions and solidify that commitment.  “Oh yeah, I can come pick you up.  So 8pm right? Cool, see you then!”

Basically the prospect is trying to paint a picture for himself on how what you describe would become reality.  You start talking about more details instead of the big picture stuff.  Here are some more possible buying signs/signals I usually come across:

  • Have you worked with other companies in my area?
  • Can I speak to one of your current customers?
  • Are there any colors?
  • What’s your lead time?
  • How much is it?***
  • Do you offer financing?
  • What’s your quality control process?

*** This one is trickier.  Depending on the industry, sometimes you’ll want to defer this question until later.  Just say “I’ll get back to that a little later.”  Sometimes people are genuinely interested but it’s also possible they’re just looking for a quick reason to blow you off.  That’s when your professional experience comes in, where sales a little bit of art rather than science.

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