Failure Is Not The End

“Haha, an extra $350 is not bad at all,” I was talking to myself. ”All I have to do is change the purchase date.”

I owned a Telco Agency franchise that represented some of the biggest Telco companies in our state in Perth, Australia. Our franchise group was so dominant that customers often received better deals to purchase the latest mobile phones from us than if they dealt directly with the Telco companies. We pretty much ruled the market.

We started with one franchise and moved on to add another two. Life was good. It was even better when I figured out how to get monthly bonuses simply by .. changing the purchase dates.

”Fred, how did you do that?” Anton, another franchise owner, was wondering. “You have been getting the bonus for 3 months in a row now.”

”Well, our sales staffs are very hard working,” I said to him.

”I need to steal a few of them from you,” he said jokingly.

”Yeah, you can try, they are loyal to one person only, me!”

”Haha, we’ll see about that,” he smiled.

Anton was not going to steal anyone from me. His sales staffs were twice as good as mine. He was one of the best franchise owners I knew. He knew the industry well and he was such a good leader. Sometimes I wished I worked for him.

Being a not-so-honest franchise owner, I tried to find other ways to maximise profits. So I learnt the system and every now and then I found loopholes. The latest one being a simple change of dates that would magically improve my monthly sales to ‘earn’ bonuses.

***

’Sorry, your account has been deactivated’ – a message suddenly appeared as I tried to login into the franchise network.

I didn’t immediately make the connection. I thought it was a system error. It was not. My account was disabled. They figured it out. My ‘creativity’ had been found out.

The weeks that followed were full of drama. I was fined and given a warning. They let me off easy because I had a good record as a franchise operator. I learnt my lessons though, no more changing dates for the bonus.

”Well, we got our agency back,” my wife said to me. “Please try not to cheat the system again.”

”Yes dear,” I said, feeling down.

I worked so hard after that incident. I needed to prove my ability to build the franchise without resorting to dirty tactics. I had to redeem myself, reclaim my self-respect and push away any self-doubt.

It was amazing how an embarrassing incident could turn things around so spectacularly. Maybe it was not so bad after all. I found my strength at the bottom of the valley.

***

”Did you hear?” my wife was panicking. “The Telco master franchise has lost all of the major Telco accounts.”

“What do you mean ‘lost’?” I started to panic myself.

”Lost as in the big Telco companies are not selling through us anymore,” she tried her best not to faint. ”We are left with small players.”

”It is barely enough to cover rent,” I said.

”I know!”

”So what are we going to do?”

”I don’t know!”

It did not take long before we started to feel the pressure. Small Telco companies typically tried to dominate certain corners of the market. All of their products were tailored to a very specific slice of the population. A great example is an unbreakable (but ugly) mobile phone designed specifically for the construction workers. It was hard to sell their products to the general public that visited our shop.

Making things worse, those big Telco companies started to open up their own shops competing directly with us. So tell me again how we were supposed to survive? It was impossible. Our sales dropped by more than 70% within a short period of 6 months.

I lost my ability to think clearly. I just wanted to stay in bed all day, staring at the ceiling. I was a zombie.

We were part of a small community group called ‘connect’. There were four to five families in each group. The idea was so that we could support each other. Honestly, I never thought much of it. In fact, I always hated going to this group. “Such a waste of time,” I always thought to myself.

“How are you coping, my friend?” Simon our group leader asked me.

”Not good Simon,” I said quietly.

”Come, let’s have a chat, I’ll make you tea,” he said. “We have a few minutes before the others arrive.”

I have to say, it was such a joy to be able to pour out my heart to someone else without being judged. Simon was such a great listener. He was so genuine. He didn’t say much, he just nodded, smiled, asked questions, and most importantly he was there for me.

That night after talking to Simon I went to bed with a lot in my mind. I knew I had to do something, I couldn’t just wait to be slaughtered by big telcos. I needed to find the strength to move on. You know how some people say it takes courage to start? Sometimes it takes a lot more courage to stop and let go.

I had been a franchise owner for more than ten years. It was a part of me, it was my identity, and I was about to let it all go. My mind could not get into gear. I could not comprehend the situation because I had never been in that situation before. How, what, why?

”We have to make a move,” I said to my wife in the morning.

”Yeah, I have been thinking about it too,” she replied.

”I’m not sure I’m ready for this,” I said.

”I’m not either,” she whispered. “But I feel like there is no other way.”

”I cannot do it,” I said to her.

”We’ll do it together.”

I felt like a failure, I felt defeated. The business that I was so proud of. The success that I built with sweat and tears for more than a decade. It was not fair. I did not have a fighting chance.

***

“Well, we’ve done it,” I said to my wife. I had a million things happening in my mind.

”Yup, no more Telco Agency” my wife replied. “Are you ok?”

”I’m .. I guess, yeah, I’m ok.”

”Are you excited?”

”In a way, I actually am.”

”It’s been a long 7 months,” she whispered.

”Yes, a very long 7 months,” I said quietly. “I thought we would never sell it.”

”But we did,” my wife smiled again.

”Yeah, we finally did.”

”Don’t think about it too much,” she said. “Let’s just leave it all behind.”

”I know, I just feel like an era is over.”

”Yeah, that is true.”

”Well, we can, however, start something new,” I suddenly felt much better.

“Yes we can,” she smiled again. “You can now do what you have been wanting to do in the last 3 years – life coaching.”

”I know …” I started to feel my smile creeping back.

”Come on, we have talked about it.”

”Yes we have, and now I really can, I really really can!”

“You can,” she said. “Remember what you told me 7 months ago?”

”What?”

”Failure is not the end,” she looked at me with her most beautiful eyes.

***

”Failure is not the real end, it can be the beginning of your success story.”

I Thought He Came To Say Goodbye

”Ok Fred,” Rob said. “Are you trying to kill me?”

”What do you mean?” I said. “Are you playing the ‘old’ card again?”

Rob was my storeman, he was 60 years old but as strong as most 20 years old youngsters I knew. He went through a lot that bloke, just declared bankrupt, divorce dispute, and most recently health issues.

Well, to be fair, it’s not like he was taking care of his health, not with a bottle of wine every night! Sometimes I wondered how he managed to drive to the office every morning. Although it kind of explained those weird mornings where he seemed to come super early. He must have stayed the night!

Anyway, Rob was a good storeman. He was the only one who volunteered to do extra work when things went a bit quiet. He fixed the water pipe, washed the truck, and even offered to pull the weeds. He was such a humble old man.

“Fred, did you remember to order the white rags?”, I could hear Rob yelling from the warehouse.

”I did order them ..” I said, not too sure of myself.

”Well, where are they?”

”They’re not there?”

”No boss, they’re not.”

”Whatss .. ok I’ll call them now.”

Due to my million things to do I too forgot to do things. But fret not, my supplier was not far, and they were very efficient. The fact that I bought a lot from them probably contributed a little to the excellent service.

Anyhow, the white rags arrived in the afternoon (I told you they were fast). Rob looked rather excited for some reason. These rags must have grown on him. The destiny of a rags worker, sooner or later they would fall in love with those bulky rags.

The month went quickly and suddenly Christmas was just around the corner. It started to feel a lot like Christmas – it was just like the song. We had this tradition in the office to drink the day before Christmas. It wasn’t for us to get drunk or anything, or so we thought. Rob really got into it though, he bought a carton of beers for us to enjoy. Christmas present, he said. They were all for us, he said. He drank most of them, as expected.

***

”Fred, guess who got a new job?” Rob smiled at me in the morning.

”Who?” I asked.

”Me!” he replied.

And that’s how Rob broke the news of his resignation. He could not take the physical demand of the job anymore. He was getting older, and having health issues did not help either. Rob decided to get an easier job minding a hardware store near his place.

My wife and I went to visit him a few times at his new job. He looked good albeit rather bored. Well, at least he didn’t have to unload a truckload of rags there.

Rob returned the favour and came over a few times to my office. He didn’t get any younger though, and his liver problem got worse. I told him many times to stop drinking but you cannot teach an old dog a new trick.

He disappeared after a few months. His mobile was disconnected. We tried checking in at his workplace but to no avail. He vanished, God knows where.

***

”Ahh, there he is,” Rob suddenly appeared on the window.

”Whoa, look who’s here,” I said.

”Long time no see, boss,” he said to me.

”Yes, it’s been a while. How have you been?”

”Not very good, Fred.”

“What happened?”

”My liver stopped functioning, well almost,” Rob said slowly. “Doctor gave me a few months.”

”No … “ I couldn’t believe what I heard.

”It’s true,” Rob said. “I should’ve stopped .. drinking.”

”This is not happening.”

”It is, Fred.”

“Rob, what are you doing here?”

”What do you mean? I wanted to see you.”

”Yeah, I figured that out,” I said. “But why are you really here?”

”Fred, boss, I just wanted to see you.”

”I believe you, Rob,” I said. “Come, sit and I’ll make you some tea.”

We had a good long chat about work, life, family, and everything else. Rob said he missed working in the warehouse. He missed his babies, he said, referring to the bundles of rags he used to carry around.

That night I went to bed thinking I should’ve said something to Rob. Something along the line of ‘goodbye’. I didn’t because I was worried that it would offend him.

***

There was no news from Rob for the next few months. I was back to the usual hectic days at work, getting some daily physical workout in the warehouse. It was getting hot too with summer fast approaching.

”Hi, is this Fredy?” a lady called my mobile.

”Yes, it is,” I said.

”Oh .. this is Gillian, my husband Rob used to work for you.”

”Ahh yes, how is Rob doing?”

”Fred,” Gillian said slowly.

”Oh .. no .. don’t say it,” I said to her.

”He passed away, Fred,” she said. “He wanted me to tell you something.”

“Ok, I’m listening,” I said, trying to calm myself down.

“He said thank you for listening to him when he came last time,” Gillian whispered. “Thank you for not bringing up anything about him dying.”

”He also said that the last conversation gave him the peace he needed to accept his fate.” Gillian continued. “He said he felt his heart was light and he was ready.”

”Fred, Rob passed away the day after he met you.” Gillian finally said.

***

I will always remember that. That phone call. That moment.

I thought he came to say goodbye .. and I was right, but I’m glad I didn’t say anything.

Because I realised now.

He came to see me.

 

“Sometimes the best present you can give someone is to be present.”

I just want to lie down…

Forget five-star travel and the hotel life; when it comes to holidays as a soloist, Fredy Namdin prefers the simple things in life.

 

Back in the days of my corporate years, me and a colleague of mine often talked about holidays. These discussions spanned from possible holiday dates and destinations, to all the different food and drink we would enjoy during the trip.

We strategised about the best possible ways to capitalise on these holidays.Should we take it before Christmas? After New Year? Or maybe mid-year?

We took into account costs, the best weather, airlines, any special events, and so much more. It was almost an obsession for us.

I started a company more than ten years ago. Well, we acquired it but in my defence the company was in a very risky position, one bad move and there would be nothing left. We did quite a turnaround to make it into a strong and healthy business. And boy it took time to do that. I never knew acquiring a business could take so much work.

As with other businesses, things were never smooth nor stable for long. We experienced highs and lows, joy, heart break, excitement, and many other indescribable feelings.

“I just want to lie down on the sofa, relaxing, with a cup of coffee in my hand, and the most delicious Scotch Finger biscuit by my side.”

We worked so hard for the business (especially in the first few years). I remember those nights when the kids would sleep in the car because we had big orders to fulfil the following day. The worst was when the phone rang in the afternoon with an urgent request, and we knew we had no choice but to abide, because it was one of our major customers – another all nighter coming through. Who said owning a business means answering to no one? We quickly figured out that we were answering to more than 500 people (read: bosses). And these ‘bosses’ could be more demanding than our corporate bosses (not always).

Nevertheless we were happy. Things turned around and we made good money. We started to improve (increase) our spending. A new car, a new house, even a new coffee machine. Life was great.

“Hi Fred.” Eddie said to me. ”How have you been?”

“Hi Eddie, what a surprise. Well, I am doing good, man,” I said.

Eddie is a friend from my previous life. He is the one I discussed holidays with back in my corporate days.

“Where are you working now,” Eddie asked.

“I run my own company.” I replied to him. “We distribute industrial products.”

“Wow, I remember back in BankEast you always wanted to have your own business,” Eddie said.

“Yeah, it’s a dream come true.” I said, trying to remember what I really said to him back then.

“Congratulations man.”

“Thanks, what about you?”

“I work in South Bank Institute now.”

“Sounds like a good place.”

“Yes it is, and guess what, we are going to Bali again this year.”

“Again?”

“Yup, the third time this year.”

‘Third time?”

This guy is so lucky, I thought to myself. I haven’t got the time to do all these holidays this year.

“Ok Fred, I need to rush,” Eddie said. “It’s great bumping into you.”

Despite our best effort we could only take holidays during Christmas and New Year. That would be around 10 days per year. We compensate this by making it in such a way that we only work short hours during the year. Practically we structured the business around our kids. We want to spend time with them so we work short hours but somehow we end up with only 10 days break per year.

In all honesty, I never thought about it before meeting Eddie.

It’s not like we need multiple holidays anyway. Ten days break is long enough – or so I thought.

But I just couldn’t let it go. Eddie gets to take multiple trips to Bali and I am just stuck here in the warehouse? What a crappy lifestyle I have now. Surely there must be something I could do to make my life a bit better?

As I drove home I was reminiscing about the time when I too was able to take multiple trips per year. What a great life it was. I remembered the cubicle where I sat. Eddie was sitting just across my desk (hence we talked a lot to each other). The best part was in the morning when I would use the company’s coffee machine to make my delicious morning coffee. Lunch was not too bad as sometimes we had to rush things, especially when there was a big tender due.

Big tender, what a nightmare.

I must have made more than 1000 spreadsheets over the course of my career as an analyst. Oh yeah, and those headaches, splitting headaches. I was consuming pain killers like candy. I had a box or two on my desk and took two tablets per day. If I kept going the way I was maybe I could purchase them at wholesale price based on the volume I went through.

And my boss, OMG, she was the most discriminating, intimidating, back-stabbing $%&6%^.

You know what, maybe I don’t need those holidays.

Life is good as it is now.

We are happy, our business is growing, the wife is happy (very important), and I have my own coffee machine at home (also very important).

You know what, I have a great life.

It’s simple, not glamorous, albeit it’s the best for me.

I just want to lie down on the sofa, relaxing, with a cup of coffee in my hand, and the most delicious Scotch Finger biscuit by my side.

That’s all I need.

I just want to lie down.

By

— as originally appeared on Quora and FlyingSolo

What I Learn From The Rain

Do you know how to put away four pallets with a dozen different items into two little shelves? Neither did we, but sadly that was what we were doing in that cold morning. The shelves were almost full too. We ran out of idea until one of us decided to ‘MacGyver’ it. Somehow we connected four smaller shelves, turning them into ‘unofficial-somewhat-risky-shelves-extension’.

Chemicals were the worst because we had to be extra careful. In particular those with ‘DG’ written on them (DG is Dangerous Goods). These must be visible and easy to contain should any of them decided to leak. It means we had to have spill container and granules (aka kitty litter) nearby.

Another hassle was those items with expiry dates such as disposable gloves or alcohol gels. Hah, who would’ve thought, disposable gloves have expiry dates! What would happen when they expire, have you ever thought about that? Maybe they go all wonky or change colour? Nooo, they got sticky and brittle!

After hours of struggle and perseverance, we finally did everything. All items were put away and labelled accurately. We made the impossible, possible, thanks to plenty of coffees and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

‘Busy’ was the word on the street back then. Our days were full of work, work, work (and back pain, back pain, back pain). The floor flooded with pallet wraps, cut cardboard, and metal straps. No kidding, if we let a mouse loose, it would get lost in no time among the jungle, and then died of starvation.

Well, we did have downtime, sometimes. We used these rare moments to enjoy extra cups of coffees while having in-depth discussions (among other things) about our customers. They kept us busy alright. Some of them pretty much demanded immediate attention when they rang. We should charge more for this ‘concierge’ services, unfortunately not.

Our super busyness though had left us with many little things unattended around the warehouse. For example, our toilet was not flushing correctly, sometimes not at all. Then what about that jungle of cardboards and straps, they were accidents waiting to happen. And then there was this small leak from the ceiling fan. Nothing major yet, just a little bit of concerns.


”What are you doing, Jim?”, I asked our loyal warehouse staff.

”It’s leaking again, boss, I am just rearranging things,” Jim said.

”You mean the ceiling fan?”

”Yup, a bit wet today.”

”Is it getting worse?”

”Probably a little bit.”

”I probably should call the agent to fix it.”

”Yes, you should.”

I helped Jim to move the stocks away from underneath the ceiling fan. Some of them were severely damaged already. Luckily we didn’t have too many perishable products down there – at least that was what I thought.

”So what is the damage?” I asked Jim.

”Well, some of the almost expired disposable gloves are now definitely expired,” he replied.

”What do you mean some?”

”What?”

”How much is ‘some’?”

”Two cartons boss.”

”All wet?”

”Yeah, all wet.”

”Is that all?”

”Yup that’s it. The Nitrile gloves are also wet, but they are water resistant.”

”I hate this rain.”

”You mean, the leaky roof? The rain is not at fault here.”

”Yeah, I mean the leaking roof.”

The rain did not stop that day. Our humble little ceiling fan was leaking rainwater like a beer tap. We put plastic buckets all over the place to contain the rain. I remember back when I was a little kid we used to do something similar at home. Leaking roof and plastic buckets, we couldn’t get away from them.

Unfortunately, things got a bit hectic afterwards, no agent was called that day, and no leaking roof got fixed. It was Friday too, and we wanted to go home.


It’s funny how things go a lot slower from Monday to Friday, and suddenly speed up on the weekend. And before you know it, it’s Monday! Back to work, folks!

Non-stop raining continued over the weekend. I was hoping our leaking roof wouldn’t spill too much water into the warehouse. We cleared the area underneath already and put together a circle of spill granules to contain the possible flood.

Jim was already there when I arrived.

”Jim, how are things?” I asked Jim.

”Not good boss,” he replied.

”Oh, no..”

”Yes ..”

”How bad is it?”

”Interestingly, the leaking was not too bad.”

”But ..”

”But some of them found their way into our chemicals drums.”

”How did that happen?”

”We forgot to close the lids boss.”

”Yeah, but the drums were not underneath the leaking fan.”

”Well, apparently it was leaking at other places too.”

”And they happened to be on top of the drums.”

”Yes, boss.”

Fortunately, none of the DG chemicals was affected. We made sure they were all closed properly. The concentrated dishwashing liquid and glass cleaner though, they were all ruined.

I knew it was my fault for not calling the agent sooner. But again, the primary damage was not from the ceiling fan. Even if I called the agent and got the fan fixed, we would still suffer significant loss from that leak on top of the drums.

Soon the season changed, and we forgot about the incident altogether. We finally fixed all the leaks. But we couldn’t sell our concentrated chemicals though, because well, they were not concentrated anymore.

At least I learnt a few lessons from this.

Number one. Always do what you can do today, not tomorrow. If I did, I would have got the leaks fixed, and the drum lids closed. But I didn’t, and I paid a hefty price for that.

Number two. Water is so powerful even its drips can ruin the whole drum. It reminds me of an old proverb: “One drop of poison infects the whole tun of wine“. I should never underestimate the damage that small drops of water can do.

Number three. There is no point in blaming the past because it already happened and there is nothing I can do to change that. This one I needed to learn the hard way. I have now accepted that instead of crying over what has happened, it is better to learn from my mistakes and try not to repeat that.

Wait, there is one more lesson to learn from this saga.

Interestingly, this lesson is the culmination of all three.

It is the classic concept of ‘grit’.

Grit is about doing what you can and not procrastinating (lesson no.1).

It is also about persevering in doing little things at a time, and never underestimate how they could affect the more significant things (lesson no.2).

Finally, grit does not worry about the past and focus instead on the future (lesson no.3).

***

“It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up” —Babe Ruth

A Night To Remember

It was 2am, and our newborn daughter decided to wake her parents up. My reflex told me to elbow my lovely wife. Fortunately (or unfortunately) she was asleep, and my conscience said it was a big no. Do not disturb a mother in a deep sleep, or else.

What should I do? Maybe I could try to calm her down. I remember my wife always did this whispering thingy. I might try that. What if it doesn’t work?

Arrghh…the struggle is real.

In the meantime, the little baby got impatient and cranked up her cry. I swear I heard the neighbour’s dog got up and started barking.

“Shuuussshhhh….” I whispered to her. I held her tight and rocked her gently.

It seemed to work.

Half an hour was all I needed. My little girl was fast asleep then. Yes, success, well-done daddy.

“Hunny, was she crying?” my wife suddenly woke up.
“Umm yes, but she’s asleep now, all good,” I said.
“Ok, thank you for that.”
“Go back to sleep, everything is under control.”

It was February 2008 and we only just acquired a business. Coming from the corporate background, we had no idea how to run a small business. The only thing we knew was a job description and how to fake sick leave. We learnt quickly that these two didn’t seem to exist in small business.

Our first child was born just before we acquired the business. It was what we like to call: “Miracles Do Happen, Twice”.

It was a dream.

We were starting a family and somehow came across a great business. It felt good, so we bought it. It was like one of those Nike commercials. We would .. just do it.

We were unstoppable.

Our lack of experience in small business did not deter us from jumping into this new journey of self-employment. We realised later on that the very reason it did not, was because we had no idea what we got ourselves into. We got into business blind-folded.

And guess what, we got into parenthood blind-folded too.

The first time I realised this was when I dragged the cot from the office to the back room, with my daughter in it, crying. The reason, was only because I couldn’t talk on the phone.

And also because it finally got to me. The stress, lack of sleep, burnout, and a million other things we never thought possible.

There were times when we would stay back in the warehouse until dinner, had dinner, and went back to work. The little girl would sleep in the cot like a small angel. This was the time when living in the warehouse seemed like a good idea. I am glad we never did.

We tried to learn fast about everything business. The worst was never-ending-day-to-day administrative duties. Who knew something that seemed so simple and mundane like this could give us a headache? Never underestimate the requirement for small business regarding data entry, filing, stock taking, tracking order, monthly report, and so on, and so on.

Did we bite off more then we could chew?

***

“Hi Fred, I need ten boxes of milk, five tins of coffees, and ten packs of sugar,” my customer put an order.
“Yes, no problem at all,” I said.
“When can we get them?”
“Tomorrow,” I replied.

Another late night I thought to myself.

“O no, I forgot to prepare the bags for bread factory,” I just remembered. There were twenty bags to prepare. I needed few hours to do that.

“Are we ready to go?” my wife asked.
“No, we are not,” I said. “We have to go and get the supplies, and I need to prepare bags for the bread factory.”
“But that will take few hours at least.”
“Yes, I know,” I replied. “Look, why don’t we get the supplies, go home, and then I could come back to the warehouse to finish the twenty bags.”
“But you would be working until morning.”
“We have no choice, I don’t want her to sleep in the warehouse again, she is already on antibiotics.”

Our little angel was not feeling well that night. The doctor prescribed her with mild antibiotics, but she still needed a good rest.

We went home, had light dinner, and off I went back to the warehouse. It was 9pm then. I knew I would not get home until around 2am. O well, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. Back in university days, we used to stay up until 4am and was fine for the 8am lecture. This was nothing.

But I guess knowing our child was sick put a little bit of pressure as well. I wanted to be home with her. Gosh, parenthood was stretching me thin. Things worked differently when we had a little baby at home.

It was dark when I got there. I looked around to make sure the street was safe before opening the gate.

It felt weird working alone at night. Sometimes I heard voices from behind the shelves. It must be all of those scary movies coming back to haunt me.

Well, the first few bags didn’t take long to finish. I felt my muscles tensing up a little bit, and suddenly my lower back screamed in agony. I must have pulled a muscle there.

I decided to rest for few minutes and turn off the machine. And somehow that voice came back from behind the shelves.

“Ok, mental note, do not watch scary movies anymore,” I was talking to myself.

I went back to work. My lower back was hurting but nothing I couldn’t handle. It was probably just the old disc-injury playing up. I only had to persevere, and it would be over soon.

The rest of the bags took a lot slower than I hoped for. The back pain worsen. I couldn’t stand straight this time. At least it was almost done now. Just two more bags to go. It was 1.30am. Suddenly, my phone rang (from behind the shelves).

“Hunny, are you still there?” my wife asked.
“Yup, only two more bags to go,” I said. “What’s up?”
“She’s burning up.”
“How bad is it?”
“Very, I think I need to go to the hospital.”
“What, are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“Can you wait for me? I just need to finish the last two.”
“No, I need to go now.”
“Ok, I am so sorry hunny.”
“It’s alright. It’s what we do.”

I couldn’t believe it. Could it be any worse? Excruciating back pain, working alone at night, and now my wife had to drive to the hospital alone.

I continued on to finish the last two bags. My mind was filled with all sort of scenarios. What if something happens? What if the doctor says? What ifs… The worst thing was, of course, there was nothing I could do except to keep working to get it done. And I finally finished all of the bags. It was one very long night.

I closed the gate and rushed to the hospital.

My wife was waiting in the hospital room. She smiled and gave me a hug.

“It’s ok, she’s fine,” she whispered.

***

Time went on, our little girl recovered from her illness, and we were back at work as usual. While still suffering from lack of sleep we were getting better at managing it.

But that night, that was a night to remember.

***

“No one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they got plenty of sleep.”

My name is Dave, I used to work for Fred

I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. I was hungry, and the auditorium was freezing. Someone was dozing off in front of me. This preacher was as dull as a blank A4 paper. At least we could fold origami with paper.

My wife dragged me there. She reckoned it was good for me to hear some encouraging words that morning. The topic was interesting: “Among The Wolves We Work”. I have to admit it could be a very interesting sermon if not because of that old-traditional-slow-to-speak preacher.

Anyhow, as my mind drifted to another time, I heard a voice in my head (not God’s voice). It was the voice of my customer. I remember distinctly how he said something along the line of: “Sorry we still have enough stocks.” Yeah, he somehow had enough stocks for months. I realised eventually that they purchased their stocks from someone else. What I didn’t realise was who this “someone else” was.

It was “Dave”, our ex-staff. He founded his own company after he left us. And apparently proceeded to steal our customers. He had burnt the bridge.

Dave did a brief stint with me for 6 months. He was our sales rep. A very ambitious young man. Before that Dave had his own lawnmowing business. He was somewhat lazy but cunning as a snake. Hey, that was one of the creatures the preacher was talking about: snake.

A prominent voice suddenly thundered from the stage: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as harmless as doves.”

Ok, take it easy. Who are these wolves you are talking about? And are you calling us snakes?

As expected my mind decided to take another trip to the past. This time it was our kitchen board meeting. My wife and I were discussing how to retaliate against this attack from our ex-sales rep. We figured he did not have the buying power and logistic means. So as long as we could drop our price and reduce minimum quantity, it was basically check-mate for Dave.

And that was precisely what we did.

We dropped our price significantly, and we reduced the minimum quantity from five boxes to just one. It worked like a charm. Our customers realised their grief mistakes and returned gracefully to our care.

Take that Mr Steal-Customers-From-Previous-Boss!

My wife elbowed me.

“Did you doze off again?” she whispered.
“No,” I said, not-so-convincingly.
“This is the good part, pay attention.”
“I am.”

She was right, I kind of figured out what the sermon was all about after that. Basically, this world is full of wolves, and we need to be shrewd like snakes. The part I didn’t get yet was the dove. Why do we need to be harmless as doves? Well, at least I learnt something that morning. Watch out world, the snake within me is coming out to bite all of you wolves.

I did meet with Dave after our little price war saga. I tried to have a civilised conversation about it. Interestingly, he told me it was ok because it was just business. I was not sure if he was drunk or on drugs.

Wasn’t I the one who supposed to say that?

He stole from me, and he said it was ok?

Anyway, I didn’t want to pursue it. We said our goodbyes.

The words on the street were Dave couldn’t cope on his own and struggling to make ends meet.

Everyone in the auditorium suddenly stood up. Oh, time to sing the final hymn.

***

“Fred, how are you doing?” Tim, our old preacher, came to say hi.
“Good, everything is good,” I said.
“I heard you had few issues with your ex-staff?”
“O yeah, did my wife fill you in on that?”
“Yes she did, she also sent me here to talk to you,” Tim smiled.
“Actually Tim, I do have a question,” I said.
“Yes, fire away.”
“You know how you talk about Wolves, Snake, Doves, and Sheep?”
“Yes.”
“I understand the part about wolves and snakes,” I said. “But what’s the thing about being harmless as a dove?”
“Well, it is straightforward really,” Tim said.
“Tell me,” I said impatiently.
“Being harmless is for your own good.”
“So people won’t retaliate?”
“That’s one, but there’s another,” Tim said. “How do you think you will end up inside if you keep causing harms to other people?”
“Oh I see, I will become a bitter, back-stabbing, revenge-seeking person, with no friends.”
“That’s it.”

***

I did meet with Dave one more time after that. His business deteriorated to the point that he didn’t have a warehouse or any kind of storage places for his stocks. Everything from pick up to delivery was run from his car. I did wonder if he also slept in there, judging from the number of pizza boxes I spotted on the rear seat.

Anyway, we had a chat.

He lost few more customers and apparently decided to burn a couple more bridges with some suppliers. The way he was going, he would have nothing to sell in no time. He had to stop acting like a big bad wolf and causing issues left, right and front.

Anyway, I didn’t offer help considering how bad he burned me last time. So I wished him the best and waved bye-bye.

You know what, maybe that old preacher was right.

We are in the dog-eat-dog world. It is crucial to be shrewd like snakes.

But I realised now it doesn’t matter how shrewd we are, no one achieves success on his own. And who would want to work with someone who would stab you in the back?

Who would cause harm to your business?

Ironically, in the dog-eat-dog world of business, we are to be harmless too. And only then we could build our reliable and secure network of support.

I am glad my wife dragged me to the church that morning.

***

“Be careful the bridges you’re willing to burn when trying to get ahead. You never know when you’ll need a friend again.”

The Cavalry From Above

“So remember son, stick with your business for as long as possible. Because in business, boom and bust come in waves. This is not something you can control. If you stick around long enough, eventually, you will get your golden era. You just need to be ready when it hits you.”

That was what my dad said to me around 12 years ago. He had been in business for more than 30 years, so I thought it was great advice. Until of course I came to my senses and realised being an entrepreneur is all about being able to control my own destiny. I mean who has time to wait for this ‘golden era’? He was in business for decades, and we still lived in a modest 3 bedrooms house. Surely he would have come across his ‘golden era’ already?

***

Back in 2009, we were importing rags from a Canadian company. It was high-quality rags where the raw materials were collected from local charities around the country. They were not the cheapest, but we had been dealing with them for years, and they were always professional and reliable. Other suppliers tried to get our business, albeit we were never interested. We were one of the most prominent rags dealers in our state back then. We were small, but we were fierce.

There was a guy, Paul, who came few times to purchase our rags. He was an importer too, but he never said much about it to us. Mind due, his primary business was not in import. He told us about his plan though, going to Pakistan and India to search for new suppliers.

The Canadian company that we dealt with only worked in US dollars. Which meant being an Australian company we had to be careful with the currency exchange. Few percents off could mean few thousand dollars loss. I even established a foreign exchange account with a local financial institution to improve my overall exchange rate.

The strategy was to purchase US dollar when AUD dollar was stronger and put it into the forex account. At one time we accumulated more US dollar in the forex account than our own business account.

You can see how risky this currency exchange stuff was.

We managed the business pretty well. It started from one container every three months, then every two months, and in 2009 it was one container per month. We had a few of them on order at any one time. All because it took approximately two months from the time we put the order in until we received them in Perth.

I said to my wife that we were selling rags like peanuts. They just flew off the door. Looking at the way we were growing, we would reach our first ever $1 million sales that year, all from rags alone.

But of course, fantastic results did not come without its own risk.

You see, I never thought it would come to that. I prepared everything, trying to control every little area of my business. I had enough US dollar in our forex account to purchase two containers. Never did I know that AUD dollar would decide to plunge itself against US dollar and stayed at the bottom, for a long time.

But it happened. AUD dollar fell from a high 97c to a US dollar to a mere 61c in only a few short weeks.

We used up all of our US dollars to purchase two containers. And then things got worse because AUD dollar dropped even further to 50c. We did not have any choice but to pay the next order based on the weak AUD dollar. We tried to increase our price, but at that rate, unless we raised the price by 80-100%, we were still at a loss. An increase that much would only give our competitors an incredible window of opportunity to steal our customers.

The market would react, and the price would correct itself but not until another few months at least. We didn’t have the luxury of time. Our modest price increase was nothing compared to the profit we lost to the weak AUD dollar. We were running out of cash, very very quickly.

We lost at least twenty thousand dollars per container at that time. And we had a few of them on order. At the end of the day, we decided to cancel everything unless they were already on the sea. As a result, unless we started to purchase from our competitor, within one month, we would have nothing to sell. Our $1 million sales target were reduced to $0 within five months of AUD collapse.

***

I was sitting in my office trying to get my head around this dire situation. I could not believe only five months ago we were doing so well. Now we just had a little bit of stock left, maybe enough for few weeks.

I tried to think my way out of this, but my brain just couldn’t get into gear. I called everyone I knew to get advice from. Unfortunately, AUD dollar did not collapse against US dollar very often. In fact, it was one of the rare moments that it happened, and even more unusual because it stayed at the bottom for an extended period of time. It almost like AUD dollar found its happy place at the bottom.

One of the guys that I called said he never saw this happened before and this guy was a furniture importer for ten years before he became a pastor. I felt somewhat unlucky after that conversation.

My closest friend reckoned I should update my resume because the end was near. We didn’t talk much to one another after that.

And then I realised. This was beyond me.

This was out of my control.

OMG, my dad was right. Boom and bust came in waves. I was never in control. All these time I was just lucky.

The time finally came for me to face the worst in my journey as a businessman.

***

“Fred,” Paul suddenly appeared through my office door.
“Hi Paul,” I waved to him.
“How’re things mate?”
“Good,” I said, trying to hide my apparent stress.
“Remember I told you about sourcing rags from Pakistan?”
“Yes.”
“I did. I went there and had dinner with rags suppliers.”
“Wow, that was great.”
“Yes, one of them decided to make me their sole distributor for Perth.”
“Sounds like a great deal.”
“Which is why I am here now,” Paul sounded a bit nervous. “Well, are you interested in getting rags from me?”
“What sort of price are we talking about Paul?”
“Look, I know I am new with all these, but the quality is very high you wouldn’t believe it,” Paul replied.
“Yes, but at what price?” I was getting impatient.

And I swear to you if I could record the next five minutes conversation I would play it every day until such time that it was time for me to meet my creator.

“Fred, the price is excellent,” Paul smiled.

And it was. The price that Paul said was 20% less than the cost of rags we paid to the Canadian company when AUD dollar was strong. I couldn’t believe my luck. Paul appeared just at the right time with the right product, and the right price (better even).

There must be something or someone up there helping me out.

I was screaming in my head: “Look, if there is an intelligent higher being up there, thank you, thank you, thank you. Although next time, please don’t wait until the very last moment before sending the cavalry. A slightly faster help would be great.”

Our business was saved from disaster. Paul had been an excellent supplier. He was always ready to help. His company grew multiple times afterwards. I guess AUD dollar collapse meant he could sweep struggling rags dealers like me within a short few months. Now that I think about it again, it was a brilliant move by him. Well, I couldn’t complain. He did save my company.

And for us, we are back on track.

I am done trying to control everything. I know I have to be ready for incoming boom and bust. But deep inside my heart, I know someone is looking after me.

Somehow, I thought about you, dad.