Overnight Success: Merit, Grit, or Luck (or is it Magic?)

How often do we see those overnight successes only to find out that their ‘overnights’ spanned over decades? We don’t really see the years of hard work behind it. The media couldn’t be bothered either. After all, overnight success does sound better than ten years of blood, sweat and tears.

These instant success stories (often stem from ‘one brilliant idea’) create the illusion of .. well .. instant successes.

“If only we can find that one idea; only one idea and we’ll be rich.”

Merit (the quality of being particularly good or worthy)

When I started my business I thought I was ready (not really, maybe 70% ready). I did spend a few years in university learning about business (sort of). And I did have some experiences in a business analysis role.

So I embarked on this business-journey, and it was not at all how I imagined it would be.

My vision was ‘Walmart Contender In Two Years’. My reality was ‘Work Hard For Years And Still No Guarantee Of Walmart Level Success Whatsoever’.

There was a big difference between running a business and learning it in university (or from behind a business analyst desk). Interestingly, for us, it was not about the complexity of running it. I guess we were lucky enough to have acquired a simple-to-run business.

It was the uncertainty and the constant worry that got into me. I reckoned my blood pressure shot up because of these ongoing business-heart-attacks.

There was no assurance that we would meet the sales target for the month or in anything at all. Often, we revised our yearly plan and budget within a few weeks into the year. Don’t get me wrong. Those plan and budget were crucial. They gave us the goal and the general strategy to get there. But we had to keep adjusting, fine-tuning and evolving.

My so-called merit only took me so far in the midst of uncertainty in the business world where they were so many unknowns. Anything could go wrong any day, and vice versa. It was like someone ‘up there’ was turning the ’lucky tap’ on and off at random.

Life to me is defined by uncertainty. Uncertainty is the state in which we live, and there is no way to outfox it. (Thomas H. Cook)

Grit (courage and resolve)

When you have a young family, any decision is never straight forward. I wanted to quit the business, but I never did.

There was the anxiety, the worry, and the stress.

But there was also certain flexibility in running my own business. I could bring home some work, divert the phone, work from my little van, etc. I could pretty much organise it around my young family.

My family became my motivation. And hence I found the courage to continue. I found the seed of my grit.

Now, I did not magically have the superpower to push through all of the challenges, obstacles and dementors in business (still don’t). There was no magic wand to cast a powerful ’patronum’ spell.

It was just as ordinary as any person would have it.

This so-called grit started as a simple decision to keep going. It then grew into something rather substantial, something I could feel, something I knew existed in my heart. It became a mental muscle. There were times when my gritty-muscle needed rest to recuperate. There were other times when it pushed me further than I thought I could.

Nowadays, my simple motto is to do the next thing, and the next thing, and the next one, one by one. Trust me. It gets easier as the years pass. My blood pressure is still pretty high, but I have learnt to live with it (with a daily medicine).

Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint. (Angela Duckworth)

Luck (success or failure brought by chance rather than through one’s actions)

Have you ever seen successful people and thought about how lucky those people were? They struck gold. And then more gold, and more.

Me, on the other hand. There were so many times I came across opportunities only to see them flying away. If just I had the resources to capitalise on them.

In the end, I realised it was not ‘luck’ that I needed. It was always about making the most out of luck (not luck itself). And one way to do it right is by having all three: Merit+Grit+Luck (or MGL — read: muggle).

Muggle (a non-magical person)

We don’t have magical abilities. We are just everyday people who work hard and learn hard along the way. And if we do that long enough (gritty-muscle at work here), we will start to notice golden opportunities floating around us.

The crucial part is to turn them into successful results before our competitors do. And this is when our merit comes into play. It is the time when we get to make use of our skills, experiences, networks, and so on.

Within this small golden window is when we seize the opportunity and capitalise on ‘luck’.

My dad gave me a piece of excellent advice about business. He told me that in any industry golden eras come and go like waves. For me to experience a golden era and ride the market boom that comes with it, I need to be an excellent player in it.

Many great companies were built in decades. They look like ‘overnight successes’ because often we focus too much on the short time they struck gold. We don’t see the decades they spent persevering through immense challenges and obstacles, perfecting their crafts, fine-tuning their methods, evolving themselves.

They were just ordinary ‘muggles’ with the courage to go through life and business. They waited patiently for the golden opportunity so they could strike when the time was right and capitalise on luck to the fullest.

And so could we.

Good luck is when opportunity meets preparation, while bad luck is when lack of preparation meets reality. (Eliyahu Goldratt)


As published in The Ascent: Overnight Success: Merit, Grit, or Luck?

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.”

How to ruin relationships with your suppliers

***

The day is coming to an end and it’s time to load up. My customer asked if I could deliver these goods straight to his house. I don’t do this too often but business is quiet and every dollar counts. The rain started to pour ss I loaded up the goods, and it was getting heavier too.

The rain got worse as I pulled up on his driveway. I unloaded all the bags and rang the bell.

No one answered.

I tried again, same thing. Silence.

I called his mobile, then sent him a text message. No reply whatsoever.

After almost half an hour trying out the bell, the phone, and more text messages I gave up. He’s not interested in getting these goods despite his numerous remarks of ordering in bulk, growing his business, and so on.

Customer is king, they said. Not this time, this customer is just a waste of time.

***

In the world of entrepreneurship, the word ‘hustle’ seems to be the new trend. Those dreaming of becoming business owners often call themselves ‘the hustlers’. It sounds a lot like one of those Marvel’s superheroes. The problem is off course when these ‘hustlers’ try to hustle everyone in everything. Then they become ‘the shushed’ because no one wants to deal with them anymore.

There is nothing wrong with hustling, it will come naturally anyway after spending few years in the joint. You begin to notice that other people also try to hustle you, some are very subtle (pro) while some are dead obvious (beginner). Some just have no idea what they’re doing and they become what is widely known as ‘trollers’. Avoid these trollers at all cost because they bring nothing but destruction. If you’re lucky enough you can send them (trollers) to your competitors and let them do the damage there.

There is one entity you don’t want to hustle yourselves out of the market. It is your own supplier, especially the good ones.

It might seem counterintuitive since you being the customers, you should be the king, right?

Wrong.

In the world of business, no one is king. We all work together, providing different products and services. Only through a carefully crafted collaboration between suppliers, you, and customers (yes, customers too) that a business can truly survive, and prosper.

Try hustling your supplier too much and the triangle will break. Break the triangle and you break your business.

If the following items are in your to do list when dealing with your supplier, it’s not a bad idea to re-think them:

  • Pay late on purpose to maximise cash flow
  • Demand as much services as possible
  • Play the pricing game at all chances
  • Always try to buy in small batches instead of in volume to reduce cost

Show your supplier that you support them and you are in the game with them for long term. You will be amazed by the amount of support they will give back to you.


Did you enjoy the short article? I also send a dose of perseverance every week for free. Join me to get your personal supplies. (hint: click here to get them) — Fredy Namdin


When to rip off your customers?

It was a cold morning and there was no single message on the phone. I checked the fax and email, nothing there either. Such economy, mining downturn, order was drying up. We had fought a good fight, but how long could we last? There must be something we could do to improve our bottom line.

The phone suddenly rang.

“Hello, is this Envignco Supplies?”, the voice from the other side asked.

“Yes, how can I help you today sir?”, I replied.

“I am looking for a certain chemical, it’s called HDX”

“Yes, we stock that, do you want to know our price?”

“Please, and if you have stock as well. I need it urgently”

You see, HDX is one of those chemical that is widely available. I wasn’t sure how on earth this guy came upon our company and decided to ring. I thought to myself, should I add extra 20% to improve our bottom line a little bit? Or should I give him our normal price? I mean he needed it urgently so there’s a good chance that whatever price I said would lead to a good sale. Should I take the window of opportunity and rip him off?

Decision..decision..

For many people in business, pricing is often the deciding factor in closing a sale. It is however also the deciding factor in determining whether a business is profitable or not. Price it too high and you loose the sale, price it too low and there is not enough money to pay the rent, staffs, and so on.

Every now and then we got the opportunity to charge much higher than we should. We believe it’s ok, because we can, but the big question is off course – should we?

It is no doubt certain companies are able to charge enviable margins on their products. Some because they are the only companies with those products with no immediate substitutes in the market, some other because they dominate and corner certain market. So what is the problem then? Isn’t it good to make fantastic profits? What’s the deal here?

Unless your company has enough resources to dominate the market there is no chance you could even come close to charging extraordinary margin. There is a certain price point that you need to be. Any upward movement from this pricing point will mean you have priced yourselves out of the market. In other words, you have no business. Price it too low and you invite price war which will lead to annihilation of you and your competitors, at least in the particular products that you are competing in.

More importantly – it is your brand. Rip off enough customers and you will be known as that – a company that rips off its customers. Is that how you want to position yourselves in the market?

What about those little instances where you know you could get away with it?

This is rationalisation. The question you should ask yourselves is could you really get away with it?

Maybe you couldn’t get away with it. Maybe no one could. You might get the sale and make handsome profit, but with what repercussions? On the other hand, what are the benefits of disciplined competitive pricing?

Which one would you prefer:

“Long term gain, short term discipline” or “Short term gain, long term destruction” ?

 


Did you enjoy the short article? I also send a dose of perseverance every week for free. Join me to get your personal supplies. (hint: click here to get them) — Fredy Namdin