What To Do When You’re Backed Into A Corner (5 Strategic Keys to Capitalise on During Desperate Times)

Once upon a time, I had a vision of business victory. I drew a straight timeline of my (forecasted) success on a blank A4 paper.

That’s it, a straight line.

Never did I know that my visionary picture was not complete without various corners of setbacks. The simple straight line transformed itself into many chaotic abstract paths.

While success is what we desire, often a desperate situation precedes a great leap ahead. Just like pulling a catapult’s sling for a powerful shot, a painful stretch prepares for a strong comeback.

In this article, we will look at five strategic keys. I call these the ‘CoRNNR’ (read: corner) strategy for it is useful when we are backed into a corner.

The first three keys form the necessary elements. The fourth key is the most challenging one, and the final fifth key is the glue that will hold everything together.

CoRNNR strategy is being laser focused during a tough situation, for a powerful comeback. Coincidentally, setbacks, failures and crises provide fertile ground to discover, develop and strengthen our cornered business.

After all, a cornered army is a dangerous one.

“When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” — Sun Tzu

Core Strength

Pressures force us to switch on our survival instinct. We need to become our best selves to endure hardships. There is no time to muck around.

About a decade ago, we acquired our first business in mining industrial wholesaling. We supplied safety gears and industrial strength chemicals to workshops and factories.

Our business was operating in a highly competitive market with notoriously low margins. A few years into the business, several national players entered the market and started stealing some of our significant customers using aggressive pricing tactics.

It was a typical scenario of a small business getting bullied and squashed by large corporations. We were losing customers. We knew we had to compete differently from the major players to survive the onslaught.

And so we started to look at what we could do that our big competitors couldn’t.

It was undeniable that our smallish size meant we were more flexible and we could respond faster to our customer’s needs. Our large competitors had to comply with complicated operational procedures. We didn’t.

We then found out that a small number of engineering workshops around our area were not too concerned about prices. Instead, they preferred to work with vendors who could guarantee fast delivery of supplies when required. It was something our big, fat competitors had troubles fulfilling.

Upon this realization, we started to build our business around a simple strategy. It was the assurance of quality supplies with a fast delivery turnaround. We could do that because we were small, flexible, local, and highly motivated.

It became our core strength.

We found our unique competitive advantage, and it opened up a whole new opportunity for us. Our large competitors backed us into a corner, unknowingly positioned us at a unique vantage point. It enabled us to see how we could compete on our terms in a crowded market.

Key #1: Find a core strength that allows you to compete differently from your competitors.

Resources at Max

During the onslaught period, when the big players stole our vital customers, we suffered a severe cash flow problem. This situation got worse when the mining industry crashed at around the same time. Most of our customers were operating in the mining industry.

It was a double whammy.

The cash flow issue pushed us to become meticulous spenders. We learnt that we paid too much for several services such as broadband, landline, and mobile phones. We also found out that a lot of work our staffs were doing could be outsourced or automated (it’s cheaper that way).

It was amazing how much cash was bleeding through areas we could either switch to a different provider or stop altogether. We liked this exercise so much we decided to do it regularly. It was a responsible, well-thought cost-cutting.

Desperate times hurt businesses. Cash bleeds through different outlets. A regular cost-cutting exercise would keep our resources shipshape at maximum capacity and best return.

Key #2: Make sure your limited resources work as hard as possible for your strong comeback.

Niche Domination

So we knew how to compete differently, and our resources worked super hard to fuel our survival. It’s time to revisit the customers.

We had to let go of some customers who did not require the value we offered through our services. They were casualties of the price war.

We tried to focus our efforts and resources on a select group of premium customers (premium for us). We were confident that when we became good at something, we would naturally grow.

So we kept our eyes fixed on the chosen ones (read: customers).

What we didn’t realize back then was we stumbled upon a niche. A niche perfectly placed for our little business. In a nutshell, we matched what we could do best with the needs of a small corner of the market. It was not a big slice, but it was growing, slow but sure.

Difficult times propelled us forward through a unique path we would not find otherwise. We discovered a niche market big enough for us yet small enough to dominate. We knew we could compete comfortably against the big players because we found this niche through our unique competitive advantage.

Key #3: Use your core strength and revitalized resources to dominate your niche.

Nurture the Efficiency Seed

Our previous strategic keys can be summed up into “utilizing resources at maximum capacity to service a niche market that is a perfect fit for our unique core strength”. The final result is a highly focused, well-oiled, efficient business. The first three keys will integrate into one.

There is one small challenge, though. We can only build efficiency over time through patience and consistency. In short, it takes time, blood, sweat, and tears to perfect the efficiency engine.

It is, in essence, sowing and nurturing a seed; I call this the ‘efficiency seed’. This seed is the culmination of the previous strategic keys.

Nurturing efficiency is the most challenging part of CoRNNR strategy because we need to let go of everything else that does not contribute to servicing our niche customers. And that includes other potential customers, products, suppliers, and so on. We have to fight the temptation to try out different things. We must focus on what we can do best within the niche market that we have chosen utilizing our limited resources to the max.

Nevertheless, we will start to doubt ourselves.

But remember, we sow seeds in dark places, in obscurity where it is often cold and lonely. And it takes time to nurture them before they germinate and grow roots.

Similarly, we discover these strategic keys during tough circumstances. For only during desperate times that our perspective changes, forcing us to see pathways we would not consider before. People might misunderstand you and even mock you for your new focus, but it is important to keep playing to your strength and keep moving forward.

The next and crucial final key will help tie everything together in a beautiful little bow.

Key #4: You only become the best in your chosen niche market through focus, patience, consistency, and persistence.

Resilience to Prevail

Tough times demand resilience. We need to make a conscious effort to focus and power through. Resilience is the substance that holds everything together.

Resilience was there when large corporations squashed us. It was present when we scrambled through a cash flow problem. And it held us up when we decided to focus on servicing a small number of engineering workshops, leading to the discovery of our niche market.

Think of it as a mental muscle that strengthens your spirit whenever you feel defeated. Use it when it is difficult to take the next step. Use it also when certain people are trying to pull you down. And finally, use it when you are confused and lonely.

Now, the final twist to the CoRNNR strategy.

How do we develop our resilience muscle?

Well, there is no short cut. We can only develop resilience through desperate times.

Just like physical muscles, resilience muscle grows when it is stretched under heavy pressures. You can see how useful CoRNNR strategy is when we are backed into a corner. Because not only our perspective changes during difficult moments, our resilience also grows.

CoRNNR strategy is a full circle. It begins when the going gets tough and only when the going gets tough do we get to grow with it.

Key #5: Harsh circumstances build resilience, embrace these times for it is the precious resilience that will hold yourself (and your business) together.


Just to recap:

Key #1: Core Strength
Key #2: Resources at Max
Key #3: Niche Domination
Key #4: Nurture the Efficiency Seed
Key #5: Resilience to Prevail

I hope these five keys have been helpful.

Keep the momentum going and keep going strong.

“When you are backed into a corner, you can give up or you can use that corner as a stepping stone.” — Fredy Namdin

As published in The Startup: What To Do When You’re Backed Into A Corner

Two Toxic Failures And A Poisonous Win

I was sipping my morning coffee when I felt somebody tap me on the shoulder.

“Morning, Fred,” Zach, the cafe owner smiled. “You’re super early today.”

“Ahh yes, I have a lot in my mind,” I replied.

“Do you want to tell me about it? I am a good listener,” he said.

“Are you sure? I won’t say no to that.”

“Yes, of course.”

“Well, my work has been less than spectacular lately.”

“Ok.”

“Honestly, I feel like a failure.”

“How long have you been feeling like this?”

“Ever since I lost my biggest customer last month,” I said. “I am a senior sales executive but I feel defeated and helpless.”

“Let me tell you a little secret, I am an expert in failing.”

“Haha, ok, I’m listening.”

“There are three things I am going to tell you. I call them: ‘Two Toxic Failures and A Poisonous Win’. Remember Fred, they might seem normal.” He looked rather serious. “But they are as dangerous as venomous snakes.”

“You mean we don’t see them as out of ordinary?”

“Exactly!” Zach sat next to me. “The first toxic failure is called ‘I Will Fail’. This is the time when you believe you will fail regardless of the situations.”

“Ahh, that is how I feel now. Hmm, it does feel normal.”

“Do you know why? Because you are telling yourself that. Your self-talk convinces your mind.”

“Yeah, I’ve been telling myself how much of a failure I am. So, you’re probably right.”

“You said you feel defeated and helpless. What makes you think that?”

“The world is obviously against me. I worked hard but I still failed. It’s not fair. What else can I do? It’s better if I stop trying.”

Zach poured himself a cup of coffee. “Fred, the world is neither fair nor unfair. Sometimes we get lucky but misfortunes happen too. You don’t get a special exemption, you know.” He sipped his coffee. “Staying where you are, doing nothing, will only yield nothing, nill, zero. Moving forward, on the other hand, carries with it the possibility of a brighter future.”

“The way you put it kind of makes sense. So, I don’t know if I will fail or not, but I need to try because doing nothing will yield nothing.”

“Yes, that’s the gist of it.”

“What’s the second toxic failure?”

“Haha, not so fast. I want you to go and dwell on it first.”

“Seriously?” I sighed.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

I went to work thinking about how I kept blaming everything around me when I lost that customer. I blamed the product, customer service, bad timing, even my aftershave cologne for not smelling ‘right’. The more I thought about it the more I realised how utterly ridiculous it was.

The world was not against me. I could move forward.


The following morning, I was back at the cafe, eager for the next lesson.

“Fred, you’re back. Are you ready for the next toxic failure?” Zach smiled at me.

“Yes, I am,” I smiled back.

“The second one is called ‘I Have Failed’. This is the time when you still blame yourself for your past failure and it paralyses you. It is different from the first toxic failure which is ‘I Will Fail’.” Zach stopped for a second. “I Will Fail’ looks at a bleak future where everything is against you while ‘I Have Failed’ is about past failure and regret holding you back.”

“Whoa, I was doing that yesterday, here in the cafe. Regretting, being glum and gloomy.”

“Remember Fred, the past is physically unalterable. What we said and did, and everything else, happened because all the factors that were required for them to occur were present at the time. You cannot change the past, but you can change your perspective on it.” He poured more coffee into his cup. “Learn from it. The past has happened. Now it is merely data for your perusal.”

“That’s amazing Zach, I never thought about it that way. You’re right. I cannot change the past, but I can use the data to better my future.”

“Fantastic!”

“Tell me about the poisonous win. Wait, you want me to go and ponder about the second toxic failure, don’t you?”

“You read my mind.”

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

I drove my car out of the cafe. I realised what was paralysing me all this time. It was the overwhelming regret of losing my biggest customer. The past was meant to happen and there was nothing I could do about it.

I could finally let go of the past and it was liberating.


Zach was waiting for me at my favourite table. He was reading the newspaper.

“Fred, you look fresh!” he said to me.

“Ahh, yes, I have been feeling much better in the last few days.”

“My pep talk seems to work then.”

“O yeah, it works!”

“You’re ready for the final lesson?”

“Yup, I am all ears.”

Zach put his newspaper away. “Ok, so this is the other side of the coin. This is the time when you feel you cannot fail. That you will always win.”

“Guess what, that’s how I felt before I lost my biggest customer.”

“Yup, it is common to feel that way before you fail. It’s the pride that comes before the fall. Those who believe in their invincibility will come to a shock when they realise that, like everyone else, they can break too.” He looked at me sharply. “Falling apart in the face of major stress is normal. It is humbling, and humility is an important ingredient to build resilience. Through humility, you are able to fall gracefully, only then you will come back with strength.”

“Wow, that is intense. I did feel deflated after I lost my biggest customer.”

“Yup, the fall must be hard.”

“It was.”

“Fred, I hope it helps. That is the last lesson. Let me know how you go in a week.”

“It does help. I have to go now, but I do feel much better. I think I am ready to move forward. Thanks, Zach!”

Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash

The following week I pushed myself harder. I kept telling myself that losing my biggest customer was an unalterable past and that’s ok. I had to leave all that behind. I must move forward to achieve a better future. There was no other way.

And I did.


I looked for Zach in the cafe. It was cold and I was so ready for a hot cup of coffee.

“Fred, good morning! How are you feeling?” Zach appeared from behind me.

“Hi Zach, you scared me a little there. You know what, our conversations really changed me.”

“Keep going.”

“First, I pushed myself to take a step forward, just one step. That one step then led to another one, and another one. Now, I am moving with speed and confidence.”

“That is great, Fred! Remember how gloomy you were last week?”

“Yes, no more of that. Thank you for helping me out.”

“Wait, wait, hold on. Do you want to know a little secret?”

“Yes.”

“You did it yourself. You convinced yourself to take that step forward. And you did.”

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill

As published on The Ascent – Two Toxic Failures and A Poisonous Win

The Baby, The Ladies and The Workshop

I stepped into the production room, and this giant cutting table immediately caught my sight. It had a heavily worn metal ruler fixed onto one of its edges – such a workhorse.

We acquired this company in 2010. My wife wanted to get into something creative. Curtain Witchery was a small scale curtain manufacturer. It employed nine ladies with almost a hundred years of curtain making experience between them.

The previous owner could not cope with the demands of running a small workshop. Hence, we bought it cheap. It was almost too good to be true. We fell in love with it, with a romantic idea of running a busy workshop, creating arts.

“I cannot believe it,” my wife said to me.
”It’s ours now,” I replied.
“Yup, it is.”
”Are you ready for the big opening tomorrow?”
”Not really.”

Our first few weeks there were slightly confusing with a steep learning curve. There were times that Eve would call headless-chicken days. I figured out that she was talking about herself. She was the chicken. The other ladies, they were fearless witches.

”How do you all manage?” Eve asked Marg, one of the ladies. “There are so many things to do.”
”We just keep working I guess,” Marg replied.
”Well, in that case, could we skip morning tea today?”
”No, sorry ma’am, no morning tea, no work.”

I am telling you, those ladies, they might have been old, but they were fierce.


”You’re pregnant?” I could not believe my ears. “But we only just bought the business! How are we going to cope?”
”Well, I don’t know,” Eve said. “We’ll figure it out along the way I suppose.”
“Oh, I am sorry dear, it didn’t come out right,” I said. “I love you, and the little baby in your tummy too.”

Luckily, things did get easier in the months following our little pregnancy discovery. We figured out a better system to run the workshop. We had indeed become one of the curtain witches.

”This is your second child, right?” Liz, one of the ladies, asked Eve.
”Yes, it is,” Eve replied.
”Busy days ahead, Eve.”
”I know, I know,” Eve smiled.
”Hubby can help I’m sure of it,” Liz smiled back.
”O yes he will,” Eve said confidently.

Well, nine months went quickly, and it was time for baby girl to be born.

”Tomorrow is the day, you will be induced,” I said.
”I know,” she replied.
“Nervous?”
”Yes.”
”Me too.”

We came early in the morning, the doctor was ready, and it was supposed to be an easy procedure. It would have been a lovely morning if that phone had not rung. Jane, one the ladies, had decided to ring at that exact moment.

”Hello, yes, Eveline is giving birth, yes, right at this moment!” I said on the phone. “What? You’re worried about not getting paid overtime?”
”She is giving birth now, can we talk about it later?” I growled.

I could not believe it. I knew I should not have picked up that phone. I did not know what had gotten into me. I mean who picks up a phone when his wife is giving birth?


”Have you slept?” I asked Eve as I saw her wide awake on the hospital bed.
”She looks like a Natasha,” she replied.
”Really? Natasha sounds mysterious.”
”No, she is Michaela,” Eve then decided.
”Michaela sounds more like her,” I said.

Eve and Michaela spent a few more days in the hospital, adjusting to the new routine. She did not sleep much which worried me.

”Your baby is so cute Eveline,” Linda our workshop supervisor said.
”Is she our new assistant?” Marg said.
”Yeah, she will be fine on the cutting desk,” Jane smiled.

Everyone seemed to enjoy having Michaela around despite our never-ending jobs.

”How are you coping with Michaela in the workshop?” I phoned Eve from my office.
”It is a challenge, but we’ll manage,” she said confidently.


”What? Linda had an accident?” Eve was panicking.

Linda, our supervisor, had an accident in the workshop. She fell over a roll of fabric and hurt her left arm. Her old age did not help either as the doctor said it would take at least three months for her to recover.

“She cannot work for three months?” I asked Eve. “Who is going to cut the fabrics? Who is going to supervise the ladies?”
”Well, I guess I have to fill in for the next three months then,” Eve said.
”Ohh, you will be very busy, and tired too.”
”It’s only three months, we’ll manage,” she said.

The following three months were some of the busiest time we ever had in our lives. Some days got worse when Michaela decided to cry at 3am. Why, o why, would you cry at 3am little girl?

”Sorry hunny, I have to go super early this morning,” Eve said to me on a Monday morning. “Can you help prepare Kiera for school? I’ll bring Michaela with me.”

Eve had been coming earlier to the workshop to get more things done. In the meantime, I tried to help by doing my bit to take care of Kiera, our eldest child.

”Hi, are you still there? Do you need help?” I called Eve as it was getting a bit late at night.
”Yup, still here, I need to stay a bit longer to finish a job,” she said.
”Ok, I’ll make dinner then, Kiera said she wanted fried eggs,” I replied.
”Are you sure you’re ok?” I asked again. “I can hear Michaela crying.”
”Yes, she cried because I took away the fabric she was chewing.”

Eve came home at 11 pm that night. Michaela was already asleep in the car. I carried our baby girl in and put her in her little cot. Eve went straight to the bedroom and slept.


”Hunnnyyyy! Linda is back!” Eve said with her smile wide open.
”Oooohhh … thank God,” I said.
”Yes, the storm is over,” she replied.
“Wow I cannot believe it, she’s back.”
“Believe it, she is.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Relieved,” she smiled.
“Hah .. same here” I smiled back.

Linda was finally back at the workshop. She recovered well. The doctor put some kind of metal connector to strengthen her bone. We called her the Iron Lady from that moment on.

Everything was back to normal and no more late night work, yay!

”It’s a good day today,” I said to Eve while holding Michaela in my arms.
”Yeah, look at her cute face,” she replied, trying hard not to smooch her.
”She cries a lot, but her face is so adorable.”
”Aha .. with that face she would get away with many things.
”It was a hard few months, it was not perfect, but we made it,” Eve said slowly.
”And we’ll do it again, and again, and again.”
”Yes, together,” she smiled as she was holding my arm.


“Juggling work and parental responsibilities is no easy task, but I’m trying my best, and just like everything else there are good days, and there are bad days.” — Ali Landry

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

The Gates Are Closed

“So if we purchase 40 cartons, you can give us 15% discount?” I asked John, the sales rep.
“Yes, that’s right,” John said.
“Can you write the quote on paper, John?”
“Sure,” he said, writing it on his business card. Which seemed a bit informal to me, but John looked confident, so maybe it was common practice.

It was a good day when our supplier decided to give us a massive discount. We had been talking to a customer about a bulk purchase of rubber gloves. They were happy with our services, so it was just a matter of prices.

We were confident we could win the contract. And off we went to negotiate, armed with great discounts from our beloved supplier.

We got the deal. That’s the good news.

The bad news was, John, didn’t honour the agreement. A quote written on the business card was not good enough for him to acknowledge. John said it was out of his hand. He said something about top management didn’t want the smaller distributor to wreck the market.

We couldn’t get the products at the prices promised to us.

It was a massive blow.

A good day turned into bad weeks, and then months.

In the meantime, our customer got the products from someone else. At least they seemed happy. We still had a good relationship, so hope was not lost yet.

There was only one other supplier in our state that distributed this particular product. They did not bother to return our call though, such rudeness and arrogance. We figured out in the end that they were the one who secretly supplied those rubber gloves through another distributor.

No worries, maybe not our luck. Our lucky break would come eventually.

***

“Fred, this is John,” a voice from the other end said.
“Hi John, how have you been?” I said, wondering what he wanted this time.
“Look, I know we haven’t been good to you,” he said.
“Ok.”
“But I’ve been talking to top management.”
“Yes, I’m listening.”
“And we all agreed to support you.”
“Regarding?”
“You know, the rubber gloves, the one we quoted last time.”
“Oh you mean the unofficial, dishonoured, quote? Is that the one?”
“Yes, that’s the one.”
“Why the change of heart?”
“There’s been a change in strategy, and they want to work with smaller distributors now.”
“I see.”
“So, are you in?”
“I’ll think about it.”

My mind was full of all past rage and disappointment. The time when John dishonoured the quote was still fresh. And the time when our $2,000 profit went down the drain. It left a unique mark because I was looking to use the money as a deposit for a new family car. We didn’t end up purchasing the car of course.

I spoke to my wife about it. We had our usual kitchen bench board meeting.

She said we should be more careful this time. I agreed to it, considering how bad they burnt us last time. We decided to accept the offer, provided they put it on formal company letterhead. In addition to that, but we also demanded better pricing for initial stocks.

John honoured the quote this time.

We talked to our customer and got a new deal with them to supply the rubber gloves. They put in their bulk order, and then another one, and another one. It was like a dream come true. We never thought things would work out well eventually.

Interestingly, we didn’t end up purchasing a new family car. We just felt the time was not right yet. Maybe past trauma was still too fresh.

We did feel that our luck had turned though.

***

“Andrew, can you talk to Tyres West?” I asked our sales rep.
“Sure, what do you want me to talk to them about?” Andrew replied.
“Well, they owed us $12,000, and it’s overdue for more than 60 days now.”
“Ok, that doesn’t sound too good, have you called them?”
“Yes, of course, and the answer was always the same: we are going to pay soon.”
“That sounds a bit worrying.”
“Can you go tomorrow?”
“Yes.”

Tyres West was the customer who purchased those rubber gloves from us. They were usually very good with payment. The past few months, however, were a bit worrying. I had hope that things would be ok though.

The following day, Andrew went to visit Tyres West to talk about the debt.

“Fred, you would not believe it,” he said.
“What?” I replied.
“The gates are closed.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, the gates are closed, in Tyres West.”
“What?”
“There is no one here.”
“What, are you sure?”
“Yes, very sure, I even jumped the fence.”
“You what?”
“The warehouse is empty, no equipment, nothing.”
“What …”

Tyres West closed down. No one knew what happened. The day before I was just on a call with their accounts lady. She even expected Andrew to come and discuss the debt.

We figured out later on that Tyres West closed down overnight. And even more surprising was that we read on paper about how the company had ties with the bikie gangs. It seemed like they were not as clean as they looked.

We lost a lot of money.

What an unlucky day.

***

At home, we had another emergency kitchen bench meeting. We wrote down our expenses and tried to figure out how severe the damage was. It was bad. We were glad that we didn’t purchase that family car. Let’s say, someone up there restrained us from putting that deposit.

Our kitchen meeting concluded with us slashing certain expenses. So no more eating outs and end of year holiday was downgraded from Bali to free activities in the city. We were confident we could ride this storm.

My mind went back to the day when John dishonoured his quote. I was so furious that I sent a formal complaint to his boss. That complaint seemed to go to a deaf ear though.

It seemed such an unlucky day. But now that I thought about it again, maybe it wasn’t so unlucky at all.

Perhaps it was our real lucky day.

We didn’t realise it yet.

 

“It’s amazing how you can look back at your life and feel like you’re the luckiest and the unluckiest person in the world at the same time.”

Startup Illusion

Starting a business can put someone’s mind into overdrive. It will then either shut him down or propel him forward. The euphoric moment will last as long as financial resources have not dried yet. With enough funding, the startup party can sometimes last for years. It is only after investors start demanding (sometimes not so) reasonable returns that the party turns into a big reality check. The dreams have dissipated into thin air, and cloud of judgement descending onto earth.

Party is over.

That’s the hard truth of starting a business. It will get worse before it gets better (if it does get better). Starting a business is like eating a box of chocolate – mixed with some not so edible foods. You never know what you’re going to get but the only way to find out is if you keep eating. In business we never know what tomorrow will hold, it can be a disastrous day or a day when we beat all sales record. The only way to find out is if we wake up in the morning and go to work. The only way to eat the good chocolate is if we keep eating the bad ones.

Some people are addicted to starting businesses. They have brilliant ideas, get the funding,  and off they go with an exciting venture. They don’t however stay long enough to feel the downturn, the heartbreak, the never-ending pressure, and the struggle. When things go south, they are the first ones to pack up their bags and go – some of which utilise bankruptcy regulation to move on.

Some people however, are born to build businesses. Not only that they will start their businesses themselves but they will also see to it that their ventures are successful before they move on. If things go south, they will be the last people in the company to pack their bags. Some might take part-time jobs to help with the cash flow.

There is one distinct difference between real entrepreneurs and wannabes – perseverance.

The startup illusion might be alluring but the hard reality is not as glamorous. Starting a business is hard work, it requires sheer mental strengths more than mere intellects or skills. Building a business is about getting up in the morning, go to work not knowing what will happen that day, persevere throughout the day, and then do it again the next morning.

“Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.” –Elon Musk

Finding Fire

For mere mortals life is nothing but a short passage way. Massive global collection of information only shorten the memories of those who went before us. In this short time we have on earth we speed through life almost like it is not worth our time to live it.

Or maybe we are too afraid to live our lives differently. We are afraid of what people would think. Maybe we have let others to live our lives for us.

At the end of our lives what would be our biggest regrets?

What is it that we couldn’t forgive ourselves should we fail to accomplish it?

What are we here for?

The fire that used to burn inside, maybe we should find it again. It was the moment when time stood still, when we disappeared, absorbed into ourselves. It was the moment when we knew what we were supposed to do.

It is too late, some might say.

It is never too late.

The fire that burns is worth a lifetime of searching – even if it only burns for a while. A lifetime of coldness turns into a breath of warmth, and then you’d know that you’ve done what you should be doing all this time.

What does your heart tell you?

What keeps you awake at night?

What give you goosebumps like you are on top of the world?

What is your fire?

Maybe we could stop our busy lives and ponder for a while.

Maybe life is worth our precious time on earth to live it the way it should be lived.

 

“You are never too old to set another goal, or to dream a new dream.” C.S. Lewis