Contributed by Kym Huynh, an EO Melbourne member, EO Global Communications Committee member, and co-founder of WeTeachMe. Kym is fascinated by entrepreneurs and their journeys, so he asked EO members from various chapters to share their experiences. Read his earlier posts on what EO members wish non-entrepreneurs knew about entrepreneurs, how EO members define success, the impact of core values, lessons learned from their best and worst partnerships and the best advice they’ve ever received.
A different perspective can uncover value and opportunity
My first entrepreneurial venture happened during childhood when my mom used to take us skiing in the United States. On these trips, I purchased baseball caps to bring back to Canada. I learned that I could sell them for the same price that I bought them, but thanks to the US/Canadian exchange rate at the time, I would make a 30% profit. That was my first lesson in arbitrage.
On reflection, the key lessons I learned from that venture are:
- Sometimes, one needs to look at opportunities from different perspectives to uncover value and opportunity.
- There are advantages in providing products to people that they cannot normally find for themselves.
- Store your inventory in a safe place—a hard lesson I learned when my dog stumbled upon my baseball hat collection and bit the tops off all of them.
Success doesn’t come by choice—it comes when we have NO choice
I was 14 years old, and my first entrepreneurial project involved selling cookies, that my mum baked, at school. Years earlier, my parents had separated, and the income that dad supported us with was never enough. So I told my mum that I wanted to help.
Selling cookies in school wasn’t easy. My friends didn’t have enough money to buy an entire box, so my teachers bought the cookies in support. Knowing that I couldn’t rely on just my teachers’ support, I floated the idea that my friends could buy an entire box—if they pooled their funds.
Unfortunately, soliciting sales at school was frowned upon, and I was called up to the Headmaster’s office a total of five times. I consider myself blessed to have been let off the proverbial hook with only warnings. I can only assume that the Headmaster understood my intent behind this venture.
There were three key lessons here:
- Acceleration of success doesn’t come by choice, but rather, it comes when we have no choice. It’s during times of crisis that we are pushed to move. And so we move.
- If you find a way for people to get what they want and make it easier for people to get what they want, they will buy. My friends could not afford an entire box of cookies, and if I had fixated on my go-to-market strategy, I would never have sold any boxes of cookies. It was when I educated my potential customers that they could pool their funds, the deal was done.
- Finally, if you ever get caught selling cookies at school, a good story will help.
— Raymond Chou, EO Malaysia, founder and CEO of Infront Consulting
Market your products in interesting, unique ways.
When I was 8 years old, there was a girl in school who always had extra pocket money to buy treats at the canteen for herself and all her friends. The treats included Sunnyboys—a gift from heaven on a hot day, frozen oranges cut in half that felt like the first taste of water after a long day exposed to the desert sun and heat; salt and vinegar crisps that we would squash into crumbs so that they would last longer as our fingers grew tainted with salt and grease; Red Skins that would glue your teeth shut and colour your tongue a velvet red; and irresistible sherbet lolly bags known as Wizz Fizz that would send you to the highest peaks of happiness known to children ages 6 to 8.
Oh, how I envied the power she wielded every time she walked around the schoolyard with those golden $1 and $2 coins!
I decided then and there that I, too, wanted to be drunk with power.
At home, I discovered towers of paper—white, beige, granulated and patterned—and spent my recesses and lunchtimes selling these sheets of paper to my classmates at 50c — $1 a pop, depending on the perceived “rarity” of the paper in question. My first entrepreneurial venture lasted just under one week, and I had secured enough funds to make me king of the playground indefinitely until I was called into the principal’s office— promptly putting an end to “Kym & Associates Paper Co.”.
I learned a few things:
- Your world changes when you have resources at your disposal, and sometimes, the resource is a lot closer within reach than we think it is.
- People purchase based on relationships and whether or not they like you, even if the product is widely available.
- A sale depends on your ability to market the product in a way that makes it interesting and unique.
- Business longevity is a concern when the business is built on foundations that are contrary to rules and regulations #outlawlogic.
This post originally appeared on Kym Huynh’s Leadership Toolkit blog and is edited and reposted here with permission.