Age 40 to 47
I turned 40 at the end of 1999, which was the low point in my life overseas, given the financial rock bottom and difficult situation. However, necessity is the mother of invention, and the next 8 years saw a remarkable recovery.
I had achieved the PERMANENT website and book, and I think the essence of the concept was now out there on the internet. I have no regrets about that. It was a main motivation in my life, and people can always make excuses to postpone such contributions. The website is highly respected and fairly famous, and it is clear from some of the literature I've read that it inspired a lot of people to get involved in this career path. Donations and book sales were not enough to support me or PERMANENT, and I wasn't lucky enough to get a major philanthropic investor, but that's luck and experience. The base of volunteers and also wasn't enough to get far, and the vast majority of volunteers were quite unreliable.
Therefore, I was left to focus on getting my own business going.
Notably, if I measured the time I spent trying to raise funds for PERMANENT and sell books from the website, I would have made tens of times more money by focusing my attention on local business instead. It appeared a much more prudent thing to just go out and make money for PERMANENT by working in other fields, then spend spare time on PERMANENT.
This time around, I decided that I had to set up a company and train staff, which would operate fairly autonomously taking care of customers. I had to stop being an individual consultant billing by the day or the hour and doing everything myself. I needed a company which could run itself sometimes without me.
Being in Thailand, one of the things I needed was a competent and reliable Thai partner, given the written language barrier (the Thai alphabet) and some other considerations. I went thru several candidates, but was not satisfied with any of them.
As I had consulted in the engineering and construction business which was making highrise condos and apartments, as well as neighborhoods, which gave me professional knowledge of the Bangkok property development scene, and since I love to explore places, I chose to try real estate as one of the businesses to try.
I moved back to Bangkok, and found a professional and friendly Thai real estate agent who was willing to work with me. I went to a lot of effort to create a website, and I brought in some serious foreign customers, but I was shocked to find that he would miss appointments, or come unprepared, e.g., without appointments with landlords. It appeared to me that he was surprised at my success and was starting to have greedy intentions and get territorial. He stopped even answering his phone. So, I was forced to bypass him, and I made some money on my own by doing his job, too, but I never wanted to be a one man show property business in Thailand. I dropped my interest in real estate for awhile, until I could develop another business.
I was still getting by largely on I.T. consulting and occasional private investigations (a sideline I had started after the 1997 crash).
I teamed up with an old friend who ran her own small business successfully with an old childhood friend, but wanted to do something else. She had been a journalist before, but had switched to running her own business and was a proven success story, thru sheer hard work, 10 hour workdays 7 days a week. I was also impressed with her ability to analyze independently and come up with creative solutions. She was someone who actually thought of some things I didn't, which is rare in Thailand.
One thing I've learned is that you hire people based on their track record of proven experience, not based on just verbal commitments and enthusiasm at the moment.
Sam had proven himself as one of the most reliable volunteers for PERMANENT, consistently producing useful work of high quality, and on time, even when he had to work hard to learn new things. Sam was not satisfied with his life at a struggling New Zealand web design company, so I invited Sam to come on over to Thailand.
Sam finally arrived in late 2001. We actually spent the next few months putting together a final version of PERMANENT. We were starting to accept that PERMANENT would be put on hold for a long time, and it should be fixed up properly once and for all in terms of programming and some artistic changes which Sam wanted to make.
As a trio, we incorporated as Export Quality Services Co., Ltd., for our business in Thailand.
Our first line of work was to try offshore labor, starting with web design since that was something we could do well, and even though it was already a saturated market with a lot of cheap competition, especially from India. We thought that we could compete in terms of quality. If Sam and I did the websites ourselves, then we surely could, but the idea here was to hire and train staff, not do all the work ourselves.
We had a few PERMANENT volunteers offering to find work for us, and a little bit came in, but not a lot.
As we created websites for customers, Sam and I were always dealing with the issues of micromanagement and quality control with new Thai staff to an excessive degree, we thought. (This is Asia...)
Like me, Sam has uncompromisingly the highest standards of quality. It's just a personal value / philosophy / way of life.
Also, we had the problem of spending a lot of time giving sales pitches and proposals to strangers overseas who had found our website, only to have them go to a cheaper outfit in India and elsewhere which had great samples on display. (Many of those outfits don't produce websites anywhere near their samples, as witnessed by customers' websites later which were far less quality than we could have produced. I've also tried outsourcing to India, with poor quality results.)
We also had a problem with local customers having executive staff listening to our sales pitches, then hiring a friend to try to copy us. We had tremendous frustrations selling Thai companies, just wasting our time, effort and money. We decided resolutely to stick to foreign customers, as was our original plan. Never mind that there were so many Thai customers with crappy or no websites whose businesses could greatly benefit from a better website. I learned a lot about targeting potential customers while not being lured by big companies with deep pockets but corrupt managers.
Sam and I weren't the cheapest guys in town but we were very economical, and we pushed quality issues. We didn't put up bullshit dishonest samples of our work, unlike so many others. When people didn't buy from us, we later looked at their domain's website, and most of the time they had poor quality websites, and the web designers (who usually put a link to themselves at the bottom of the page or somewhere in a credits section) were usually cheaper operations.
I didn't want to become the kind of business I've seen so often, which does the minimum which doesn't give the customer quite the solution they need and then sticks them with the bill and haggles. I had always worked on a referral basis before, but it was difficult expanding into a new field of work.
We lived off referrals for awhile, but eventually all our referrals had a website and we were trying to market to the general public for more work, competing in a market saturated with competitors.
We had lots of serious inquiries and work, but I couldn't see myself scaling up this business because of the amount of micromanagement it required to put out a quality product.
In our advertisements for employees, we always stated that we weren't interested in educational qualifications, but we were interested in samples of their work. We had a LOT of job applicants who cited samples of their work, but in the interviews couldn't produce it. It turns out that their "samples" were not really theirs, and people had covered for them in the initial references check before the interview.
We found a few very good artists and programmers. However, they would only freelance. They were very good in the Thai market and knew it, though not busy enough to stop them from applying for our job. They didn't want to work fulltime for anyone, and I had to agree with them. A lot of creative people are this way. We didn't have the volume of work to support their employment at their required rates for fulltime.
We didn't want to outsource, but wanted to run a company with fulltime internal staff, so we dropped Offshore Labor, based on the supply and demand situation inside Thailand. If we wanted to do Offshore Labor in the web design field, then we would need to go to India, and that's not something that was feasible.
The Offshore Labor website was created in 2002 and pretty much abandoned after that, www.offshorelabor.com , and most of our website work is not cited as examples (such as many of our own websites, not even Thailand Guru).
I went back to creating websites which were lacking in artistic appearance but rich in text content, since I'm a writer, not an artist.
We had ideas to expand into other areas besides web design, and had a lot of inquiries for various "offshore labor" things, but we didn't want to expand into fields in which we had little or no experience.
What put an end to the Offshore Labor effort was simply that other areas of work were taking off and paying better.
I was successful in getting a large multinational British travel agency to give us a very large contract. That was our first big break, and from that point in time onwards, our financial situation was much more stable.
I also set up a Thai-English translation company. Thai-English translation was something the Thais could do, and it was just a matter of setting up standard operating procedures.
At the same time that I created the translation business, I also went public with my private investigations business, with a website. It had previously been very discreet. Not any more, though we limited our areas of work to morally acceptable and non-dangerous things. Again, private investigations was something we could train Thai staff to do, though they needed some of their own problem solving skills by their own personal nature, too. We came up with some good field agents. This business helped with income. It's not a great business, as it's a series of one-off customers rather than repeat business, and business is not consistent, e.g., many days with nothing to do, and some days with more urgent work than staff to do it, but it was sufficient income to make it worthwhile, albeit often a lot of stress and headaches. www.thailandpi.com.
From my old website Thailand Guru, www.ThailandGuru.com, I was getting a good number of inquiries, mostly in fields which I didn't want to serve, but I did like meeting entrepreneurs, so I considered starting a division to help foreigners get legally set up in Thailand -- company setup and office setup -- and giving then advice and guidance along the way. Many of them had gotten poor quality of service from lawyers elsewhere, as witnessed by translation of their company setup papers from Thai to English. So I set up www.ThailandCompany.com.
The Thailand Company division turned into the most interesting division to me, mostly because of the kinds of people I was meeting. I also learned a lot from their stories and experiences. There are so many stories I could tell here... but I learned a lot from helping them set up their businesses and go thru their own experiences. I like working with entrepreneurs!
This Thailand Company business went well for awhile, but our best lawyers who advised me and had to sign off on some things, who were serving us on a case by case basis, got involved in other projects whereby they no longer had any time for us, either incurring delays or else delegating to their sub-par staff. We had a difficult time finding good quality lawyers, so I eventually just started passing customers along to a competitor who I knew and trusted as regards quality of service, Steve Sykes of www.indo-siam.com, in 2006.
The two main businesses I wanted to do were property and exports.
So, in 2003-2004, we started to get back into property, me leading the way. This business took a long time and a lot of money and skill to develop and become profitable and stable, but we have developed this business quite well, and set up a second company, a property company.
Sam and I had never taught ourselves PHP/MySQL website programming, but following other "experts" proved to be a problem, as our first website had a lot of limitations and problems, so in late 2005 we hired a German programmer who created www.kkBkk.com which we still use today. I started to learn PHP / MySQL in order to manage it.
All of the above businesses started more or less like this:
Profits from each business were always plugged back into the business for growth, and invested into the next business, one by one. Sam and I live frugally.
We were working out of a suburban office, but our growth required we move into a more expensive city center location. So, in mid-2006, we opened an office in central Bangkok.
We did very well. However, some other conflicts arose, and in June 2008 I came out splitting with my Thai partner, a long story which I do not intend to get into, out of consideration to everybody involved and what I think would be their preferences for privacy. I moved to a new office on Sukhumvit soi 2, with the help of a very kind Belgian associate of mine who I am very grateful to, who provided the office to me for free for the first 6 months. We gave the Export Quality Services Co. to Sam, who was still in the suburban office (and away from the crossfire). Sam eventually moved to my soi 2 office.
The 2008 recession started at that time, due to the US banking financial crisis and the faltering of some European economies, so it was difficult to get restarted, but thanks to some good customers who I will always be grateful for, we pulled thru and grew despite the recession. (One repeat customer came on the scene at around that time and was especially timely, and I will always be appreciative of them.)
In some ways, this was a turning point in my life, so I will start a new section on that. However, before I do so, I want to cover some of my overview of this period of 1999-2008:
There are many businesses I have wanted to do but haven't started yet, due to one or more of the following factors:
There is a rule in our company: "If someone else can do it, don't ask Mark." This is a key to giving me enough time to grow our business.
The key to success is finding quality staff, who are few and far between.
I am also always open to potential strategic partners anywhere in the world.
I would like to find good expats in Thailand to help out, but they would need to share the same longterm vision, and not just come awhile and then leave.
This page is continued with a short page on my current outlook at age 47
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