Age 40 to 48 - Financial Survival
The most stressful times of my life were 1998-2007 financially, and 2000-2008 personally. The 2002-2008 period is a "Lost Years" time of my life as regards not doing much humanistic work, focusing on financial survival, and getting carried away into tangents for awhile. A major turning point came in 2008, due to two things:
The previous section covered the financial hardships, moving to my wife's family home in Nakhon Pathom and living there for awhile, running out of money, then trying to restart business in Bangkok, the separation with my wife, and the eventual engagement of two business partners to try to ramp up a business.
As mentioned at the end of the previous section, I had to stop working on my not-for-profit humanistic work in order to survive financially, and start focusing on supporting my family and getting business going better.
I was getting some business from the new Thailand Guru website which I launched in early 2000, which was mainly for helping incoming expats about how to live and work in Thailand, find a place to stay (whereby I sometimes got commissions), company setup, and many other things. This brought in some business, and some referrals from people I met in town and socialized with. I learned that establishing personal relationships was good for getting repeat business and referrals, especially when I met their colleagues in person.
I spent a lot of time in the city center socializing with clients and their associates, but a lot of it was also wasted time. People new to Thailand were enthusiastic to get guidance and advice from me based on Thailand Guru, but so often I felt it was picking my brain whereby they benefitted a lot but I benefitted little, such as just free drinks and dinners. Some talked big about setting up a business in Thailand, but then backed out when it came to the actual work of implementation and investment. However, I did sometimes get some ideas on things I could write about on the Thailand Guru website which may bring in more traffic and referrals, from talking with expats who had problems getting started in Thailand.
I was trying many things to try to make money, and then would focus on what did bring in money, which was initially things like helping relocating foreigners find a rental home, helping foreign entrepreneurs set up an office and business, and of course I.T. consulting.
However, a most popular service became private investigations (p.i.), which was a prepaid service, checking out Thai girlfriends, and also some foreign husbands in Thailand. The money from p.i. saved me financially many times.
One of the things I needed was a competent and reliable Thai partner, given the written language barrier (the Thai alphabet), especially in official government paperwork for a company, and many other considerations as regards the Thai language and dealing with the Thai system. I'd had tried using several Thai people, but had been let down by some by big talk but little follow through, and was not satisfied with many people I tried to team up with.
I needed partners willing to work for nearly free, on savings and minimum subsistence income, for awhile, as entrepreneurs, not employees, and profits would need to be put back into the company to develop it, until the profits were good enough to pay ourselves better. In a business startup, it is important to focus on and invest in long term profit, not immediate payback.
This is what led me to "TP" (Thai Partner, privacy preserved at this time), who I had known since 1998. TP had a relevant university degree, plus experience following a friend into another business but wanted to exit that business and change to a new business. TP was willing to follow me and my business ideas. TP had enough savings to invest some into the business and also get by for awhile on additional savings, until we could pay ourselves from some of the profits.
My artist and assistant programmer for my space settlements PERMANENT project, Sam in New Zealand, was willing to come to Thailand to help out in a new business, and he followed up and jumped in with enthusiasm. Sam was a very committed person to the humanistic cause of space settlements by the PERMANENT route (mining the moon and asteroids for self-sufficiency and industrialization). Sam didn't have much money but he was willing to take a big risk.
TP, Sam, and I set up a new company, opened a low cost office in an outer suburb, and started doing various kinds of business, hoping something would take off.
We struggled to be profitable and pay all our bills starting early in this venture. Further, as soon as I could, I moved Ying and Angie to a small rental condo not far from my office so that Angie could attend a good school in Bangkok (at additional expense) and I could stay close to Angie. It was an extremely stressful time, but Angie came first in my priorities. Angie and I had a close father-daughter relationship. I was under heavy stress to support her.
Practically all the business ideas came from me, as did the business plans, the successful marketing, handling of email inquiries (except some help from Sam), engagement of customers (practically all being foreigners so in English), and most of the field work. TP handled the accounting, government paperwork, management of some of the Thai staff, many Thai matters, sometimes helped me in p.i. work, and years later helped in the real estate business. Sam helped a lot in website programming and artwork, some email inquiries, and managing some staff inside the office. Sam was purely an office person.
Income from private investigations was often a key to keeping this company alive, taking those earnings and investing them in efforts to expand the other businesses, as well as supporting Angie and Ying. TP helped me with some of the private investigations work, but I did most of it on my own, and I was doing all the marketing and handling all the inquiries and support for p.i. as well as Thailand Guru and the various services offered, including finding rental homes which was of highest focus.
Private investigations kept me out very late often, and it sometimes ran me into the ground health-wise.
I tried diversifying into many businesses to try to find something to take off, and paid a lot of Thai staff to help. Some business plans failed and were losses, and some were not significantly profitable to the extent that we would carry them forward. I found that I didn't have time for all the businesses, and had to choose what was paying off quickly. (Some of the ones which failed might have succeeded if I had more time or if staff had performed better.) I will skip most of that here, for brevity, except to say that I was extremely busy and exhausted trying so many businesses to see which ones might take off into profitability.
Two of those businesses eventually took off.
One of our businesses was Thai-English translation, which TP could do with Sam and without me needing to spend much time on it after I had gotten it started and some initial clients. If the final product was in English, then Sam would proofread the English. Otherwise, if the final product was in Thai, then TP could produce the final product mostly on her own. It was subsistence and consumed a lot of their time but it was fairly reliable.
Eventually, a break came, when we got a Thai translation project with recurrent income from a large multinational, which I eventually turned over to TP to run since it was all English to Thai and we needed a native Thai person to proofread the language of the final product. That was the first project to take off. It was a lot of work with little profit margin but it was reliable and helped us survive and then expand. It was also a project which I could hand over to others and which didn't need my time.
The other was real estate, mainly finding rental properties for expats relocating to Thailand to work and live, whereby I provided the English language guidance. This one I did with TP, myself doing most of the work in the early years -- business plan design, website database design and development, correspondence with clients, driving them around ... -- whereby it took a lot of time, effort, and money to ramp up, which included a lot of surveying for properties, taking photos, and website maintenance. TP helped with Thai landlords.
I started the rental property business in some suburban niches where I saw no other real estate companies with expat staff serving expat clients at the time, but where there were some new international schools with big suburban campuses, industrial estates, and other reasons for expats to live out there. The property rental prices were lower than the city center, so less commission, and the demand was much less than the city center, but I didn't think at the time that I could compete against the big established companies established in the city center. I could afford a suburban office.
The international schools didn't give me many referrals. I had heard that it might be good to give under the table money to key staff at some of them, but I didn't want to do that kind of thing. Some seemed to already have such arrangements with Thai agents. For example, sometimes things were going well with a client until they visited the school, then the client cooled off and switched agents. However, some clients stuck with me and also told me about their experiences inside the school. I did not want to try to do under the table money. I had to try to reach clients and establish a good relationship before they hooked up with any agent referral from the school, and hope they would stick with me.
I also lost some clients to a monopoly agent of Human Resources (HR) staff at some companies. I spent a lot of time on clients while they were still overseas introducing them to Bangkok, different places to stay which were a good match, and discussing a lot of matters. Many commented that this was guidance they weren't getting from their company. However, when it came time to arrive, suddenly HR would jump in and line up another agent to show them properties, and cut me out, with some clients. Some companies even required them to use the monopoly company agent, or pushed them, and some new employees were hesitant to go against the requirements or wishes of their new employer. Some clients stuck with me, or returned to me after the monopoly agent didn't do a good job. Occasionally, after a client settled on a place with me, suddenly another agent would contact the landlord and try to close the deal. I had some interesting experiences with landlords, other agents, and HR departments. Some I resolved in my favor, some I did not, and occasionally there was a compromise. Some landlords just want to close a deal and don't care which agent, but some other landlords were loyal to me and called me and declined the tenant who had shown up with another agent just to close.
How much of this is just the business world and how much of this is Thailand, I'm not sure, but I do believe it varies a lot between countries and cultures. Over time, based on experience, I started prioritizing inquiries from clients from particular countries or cultures (Norway, Japan, Australia, UK, USA...) and became extremely cautious about clients from some other countries (which I won't list here).
You win some and you lose some. However, in property, it was profitable enough overall. I didn't resort to bad business ethics. However, I will say that the real estate business is one of the most difficult sectors to get into, due to so many tricky agents.
I missed I.T. work, but I.T. was just too difficult for a foreigner working for Thai companies who preferred Thais.
Eventually, I decided to try competing in real estate in the city center, i.e., expanding from my suburban niche into the city center. I had learned in the cheap suburbs the standard operating procedures, had a good website database, had experience handling landlords, leases, and after sales service, and learned a lot of details of the business with my business exercises in the suburbs. As I had some city center inquiries from Thailand Guru, I wanted to go ahead and try the city center, moving my process from the suburbs to the city center.
However, first I needed to do systematic surveys of city center buildings and houses, and set up a city center office, which would cost a lot of money and consume a lot of time. Again, it was subsidized a lot by private investigations. I set up a city center office in 2006 at high expense for deposit, rent, computers, and general setup. It was a big risk. We paid staff to do systematic surveys, taking photos, uploading to the database, and so on and so forth. We had no clients for many months as we surveyed and made contacts with landlords. However, in 2007, it finally took off.
TP and I eventually split in mid-2008, whereby TP and I became competitors in real estate. I set up a new company to start fresh new accounting, and whereby I could control everything. My company created an entirely new name and brand.
Sam had also played a key role over the years, as he was handling website artwork and a lot of website programming. Sam did not want to be involved in the field work for either private investigations or property (and Sam couldn't drive), but he did a lot of the work on the computer side, and did a lot of work in translation, especially English proofreading. Sam learned Thai very well, as he has language talents. Sam was very much an office person. When TP and I split, we gave the company we had set up in 2002 to Sam.
As bad luck would have it, there was a major economic recession in 2008 which started in the USA and affected the world (which was due to real estate and banking in the US, especially "subprime loans"), which reduced our business, but it was going well enough by then that I could get by.
There was more political upheaval, too, later in 2008. As part of that, a large political mob took over Bangkok's two airports for around a week, causing flight cancellations, stranding tourists, and a huge flight backlog. Large political protests and various upheavals discouraged some expats from relocating, which disrupted business from time to time. Then there was the great flood of Bangkok in 2011, and another military coup in 2014.
However, I was also much better prepared psychologically in 2008 because I had resolved to make major changes in my life, and I found my soul mate, Kanta ("Na"). We have a happy home, and the finances and stresses didn't get to me nearly as much as before.
Change to Much Better Life
The years 2000-2008 had been extremely stressful to me financially and also personally.
I was really running myself into the ground trying to keep us alive financially. I was doing late night private investigations to support investments into the daytime businesses which weren't going well enough to get me out of p.i.
I was also drinking alcohol often to relieve the stress, and trying to find time to take breaks and escapes. I was hanging out with some expat clients and friends in the nightlife, too, and I got some business referrals from some of them. Some were "work hard, play hard" types. I would get carried away in enjoying the music, socializing, and people watching. If I had business the next day, such as with these clients, then I would not go home, as I lived in an outer suburb and didn't want to drive after drinking, nor deal with the morning rush hour traffic. Sometimes I would stay with a client, and sometimes I would just stay in a cheap hotel nearby.
Often, it was private investigations which kept me in town. Most nightlife spots closed very late, such as 2am to 4am, and some joints stayed open to sunrise. Lots of people were on the streets until sunrise, and it seemed that many still didn't want to go home. In so many of my p.i. cases, I was wishing so much that the person of interest would please go home (preferably) or do what else they're going to do sooner than later. The extremely late night outings ran me into the ground health-wise, especially if I had to work the next day.
It's easy to get carried away in that environment ... of which I've never seen in any other country in the world, not even close. Bangkok's nightlife is well known worldwide.
Eventually in early 2008, the real estate business had become profitable enough that I could cut back on private investigations and other kinds of business.
Most importantly, in 2008, I decided to change things in my life. I looked back on some things and had regrets. I took a step back and reassessed everything. I also stopped drinking alcohol altogether (which has continued to this day many years later, and was actually very easy to do). I reduced my stress levels.
I also met my soul mate, Kanta, nickname "Na", plus I split off and created my own business separate from TP. Sam had faded out of the business picture and he had stayed in the old suburban office and not followed us into the city.
How Businesses Unfolded Overall
All our businesses started more or less like this:
In 2008, we were doing well enough financially to split the business 3 ways. Sam stayed in the cheap but larger suburban office for the first company where he was focused on translation. TP kept the new, small city center office we set up for real estate, and continued doing real estate there but now as a competitor. I departed and set up a new office in the city center, and a new company, for continuing to do real estate.
I was very lucky at the time to get a free office for the first 6 months, because one of my private investigation clients from Europe, whose girlfriend at the time I had investigated, and who I had become friends with (like many other clients), had set up his own new company and his own new office which was largely empty, so he offered a big section of his office to me and my staff to move into ... for free for the first 6 months. (My European client eventually moved out, so we took over the office entirely. Some time after that, Sam closed his suburban office and moved his company to be co-located in my new office.)
It was a break into a new environment and lifestyle.
More on that in the next web page, the best stage of my life.
mark-prado.com > History > Ages 40-48, survival (2000-2008)
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