note book with text chaos planner in the cover

Executive Diary – first employee

When the business started in 2018, my business partner and I did everything on our own. From meeting with clients to actually do the development, while working on our full-time job. As Digital Envision grows, we found the need to employ people to accommodate with the new projects coming in.

Tl; dr;

Hiring the first employee is always one of the hardest decision you ever make in the early time of the business. The interview is instinctive as you don’t know what you’re doing. The best way is just to hire one and see how it goes. If you spend time reading on interview techniques and questions, don’t spend too much on it. I encourage people to read for a little while and jump into hiring. Taking too long will cost you opportunities.

Where to find talents?

We tried several ways to find our first employee. Since we did not have funding to hire someone in Australia, we decided to look elsewhere. There were a few places that we were seeking like facebook groups, job boards, etc. We needed a general admin at that time to handle our paperworks, so Philippines seemed to be a great place to look for one. We posted on various VA facebook groups, and received tons of applications. That is great, and we only needed to pick one from the pile.

It turned out to be one of the hardest thing to do. We did not know what to look for, every applications look great, and I remember that I felt guilty if I rejected an application without a rational reason to do so. That process took us over a week or two to select a handful of applications to interview. We did 10 interviews in 2 days and now the selection got even harder. After seeing their faces, I found it hard to reject any of them.

At the end, we selected one who has experience working as an admin for an Australian company before. And she was very good. We believed that we made the right choice.

Working with the first employee.

It was weird when I had someone else in the company beside the business partner. Suddenly we had someone to give tasks that we didn’t want to do. And we had a lot of them. However, I got used to it very quickly, and in a short time, she became a crucial gear in our machine. She also helped us to recruit more employees, and we started to employ more and more people since.

There was only one problem, we have an office in Indonesia, and she was the only one who lives in Philippines. And there are a lot of storms and typhoons in her area, resulting in power outage and internet connection issues. Over time, we lean more to our Indonesian staff, as the internet and power in the office is more reliable. We ended up leasing her out as a VA to another client of ours. After a while, the client wished to take her in full time, but wanted to sign the contract with her directly.

We decided to let her go.

Lessons learned.

Although our first employee was doing really well, and we still consider lucky to have her when we started up, there were a lot of things that I learned and put processes to prevent them from happening again.

First thing is, power outage and internet connection problem. Working from home is not reliable, especially in South-east Asian countries. We start working at 9am Australian time, which means it is 5-6am in Indonesia. What happens if the power is out at that time? One of the reason why we wanted to keep people in the office is to prevent this from happening, and minimize the disruptions in services.

Second thing is, we learned that sometimes giving people too much freedom is counter-productive. We gave our first employee a lot of flexibility, she could work when she was available, and just need to fulfil 8 hours a day. However, sometimes we can see the performance dropped off significantly. We avoid that by implementing KPI measures, this still allows certain freedom, but at the end of the day, results are what we look for in our employees.

Thirdly, as she was our first employee, we felt uneasy to let her go. Looking back, we should have let her go 6 months before we actually did. Now, we implement a warnings system, in which if someone has 3 warnings, or “strikes”, they are out of the company. “Hire slow, fire fast” is a motto that we adopt into the company. Luckily, we only needed to let 1 person go since she left the company.

Summary

Having employees often feel uneasy at first, since you let someone that you don’t know have access into your business. But it is a necessary step to grow your business. It is crucial to select the right person for the job. However, if it turns out to be unsuitable, you need to be very decisive and let them go quickly. Keeping a bad employee not only has negative effects to the company, it also affects other employees as well. We cannot help everyone.

“It’s not the people you fire who make your life miserable. It’s the people you don’t.” ― Dick Grote

By Tuan Nguyen

note book with text chaos planner in the cover

Executive Diary – part time to full time

Picture this, you are an ordinary employee, working a 9-5 job. Then one day, you and a friend meet up and discover the idea that both of you have been having all along. You both decide to open a business together to execute that idea. There is one problem: both of you are enjoying a full time job, and mortgages to pay.

Tl; dr;

I was blessed to keep my full time job a little while longer, while my business parter had to jump to full time position in our company early.

The transition was smooth in my case since we established a good foundation for me to go into the business officially. Before that I was working part time with no pay for nearly 2 years.

Starting up

We started the company in September 2018. Back then, we had 1-2 clients, not enough for any full time position just yet. Fast forward to a few months later and we managed to get our first big client, Stockdale & Leggo. Although it was a small project, but it gave us the confidence that we can sustain the company.

Then everything went sideways.

My business partner – Rod, got laid off from his company.

We faced our first big obstacle, would he find another full-time job, or take the leap of faith and become the first full-time employee in our company? We discussed and decided to take the latter option, as we believed deals should be made within the working hours, not after hours. And having someone fully dedicated to the company is better than two half minded ones.

Struggling through hard times

We just assumed that networking is the key to getting new businesses. So I introduced him to BNI, and went to a couple of them to see which one is suitable for our business. Eventually we found a chapter for Rod to join and start building our networks. The first few months after we joined were quiet, and he spent a lot of time meeting new people. I couldn’t do it because I was still in my full-time job. Therefore I can only supported him after hour, doing things like quoting for projects, and even development works.

Then COVID-19 hit.

I remember there were times that we only had less than $5,000 in our bank account, and BAS time was approaching. We were that close to being insolvent. However, we pushed through with some timely contracts. And everything started to pick up about 6 months into COVID.

Since COVID forced us to all working from home. I had the luxury of networking with new people via teleconferences, while ensuring my productivity of the full-time work after hour. We met more people than ever before, and business owners started to realize they didn’t need a local development team to work on the projects. We were given many chances and gained our clients’ trust from there.

Decision to take the leap of faith

Since the beginning of 2021, Rod and I had decided that the time for me to go full-time is mid 2021. No matter what happened, I would go full-time at that point. A deadline is needed when you do something important, so it doesn’t get pushed back again and again.

And I did. I went officially full-time on the first of August, 2021. After I sent my resignation in July, the last month was relatively easy for me in Adslot (which was the previous company that I worked for). This period prepared me to adapt to the new environment. The first few months were busy as we took in new projects. We had more projects than we could handle. However, we didn’t price them correctly, so we still suffered from cashflow perspective, and it still lingers until today.

What did I gain?

I met a lot of people in the business world. They taught me a lot of things, either from their experience, or from their readings and meeting with other people. It is a whole new world and I look at money and wealth very differently now, comparing to the time before Digital Envision.

Everyday is a new day for me. I have no idea how it is going to turn out. Every day poses new problems that I need to solve, or delegate. In my opinion, life is the most exciting when I cannot predict what is going to happen next, and therefore having new experience every single day.

What was sacrificed?

Obviously, being a full-stack developer in the last 2 years is like being a rabbit which has to choose between a big pile of carrots, and a bigger pile of carrots. Australia still ridiculously lacks of experienced developers, and it is no longer weird when I see a $200,000 package for a senior developer. Jumping out to my company, I accepted a minimum-wage salary, which affected the lifestyle greatly. To this day, I can’t really go out with friends without thinking about the budget that I have for the month.

Another thing that I can think of, is the serviceability to take loans. I could have purchased another property at the end of 2020 before the bull market started. However, I decided to keep the cash to prepare for the leap. I had the contract of the property that fit all the criteria on the table, waiting for signature. And now it goes up about 30%. But I have no regret, as this was the plan.

Summary

Moving from your safe full-time job to your own business certainly is a risky move. But I would say it was worth it. I have absolutely no regret since the day I handed in the resignation email. At least later on, I can tell my kids about the risk that I took to give life a better meaning, to give it a chance to influent more people than ever before.

“If you’re not sure about a certain decision, you should try a leap of faith; for you know not how deep you would fall, when you jump.” ― Mr One ZED

By Tuan Nguyen

note book with text chaos planner in the cover

Executive Diary – create an elevator pitch

Elevator pitch is a quick overview of what a company does. It has to be simple, easy to understand, and short. As the elevator ride is almost 30 seconds, the pitch is encouraged to be said within that duration.

Tl; dr;

Preparing an elevator pitch and memorize it is necessary when you are a business owner. It prevents you from getting caught off guard when people ask what do you do. A good elevator pitch consists of 3 parts:

  • “Do you know…”: state the problem that you’re solving.
  • “What we do…”: state your service or product.
  • “So that…”: state what happens if the problem is resolved.

Why do we need an elevator pitch?

Do you know, when I started working full time for my company, Digital Envision, people often asked what I do. And I did not have an answer that I feel comfortable with. I felt like if I said I was a director of Digital Envision, I would be bragging. If I said I was working for Digital Envision as a developer, I would be downplaying my position. And I believe that I’m not the only one.

In an effort to tackle the problem, I started to look for a solution, and someone suggested to write and memorize an elevator pitch. At first, I was skeptical because it sounded so salesy. I mean, there’s literally the word “pitch” in the name. But after looking at the examples, and the methods people use to create them, I now see elevator pitch no different than an introduction between people. And it is exactly that.

The “Formula”

What I did, was reading a lot of articles about how to create an elevator pitch. And one of them sticks to me as the most logical and easy to remember. It only has 3 steps:

  • Establish the problem, starting with “Do you know …”. Just 1-2 short sentences stating exactly what is the problem that you are solving.
  • Present what does your service/product do. You can start with “What we do is …”. Again, 1-2 short sentences give a summary of what your services or products do.
  • Suggest the result if the problem is resolved. You can start with “So that …”, talk about how the clients be better off with the problems no longer available.

Let me give you some examples. I am blessed with managing 2 different business models. So I have prepared 2 elevator pitches and depending on the situation, I will bring one out or the other. I am still working on combining them together though.

Elevator pitch for Digital Envision

Do you know that there are so many innovations being created in Australia? Lots of those innovations require developments of websites and mobile applications. What we do is using our digital development skills and expertise to realize these novel ideas. So that our clients can realize their ideas and dominate the market in a timely manner.

Elevator pitch for VA For Everyone

Do you know that companies are having a bad time finding talents inside Australia? There is a massive shortage of labour in this environment. What we do is give our clients access to the enormous talent pools overseas, while keeping the headache of managing offshore staff away. So that our clients can meet their progress development goal and bring products to the market in a timely manner.

How does it help me?

I did it so that I don’t need to think about the answer anymore. It becomes a very smooth talk once I memorize the “script” and put more tone into it. Being prepared gives you confidence when going into networking events, and avoid rambling on about your business. Also I want to systemize things and this fits perfectly into my system.

One thing to note is that this pitch is alive and constantly changing as the business develops. I would suggest to revisit the pitch every 6 months to make updates as needed.

Summary

Elevator pitch frees us as business owners from getting nervous about conversing with other people. It also helps us listen to other people better as we don’t have to think as much. And I believe conversation is all about listening and understanding what our counterpart is passionate about.

“Good luck is a residue of preparation.” ― Jack Youngblood

By Tuan Nguyen

note book with text chaos planner in the cover

Executive Diary – do you need business partners?

In the Executive Diary series, my audience will be severely limited. This is because I’m talking to you, to the business owners, to the directors of your own company. Why is it called Executive Diary? Because I live it everyday. And I think it would be great for you to have a point of reference when it comes to problems that you are having.

Today we will discuss on whether you should go starting a business by yourself, or having someone(s) with you from the beginning.

Tl; dr;

I strongly suggest to have at least one business partner. They provide invaluable resources that most business owners take it for granted. Some examples of them are:

  • Keeping you accountable.
  • Bringing skills and expertise that you don’t have to the business.
  • Having a second set of eyes and perspectives to every problems in the business.
  • Workload is shared, and you have less chance to burn out.

Why do we need a business partner?

Building a business from scratch is going out of our comfort zone in a massive manner. What it felt like to me is moving from a 38 degree hot spring pond into a cold shower. It challenged everything I thought I knew about running a business. Some people may start the business as a side hustle, and over time they add more and more time into the business. That is actually fine and there is nothing wrong with that.

However, once you are serious about the business, it’s time to jump into a full time role and there is a whole new world out there. That world can be monumentally terrifying, and sometimes you need a hand to keep yourself sane, to keep you accountable, and to bounce ideas off of. This is when a business partner comes into the picture.

Benefits of having a business partner

Apart from what we discussed above, a business partner also brings contacts, skills and expertise into the business. They can help you in fields that you are inexperienced in, for example, I know about accounting and finance, then I can partner with someone who has skills in operations. And together we can make the business whole. It is nigh impossible to have someone who knows everything. And while some people may argue that you can hire mentors and business coaches to help you with missing skills, the third parties will never have the commitment that your business partners have.

Another advantage is that you have extra sets of eyes when it comes to problems in the business. And believe me, there are a lot of them. You wouldn’t believe the things that a business owner may encounter daily, things that you wouldn’t think they exist, such as massive consequences when dealing with both Russia and Ukraine companies under the effect of recent events… Back to the topic, having another eyes on the problems provide another perspective, and it is great to see the problem in different angles and we can find better solutions.

Moreover, having someone with you in the business reduces the workload working on the business. There are a LOT of tasks that you need to do once it comes to managing a business, especially when you have employees. In my case, we have over 40 employees in our company and even with the help from HR staff, we still have tons of work to do.

Limitation of having business partners

It’s not all fun and roses when having business partners. Like a coin, everything has two faces. I can only think of one thing when it comes to the other side of the coin. Decision making speed.

Sometimes, having too many options and over analysing can lead you to analysis paralysis. Therefore it can slow down the decision making process, especially if you only have 1 business partner as there is no deciding vote. It is recommended to have at least 3 people in the business with equal shares, so you can always put things into votes and resolve matters that way.

Summary

There are advantages and limitations when it comes to having business partners. However I believe that the pros outweigh the cons, and having at least one is recommended if anyone asks me.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

By Tuan Nguyen