Vietnam is one of the few places I regularly visit without any Starbucks coffee shops. This is somewhat interesting given the coffee giant’s success in the different Asian markets.
Instead, there is already a high-end coffee chain called Highlands Coffee, which ironically was started by a Vietnamese-American (Viet Kieu) from Seattle. David Thai was born in southern Vietnam and immigrated to Seattle with his family when six years old. Growing up he witnessed the successful story of Starbucks develop. After a few entrepreneurial ventures, he moved to Vietnam to start his own coffee brand.
Vietnam is the world’s second largest producer of coffee, only trailing Brazil. The French brought coffee here in the mid 1800′s and was readily adopted. After almost two centuries, coffee is a definite part of the Vietnamese culture now, preferred in servings from single-cup filters/brewers mixed with condensed milk. In the sweltering heat of Vietnam, these served in ice are incredibly refreshing with quite a boost
Highland Coffee has been a strategic success with stores in key retail locations. Larger international brands have already approached Thai about a possible deal for his chain. The offers haven’t been compelling enough to date and according to Thai, this is “his baby and he believes in its extensive potential”. I’ve met him a couple of times and his passion for his business is undeniable.
Others are now following Thai into Vietnam trying to build companies that would be eventually attractive to global brands as possible future acquisitions. Vietnam, with its young population of 90 million, has a promising future as its economy grows. New e-Commerce, outsourcing, mobile gaming companies are springing up by foreign and Viet Kieu entrepreneurs looking for high-risk, high-reward opportunities. Whether the successful ones eventually sell or continue to operate their businesses on their own, more power to them all for being opportunistic.
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Change may come at different spurts, but it is ever present in business and personal life. You can count on it. Yet, there are those who resist it and are uncomfortable with the uncertainty of change. Others welcome change as exciting challenges and great opportunities.
A fully-functional organization requires both perspectives to varying degrees. Those who protect against whimsical ideas and put efficiency into proven processes help an organization become more scalable and efficient. Meanwhile as markets change an organization needs those who are forward thinking and optimistic about a new future. These people can put together strategies that take advantage of the changing environments.
Today, I think the ability to adapt to change is more important than ever. The culture you nurture must be around flexibility and change regardless of how large or small the organization. If Dell, and even Microsoft, do not change their business strategies to somehow compliment the consumer adoption of tablets, they could become irrelevant. Many traditional market research companies still haven’t incorporated social media data into their solutions in a meaningful way. That will reshuffle the current hierarchy of that industry. These types of examples are abundant, including around music, movie, or news content industries.
At Alterian Social, we have an Innovation Team that looks at trends and potential opportunities for “disruption”. We want to be as opportunistic as possible within the changing environment. You as an individual, whether working for an established organization or as a budding entrepreneur, need to understand that today offers more opportunities than ever. The rapid pace of change in the current environment is a great equalizer against more established organizations.
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Life’s journey requires everyone to take some risks. However, high achievement is reserved for those who are willing to take some big risks. In order to be able to take big risks, a person can’t be afraid of failure.
Successful people actually hate to fail more than most, but they are NOT afraid to fail.
The competitive drive to succeed while taking big risks allows high achievers to make bold, but calculated moves. Entrepreneurs, fighter pilots, financial traders, creative marketers, corporate CEO’s are but a few of these high risk, high reward people.
Even at a more basic level, people who are willing to take risks with love or travel live a richer life than those who are afraid to commit to adventures because of possible failure. As the saying goes, “everyone dies but not everyone lives”.
Having been involved in six business startups with varying degrees of success, I’m a bit of a risk taker. But more importantly, I’ve also been a risk taker in how I raise my family and where I live. My children grew up partly in London and I sent my older son alone to Beijing after high school even though he spoke zero
Chinese. My wife and I’ve lived in five different cities on three continents since we’ve been married.
Risk has paid off well in most cases for me. Along the way, I’ve failed at different business ventures as well as personal initiatives. Overall, however, the rewards have been tremendous for me and those around me. And as I continue to embark on calculated high-risk endeavors, I try to remember that high risks
provide opportunities for high rewards.
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Greetings from Bristol, once a central port city to the old European Slave trade. Today, it’s a nice British town with a vibrant college feel.
I’m here for an executive planning session. That means a lot of staring at spreadsheets and engaging in “street (US) / “city” (UK) talk about the company. I’m pretty comfortable with it having been involved in one IPO and many M&A transactions.
However, when planning, I’m more interested in the “inspirational” elements. The reason for our plan can’t just be explained on a spreadsheet or a powerpoint presentation. I want to be part of something BIG — something bigger than me. I want to disrupt or change or contribute. And I want to take my people with me.
Of course, a company needs to create shareholder value, but the story has to be more compelling than that. Good financials should be a NECESSARY mean to accomplish a greater end.
If people are inspired, they will be more engaged, more invested, more creative, more motivated. Cross check the planning in context of a story. How interesting is it? So what? Does it get people’s attention?
Be real, but also be inspiring. That’s what an executive needs to be.
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All around me, there are people who are taking the leap into entrepreneurship. I think it is an exciting time when startups are hot again.
As a person who was fortunate enough to be involved in six different startups as a minority founder to sole founder, I get excited every time I hear about a friend launching a new venture. Many times, I’m asked for advice. Unfortunately, I have nothing to novel to say.
All I have to offer are these simple things:
- Make sure that the purpose of the new venture represents something you are passionate about, not just to make money
- No matter the business plan, focus on cash flow, cash flow, and more cash flow. If you’re building something from scratch, at least double or triple your projection for cash flow.
- You will inevitably second-guess, regret your decision to start your own venture at some point. It has happened to me each and every time. At such times, focus back your passions.
- Be flexible. As your business plan rolls out, be attentive for subtle market reactions and be prepared adjust course accordingly.
- Remember, it’s about the people, your team. Treat them well and fairly, and they will make things happen for you.
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Catching up with old friends is one of the best parts of visiting Seoul, a city where I used to live some 20 years ago.
One such friend has recently started his own venture after spending many years as an executive with investment banks and most recently with Google’s Merger & Acquisitions team. After years of targeting successful startups for acquisitions, he was hungry to do something on his own.
Now, as his web-based company is nearing its launch, he was both excited and concerned. The “execution” component of the plan had taken some toll on him: The long hours, the personnel issues, the repeated re-evaluation of the plan, and the constant self-doubt while always having to be a cheerleader to the rest of the team.
He has a good plan, the one that had him excited six months ago. But now, the inertia of day-to-day execution has clouded that vision a bit. He just needs a friend to tell him to look up once in a while. These are typical cycles that all entrepreneurs go through.
There is a big difference between the mindset of investors who are used to asking the tough questions and modeling businesses versus those who start such businesses. The former are taught to be skeptical but attentive for key “models”. The latter are eternal optimists who believe in a vision and are driven by their passion.
Some people can make that jump across investor-to-entrepreneur divide, but it is not a natural thing. The jump the other way from entrepreneur-to-investor seems to be an easier transformation.
Regardless, I look forward to his eventual success.
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Today, with the leadership team in our Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) office, we discussed providing support without removing responsibility.
This is one of the five key principles of communication as outlined by Development Dimensions International, a management training program that I highly recommend.
I think it is somewhat obvious that leaders, managers, parents should be providing support. Part of being a leader is to be a reliable resource. However, not as obvious is the importance of not removing responsibility. Yes, it might be “faster to do it yourself”, but it can be very counter-productive to do so.
Ultimately, leaders should be building great teams that are enabled to do great things. Even great leaders cannot be truly well-balanced, but all great teams should be well-balanced. As a leader, that means enabling team members by providing support without removing responsibility.
Many times, a leader who has a habit of coming and ”rescuing a situation” is admired. People may consider that leader highly effective, and possibly even selfless. After all, that leader worked twice the workload by taking over a subordinate’s tasks.
I, however, believe the opposite. Such a leader is very selfish, not empowering his/her team. This leader prefers taking the easier route of doing the work, rather than the more difficult but more sustainable route of providing support without removing responsibility. Many times these types of leaders would rather get the credit of being the problem solver (hero) than watch their teams learn to solve problems on their own (inspirational coach).
Absolutely provide support, but do so without removing responsibility.
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