Owner — Operator Lessons 2020

I decided around mid of this year after our poor run on YouTube advertising to either shut down the business or to pivot it. This was accompanied by frustrations by being banned by Facebook late in 2019 and hence being severely restricted by our only source of revenue.

I also thought it was pointless to invest time and capital into a business that’s highly affected by Covid and doesn’t seem to be that popular or in demand in conservative cultures like Singapore.

I remembered I gleefully started writing dating/ philosophical musings as a 22-year-old on blogs.

Later on, I turned the art of writing into a career by doing digital consulting, being hired by DrWealth.Com and of course running MarcusNeo.Com.

However, 2020, has been different. It was more learning and executing as opposed to waxing poetry.

Yes, the internet is made up of words but it’s also made up of links.

I decided to pivot to an international audience in 2019 and invested heavily in learning SEO, and SEO itself.

You got to make mangerial decisions. Mid this year, I decided to screw it, I’m not going to market another program to the Singapore market. Trying to persuade Singaporean men to learn how to date or to invest in emotional awareness is akin to whipping an unwilling horse. Not a dead one. Just an unwilling one.

Since I prefer willing and able horses. I started looking outside of the stable.

Growth Methods

Today, I am still banned from Facebook advertising platform. I have also given up on advertising on the Facebook platform. I simply refuse to do business with a business that goes on ban rampages with little or poor customer support. I guess Facebook can afford to.

Hence, that is why I own their stock but won’t use their services.

Since I don’t have millions of capital to work with and operate mostly lean. Focus is of the answer. I will, and only focus on SEO, and SEO alone as a growth method.

Dumb Assery

Charlie Munger once quoted: “The opulence at the head office is often inversely related to the financial substance of the firm.”

I was wise enough in my first few years of business to keep rent low by operating out of cheap co-working places and mostly from home.

However, due to Covid, I decided to take office and refuge (from naggy parents) in the CBD: paying a premium to stay in the heart of Singapore for three months.

Even though these were expensed out of my personal pocket, I’m after all owner-operator who capitalized a good amount of my company with my own cash, it’s still my cash.

I guess I got my fix of staying in the heart of Singapore and will avoid future mistakes similar to this.

There was foolishness such as setting up a private limited corporation last year. I thought it was time to play grown-up and every other “serious business owner” did similarly. 1) I wasn’t anywhere near raising external capital and 2) it caused me a lot of administration headache and cost.

The total cost of regulatory reporting and accounting administrative cost can go up to 2–3k per annum. I had to also tussle with regulatory compliance and calls with my accountant. It wasn’t necessary for a lean personally funded venture.

On the bright side, I did learn a lot about regulatory processes and accounting software.

Compounding Earnings

Due to Covid and the market crash earlier this year, I went on an investing, stocks and “capital allocation” bender.

You’ll be surprised how much you can learn just by reading annual reports. Especially the ones of the greats: Berkshire.

Great companies compound their earnings and shareholder equity year after year.

It’s a different way to think about business as opposed to merely look at revenue and/or income.

Simply put: “how can I make my business generate more cash flow and become more valuable from an assets standpoint year after year?”

Coming off frustrations of Covid and a lack of organic demand for dating skills programs in Singapore, I decided to pivot the company to an international audience.

I am proud to report that as of today, the majority of my website traffic comes from international audiences.

In other words, I have legendarily attempted to monetize a Singapore grown education company to international audiences.

If I succeed, I’ll have somewhat outdone the iQuadrants, Adam Khoo, DrWealth.Com and Imran Ali of Singapore.

They, after all, are mostly local.

If I succeed, I shall declare in my most genuine impression of Ray Kroc’s voice from The Founder: “You guys are local, and I am global”.

This brings me back to a comment I shared with a client. If I wasn’t selling dating advice in Singapore I might have been a millionaire already.

If I was selling an investment program or a digital marketing program, the financial outcome will be different.

However, I never found myself interested in standing in front of a crowd lecturing them about stocks or marketing.

Hence, this is why passion… is not enough.

It’s uncommon sense in business to think that ideas and vision make a company run. However, capitalisation, execution, managerial skills, relentless focus and technical skills are 99% of the time the answer.

The majority of my peers who are successful in commerce have excellent communication skills, the ability to market, advertise and communicate their products and services to the world. The best of them are great executors. They do not succeed because of “ideas” nor “rhetoric”.

The next skill I wish to write about is capital allocation. This skill is the building blocks of the book The Outsiders. The author makes the argument that great CEOs and managers are mathematically oriented and have an ability to return cash/value to shareholders at a better rate than the market (S&P 500 etc.)

Since I have put together a ninja marketing/ SEO team from Upwork.Com, this relates to me making more managerial and capital allocative decisions daily.

The Outsiders

In the book The Outsiders, the CEOs and managers mentioned in this book shy away from press conferences, interviews and media. They also refrain from espousing business jargon or what I warmly call “rhetoric”.

These days I rarely listen or get an opinion from anyone. I am, after all, in uncharted waters by attempting to build an education site that reaches out to the international audience. There’s no framework, no guru to rely on here. Only ‘first principles’.

Years ago I wasn’t that good of a learner, bowed down to authority too much and didn’t know how to ‘reason from first principles’.

I attended marketing and business programs that could only work to a certain scale, or at a certain period of time. Their methods were outdated and inflexible. I admittedly lost years in cash and potential growth from sticking to “guru led ideas”.

There is no guru. One has to also reason up from the fundamentals and always challenge dogmatic ideas.

Lessons as an Operating Manager

These days, I spend a good amount of my time managing labour (my online team) and there are a couple of lessons that come with that. 1) You want to work with excellent communicators 2) You want people with integrity. 3) Hire slow and fire fast. 4) Great managers manage processes and not people.

It’s uncanny that when you hire by the hour (or by the month) and decide on advertising budgets etc., business is once again boiled down to the art of capital allocation.

Nonetheless, it’s not only allocating capital that makes an operator owner business successful, but also technical knowledge and having people with technical abilities around you.

Looking Forward from Covid Year 2020

In 2020, I still somewhat managed to pivot the company and acquire new skills (mainly SEO) in spite of handling a full-time academic curriculum. (and doing pretty okay in that as well)

I’d give myself a slight pat on the back.

This was of course a conscious choice. These days, I rarely keep a wide circle of fair-weathered social connections as I got busy trying to tick off the boxes in life.

This was also possible by keeping my living expenses low (before moving out to the CBD) and my head screwed in.

I’m also not concerned with keeping up with my peers who have mostly choose the employment route in their 20s and have a predictable disposable income.

I am perfectly fine with giving up a salary for months on straight whilst retaining earnings and reinvesting earnings into growth. Good businesses focus on pain today and gain tomorrow activities.

I have done similarly for myself and my business pursuits for the past 7 years, and won’t be changing any time soon.