Brian Tam

Overcoming Fear and Excuses | Brian Tam, Let's Make Great!

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with my good friend, and co-host of Behind the Grind, Brian Tam, about the fear that holds many entrepreneurs back.

His insights on how to get ideas off the dashboard, the importance of small wins, and in learning quickly through rapid failures, are all spot on.

 


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About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organziations into action.

To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Brian Tam

Brian is a Creativity Catalyst and co-founder of an innovation consultancy, Let’s Make GREAT!

Born in America and having graduated from the University of Maryland, Brian saw China’s dynamic growth and decided to make a leap back to the mainland in 2007 when he came to Shanghai to create more growth and innovation in China.

Follow Brian
Website: http://www.letsmakegreat.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brian.tam.56211
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tamonline/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/letsmakegreat/


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

Brian: I am Brian Tam, I am the founder and CEO of Let’s Make Great!. We are a creative consultancy focusing on the next hundred years of innovation in China. So basically, what that means is that we do everything and anything to help people become more creative in China.

We were doing some Google research, just looking at different words that are popping up. And if you search "creativity in China", it’s very very low. All the new top 10 results are all negative results. “It’s not going to happen." "Education is not going to allow creativity to happen." But then interestingly, what’s changed is that if you search "innovation in China", the results are going up.

So it’s all positive news about how China is becoming more innovative, Chinese companies are becoming more innovative. So there is a change happening. It’s in wordplay, but I think it’s a real change.

China’s ecosystem for innovation

Brian: It is changing a lot. I started about three to four years ago now. And since I started, I can see that larger scale organizations are now starting to reach out to start-ups and build up connections and collaborations. So BMW now has an incubator. OMD is working with China Accelerator of course. Unilever and another New Zealand milk company, Fonterra, is also working with internal entrepreneurship and building up that innovation game that way.

So I think it’s happening, it’s starting to change. Three to four years ago, when I started, I was like “Entrepreneurship! This is the way to the future! This is going to make everything/the world a better place. You build a company inside a bigger company, how great is that? You get all the joined freedom of your own business and also you get the power and distribution of a large company.”

And I thought that was gonna be it. But companies don’t like that a lot of times. They are like, wait, you want them to be the boss? Then what is my job gonna be? So there’s a lot of people pushing back on that. But there’s also a lot of people making it happen ‘cause they do see it as a way for it. So those are the front runners and there is hope!

Do foreigners understand China?

Brian: I think there’s a lot of people who don’t get it. They are not really doing the homework of talking to the people who are going to be using it or getting in touch with their ideas. So that needs to change.

Rich: Do you think they really think that they know it better than the Chinese?

Brian: There’s a certain arrogance. Everybody has arrogance, so that’s always gonna be the case. "We are from the West, and we know better. This is what we should be doing." But is that always true? No. I mean, somewhere in the middle through the process, you figure out, “Okay, I do need to change.”

Hopefully, people are figuring out that they do need the change, because at the end, money shows how much impact you are really making or how much traction you’re getting. So I think there needs to be a significant/true metric. So a lot of entrepreneurs — actually let’s not call them entrepreneurs yet. They are not entrepreneurs yet, I can’t even say that.

They are just guys with ideas or people with ideas, and that’s nice and good. And usually, those ideas are about making impact and helping people to something better. But how realistic and driven are they? A lot of these people I work with are entrepreneurs, creatives, designers, architects, consultants — all knowledge-based people. They are not really thinking about, “How do I make this happen?”

They are thinking about thinking about thinking about making it happen.

Brian: They are several ways away from that. And it’s good, we need that. We need thinking. It’s important. But where’s the rubber meet the road? And that’s where I’m trying to push these people to get to: interacting with the Chinese market. Making sure that their idea really works for whoever they are targeting. That’s always an interesting thing to get people to move towards, because they are afraid. They don’t know.

Because if you actually — if you start meeting the road and you get resistance, then everything changes. You’re not sure if can really do it. You’re not sure. You hit reality, and reality is hard, and it sucks, and it hurts. So people are gonna get scared of that. It’s getting pushback. In idea land, in the dream world, anything is possible.

And that is fun, energetic, sexy, and alluring for a lot of these creative leaders to think about their ideas over and over again. But it doesn’t go anywhere. I think that’s one of the biggest things that needs to change for a lot of people. I don’t care if you’re a teacher, go make it real. I don’t care if you’re an artist, actually do something with it. Everyone got ideas, and it’s not about ideas, it’s about execution. But it is fear that’s preventing them.

No excuses

Brian: It’s interesting — I couldn’t say "on the Chinese side", because I’m not working with them — but just looking at the things that are coming out, I can see that they are very much based on other ideas. But they are mixing and matching, so it’s more plug-and-play and collecting different ideas together. And I think that’s a type of innovation as well. With the foreign entrepreneurs, maybe they are trying to do something different.

They are a little more disruptive. It’s just two different strategies. I don’t think either one is right or wrong, it’s just two different strategies. Yeah, so there’s a lot of entrepreneurs here. The community here has been developing, and that’s kind of cool. There’s a clear divide, though, between the Chinese entrepreneurs and the foreign entrepreneurs.

I mainly work with the foreign ones and the foreign creatives, and so they are pushing the line — but their impact is somewhat limited, as we talked about earlier. They are always looking for a Chinese partner, and they are always looking for the way to get their products into the Chinese market — a little bit more localized, right?

Or, they wait and make those excuses that say, “I can’t do that because I don’t have that partner. I can’t do that because I don’t speak Chinese. I can’t do that because…” I think those are excuses, and I really try to get these people to keep pushing on their own side to do what they can and what’s within their control. So that’s always been an interesting mind shift for a lot of these people, because we think we need help rather than we need to create momentum to attract help. And I think that’s a complete mental shift that a lot of people need to get towards.

Challenges of entrepreneurship

Brian: They are afraid of failure, is the biggest thing. They build up these fantasies in their head and they've got these big dreams. I mean, I got them, too. My big dream is a hundred years of innovation in China. That’s pretty big. Let’s think about that. One hundred years. China. Innovation.

This is like the three biggest ideas in the world right now. It’s scary. It’s unrealizable almost. But it’s not supposed to be realizable right now. It is supposed to be realizable in that time. So I try to separate people’s ideas and thinking into short-term and long-term.

And short-term, you need to have that action but be guided by that long-term vision. So that’s something I’m trying to separate for people, so that they do start taking action — because the fear of failure is this kind of ambiguous fear. You don’t know where it’s coming from. You don’t know what might cause that failure, and so it could come from anywhere. Here, there are different factors/drivers at play. The government have their rules, and we’re here playing by their rules. That’s the name of the game.

Dealing with fear

Brian: How do you deal with fear? It is everything. I say fuck fear, first of all, because it’s always going to be there. I’ve been doing this three to four years, and I’m still afraid. It’s just a part of it. If you are afraid that means you’re doing something new, which means you’re on the right path.

If you’re not afraid, then what are you doing? You’re so comfortable that you don’t have to think about. You are not putting yourself out there. Then what value are you adding to society, to your team, to your company and to the people around you? So you need to be doing something a little bit scary at least so that you can start to realize it.

So I say, first of all, fuck fear — it’s there, deal with it. Second of all, start small and get that feedback early so that you know if you’re on the right track or not. If you have those small wins, they build up to a big win at the end. So that’s a super critical step.

What is a small win?

Brian: Small wins are even just people smiling as you talk about the idea, and people are smiling and nodding, and they go, “Okay, I kind of get that." A small win is even, they give me feedback that I can use to improve it [the idea], so maybe sometimes a small win is everything. You just try to switch your mind into looking for the small win rather than looking for the failure or the reason that you shouldn’t do it.

And I think a lot of people who are very smart — these educators, consultants , designers — are very smart and creative people. But because they are so critical, they start looking for all the reasons they shouldn’t be doing it, all the “NOs” — and that adds up, so you don’t do anything. There’s no action then.

You just stop. You are paralyzed by fear. So I’m saying, look for that small win no matter what it is. There’s always a small win. You gotta look for it. And as long as you take action, you got a small win. So that small win and taking that small step is the key.

Is social entrepreneurship different?

Brian: So for me, I don’t give a shit about it. It’s not for me to label. I don’t care about labels. You can call it whatever you want — as long as you’re doing good, adding value, making the world a better place, I don’t care what you call that. But make sure that happens. If you are an entrepreneur, a businessman, a politician, or even a homeless person, make the world a better place. That’s it.

Why else are you alive? Why is your heart beating? Why are you breathing air and consuming things if you are not giving back in some way? My girlfriend is really amazing, because she’ll give to all the homeless people. I’m like “you can’t do this”.

But if they are playing music, she’ll take out the 10 RMB or the 20 RMB note. She’ll give them a little bit more. I think it’s because they are adding value. They are creating this atmosphere of positivity and enjoyment, right? Just like that. There’s a positive atmosphere that we can all live and love by. It’s amazing.

Ideas do not equate to action.

Brian: So everyone is different. I can’t give you an answer for how to start or where to start, but just start! That’s the wrong question to be asking — just starting, right? So, if you have one tool, go with that tool right now. If you have a million tools, maybe it’s time to start using some of them. All these ideas are all really nice, but the ideas are pointless until you start to realize them. And that’s what an idea is for, right? It’s for action, to make it come true.

I had that problem. I was a marketing guy doing project management. Then I was an English teacher. Then I was another marketing guy in another leadership development company. This was just ideas about ideas about ideas. And it drove me crazy. I wasn’t satisfied. And I thought, "Why not?" Because they were just in my head and weren’t in reality, and they weren’t a part of my reality. So I went out, and I quit my job, and I started Let's Make Great!.

And I decided that this would be my vision: By reflecting on my past, I looked at the "why's" of my past, and I saw that these "why's", these motivations, were all leading toward something that I didn’t even realize until I reflected. So I was lucky to have built up six to eight years of working experience before I started reflecting.

I know when you are a little bit younger, you don’t have enough experience to know "why" yet. You just haven't connected enough dots — some people say that, but I don’t think it’s true either. I think if I reflected earlier, I probably would have seen it earlier, but nobody was pushing me to think about it. So that’s on me, it’s just circumstance.

Self-assessment

Brian: Are you taking action? The first assessment. Are you taking action?

Research, and preparing, and planning is not "action" in my definition. Getting feedback, talking to people and building something, that’s action. I’m gonna call you out (points to Rich). I see you are stopping and starting, but have you actually put them altogether yet in video? I tried to shoot a video before, and I stop and start, but I couldn’t bring them altogether because there are these weird cut points.

That drove me crazy. So I was like “Are you taking action? Are you really following through with that?” All right, thank God for you (to Rich's assistant).

China and entrepreneurship

Brian: I think two things about this question. First is that entrepreneurship is the modern-day spiritual journey.

Because what is that? In entrepreneurship you find out who you are, what you are about. What you are trying to do, and what value you have to society? If those aren’t spiritual questions, I don’t know what is. It doesn’t matter. It just happens to be that if you do follow entrepreneurship, you’ll figure out these things.

And in China, it’s nice, coming from the West at least, because you end up in this place where all of the rules are different slightly or majorly — and you just go “why?” And by having that huge impact on your expectations and beliefs that not everybody is crossing the road the same way, not everybody is dressed the same way, not everybody is talking the same way, not everybody is treating me the same way.

All those expectations that flipped you around — that flipped you mentally around — is very challenging, frustrating, and difficult. But that creates a better environment to think creatively and differently about doing something. So, China is great because of that — for now, at this time and place, there’s no better place in the world.

Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs

The 20-year old fresh arrival in Shanghai. I think there’s so many opportunities to go explore. A lot of times, we fall into these patterns. We want to be comfortable so we find people who look like us, talk like us, think like us — and that’s good to a certain extent, but where are you expanding yourself? Where are you pushing yourself? Again, feeling uncomfortable, feeling afraid, that is a good thing. So use that as your barometer for right or wrong.

How much does it scare you?

One of the biggest question is “What am I supposed to do?” I’m like, “What are you most afraid of?” and that’s the answer. That’s what they should be doing, because they already know, but everything is an excuse.

“I can’t do this. I shouldn’t do this. My mom, my dad, my sister, and my friends don’t get it. The market says I shouldn’t do it. The advisor, Brian, says you shouldn’t do it."

Fuck that. I’m wrong, you’re wrong, everybody is wrong. You got to figure out your own way. And so if people are telling you you’re wrong, listen of course, and make sure you get that — but move forward too. But don’t let it paralyze you. A lot of people let it paralyze them. It is really annoying and scary.

And when those people become 41, and they haven’t gone their own path, they become different people. They become shells of their previous self, where they aren’t really pushing the boundaries as much. They forget that they should, they forget how to — they forget that it’s natural, and everything becomes an excuse on why it won’t work, why they shouldn’t do it, why they it’s not their responsibility, and all this sort of stuff. So it is a strong contrast between these two types of people.

Advice to our interns

Intern: I’m thinking about all the ideas that I have, how do you pick one?

Brian: So what have you done?

Intern: So far, I have interned with Collective Responsibility and I’m trying to find my basis.

Brian: Good start. Big win.

Intern: My original idea is… but now my idea is…

Brian: Stop... stop... stop… I like all these ideas here, but what have you actually been doing to work towards it? I think the thing about taking action, small steps, and those small wins is that through those small wins, you’ll find your way.

But if you are just thinking about it, nothing happens. Like you started with “I’m thinking about…” or “I’m preparing to...” that’s like several layers away. That’s what I was talking about the “thinking about thinking about thinking…” We’re trying to get you to action right away in a small way, and that’s what needs to happen.

And through that action, whatever it is, it could just be these videos you can reflect that you don’t like interviewing idiots like this, "This just doesn’t help me in my career." Now you know that’s not what you want. Or, you find out that, "This is great, if I can do this times a million, whatever it is, in a city out of nowhere, I’ll be very happy." So you start learning from there. But it requires small steps, small actions.

Intern: So how do you pick just one?

Brian: You don’t pick, you just do.

Intern: Even if there’s all of these ideas, do you think I should take a direction and run with it and see where it develop?

Brian: I think a lot of times we are looking at different directions, and any direction is a good direction but until you know why. So why are you doing it? So list down all the 10 different directions that you might have and just do 10, please. Just start with 10. And then looks at all the "why's" behind it. So don’t look at what it is, but the "why" behind it, and look at which ones make the most sense. And probably from that "why's", you can even see that pattern in it — and then whichever one feels that most powerful to you, go with that and just do that and start.

Intern: I’m a very indecisive person. How does that play into finding an action and just going with it?

Brian: Indecision comes from those people who aren’t tapped into their emotions. I don’t know you, but typically that’s what happens. People are too logical, too smart, and they’re analyzing, and they are not feeling. So I’m going to ask you to feel the right answer — that’s why I asked you to look at the whys. And from the "why's", you feel that this one resonates with you, so you’re going to go with that. Of course, these are all ideas that you’re coming up with, so they should all resonate in some way — but we are talking about the ones that make you go, “Oh shit, I have to do this. This is it. Oh of course, why didn’t I think of that?"


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Steve Jiang

The Power of Story to Change Minds | Steven Jiang

In this episode of Entrepreneurs For Good, I speak with filmmaker Steven Jiang about his work to capture the lives of Chinese living with Tourette Syndrome

Steven Jiang, is the absolute embodiment of what it means to be an entrepreneur for Good, and he is not really an entrepreneur.

He has no business model for his work, and he is not trying to sell a product, but he is picking up the tools that he has to fix a problem that he sees and doing something about it.

More than many other interviews I have done to date, Steven's attitude, grit, and the way he attacked the challenge, is an amazing inspiration.

Be prepared to be inspired, and if you are, please remember to like, share, and comment.

 


How can you laugh at us? We are just like you. What you can do, we can do.
What you can achieve, we can achieve.
- Steven Jiang, Filmmaker


About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Full Interview Transcript

Hi, my name is Steven Jiang. I'm a videographer and cinematographer here in Shanghai. I've been living in Shanghai for 10 years. Beside my job I got a lifetime companion. It's called Tourette Syndrome. Last year I spent a year filming, editing my very first documentary serious. It's called the happiness of Tourette Syndrome.

TOURETTE'S SYNDROME

Tourette Syndrome, I'm not a doctor but basically based on my understanding it's a neurological problem that causes people to do involuntary movements which they call tics.

First these two types of tics. It's a motor tic and a fawning tick, which is basically called a vocal tic. It sometimes bothers people because we do it involuntarily where it is uncontrollable. We can control it in a certain amount of time, but after this control and where we'll get them released. So when we do the tic, actually this...some part of our muscle or whatever it feels sore or a little bit uncomfortable. That's why we use tic to release this un-comfortableness. So that's why we do the tic all the time.

IGNORANCE AND INSULTS

Yeah, I mean every day ... mean my Tourette Syndrome is not that severe. But, I first know sometimes every month I saw people with Tourette Syndrome. Also I face which, maybe it's called a so-so stigmatization and people have missed a misunderstanding about it. Because people are ignorant of Tourette Syndrome.

If you ask a hundreds of Chinese people, youngsters, you know educated, whatever, they know nothing. But they know ADHD, they know OCD, but they don't know Tourette's. So that's a problem.

For me the most insulting behavior, um the word is, they mimic me. They copy me. I wanted to makes noise and they were makes noise. Someone asked me did you hear you are like a frog Craig, or something? But, yeah I mean there were two reasons. Maybe, maybe it's my tic sounds really like a frog. So they just do you think well, what is a frog in here or maybe they know is it's my tic, but I don't' know what's going on. They just, they're just too fun. So I basically, this is something about, I know this case can be worse, like even people, the thing you bother them and they asked no reason. They think you're weirdo.

BE TOLLERANT OF THE IGNORANT

We are very sensitive about how people look at me sometimes. I mean, I don't think it's good because some if you've get over sensitive, and you will mess up all this friendly behavior.

Sometimes you just look at you. It's care. Either you too sensitive ,I think while they heck you look at me? So this is something that I told my friends with Tourette Syndrome, don't go extreme. Because again, it confuse us that, these ignorant people should be forgiven. They're ignorant. Why don't you just, just be tourists? They know nothing. Just don't fight with them. Yeah.

IT'S OK TO BE PHENOMENAL

Even if your kids had Tourette Syndrome, it's ok for them to be phenomenal. Even our kids have Tourette Syndrome. If we have good education, if we know the trust an old properly, the tics can be healed before or after adolescence. Then there's a fewer. Why don't you see tangle with this because they don't want to spend time to study the hardcore... I mean the essence of Tourette Syndrome. They still think it's AIDS. This is something really awful.

So that's the thing to be sad about. That's the thing I want to change you know? Even I'm a little individual. I mean my documentary is not a blockbuster. It's not a boom, a week and billions of hits. No. It needs time to empower. To let people, to elect people to ignite people's heart.

It's a film that you should watch with your friends, with a relative. So It's something....I'm not so hassled to wait for the outcome because I'm sure others not perfect, but I think it's possible the best one-man crew documentary I saw in China. I mean I'm confident about that.

A lot of people say, don't do it alone. I say ok, I only have 60,000 how can I have a crew? And if I bring a crew, this heroes they don't think they don't feel comfortable. Like the girl a mother would never quarry, fine with me. So there have to be one man crew. They have to but again those have two sides, coins have two sides. London crew has it's own disadvantage, but also it gives you the advantage. But that you are so close with them.

DEVELOPING SKILLS

I used to be a cartoonist. An illustrator and also a probeist...I mean taking photos with strobes and finally I found myself. I still love something...the motions.

Then that's why I became a videographer and I learned from the tutorials. Thanks for my knowledge about English because this tutorial is that, there's no in Chinese subtitle, but they usually force myself to use English software with Photoshop, Premier Adobe, whatever because you learned lingo and jargons with the software.

You don't have to learn, you don't go to freakin English first to study about it, you know? This software gave you all the professional terms. Also and I think this my lighting skills with taking photos with strobes, helps me with I think this strobe lighting tech excuse or the techniques, but similar very similar to the lighting skills in a film. Just two different lights.

My camera is simple. I only have two camera. One camera is Canon Cinema 100. It's a professional camera, but it doesn't have slow-motion functions. So Sad. But it's a professional camera and it's a light, portable. Because I'm a one-man crew, so I can't, I cant take huge camera. Also, the price for that camera is affordable.

Also a second camera is called backup camera. It is a Cannon 60D...just like the, you know the LR camera. I use it for cam laugh or some other angle with do the interview, whatever. So and a tripod, a monopod and also a slider.

That's why I say I travel with three cities...with three packages. This is not...I think it's almost nearly twenty kilos or something. It's so heavy, but again you know the power is sometimes I do, I did in the middle way I want to equate. You know it's.. I'm not a hero, you know? I'm an ordinary people. Sometimes why do I do I do this, nobody pay me You know like I think it's out of the love and a care of the Tourettesy. If everybody knows Tourettes like what American people did and Canada did, there's no need for me to make the documentary.

So Every time I think about is sad stories that there are companions of facing. Think about the ignorant people I mean, they need to be educated. I don't think in my film will change every Chinese People to think about, you know? And also now there are still some people insulting my film. They think it's a tragedy for Tourette kids. I don't care about it. So sometimes you have to be stopped in a good way.

I think everybody has a small universe inside your heart and this stubborn idea or stubbornness what figure out is a small universe. And you will possibly, you make you do some behavior that this behavior will exactly will influence people we'll ignite a society and maybe it would even change the world.

You can't say I'm a small person and I'm just individual I can't do nothing.

FINDING THE RIGHT COLOR

I choose heroes because I said there was all about 50 or 60 people like a candidate. I found that some of candidate their stories really sad. So again, I saying what kid of team what kid of color I wanna give my film. It's kind of warm. It's not like kind of dark and black because I found, not every...even most of the Trans people in mainland China are facing problems. But I don't want my film to show they're really kind of desperate kind of people.

Although I choose this person these four heroes, they have trauma, but they overcame their trauma. Or they can work with the trauma pretty well. So like the first episode is a guy from Taiwan. He's 37year old flower arranger artist, called a florist. His syndrome is the worst one. The most severe one. He was crazy. He was yelling out all the time. But he was the first Asian florist, who win the number one French, like a flower arranging competition.

The hardcore message from him is to be yourself. Do not let others people's opinion judge you. Everybody is different individual, even though you have Tourette Syndrome, just let it go. He never covered his syndrome. Sometimes I covered it sometimes in an appropriate location, whatever. But you see in a film where he was doing flower things. When he's teaching students. He releasing this all the time.

But this thing can be an advantage because interviews are some of his students and said well I like the tic of my teacher because the most of the flower teachers are really boring, monotonous. When he do oohh, it's funny because sometimes you tired and a tic makes us wake up. So he didn't notice, but his students find well this is a characteristic of my teacher. So, although some people say well maybe he say well the God or whatever it seems like a challenge for him, or unfair treatment, but it's good because he never take himself as a patient. Because the story we have specific term for the actors, heroes.

So also there is a British woman, I think her name is Jessica, something. Her name is Jessica. She have a website. It's called To Rescue.com. So I think this person who dare to stand out and behave...relieve their tic in front of my camera continuously for month, it's really encourages act, you know? I don't think every Tourette sufferer or Tourette friend, they have this, these guts to do so. For me, they are my hero. They are a true hero because people tend to cover their trauma. They don't want to relieve that's trauma. To let billions of Chinese people know I have Tourette Syndrome. I mean in America, maybe in England, the situation got better, but here in China, mainland China this is really courageous.

YOU HAVE TO FIND THE BEAUTY

There are two hopes for Tourette sufferers here in China. I hope that this film is a bit to give them strength and power to face the situation, even if incurable. There is no cure for it. That mean you are not sentenced to die. You're not into a life sentence.

So every coin has two sides. Tourette has this awful side of it, everybody knows, but also has this beauty. But you have to find out a beauty through whatever you can do. Don't get beaten by us. Because if you've gotten beaten by us, the true ego will be killed. So just be yourself. Tell the world I am Tourette's. I have Tourette Syndrome.

GIVE THEM HOPE

Sooner or later people will type of Tourette Syndrome on YouTube or whatever. Actually want I want to see is not see how sorrow we are is the real situation and justlike me years ago. I click Tourette Syndrome on YouTube. I don't want to see how American Tourette

people feel. Like I honestly can I get some strengths. Is there a cure? We are looking for a cure, not a medical cure, but a spiritual cure.

If I show this sad photos and there it will quench their fire. They have a little fire inside. They have a little universe inside. These negative images will destroy them. So I don't want to give them this kind of impression. So that's why I even used the poster I found a good illustrator. So she made a painting of this, this for heroes and just tell them this....I'll give them hope. Like the last episode that hero was...it was the only hero doesn't have Tourette Syndrome. Her kid has Tourette Syndrome.

So this 33 year old woman, she healed her kids not through medicine, through love. Through behavior training and also this mental training so she's Tourette Syndrome gone. And then people said, well she can stop because you try a lot of effort and your son is covered. You go, just do whatever you want. But she kept writing blog. She writes 8 years, hadn't read diary for...record every second every minute.

She's almost like a doctor, but she doesn't have any medical background. And then she become profession blogger writing a blog, almost 900 articles to write about Tourette Syndrome. Not only diagnosis of Tourette kids, but also or every aspect to care, the maternal relationship, everything. And this year she is going to release her book. She is a blogger.

So in this episode, I give the people the answer, but how Tourette Syndrome inform you. How you should face Tourette Syndrome and how women changed her life and career out of the love of her Tourette kids. In the end she said someone else ask her why don't you stop? No one pay you. She said I feel I have a kind of like an agreement with Tourette's, with little Tourette angels and my mission is to tell these parents of these little angels that your job is to take care of this special angel. Do not blame them. It's not their fault. It's your fault because the key to help your children with Tourette Syndrome is you. It's not a medicine.

EVERYBODY HAS TRAUMA

For the masses. The majority of the people in China, it's like I want to trigger out the empathy, not sympathy because Tourette's is not a handicap. Is like a body infection. Everybody has trauma. Everybody has "Tourette's" in some ways.

How can you laugh at us? We are just like you. What you can do, we can do. What you can achieve, we can achieve. Even we do better when Mozart, he had Tourette Syndrome. There are some American athletes, they have Tourette's. And you know there was a movie called The Front of the Class and Brad Coyne was the writer. Also the hero in that film, he was a teacher. It was the best teacher in that state.

We have Tourette heroes all around the world. So we are just like everybody. So just, and also for the ordinary people,
again for this film, Tourette's is just clothes. It's just a dress. Inside the bone is how people dealing with the trauma.

How you deal with the problem. Everybody has a problem. That's why some people after the premier, after they see my video launched online, this ordinary friends, they told me hey...I saw myself in some of the episode.

They say right. You have problem, but you don't have Tourette's.

That's why you give me the feedback. That's the thing along my documentary is..there are still some problems there. I'm not happy with this, it is not a perfect one, but I think it's ...it missed what document the documentary spirit need to make people think.

To make people reflect even to make people change. Yeah


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Amena Schlaikjer

Self Awareness and Delusional Entrepreneurs | Amena Schlaikjer, Wellness Works

Through this interview of Entrepreneur For Good, my close friend Amena Schlaikjer brings a bit of levity to the belief that our ideas (as social entrepreneurs) are "the ideas" that will solve the environmental and social challenges faced by our cities, communities, and countries.

She is someone who has some of the best ideas, and there are two that we cooked up early on that are now HUGE businesses... for other people. Yeah, we had the ideas, but as you will see in this interview, ideas can often delude individuals into thinking they are entrepreneurs.

When in fact they aren't. And that's ok.

It is a wide ranging interview that is really about personal growth, self-awareness, and creating personal processes and rituals.

I hope you enjoy the interview, and if you do, please remember to like, share, and comments!

"A master is someone who's established a process or a way of operating and its connected to some level of deeper meaning in their life and they want to put something out there in the world."

- Amena Lee Schlaikjer


HER JOURNEY IS ONE OF A BALANCING A CONSTANT FLOW OF IDEAS, SELF-AWARENESS, AND KNOWING THAT NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR


About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.

It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Amena

Amena is a wellness innovator, health coach and facilitator of ideas that create change, and she is passionate about how people thrive and where health and creativity come into play in that process.

Amena grew up as a world traveler from my diplomatic childhood, enjoying the multitude of diverse perspectives life has to offer. Amena started my career by combining my Asian Studies from Columbia University and Marketing from F.I.T. to help entrepreneurs build new businesses in New York and eventually Shanghai - learning the ins and outs of attracting new markets and thinking outside the box for solutions.

Following a desire to facilitate ideas that inspire others towards healthier choices in a more sustainable world, Amena started her own socially-minded enterprise called The Wellness Works; where she co-create with brands using innovation methodology and find ways to support the community.

Follow Amena and Wellness Works:
Website: http://www.the-wellness-works.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amena-lee-schlaikjer-85b0412/


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

My name is Amena Lee Schlaijker and I have a little initiative called the Wellness Works. My mission is to basically come up with creative ideas with other partners in order to empower people to take control of their well being.

WHY WELLNESS?

So it's been now, the era of connecting dots. I think you are only as good as the dots you can connect, otherwise your life is just complete chaos.

So I think since like college burnout and like trying to learn the tools early on and how to manage my own personal wellbeing, I realize that people are really lacking these tools. I had to got through like ya know 20 years of a career in the lifestyle industry, a lot cosmetics and fashion, and that was very much the thing, the what. I was attracted to the packaging, the marketing industry, how to get really funky cool products out there and then I realized it was extremely one dimensional.

As I got deeper, and in search of a process which I think a lot of us look for later on in our career, I came across innovation.

I was asking what makes people tick? Why do people want to buy things, hat look really cool and pretty? And why would they want to buy something that's, that's harmful to them and their health?

Then I think it was the fusion of those things where I wanted to just innovate things that were healthy for people.

WHY DID YOU WANT TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR?

Since the age of 16, I surrounded myself with entrepreneurs, like you, and was very inspired by them.

I went to night school at one point so I could work all day and a full-time job, and I always picked entrepreneurs because I just found them to be fascinating risk takers who were really adaptable people. Something I understood as I had grown up really uprooted moving every 2 years in my life. So yeah, I was just attracted to these go-getters and people who are ahead of the curve a trying things in different countries, and so I just kind of followed them around like a puppy dog.

So I was around these entrepreneurs and I was like well I gotta be like them. I gotta be like them when I wasn't recognizing that there was a place for what I was doing unconsciously.

NOT AN ENTREPRENEUR. ENTREPRENEURIAL

So, I wanted to qualify something and maybe this is a bounce because I don't consider myself a pure entrepreneur.
I think there are grades of entrepreneurship, and while I think I'm very entrepreneurial, but I don't own a company, a team or throwing a, a produce or service necessarily out into the world.

I work with clients as in independent and someone who gathers ad hoc people on a project as I figure out what their problem is and then I become their best supporter of that problem and I want to solve it with them.

I have this awesome toolkit of how of how to be adaptive and how to come up with ideas that you didn't think you had and how to sense in areas that you forgot how to sense them so we can envision something really new for your company. I've gotten really realistic about that's my sweet spot, at least for now. And um, and I think that's an entrepreneurial.

IT'S OK TO BE #2 OR #3

Yeah, and I, ya know, I got comfortable with this when I went to a school of creative leadership called THNK (in Amsterdam). They have schools around the world that present themselves as a school of entrepreneurship, and they were punishing everybody to come up with their amazing world saving idea, and and it dawned on me like, actually, most entrepreneurs are delusional.

I think, I think when you can get really honest with yourself and understand what your scale and your scope is, that's when you can start seeing real shifts happen with yourself and not set yourself up for failure or create a stretch that's unrealistic only because it seems fashionable. … and you know very well as I do that we're in a phase of entrepreneurship being fashionable.

Everybody and their grandmother is trying to be an entrepreneur, and I think that's great. It's a skill set that everyone should have, but that doesn't mean that they have to be an entrepreneur. They can be in a corporation and be entrepreneurial, or they could be an innovator, startup catalyst of that kind or they could be someone who works for an entrepreneur and understand the culture of how to get things off the ground and add value.

REALIZING BEING #2 WAS OK.

I think it was, I think it was a maturation of self and that I was just accepting that, this is a really good place to be. I don't want to cut myself off from being an entrepreneur in the future.

That a may very well happen and I welcome it and embrace it, but I think I settled into like this is a horizon now that I need to pay attention to and be present to and be proud of and do really, really good work here. Instead of show up and do my consulting projects and all these amazing ideas in my computer you know?

There was a naivety about that and I know now that the way I came up with those ideas is what I had to offer.

MASTERS AND DABBLERS

So there's a big difference in working with somebody who is dabbling.

I don't know if they're inexperienced or if they came into a ton of money, and they're going to try something, or they're new to an industry and think its trendy and it’s going to be a hot opportunity, but a master is someone who's established a process or a way of operating and its connected to some level of deeper meaning in their life and they want to put something out there in the world.

There is so much clarity, in masters. They have a set of filters, a set of pillars and values that a dabbler couldn't express s they're just following whatever is hot, you know?

So I think there is a difference between like people who do a lot of stuff, like you and I. I think we are innovators, and I think we help other people also come up with ideas and be entrepreneurs.

We're entrepreneurial. You're much more of an entrepreneur than I am. But we get masterful at our process. You get so good at it, you can get in front of your class and teach it I a heartbeat. Right? Because it's the way you attack the world.

I think dabblers don't have that.

They just kind of drop whatever and move on to the next thing, and that distraction is the biggest inhibitor to success.

THE ART OF DABBLING

Yeah, ok, so I think there's a necessity in dabbling in order to achieve levels of mastery because people who don't experiment enough to land, to hone in on. Like this is the piece I want to start focusing on, and to understand if it gives (me) energy or does it zap (my) energy?

If they are honest about that, then they have kind of the cornerstone to which they can start building their mastery, right? Because you have to dabble in order to get there.

Then, I think once you get to this level of mastery, which I think you have arrived at, it is around the process. You're a master at like how do I get the startup pieces, the chess pieces in play so that I can step back from the board and approach another board with these exact same process.

So again, I think maybe master dabbler is a great way to describe that because you have honed that skill.

WHEN SHOULD YOU STOP DABBLING?

This is where the lessons of deep practice come into play. Where you can start calibrating and you're not like sort of pendulum swinging between different modes of operating, ideas, jobs, partners or whatever it might be.

So I learned this in the practice of iterating through the innovation process, which entrepreneurs do naturally because at some point you have to create enough constraints. While I spend 80% of my project setting up constraints in order to be creative, even though most people think that's blue sky creativity blueish and stuff.

For me your idea is only as good as your constraints you set up and the more you do that, the more you go ok, exactly what is the challenge question? What am I articulating? Where the values we're working by? What are the filters that I'm operating in? How am I scoping this? What are the high and lows of this project?

There are so many tools that I use to get like razor sharp, polishing down the challenge.

Then boom...something opens up to how you can create and then you have to decide how many times do I want to iterate this? Or how many ideas is enough? Because I could go forever.

Especially if you are with a creative being, you could just go non-stop. You just get better at making the call.

I think this comes into every field of any master of domain will do this.. in athletics, in entertainment, in politics, in business.

You get to a point where you know when to stop.

SUPPORT NETWORKS AND CONFIDENCE

If you look back on human history, we've had support systems that no longer exist in uprooted urban transient expat cities in particular.

That's really the bulk of your audience, but in any sort metropolitan city where you don't have elders anymore. We don't have channels of wisdom and knowledge that come to us in a very practical sense.

We're in highly competitive environments, so we don't have sober neutral advice from others. There is always something. There is always a lens that people are talking to you with.

We don't have religious people, gurus, priests, like this ilk of support that, that again give us kind of like the pillars of thinking even or kind of hone our value systems.

So without this some sort of, it's not like a, it's like an ethical support system and we've talked about sustainability, actually, frankly is just a like a new set of ethics, right? It's not this new market or new horizon, it's just the way should be operating. Uh, when you don't have those things instilled as a value set, I think people can feel really lost and I think all of us as entrepreneurs feel extremely lost at times.

I also think that's the reason why this whole coaching industry has taken off even though it has a lot of holes in it, but I think we are really lacking coaching, mentors, advisors, neutral opinions, hard constructive feedback as to why you are not doing things right.

AVOIDING (SURVIVING) BURNOUTS

So I am a long sufferer of burnout, depression in my early 20s and I think I had 3 bad burnouts in life where like, ya know at one point I didn't sleep for 10 days straight.

I mean people die from stuff like that.

It was intense and just incredible lows, and I think this work that I am doing is just trying to figure out what are the tools we can hone to pull ourselves out of that… or catch ourselves before we fall into it.

That whole process is just kind of a self-discovery process. It's just learning who you are and what makes you tick, and I just don't think a lot of people have the patience, the time carved out, the focus to go there.

So I really believe entrepreneurs need to have a dedicated practice of some kind. Somehow meditative or mindful, even though they don't have to do formal meditation. But it needs to be a checking back in so that you're able to calibrate before you totally burnout or pass out

If you have that self-awareness, and it's all about a practice of self-awareness to just check back in on a daily basis (because that is how frequent it needs to be for you to get good at this), then you won't fall to such lows.

So much of it is energetic. It's in the body. We get so used to relying on the cerebral body because we let the rest of our body be transportation systems for this is it, this who I am? If we don't tap into a deeper intelligence and I think every person let alone entrepreneur, needs that as a practice.

You also need support so you need camaraderie so you feel like you're not alone in that situation.

I think isolation is probably the worst aspect of anybody who deals with depression or deals with hard times. Making sure that you have great friendships and cultivating great friendships that aren't just acquaintances that show up to your parties or your events, but people who you can call on and they can hear it in your voice that something is going on.

I think it's those two.

Have a practice and have a support system and as you have those two modes of feedback, your internal and external, you start developing what the meaning is that you want to make in this world.

FINDING SHELTER IN THE STORM

It's just the simple things in life. It's so simple.

I'm sure it's like waking up and seeing your kid..or I know very well now the things that make me happy. Whether it's as simple like my favorite desert or my favorite thing to do on a Sunday. Or a book that I want to reread and just this practice of constantly getting present.

Ya know, a lot of people think this idea of mindfulness practices or meditation is about getting calm or being existential in some way, but actually it's honing your ability to focus and be self aware so that you can start from zero again and you can look at the world like a kid.

If I could talk to my 20 yo self, I'd say, honey, what's the practice you want to try? Right? that really connects your mind and body and allows you to kind of calibrate your self-awareness. What's the meaning you're searching for and who are you going to talk to, to develop that meaning? And then who's out there that actually has a great process?

Like the way they approach stuff just seems super ninja like and anytime they attach anything, they use the same process because there is a lot of wisdom behind that.

CAN'T HACK SELF-AWARENESS

I don't believe in hacking. I don't think hacking works. I don't think it does.

I think it works in sort of many steps when you're solving tangible problems in a business because you can kind of jump ahead, but I also think that it doesn't work in the long game and it absolutely doesn't work when it comes to self-awareness practices or getting to know yourself.

Because again, that just takes experience and maturity and time.

But I think if there were a way to sort of hack it in a sense, it is just understanding that failure is part of the process and all entrepreneurs say this and theorize this but, you almost need to practice it.

So I have this self-practice of 80/20. I can only control 20% of my life, and I look at it like if you were to look on it at in terms of time management and draw yourself a wheel and you know you're going to try to carve out 6-8 hours for sleep.

How would you carve up, that's maybe a good 30-40% of your day, how would you carve up another 30% of your day on stuff you are just like hardline focused on...you're always going to show up to that on a daily basis whether it's creation or connection or something very specific in work.

The rest of it you just let fall away.

You don't know who you are going to meet, know what crisis is going to come into your board, you don't know what economic down turn that's going to throw you off your game.

You just need to have kind of control on that 20% and be okay with failure as an option and practice it.

Actually go, I'm going to do this project for the purpose of failing and see if something else comes out of it. If I can detach enough from my ego to go there is something else in this that's not this thing that I'm going to learn from, that is a great exercise to take on.

Do these mini projects for myself. Not start-up companies, but mini initiatives where you learn little bits and you get feedback and I think if you get good at throwing things out there and reading the feedback.

Then you start to get elegant as an entrepreneur, as leader, as a parent, whatever it might be.

CHINA AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

I think the big things that pop up for me and keep me here is one is the dynamism.

So, things keep reinventing themselves and I'm constantly surprised. There is never a point that I get to where I am an expert in this area, I know better than someone else so it challenges me in its dynamism.

Another one is you're constantly surrounded by smart people so it's a place that attracts interesting talent, even if they are coming in and going back about. You have access to these people to have great conversations.

Another one is it's pretty easy to set up a business in a sense and to experiment that business. So you can get your hands on pretty inexpensive resources to trial stuff quickly. Now it might take a lot longer to get to success here, but the experimentation phase is really easy. And I love, like there are a lot of things about China that drive me crazy, but I love the optimism and sort of the beautiful nativity sometimes of Chinese people.

They're just always ready for something new, something positive, something interesting, and I think in a lot of sophisticated markets you deal with cynicism. You deal with bogged down thinking or a lot of competitive attitudes and sarcasm.

Where as here, it's like..yeah, cool, let's do it!!!

And you're like right on, lets go for this and it's not easy.

It's definitely not an easy place and it's getting harder as it gets saturated with everyone and their grandmother and every wealthy parent telling their child to go be an entrepreneur, but I think for those who are dedicated to it, it gives them the playing ground to sort of witness and be aware of who is really good at the game and who's work listening to and then being really careful with your time and not wasting it with random people and random shit.

Shit full circle!


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.


Tom Stader

Bringing a Business Mindset to the NonProfit Sector | Tom Stader, The Library Project

In our latest interview in the Entrepreneur for Good series, Tom Stader of The Library Project explains how running a non-profit is no different than running a business.

At the end of the day, you have customers, you have a business process, you have teams, and you have a vision. Navigating these shared realities bring in unique challenges for an NGO, from raising money, driving a team forward, or nailing down great partnerships.

Just as with any company, you have to be committed to providing the highest quality of service to your beneficiaries, providing a high quality of service to your clients – in this case, your donors – and finding ways to inspire all your stakeholders to aligning to your vision. Further professionalizing this donor-organization relationship is one critical step to improving China’s overall culture of philanthropy.

"For [my team], it's literacy, its programs, its libraries. It’s that, our first school in Cambodia that we donated a library to – that school, six months after we donated the library, won the best reading competition in the region. That's what gets them up in the morning. What gets me up in the morning is giving them the space to build the best organization that they can."
– Tom Stader, The Library Project

 


Tom's story is one of commitment, integrity, and pragmatism.


About The Entrepreneurs For Good Series

Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome. It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organziations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.


About Tom Stader

Tom Stader is the Founder and Board Chair of The Library Project, an organization that donates libraries to under financed schools and orphanages in Cambodia, China and Vietnam. He believes that education is the key motivator to breaking the cycle of poverty that exists in the developing world.

In 2006 at the age of 32, Tom had a simple idea to donate libraries to two orphanages in Dalian, China. Soon after those libraries were complete, Tom founded The Library Project. Since then, Tom and his dedicated team have completed 1800 library donations, impacting over 500,000 eager young readers.

Tom is passionate about International Social Entrepreneurship and improving rural literacy.

Follow Tom Stader and The Library Project
Website: https://www.library-project.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tomstader
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tomstader/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tomstader/


About Rich

Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.

Follow Rich
Website: http://www.richbrubaker.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rich.brubaker
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/richbrubaker
Snapchat: http://snapchat.com/add/richbrubaker
Instagram: https://instagram.com/richbrubaker
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/richbrubaker

Contact Rich
social@richbrubaker.com


Tom Stader, Entrepreneurs For Good: Full Transcription

Tom Stader: My name is Tom Stader. I run an organization called The Library Project. It’s an organization I started about 10 years ago – we're on our 10-year anniversary, so we did it. And I think when I say “we did it”, I believe our greatest accomplishment is we stayed focused over the past 10 years.

We are called The Library Project, we donate libraries, we continue to donate libraries, and that's all we do. We focus on children's literacy, and throughout the years, we have been pushed into building schools, to working on any number of other projects – and we've said “no” to all that. And I think that is a huge reason why we have been around for 10 years and why we’ll be around for many more years after this.

It wasn't because of children's literacy. I'll say that. I became a believer in our mission years after the organization actually started. It was really because I saw that there was a basic need, and I saw that I was making a small impact. That's what kept me going. Now, I guess – how did we start an organization? That came after we donated nine libraries. Someone on our “board of directors” – which was a very loose group of friends – met someone at a conference, I think in Florida. And that guy said, “You know, I really like what this guy is doing in Vietnam” – where I moved to.

Rich: Okay.

Tom: “I want to give this guy $10,000 to start an organization.” But I had to quit my job, I had to move on and actually do this full-time. And honestly, I hated my job, so it was really easy decision for me to make.

Rich: But $10,000 isn’t a lot of money, so… you know.

Tom: Well, it's a lot of money when you're broke. I mean, today: Is $10,000 a lot of money? I would say that it still is, but it's not – it was enough for us to take a risk, for me to take a risk.

And I think, putting into context – $10,000 in America, I doubt you could even start anything in America with $10,000. But in Asia, I was able to hire an employee, I was able to implement a couple of programs, a couple of libraries, so your dollar gets stretched out here a lot more than in Phoenix, Arizona or San Francisco. I couldn't even make rent for that in San Francisco.

But I do remember the first time I got a donation from someone that I’d never met, and it was guy named Alan. He read about us on some blog, and said, “Hey, I want to give you $1,000 dollars.” And I’m standing in an airport, and I'm like, “Really? I'm gonna remember this.” And then a couple years later, I actually got to meet him and let him know, like: “You were the first donor that wasn't my mother or my friends.”

Rich: The little wins, right?

Tom: Yeah, man! It really was. I mean, I think that was one of those turning points where I realized, “Hey, this could grow into something beyond myself, I guess.”

FAILURE ISN’T AN OPTION

Tom: Failure kind of really wasn't an option, so when we ran out of money, or when we ran into any number of issues that we were facing, it wasn't an option to fail. I mean, I have 27 staff members that work for the organization right now, in three different countries. We’re registered in six different countries, we've got hundreds of donors on an annual basis – failure kind of isn't an option. And it's something that drives me as an entrepreneur: to continue to grow the organization.

Rich: What do you do?

Tom: Like, what phase of the organization? Like right now, we’re 10 years in. We're doing financial forecasting for two or three years out, that we're planning two to three years out. That doesn't mean that our – what we like to call our “go broke date” is three years out. What it means is we're planning three years out.

But when I started the organization, I was planning 30 days in advance. I was like, “Do I have enough money to pay my team of one, or two, or three people at the end of the month?” That's what I was worried about.

I wasn't really worried about if our programs were going to be implemented to a high quality, or our libraries were going to be of the highest quality. That was my team's job, and that's why I hired the best people to do that. But what I was more focused on was, “Am I gonna be able to make payroll?” And that, I think, is true of most entrepreneurs in the world.

I think most entrepreneurs don't focus on the product or service at a point. They focus on, “How do I support my team so that they can do the best job?” Giving them space to implement the best libraries. I can honestly tell you, today – well, I mean, back up a bit.

Nine years – the first nine years of The Library Project, I was what you might call the “CEO of the organization”. Last year, I hired a CEO. I hired what I like to call my “boss”, which is kind of fun – and it was the best decision I ever made for me, personally.

I kind of lost the passion to grow an organization – thinking about all the finances, and the HR, and the compliance of six different countries. I mean, I did it and I was really happy about it, but I wanted to step back into the programs – and really, the reason why I started this. And get back into communication, where my professional was.

PASSION IS DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE

Tom Stader: What gets me up in the morning is my team. 100%. Programs are very second. The literacy that we provide is very secondary – for me.

For them, it's literacy, its programs, its libraries. It’s that, our first school in Cambodia that we donated a library to – that school six months after we donated the library won the best reading competition in the region. That's what gets them up in the morning. What gets me up in the morning is giving them the space to build the best organization that they can.

BUILDING THE TEAM

Tom Stader: I think that it's hard to find people globally that… I think that once you start thinking about your teams being fundamentally different – whether they are Chinese, Vietnamese, American, Canadian. European – you're gonna run into some… You're gonna have a real issue.

I think that, fundamentally, when you come down to the basics: All teams need training. All teams want to make a pretty good salary. All of them want to feel as if they're part of something larger than themselves. They want to know that the company is going somewhere, and that they're going to be learning along the way, and that they're going to be empowered and making an impact.

I do believe that if you bring people that believe in your mission that just don't want a job – you can do an interview, and if they come in and say, “I want a comfortable job,” just don't hire them. It's the wrong position for them. We look for people that are inspired by what we do, believe in the mission, want to make a difference – whether they’re our accounting team, or whether they're the project managers on the ground doing the literacy programs at the schools, to our fundraisers.

And what I would say is, the one thing that we have not done is, we've never hired people that have experience, I would say. We've hired for passion, and then we train. And that training can occur over a six-month period, or it can happen over a seven-year period. But I personally believe its hiring for passion.

And age, gender, nationality, race –it doesn't matter. It really comes down to the passion for whatever you’re doing.

CHINA

Well, you know. I mean, I think that the world is a really big place. And I think that: Why do people donate to the organizations they donate to? Why do they donate to the issues that they donate to? Well, it’s because it's a very personal experience.

I mean, I want to support rural literacy in Asia. I've got a friend that wants to support women's issues in North America. I've got friends that want to do HIV/AIDS in Africa. And so these are all needed, and they're all relevant – and for me, I like China. I like Chinese people, I like Chinese food, I like the culture.

And getting back to why I started here: Honestly, I had US$10,000, like I said before. I got a free office space, and that was a big reason for me. I was like, “I only have $10,000, I want to start this organization, I have a free office here, and I have a potential employee might want to come on. And I like China, and there's a need.”

So it just all lined up, and it's very serendipitous that it just kind flowed. And it really was the best decision we ever made. China has been very good to us. We will be donating our 2,000th library this month. I don't think I could have achieved that if I would have set this organization up in Cambodia first. Now, Cambodia's our third country. So it's just the way it kind of played out.

And if a donor – whether it be a corporation, a foundation, or an individual – if they're not willing to support your team, do not take their money. Do not take their money. It is hurting your organization, it is hurting the industry, and it will eventually bury your organization in debt.

IT’S A BUSINESS

Tom Stader: One of the hardest things that a lot of these entrepreneurs have is that they are having a very, very difficult time coming to the realization that starting a nonprofit organization – a charitable organization – is a corporate entity. I think that produces a lot of anxiety, and they have a hard time communicating that to themselves, and also to other people.

Rich: But what do you mean it's a “corporate entity”?

Tom: It is physically corporate entity – we’re an incorporated entity based out of Phoenix, Arizona. We are an Inc. The only thing that makes us different than a bookstore down the road is that we have a tax ID that makes us a “nonprofit status”.

And that defines what we can do with our profit, and what we can't do with our profit – meaning we can't pay it out into dividends for our board of directors. You can only do that with a corporate entity. We have to reinvest it back into the organization. We can issue tax-deductible receipts. We still have to pay tax, but it's just an ID.

And I think that is that's the biggest thing: It's coming to grips that you need to find – you have to hire salespeople to fundraise for it. They're just not called “salespeople”, they're called “fundraisers”. It’s not called “revenue”, it’s called “fundraising” – but really, it’s revenue.

We have expenses, we've got income statements, we've got balance sheets, and it's a business you're starting. I think that shock occurs about six months in. And it is a rude awakening, and it’s a scary one! Because you’re like, “Oh, my god. I've got two employees. How am I gonna pay these people because I have no money?”

And then it comes down to building a quality product, a quality service, reflecting on your mission to make sure that whatever you're doing and you're creating is of quality – and staying on point, keeping a razor-sharp product service for your mission. It’s just hard.

MANAGING CASH FLOW

Tom Stader: Fundraising isn't the real challenge. I mean, yeah, you're always going to have that problem. Like when someone asks me, “What is your greatest challenge you have right now?” Like, it’s fundraising.

But really, it's cash flow. That, whether it's a for-profit, whether it's nonprofit organization: It's managing your cash flow. That, I think, gets challenging as you grow.

Well, that depends. I mean, we’ve got 10 years of history here. So I mean, the first two years. We literally had no money. We did it hand-to-mouth. We would raise money – we would raise $1,000, spend $1,000. Raise a $1,000, spend $1,000. Raise a $1,000, spend $1,000.

And then we got a donation for US$50,000, which was like, “What? Woo! We got money in the bank!” But then what happened was, we had to hire two new people to be able to implement that program to a high level of quality – which changed how we asked for funds. Then, we weren't just asking for a $1,000 dollars. We were going in looking for $10,000. $20,000. $50,000.

And the organization changed fundamentally at that point. And so as you scale, and as your revenue grows, and as your programs grow because of your revenue growing – everything grows exponentially.

There's not a lot of times where I stand back, and I say to myself, “Wow, this was a really easy day in the office.” It is hard. But then again, there are moments that keep me going – very finite moments.

Like, two months ago, I went and saw the best library donation I have ever seen at the organization. We were at like 1,950 libraries or something, and I found “the one” library that I was like, “We did it! It just took 1,950 to get here.”

If it was easy, I wouldn't do it. I'm just not interested in easy. I mean, if I wanted easy, I'd go get a job in America. You know, you get a job description, and you sit down, and you do your job. And you’re kind of protected by this insulated box.

And I'm not saying that it's easy in America, but for me, I was bored. I was sitting at a desk doing this box. I couldn't get out of that box, it was a job description, and it just was really uninteresting. And I didn't move to Asia to do that – and I didn't even know what an entrepreneur was, really, in America. It wasn't really even an option for me.

But once I started this organization, I realized, “Wow, this is really interesting. It’s really hard. It's rewarding – it's really hard. It's really hard!” And I think that… I don't know. I mean, I think that I can just say entrepreneurship is really hard, but it’s also for people who are looking for challenges and looking for something that…

Yeah, I don’t know. Yeah, I hope that answers your question!


For more interviews from the "Entrepreneurs for Good" series, check out the playlist here.

Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.