I caught up with David Congreave, Managing Editor of Winvesting.com, some time back. Here is our conversation on business success and the pains (and joys) of starting over.
David: Perhaps we could start by talking a little bit about what your business does and, more importantly, how your business got started and where you got the idea for it.
Sai: I live between Bali, Jakarta, and Singapore, so very much around the Southeast Asian region. The business I run is a company called Double Your Database (now Sai.Coach). We work with coaches specifically on building up their businesses using the Internet. Right now, some of our high-end programs go from between $1,500 to $8,000.
I’d been a dating coach for seven years, but I was struggling, big time, to make it work. I’d even got an investor to invest $100,000 in what I was doing, which I thought at the time would solve all of my problems. But I started to realize money tends not to solve problems; it either delays them or it emphasizes them, one of the two.
In my case, it delayed them. I hadn’t realized the fundamental problem was that I didn’t actually know how to run a business. All the money did was blind me to that fact until it ran out.
I was living in Australia when the money finally ran out, so we decided to run a workshop and renewed it with a high-end program in Bali. It went really well; I was all fresh and ready to get started. However, on the way back to Australia, I was stopped at immigration and promptly told that my visa was invalid. It turned out I was on an exploratory business visa, and I should have been on a business visa. Australians aren’t too kind about that kind of thing. They promptly banned me from the country for three years.
I lost everything – my bank account, my money, my possessions, my friends, my family. It all went in an instant. I was shipped to a detention center in Navarre, and a day later I was shipped back to Bali with nothing but $400, a 17 inch MacBook Pro, and a microphone.
This was the point at which I realized I had to make this work.
I began the arduous journey of letting go of the arrogance that I had held, making excuses not to learn this business stuff. It was a case of letting go of that and really learning what it means to run a business.
Just to survive I started off selling Facebook fans online to businesses, the kind of thing you find on Fiverr.com. But I kept thinking there’s got to be another way to make my coaching business work.
I looked into Facebook and figured out a way of creating something called a “Facebook funnel” which would bring clients to me. I ended up succeeding with that, and I worked out that if I could do that with my own coaching business, living in Bali with a laptop, a microphone, and no money, perhaps I could teach somebody else to do it too.
I tried it with a coach in another niche, a “quit smoking” hypnotherapist, and the same thing worked for them. I tried it for another coach in another niche, and the same thing worked for them.
So those are the origins of Double Your Database. Since then it’s just expanded; we now have nine full-time employees. I have places to stay in Bali, Jakarta, and Singapore. I can work whenever I want to work, I can travel wherever I want to travel, and I can work out of a laptop, clipping my toenails on the beach if I choose to.
David: It’s a fascinating story, but it’s also a terrifying one. How do you go about picking yourself up from something like that? How did you find the will to start again?
Sai: Self-pity generally only lives in people that are not on the edge. When somebody is feeling self-pity, it means that they haven’t felt enough pain to make a change.
There’s a story that I heard which has been a great eye-opener for me. It’s a story about a neighbor and his dog. One day, a man goes over to the neighbor, and he realizes that the dog is howling, on and on. The man asks the neighbor, “Why is your dog howling?” The neighbor replies, “Oh the dog stepped on a thorn.” The man asks, “Why doesn’t the dog remove the thorn?” The neighbor answers, “Because the thorn hasn’t gone in deep enough yet.” It’s a great metaphor for how we shift.
Of course, at the time it was terrifying. There was nobody that I could ask to bail me out. The way that I saw it was there was no other option but to make it work.
I was on a 30-day visa in Bali, with no money. I had to bribe the people in immigration to keep renewing my visa because I couldn’t afford to take it out of the country. When you’re in a situation like that, where you’re moving house every two or three weeks to make sure you don’t get stuck in some contract that you can’t afford, you figure out a way to make it work. The determination you get is unreal. When you’re brought to the stage where you have to survive, you make it work.
David: What would you say is the main thing that you did differently when you started over, compared to your first attempt?
Sai: I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I’ve never had a job. I had a job at wagamama for a day, and I got fired because I spilled orange juice on the Regional Director, which he didn’t like too much. That was the only job I ever had. Ever since I’ve been running my own businesses.
I’ve always done things that meant I didn’t have to learn about sales and marketing. The product was either so good it would sell itself, or more often the product was bad.
This time I was forced to become humble and learn things I never wanted to learn, particularly sales and marketing. That was the main one. Now I’ve got to a level where if I did have to start off from scratch again, it wouldn’t be an issue. There are different things I’m learning now about running a business like systemization, full-time employees, different roles, and responsibilities.
This time was different as I had the willingness to learn things I would never have learned before because I was too arrogant to admit that I needed them.
We all like to think we’re fairly unique as entrepreneurs, but the reality is that, whenever somebody’s creating something, there are six other people that are doing the same thing. Anybody that says otherwise is either a total genius or totally delusional, and normally it’s the latter.
There are competitors in my space. There are competitors that are better funded, have better connections, have better business knowledge. What do you do when it’s David versus Goliath? You do what all David’s do. You compete on value. There will always be bigger people out there, so you have to compete for what it is that you want for the client.
I do things that I know these big guys will never do. They will never offer that much value. Even if they come to realize and understand what it’s worth, it’s so much effort to create it that it’s not even worth it. As an example, to go to one of the big guys to get the kind of stuff we offer our clientele would cost $25,000. We charge $8,000. It’s a whole different modality when it comes to giving value to the clients that we serve.
David: Can you give me a specific example of something that you do that maybe your larger competitors won’t?
Sai: One of the products that we offer, not only teaches you how to create a one-on-one coaching business, but we also build the website. We create the Facebook page. We promote the Facebook page, so you reach your first few thousand fans. We monitor your advertising and your business funnel. We have an on-call technician that can help you do anything technical that you want to use in your own coaching business, but you don’t want to do yourself.
These are things that require extensive systemization and extensive training for the people that serve our clients, but we’ve done it. It’s a pain in the ass to create a business that has these moving components. But, at the end of the day, the audience I serve just want to coach. They just want to inspire, and I’m fully aware of that.
I had to learn what I had to learn so that other people didn’t have to. On the marketing side alone, we’ve created email newsletters that go back for almost 16 months. They’re in-depth email newsletters, 1,000 words filled with value and content.
These are things that are seldom done by people in positions of power. The reason for this is that for them, there’s no need to. If you’re earning half a million dollars a month, why would you ever bother creating an in-depth email sequence? It’s so pointless.
A lot of people don’t realize that money can make you very lazy, especially when money and power are combined. The people that are hungry to break past traditional norms are the ones that ultimately make it. They’re the ones that will do things for the people they serve that no other people will do. That’s how the shift of power and balance happens.
David: You clearly have a lot of passion for what you do. How do you energize, motivate, and instill that in the people that you work with?
Sai: The employees of any company reflect the people who run it. When the person who runs that company is driven and motivated, the employees generally are driven and motivated. That being said, when you hire people that don’t reflect that and mess around, they tend not to last. They either quit or you have a conversation with them and say it’s just not working out.
Ultimately what you’ve got to ask is, “What you are building your company for?” Are you building it for profit, or are you building it for purpose?
However, look at Apple, or SpaceX, or Tesla; these are all purpose-driven businesses. At the end of the day you can mess up and scream at your employees, and they can hate your guts, but still be completely dedicated to the mission the company serves.
That’s what you notice in Steve Jobs’ management style, as well as Elon Musk. They are vicious and brutal, but at the end of the day the employees are not working for them, they’re working for the vision. When you create a company like mine, which is a mix of being both profit-driven and passion-driven, then you meet people that are a mix of both.
You’ve got to make sure that the people you’re employing are willing to take things on and make them their own. They’ve got to be so bored with the corporate hierarchy, where they’re only allowed to do what they’re allowed to do, that they want a company like mine, like yours, like many others out there, which give them massive responsibility and accountability with an owner that is supremely motivated.
The one thing that people underestimate is the power of inspiration. In most organizations, you’ll find that the bosses are deeply unmotivated and deeply uninspired in their own personal and professional lives. That attitude is bound to get passed down to the employees below them.
It’s like Mother Teresa said, how could you ever impart love to somebody else if you didn’t love yourself? How could you ever inspire or motivate an employee or somebody that works for you, if you aren’t inspired and motivated yourself?
It actually isn’t too difficult to motivate or inspire somebody if that’s the place you’re coming from. They will see you’re strong, and they will ultimately follow your lead and do what it takes to get the work done.
David: Where do you see your business in five years’ time, or where would you like it to be?
Sai: This answer may sound a little bit arrogant, but I don’t mean it to be. I remember hearing an interview by Jay Z where he says, “When I make my moves, that’s when you’ll start to see what happens.” If anybody would like to see what happens in the next five years, I’d like to invite them to follow me, whether it be on Facebook or even follow Double Your Database. You’ll start to see how the company grows, how it expands, and where a lot of the mindset is that I talk about and what that leads to.
David: A final question then. What would one piece of advice you give to a fellow entrepreneur who’s just starting out? What’s the most important thing you could advise them to do?
Sai: Pre-sell your product.
That is the number one priority of an entrepreneur. The biggest mistake that entrepreneurs make is they sell – I don’t swear often, but I will be crass about this – they sell $#!% that nobody wants. They delude themselves into thinking that other people want it. I’m pretty young, but I made this mistake for seven years. I was selling stuff that nobody wanted – whether it was different aspects of coaching or other things.
Just thinking about the first product that ever succeeded for me; I created the sales page and the landing page, and I had the “Buy now” button in place before the product was ever created. I decided that when someone clicked “Buy now,” it would register on the backend system that I had a fictional buyer.
Only when I was certain that I was making more money than I was spending by a long way, by like two or three to one, then I would build the product. The best advice I can give to an entrepreneur is to pre-sell your product, make sure people want it, and only then go on the journey. You’re going to hate yourself if you spend five years working on something only to find that nobody wants it.
The other thing I would mention is if you get funding for your projects before pre-selling them, God help you. The funding will pretty much do what it did to me; it will get you to believe that you’re creating something of value. When the funding runs out, you’ll realize the harsh truth. Maybe you’ll be lucky. Maybe people will want it. But it’s far easier to test and pre-sell your product before you create it to make sure there’s demand.