Another Goodbye, Another Summer

Losses and Gains

My last post was about a letter I didn’t write; today’s is about a letter I had wished I didn’t have to write. Two months ago today, my grandma on my father’s side died very suddenly and very unexpectedly. Geography had kept us from being close in my childhood, and it also kept us apart in her passing; every effort made to make it to the funeral was in vain. Regardless of the distance between us, I felt close in writing a parting letter to her, which I posted with my dad to be placed in the velvet lining of her coffin before it was lowered into the Illinois earth where she will forever lay.

As unfortunate as her passing has been, the experience has really strengthened the bond between my dad and I. There has never been a physical distance between he and I, but there has frequently been an emotional one. Historically, both parties were at fault, I think. Over my lifetime, my dad has introduced me to a lot of interests that I have loved from the start (history, model rocketry, complicated board games), a lot of interests I eventually learned to like (Star Wars, Das Boot, American football), and some interests I will likely never love (most 80s music, punk rock, collecting every business card known to man).

My dad always played the Good Cop or Indifferent Cop to my mom, who had to alternately play both Bad Cop and Good Cop, and everyone always told me that I came from my dad’s side of the family; I never took it as a compliment. I always identified with my mom’s ambition, passion, and extroversion and on the other hand, my dad’s easygoing nature, contentedness, and familial introspection seemed lacking. I ascribed some sort of inferiority to just going through life and being content with everything that happens. Looking back, I think I hated his traits so much because I have so many of them myself. I recognize that I am the balance of my parent’s traits; sometimes ambitious and outgoing and sometimes simply contented and introspective.

I see my history and sometimes I see it literally; while going through photo albums with my dad recently, I flipped a page and saw myself – or at least I thought it was myself until my mind recognized the person in the portrait as a 23-year-old version of my dad. On the next page was a photo of him in the mid-80s, shortly after moving to Phoenix from Illinois. Standing on a fallen pine tree, he was in his mid-20s, fit, tan, and more excited to be on the Mogollon Rim than any native Arizonan could ever be. “Ages and inches of waistline ago,” I thought, as my eyes glanced up at his belly. But in only moments, I had seen myself 30 years ago and myself 30 years from now. “Uh oh.”

In the months that have passed, my dad and I have made sure to have dinner together at least once every week. Usually this means that we end up at his new favorite restaurant of all, which happens to be my girlfriend’s aunt’s restaurant. I really can’t blame him though; once you’ve had real Chinese food, you don’t really want to eat anywhere else again, so here’s to many more plates of house special fried rice…

State of the Company 2018

At the time of my November post, I really was not at all sure what direction to take with the netting business. Over the nearly three years of running the business without outside income, I did manage to increase revenue and inventory levels, but I also incurred $13,000 in debt.

At the start of this year, wary of burnout and eager to jump into different products, I was considering  a.) listing the company for $92,000 not including remaining inventory b.) selling off 100% of the inventory and then selling the brand to my competitor or c.) continuing the incremental growth of the business with a better debt-to-cash ratio. To be honest, I was strongly considering option B.

Today, options A and B are maybe still on the table, but I am focused on option C with primary focus on customer service, inventory management, time management, profit (in that order).

Here are the financials for this year so far compared to previous years (note: monthly ad spend has remained the same every single year)

2016 Revenue – 1 January to 29 June – $23,999.55

2017 Revenue – 1 January to 29 June – $30,957.22

2018 Revenue – 1 January to 29 June – $45,306.40

More importantly, the company debt-to-cash ratio has reversed while still maintaining strong inventory levels.

November 11, 2017 Status –    Debt: $13,601.11    Cash-on-hand: $791.00

June 29, 2018 Status –    Debt: $0.00    Cash-on-hand: $18,280.54

Even more surprising, the amount of hours I put into the business has decreased a bit. Last year from April to June, I spent an average of 31 hours on the business each week. This year from April to June, I spent 24 hours per week on the business.

Challenges in this Coming Year

U.S. Economic Health

At this point, I am not at all confident in the future health of the U.S. economy. While the concerns about China’s IP issues and increasing economic leverage are valid, the actions of the U.S. administration are completely counter-productive. At the time of this writing, the trade war has not yet even begun and already the ramifications are evident. Coupled with this likely trade war are a bunch of issues including what I see to be another housing bubble, increased deregulation of financial institutions, the continuing demise of brick and mortar retail even in a “booming economy”, increased speculation by non-customary investors (see: the bitcoin bubble), increasing inflation, and interests rates that will inevitably have to return to normal levels. I fully expect that these combined factors will bring about economic slowdown followed by a loss of confidence in growth and then a massive correction in the national/global economy. In my opinion, the question is not if but when, and every action so far made by the administration has only brought that day closer. My only goal now is to minimize my exposure for when that crash comes.

I am extraordinarily thankful to not be in the position of my competitor. My primary competitor is a multi-million dollar company with approximately 24 employees. They sell the same made-in-USA product I sell but at significantly higher prices (they have much higher overhead and focus on finished products for non-DIY customers while I focus on simpler versions of the same product for DIY customers). Since I own a pass-through company (sole proprietor LLC), the new tax cut will directly benefit me next year. However, my competitor is unlikely to benefit without significant challenge in meeting the requirements. In addition, the Supreme Court, joined by the President’s new addition, Neil Gorsuch, has just this week passed judgement that online retailers can be required to collect sales tax. Since the sales tax amount scales linearly with the total sale amount, my competitor will be at a significant disadvantage to me, since my price is already 45% lower and therefore my sales tax amount will also be 45% lower. Furthermore, their finished product contains a significant amount of aluminum (curtain tracks), which is directly affected by the tariffs; I do not see any alternative material available to them for their products so they will either eat that cost or pass it on to their customers in the form of price increases. If I were the owner of that company, I would not be happy with the administration at all, since every economic action by this administration so far has favored my smaller business while negatively impacting my larger competitor. The sad part is, my competitor is demonstrably more valuable to the overall economy than my business is, considering their revenue, how much U.S.-made product they buy, and that they employ 24 people in Georgia while I employ no one.

Operating Costs

Apart from being wary of the health of the national economy, another challenge I need to deal with this winter is increasing operating costs. Over the past year, my business operating expenses have increased 13-fold. From May 2012 to November 2017, my average monthly operating expenses – not including ad spend/marketing – were about $45. Since November 2017, they have increased to about $610 per month. The majority of this cost has come from the addition of a pair of 250 sq ft storage units. I expect that these costs will increase again in October by about $150.

My potential solution to this problem will be to invest in non-depreciating assets (enclosed cargo trailers) using the cash I now have. While the upfront investment for a 16 ft enclosed cargo trailer and a 12 ft enclosed cargo trailer would be between $5,000 and $7,500 total, that cost would be equal to about 1.5 years of paying rent for the two storage units. My total inventory storage cost would drop by at least 80%, rental price increases would be less dramatic (only paying for parking instead of for an enclosed space), and since enclosed cargo trailers have no engines, transmissions, etc. there is really nothing about them that can depreciate, so I should be able to eventually resell them at the same initial purchase price.

Excess Inventory

I’ve split my inventory into two groups: core inventory, which is made up of 8 products comprising 90% of my sales, and secondary inventory, which is made up of 41 products comprising 10% of my sales. I currently have $22,000 in core inventory and $7,419 in secondary inventory. Annoyingly, secondary inventory takes up almost as much warehousing space as core inventory, even though it only accounts for 10% of total sales. The retail value of this secondary inventory could be as high as $44,000, but it would take 10+ years to sell it off at current rates. I have listed the bulk of my secondary inventory on Craigslist and Facebook marketplace to sell at cost ($4,987). If I can sell the entire quantity to a local buyer at cost, I would be totally happy. The other option is to take all of the secondary inventory, which is primarily unfinished/unpackaged product, hire 10 people on three 8 hour shifts, rent out a large facility for a day, and process as much of the product as possible. This plan could cost as much as $1200 a day for 3 days, but it would make the secondary inventory much more manageable and I would be able to move it all through Amazon. It is kind of risky (potentially a $3,600 cost/investment), but I am considering it for October or November. No matter what, I want/need to get rid of all the secondary inventory within one year.

Website Migration

My website was first built on and continues to exist on the BigCommerce hosting platform. Due to the pricing structure and BigCommerce’s singular focus of attracting large companies to its platform, it is now completely inferior to Shopify’s platform. I have built a new store on the Shopify platform and had planned to launch in March 2018, but delayed the migration due to potential search-ranking issues and wanting to be sure that I do not miss out on the summer season should I completely botch the migration.  I’ve never migrated platforms before and it feels like balancing an egg on a spoon while walking, so I’m excited about the new store launching in August but also very anxious for it to migrate smoothly and successfully.

Part 2.

Enough about business. I’m sick of talking about business. What’s really giving me life this year is, well, what has always given me life: podcasts, gaming, and music.

Featured New Podcast Shows

Strong Towns – The most recent and exciting addition to my podcast rotation is called Strong Towns. The show focuses on incremental urban development/design, community building, and long-term community sustainability. While it may sound dry, the shows are very interesting and the less-NIMBY-more-YIMBY attitude and balanced approach of the two hosts to issues like local tax incentives for corporations/jobs, gentrification, design principles, and responsible development is something I have no found anywhere else.

Free Play Podcast from Love Thy Nerd – If you like gaming and you like church, this is the show for you. Honestly, I don’t go to church anymore and I haven’t even played most of the games they talk about, but the banter and chemistry between the hosts is really fun. They post an episode every Friday and it’s a nice break from the heavier, mentally intensive podcasts I normally listen to. Well worth checking out.

Stuff Mom Never Told You – This one has been in my rotation for a few months now, but it focuses primarily on issues relating to women and specifically issues relating to women of color, which is obviously a perspective that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

My current podcast rotation:

99% Invisible – Design

All Songs Considered – Music

Best of the Left – Politics/news, leftist

Black Media Minute – Race and media

Code Switch – Race relations

Common Sense with Dan Carlin – Politics/news, center-right

Crazy/Genius – Tech/culture

Daily Standard Podcast – Politics/news, conservative/neo-con

Free Play Podcast – Gaming, Christianity 

Fresh Air – Culture

Hardcore History – History

Hidden Brain – Human behavior/psychology

History of WWII Podcast – History

How I Built This – Business

Humans of Gaming – Gaming, Christianity

Invisibilia – Culture

Make Me Smart – Tech/culture

Marketplace – Economics

Mixergy – Business

On the Media – Politics/news/race and media

Planet Money – Economics

Radiolab – Tech/culture

Reveal – Investigative journalism

Revisionist History – Culture/storytelling

Savvy Radio Show – Real estate/business

Snap Judgment – Culture/storytelling

Strong Towns – Urban development/design

Stuff Mom Never Told You – Intersectional feminism

Stuff You Missed in History Class – History

The Stoop – Intersectional feminism

The Tim Ferriss Show – Business/culture

The World in Words – Linguistics

This American Life – Culture/storytelling

Gaming

God, I missed gaming. For three of the past six months, I had to give up gaming completely in order to keep up with my work and business schedules, but I just returned to regular gaming two weeks ago and it feels awesome. My girlfriend bought me an Xbox One back in 2016, but it has mostly collected dust since then. I have finally put it to use now, having bought 4k monitors for it last week and a completely revamped Xbox 1 version of Skyrim Special Edition. The graphics are incredible, the soundtrack is amazing (as it has always been), and the new mods make it completely immersive. Since I haven’t been able to physically travel outside the U.S. much in the last three years, just going back into the immersive world of Skyrim is something I have been looking forward to since February. I limit myself to about an hour each night, but it is simply nice to jump out of reality and into another world for a brief amount of time.

I tried to get into Battlefield One and Battlefront last year, but beyond the story lines, they both felt repetitive and goalless. Nevertheless, I still keep the soundtrack for Battlefield One in regular rotation and think it is probably one of the best gaming soundtracks ever. Speaking of gaming soundtracks, I recently found a really fun looking game after first discovering the soundtrack on Spotify. The game is called Abzu and although I haven’t purchased or played it yet, the open-world undersea adventure concept and wonderful soundtrack make it something I really look foward to, so I will probably get it in November provided I meet my other life goals.

Check out the Abzu gameplay trailer here on Youtube

Featured New Artists/Albums

These are my featured artists/albums of 2018 so far. Though all of my overall favorite artists are male or groups fronted by men (M83, Yann Tiersen, Odesza, Erik Satie, etc), all of today’s featured artists are female or woman-fronted groups, which is kind of cool!

Chvrches – Far and beyond any other group this year, the album I have been most excited about is Chvrches’ new album, Love is Dead. While M83 has always been my favorite group and probably always will be, I think Chvrches has surpassed M83 in terms of consistently putting out really good new music time-after-time. Their blend of 80s synthpop, Robyn-like choruses, and live-performance energy is contagious. If I get another chance to see this Scottish group in concert again and they play Miracle, Heaven/Hell, and My Enemy from this new album, I am certain that I will have to call out of work for three days just to recover.

Check out Heaven/Hell here on Spotify or here on Youtube

Check out Miracle here on Spotify or here on Youtube

Kacey Musgraves – In a world of “Bro Country” a la Luke Bryan, I’ve always found Kacey Musgraves’ honesty about life and general lack of sentimentality to be refreshing. Her newest album, Golden Hour, is no different. My two favorite tracks are Oh, What a World and Slow Burn.

Check out Slow Burn here on Spotify or here on Youtube

Check out Oh, What a World here on Spotify or here on Youtube

Sudan Archives – Having only found Sudan Archives this month, I am still discovering a lot of her music, but I already have a feeling that Sudan Archives will be my favorite discovered artist in 2018. Her sound is a mix of R&B vocals backed by Sudanese violin instrumentation.

Check out Nont for Sale here on Spotify or here on Youtube

Check out Come Meh Way here on Spotify or here on Youtube

Mitski – I’ve been trying to figure out how to incorporate Mitski into a music post for months, but have failed so far, and since her new album will be coming out any day now, I am running out of time to plug her last album, Puberty 2. I’ve listened through the album at least a few dozen times and I still enjoy it. Her genre is solidly indie rock, but I can’t really pin her sound to any other artist. Being of Japanese-American descent, many of her lyrics touch on her heritage and existing in the valley between Japanese culture and American culture.

Check out Your Best American Girl here on Spotify or here on Youtube

Check out I Bet on Losing Dogs here on Spotify or here on Youtube

Songs of the Moment 

Loungin‘ – Guru – (Spotify, Youtube) – 90s Hip Hop/Jazz

FeverRoosevelt – (Spotify, Youtube) – Synth pop

The Thieves BanquetAkala – (Spotify, Youtube) – British Hip Hop

This SongRAC – (Spotify, Youtube) – Indie Rock

This is AmericaChildish Gambino – (Spotify, Youtube) – Trap

Don’t Go Breaking My HeartBackstreet Boys – (Spotify, Youtube) – Pop

GwanRostam – (Spotify, Youtube) – Art Rock

Natural BlueJulie Byrne – (Spotify, Youtube) – Indie Folk

SparkNiklas Paschburg – (Spotify, Youtube) – Piano/electronic

Shadow of the Pinesthe innocence mission – (Spotify, Youtube) – Indie Folk

One More for the Road – The Milk Carton Kids – (Spotify, Youtube) – Americana

Falling into MeLet’s Eat Grandma – (Spotify, Youtube) – Pop

Sloane RangerThe Essex Green – (Spotify, Youtube) – 70s-ish pop

 

 

That’s it for now. I’m starting to work on another post about my subconscious/implicit biases based on the results of my 2016 and 2018 Harvard IAT tests. Considering it took me nearly 10 hours to put together and edit this post, it may be a while! Until next time…

 

10 Years Late(r)

10 years ago today, my best friend died. I wasn’t there. I hadn’t been there for months. I don’t know what time he died or what his last moments were like, but he died on the couch where he had lain for months as cancer slowly took his jaw, his voice, and his life. I never said a proper goodbye.

16 years old at the time, I thought my best friend was my childhood friend and that my schedule was more pressing than Death’s. For months, I peered into the living room where he laid, saw his swollen face, watched silently as he and my mom scribbled notes to each other on the well-worn paper pad. Each time, I retreated back into the parlor to the comfort of the piano. I was too ashamed to talk to him, but I could at least play for him. Or so I thought.

Every morning, my mom would leave early to go visit him. She often asked if any of us siblings wanted to go along. Sometimes my siblings accompanied her, but I rarely did. I relished the hours each day that she was away, knowing that I could skip on my schooling and play more fucking Runescape. She would be gone nearly the entire day, sitting in the chair next to him, reading his thousands and thousands of notes. The notes were his only way to say anything when he had a hole in his throat. I had multiple ways of saying anything and I didn’t. My sister did; she wrote him a goodbye letter. My brother did; he wrote him a goodbye letter. I, the eldest, didn’t.  My mom said he understood that it was hard for me. But was it really too hard? No, more of an inconvenience.

On Saturday, April 5, 2008, I ran my usual 3 mile run from my parents’ house to Sunrise Mountain. At the top, I left a small wooden plaque with an American flag sticking out of the hole I had drilled. The plaque said, “4/5/2008 – In Remembrance of All Soldiers Who Died in Iraq.” Today, I cannot remember why I put this display together, but I wish I had spent those hours elsewhere. I didn’t know it at the time, but those hours I spent on that mountain were some of his last on this planet.

The next morning, I left for church at 6:15am. I hadn’t practiced any of my songs for that morning’s services, but I improvised as usual. After the second service, I walked off stage and out into the lobby to catch my friends before they left. Before I could find them, my mom found me. She was crying. “Pop died…” I don’t remember feeling anything. She hugged me, but I knew she needed the hug more than I did. At home, I called my youth group worship leader and said that I might not make it to the 4pm practice because my grandfather was dead and I didn’t have a car. What an inconvenience. Between that moment and the funeral seven days later is all a blank. I know I at least cried at the funeral, but I was at least equally as sad that I couldn’t leave right after to hang out with my childhood friends who had come to comfort me and my family.

It took years for the reality to sink in. The man who had given me his time, his wisdom, and his patience was gone. No more birthday trips fishing at Woods Canyon Lake, no more driving around town in his ’53 Chevy listening to Yakety Yak, no more building tree houses in his backyard, no more freshly-baked cookies on Sunday visits. It was over. On the morning of April 6, 2008, at the age of 64, he was gone forever. And in the end, he received my absence and silence.

I take solace in the fact that if I really think about him for even a minute now, I cry. I’m crying writing this. It gives me hope that the person I was at 16 is obliterated because that person cried for no one. It’s fucking hard to accept my actions and reactions, but I don’t have a choice. I have him in my memories, in photos, in videos, and in my family. A few times a year, he is manifested in my dreams and I talk to him until I wake; when I wake, I thank whatever part of my subconscious mind gave me that dream because it is the only way for me to make new memories with him. I am thankful I ever had the privilege of knowing him.

I miss you, Pop. I’m sorry. I hope I turned out how you hoped I would. Bye for now.

Moving Forward

In what is perhaps the most well-timed release ever, one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff Your Mom Never Told You, released an episode two days ago called “How to Deal with Grief.” The episode primarily focuses on the passing of parents, and I could not help but notice the similarities between the passing of the interviewee’s dad and the passing of my grandfather. Both were sick for a while but in relatively good health, and then deteriorated quickly over a 4 month span, eventually dying in states of being that in no way resembled their healthy selves. But she stayed with him until the end, even when she didn’t want to. Since I can’t go back and beat the shit out of 16 year old me, I can only focus on how I move forward.

In the podcast episode, the host mentions a website called SeeYourFolks.com. Essentially, you estimate how often you see each parent and the current age of your parent and then it estimates how many times you will see them before they pass, based on the average lifespan for adult men and adult women in your country. It’s kind of morbid, but it really puts things in perspective that those times are finite.

10 days ago, March 27th, my dad called me and told me his work supervisor was driving him to the hospital in Laveen. In my 26 years of existence, my dad had never gone to the hospital for anything, so, fearing the worst, I immediately left work and prepared myself for the 1.5 hour commute to the hospital in rush hour traffic. Fortunately, by the time I had reached the halfway point, the hospital staff had triaged him and determined that he was not having any life-threatening issues, so I calmed down. However, what turned out to be severe food poisoning could have been something much more serious and this event has really led me to re-evaluate almost every goal (or way of reaching said goal) in my life.

So in May, after spending the next few weeks accumulating all of the data that I will need to evaluate, I will be reviewing some potentially major decisions that will affect the next few years. It might mean heading in new directions and giving up some goals for others, but these are decisions that I have been purposefully avoiding for years, so it’s time for me to grow up and really figure out where I am going and how I will get there.  But for today, I will cherish and reflect.

 

Twenty-Six

Part 1

I have eight more days of enjoying the mid-point between my teens and my thirties. Some in their senior years have described feeling like they’re still young people in old bodies and I could never reconcile how that could work in one’s mind, but I’m starting to understand. I’m approaching 26, but still feel 21 inside, as if the id and ego were set in stone in 2013 – more experienced and with more responsibilities now but fundamentally the same.

So, I’m mostly indifferent about turning 26 this year. I’m much more anxious about the sixth anniversary of the company, which approaches in April. When I started the business in April 2012, I expected that it would either fail within a year or hit $300k revenue by year 5. At the end of year 5, it’s somewhere in the middle, which is OK. The latter target is still at least a year away, but the possibility of the former is no longer a concern.

This year, my goal is $125k revenue. Realistically, I think it is 20% outside of my current projections, but I’m going to try really hard to hit that goal this year. My final revenue number for 2017 was $78,496.62, and as detailed in my last post, $26k of that was a 4th quarter anomaly.

Revenue Numbers Year-to-Date 2017 vs. 2018:
January 1 to February 14, 2017: $1,369.31
January 1 to February 14, 2018: $3,850.03
Gain: +280%

I’d say everything is on track at the moment, but March and April are going to be the most critical months of this year. My short-term goals for February and March are to reduce my personal debt below $5,000 and to maintain healthy inventory stocks through April. With 5-week manufacturing turn-around times, I know that the key this year will be judging when to re-order inventory more than anything else. I was really lucky to not run out of inventory last year and that timing was purely intuitive, so I have to make sure that I get it right this year also or else I will miss sales and that would decrease my chances of hitting that year-end revenue goal.

Part 2

I celebrated my third anniversary with my girlfriend about two weeks ago. It’s a bloody miracle I’m still in this relationship, considering that the amount of shit I’ve put her through could dam the Mississippi River in three places. I’ve failed my way to the breaking point multiple times, but for someone who regularly listens to Ludacris’ “Move Bitch (Get Out The Way)” during her morning commute, she has had a remarkable amount of patience with me.

Still, I’ve sometimes woken up or ended my day wondering if I have wasted her time throughout the journey of this relationship. I fortunately haven’t wondered this in quite a while, but when I heard Daniel Radcliffe narrating “The Present” a short story from Simon Rich’s book, “The Last Girlfriend on Earth” I really felt that it could have been an alternate ending for the last three years.

The Present – Simon Rich, narrated by actor Daniel Radcliffe 

“I don’t understand,” Professor Xander Caplan said while his girlfriend sobbed into her pillow,  “I thought you liked tulips?”

“I do,” she said, “it’s just, you get them for me every year, it’s starting to get a little impersonal, I mean, this time you didn’t even include a card.”

Xander winced. Her reasoning was sound.

“I apologize,” he said, “I obviously made an error in judgment.”

He tried to take her hand but she pulled it out of reach.

“Do y…, do you rememeber what I did for your birthday?” she said. “I got you that new Bunsen burner you wanted, I, I  knit you  a pair of wool socks so your feet wouldn’t get cold in the lab. You never make that kind of effort for me. All you do is think about yourself.”

Xander sighed. “Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”

Emily blinked back some tears. “I don’t know, I mean, it’s not like you can just go back in time and get me a different present…”

Xander’s expression brightened. “Wait there,” he said, “I’ll be right back…”

Listen to the rest of this story here at This American Life (Meet Cute – 9 February 2018)

(Note: The link above contains a short intro before the story that lasts about 1 minute)

Bloom – The Paper Kites

Not wanting to end this post with the story of Xander Caplan, I’ve decided to end it with the first song my girlfriend and I ever listened to together. It’s highly likely that it’s actually not the first song, but whatever songs we listened to before this one were unimportant and I have long since forgotten them.

I’d never heard the song before listening to it in the car while we were heading to my parents’ house in November 2014. In fact, prior to checking it out of the Glendale Public Library a week prior, I had never heard any other songs from the album or of the band itself. But that afternoon, this song clicked with me. We were still three months away from a relationship and barely in the beginnings of close friendship, but this song became increasingly relevant over those three months and is still as fresh to me now three years later.

In the morning when I wake

And the sun is coming through,

Oh, you fill my lungs with sweetness

And you fill my head with you

Shall I write it in a letter?

Shall I try to get it down?

Oh, you fill my head with pieces

of a song I can’t get out…

Listen to The Paper Kites’ Bloom here on Youtube or here on Spotify

 

End of the Year

Preface

2018 begins tomorrow and I’m still wondering where this year went. In some ways, it felt like each month of 2017 was longer than the year itself. January started off very strong, February was lackluster, and March through May all had average growth of 38% for the company. By June, between caring for the new dog, helping with renovations, and preparing for moving, I was totally burned out; growth stalled to 11% from June through August. After the SOCOM contract mess in September, I was ready to write off this year as a so-so year for the business, but all of that changed last month with a single November phone call that has set me on a different course going into 2018.

Part 1

The Big Deal

In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, October was nothing but phone call after phone call, each varying between requests for donated goods to requests for fulfillment of FEMA contracts. The donated goods requests were easy to assist with, and I had about $3000 worth of goods available to donate to groups in Turks and Caicos, the British Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Meanwhile the requests that were coming in regarding FEMA contracts were just so far out of my league, they were laughable. The first contracts from FEMA requested 1 million bed mosquito nets. Two weeks later, the contracts were split into 250,000 unit contracts. Two weeks later, 50,000 units. Even at 50,000 units, the capital required to fulfill the contracts would have been a minimum of $600,000, funding which I had no way of obtaining, and the contracts stipulated a 2-week turn-around time, which would be nearly impossible even with the funding.

Giving up on winning any contracts, I went about my merry way until mid-November, when I received a call from a catering company – no shit, a food catering company – which had won a contract for 5,000 bed nets but had no way of fulfilling the contract and only had 11 days to fulfill the contract. How a food catering company with no ability to produce mosquito netting could win a contract is a story I will never know, but alas, this was the request given to me. “Let me see what I can do and I will get back to you at 9am tomorrow,” I told the person on the other end of the line.

Here was the situation at hand:

Contracted units: 5,000

Contract Deadline: 11 days

Days required to clear wire transfer payment from U.S. to China: 1 day

Days required to airship from China to U.S. including customs procedures: 8 days

Days left in which to procure 5,000 units: 2 days

Essentially, I had 48 hours to find 5,000 ready-to-ship units and time was ticking. From 9pm that night to 3am the next morning, I was in contact with various Chinese manufacturers, looking for 2,000 units here or 500 units there, Skyping and emailing with them in intermediary English. At 9am, I called the contractee back and informed him that sourcing from China was not an option at this point. The next option was to send him all of the unfinished goods available in my own warehouse and then he would have to finish those goods to produce about 3,000 nets. The issue, however, was that this finishing process would take about 7 days, leaving me with only 3 days to ship two pallets of the unfinished goods from my warehouse in Arizona to his location in New York. I did not think this would be an issue, but I spent two hours on the phone with seven national express freight companies and not one could pull through for me. With only one national express freight company left to answer, I was running out of options and time. And then it hit me. “You idiot,” I thought.

In that moment, I realized that my primary U.S. manufacturer was located only 100 miles from my contractee. I knew that my manufacturer would also only have unfinished goods, but perhaps they would have enough unfinished goods for my contractee to produce the full 5,000 units, and maybe, given the volume of the contract, I could negotiate the pricing down. So I called the production manager and told her that I wanted EVERYTHING they had available in unfinished goods, that I did not care about the size, color, or style of the goods and that they could also clearance any ill-moving inventory to me.

After four days of continuous three-way communication and multiple rounds of phone-tag, I had sorted out all of the logistical challenges, including hiring a one-man furniture moving company off of Craigslist to overnight a pallet of goods from North Carolina to New York. With everything completed, my contractee sent a $26,000 wire transfer to my manufacturer and my manufacturer sent me an invoice for $15,500. So, with just a phone and without touching any physical product whatsoever, I made $10,500 on the contract. I suspect that the catering company cleared even more than that, but I’ll never know how much they made or who the nets even ended up going to in Puerto Rico, but everyone in this story came out ahead and happy.

Moving into 2018, I now have this $10,500 credit with my manufacturer, so as long as the manufacturer doesn’t go bankrupt in the next month (fingers-crossed!), my next round of inventory will essentially be free to my warehouse door. I have a lot of plans for that inventory in 2018, but I’ll be addressing those plans and my other goals for 2018 in my mid-January post, so for now, here’s to the new year! *clink*

Part 2

Good Cries

Empathetic crying is an experience I really cherish because it means that I have connected with another’s story to such a degree that I begin to feel their sorrow, pain, anger, or joy. The experience is relatively rare for me, so when it does happen, it’s incredibly powerful. These are the stories that brought good cries in 2017…

Featured Song

Speed Trap Town – Jason Isbell, 2015

A wrenching Americana folk narrative about a son letting go of his dying father and turning his back on his father’s shitty legacy, a legacy which has torn apart his family and made him the disdain of strangers in a town so small that it can only be sustained by ticketing out-of-towners. The song is predominantly about loss, but hopeful for a future unmarred by the past. First heard this song in the credits of This American Life episode #629: Expect Delays.

Listen to Speed Trap Town here on YouTube

Available on Spotify

Also, for anyone who is like me and hasn’t really always understood country music/American folk or its culture, I recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, King of Tears.

Featured Podcasts

The New Norm – Invisibilia Podcast – 17 June 2016

“But the accident that haunts him the most, it wasn’t even a death:”

“There was a bug blower, like a big airplane fan, and an oil rig guy was up there, throwing some chain around and somebody asked him a question, I think he went to point somewhere and it went POW, just like that. The blade cut off his fingers and I remember him standing, looking at his bloody palm and I remember him saying ‘What am I gonna do now?’ That’s what he said. ‘What am I gonna do now?’ And when I saw that, it made me sick. All I did was just went on. I let it sink in a little bit, and then just went on.” – Mark, former oil rig worker on the Ursa platform

Notable for being the first podcast to make me cry, the first segment in this episode deals with the gradual changing of a hyper-masculine oil rig culture that dissuaded communication and led to extremely-dangerous-and-often-deadly working conditions. As a guy, it was really moving to hear “tough guys” open up about their children dying of terminal illnesses and about being distant from their families,  both physically and emotionally. Nonetheless, also inspiring for me to hear how discussing emotions, especially with other men, can be a really therapeutic exercise. Highly recommend this one.

Listen to The New Norm from Invisibilia here (35 minutes)

The segment begins at the 5 minute mark and ends at the 40 minute mark.

One Last Thing  Before I Go – This American Life Podcast – 23 September 2016

This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever listened to on the radio. Really messed me up for a whole day.

In 2010, a Japanese man, grieving the loss of his cousin, bought an old English phone booth with a black rotary phone and installed it in his backyard. From the hill on which the phone booth sat, the man could gaze across the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, and though the phone was connected to nowhere, the man could spend hours talking to his cousin. A year later, a massive wave came from that same ocean, killing 15,894  people, and tearing families apart. In the years since, people have come from all across Japan to speak to their lost loved ones and express their pain behind the window panes of the small white phone booth. Some of the visitors let a Japanese film crew record their messages to the deceased, including this man whose father, a truck driver, was driving along the coastal highway when the tsunami hit and was swept away in the waters:

“Dad?

The four of us are doing fine.

We’re hanging in there. You don’t need to worry about us.

Dad, are you doing ok?

I do have one question I want to ask you…

Why did you die? Why did it have to be you, Dad?

Why just me?

I’ve always wondered–

Why am I am the only one who is different from everyone else?

Anyways, please be found quickly.

Where are you now, Dad?

They never found anything of you.

I wanted to talk with you again.

The man sobs. I cry. More visitors enter the booth, more stories are told to loved ones, more questions are asked, more tears fall down my face and I give up trying to do any work as I listen in silence.

Listen to One Last Thing Before I go from This American Life here (22 minutes)

Japanese phone booth
The White Phone Booth

Continue reading

11 November 2017

Preface

As my first piece of writing since 2016, this post will be the last long-form piece I write. After today, the blog will be returning to its original design and purpose as something that provides a bi-monthly snapshot of life for me to reflect on in the years to come. I will also be splitting all future posts in two parts: the first, an overview of life, similar to past posts, while the second part will be a descriptive listing of the most impactful songs, podcasts, movies, and books that I have absorbed. This second part will be really important to me in the future because I often forget the titles or names of the creators/artists/authors.

For this post, part one is an overview of life from June 2016 to November 2017, while part two is a Veteran’s Day reflection on narratives that poignantly depict the horrors of war and the loss of man and generations.

Part ONE

A Rookie Mistake and a Reconnection

As of today, I have 13,603.11 in credit card debt and less than $1,000 cash on-hand. That’s the bad news. I know, you’re probably thinking, “What?? That’s as much as a small car!” The good news is that if today, I decided to not invest a single dollar more into inventory and I decided to just let everything sell off, by August 2018, I’d have $88,300 in cash on-hand minus taxes (so, probably like $61,000 after taxes and minimal expenses). So I’m not really stressed but I’m also not where I want to be and the reason I am where I am today is because of a decision I made on July 31, 2017.

Since 2012, I have had a healthy business relationship with SOCOM (aka Navy SEALS). They were my very first profitable order in October 2012 and that order was major motivation for me in the early days. So when I received a call on July 31, asking for a $3,300 order, I said, “Well, I have half of the products you want. I’m not planning to produce the other half of the products you want.” The logistics officer replied, “Well, all 8 SEAL teams are going to be placing orders for $3,300, so if you want our business, you should get the product. By the way, we need it delivered 6 weeks from today.”

“Shit” I thought, “it takes me 4.5 weeks to manufacture the product and another week to ship, so…. I need to start, like, yesterday!” And so I did. That afternoon, I sent the first payment to begin manufacturing $37,000 worth of product, enough to cover all 8 orders from SOCOM and included the product that I had not intended to ever manufacture again. It was nice. I played video games for 3 days in a row and assured myself that in 6 weeks, I would be debt-free and have enough money for a substantial down-payment on a car.

Three weeks later, I learned that the original logistics officer I spoke with was wrong: only four of the eight teams would be ordering. A blow, but not a huge deal, as I’d still have enough cash from those 4 sales to cover the other 50% of my manufacturing costs. Another week passed and production was nearing completion when I found out that of the four buyers, only one was actually ready to order. Uh oh. I had to somehow come up with $5,600 in less than 6 days. How fun.

Over the next six days, I worked my ass off. I upped AdWords expenses, I sent emails to frequent buyers with special coupon codes, I did everything I could to move as much inventory in 6 days as I possibly could. My mom offered a loan, but I declined; I’d make this work. After 6 days, I somehow managed to pull in $5,874 in an off-season month, just enough to cover my final payment to my manufacturer and to cover the wire transfer fees. The inventory arrived, I shipped the orders out, SOCOM was happy, I was exhausted. My bank account was at $301, my credit cards were maxed out, and winter was coming. I had $18,600 cash tied up in inventory that would not move for the next 8 months. “I need a job,” I told myself.

After being completely self-employed for 28 out of 34 months, my resume was outdated and ill-designed. I begged my girlfriend to redesign my resume (she is a graphic designer after all), but it was a tough ask to make of someone who was already working 45 hours a week in a corporate office while I got to stay home all day with Indy. She asked, “Why don’t you ever try reconnecting with your old mentor? You talk about him constantly and how much you wish you could work for him again. Just ask.” I think she just didn’t want to have to work on my resume, but she would never admit that.

I sent him a message on Facebook expressing my interest in working for him and I offered to pick up the tab for lunch. He agreed to meet in two weeks. How slowly those two weeks passed. When we met at Chipotle, he seemed genuinely happy to reconnect. I was nervous as hell, hoping the spazzing in my hands wouldn’t be noticeable as I took each bite. We talked about both of our businesses and he said that he didn’t have any need to hire anyone at the moment.

Realizing that my chances of landing a job might be off the table, I decided to just get some stuff off my chest. My whole life, I’ve rehearsed conversations in my long morning showers about what I’d say to someone if I had the chance, running through hundreds of scenarios with deceased loved ones, old friends, old enemies, people I’d been a dick to, etc. So I just gave the shower speech I’d already given dozens of times in my own head. I recounted all the things I messed up, how I regretted the way I had handled issues in time management and communication, and how I wished I had been more mature. His demeanor changed a bit and he said he had an idea and would get back to me in a few days.

That was two months ago, and today I’m working full-time researching and developing new products for the same business I started on 5 years ago as well as products for a newer business that was started after I left. It blows my mind how much has changed in the industry in only 3 years, but it also feels like I’ve gotten into a time machine and gone back a few years. I literally feel years younger every day that I go into the office.

This job gives me so many opportunities to learn and make up for my past mistakes. It also takes a lot of pressure off of the business I own. Now that this job can fully cover my cost of living, I can invest every dollar the business earns back into its growth instead of sucking it out to pay for my own salary. For these reasons, I plan to make myself useful in this job for the foreseeable future and learn for as long as I can.

Indy’s First Day at the Office

Goodbye, Hello, Hello again

Losing my beloved dog, Scrappy, was really hard. I first met Scrappy, a Shetland sheepdog mix, when I was six years old and she was six months old. She was such a puppy then. By age 15, she had lost her hearing, and her eyes – once deep pools of brown – looked more like glassy, frozen ponds. The last two years of her life, I really struggled with knowing that she would not die of natural causes and that it would be a decision that I, her trusted human, would have to make for her. Walking to my car on a day far too hot for November, I Googled local euthanasia clinics. It was the first time I’d considered it. I cried. I dropped my phone on the sidewalk. It didn’t break but I wouldn’t have cared if it had at that point. I couldn’t do it and my family knew it, but she wasn’t getting any better. Two weeks later, on the first day of my new job, I said good morning and goodbye to Scrappy and left the house. I didn’t know it would be the last time, but it was good that I didn’t know.

After a year, my girlfriend, who sent me daily screenshots of adoptable dogs from the Arizona Humane Society sent me a photo of Franklin, a 1 year old Anatolian Shepherd/Australian Shepherd rescue. I’d seen hundreds of screenshots by this time, but his tilted head and red bandana gave me pause. I agreed that after Ottilie returned from work, we could go visit Franklin together at the AZ Humane Society adoption store. We raced to the store but arrived to find that the hours listed on Google were wrong – the store had closed over an hour earlier. Through the darkened windows, we spotted Franklin sleeping in his pen. He looked even cuter in person and I told Ottilie that I’d return at 10am the next morning.

I met Franklin in a private room. From the furthest corner, he sat and stared at me, his head tilting from side to side. “The hoarder hit him,” the employee said. I had time, I replied. Over the next hour, Franklin inched closer. My phone’s hard drive was quickly running out of space from all the photos I was taking and my thumbs grew tired of texting every little development of the visit. After an hour, he let me pet him, and once I did that, he laid down under my chair and fell asleep. I texted Ottilie, “I think we should bring him home.” She agreed. “He’s a little explorer,” the employee said as I signed the papers, “he really likes sticking his nose in bushes.” It seemed fitting, considering that Ottilie and I had already decided in advance that any dog we adopted would be named after George Lucas’ dog, Indiana Bones.

I still miss Scrappy, but I am a firm believer in the idea that dogs pick up the traits of their owners, and in the eight months that have passed since we brought Indy home, I’ve experienced a lot of joy in seeing some of the same quirks and personality traits in him that I saw in Scrappy. He is the continuation of her spirit, I think. Though sometimes obstinate (he is an Anatolian, after all), he is the most well-behaved dog I’ve ever had. He love car rides, he never barks, he is great off-leash, and he enjoys going to dog parks and dog-friendly restaurants. Every morning, he wakes me at sunrise, and every night, he falls asleep at the foot of my bed, just like Scrappy did.

Indiana Bones

Big City, Small Town

When we first looked for apartments in January 2016, I had specifically wanted a third-story apartment and the one we ended up finding was really perfect. Being on the highest floor of the highest building in the complex and set on the side of a mountain, I could gaze for miles across all of North Scottsdale and as far north as Carefree. New Year’s Eve and 4th of July celebrations presented an entire valley of fireworks displays to watch from that wonderful perch.

However, after adopting Indy, the apartment life was less of a dream and more of a frustration. Each morning, afternoon, and evening required a 20 minute walk for Indy to do his business and, while fine in February and March, I knew it would not be sustainable in July and August – Indy needed a yard. So, the search for a rental house began. We spent weekdays on Trulia and weekends calling management companies. It was significantly more time-consuming and challenging than expected and we were nearly to re-sign our apartment lease for another year when we learned that Ottilie’s parents had purchased a fixer upper and would be renovating it over the next couple months with the goal of renting it and holding equity in the property. They offered to let us rent the property at reduced market cost (rentals in the neighborhood were ranging between $1800-2400/month and were well outside of our budget) if we agreed to help significantly with the renovations and maintain the property’s value. Seeing as I had a totally flexible schedule and ample time to help, we quickly agreed and soon I was spending most of my weekdays sanding drywall, putting together kitchen cabinets, and prepping floors for tiling, and my girlfriend and I were spending our weekends together painting walls and ceilings. From essentially bare studs, my girlfriend’s stepdad rebuilt the entire interior of the house with a level of expertise that left me standing in awe 99% of the time. In 5 months’ time, he turned a mess of a house into something truly incredible and beautiful.

In June 2017, we moved into the house and made it our home. Surprisingly, my favorite thing about our new home is the neighborhood. Though bordering Phoenix’s financial district, the neighborhood, which was built between 1951 and 1962, feels like a small town all by itself. On the west end of the neighborhood is a Catholic church whose bells ring every hour and in the mornings, when I close my eyes, I can imagine the bells sounding like those of a small village in the French campagne. On the east end is a public high school football field and every Friday night brings about a rush of activity and exuberance from the bleachers. The old oak trees of the street, having recently celebrated their 60th birthdays, tower 45 feet above the streets, casting massive shadows across the yards and sidewalks. Even the sidewalks bear markings of the original concrete contractors who poured them in 1962 and the hand-prints of children who struck their palms into a handful of freshly-poured repair slabs in 1986 and 1992. Having grown up most of my life in neighborhoods no older than I, the idea of walking on sidewalks older than my parents and that existed when JFK was president, when the Vietnam war was still a minor conflict, and when man had just entered space for the first time, is something that never fails to fascinate me on my morning walks. I really love this place and I’m really grateful for the opportunity we have been given to live here.

Home

Part TWO

Narratives for The Fallen

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”

Erich Maria Remarque, German soldier and author

2017 marks 100 years since American entry into the First World War, a war which cost the lives of 18 million people including 116,708 American service members. Today, nearly 100 years after the Armistice, Americans remember the dead of war on this 99th Veteran’s Day. However, it is hard to say how many Americans will reflect today on the horror of the wars that caused those deaths. These past few months, the idea of war and the option of war has been on the minds and lips of many politicians and pundits, and I feel that the long Pax Americana and the physical and mental distance from the realities of war have insulated us from the horrors of it. So, this Veteran’s Day, I want to reflect on the loss of man and the loss of generations as reflected in the words and songs of those who remain.

Green Fields of France

Written as a ballad to a fallen Scottish soldier, the narrator sits at the Scottish soldier’s gravestone and ponders how he died and how the world remembered him as the soldier rests in the ground, still in the No Man’s Land that is now a military cemetery mostly void of the living. This profoundly poignant song was written by Scottish songwriter, Eric Bogle, in Flanders in 1976, a time marking the twilight of the World War I generation.

The sun, now it shines o’er the green fields of France
There’s a warm summer breeze th’ makes the red poppies dance
And look how the sun shines from under the clouds
There’s no gas, no barbed wire, there’s no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard it’s still no man’s land
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man
To a whole generation that were butchered and damned.

I recommend the cover by The High Kings, available to listen here on YouTube and also available on Spotify.

And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Also written by Scottish songwriter, Eric Bogle, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda is narrated from the point of view of an Australian commonwealth soldier as he proudly boards a troop transport destined for the shores of Turkey (then the Ottoman Empire) while the band ashore plays the famous Australian patriotic song, Waltzing Matilda. After losing his legs and his comrades on the sands of Gallipoli, the Australian soldier returns home and is carried off the ship on a stretcher, only to see that the Australian people have turned their faces away from him and forgotten his sacrifices.

And those that were left, well we tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks, I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head
And when I woke up in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well I wished I was dead
Never knew there was worse things than dyin’

For I’ll go no more waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and free
To hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

Available to listen here on YouTube and also available on Spotify

The Soldier and the Oak

Set in the Civil War and years after, this recent story from American songwriter, Elliott Park, is narrated from the view of an oak tree, the final resting place of a mortally wounded soldier, recounting the arc of its own life and the impact of the soldier’s death upon it. Being told from the view of the oak tree, it does not really reflect the horror of death, but it is still a rather beautiful story and very different in that it is narrated by an inanimate but living entity.

This is a story that began long, long ago
I was a young oak tree in dark Missouri soil
And like all other saplings I had dreams of growing
Strong and tall

But one day a rebel with a bullet in his chest
Hung his rifle on my limbs and laid to rest
And there beside me as the blood soaked to my roots
The soldier sang
A song of grace

The heavy rifle bowed me over to the ground
Two years I stayed this way until the rifle fell
And in this manner for a hundred years I grew
All my dreams
Not meant to be…

Check out the rest of the song on YouTube or Spotify

 

 

 

 

Thus Far: A Review of This Year and The Past Five

As the sole purpose for this site is to collect my current thoughts about business and life and write them for reflection by my future self, I do not know whether to be impressed or disappointed in the fact that this post comes exactly one year after my previous post. I have been meaning to write something for the past two months, but my impediment has been finding a whole day in which I can focus and capture my state of mind, and since I had set a rule for myself in the beginning that I would never go more than a year without writing, today is my deadline.

It is rather coincidental that as I am writing this post, I am preparing for an out-of-state wedding, which is exactly what I was preparing for at this same time last year. Another year, another June wedding. But of all the months in the year, June has often been the most pivotal, and June 2011 may have been the most pivotal month of my life thus far.

Five years ago today, I landed in Prague for the start of a one-month class on the Holocaust. Five years ago tomorrow, I sat in an overcrowded cafe at a table with a man I did not know and in front of whom, I unintentionally ate a small stick of pure butter.

“Did you just eat butter?”

Yes, I did.

What kind of idiot confuses frozen butter for a possible European appetizer? A very hungry one. Nonetheless, this mishap did not dissuade the man from introducing himself to me, and this man, apart from my parents, would be the single greatest living influence on my life when he became my mentor and employer for the next three years.

While it is truly difficult to concede that a half-decade has passed since that blissful Czech summer, it is equally incredible to reflect on how much has changed since. This past November, my best friend married the girl he had just begun dating when he and I made that adventurous trip to Vancouver four years ago. Also in November, my oldest friend, my dog, Scrappy, passed away at age 18. Another goodbye came as I watched my beloved Passat of four years and sixty-thousand miles worth of memories being towed away to my local NPR station. Some narratives of the storyline have ended and some are only beginning.

In July 2014, I met a girl while volunteering together at The Welcome to America Project. After planning a spontaneous trip to Thailand together in the chaos of the 2014 Ebola outbreak and surviving said trip, we began dating. Being in a relationship has had a major effect in reconstituting my ideas about thoughtfulness, honesty, and acceptance of who I am. Considering its effect in almost every non-business aspect of my life, I would say that it is the most positive life event of the last decade of my life. We began considering the idea of moving in together in August and completed this transition in April. Living with one’s best friend has to be one of the most enjoyable parts of life.

In April, my company turned four years old. When I wrote about the state of the company last year, I wrote about how much I loved being completely self-employed and the challenges that came with it. While I did and still do love being self-employed, I found that in the latter months of 2015, I was lacking something. That something is that I have a persistent and unending need to be valued for my work by someone in a position of authority and that I need to be valued as one of the best in said work. The more challenging the work, the more motivated I am to prove to that authority that I am better than most. I do not know where it comes from, but I would think that it comes from my early schooling and it has been a constant thread throughout my life. Being homeschooled, most years of school were not of significant importance to me because I was being judged only by my mom, who I did respect, but did not consider an independent authority. Conversely, fourth grade and sophomore year of high school were paramount to me because I felt judged to be superior to my classmates in my respective classes and was being judged by teachers I respected and felt were above their own peers. The fact that I was a nerd and most likely also an ass did not matter to me at all.

So due to my superiority complex and need to be judged, I got a part-time job at The Home Depot in November. My reasons for choosing The Home Depot in particular were that I could be paid to learn about residential wiring and plumbing (things I felt were important to know if living on my own), flexibility (I have taken six one-week vacations in the past six months), and relatively good pay compared to other retail stores. I do enjoy working as an employee, as it allows me to live with my complexes and lets me provide value and knowledge to strangers and customers face-to-face, which is something that only happens extremely rarely in my self-employment. I will likely leave The Home Depot soon due to safety reasons and will seek employment at Hobby Lobby, Marriott, or Half Price Books, the companies at the top of my list.

Despite being employed, my company has not been neglected this year at all. In fact, my time investment in it has only grown. Last year, I spent most of my summer playing Skyrim and the Total War series. Between January 2014 and August 2015, I would be surprised if the sum total of hours playing video games did not exceed 2,000 hours. I still long to play video games, but sometimes it is better to give up what entertains me for what is more important and will make me happier in the long-run. Unfortunately, gaming provides no value except momentary thrills and a sense of escapism. Since October 2015, the number of hours I have spent on single-player gaming is 0. This shift in time management has shown in the revenue numbers for my business.

Here are the revenues for the past five years from May 3 to June 3 of each year:
May 3 to June 3, 2012: $0 (business was less than 2 months old)
May 3 to June 3, 2013: $217
May 3 to June 3, 2014: $1285
May 3 to June 3, 2015: $2954
May 3 to June 3, 2016: $7595

In addition, I revamped my satellite sites (WordPress websites which are only 1 to 5 pages, only utilize Paypal, and are designed to target specific keywords without any ads). The sites were relaunched in September and have a combined yearly operating cost of $162. Since October 2015, they have had a combined revenue of $681. I literally do nothing with the sites except update their WordPress platforms every couple months.

My plans for the next six months are to expand my primary product offering (one type of product brings in 85% of my revenue) and increase my value per customer. Most of my sales do not come from leads, but I get about 15 leads per week in the form of customers requesting free product samples. In the past, I invested about $0.59 per lead and am now investing about $1.94 per lead. This has increased my sales conversion rate ten fold and my total sales by about 15%. I would also really like to expand to Amazon. I had planned to be on Amazon by the end of March, but delayed this move due to moving out. I am planning to make this jump by the end of this month.

Perhaps my biggest milestone of this year is that I finally went on a vacation in which I made more money during the vacation than I spent while on the vacation. I paid $840 for a 2-person 4-day cruise to Mexico last month and in that 4-day period, profited $1020. It may sound small, but this was a dream of mine which I wrote about in a post in 2012.

Apart from business, my primary goal now is to reconnect with my newly-married best friend. The four of us met for Thai food this past week and may meet again this weekend. Discussions of international travel together were had, so new adventures may be in store for this old friendship!

State of the Company

I am leaving for a flight to Oregon in nine hours. The final hours before a flight always leave me in a state of mild anxiety, so now is as good of a time as any to write about how the past six months have progressed.

I have been self-employed now for six months and two weeks. It has been quite the experience, I must say! When I quit, I had twenty thousand dollars, but after a trip to Thailand and a nine-grand tax bill in April, my accounts going into the summer months totaled about seven-thousand. This is just to give some background on where things started from.

In January, I had a handful of sales due to a Google AdWords campaign. It was my first campaign with a limit of ten dollars per day. It brought in a number of off-season sales I probably would not have gotten and was good practice in campaign management. When I returned from Thailand at the end of January, I had a post-travel depression and business got pushed to the back burner. Not really a good thing when it is your only source of income.

By mid-February, I was beginning to realize just how much my tax liability would be, at an effective rate of twenty-six percent, so I finally got into gear and started prepping for summer.

In March, I began preparing to order about eight thousand dollars worth of inventory. The first three-quarters of this inventory has arrived and the last shipment should arrive in the next few weeks. This inventory should get me through summer and maybe over the winter months.

By April, my revenues were one-thousand one-hundred percent greater for the year so far as compared to the prior year. Pretty incredible improvement, and I saw it as a good sign for the rest of this year, considering that in that time last year, I had by then only received seven percent of my total orders for the year.

It is now June and from January 1 of this year, I have had nearly six times the revenue and three times the orders as compared to this time last year. Good progress.

With all this good news, I must admit that running a business without secondary income is quite challenging! With every dollar that comes in, I can choose to reinvest it into the business and eventually get two or three dollars back or I can pull it out and use it for myself. That is a very difficult choice to make right now.

Additionally, I am beginning to encounter a paradox of sorts that I had not expected. While the business is doing well and revenues are high, I am not actually making a lot of money in income because I must continually grow my inventory to keep up with expected increases in sales. So in the future, with inventory totaling fifty thousand dollars, I could expect to make one hundred thousand per year, but now, all of my income is tied up in growing inventory and I only have thirty thousand dollars in inventory. The more sales I have, the more money I get, the more inventory I need for future sales. I see no point at which this will plateau in the near future because there is no plateau for potential sales.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the beast that is moving a company. I am now twenty-three years old. I live in my parents’ house. I enjoy living here, it is true, but I must set off on my own in the near future. How easy my life would be if I had no company. If not for this business, I could move into a four-hundred dollars per month room and live off about twelve-hundred dollars per month with relative ease. But alas, that is not the case!

Moving a business seems to be like moving yourself out twice. You must have a home and your business must have a home. How I wish I could move this business into a warehouse and live in said warehouse. Curse you, zoning laws! I must have internet in my home and I must have internet in my warehouse. I must have insurance in my home and I must have insurance in my warehouse. Nearly every cost that is incurred in moving out is seemingly doubled again in moving a business. Potentially, I could move into a relatively large house and use the house as a warehouse, but it is not particularly ideal, since houses are not designed to function as large-scale warehouses. More ideally, again, I would prefer to live in a warehouse.

While I may be able to move out or move my company, it does not seem like I am in a position to do both, so that is difficult to work around. Nonetheless, my goal is still to move out before my twenty-fourth birthday. Perhaps I will have to rent out rooms, I am not sure, but I aim to make it work.

When I return from Oregon, I will be arranging an appointment with zoning officers of the various valley cities to determine if there are any areas where I could live in my ideal situation. Nevertheless, it is certain that the next six months will be as interesting as the last six months!

Currently Self-Employed

Six hours ago, my life as an employee came to an end. Nonetheless, the reality of it has not completely set in yet. From this point forward, I will no longer be answering emails, returning missed calls, or receiving paychecks. Even though I have had this point in the forefront of my mind for six months, it still feels rather unreal.

In August 2011, I began working for my mentor and employer. My first real day on the job began at a Paradise Bakery on Scottsdale Rd and Mayo Blvd. The week before, I had interviewed for a job at Office Max, and that morning, they had called me to offer a job. If everything had occurred three weeks earlier, I would have accepted the job, and it is interesting to think now about where my life might be today had that happened.
From that first day on, my mentor taught me about business and instilled in me a sense of confidence upon which no price can be set. He motivated me to start my first business in November 2011 and reminded me of my goals when I sold it in March 2012. That first taste of business imparted a hunger for entrepreneurship, and I started my current company in April of 2012.

In time, both my confidence and my company grew. In a manner that has been rather bittersweet, the business grew to the point where it became difficult for me to prioritize my work for my mentor over my business. Obviously, this state of strained focus could not last forever, as it created a good deal of friction between my mentor and I, and I began seriously entertaining the thought that I would need to leave by the end of this year for the sake of us both about six months ago.

It has always been a very tough decision for me. If not for my mentor, I really have no idea where I would be right now. Honestly, I am so excited for my future that I really do not think I could be in a better place. If not for his generosity, I would have never had the opportunity to climb the highest mountain in Africa. If not for his knowledge, I would have never known where to start in creating a business. How can one repay something like that? I think the best way would be for me to go forward, succeed, and provide as much value to someone else as he has provided to me over the years.

So today has been a rather bittersweet day. Out of seemingly complete circumstance, my employment ended in the same place it began – the Paradise Bakery at Scottsdale Rd. and Mayo Blvd. How fitting! The reality that I am now my sole source of income is both exhilarating and slightly terrifying. The journey for which I have been planning for two years is finally happening! Over the past year, I have amassed enough capital to make the transition and I know where I am going and how I am going to get there. The journey has begun and it will be exciting, of that I am certain!

A Boy’s View of Life

About a month ago, I was on a red-eye flight from Phoenix to New York. On my left, a 20-something-year-old art student from New York whose only goal on that flight was to sleep from the time we left the gate until the wheels touched down on the tarmac at JFK. In front of me sat dozens of passengers in various stages of dozing off. And behind me, in the last row on the plane, a young boy, maybe 4 or 5 years of age, sitting alone (though rarely wanting to actually sit) and heading to meet his aunt from The City.

Throughout the flight, the young boy’s eyelids did not even droop a bit. Though he quietly observed the blackness from his window seat for the majority of the flight, every now and then he would let out a loud cry of excitement. “Oh, wow! I can see the clouds! We are in a cloud right now!” The exasperated middle-aged couple to my right eyed the flight attendant with indignation. “Excuse me, young boy, please try to be quiet. The other passengers are trying to sleep, ok?” the flight attendant pleaded. The boy replied in a loud whisper, “I know, but we’re flying!”

I could not help but feel a sense of envy for the way in which this boy saw the world. In his eyes, the state of flying in a plane in the sky was one of the most exciting things to have yet happened to him, an event generally considered mundane and a waste of time by the majority of regular passengers. I imagined that most things the world considers boring, he probably found to be exhilarating and I felt a bit jealous of that.

A month later, eager to return home from Tanzania, I boarded KLM flight 571 at Kilimanjaro Intl. Airport. I located my seat, 35G, an aisle seat on the far right of the center row. In 35F sat an older woman in her mid-60s, I would suppose. “I cannot believe this! These are not our seats!” the woman proclaimed. “We selected aisle and window seats on the website in May and now we have center seats!” The woman asked if I would be willing to switch seats with her husband who had been assigned seat 35E. I replied that it would be no problem. I generally do not particularly care where I sit as long as I am on the plane and my duffel bag is as well.

When I finally got situated and the plane left the ground, the older woman continued to demand of the flight attendants an answer as to why her seats had been changed. The flight attendants obviously had no power in the situation and I could not help but feel sympathy for them as she was wont to making their lives miserable.

When she finally tired of making her demands, she sat in her seat and asked, “Why do we have to go to Dar es Salaam anyways? We are going to Amsterdam and this stop is in the completely wrong direction.” I replied to her that it was because the flight from Kilimanjaro was not usually a full-enough flight and it would be inefficient for KLM to have two separate flights for Kilimanjaro and Dar es Salaam. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

I turned to the woman on my left with whom I had been conversing and told her that I was happy to be going in the wrong direction because every mile south we flew towards Dar es Salaam would be the furthest south I had ever traveled in my life, even if it would be by plane. I was also excited because Dar es Salaam is on the East coast of Africa and even though the plane would be enveloped by the black of night and I would have no window to look out of, the thought of being that close to the Indian Ocean, a body of water I had not seen with my own eyes, would be quite cool.

On the flight home, much of the time I spent either not reading Twain’s The Innocents Abroad or watching Good Will Hunting, I spent staring at the map of the flight path, showing our exact location in the sky above the Earth. At one point, I marveled at the fact that we were directly above the city of Alexandria, about to cross over the Mediterranean Sea. Flying over Europe, I wondered what cities and villages, ancient battle sites, and intimidating mountains we were passing over. And then it hit me. I realized that I was basically the little boy on the first flight from home. Here I was, thrilled about things that had probably not crossed the minds of most of the passengers on that flight, but that would have certainly also thrilled that young boy. And I could not have been happier than to have known that.

I hope that I live the rest of my life as the young boy. I imagine that the older woman probably once had the attitude of that young boy, like I think all young children do, but she let life change her attitude. I am determined to not let that happen.

Mieux en Mieux

Dear Future Self,

It has been quite some time since I last wrote, but I have not felt a burning desire to write. Not a lot has changed since November, but the keyword for the past five months would simply be, “progress.” To give a little overview, I will go through the changes that have occurred in the areas that I wrote about in my last post.

French.
The French lessons are going very well. A week ago, I managed to awkwardly, but effectively, work my way through a twenty minute conversation about my first time dancing. It could have probably been a five minute conversation if the vocabulary vault in the nether regions of my mind were more accessible, but believe me when I say that it was twenty minutes of 100% focus. I have been burning out a bit on some of the tenses, so I am reviewing them all very heavily this week and I hope to thoroughly impress my teacher, come next Wednesday. On a side note, I will be going to Europe in May and will probably be passing through France along the way from Italy to Ireland, so now is the time for the last straightaway sprint in preparation for that trip.

Refugees
In the past few months, I have felt very at-home with The Welcome to America Project. I cannot think of an organization that I would rather be involved with and being engaged with them has been both a blast and a very humbling experience. I have not felt as truly useful in a very long time. I only wish that I did not live so far from the east side, which is where most of the organization and its members are located. It may very well influence my decision on where to move to once I move out (which I will talk about more later in this post). In the meantime, I am currently in training as a delivery lead and am contemplating getting involved with a couple of committees, so hopefully I can expand my usefulness to the organization.,

Dancing
In my last post, I mentioned that I was going into dancing almost full force, but I actually delayed that goal a bit. The time and distance to drive to Tempe every weekend was just too much for both my schedule and my wallet. However, in January, I began taking a Latin dance class at Paradise Valley Community College. I am not saying that I have the hips of Shakira, but I will say that it is pretty incredible what a few hours of works and a great teacher can do. Rumba is my favorite style of dance by far, but salsa and cha-cha are not far behind. I will have to figure out what my plan is for the summer, as I still think I am at the stage where I could lose most of my progress if I drop out of the scene for too long.

Soccer
This has actually been the most fun goal. Just a couple weeks ago, I started playing with a group of guys (mostly) in the east valley and getting back into the sport has been the best decision I have made in a long time. I will admit, my first week was terrible. I did not warm up and I was literally heaving, but I survived. My mind knew how to control the touches, but my feet were just not doing what my brain was telling them to do. The group of guys, who are from all over the world (mostly Iraqi and Libyan, it seems, but also a few English, Colombian, etc.), were understanding, however, and invited me back for the next week. While a lot of my skill is still gone, I have been playing decently. It is so exhilarating to be back out on the pitch.

New Goals

Fitness
Prior to starting soccer, I decided that getting into shape would be my most important goal, so I signed up at the closest gym the first week of December. After a couple days of limping around after workouts, I decided to look into getting a trainer. It was an expensive decision, but in my mind, the cost of an injury from incorrectly working out would be far greater than the cost of the trainer and the accountability and mere presence of a trainer is very beneficial. I am nowhere near Schwarzenegger status, but I am gaining muscle mass very quickly and even my uncle noticed the size of my arms the other day. If you knew my uncle, you would know that is a big deal. More importantly, all of the ailments that I had pre-December are completely gone. I feel a million times better. The looks are just a bonus, although I would be lying if I said that I don’t stand in front of the mirror, wondering what I will look like in another three months or another six months.

Piano
After three weeks of having not played the piano, I sat down at the bench two weeks ago and discovered to my horror that my right pinky would not function correctly. I literally could not play any song correctly and I could not will it into doing anything properly. After putting so much time and effort into this skill over the past ten years, this terrified me. How could I lose so much in just three weeks? In an effort to recover what I had lost, I spent two hours each day from that day forward and have since gotten back to normal, but I know I cannot let that happen again. To motivate myself, I have set a goal of learning six new Yann Tiersen songs in the next month or two to expand my repertoire to a total of twelve Tiersen pieces.

Business
In January, I started working from home for Peak Planet and it has been excellent. I can work twenty-four hours a day if I want and I can deal with clients a lot more effectively. This month has been a bit slow, which isn’t unusual for March, but January and February were excellent months. As this month has been slower, I have been able to spend a lot of time on my mosquito netting business. The new site is fully operational as of this morning, I am currently working in a dropshipping capacity for a store in Australia, and I am preparing to wire four grand to a manufacturer in China for a huge supply of mosquito netting. This will be the biggest investment yet, so I will have to make sure it pays off. I am excited to see the direction that the business is going in though.

Possible Future Goals

Painting
I have recently been feeling an urge to get back into painting, but I will have to see whether it is something I want to seriously get back into. Maybe it will be my summer past time, depending on what I do with Latin dancing.

THE BIG GOAL
Although I have been making quite a bit of progress in all of these areas, I still feel like I am stagnating a bit in one area of my life, and that is responsibility. I do not feel like an adult yet, even though I just reached the “milestone” of 21 years. I also feel little motivation to make anymore money than what I am making right now as I am able to do just about everything I want to do with straining my wallet. I think this means that it is time for me to start planning on moving out. This will be my goal for 2013. I think this is the only way that I can force myself to become a responsible adult and put myself in that sink-or-swim position. Of course, I do want to be responsible in buying a house, so in the meantime, I will be building up as much of a nest egg as possible, and hopefully this will give me enough motivation to really go full force and challenge myself financially.