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Scaling, Pivoting, and Overcoming Adversity – Return on Podcast Bonus Ep. 1 with Nhan Dinh

Scaling, Pivoting, and Overcoming Adversity - Return on Podcast Bonus Ep. 1 with Nhan Dinh

The following is a transcript of Bonus Episode 1 of Return on Podcast, the show where we help e-commerce sellers improve their ROI in business and in life. For more episodes, subscribe to our YouTube channel or listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

Tyler Jefcoat (00:09):
Welcome to Return on Podcast, where we talk about the experiences, obsessions, and habits of the most successful e-commerce entrepreneurs. I’m your host, Tyler Jefcoat, and I wanna welcome you to this episode of ROP. You’ve heard of return on investment. We’re gonna talk about getting a return on this podcast. In today’s episode, I wanna talk about how to turn a family business into an eight-figure Amazon giant. I wanna talk about how to overcome adversity as an entrepreneur. And I wanna talk about how to deal with having time. As a visionary, sometimes our businesses get more mature, and the result of that is that we don’t know what to do with ourselves, and my friend that’s joining me today, Nhan Dinh, is the CEO of a successful eight-figure Amazon business. He also owns a Sylvan learning center in Alpharetta, Georgia. Nahn, how are you doing today, buddy?

Nhan Dinh (01:00):
Thanks for having me. Good. Thanks. How are you doing, Tyler?

TJ (01:04):
I, you know, I can’t complain. If I’m completely honest, you and I are recording this today, and then I get to go on vacation with my kids tomorrow, ’cause it’s like weird in May here in Georgia where kids are getting outta school. And so I’m excited to go sit on the beach and turn my bright white non-tan into a light pink tan.

ND (01:23):
That’s awesome. Yeah, we’re gonna the beach next week as well. Our entire family. So we, my family loves to sit on the beach with the, let the kids play in the sand.

TJ (01:32):
Oh, that’s so good. I’m actually looking forward to it. It’s gonna be a lot of fun. I love playing with my kids. So Nhan, you know this ’cause you and I talk a lot, but I’m really a fan of like talking to people who I view as mentors in my life. And you’re one of those, buddy. I really have enjoyed our friendship over the last several years and just getting to learn from you. I’m glad you’ve joined the show today, and I just wanna start with a little bit of your story. So for those of you guys who don’t know Nhan he’s got a, just a wild and just unbelievable, just, I think entrepreneurial journey. And tell me a little bit about what was happening when you went from business A, the small service business, into the business that’s kind of the business now, which is AA Power.

ND (02:15):
So our business started, I graduated from Georgia Tech 2004. My family’s a bunch of entrepreneurs, nail shop owners, and I wanted to become an entrepreneur, too. So my dad financed me, so I opened a lawn mower repair shop, put my degree away for eight years. And the reason is my cousin in California was doing well opening a lot more repair shops, so we went over there for two weeks and decided to open one here. And so the first few years was just me learning how to run. Like we almost failed, because I didn’t rent, repair any mower for anybody before, and I didn’t know how to run a business before, and I thought, you know, Georgia Tech, I graduated, it couldn’t be that hard. Right? Well, it was like a very tough three years of my life to finally turn the business to profitable and get enough customers.

ND (03:06):
Then as we built up the business, a lawn mower repair, in 2011, I accidentally ordered too much inventory, like belts, blades, you know, wheels, where like, if I had to sell it locally, would’ve taken about 10 years for me to get rid of those in inventory. So I decided, okay, I’m gonna go on eBay, try to list it and see how I can sell it. It was kind of, it was a very difficult process. It still is a difficult process selling on eBay. Then I went on Amazon, started listing it, and then it started selling, you know, three, four a week. And that was like the beginning of 2012. And then somebody told me, hey, there’s this thing called FBA where they ship it for you.

ND (03:52):
So I don’t have to pack and ship every order. So I was like, man, let me try that. So when I sent it off, it started selling 30, 40 a week. So I was like, hey, there’s an opportunity. And so I went headlong into that and doubled business, doubled every year 2012, 2013, ’14, ’15, to where we were doing about $6 million in 2015 in revenue. But you know, I was like on top of the world making profit. You know, that’s awesome. But then 2016, like things change. The competition came in, drove the margin down, and we actually sold about 8 million, but we lost money. So we can go into details about that. That’s kind of the entrepreneur journey of how my business got from a lawn mower repair shop in Roswell, north of Atlanta, to an Amazon business.

TJ (04:51):
Well, and so, yeah, we will talk a little bit more about AA Power and the evolution of it, but it’s interesting. You almost, you talked about a great summary of like version, you know, 1.0 of Amazon and then maybe the third party marketplace was kind of version 2.0, where if you had a product and could find a way to get it into FBA, you could basically make money. Right?

ND (05:11):

TJ (05:11):
And then version 3.0 actually really happened right in 2016 when private label and marketing became a more important picture. Like what kinds of changes did you see in the ecosystem that really harmed AA Power at that point?

ND (05:28):
Well, the competition, because we had a huge catalog of over 2000 SKUs, we didn’t know how to manage the margins. We didn’t know margin was a thing. You know, we just looked at the top line number, as long as sales is growing, I must be doing pretty good.

TJ (05:45):
Right. .

ND (05:46):
Right. And then the competition came in and they just underpriced us. They just go a penny under and then we follow them with a penny. Then pretty soon we go to the bottom, and like, we start losing money, and especially products that are big, takes a lot of effort to, a lot of labor. And then we were, because we were doubling every year, we were bringing in staffing agencies that we’ve gotta pay, you know, one and a half times labor to bring them in, and then the hiring process is very intensive, time intensive, money intensive, because the wrong people, most of them are not the right fit for us, and all those just compiled into it. So our cost was rising. We were expecting to go to $12 million, right? So we were trying to build a business and infrastructure to go to $12 million, but, you know, the sales just came up to $8 million, and the margins shrank. So all those, both of those caused our business to lose money that year. And that was a tough, tough year for us.

TJ (06:45):
Well, and I would – it’s funny, I think 2016 may have been the same year this was happening to me. So I actually empathize with you. There’s gotta be some phenomenon about like scaling, like wrongly. Whatever it looks like to not scale smart is – our company went from like five to 50 employees in 2014. And then we doubled again in ’15 and ’16, and we had the same issue where when you’re growing outta control and I’m applying this to the services business, you overpay for people you hire, you don’t focus on culture, you don’t take the time to build your training and your processes out. And it is kind of the same way with products, right, Nhan? Where it’s like, instead of, I can think of like a private label guy. Like instead of like looking for the right supplier, I just find the first thing I can find on Alibaba. Well, guess what, I’m gonna pay more, and then instead of optimizing my box, I’m gonna just ship in whatever I have. Well, guess what, I’m gonna pay more in shipping. And so the dinks and dunks of all these different kinds of expenses and bad hires and the staffing, I mean, you pay like 50% more to have a staffing agency bring you a person and all. And so I was under the delusion as well that I can just scale myself out of this model, like –

ND (07:55):

TJ (07:55):
The $10 million version of my company is going to be financially healthy, regardless of what kind of expense decisions I make today. And I was proven to be utterly wrong in that assessment. It sounds like you were, too.

ND (08:07):
Yes. We went through the same thing, and we learned what margin, minimum margin we needed to operate the business. And fortunately 2017, we turned it around and made some of that money back. But then 2018 hit us really hard. We lost our biggest vendor. They didn’t wanna sell to us on Amazon anymore. And so we lost about a quarter of our revenue source and most profitable source, too. So we were already on the thin margin. Now, we just took a hit in one year, and that was another tough year for us. And during that year, I had to buy my dad out because I needed to make pivots quickly, and having two people with different mindset makes it very hard. And then I had to let go of my second in command, the guy who’s been running the operation for me all these years because we were just not aligned as far as growth and in the core values. And so those, that was a very tough year. We lost money in that year as well.

ND (09:15):
And then that’s when I started joining Seller’s Roundtable, which is, you know, you and I are, you head that up and you and I are part of that, and that’s very, been instrumental to helping me – you know, Einstein said you can’t solve a problem with the same mindset that got you into the same problem. Right? So that’s what I felt like. I can’t solve the problem of my business turning around with the same mindset that got to me where I am, and by joining the mastermind group, Seller’s Roundtable, you guys have helped me see things in a different way. And with you being my CFO through those tough years, that has helped me kind of brought clarity to like – these are difficult decisions I have to make. I didn’t wanna make it. I like being the nice guy , but, you know, making those difficult decisions are hard, so.

TJ (10:08):
No, I mean, thank you for the kind words, but I actually kind of felt the same way. Like we started Seller Accountant – so by the way, no one out there, most of you guys have never heard of the Seller’s Roundtable, ’cause there’s only like 13 of us, and it’s kind of this, it’s not a real business. It’s just a group of us that get together and, you know, maybe pay a couple hundred bucks a month to do this mastermind. But I started that group with our mutual friend, Daniel, Nhan, because I really wanted to learn how to apply what I knew to this industry. And I’ve learned so much being in the group. And you’re exactly right. Like my, what got me – if I want to go somewhere that I’m not currently going, I need to do something different.

TJ (10:45):
Like that’s duh, you know, what got me here isn’t gonna get me there. But when you try to apply that to a complex high seven-, eight-figure business with lots of employees, lots of money, lots of debt, lots of needs. Like that’s actually really, really difficult. I mean, I appreciate you being kind to me about it, but what do you think was kind of a pivotal change in your mindset? Or was there anything else about your journey that really helped you kind of get across that chasm of, “okay, I’ve kind of, I’ve raced to the bottom of my pricing. I’ve realized my margins are bad. I realized I’ve gotta make some systemic changes to my team, and oh, here’s what I need to do in order to actually make this into a profitable business.” ‘Cause you were close to giving up couple times. I mean, you were in real trouble for a couple months.

ND (11:30):
Yeah. So that was a couple times of – but that wasn’t the worst part, right? That comes later. But the hardest part going through that, I remember in end of 2018, like every time I sat down with you, I come home depressed, and my wife says, you know, “Every time you meet with that Tyler guy, you always come home depressed.”

TJ (11:53):
I’ve never even met your wife. She probably does not like me very much. I just wanna say, I’m sorry, Nhan’s wife.

ND (11:57):
. Yeah. And she she’s right, because like I did not see a future. I only had a few levers, like you always reminded me, there’s only a few levers I can pull and make changes, and I can’t make changes to all of ’em at once. But the problem is, I don’t know if I pull this lever, I’m gonna get to profitability. I have a hunch, but I don’t have any guarantee. And so 2018, I started rebuilding the team, like really, what mindset change was from the books you know, Traction, which gave me the core value and the direction, getting the team aligned, everybody on the same page. And then the Four Disciplines of Execution taught me and my team to kind of know where to focus on a week-to-week basis. And just by doing that slowly, we started growing again, which is, you know, basically getting more products to launch, but you have to build the team and the engine – at that scale, you can’t do everything yourself, so everything, you have to have, involve the team and build the team to take that change, that significant change.

ND (13:04):
And so those are the kind of levers I pull, and the mindset changes. I just developed my team to do that. And so 2019 we started growing again. And so the problem with growth is, we talked about unchecked growth, you know, eats up your margins or eats up your cash flow. As you guys know that in Amazon business, if you wanna double your business, you have to double your inventory, pretty much. And that’s what we wanted to do was grow. But the problem is we’ve had all these years where we were running very lean, so we didn’t have all the extra cash to double. So at the end of 2019, you know, we were running outta cash and wasn’t sure how to make the, you know, get to the next year.

ND (13:54):
That was a very difficult year and a difficult few months. And we were – I remember the hardest part was, you know, feeling like a failure. Like I did all I could, but like, I remember one night coming home to, you know, the audience doesn’t know that I have seven kids and, and my in-laws would also live with us, so 11 people living in the same house and, you know, me coming home, and all that weights on my shoulder, plus we have about 30 team members at the time all on my shoulder. And that weighed very heavily, and coming home at night, just seeing my kids sleeping in bed and feeling like, okay, I have failed you. And like me as a dad is supposed to be the provider, but I have failed you. And then that was very painful and very difficult part. And that was probably the most difficult part. But I had the, fortunately my lovely wife supported through all those difficult challenges.

ND (14:54):
So then beginning of 2020, right before COVID, we were running outta cash if we continue at that rate. So I had to cut my team in half. So imagine like our team is distributed here in Atlanta, as well as some over the Philippines. Like on Monday morning, I came in, got on a Zoom call, and said, “I’m cutting the team in half.” Like, you can hear the pin drop after that meeting ’cause that was probably the hardest meeting I’ve ever had to have and to stand up there and to say like, “I have failed you,” pretty much. And so we, by cutting it in half, our cash flow improved, and then COVID helped with the loans. We were able to refinance the loans and got lower interest rates. So all those things kinda finally turned things around for us and to turn the business into a profitable business that it is here today.

TJ (15:53):
Yeah. I mean, I think you, you really, Nhan, you did a, it was a masterclass in dealing with immense pressure, having to make really hard decisions. I agree with you that the times when I’ve had to let – now occasionally you let somebody go on your team, and it’s because they didn’t have the character, didn’t meet your core values. That does happen of course. But like, probably just as often as that happening, I realized that, wow, I, you know, I didn’t set this person up to be successful or I didn’t build an engine that was generating enough margin that I could afford to pay this person. Right? It’s like, you know, there’s a mindset there related to extreme ownership that – and people that would listen to this podcast probably mostly own businesses, but that like level of response, I think everyone like assumes like, wow, dude, you own a company with 30 people. You must be, you must be a really rich guy. Like I like – and I can’t tell you, and I know you were like this, ’cause I know you really well, but like I can’t tell you how many times, like, when my company had a hundred employees, and I would still be up at two o’clock in the morning and like the fetal position, like, oh God, can we please make payroll this week? You know? And so it’s –

ND (17:01):
Yeah, exactly.

TJ (17:02):
Which is another reason why I think having a, you know, a brotherhood or a sisterhood, some kind of a mastermind of people who can kind of empathize with what it feels like to both sides of it, by the way. Like if you have a month where you have an unusually amazing month, like you don’t really have anybody you can call and be like, “Hey, you know what? I’m kind of proud of myself. Like this went well. I’m thankful.” ‘Cause you kinda feel like a jerk, you know. You go into your normal, like whatever, Sunday school class, whatever it is, and you’re like, “Hey guys, I made a hundred grand last month. That felt pretty good.” You know? Like that’s not cool.

TJ (17:35):
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. That’s right. And then two months later you’re like, man, like I just like am on the verge of losing everything. And so anyway, I just, another reason I’m grateful for you. So you have an unusual pivot to your problem right now. And I really think this is fascinating, Nhan. So your business again, if you could imagine the arc, friends out there listening to this, Nhan’s business is big. He’s had to rebuild every, I feel like every sprocket on this business has been rebuilt, either automated, he has a great team. He’s now not in danger of going bankrupt like, you know, he was like, okay, thank you God for that. But now you have a different problem as a visionary with a lot of energy, you have a mature business. And that’s also hard ’cause it’s a weird hard. It’s another thing that like, if anyone out there is not an entrepreneur, like, wait a minute, you have like too much time? Like what, are you kidding me? Like how has that been managing the transition from a “I’m desperately needed, everything’s on fire” to, “oh crap, what do I do with my time now?”

ND (18:33):
Yeah, that’s actually been a very difficult transition. It’s like obviously when the pressure is there, and I had to make difficult decisions, that was tough, stress-wise, but I knew what to do, right? What I needed to do. So now the business has matured. It’s gotten out of the danger zone. I mean, at the beginning of 2020, we were, margin-wise, profitable. The problem was cash flow. You know, anybody who doesn’t understand that will need to look it up. That there’s a big difference between you can make profit, but if you don’t have the cash flow, your business is not going to operate. And, you know, because Amazon – let’s, just as an example, like, you have all your money tied up on Amazon. They hold it for two weeks, and you need to make payroll this week. You have a cash flow problem. And so we were, we got through that. Now we’re down to profitability. We don’t have a cash flow problem anymore. The team I’ve built up over the years to run it by itself.

ND (19:37):
So that, my next position is like, I’ve, for all these years, I’ve been very involved in the business. And then I’ve, you know, there’s always pressure of growing or making major decisions, but now the business, the team can run, make most of the decision myself is like, what do I do with my time that can create value? I don’t wanna waste it watching YouTube video or Netflix all day. Because that’s, you know, I feel I would feel guilty for that. So that’s the challenge is like, okay, where do I deploy my time that can build assets? Like, you know, your previous interview with transition has talked about like, when you have time, you focus your time building the asset. So that’s, my challenge is taking a step back and figuring out, okay, what is my next business that I can spin up that will be my asset, you know, three years from now, five years from now? And I would be happy spending the next three to five years focusing on that alone. And that’s the hard part is when I have free time, it’s like, I don’t wanna waste it.

TJ (20:42):
Yeah. And I’m with you. I actually remember, I don’t remember when it started, but it was actually the beginning of 2021. And at some point it might have been like March, I don’t exactly remember which month it is, but my wife pulled me aside at one point and she was like, dude, you are so like grumpy here recently. Like what’s going on? . And I had to like, kind of take an inventory of my life ’cause Emily had brought that up, and she was right. And I realized that I was depressed because my business wasn’t on fire. It was like, it felt like this most absurd, like emotional journey to be like, oh, I’m not bored. I’m not burned out. I’m like, but I’m not thriving right now, and it’s because I’ve lost the sight of my purpose, and I didn’t have to cultivate my purpose when things were on fire when we were like a bloody startup trying to get through the hardest parts.

TJ (21:32):
And now we’ve kind of like, we’re solvent, like we’re we got plenty of cash flow. We’ve got a great team that’s growing. We’re, we kind of have a position in the market. So I actually empathize with that. And I think that is a moment in every CEO that’s has the privilege of making it there’s lives where they’re like, okay, you know, I need to retool a little bit here, and I’m just curious, are you doing anything or learning anything that’s helping you kind of on a practical level kind of work through that?

ND (21:58):
Yeah. I mean it just, my prayer life is just making that consistent and just going and trying during that time, figuring out what is it that I want, what is it that, you know, what I like, what are my gifts, my zone of genius, versus things that are my zone of incompetence and just, you know, I don’t want do anymore. Even my like things that I’m good at, but it doesn’t give me joy. My zone of genius gives me joy, but you know, even if I’m good at it, but it drains my energy doing it, I need to step away from that. And so just getting clarity on what I want and what I want for my family, that’s the hard part. That’s the stage I’m at. I feel like other friends who have exited the businesses going through similar phases, like that phase where like you’re not busy., and you have a lot of time. What do you do with that? And that’s kind of where I’m at is trying to work through that and not waste that time.

TJ (22:59):
Love it. And one more kind of business related question. I’m just curious, what are you reading right now? What are you learning? What’s kind of got your mind percolating right now?

ND (23:10):
Right now I mostly learning about economics, macroeconomics on YouTube. And so basically I love two things, right? I love studying about my faith, God, and the other thing is money. So anything having to do with money, business, that’s what I like to study. And now, right now, I’m doing a couple book study with my tilt team at Sylvan and team at AA Power and just helping them learn those things that I’ve learned over the years and help ’em, to train them to think for themselves and through the problems and having the framework to do that so I don’t have to do it in the future. And so just, you know, thinking, learning, and that’s my joy is to be able to learn and think is to like accumulate knowledge and then make that useful to somebody.

TJ (24:01):
Yeah. And by the way, Nhan, you do this really, really well. It’s really served my team also, but for anybody out there whose team is growing, if you happen to be kind of an analytical learner, which Nhan, and I both happen to be, doing like a quarterly book study, it actually has been really well received by my team. It’s a way for them to learn. They need a little bit of motivation. Like we’re doing Four Disciplines of Execution right now, Nhan. And it’s been, I read that book with you three years ago, right? You and I have looked at it, and it’s been amazing to see kind of the eyes open for my team to be like, oh, this is why we’re not getting engagement in this department, in this department.

ND (24:36):
And that’s the thing that I have found to really help my team, too, is like the book study. It took me a long time to figure out a format is okay, just read a chapter, then we’ll come next week when we meet our weekly meeting, we’re just gonna say, okay, what are the key takeaways you got from that chapter? And just having the group talk helps us learn, and I learn new things as I do the book study with them, too, all the nuggets that I missed the first time I read it. And so that’s been hugely, what has turned our business around, a major factor in turning our business around, is giving them the framework to think through those problems that we encountered.

TJ (25:17):
Love it. So I wanna talk about habits, hacks, but before I do that, just, you got a little bit of extra time right now. So I’m hoping that whatever you’re gonna say, you’re doing a little bit more of, and maybe you’re not, but like, what’s the thing that you do that gives you – that you just really love? You talked about geeking out on economics, you love exploring your faith. What else do you do beyond snuggling seven kids and keeping up with two businesses?

ND (25:39):
Yeah. I love spending time with my kids, but outside of that, I’m just playing tennis. The competition’s fun. The workout is good for me, but it surprisingly, that also changes my mind. I come up with new ideas for the business when I’m out in the, hitting the ball there just by myself and the challenge, and new ideas just come because of that. Whereas if I’m in the business, I don’t have that perspective. Right? So that’s kind of what I’m geeking out on as far as outside of business.

TJ (26:13):
Beautiful. Nhan, we close every episode with the ROP section where I just wanted to ask you: you’re a habit guy, I know, because I’ve known you again for a long time, but what are the practices, habits, hacks that you’re testing or that you’ve recently tested that you feel like may be giving you an unusual return on the investment in your life that maybe the audience ought to check out?

ND (26:37):
I would say personally, it is 30 minutes a day to kind of plan my day and just going – for me it’s going into prayer, and you just figure out what is it that I want, and then what is it that I wanna accomplish that day? I’ll list out two, three things I wanna accomplish that day. And that starts my day right, and then as soon as I’m done, I’ll jump into the first thing, and that gets my wheel rolling in the right direction right away. Whereas like, if I, on the days where I don’t do that, then I get, you know, emails, messages, Slack, you know, YouTube video, and whatever, and multiple directions. And then I look at the time, it’s like six o’clock already, and the day I haven’t done anything. So just the planning time, beginning of the day.

TJ (27:25):
Beautiful. Yeah. I think that’s actually been powerful for me too, is I do a weekly planning moment against my five kind of areas of my life: personal, spiritual, relational, professional, financial, and then I do a daily kind of quiet time where I journal and I’m trying to review. And by the way, I’ll add this to it, ’cause I think I mentioned it a couple episodes ago, but there’s a free app called the HabitShare app that makes it kind of easy to be like if I wanted to, for instance, if I wanted to do a 30 minute planning session a day, I wanted a way to kind of keep myself accountable, measure what matters, that’s one of the apps out there that makes it come easy. Anything else that’s like kind of been hack-y or been helpful?

ND (28:05):
Well, as far as professional, this has been, my compounding is my car is my university on wheels. So I don’t listen to music, and I stopped listening to music years ago, and I stopped listening to talk show years ago, and I use that time to read books, Audible in particular. And that has compounded for me over time. So the book studies that I did with my team is results of hundreds of books I’ve read, and I culled it down to, okay, these are the few books that are really applicable, really helpful to my team to think what the future is gonna look like and how to wrestle with those challenges. And that’s basically for me accumulating all those books, you know, hundreds of books because I drive and I can stay awake instead of reading a book. Laying in bed, I’m gonna fall asleep in 10 minutes. So that’s been hugely helpful.

TJ (28:59):
Man, I’m the same way. You know, you can listen to most of those books at like 1.4 speed or whatever and really motor through ’em. Great tactic. I mean guys, listen, if you’re reading – what was it I was reading recently that 56% of American adults don’t finish a single book in a year. If you’re listening to ROP, how about you just read a book, right? I mean, that would be one thing to start with. Right. We’ve mentioned a few, Traction and Four Disciplines of Execution are both really good.

ND (29:26):
I always live by the saying that, you know, five years from now, how you’re gonna be different is based on the people you hang out with and the books you read. And if you’re not feeding yourself with books or new things you’re learning, you’re gonna be the same person five years from now. And if you’re hanging out with the same crowd, you know, you’re gonna have the same mindset five years from now and your life is gonna be the same. So if you want your life to be different, better, whatever, then, you know, hang out with the people are better and as well as start compounding those books that changes your mindset.

TJ (30:02):
Love it. Yeah, Nhan. So thank you again, by the way, for being here today, Nhan. And you think about Nhan’s arc here of learning how to transition his mindset, being a lifelong learner, being ready to pivot when things get hard, not quitting and then dealing with the being afflicted with more time, and then, Nahn, I couldn’t agree with you more, cultivating the habit of learning, being a learner, being a grower, being the kind of person that can empower a team to be a learner and grower.

ND (30:28):
I wanted to circle back a little bit that –

TJ (30:30):
Yeah, go ahead.

ND (30:31):
On my journey that what I found compounds and really gave us a competitive advantage was, you know, developing the team, the people obviously. But the other component that gave us competitive advantage in our wholesale arbitrage model, and we’re shifting toward private label, is the technology component. So when I first started out in 2012, I was just wanting something that’ll tell me the profitability if I give it the cost and subtract all the Amazon fees and all the other fees. I couldn’t find anything. So with my computer engineering background, I was like, okay, time to pull that degree out of the drawer and start using it. So we started to develop our software since 2013, so past nine years. And that is a big cost in our operation. But then it, that is an investment to the future. That’s the way I see it. And it that’s what has allowed us to operate leaner and more profitable and get opportunities that others would not have.

ND (31:32):
For example, like others – you know, the problem with wholesale is like, you jump on the same listings, there’s 20 sellers, right? And even if you create another listing, they’ll just follow you everywhere. So by having our own software, we’ve actually used a transparency program to where we have our own brand. We created that listing under our own brand. And then we put transparency on that so they can’t jump on our listings. Many people have tried, but they have successfully [inaudible]. And the fact that we are able to do that and merge our technology and our people together was the investment I made years ago of developing our own software to run the operation. Now we have over, you know, 3,000 SKUs that, active SKUs. We got up to 8,000 at one point, but we culled it down to about 3,000 now. And that investment into technology has allowed us to differentiate ourselves.

TJ (32:26):
Hmm, man, I’m so glad you brought me back to that ’cause I think that’s a crucial point is your time is not very scalable, Nhan, but your team and your technology and your process can become very scalable. Any final nuggets about that before we close shop here for the day?

ND (32:44):
Yeah. I mean, for anybody who’s going through those difficult years of like, you always say, figure out what you want. And then there, you know, make the changes necessary to survive, but don’t live in that survival mode. You need help outside. Like, you know, just like the mastermind group helped for me. ‘Cause you need somebody else outside to help you get through that and then start compounding things, investing in yourself and your system and your technology that gives you a competitive advantage later. Kinda like the flywheel concept that, you know, Jeff Bezos talks about. Find that flywheel and spin it. But it’s gonna, you’re gonna go through the first few years of difficulty, but later on, you’re gonna be glad you made those investments.

TJ (33:28):
That’s so good. And I think to your point earlier that you made, Nhan, is if – we’re all gonna have whirlwind, that’s what the Four Disciplines of Execution calls it, the stuff that keeps us crazy, that’s just the way business works, no business doesn’t have it. And if we want something different in the future, we have to really discipline ourselves to take a little bit of time each week outside of the whirlwind to actually learn, read those books, build that team, and build that better future so that, okay, I’m grinding right now, but there’s a chance that a year from now, my life is better and there’s a really good chance that two years from now, my life is a lot better. And so don’t give up if you’re grinding, but also don’t stay stuck in the same rut doing the same things over and over, right?

ND (34:09):
That was the temptation, you know, gone through the difficult years was like, the temptation was just to throw more time at the problem. If I only put more hours, you know, my business is gonna turn around. And oftentimes that’s not true because you just put more hours, you just overwork yourself and kill your future self instead of, you know, portion out time to think and see the big picture and invest in yourself. That’s what you’re talking about. If you allow the whirlwind, the daily whirlwind, it’s always gonna eat up all your time that are available. If you can portion out an hour or two hours, or just start with 15 minutes, it’s kind of think, then that helps you, you know, find a different pathway.

TJ (34:52):
And, you know, just as a matter of encouragement here, ’cause I do think we sometimes have that limiting belief about what is possible, and Nhan, you’re a testament that you do that right for enough time with the right team around you, and you can have an eight-figure company where you may only be needed 1, 2, 3 days a week. And I can’t tell you how many times I’m in a conversation that’s like, “well, I couldn’t possibly grow unless I worked 90 hours a week,” and that’s actually not true. You’re just growing the wrong thing. Make sure you’re scaling the business and not depending on just scaling your time.

ND (35:22):
Yep. That’s exactly right. And that book that helped me turn that path was E-Myth by Michael Gerber as well to change from the mindset of me putting hours to putting a system and process in place to do that for me.

TJ (35:40):
Nhan, this has been gold, buddy. I am so glad that we got to chat today. Thanks for coming on the show, dude.

ND (35:47):
Yeah, I enjoyed it.

TJ (35:49):
Awesome. Well, and guys, thanks for listening to this episode, really. Really, I love this discussion about how to cultivate a mindset of growth. I’m Tyler Jefcoat. This is Return on Podcast. If this content serves you, you know, it would help me, it would help us if you’d share and like the channel, and until we meet again next week, have a great day. Take care.

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