Monday, July 27, 2009

Big Dreams, Big Plans, Small Money, No Commitment - How Not To Market in Asia III

Watching someone's dreams go up in smoke is never easy, especially in business. It makes you wonder why they were dreaming such things in the first place. This happens often, especially in developing markets. People dream things that are beyond their grasp, usually because they don't like the grasp they are already in. It was conveyed recently to me that all Vietnamese are controlled by somebody; a parent, a marriage partner, a business relationship and so in response to this relationship, they seek to control somebody else, a friend, a lover, a supplier - maybe employees - and in so doing this, seemingly release the pressure they are already feeling from the situation they are already in - and thus, compounding the situation they are already in. What you don't want to be is the last man on that totem pole, because when things go wrong, you or your company will be blamed for all of it, and used as the scapegoat for why the whole deal went sour in the first place.

I've seen it countless of times in Asia. From Korea to Vietnam to Singapore and China, so the syndrome is not just uniquely Vietnamese - it stems from the family business model that is so prevalent in all of Asia.

As many of you will recall, this series started with a patently ludicrous request from a client looking to bring in a blimp in to Vietnam for advertising purposes, just before the Miss Universe competition in Vietnam, last summer. Even before any plan had been written it didn't seem to have dawned on anyone that blimp shots of a beauty pageant were not a particularly saleable commodity. But I dutifully plodded through an 8 page checklist of questions for the client to ask the people who had purported said hot air, just to get the ball rolling - and then I asked for my standard fee. Ball stops rolling. Blimp implosion ensues.

Probably the quickest way to kill a bad deal is to ask for money up front, which means, to get all your expenses covered, before you even get on to the playing field. For even writing plans in Vietnam, that fee could be as little as $500 just for doing a basic proposal, to much, much more should you need to expend cash, or risk life and limb to enter the deal. I was recently told of a business deal involving the shipping of tons of wood to the United States. The business owner was now complaining that the shipping company was now holding them accountable for freight charges because the shipment had been declined by the purchaser in the US (Global financial crisis blamed for causing drop in furniture sales). "But wait a minute", said I, a man with an art degree, to the MBA close to the deal, "Shouldn't all expenses have been covered first in the contract", before anything was shipped? Of course they should have. Standard logistics company contracts require that all the money for a purchase of this nature be deposited in a secure account in the country of the purchaser and then released to the supplier upon customs clearance of the shipment. Essentially, the shipment docking pays the bill - thereby keeping skinflint buyers from balking in the middle of a deal. Looking just in a cursory fashion at someone who allowed this to happen, makes you wonder about all sorts of things.

The "How Not to Market in Asia" series continued with a story of a man who thought he had sold a TV show, but just needed me to write a demographic profile for him over the weekend to seal the deal. "What?" I asked myself. "This is a potential $20,000 initial pilot program and you think you've sold it but it lacks a demographic profile?" Bullshit. Having not been able to get any sort of plan or PowerPoint on the deal thus far, I simply asked for the $500 and the ball stopped rolling. Unfortunately I was barraged by a bizarre negotiation that went all the way down to $50 at one point and shots of me rolling around on the floor laughing during the protracted telephone conversations. I have no idea what ever happened to that deal but since it involved a bank sponsorship right at the media height of the global financial crisis, earlier this year, I suspect that nothing is the correct answer.

And so to the current meltdown. A deal this week, valued at just under $10,000 went south just because a $292 contingency cost couldn't be met? Bollocks. The basic plan was $1500 over budget before leaving the starting gate and had far more risk in it (99.9% for me) than $292 dollars. That small cost was just my red flag warning as to what might happen should things have gotten rolling to much further down the line. A fair call for avoiding possibly massive pain in the future.

I was once told to avoid at all cost, second generation Asians from seemingly wealthy families. Their parents worked hard, planted rice, ran green grocers, built buildings or whatever and then sold off the family fields or store to wealthy Taiwanese real estate developers or just socked it away, day by day dollar by dollar, making maybe millions. Then they sent their children to Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford or some other prestigious International university, thus producing offspring who have no idea at all of all the hard work it took to have made the money in the first place. So I've learned to watch out for this. When you see a person who's sending out all the outward signs of being well tended and well educated, look carefully and make sure they have the go-to spirit that made their parents so successful - or have they just learned to rely on others to do all the real work while they go on maintaining the face that is ever so important in these societies.

Hugh Macleod, in his book "Ignore Everybody" puts it this way "Put the hours in - Doing anything worthwhile takes forever. 90% of what separates successful people and failed people is time, effort, and stamina. Stamina is utterly important. And stamina is only possible if it's managed well. People think all they need to do is endure one crazy, intense, job-free creative burst and their dreams will come true. They are wrong, they are stupidly wrong. Put the hours in, do it for long enough and magical, life-transforming things happen eventually." When evaluating any potential business deal with another party, simply ask yourself, "Yes, but are they willing to put in the hours like I do?" That will tell you more than any contract, budget, pedigreed degree or business plan ever will.

This week, with the help of a friend, I was able to get my book proposal to a more than relevant agent in New York. "A Rock Star" agent, as she was described to me. And what made the week for me, was that - not the idea that I might ever actually get to publish the thing, but that one more small link in the chain had been set in what might be the longest chain I have ever tried to assemble. I've done the work. I've publicized the work. I've put in the hours. And continue to do so with every letter I type on these pages. It all adds up, in little ways, sometimes.

A few weeks ago, the person with the ten thousand dollar deal had dismissed this blog and the Wild Wild East book as, not realistic - a long shot. And probably, from an outside reviewer's standpoint that's partially true. But you not only have to believe that long shots can happen - you have to put in the hours to make them happen. Dream real. And do the work. That's my Infinite Wisdom for today.

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