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Ep: 191: How this manufacturing consultant exported over $15 million dollars worth of goods while working remotely with Rico Ngoma

In his episode, I speak with Rico who is the CEO of Source Find Asia, a manufacturing-consulting company.  

Over the last 5 years, his company has exported over US$15 million worth of goods globally. Basically, if you want to make something in China — he’s your guy!

He also releases weekly Youtube videos (SourceFindAsia) and a weekly Podcast called, “Made in China Podcast” – where he interviews entrepreneurs & talks about sourcing, business in Asia, and a little bit of lifestyle.

Listen on to find out how Rico has been able to create success as a manufacturing consultant while working remotely.

Listen Below:

 


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My Offbeat Journey: The Morning Routine

Transcription:

Debbie:

Hey everyone. Thank you so much for being here. I am really excited for today’s guest. I’m here with Rico. Hey Rico, how are you?

Rico:

Hey, what’s up Debbie? How are you?

Debbie:

I am great. So can you tell us more about you and why you live an offbeat life?

Rico:

It’s funny ’cause I was actually talking to one of my best friends. It was his birthday a couple of days ago. It’s one of those things, he lives in a different country, I live in a different country, and we haven’t spoken to each other. A few months into his birthday, I sent him this lovey-dovey WhatsApp message talking about how much I miss him and I appreciate his friendship and all that stuff.

We started talking and then I remember the conversation kind of shifted to like, “Why are we doing what we do right now?” And I was like, “When I was 14, I remember going through a midlife crisis…”

Debbie:

That was early.

Rico:

Yeah. I’m an old soul. I remember coming to this conclusion, I was thinking like, “What is my biggest fear?” Because, again, the questions I was asking myself when I was 14, I don’t know why, but I asked myself what is my biggest fear?

And I realized my biggest fear is being mediocre. That is still my biggest fear to this day. And it informs a lot of like my decisions in life, whether it’s the career path that I’ve chosen with entrepreneurship, whether it’s living outside of Canada, whether it’s the music or the movies or the way I dress, a lot of that stuff is informed by that fear of like wanting to be different and not mediocre.

Does that answer your question without going into the story, obviously? But that’s kind of the philosophy behind everything.

Debbie:

Well, you definitely have a different type of lifestyle and you have an interesting way of getting to that point. Can you tell us what exactly you do now and how did you prepare for this journey to make this change, to leave Canada? And now you’re in Asia with this incredible business that has been doing so well for you.

Rico:

Yeah. So I guess it starts with, I was born in Zambia, Southern Africa. My parents were both entrepreneurs. My mom had a couple of different clothing stores, retail stores, like three or four different stores. And she actually started going to China in the late nineties.

She would go to Thailand, mainland China, Hong Kong, and eventually Turkey as well to buy her clothes. And then she would sell them in a store.

My dad was a software engineer back in the day when you physically had to go through code on a printed piece of paper that would be hundreds of meters long and you’d have to go through each line of code. So he was in the banking industry and eventually started an internet service provider in Zambia.

We moved to the States when I was 10. And then eventually we moved to Canada a few years later. So I think the aspect of me moving countries at a very young age made it very easy for me to make the decision to move to Asia.

When I was 21, knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur from a very young age, again, growing up with parents that are both entrepreneurs. It wasn’t even a question for me. It was just like, “This is what I’m going to do.” Either I’m taking over my parents’ business, one of my parents’ businesses, or I’m going to start my own business.

So towards the end of college, you started asking yourself, you start getting the questions like, “What are you going to do? Are you going to get a job and all that stuff?” And I was like, “I just don’t like working for people. I don’t like people telling me what to do.”

So I went down this rabbit hole, on forums about travel and business, and stuff. And then I came across this YouTube channel called The Elevator Life, which is now called Enter China. And it was these two dudes from Portland, Oregon who had moved to China immediately after they finished college.

They had done sourcing like what I do. They’d had some successful six-figure crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter. They were importing wines from Oregon to China. And I just ended up watching like a hundred something videos that they had on the channel. I watched every single video.

And then I just came to the conclusion. I was like, “I’m moving to mainland China to kind of pursue what they’re doing.” I’ll obviously talk a little bit more about the journey, but I run an import-export business out of mainland China across Asia.

Me, moving to China prompted that situation to happen.

Debbie:

Wow.

Rico:

So basically, the summer after college, I’d saved up some money. And then I moved to Gwangju. That was September 2014.

Debbie:

That is incredible. I don’t know with you, but talking to a lot of people who want to do something similar, who want to get into an entrepreneurial lifestyle, preparing for this is a really scary thing, right? It’s kind of like, “Oh my gosh, I know I want to do this, but it’s really scary.”

I know we have so much content that we could watch and this YouTube channel really inspired you. But how did you actually take that first leap and that first step?

I know that you got great examples from your parents. So that probably made it a little bit more, I wouldn’t say easier, but you would see it as something that is doable compared to someone who hasn’t had anyone do it in their family before. So how did you make sure that this is the journey that you are going to take?

Because it is a huge leap, right? Even though you had this example from your parents, as a person who just left college to completely leave, to go to this country, that you didn’t know the language. I mean, I could be wrong. Rico, did you know Chinese?

Rico:

I’d say that’s a funny story. So I actually took an introductory course to Mandarin. It was like a three-month course way before I decided to move to China. I knew I would eventually go to China at some stage. I just knew, I was like, “I want to live in Asia. I want to travel around the world.” So I knew China was on my radar.

But I took that introductory course, just so that I could go hit on international students at my school.

Debbie:

Of course.

Rico:

Or be at a nightclub and be like, “Hey I can speak Mandarin,”

Debbie:

To look cool about it. Hey,!

Rico:

Exactly. Yeah. That was the main thing. But little did I know that I’d end up moving to China for a year and a half after that. So my introductory course to Mandarin helped me a lot when I first got to China. But then I actually studied Mandarin when I got to China.

I actually went to a Chinese university to study Mandarin. I mean, to answer your question, in terms of taking the leap, I think, again, it’s like I wasn’t scared because of my parents, because I moved countries two, three times. And also by the way, before that, I moved schools a bunch of times when I was like 10 years old or whatever.

So I just kinda got used to it. You move places, you meet new people. Like, I wasn’t really stressed about it. And I’d been to China before on vacation. I’d been to Hong Kong and I’d been to mainland China. So I kind of knew what to expect to a certain extent.

I’m a big fan of Tim Ferriss and Tim Ferris, I don’t remember the article, but he was talking about when people want to make a decision and they’re scared of the consequences of that decision. How to kind of overcome that fear.

And he basically said: you should just write down the pros and cons and what you’ll end up finding is what is the worst-case scenario? Like literally even just write down: what is the worst-case scenario? Worst case scenario is never as bad as you think it is.

So that’s what I did. I wrote down, “Okay, if I move to China and I completely fail and I have to come back to Toronto, what is the worst-case scenario? The worst-case scenario is I get a nine to five job or after like work from my parents.

Debbie:

Yeah.

Rico:

And I was like, “It’s not that bad.” I guess I’ll be embarrassed. Yes, ’cause a lot of my friends are like, “What the f**k are you doing? Why would you move to China? What is it Guangzhou?” All that stuff. And I was like, “Guangzhou is literally four times the size of Toronto. Are you guys okay? Whatever.”

I just kind of looked at that. I was like, “Yeah, I would be embarrassed from the social aspect, with the people that were sort of doubting that I would be successful or doubting that it was a good idea to go there.” But in terms of my career and stuff, I mean, the social thing, people get over these things over after a few months or whatever, it’s not going to be a big deal.

But career-wise, yeah, I would just get a job and save up some money and probably start some other entrepreneurship venture a little bit down the line. So that’s kind of how I decided to take the leap.

And then another thing is I think one mistake that people make is they always focus on like the most successful people as their idols as opposed to finding people that are maybe like one or two years or three years ahead of them. So for me, The Elevator Life or Enter China guys was that for me.

I saw guys that were four years older than me who were maybe three years or so ahead of me in terms of their business life or I guess maybe a little bit more like four years ahead of me in terms of their business and success and stuff like that. And I was like, “I could see the blueprint,” ’cause you could see the first videos that they had on the channel where you could tell, they didn’t really know what they were talking about.

And then you see the progression over the course of three years and you see them start various businesses and fail and all that stuff. And then get to a stage where they are who they are at that moment when I found them on the channel.

So that was inspirational for me because it’s like, “If they can do it, I can do it.” So I feel another aspect is to try to find people. I mean, in this day and age with YouTube and all the content that’s out there, there are definitely going to be people that are doing what you want to do that are not a Tim Ferriss, a Joe Rogan or Elon Musk.

It’s good to pay attention to those people and to take lessons from those giants. But it’s also important to just find people that are a few years ahead of you because then you really see the nitty-gritty of what it takes and what they’re doing and sort of the mentality.

Debbie:

It’s interesting how I’ve spoken to a lot of different online entrepreneurs and location independent people, and probably 60% was inspired by Tim Ferriss, whether his books or articles or his podcasts because he’s just pretty much one of the first people that really went out there and started telling people about this.

And going back to when you’re talking about the strategy with the pros and cons, I am a huge list person. So my fiancee and I just did a pro and con. We just signed one of the biggest deals we probably ever made with our business together. And there was so much fear to it Rico. Oh my gosh, I can’t even tell you. Like all of the fear that was happening to it. And we did that pro and con list.

Rico:

Part of the fear is being afraid of being stuck with the golden handcuffs.

Debbie:

Yeah. Well, that. And also, like you said, the consequences, “What if this fails? What if this happens?” There’s so much that we put into our head before even happens. But it’s good to actually do that and put it in writing like you were saying because you can do something about it, right? Like, “What should we do?”

And also one of the things that are really great about entrepreneurs is that there’s always a problem that we have to solve and we become really creative along the way. And then we learn so much from it. So all of the cons that we had, we were like, “Okay, what can we do to solve that?” So those pros and cons are so helpful and it actually helps you solve those issues that are on your con list.

Rico:

Yup!

Debbie:

So that is pretty amazing.

And yeah, finding people who are reachable instead of making it unachievable for you, that is definitely one of the biggest keys to staying and having longevity. Because, you know Rico, there’s so much online, especially in social media, that just makes you feel like shit most of the time, because you’re like, “I can’t get to that point. This person is too ahead.”

And all you see are the great things that are happening. But again, we don’t really see what that person had to go through. And for someone like a Tim Ferriss or an Elon Musk, like, “Okay, that’s just beyond anything we feel like we can achieve if you do it that way.”

Rico:

Yeah. And I mean, even Tim Ferriss has talked about that a lot. He’s like, “Look, I started with nothing. It’s not like I was born into a rich family and my dad gave me a giant loan.” I also started with nothing. It’s just, you found me at this stage so you guys don’t see the progress.

It’s funny. It actually happened to me because I remember after a few years of being in China, I started a business in my second year in China, I hired full-time employees when we moved into an office. It was like a year after the company started. I’m pretty open with my staff. And maybe at the time, I was a little bit more friendly than I am now.

I guess I play a little bit more of the boss role but I would sit down and we have these like social conversations over lunch or dinner or whatever. And my employee was making fun of me. And she was saying, “Rico, you have such an easy life.”

And I was like, “What does that mean?” She was like, “Well, you take Ubers everywhere. You take an Uber to the gym, you have an assistant that helps you, ordering your food and all this stuff. You don’t cook. You have a maid at your apartment and all that stuff.” And I’m like, “Yeah. I mean, but that’s you seeing me now after three years.”

Like three years ago, I was living in a shitty apartment where I was paying $150 a month. That was cockroach infested. Sleeping on a paper-thin mattress that could barely fit me, by the way. I had no heater in the apartment and Guangzhou winters are like bitter cold.

So I was like, “You’re seeing me now but you haven’t seen the journey. You haven’t seen where I was that time period and how I got to the state.

Debbie:

Yeah.

So one of those things is people always, like, when they see you at a certain level, they don’t really realize what it was like in the early days.

Debbie:

So let me ask you this: when you were at that point, even now, as three years later, that you’re doing really well with your business when you are faced with something that is a setback or just a really big hurdle for you. And I know for me, it makes me step back and really reevaluate, “Am I doing this the right way?” Because whether you’re successful or not, it’s still going to keep happening.

And I feel like the more you succeed, the more hurdles you actually start facing. And they’re definitely different but you’re still facing them. How do you deal with that Rico? Because it really takes a very special person and that’s why there’s only a certain amount of people that could really make this into a success because it really brings you down sometimes, right?

You know this. It’s like just when you feel like you’re hitting gold, something blocks you again. And as an entrepreneur, there’s always something that’s constantly breaking you down. How do you keep going when that happens? And you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, what am I doing?”

Rico:

Yeah. That’s a good question. There are so many different ways I could go with that. I guess the first thing is I always try to remember where I came from. I always try to remember what the alternative is because at the end of the day it’s that aspect of heavy as the head that wears the crown, right?

You asked, I asked for this. I asked to be an entrepreneur. I asked to run my own company, I asked to have employees. Sometimes it’s difficult and sometimes it’s very stressful but at the same time, the alternative would be to work for somebody else and work in a company. And I’m like, “That would be way more depressing for me personally.” And no disrespect to anybody that’s in a nine to five or whatever.

But for me, that would be way more depressing than those moments when I go through difficulty in the business. And another thing is I really enjoy problem-solving. So when there is an issue in our company and then I come up with a solution, I get a high from that. Like I really enjoy that.

I ask my staff sometimes, like when we’ve had really difficult things that were going on maybe during Chinese new year, for example. Like, there’s a ton of shipments going out because we know the factories are going to close and our clients want the shipments to go out before the Chinese new year. Because China is essentially closed for a month. And so there’s like a lot of pressure to get these things out.

And then you hear there’s a delay by three days because the factory made a mistake with production or whatever. And then we have to be like on calls with the factory and with our clients. It’s just like a 2-day storm and I’ll have moments where literally in the middle of the storm, I’ll turn to my staff. And I’m like, “Is it weird that I’m enjoying this?”

Everybody’s super stressed and like running around and all that stuff. And I’m like, “I’m actually enjoying this craziness. Like, I feel alive.”

Debbie:

You have an adrenaline rush. It’s like a drug, right?

Rico:

Yeah, exactly. And then when we come out of it and we’ve succeeded, I’m like, “That’s one of the best feelings in the world. So there’s a little bit of that. I try to remember where I came from. That ultimately makes me remember that I’m in a better position now than I was then.

And then at the same time, I do enjoy the drama a little bit. I enjoy the problem-solving aspect. And it’s also never as bad as you think it is at the end of the day.

Debbie:

Yeah. Let’s go back to when you first started, Rico. When you were just trying to figure out how to make things work, how did you actually land your first client for your business?

Rico:

Okay. So when I moved to China, I started teaching English and I was also studying Chinese at the same time. I joined Enter China. They created a membership form. I was very lucky that my best friends, my seven, eight best friends from Toronto, paid for the membership at the time. It was like $500.

I had saved up like four grand in savings. And that was supposed to last me six months or there was no way I could use the $500 to join the Enter China thing. But they paid for it, which was awesome. So when I arrived I ended up connecting with Tim and Nick who were the founders. And after a while of me being in China, like I was doing my thing, I’m studying Chinese and starting to teach English.

I would just like to touch base with the community and try to do some virtual stuff. So, for example, I started a mastermind group. Masterminds were a big game-changer for me when I was in college. I got into my first mastermind group and it made me realize how much more work I could do in a week than I thought. Because a lot of times, I’m in college or whatever I’m taking weekends off.

And I remember there was one thing I was trying to do. It’s kind of create a website and it has taken me months of procrastinating. And then I started the mastermind thing and they were like, “Your goal this week is to finish this website by next week, Sunday.”

So in the next seven days, because we had our meetings on Sunday, I was taken aback and I was like, “Wait, I’ve been trying to do this website thing for like months. And now I have to do it in seven days.” And for sure, that week I still procrastinated.

But when it came to Saturday evening, I was like, “Well, I can go out with my friends right now or I can bang out this website and I have the mastermind meeting tomorrow morning, so let’s do it.” So I ended up just like staying up. I stayed in, worked on the website 10 hours, 12 hours straight, finished the website, and then had the mastermind thing.

And that was like a big switch in my brain, which was like, “Dude, you wasted a lot of time procrastinating. And also if you sit down on the weekends, you have Saturday, Sunday off. Like if you actually just worked on those days, like how much more stuff could you get done?”

Because obviously, I’m studying during the week and all that stuff with school and then my part-time jobs. But Saturday, Sunday night I would usually call it. So Friday, Saturday night I would usually go out. So it was like, “If you stayed home and worked instead how much more productive could you be?”

So that was a big thing for me with the masterminds. So I started doing masterminds with Enter China. Like I put together a small group of people that were around my age and in the same sort of space, trying to figure out things. And I didn’t know at the time, but the founders of Enter China noticed that.

So my business partner, my current business partner in China, Mike, reached out to the founders of Enter China and he was kind of in a stage where he was restarting his company. He had like shut down everything. Shut down his offices and all that stuff. And we’re still getting interests from clients we’re sourcing.

So he reached out to them and said, “Hey, I’m looking for like, basically young blood. I’m looking for somebody who is hungry, who is in China, wants to start a business, interested in manufacturing.” And then they gave him a couple of options and I was one of them.

And yeah, I met him, and around the same time, one of my best friends in Toronto, he has a company called Smart Teacher Prodigy which is basically Pokemon meets math – it’s a game. And he was trying to source toys from China at the time. So we were talking around this time when I’m communicating with China, Mike.

And I just told him, “I’m talking to this guy. We’re thinking about restarting as a company, Source Find Asia, and we’re going to be 50-50 partners. And he was like, “Hey, why don’t we set up a conference call?” And we ended up having a call with Mike and my buddy, Rowan, liked Mike and liked his experience. And that’s how we got our first client. So our first client was one of my best friends.

Debbie:

Wow. Well, that makes it, not necessarily easier, but I guess it was meant to be.

Rico:

Well, yeah. It was almost like it was meant to be. But I also think you make your own luck, right? I think Tim Ferriss has also talked about this before, he’s like, “People feel uncomfortable when they start a business; to ask their friends and family for help or support.”

Who else is going to help you besides your friends and family? First and foremost, when you do something for the first time, it’s going to be your friends and family. So I think it’s important when you’re starting something, starting a business, starting whatever, is to reach out to them – as uncomfortable as it is.

By the way, I didn’t feel a hundred percent comfortable telling Rowan about what I was doing. Like, I kind of knew that me hinting at what I was doing was going to lead to potentially him working with us but I was uncomfortable at the same time. I was like, “He knows me. He knows how I am as a person. He knows how I think and how I work – my integrity.”

So if he chooses to work with me, then he trusts me. And he’s a very smart guy so you wouldn’t make an emotional decision just because we’re friends. So I think it’s important that when you’re starting something off, don’t feel shy to lean on your friends and family to start your business and help you start your business.

Debbie:

Absolutely.

Rico:

Even Rowan, himself, has company. It’s like the fastest-growing North American educational software game. It’s probably in the billion dollar-ish evaluation at this stage. But he started off with his friends and family giving him a loan. The first investors in the company were his friends and family. So it’s important.

Debbie:

You have to start somewhere, right. And a lot of times it’s more uncomfortable to talk to, like you said, your friends and family than strangers. Because it’s like if you screw up, you’re never going to probably talk to those people again. But if it’s your friends and family, they’re going to be there, they’re going to know your failures. So I think that’s what makes it really uncomfortable for all of us when that happens.

Rico:

For sure.

Debbie:

One of the things that I really want to pick your brain with, Rico, is your negotiating skills because this is one thing that I think a lot of people are afraid of doing. And it’s not just taking that first step to landing a remote gig or starting their online business.

But once they actually start talking to a client, talking to them and negotiating because of course, people are afraid to talk about money, right? So what are some of the strategies that you have used to land big clients to make sure that it’s a win-win for everybody?

Rico:

I think first and foremost, it’s just, you have to get to a stage of almost not caring if you land. I mean, you have to obviously care, it’s for your business, but not caring if you land the client or not. And what I mean by that is if you care too much, you’re going to compromise your values. And you’re going to say things to get the client, right?

Whereas if you just talk the way you normally talk and you actually express yourself and you actually say what you mean, you’re more likely to actually get the client because they’ll feel the honesty and you’re not just selling your product.

So I think if you understand the value of your business, you understand the value of the services you’re providing, then just be honest. I’ll give you an example. Like one of our biggest clients was a couple of years ago. He approached me, the first discovery call, he told me about a factory that he was working with which I’d worked with before.

And he was asking basically like, “I want you to help me fix this factory no matter how much it costs, whatever. I have a good relationship with the owner and all that stuff.” And I said to him, I was like, “No, you should leave that factory. That factory is horrible. I’ve worked with them before. I know you don’t want to hear this, but it would be a big mistake to continue working with this factory.”

And that was just my honest opinion. I was just like, “Well, even if you work with me or you don’t work with me, I’m telling you right now, it would be a mistake to continue working with this factory.” So I think that a very important thing is to get to a stage where you’re just going to be a hundred percent honest with your clients.

‘Cause the other aspect of this is like when you bend over backward and you compromise your values, when things go wrong, who gets blamed? It’s you. You as the consultant or service provider is going to get blamed for those situations. So if you compromise yourself and you’re not able to do the things that you normally do, or you put yourself in a position that is uncomfortable, you’re going to end up being blamed for it.

So it’s actually better to be a little bit sterner with your opinions when it comes to that. Negotiation-wise, I think you have to understand the person that you’re dealing with. Again, going back to compromising values, I’ve rejected clients before when I felt that they were going to be difficult to deal with.

We have a sort of no asshole policy. We don’t want to deal with clients that are going to ask for too much despite wanting to pay a certain amount of money and then they ask for a lot. So it’s important. And again, just like knowing yourself, knowing your values, knowing the value that you’re providing in your service, and sticking to those guns, even if that means losing a client.

When clients ask me to go to factories and asked my team to go to factories, one of the first questions I asked them is, “What is, what is the limit here? So you want us to bring the price down by 30%. Okay. But are you comfortable if we get it to 15%? Are you comfortable If we get it to 5% lower? And if we don’t hit your targets, are we able to walk away?”

Because if you’re negotiating with somebody and you’re not willing to walk away, it’s also a little bit of a pointless exercise. I mean, if you don’t have the wherewithal to walk away, if that person has a stronger value system and stronger viewpoint, you’re just going to end up compromising to what they wanted in the first place. And then from there, there’s a weird power dynamic shift.

There’s a book called Never Split The Difference.

Debbie:

Oh, I love that book.

Rico:

It talks a lot about the same sort of values and things like that. So yeah, definitely check that out as well. But yeah, I think it’s just like starting from the basic aspect of us to distill what I just said is figure out your core values and stick to those core values. And don’t compromise your values.

Debbie:

Especially there’s a lot of people that you can already tell how difficult they’re going to be right in that first call. Like you already know and you have to evaluate. It’s like, “Am I going to be happy working with this person? Is the money going to be worth it?” Most of the time, it’s not, it’s really not.

Rico:

No, it’s not.

Even if they’re a potentially high paying client and all that stuff, it’s like, “No.” We learned that lesson very, very early on, like literally in the first eight months of the business. Should I tell the story?

Debbie:

Yeah, go for it.

Rico:

So it was coming around the Chinese new year and a lot of the crazy stuff that happens with our businesses always is on the Chinese new year. Just to give some background to the audience. So the Chinese new year comes after the normal new year or the lunar new year if you want to call it that. So January 1st is the typical new year for the rest of the world. Chinese new year is usually the end of January or in February at some stage.

What happens from a manufacturing standpoint is that everything gets rushed because people know that the factories are going to be shut down for a month or so. And also the factories can’t really control their staff because the staff is migrant workers. So they come from other parts of China and they come and they’re on these like one-year or six-month contracts.

And a lot of times the staff don’t come back to the factories. So they won’t stay until the last day. Like some factory workers just kind of disappear two or three weeks before the factories officially supposed to close. So it’s a very turbulent time. And then, of course, shipping gets backed up as well because everybody’s trying to ship out stuff around the same time.

So this particular Chinese new year was the first year that was running the company. Like I said, it was eight months in and we were not making that much money. I just quit teaching English full-time, we moved into an apartment downtown, which was doubling as our office.

We just hired our first employee. So we were in a position where one month we would make $5,000 and then the next month we would make nothing. And another month we’d make a thousand. It was very inconsistent. So this client came to us, I think it was December. That year, the Chinese new year was in the first two weeks of January. So I feel like it was like the beginning of December.

Typically, if somebody is trying to start a production a month or a month and a half before the Chinese new year on an original design, it’s pretty much impossible. If he asked me right now, I would always say no to that kind of situation. But the client came to us and he was coming years ago like a big Amazon seller.

Like, “I make a lot of money. I’ve been doing this e-commerce stuff for a while. I know China, blah, blah.” He’s like, “I’ve been talking to this factory for two, three months. I’ve already set up everything. They understand my design. I just want you guys to manage the production and do quality control.” So we were like, “Okay.”

That seems reasonable. I mean, it’s tight still, but he’s already discussed all the details with the factory and we’re just going to start mass production instead of contracts and do QC. I think that’s manageable a month and a half before the Chinese new year.

And then he had all these demands like, “I need you guys to send me a proposal within the next 12 hours,” and a lot of different stuff that he was asking for. So I’m like, “Alright, I’m going to chug a bunch of Red Bulls ’cause I was talking to him at night. He’s halfway across the world so time difference.

I’m talking to him at night. I’m like, “Alright. I’m going to stay up and put this proposal together.” Put the proposal together and listed things that we needed from him. And all the details sent over to him. 24 hours later, he said, “Yeah, I’m ready to roll.”

And then he sent us a deposit. In the proposal, I made a checklist of things that I needed from him – did not send us the checklist. We started communicating with the factory. We find out that essentially the communication that he said was he just basically emailed the factory on Alibaba and said, “Hey, I want to make this product. Can you guys make this product?” And the factory said yes. And he hadn’t provided them design information.

They didn’t even know exactly what the product was. They just said, “Yeah, we can make the product.” So he kind of roped us in and then he paid us a lot of money for the time. And to make a long story short, like a week or so later, I’m constantly following up with him, asking him to send the stuff that I mentioned, the checklist.

We got on a call. I pretty much could tell from the call that he hadn’t read the proposal. So he didn’t know the stuff that I needed from him. He’d oversold the relationship that he had with the factory. We basically had to do what I would say would be four months of work in the space of about a month. And on top of that, he was blaming me for not making progress in that week.

And I was like, “Okay, I don’t want to work with you.” I didn’t say it on the phone or whatever. I’m a very calm, cool, collected individual. Like I’d very rarely lose my head. And I could feel myself bubbling the anger, bubbling on the surface. And I was just like, “This is bad. Like, if I feel this way towards this person, then clearly something is wrong.”

And I’ve been asking this guy for this information for like a week. And I’ve learned all these things about stuff. So anyway, we ended up trying to drop the client and became a whole thing. And then he threatened to sue us. We had to pay him back the money over a couple of months because obviously at the time we were not in a financial position to immediately pay back the amount of money that he’d given us.

But yeah, it was a big lesson. I know I’m happy that it happened very early on in the business ’cause, yeah, I could imagine if that was a different situation with a larger company and the amount of money was larger, it might’ve been way worse. But yeah, this is an example of, not compromising your values. I compromise my values for that situation because of the money and then it ended up backfiring.

Debbie:

Yeah. Sometimes those things are really a blessing in disguise because it’s preparing you for what’s going to happen next and you have to really trust your instincts. And also learn from that lesson and try not to repeat it again. So it is a hard lesson to learn but it’s a really good one because it really makes you reevaluate and decide that that’s not what you want with your business.

Rico:

Exactly. Yeah. I could tell even from the first call that we had, except that it was so fresh that it was like, “Oh, you know what, maybe we can make it work.”

Debbie:

Super eager.

Rico:

Yeah, exactly. Whereas now, when I have clients like that, after that call I’ll tell myself, “Well now it’s not me talking to clients.” I’ll tell my sales guy. “Just send them an email and say, ‘Hey, we just feel like it’s not going to be a good fit with the way we work and the way you work.'”

The funny thing is a lot of times those people end up apologizing.

Debbie:

Yeah.

Rico:

We’ve had that a few times where they’re like, “Oh I’m sorry. I know I come across. However…,” sometimes in conversation or whatever. But I’m just like, “Ah, no. I don’t think it’s going to be…”

Debbie:

It’s like, “We’re just starting, It’s already on a bad footing. So, no, thanks.”

Rico:

“I’m talking to you for the second time and it’s difficult.”

Debbie:

Yeah. Can you ever imagine?

Rico:

Oh my God. What it’s going to be like when something goes wrong or something gets delayed. Because it always happens with manufacturing in China, there’s always going to be some issue. There’s always going to be some delay. And the most important thing is focusing on coming up with solutions.

So if you’re dealing with somebody that’s already complaining when nothing’s happened, what is it going to be like when it actually gets difficult?

Debbie:

Yeah, for sure. So, Rico, since you have been living in Asia and abroad for a few years now, what type of international insurance do you typically use?

Rico:

Yeah. So my I’ve been lucky enough that my dad had his company and he had Barclays business account and I use AIG international travel insurance under his Barclays account which is pretty awesome. It’s like 50 bucks a year. I don’t know how long that’s going to go because my dad’s retired now. But yeah, that’s pretty much what I’ve been using since I moved down here.

Debbie:

That’s awesome. That’s a lucky break right there. I wish we all had that. Thanks to your dad right?

I’ve been hearing a lot from many digital nomads and remote entrepreneurs who are living abroad, especially during this crazy time, that it has been really hard. And some insurance companies have actually stopped them and excluded things like pandemics or natural disasters in their policy cover.

Hopefully, you didn’t have to go through that, Rico, but a lot of people have. So if someone were to fall ill and need treatment for Coronavirus, for example, or any similar future pandemics, they wouldn’t be covered and they would need to pay for their treatment themselves which is really crazy because we’re already dealing with so much stuff, right?

Rico:

Yeah. I mean, in a time period where people are not making as much money as they usually would, things like insurance are extremely important.

Debbie:

Yeah. And then you have to deal with so much more and then not even just illness, but then all of the expense that goes along with it. That’s why I’m so glad to be working with IntegraGlobal.com. They believe it’s their duty to support their members in uncertain times like this and stand by them when they need them the most.

They have no exclusions for pandemics or natural disasters in any of their plans. So if you all want to know more about their plans, you can check out IntegraGlobal.com and see how they give you the coverage you’ll need and maybe some you never knew you would. Because look at what happened, who knew this was gonna be happening to us? It’s a crazy time right now, everybody.

Rico:

Hey, my insurance under my dad’s plan expires pretty soon. So I think I’ll definitely be checking out in 10 minutes.

Debbie:

Definitely check them out. They’ve been amazing. And I’ve had a lot of listeners that have gone to them and they really love their services. So I’m sure you would too, Rico.

So, Rico, let’s fast forward to 50 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?

Rico:

50 years legacy? Well, I’ve been thinking about legacy since I was 14.

I guess, again, going back to the whole thing about not being mediocre and all that stuff. Just to give some background: I’m black, African, Canadian, and all that stuff. And when you travel and you’re a minority, you definitely go through weird situations, weird questions that you get asked, weird reactions in places like China.

When I was teaching English in China, like a lot of times some of my students were saying, “I’ve never spoken to a black person before.” It was like that kind of stuff. I think you can go one of two ways: not to belittle people that get offended by these kinds of situations, but you can find it offensive, you can take it negatively or like, for me, I generally try to put a positive spin on everything that I do.

So I was like, “Well, they’re not coming from a place of hate. They are just not educated. They don’t have experience.” So I can either make this like a negative thing for them. Like I can be agro and be like, “How dare you say that? Like, you’re not supposed to talk to people like that. You’re not supposed to say those things,” or I can make it an educational, positive thing for that person.

And then hopefully that Chinese person or whatever nationality tells their friends and all that stuff and then they have a positive association with people that look like me. So that’s how I always kind of approached every single time I’m in China or in Southeast Asia as a whole when people asked me questions like, “Hey, there are black people in Canada?” I’m like, “Yeah.” And then I would explain sort of the history and all that stuff.

“Well, how are you Canadian and also Zambian?” I’m like, “Well, yeah. There’s a thing called immigration,” or I would just kind of break it down. Whereas obviously, these are things that you don’t have to explain to people in the West.

So I think in terms of my legacy, I would like to just leave a positive image of Zambian people, of black people, of entrepreneurs in general. I would like to just show people that, “Hey, you can be this. You can also be that at the same time.” I think that’s a big, big thing for me, I always want to change people’s perceptions. Because obviously there’s a lot of stereotypes in this world.

So, I always like to break those stereotypes. It goes back to again, the mediocre thing. I don’t want to be the same as everybody else. I have a student that I taught when I was 22 and she was like, “Hey, before I met Rico, I thought black people were scary. Now Rico’s like an entrepreneur and all this stuff changed my whole perception of black people or African-Canadians or African-Americans as a whole or Africans in general. That would be a cool legacy to sort of leave behind.

Debbie:

I love that you talked about that, Rico, because for a lot of different countries, I think we’re spoiled out here in the West because we see so many people from so many different countries and are privileged to travel pretty much anywhere we want and we can experience all of these things.

But there are a lot of countries that don’t have that same privilege. They’ve never met anyone that’s outside of their country, their race. Every time you meet someone in those places, it’s kind of like an education for them. And the way you go about it is going to really show them what type of person you are and also your culture as well.

Most of the time, what they see is really from the media and it’s from movies that portray black people, even Asian people, any subs type of minorities.

Rico:

Movies, music…

Debbie:

Yeah. So a lot of times, it’s not really that person’s fault. It’s what they see in the media that really is going to show them what that type of culture or race is going to be about. So, you, doing that will and has helped already so much.

Rico:

Yeah. It’s one of those things where it’s a little bit of an unfortunate burden for people because it’s like, “Well, do I have to be an ambassador for my race?”

Debbie:

Yeah.

Rico:

I understand when people think along those lines, I just accept it. I think my dad kind of instilled that mentality in me where it’s just like, “You need to like represent the family and all that stuff.” So I’m like I just kind of operate in life. Like I don’t want to embarrass my parents. I don’t want to embarrass the family.

Debbie:

Well, just being a good human-being too.

Rico:

I just want people to be educated. I also tried to understand where they’re coming from. Like, that’s the reality. When you have negative interactions with people when people are angry with you or they do something towards you, a lot of times that has nothing to do with you personally.

Debbie:

Absolutely.

Rico:

You have to kind of look at it and be like, “Well, did this person have a bad day? Did they just get fired?” There could be so many other things going on in that person’s life that have nothing to do with you and you’re just the conduit at that moment that they’re releasing this energy on.

And you can always choose how you react to that energy. You can either take it in and give negative feedback to them, or you can take it in and make it a more positive experience.

Debbie:

Yeah.

Rico:

So I just try to operate with that sort of value system. It doesn’t even have to be a racial thing, just life in general. I’ve been in bars, there are times where I’m talking to a girl and I didn’t know that there was a guy there that liked this girl. And then he comes in, very aggressive, thinking that I’m trying to steal his girl.

And I’m just like, “Dude, I didn’t know that this was your girl, let me buy your drink.” Do you know what I mean? Like I just kind of deflect situation ’cause I’m like, “I didn’t know that.”

Debbie:

“It wasn’t on purpose, man.”

Rico:

Yeah. Let’s make it into a positive experience.

Debbie:

Like, “I’m just giving you a compliment, your girl’s beautiful.”

Rico:

Who wouldn’t?

Debbie:

There you go. Like, “You’re lucky.”

Rico:

I’m like, “You know what? I am lucky,” you know what I mean?

Debbie:

Yeah. I love that. I mean it’s not always easy to have that type of mentality, but as long as 80% or 90% of the time you can get to that point, It’s all good. We all have our good and bad days.

Rico:

Yeah. I meditate. I release a lot of my anger when I exercise, whether it’s kickboxing or lifting weights, those are the times when I really think about the things that make me angry, and I kind of release it, whatever pent up frustration, I release it in those moments.

And then, I do yoga and meditation which helps.

Debbie:

It’s always good.

Rico:

But in general, I am a pretty calm, chilled guy. So I think that helps as well. And I guess that has a lot to do with how I was brought up. My parents had this whole philosophy of not fighting in front of the kids.

Debbie:

Yeah.

Rico:

So I never saw my parents fight growing up. They always handled things behind closed doors and I think I’ve also taken that in stride as well. I knew it because I talked to my parents about it later on in life. Like, “I never saw you guys fighting with all those little things.

They’re like, “Yeah, of course, we’ve had issues, but we just never wanted to show you, guys. We didn’t want you, guys, to associate how you behave with your significant others and all that stuff.” So yeah, I’m always the kind of person that if I have an issue with somebody, we take a sidebar, we have an adult conversation about it. If it starts to get heated, we either take a break or I walk away and then revisit the topic at a later date.

Debbie:

Yeah. In a healthy manner. And that also scars children when you see stuff like that. So yeah. Good on your parents.

Rico:

People think kids don’t notice these things, kids don’t forget. Like you see things when you’re eight years old, seven years old, and it sticks with you for the rest of your life and informs how you behave towards your friends, strangers, and significant others. So it’s really important to keep that in mind.

Debbie:

Absolutely. So, Rico, what are you currently working on that is really exciting to you?

Rico:

Yeah. So obviously I run the manufacturing business from China and this year has been interesting because we’ve had our best year financially ever which is weird to say during this time period where I know a lot of people are struggling, especially in the service industry. We were involved with a lot of the PPE products that were exported around the world. So that was pretty great for us. But then there were a lot of issues.

There’s a lot of problems that went on with that whole situation. So it kind of led me to think of putting together a course around how to sort of manage sourcing and manufacturing during this time period, during 2020 and 2021. During this pandemic when people can’t physically go to China. Twice a year, there used to be the Canton fair in Guangzhou and global sources in Hong Kong. And there’s a bunch of other trade fairs in China.

All of those things are canceled and other virtual fairs which is obviously not the same thing. And then, of course, a lot of people that have established businesses were probably traveling to China a couple of times a year to work with the factories on new products and stuff like that.

So people really have to lean on their partners in China. So I kind of wanted to put together a course on top of that. The course will be paid but what we’re going to do is we’re going to launch a summit. Roughly we’re still early stages. So don’t hold me to all of this information. This is an exclusive for your podcast.

Roughly about 10 experts. So we’ll do like 10 presentations from how to sort of evaluate your product and validate the audience to design, to sourcing, to manufacturing, to quality control, to shipping, to actually selling it on an e-commerce platform. So that’s going to be like a free virtual summit that we’ll have out.

And then if you go through the summit and you like sort of the information that we have, we call it the SFA summit. If you’d like that summit and you like the information that we’re giving you, then you can also pay for the course.

And of course, we also have our manufacturing consulting company. So if you feel like the work is not something that you want to do and you want to focus on other aspects of your business, you can always hire my agency to manage your project for you.

That’s sort of the main thing that we’re focusing on for the rest of the year. It’s also just because in general project management, I think a lot of people are a little bit more cautious about how much money they’re spending these days. I thought it would be helpful to put together something that people could work on themselves.

I see a lot of courses on Amazon. I see a lot of courses about e-commerce in general. I don’t really see that many courses about manufacturing.

Debbie:

Yeah.

Rico:

At least not by people that are running a manufacturing consulting company.

Debbie:

Well, I guess not as many people do what you do or at least will who are willing to share that information anyway.

Rico:

Yeah. Maybe. Also, I think the manufacturing consulting businesses a little bit of a second older game, like a lot of the guys that are in this or are significantly younger, so I don’t think they really are into YouTube or any of that stuff. So they’re not really thinking about putting together courses and the courses that they do have are very sort of corporate blend type of courses.

Debbie:

Like very old school.

Rico:

Yeah, exactly. So, so yeah, I’m trying to modernize that aspect of it.

Just a few tips: the basics of sourcing are still fundamentally the same. Like you, if you’re going to Alibaba or if you’re working with a consulting company, you want to have multiple options. You want to know your product as best as possible before you actually even start engaging with suppliers.

You want to make sure that the suppliers are actually evaluating your product and not just saying yes to everything that you request. You want them to actually give you feedback on this product and the feedback should be quick.

And then you want to be able to verify that your suppliers are legit. There are different ways to do that. You can take their business license, for example, if a supplier that you’re talking to says they’re a factory, right? You can ask them to give you their business license.

On their business license, it’s all in Mandarin. So you would obviously have to have somebody…

Debbie:

Translate, yeah?

Rico:

Yeah. On their business license, there’s a QR code that you can scan that takes you to the municipality website that describes what this company does. So there is no way for them to hide if they’re a manufacturer, an actual factory, or a trading company. So that’s one aspect.

Then, of course, you also want to have somebody be able to physically go to the factory and inspect their facilities and make sure that everything’s on the up. So I think a big part right now, because again, what I mentioned before is people can’t physically go to China and do these things themselves, you really do have to lean on your partners.

Like I’m currently based in BGC, in Manila. I lived in China for five years. My plan was to be able to go back and forth between China and the Philippines but now obviously with COVID, that’s not realistic. I mean, I still have my office. I have my team in China, I’m leaning on my team, but we’ve also had to lean on our partners.

We had to lean on some of the quality control companies that we work with, who had to lean on our shipping companies, logistics companies, to really help us through these situations. Especially when we were not able to travel around China.

So I think it’s really important in this time period if you’re still trying to manufacture through China, that you have great partners that you trust that are experienced, that understand your needs. And then from a logistical standpoint specifically, there’s a lot of issues between the US and China – geopolitical issues. And that affects the import-export process.

I’ll tell you, during the time, the height of the PPE craze with all the masks and stuff were being shipped in and out of China, the import rules were changing literally on a daily basis.

Debbie:

That’s crazy.

Rico:

So there would be like, “Hey, you need to have this new tag in every single box of three blind masks,” like overnight, right? And you have orders that are like 5 million masks and you have to repackage 5 million masks just because the Chinese government had some tiff with the US government.

And then there would be situations where these factories got listed as approved vendors by the CDC. And then a week later, there was some issue between China and the US and then CDC takes 90% of the factories off the list. So goods that were being shipped from China are now stuck, and they’re not allowed to enter the US.

So that was like the craziest aspect during the time period. But that stuff, it’s not as extreme now, but it’s still prevalent in the sense that we don’t have as many commercial flights happening right now, right?

Debbie:

Yeah.

So Rico, if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?

Rico:

Yeah. Just go to my website SourceFindAsia.com/contact-us. That’s the best way to reach out to the team. If you’re interested in sort of the services that we provide, if you want to reach me directly, I think leaving a comment on our YouTube channel, which is Source Find Asia, I read every single comment on the videos or reaching out through Instagram @sourcefindasia.

Debbie:

Perfect. Thank you so much, Rico, for sharing all of your tips and tricks and your story with us today. I really appreciate it. And you all make sure to go to theoffbeatlife.com because we are going to be getting more information from Rico for the extended interview on how to source your products overseas during a crisis like we are having now. Thank you so much, Rico. We really appreciate it.

Rico:

No worries. I really enjoyed it.

GET THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW WITH RICO WHERE HE SHARES HOW TO SOURCE PRODUCTS OVERSEAS DURING A CRISIS.


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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith


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