How I Won The Thai Lottery!
NOT REALLY…BUT IT SEEMS LIKE IT
Someone once said, "There is only one success – to be able to spend your life in your own way". This story is about that way. It's about finally being able to live one's life the way they have always dreamed it should be lived. More specifically, this is an improbable story about achieving profound business success in Thailand against all the odds. This story is about how a green Farang arrived in old Siam with basically no clue about how things worked here and still made it happen. It's a story about a regular guy just like you that finally got it right and made all the right moves in Thailand in spite of himself. And finally, it's about how a Farang hit the mother of all Thai lotteries in the land of smiles and managed to keep most of it and still manages to give back to the Thai people in perpetuity. But first dear reader, I want to let all the Stickman and Schoochers readers know that this is a story of hope and encouragement for all the other industrious Farangs out there that might have a notion to do the same thing he did. To be sure, he is always happy to see fellow Farang come to Thailand or any third world country for that matter, and attempt to improve it and do exactly the same thing he did. Only better and with more success he hopes. I am that Farang and this is my true story.
Before I delve into my submission, I would like to preface this tale by stating clearly that this is not a fictional account or some opiate induced pipe dream. I have no desire to waste your time or mine with farcical drivel. Let it be stated here that I am in no way bragging or lording my good fortune or success over anyone. You, the reader, do not know me and I do not know you, so therefore, there is no benefit to uselessly boast or make up stories. It does not pay me to do so and I want this submission to be all about encouragement and positive thinking for my fellow Farang. Another Stickman submitter wrote a submission entitled GET IN LINE. I was inspired to share my story with all of you dear readers because I so adamantly disagreed with that submitter's wrong headed premise. My contention is this, don't get in line with everyone else. Do not switch lines to stand numbly in another line. That is just mind numbing creature of habit stuff. I say step out of line! Form a Line of One if you must but stop getting in line and you will do well for yourself. The bottom line is this. I've made an impossible fortune in Thailand by NOT standing in any line and now I want to encourage you to get out there and make your LINE OF ONE. If I can do it then I know you can do it as well!
FRESH OFF THE BOAT
My Thailand adventure started for me in the year 2002. I was 39 years old. But long before that, I owned my own company in California since graduating from college in 1985. The point here dear reader, is to show that I had had 17 years of building a company from basically nothing into a pretty decent money maker at that time. This allowed me a bit of business knowledge to fall back on when I first arrived in old Siam. My California business also had allowed me to buy several homes and other big boy toys that seem to come along with the hard won success. During that time, I counted myself about average with my peer group in California for where I was in life and was actually doing fairly well financially. Or so I thought.
WHAT IN THE HECK DOES THIS GUY DO?
Now I want to change things up a bit. I want to attempt to tell this story in reverse from here on in if I may. And to keep the reader interested, I've decided to just hit the high points so as not to drag down the submission with many side diversions and useless detail. So, with that in mind, let me start by telling you where I am today, right here, right now, in my Thai business venture. To do this, I first want you to picture if you will, any residential soi in Bangkok. Picture it's miscellaneous homes, townhouses, high rise condos and large, multi-storied apartment buildings. Place yourself in the middle of the street and look around you. What do you see? The answer is people. Lots and lots of people. Bangkok is synonymous with high density living. In other words – It's very crowded. Bangkok, to my knowledge has 7 million registered residents and during the daylight hours that swells to over 10 million people in the city. Probably more.
Now, in your mind's eye, keep yourself in the middle of the street and look closely at all the Thai people and where and how they live. Observe their lifestyles for a period of time. You will soon see an obvious thing in common. It's a simple commonality that probably 10 million city dwellers share everyday of their existence in Thailand. Day in and day out. You've probably missed it but my small, unassuming product is there. It's there among the minutia and the daily life of everyone in Thailand. At this writing, my product is owned by approximately 3 out of every 10 people in Bangkok. That number is growing daily and by the end of 2007 I expect to easily double that figure. For any dear reader that is thinking high-tech…think again my friend. My product is not high-tech. Oh no! In fact, it is low-tech. So much so that I actually had to dumb-down my original design in order to keep the cost affordable to the Thai people.
IT'S THERE…YOU JUST DON'T REALIZE IT
I will not go as far as to tell you exactly what my product is or does but suffice it to say that if you have lived or vacationed in Thailand for any period of time in the last 4 years then yes, you have probably used or owned one of my products or know someone in Thailand that does own one of my products. Or two or three or four of them! Now, in my book that is pretty good market saturation and just getting better every day. In fact, since January of this year (2007) my Thai lawyers and I have just signed a deal with two very large retailers in Malaysia to begin selling my product in that country. Before I encourage you with the money side of things (and I know you want to know about the money) let me first tell you about the quality of my product. I learned very early on in Thailand that to design and engineer my product with the quality of say, a German BMW I would, #1, Go broke in a hurry. And #2, Never sell more than one to a person because the product would last too long and never break. So, I began to see the Thai way of thinking when it comes to quality of design and engineering. This is no joke. In order to achieve this "Thai" way of thinking I had to think smaller, cheaper, more breakable, and less user friendly. Again, this is no joke and in Thailand, well…it's a way of life. So yes dear reader, my product does break. It is cheap. It is total crap by Western standards but that is what the Thais are used to in the Thai marketplace and I had to make it affordable to everyone in old Siam. This of course is completely debatable but in hindsight, I made all the correct decisions. Enough said.
SHOW ME THE MONEY
Yes, now for the money. Every man that I know from my college days and in business now is always interested to know what the bottom line is. Race does not matter. I am the same way. I like to know going in what are my odds at success and what is the potential pay-off in the end. I have to be able to visualize it and kind of see the flow in my head before I can move forward on most things. I now like to call it Business Plan Meditation. Well, five years ago I thought I was doing well when I was living in the United States full time. I had lots of money, cars, houses and a lot of debt to go along with it! Sure, I paid my debts but I was just like everyone else on my block. Property and big boy toy wealthy but basically cash poor. Even keel as they say. Earn it – Spend it. I was upper middle class by American (Southern California) standards so I had a fair degree of wealth accumulated. But I was never rich! Not like Americans consider rich if you know what I mean. For instance, a rich man would have never looked at me and said, "hey that guy is stinking rich". No, that never happened. Another example would be a neighbor friend of mine named William. He lived up the hill from me behind even more electronic gates than I did and he was retired from playing professional football for the Detroit Lions. He was my age and a guy like that never looked at my stuff or my house and said, "Oh man, would I like to have his stuff". Yes, HE was stinking rich! He played hard, is banged up for life, invested well and I admire and respect that in a guy. Good on him. But now, thanks to my good fortune in Thailand, he and I will never be equals in the game of bringing in the dead presidents. Game over – I win by a land slide. But we are no less friends because of it. Hopefully, with a few insights or encouragement from me, perhaps you will make the opportunity to surpass my success here in Thailand. I would love to see that. Notice I said 'Make' the opportunity?
ONLINE AND $$$ OFF THE HOOK
So now, my life is just a wee bit different since my success. Telling this story in reverse is harder than it seems but imagine if you will, looking at your online offshore bank account right now, today, and seeing a deposit of anywhere from $3000 to $8000 US dollars being credited to your private bank account in Hong Kong. It would be nice wouldn't it? Mind you, we are not talking about once a month or once every two weeks or even twice a week. Yes, we are talking about once a day! Every day! All year long. Five days a week. I receive these deposits daily and they are never less than $3k US dollars per day any more. Mondays are huge because of deals that happened over the weekend and are being held in a dispersal fund account waiting to be released on Monday into my account. I really love Mondays man.
THE BANKING QUESTION
Still traveling in reverse, let me tell you about the banking end of things. The number one tip I would give anyone starting a business in Thailand is to avoid Thailand banks at all costs. They are generally incompetent and will take any opportunity to cheat the unsuspecting Farang. Especially on exchange rates. I have several bad experiences that I could go into deep detail on regarding Thai banks but will spare you the horror. Follow my advice and set up an offshore account with HSBC Bank International for example. They will set you up with an offshore account as well as a line of credit and credit cards you can use at any ATM to withdraw your money in Thailand. When it comes to dealing internationally they are much more respected than any Thai bank will ever be. They also will set your account up in any currency you desire as long as it is Dollars, Euros or Sterling Pounds. All deposits will be instantly converted to your desired currency so you can choose which currency is getting the best exchange rate and have all deposits made in that currency. With the strengthening of the Thai baht I have made a few adjustments on several of my money market accounts. It pays to watch the exchange rates carefully. It all goes to your bottom line. After all, it could mean the difference between buying a Lamborghini or just a plain old Mercedes 500SL. Also, gold is a very good investment right now. That was extra info but hey, it's still free. BTW, I love to play with the Asian stock markets since the baht has strengthened. Small fortunes can be made in days if you play the game right.
WHO DO YOU TRUST WITH YOUR MONEY IN THAILAND?
I trust God and I trust myself but I don't trust my Chinese accountant. Isn't that the way the saying goes? In Thailand it's hard to know who to trust. There are so many different ways to go when it comes to putting your hard earned seed money to work. In my case, I asked a friend who referred me to his combination UK/Thai lawyer firm. This firm also employs an American lawyer as well for us Yank clients. Probably one of the best pieces of advice I ever received in Thailand came from my old American expat pal down in Phuket. He really said it best when he said, "…get the best, and most ruthless Thai lawyer you can find and keep them on retainer – FAST" And that is exactly what I did. They set up my Thai company for me that is actually off-shore and held in a shielded trust. All share-holders are Thai law firm employees and it's next to impossible for any government to fool with this company the way it is structured. Also, my Thai lawyers are VERY well connected politically and militarily. If ever there is a "police problem" I simply call my Thai lawyer and it is handled. You might say I have layers and layers of connection protection. So, I would say another good lesson to learn is to grease the palm(s) that matter in Thailand. So this is my life. I am the man behind the curtain and above the stage. I manipulate the puppet on strings in the spot light and that is exactly where I want the eyes that matter in Thailand to be focused. It's simple really. If they don't know who you really are then they can't very well mess with you. Can they. Lawyers people…Think lawyers.
NECESSITY DRIVES INVENTION
When I hit Thailand for the very first time I was like a business kid in a business idea candy store. It seemed like I could not walk ten feet without seeing a problem and then immediately start thinking about how to solve this problem. The difference with me has always been that I look at it from a standpoint of making a healthy profit while supplying the solution to the problem. I have been this way since I was a kid and I am just hardwired this way in my brain. Sorry, can't help myself. Still writing in reverse, this brings me to how I came up with the idea for my product. The first few months of my stay I "had ideas" as Dana would say. Oh yes, I had grand ideas that always took more money than I was willing to spend or the idea was bigger than the market would ever support. I had to sit myself down and have a good talking to myself. I had to face the fact that Thailand is NOT America and Thailand is NOT Europe. Things are different here and the whole Mai pen rai attitude can make or break any idea no matter how well intentioned.
So, after several false starts and losing a bit of money on wasted research I finally just kind of gave up and withdrew into myself for some much needed introspection. I rented a small apartment away from the main area of downtown Bangkok and spent the next 2 months people watching. I lived poor. I lived in a simple village neighborhood near Don Muang Airport. It was a healthy mix of classes and everyone seemed to work together (although lazily) in some form or another and the peace was kept very nicely. I just hung out, used the local services, drank beer across the street with the small restaurant owner and basically never left the soi except on rare occasions. I would look down from my little balcony and the world would walk, peddle or drive by. It was very relaxing and helped me get to know a lot of really decent Thai people. Real Thai people. I encourage all farangs to get to know as many ordinary work-a-day Thai people as you can. This really broadened my narrow minded first world thinking.
The idea for my product came one sunshiny day when I woke up from my futon on the floor, cracked open a Singha and looked down on the noisy street below. Everyone was getting ready to start their busy day. Something had caught my eye with regard to how people in Thailand prepare to go to work in the morning and also how they prepare to go to work the night before. It's simple. In fact, it's so simple it seemed stupid to me at first but I had time to ponder this sort of ritual that 99% of all Thais partake in. Hmmmm…my gears began to turn and before long I had an elaborate drawing made of my product. About a week later I realized I had over engineered my product when a Thai acquaintance (a fellow engineer) who was head engineer for a Thai owned air conditioner manufacturer told me so. He looked carefully over my drawings and figures and simply said, "You've made this way too high quality for the Thai marketplace" and he was exactly right! He invited me out to dinner with a group of young engineers from his company and I had a hell of a good time getting to know the fellas. That single piece of advice helped me enormously. I did a complete redesign and dumped-down the entire thing. It was a complete success! In this instance, I would encourage the reader to not give up on their idea and sometimes look for the low-tech solution. It may be just the thing that you need to be a total success in Thailand.
PICK YOUR WOMAN AND FRIENDS CAREFULLY
When I first cane to Thailand I was all alone. I didn't speak the language and I was hard up to make business contacts. I asked my Thai Lawyer to introduce me to someone who I could pay to translate for me and spoke excellent English. I didn't know it at the time, but the 29 year old Thai bombshell translator my lawyer introduced me to would soon become my wife and best friend in the world. This gal is as smart as a whip and has the degrees to back it up. She spoke 5 languages fluently when I met her and now she speaks 6. She is an absolute brilliant linguist. She has a natural knack for languages and on top of that she has her degrees in Business and accounting. It's like heaven opened up and dropped this angle in my lap. Best of all, she was and is completely supportive when I had nothing and absolutely no prospects. (Or so she thought). Now that I think back on it, I realize that the moment our eyes met in my lawyers office that day we both knew it was going to get very serious, very quickly. Sometimes you just know…this is the one.
LIVING ABOVE THE FRAY BUT BELOW THE RADAR
Thailand has made me extremely rich and I am eternally grateful for that. I am one of the lucky ones but you can be too. It takes guts, imagination and desire and a will to win. And when you make it big in Thailand I have a few suggestions you may think on. I myself have learned to take a back seat to those that would flaunt their good fortune here in the land of smiles. It really does not pay to do so with a few exceptions. Yes, my off-shore Thai company owns several luxury homes in Thailand and I do use them when I am in town (Phuket or Bangkok) but they are both behind heavily guarded gates where prying eyes cannot see or reach us. Try, if you can, to stay in the shadows in Thailand and make an attempt to regard yourself as just a kindly visitor passing through. For example, I like finding ways around the Thai system and escaping fines, fees or duties whenever possible. I lurk in the background, often standing way behind my Thai wife in order to allow her to wheel and deal for anything she or I wish to purchase. Once the amounts are agreed upon with the Thai seller my sweetheart simply calls me on the cell phone and only then do I come strolling up and hold my wife's hand. It's great fun watching the face of the seller as they realize they have been had. My wife's natural beauty and her amazing ability to grind sellers down on price is really something to watch. She's taken it to new highs…it's a beautiful thing and almost artistic in form. Besides, she really cannot help herself. She is Thai after all. Another trick is to stand back and watch the local Thai population and observe very closely how they do things and I simply follow suit. You might say I am a blender type person. I become a third world thinker. I avoid the spot light and don't command anyone's attention. I never put myself in a situation where I might be called upon to reveal my true name, rank and serial number if you get my drift. My Thai lawyer is a quick speed dial away at all times as well as my insurance man if I need them. Once you have a Thai in your pocket or on the pay roll, they will cow-tow to the boss.
IF IT HAS WHEELS OR BREASTS YOU'RE GONNA HAVE TROUBLE WITH IT
One area that I cannot be hypocritical in is the area of car ownership in Thailand. Just like in America as well as certain other European countries it is important what you drive. Thai people will judge you here not only on skin color and the way you dress but also a big factor is what you drive around in. I wrote before that I try to remain in the shadows and not draw attention to myself. Well, I make the exception when it comes to my cars in Thailand. I learned early on about the unspoken special car privileges that are afforded to the most prestigious and expensive cars driven in Thailand. The most luxurious cars take the very best parking spots across Bangkok and beyond. Extremely expensive cars are not stopped very often by the Thai police for fear of the driver being well connected and just a cell phone call away from a permanent demotion. Many times you will see expensive cars given "the pass" by security guards to park or drive any damn place they want. Personally, I like this privilege and all the special treatment I receive is very enjoyable. You can actually pay a security guard a few hundred baht to stand watch over your car while shopping or in the theater! He will be there when you come back and even open your door, place you inside your car and stop all other traffic while you exit the building. I don't know about you but I really enjoy that. <I think this is all totally irrelevant if one was really earning 3 – 8K US per day – Stick>
WHAT SHOULD YOU DRIVE IN THAILAND?
My very first car in Thailand was a little 1985 puddle jumper Nissan with high kilometers on the engine and a faulty air conditioner that worked when it wanted to. It was the perfect Thai car for me at the time. Later, I bought a used Mercedes that looked the part but was still on it's last breath. After the business took off I purchased a brand new Range Rover 4×4 to get around in. These were all fine for their respective times in my life but to be honest, the automobile business in Thailand is quite insane and prices are utterly ridiculous. So, in that vein I will tell this short story. In 2005, my wife did a very naughty thing for my surprise birthday party and special ordered a slightly used (about 6000 km.) 2004 Porsche Boxster convertible in bright Guards Red from the UK. She paid for half of it with her own money and I was very happy to pick up the other half when we signed the papers at the Thai-Chinese importers office. At the party, I opened a small box with a set of Porsche keys inside and a picture of my wife standing in front of the car holding the door open! At that time, I recall the baht was around 41:1 ratio and even at that time the car was still well over 6 million baht. That's was a staggering $155,000.00 US dollars due to all the import taxes and levies that Thailand places on a luxury import cars! Was it worth it? Absolutely! I can sell this car today here in Bangkok or Phuket for slightly more than I paid for it. In fact, I read the other day that a certain Thai female superstar actress was given one of these sports cars by her very wealthy father. It was a 2006 model Porsche Boxster in black. The newspaper stated that her father paid well over 12 million Thai Baht for that little gem. I hope she can drive it properly otherwise what a waste of a beautiful machine. Amazing Thailand!
GIVING BACK TO THAILAND
I remember when I was 16 years old I had a conversation with my old man and it went something like this. I asked my father what I should do for a living because I had no idea at that point what I was supposed to do with my life after school. My dad was careful with his words when he answered me. He looked me deep in the eye and with his big hand on my shoulder he said this: "Son, there is nothing more rewarding in life than to get involved in helping other's change their life for the better". At the time I thought, well thanks for nothing dad. But…I never forgot those words he spoke to me that day. That little sentence has stuck with me all these years and his wise words were not lost on me. So after I made it in Thailand I wanted to help effect change in Thai people's lives by helping them help themselves. So without going into to much detail I will offer that I participate financially each month in a wonderful Thai Christian program that helps widowed Thai mothers send their children to school, put clothes on their backs and food in their stomachs. This program is run strictly by Thai Christians for abandon, divorced, indigent, or otherwise helpless Thai women and their children. They offer assistance regardless of the woman's religious belief. No one is turned away if they need shelter or help or a doctors care. Many of the children in this program get the schooling they need and go on to attend university because of this wonderful Thai Christian Program. On top of this great work that these Thai Christians are doing they are always in great need. They are constantly supplying more and more help to the Thai people that deserve it the most. In the near future, my wife and I will donate 19 rai of industrial/commercial land we own near the Rangsit area to this organization. My wife's dream is to build a Thai Christian school and shelter facility that will house up to 100 Thai orphaned children along with a live in Thai only teaching staff. I have agreed to do this as well as place enough money in a offshore trust in order to keep the school funded and open in perpetuity.
WHAT DO I GET OUT OF IT?
Our decision to commit to spending the money was not hard to make. Once you go out to the different Thai orphanages and see the sparkle in those kids' eyes when they look up at you…well, that says it all. It's that glimmer of hope that someday they're going to make it through this old world and help the next generation of kids coming along. It's about good producing good and hopefully it carries on far into the future long after my wife and I are gone. After all, you can't take it with you they say so you might as well leave the good to carry on. In closing, I want to say this. This is not about making merit like the Buddhists attempt to do so futilely. This is not about trying to get into heaven by doing good works like so many religions wrongly try to teach. This is simply about being a good human being and having true compassion for those that have been left behind or forgotten by Thai society. This is about stopping for just a moment to give a Thai brother or sister a helping hand when nobody else would stop. This is about all of us giving back just a little bit after we have all been given so much. Good luck to each and every one that reads this submission and I hope in my heart that many will succeed in Thailand where others have failed before you. And finally, if Thailand smiles on you and you have great success in this land of old Siam, be generous to the deserving Thai people and it will come back to you 10 fold. I guarantee it!
I agree with some of the advice you give here and the point about choosing friends and women carefully is much more relevant here than in the West.
What is frustrating is that you claim to have done extremely well, yet provide very little in the way of specifics…