Thanks for agreeing to this interview with me today.
We met around 18-months ago randomly in Penang where we both live, and although we live in the same condo complex, we rarely bumped into each other. A few weeks ago, we ended up going with your family and other friends to the Perhentian Islands on the east coast of Malaysia.
Chatting over many coconut-shakes on the beach, you manage to drink more than me even though I gave up alcohol last year, I was fascinated when I learned how you earn money in your business.
With similar views on lifestyle, remote working, investments, and even the choice of ex-partners it seems, I thought it would be great to get to know you more about your background.
So, let’s jump into the first question and find out more about you.
[Adam – Why do I always look so damn short next to everyone I interview? I am beginning to understand Tom Cruise’s pain ]
1. Can you give us a little background information where were you born, and first went to school?
Hi Adam, thanks for having me here for the interview!
Sure, I grew up in Germany, completed all school education and undergrad studies there. But already during high school, I pictured myself living overseas, doing business, work with partners in various countries and get to travel.
I guess growing up in a bi-national family with several languages and cultures put me on that track early on.
2. What’s been your background in terms of career and working life?
I always had a keen interest in business and economics. As a teenager I would wake up extra early to read the newspaper, caring about 2 sections really – football and business.
My football talent was clearly not enough to go for a career there, so studying international business was the obvious choice and quickly after graduating I got my first job in international sales based in Thailand.
A few years later I moved to Taiwan to start my own business and get a master’s degree, which was a fantastic time. Moving overseas and pursuing further education is definitely a very enriching experience.
3. I was fascinated with how you run your solo business, where you act as essentially a freelance sales consultant for European kitchen manufacturers. How did you get into this?
I was lucky enough to have a family member who was already in the industry and through him, I got the first job in this field.
Looking back, they totally threw me into the cold water, putting me as a rookie in charge of sales management and business development for a relatively large German industry player. Either they really put a lot of trust in me or did not care all too much about the markets they put me in charge of.
Luckily it worked out well and I was super excited to develop business in several Asia countries.
After about 4 years I got recruited by one of our local customers to run part of their domestic business. That was a great experience and a real eye-opener in terms of understanding the business from their perspective, getting a more complete view of our industry. But on the downside, I really struggled and eventually failed to integrate myself into the local team, I guess our working styles were just too different.
So, I could see that this job wasn’t going to go on forever and I was also missing the international aspect and traveling. Eventually, it was over a few beers with a supplier that their export director told me how they were looking for the right person to run the show for them in the Far East… hint, hint.
And shortly after that, a similar not so subtle proposal was made over a nice dinner next to picturesque Lake Como in Italy by another supplier, so it became obvious that there was the opportunity to quit my current job and start working with several companies on a freelance basis.
At the time I was still young and single so the decision to quit and give it a try was easy to take and I haven’t regretted it ever since.
4. You work mostly remotely with face-to-face meetings most months, what is your typical daily routine?
I do indeed travel each month in order to meet potential and existing partners face to face. Of course, life during business trips and life while working from home is totally different from each other.
During business trips life is fully dedicated to work, having meetings, presentations, etc. during the day and spending most evenings over dinner with customers. Sadly, most nights there will be a full email inbox awaiting me after getting back to the hotel.
While working from home in between business trips I usually spend the early morning with the family, enjoy breakfast, and some playtime together. You know how it is with young kids in the house, sleeping in just won’t happen anyway…
Then middle of the morning I start work (mostly on emails, calling customers, etc.).
I tend to take a longer lunch break as work often extends into evening hours due to the time difference with the European suppliers.
5. Many businesses even those based online have been affected by the recent COVID business. Apart from not being able to travel, have you experienced a hit to your business? Do you see your business changing going forward due to these events?
We have absolutely been hit by the COVID-19 crisis.
We mostly supply larger construction projects, which now have been on hold for a while, meaning that they don’t need the material (yet). In this uncertain environment, many new projects are either delayed or being canceled, which means that the difficult market conditions will stay with us for some time.
But I’m still optimistic that we will come back to previous business levels eventually, hopefully during 2022 at the latest.
Besides the temporary slowdown, I don’t expect the business to change much.
Is digital communication going to replace our face-to-face communication in business?
I would say that it already has partly done so before Covid-19, but it will never fully replace it. Hence the need to physically travel to the various markets and meet customers and partners in person will remain.
6. Like myself, you have two young kids, but my kids though your kids are very attached to you physically. How do you manage your time with the family being self-employed?
We have always relied much on childcare to cover our boys during the working times and that kept it quite manageable.
The biggest challenge was my regular absence due to business trips and obviously that was a heavy burden for my wife. But she’s tough and managed to stay sane during those times.
However, being away from the family regularly made me realize even more how important they are and while I am with them I try to be really present and dedicated to them.
The last few months have of course been very different due to the Covit-19 crisis – no more business trips, no more childcare; we definitely had to find our way to deal with this new situation and I’d say that the key lesson is to separate family time and work time. Working with small kids around you is not a good idea, for neither family member, so better find a proper workplace outside.
7. You now are based in Penang, Malaysia. What made you and the family move to Malaysia to live under the Malaysia as a Second Home (MM2H) Program?
Previously we lived in Taipei, which was great at the time but once we had children, we quickly realized that life in a big Asian megacity wasn’t what we wanted for our family.
Instead, we wanted a more balanced environment and Penang has been great for us. It has all the city life conveniences we want and offers plenty of beautiful nature at the same time. Great food, affordable childcare, and education, a vibrant ex-pat community have been further big plus points.
8. As discussed, there are many benefits to being based in Malaysia, what’s your aim for the future for your business? Are you looking to expand or more of the same, whilst making investments for the future?
I tried to add some parts to our business over the years, but those didn’t really work. Now the plan is to stick with what we do and grow the business by increasing the market share together with our partners.
On a private basis I’m always on the lookout for an interesting investment opportunity; I meanwhile I do enjoy my work, I’ll need to be able to retire one day 😉 but that’s not so easy these days, is it?
I should learn more from you on how to do that well!
9. We had a brief discussion on magic numbers for stockpiling cash/investments. For me I mentioned $5 million, I know you’re not such a keen shopper as me, do you have a number?
Actually, I never set myself a specific number.
But of course, we calculated whether we’re on track to be able to raise the kids, assure sufficient retirement savings, and have a backup for unforeseen events.
I mean you need to have a realistic and honest look at your finances.
Luckily so far, we’re on track.
Thank you, Adam, and all the best to The LifeHacker Guy! I’ll be curious to see what challenges you come up with next!