Thirty Rules I’ve Learned About Building an Unbranded Business

List revised.

1. It’s not fun.  Nobody, nothing cooperates.  Things break, people are whimsical, weird shit happens all the time.

2. It’s a lot of fun. It’s fun when you figure out how to cooperate with an unpredictable world.   You’ll realize the fun is the chase, and the work is in maintaining the relationship.

3. You’re a stupid useless cunt every time you fuck up an order.  Doesn’t matter if this is true or not.  You have to believe it’s true.

4.  Don’t hire when you start.  I learned this one the hard way and it nearly left me destitute and homeless.  It takes time to build a competent army.  Hire because you’ve found the right person, not because you want a break.

5. People don’t change, they just become clearer versions of who they really are.    Don’t expect to change the person you hire into the person you want them to be, even if they want to be that. Our habits are addictions, we relapse when we think we can get away with it.

6. People change only when there’s enough peer pressure to do so.  That’s why she won’t lose weight until the flow of compliments about her appearance ends.  Until then, she’ll see what she can get away with.

7. Never say “no” to a customer.  It creates a communication barrier, such that they tune out everything else you say to them.  Create a place where customers don’t have to hear “no.”  They already hear “no” all day long, from their boss, their kids, spouse, bureaucrats.

8. If you have to say “no” to a customer, say it without saying “no.”  For instance, say “Fuck Off.”  Much more effective than “no.”

9. Never make excuses to a customer.  Assume that the customer doesn’t care if you’re late opening the store because your grandmother slipped and broke her hip and you had to take her to the hospital.  Just apologize for being late and continue work.

10. Never play victim. Once you start blaming the world for your problems is when it’ll soon be over. It’s especially important to blame yourself when it’s not your fault.  Learn to blame yourself when it’s not your fault. Only then will you figure out why IT IS your fault.

11. Don’t allow employees to play victim.  Once they do, it will become a part of the work culture.  Making excuses and playing victim are contagious behaviors.   We have a policy — three excuses per month and you’re fired.  Employees can make up for each excuse by writing an essay on why excuse was made, what will be done to ensure it’s never made again, and how making excuses prevents one from learning.

12. “If you are going to kill, kill 20, not just one,” someone once told Bandit Queen, Phoolan Devi. “If you kill 20 your fame will spread; if you kill only one, they will hang you.” And that’s exactly what she did — massacred 22 upper-caste villagers — and that’s exactly what happened — pardoned of all crimes after 11 years in jail, elected to office, and immortalized in books and film as a lower-caste gang leader.  Don’t just piss off a few people.  That’s going to happen, unintentionally, anyway.  Piss off a lot of people, INTENTIONALLY.  Don’t piss people off for the sake of pissing them off.  That’s just douchebag behavior.  Piss people off because you truly believe that there’s no other option, that they need to be pissed off, that they need a good shake to wake up.

13. It’s ok to fail.  Most of life is failure.  Failure is good as long as you learn from it, take responsibility for your failure. I fail several times a day.

14. Follow the Pareto principle, the 80-20 rule.  I had never heard of it until someone mentioned it after noticing that I kept describing the world in 80/20 ratios. This ratio seems to be found throughout nature.  Like 20 percent of people own 80 percent of wealth.  Or 80 percent of people use 20 percent of software features, while 20 percent use 80 percent of them; 20 percent of agricultural land produces 80 percent of bounty, 20 percent of employees produce 80 percent of value. Fascinating.

15. Hang out with your customers and employees.  They’re the most important people in your life, they support you even though you’re a stupid, useless, cunt.  Treat them like family, know them better than anyone else in their life.  Don’t waste time on those  who can’t help you reach your goal.  There’s no time to hang out with college drinking buddies and reminisce about the time the two of you had sex with twins in a bathroom stall while…GROW UP!

16. Operate your business as stereotypical East Asian family operates.  If you have no idea what goes on in many East Asian families, read Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  It’s an extreme example, but it captures the essence of Asian identity and worldview AND how visionaries like Steve Jobs ran their businesses. She provides general framework on how to run a business and treat employees.  I’ve tried the standard middle-class White American way of parenting and it doesn’t work.  It’s like they’re in competition to see who can be nicer to their kids and assume their kids are narcissistic, manipulative, and have strong sense of entitlement because they weren’t nice enough to them.  It’s fucking madness!

17. Don’t waste time.  Use off hours to identify all the mistakes you made during the day and figure out how to correct them.  The mistake could be a posture, choice of words, failure to spot a detail, possibilities are endless.  Spend leisure time only on activities related to business.  Don’t spend time talking to those who don’t add value to your life and business.  Again, don’t waste time. So obvious, but difficult to follow.

18. Be grateful.  Thank your customers for putting up with you being a stupid, useless, cunt, for actually paying money for your products and services.  Thank your employees for tolerating you. Treat them to lunch and dinner.

19. Don’t let customers control the business.  It’s your business, not theirs.  Don’t be scared of them.  The moment you let them run your business is when you lose passion for whatever it is you want to do.

20. Burn all business textbooks.  Some of the stuff you find in textbooks may work for Fortune 500 companies, but not for a start-up. Rely on street-smarts, not books that’ll be out of date within 10 years of publication.

21. Ignore consultants.  They’re mostly talking business textbooks.  Their advice is either obvious, asinine, or impractical at the moment.  Most of them don’t know your motivations.  You can learn a lot more from industry veterans.

22. Listen to Tupac, let him guide you, because you will be shot by someone five times and you better “take it and smile.”  When you recover, find the motherfucker who shot you and destroy him and everyone associated with him. It’s better to be feared than loved.

23. Always compare yourself to the best.  Not saying you need to aim to be the best.  You don’t need to be ambitious (I’m not).  But you need to grade yourself fairly.  (You need to recognize reality).  If you don’t like being compared — and we’re always being compared, like it or not — find a low stress, low profile, low standards job where comparisons will be implicit, not explicit.

24. Don’t get greedy.  Realize expansion is a slow process.  I’ve been by tempted to accept free rent to open a second store here and there even though I can barely run one store.  A lot of people lose everything when they open a second store or expand.  I remember Asteroid Cafe, a little hole in wall in Wallingford, owner was passionate about politics.  Great reviews, good prices, successful operation for nearly a decade, bursting at seams.  Decided to expand, moved to a fancy location in Fremont, tripling seating.  Lasted less than two years.  Owner crushed, has never recovered.  Sad story.

25. Don’t be lazy.  This is obvious, but it’s so tempting to slip up.  It’s Friday 7pm and you want to go home so you do a sloppy job of interviewing an applicant, cut it short.  Her incompetence ends up costing you thousands.  Or I once lost a bid for a large catering event because I didn’t respond to an e-mail a day earlier. (And even if my late response isn’t the reason for rejection, I have to believe that it is.  Create a reality that will encourage you to not be lazy).

26. Ignore focus groups.  Steve Jobs ignored them.  Focus groups are methodologically problematic and people don’t know what they want when they’re in a contextless environment. They also give you yet another excuse when something doesn’t sell.  Good sellers can sell anything, even bottled fart.  Ann Wigamore convinced people to pay a lot of money for something as useless as wheatgrass.

27. Exercise.  You need to be healthy to maximize productivity.  You can find the time for it.

28.  Don’t try to save the world. If your product sounds too good to be true — spirulina, wheatgrass, ionized water — then you are a liar.  Stay away from anyone who tells you buying their product will save the world (empower the peasants, save them from greedy capitalists!) and instantly bring you eternal life (wheatgrass).  There’s no such thing as an elixir.  Living well requires hard work.  Even then, shit happens.  We’re no longer in the Garden of Eden.

29. Believe in Original Sin.  Especially the Calvinist/Puritan version, where we are born responsible for and tainted by the sins of our ancestors.  If you don’t believe you’re depraved and deserve to burn in Hell, you’ll never be truly grateful for life and whatever else you have.  You’ll feel entitled to a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.  You won’t have the drive to keep going during the tough times.  You won’t be able to survive a day where you lose money despite working 16 hours. You have to see the tough days as penance for your sins, not as unfair.

30. Flattery is the sound of the Devil’s laughter. Flattery distorts reality, makes us blind to our total depravity.   Ignore salespeople who flatter you, they’re like the men who flatter women so they can fuck them.  Addiction to flattery feeds our narcissism and lowers standards.  That’s why those at the top rarely praise themselves and other people.  Flattery has ruined many promising careers and businesses. Low caliber people work for praise. High caliber people work for achievement. God’s people work to express God’s grace.


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