When I, Olivier Roland met Phil, CEO of Oznium, in San Francisco, and he explained to me that he generates 1 million $CAD per year with his company while implementing the 4-hour work week and traveling all over the world, I couldn’t resist the temptation to interview him allowing him the opportunity to share his experience and strategies with you.
Phil is a bit shy, so it was a little difficult for me at times to get him to talk, but I think I still managed to “worm” some information out of him to bring you some interesting stuff 🙂:
*** Make sure that the English subtitles are activated for the first few minutes of the video! If not, click on at the bottom of the video! The icon will then turn red: ***
(Literal) Text Transcription of the video :
Olivier Roland: Hello and welcome to this new video from the Life-changing Books blog (“Des Livres Pour Changer de Vie”). I am currently with Phil… Hi Phil!
Olivier Roland: I met Phil here in San Francisco. He told me a little bit about his entrepreneurial journey, and he is an entrepreneur who leads today the lifestyle of The 4-hour workweek. I found his career very, very interesting, and I told myself that I was going to interview him to share with you a bit of his background 🙂.
So, Phil… can you briefly tell us about your business and explain what it does …and when did you start?
Phil: Basically, I import LED lighting from China. We bring it to the United States, to our warehouse, and we resell it online to our customers, like any web shop.
I started about 8 years ago when I was still in high school.
Olivier Roland: Wow! How did you come up with this idea?
Phil: Basically, I saw there was a good market. I had friends who wanted LEDs that I had put on my car. So, I bought LEDs for $ 1 and sold them for $ 5. It made me a little extra money for high school, for food and the like…
And maybe a year or two later, I woke up one day and thought, wow, this is a real business. And so, I continued and expanded it.
Olivier Roland: So, at the beginning, it was just to make a little bit of money?
Olivier Roland: How did you manage the transition between a small business that made a little bit of money and a real business… What made you decide to make that move?
Phil: It’s was very gradual. I did one step after another, and like I said before, it wasn’t something I had planned to do. I just woke up one day and said to myself, “This is really a business.”
I think the transition was more about thinking that…you could create a real business and support your life. Some people think they need to go get a job. But I realized that this could make enough money to support my lifestyle.
Olivier Roland: Okay. So, in the beginning, how much money did you make?
Phil: The first year, maybe $ 20,000, or $ 18,000, something like that.
Olivier Roland: That’s pretty good, right?
Phil: Oh yeah, it was pretty good!
Olivier Roland: You were happy, but when did you really start making money?
Phil: I would say after three or four years, but at the time, I didn’t have very many expenses. I was living at home, and I didn’t have much to buy.
Olivier Roland: Okay. What was your strategy at the beginning to make yourself known, what were the marketing techniques that you used?
Phil: For marketing in the beginning, one of the big things we did was forums and message boards. So, we would go on specialized forums to promote ourselves by becoming a sponsor, which was very in expensive: Between 10 and 100 dollars per month for the high-end ones.
We were in daily contact with their members. We would talk about our products. We gave information about LEDs and ideas on how to install them. It was direct social interaction before Facebook.
That was really good.
Olivier Roland: And the real start began after that then? How did it come about? By word of mouth?
Phil: Yeah, mostly by word of mouth. A customer would call our after-sales service. They would talk to us about a defective product. We immediately would send them a replacement product with no questions asked.
For example, a person had posted a negative review on one of our products. He said the LED strip he bought didn’t work and had to find a replacement. So, I saw the negative review and immediately called him.
I introduced myself, and I apologized. I said to him, “This strip, this product is not really suitable. We’re working on a better one, but right now we don’t have it.”
“What I’m going to do is refund your entire order in full.” About $ 65. So, I refunded his entire order without any questions asked. It wasn’t something he asked for. So, he was really blown away.
Olivier Roland: Okay. So, do you think that’s your key point?
Phil: Yeah, pretty much.
Olivier Roland: I think we can learn a lot from you. How many hours a week do you work for your company?
Phil: It depends, because it’s all fun to me. Maybe four hours in the last few weeks. Sometimes, I will sit down and work on a crazy project, maybe sixty hours a week, but it’s still fun.
The general pattern is that I work really intense for a month, even 3 weeks, then I disappear for two months.
Olivier Roland : It is really the 4-hour workweek. You really have the freedom to do whatever you want. If you want to work, you work. If you don’t want to work, you don’t work. That’s awesome!
And you can manage your company completely from the internet, right?
Phil: Yeah, pretty much.
Olivier Roland: And you told me that you travel a lot.
Olivier Roland: So, can you tell us the number of countries you have already visited?
Phil: I have never really counted, but it must be at least forty-something.
Olivier Roland: Wow! And all that in eight years?
Olivier Roland: Wow! That’s awesome! What were the last countries visited?
Phil: This year started out in Hong Kong. I did business there for a few months, then went to Hawaii for a quick break.
Then I went back to Hong Kong for a bit, then I went to East Timor, a very interesting place. Then back to Hawaii, and to the United States, New York, to Antigua, the Caribbean.
Then I sailed across the Atlantic for 45 days.
Olivier Roland: Wow! Did you have internet?
Olivier Roland: So, 45 days without internet?
Phil: We had 18 days without internet, then we had internet for a few days.
Olivier Roland: That’s really the best test to see if your business is running on its own, isn’t it? You didn’t check your emails at all.
Phil: No. In fact, someone on the boat had a satellite phone. That’s how we found out that Osama bin Laden had been caught. But other than that, we knew nothing about the outside world.
Olivier Roland: Awesome. And when you got back to the real world, your company was still there.
Phil: Yeah, it was one of the best months ever.
Olivier Roland: So, you are not afraid to go on vacation.
Olivier Roland: It’s a deeply automated business. What is amazing is that you did all of this before the 4-Hour Workweek book was written.
Phil: Yeah. I had been working harder… I mean, not harder. I had been spinning my wheels more before the 4-Hour Workweek. That book made me realize that I didn’t have to go to the office every day, that I don’t have to do these tasks…
I could focus more on the more productive 80/20.
Olivier Roland : So, you mean that before reading this book, you had the freedom, but you weren’t aware of it?
Phil: Yeah, exactly.
Olivier Roland: Wow! So, the book made you aware of this freedom?
Olivier Roland: And it was from then that you started to travel?
Phil: Now I only go to the office once a year.
Olivier Roland: Once a year at the office…that’s awesome!!! Do you talk to people you meet around the world about what you do?
Phil: Yeah, pretty much.
Olivier Roland: What is their reaction?
Phil: They don’t know how I do it. People are sometimes jealous. They can be very negative and sometimes think I should work harder or stay in the office. They don’t understand what it is about.
For the most part, people appreciate it and want to try and do it themselves. But they just don’t know, or don’t see how it’s possible.
They don’t see the right steps, or don’t have the right mindset: “You don’t have to do this…”
Someone who has a brick and mortar business think they have to go to the office every day but that is the way they set it up. If they change it so that they train somebody else to take over, then they manage that person remotely, that could work.
Olivier Roland: Okay…yes. This is one thing you could do: teach a course about that. “How to set up an automated business.”
You have of course a lot of experience in this field. Do you think about that?
Phil: Yeah, possibly.
Olivier Roland: I’m sure it would work. I’m sure you have plenty to teach. And what is the current turnover of your company?
Phil: Over a million dollars a year. It’s been pretty steady.
I know roughly how much per day…I could for example predict how much I will earn Tuesday, and it is like that every week.
Olivier Roland: Okay. Wow.
Phil: It is based on the traffic you get and there’s a conversion rate. So, you can pretty much predict what it will be.
Olivier Roland: Okay. And how many employees do you have?
Phil: There are four people in the United States and four people in Hong Kong.
Olivier Roland: Is it difficult for you to find people?
Phil: No, not that difficult. The best way is to use your local connections.
Olivier Roland: So, did you put in place procedures so that your employees can manage your company without you?
Phil: Yeah. Everything is fully automated. It runs itself.
Olivier Roland: You told me that you sometimes work 60 hours a week if you wanted to. What kind of work?
Phil: Yeah. I develop new systems, new products, and new business development.
If I were to disappear now, the business would continue running but not really grow.
Olivier Roland: Have you read “The E-myth”? The author of this awesome book basically explains that the difference between entrepreneurs and people who create their own jobs is that entrepreneurs work *on* their business, while people who create their own jobs work *in* their business.
You improve the processes, all the strategies…so that the business operates on its own.
Phil: Are you talking about the book The E-myth Revisited ?
Olivier Roland: Yes, that’s it.
Phil: Very good book. It is tricky to do. The concepts to build these business manuals and organization charts, it is easier said than done.
Olivier Roland: Yes. It’s a bit boring to implement, isn’t it? But once it’s done, it’s done! You just have to ask your team to improve the organization, so you don’t have much to do after, and that’s really something a lot of entrepreneurs could read.
They don’t think that all of their knowledge could be written down. This could prevent employees from asking them questions every time they don’t know what to do.
Entrepreneurs who are on vacation therefore always keep their phones on. They spend a lot of time each day answering very simple questions to which the solutions could be written on a piece of paper. It’s crazy
Phil: Yeah, it’s really amazing. One of the models that is pretty good to emulate is the hotel business.
If you look at hotels, they have these really amazing manuals. It runs itself.
Olivier Roland : Yes. The author of the book “The E-myth” gives the example of the hotel industry.
Olivier Roland: I really recommend buying this book. It was translated into French about twenty years ago. It is no longer available today, but you can read it in English.
If you don’t read in English, well… It could be your first book in English, and you could really learn a lot:
Do you think it is still possible today to start a business on the internet? There is after all a lot more competition today.
Olivier Roland: Do you think there is still room in the market?
Phil: Yeah, there’s still a lot of potential.
Olivier Roland: If you had to start from scratch, what would you do?
Phil: If I had to start from scratch, I might do things differently. I would consider outsourcing warehouse management.
Olivier Roland: In the book The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss advises not to buy the product from the manufacturer to resell it yourself, and that it is better to play the role of the salesperson who manages the customer relationship.
That’s not what you do…you buy yourself.
Olivier Roland: Okay. So, are you going to take Tim Ferriss’ advice?
Phil: I might consider it. Because it’s something different that I haven’t tried. It would be interesting to see how that works. Obviously, each way of doing things has its pluses and minuses. You can have more margin and profit on the model of vertically expanding.
So, going all the way up to the customer, the warehouse, holding your own products…also on the other side, sourcing them and actually manufacturing them yourself. But then, if you don’t do that, you’re not making as much money.
But then you could expand it more, you could scale it easier, and obviously you don’t have the physical overhead. It’s just all bits and information.
Olivier Roland: Yes. Have you made any big mistakes during these eight years?
Phil: No, nothing too big. I took it step by step, taking thousands of very little risks.
Olivier Roland: Yes.
Phil: I once bought $ 5,000 worth of product that didn’t sell. So, I had to sell it basically at cost. It was a big waste of time but ultimately didn’t lose much.
Olivier Roland: Okay. So, it wasn’t really a big mistake.
Phil: I have had other mistakes. I got rid of some subcontractors in eight years who had to design new products.
They wasted a lot of money, and the projects were not being managed properly. That’s it.
Olivier Roland: So, what is your next project?
Phil: I’m expanding business in Hong Kong. I’m focusing on the manufacturing side. I’m trying to better control the manufacturing times and the quality of the products. I think if we control the quality, the cost won’t matter as much because we won’t have as many defective products that involve paying someone to answer the phone and take note of the defect or paying someone to ship a replacement product, and so on.
Then, after that, we will consider trying to expand the business into Europe. We are thinking about England or France. Our model can work just about anywhere.
Olivier Roland: Our viewers will perhaps already know the LED products and your company when you arrive on the French market.
Cool! I’ll keep you guys posted and add a link.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own business right now? Something to get them started?
Phil: There are a few things. Basically, delivering value. The more value you give, the better…obviously.
Olivier Roland: Customer service has always been the competitive advantage of your business, hasn’t it? Do you have any advice on this subject?
Phil: Just be human. Just put yourself in the customer’s shoes. How would you like to be treated?
Olivier Roland: Yes. It seems basic but a lot of companies don’t offer human customer service.
It even seems like some people in business marketing aren’t human. They speak in a corporate language, with words that no one uses outside of the corporate world. It’s really strange.
If you talk to people using everyday vocabulary, it is easier to establish a relationship with them. What you do think?
Phil: I also think there is a trust issue. A lot of people don’t know if they can trust the customer.
When the customer calls and says, “This product is broken,” they’re going to hesitate to believe them. Whereas they could assume that the customer is telling the truth, or at least give them the benefit of the doubt.
And say, “Okay, we’ll replace the product for you.”
Olivier Roland: Okay. Yes. Asssume that the customer is not lying. If the customer lies, who cares, because most customers don’t lie actually.
This is something I discovered. Most people are honest. They will not ask for a refund.
Cool! To finish, can you give us your website address?
Phil: Yeah. It’s oznium.com. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s a made-up word.
Olivier Roland: Great.Thanks Phil for sharing your strategies and story with us.
The bottom line is that you can see that it is possible to build an automated business that works for you, and not the other way around.
Which is designed to give you the lifestyle you want.
Thanks Phil. Goodbye and see you next time!
What did you think of this interview? Leave me a comment to let me know! 🙂