One of the first things people usually ask me about is my racial background – so let’s start there. I am half East Indian (my Dad), 1/8 Russian Jewish and the rest English (my Mum). I have the oddest assortment of great grandparents due to this mix – from a Cantor in a synagogue in Warsaw, to a seamstress for the Queen of England, to a merchant in Gujarat who was so aggressive (and healthy – he ate nothing but yoghurt for one month out of every year) he was known to all as “the Bull”.
I started my very first business at the age of nine. And learned my first hugely important business lesson. Those of you who know any Indians named “Patel” will know that for millennia we have owned our own businesses. In fact, I can hear my Dad repeating (almost like a mantra), “Why the hell would you want to work your ass off to put money in someone else’s pocket, when you can put it in your own?”
The Candy Store
So, the summer of my ninth year, my 10-year-old brother Millan and I built a candy store out of spare lumber at the end of our driveway. We had already helped our Dad build a barn, a doghouse and 3 acres of fencing by this point, so this was not a difficult task for us. We got the candy from my Uncle who owned a pharmacy (at wholesale plus 20% – cause he’s a Patel too and god forbid he should just let us have the candy at cost, without making a profit! Best form of teaching: Do as I do.) and we opened every afternoon for business. Being kids ourselves, we knew exactly which items to stock – chips, candy, chocolate bars and popsicles (in a cooler). We got so busy, we had to hire our next-door neighbor to help out.
Why was our little candy store such a roaring success? Because we lived out in the country and the nearest competition was 20 minutes away by car. So kids rode their bikes, motorbikes and horses from miles around – all summer long. Since my brother Millan was older and a math whiz, he handled all the money and inventory. At the end of every day, we stored the remaining stock in his bedroom in the cool basement. I tell you, I was rubbing my hands with glee thinking about all the money we were making!
At the end of the summer, Millan handed me my share of the profits from the summer-long venture…. $20.
I was aghast, how could this be? I was expecting closer to $300! Millan mumbled explanations about cost of inventory, hiring our neighbor, etc… I still didn’t understand, but then he was the math whiz and I assumed it was my fault I couldn’t understand the math. I was just gutted.
Next summer rolled around and Millan asked, “So, you want to do the candy store again?” I was gobsmacked, “What?? You want to work like a dog all summer long, for 20 bucks, are you crazy??”
When I was 38, my brother finally told me what really happened to our profits that summer: Every night after we packed up the stock and stored it in his bedroom, he and our neighbor would gorge themselves sick on our candy! They ATE all of our profits and that’s the real reason there was only $20 left to give me at the end of the summer’s labor.
So what were the lessons from my very first business?
- Never turn control of the money over to someone else. Sure, you can hire accountants or financial officers, but always double-check all the figures on a regular basis and stay on top of the money at all times. And don’t wait till the end of the year, or the season to do this. By then, if someone’s fleecing you, it’s too late.
- Never give your power away. If you can’t understand something, don’t assume you’re a thickie, push as hard and as continually as you need to, until your questions get answered fully and to your satisfaction.
- Don’t blindly trust anyone – not your family, not your spouse, not your friends. Because when people cheat, they’re not thinking of you, they’re thinking of their own needs and desires. So it’s rarely personal; few people actually set out to swindle others. Instead they have a whole story going on in their heads to justify their actions – which of course is entirely from their point of view. I’m sure my brother and our neighbour did not stop to think at all about how I would feel – they were simply driven by their sugar cravings and a pretty irresistible opportunity. The best con-men are people who actually believe their own con; your lie detector isn’t twigged, because they are actually really and truly sincere. I experienced this again in my third business.
Well that was it and I didn’t start my next business until I was 19. Then I partnered up with my University friend, Corey Anderson and started a photography business. She was the photographer and I handled bookings, the accounts (note who handled the money this time!), production, styling and even some of the lighting. Due to our artsy connections, we ended up doing mostly portfolio shots for models and fashion designers. This led to a few layouts in our local newspaper, The Edmonton Journal.
A year later when we graduated from University, we wanted to go travelling. So we approached the fashion editor of The Edmonton Journal and asked if they could sponsor us to shoot the international fashion shows in Tokyo, Japan and we would send back photos and copy for the newspaper. She agreed – thank-you Vivian Sosnowski for giving us our first break! – and we were on our way.
About six months after living and working in Tokyo, some kind soul finally told us that our company name – Boboh – which was printed on our business cards, handed out to every single person we met – was slang for “clitoris” in Japanese. Doh!
Whilst in Japan, we continued to run our photography business but I also worked as a sub-editor at The Japan Times newspaper (where I also had my own fashion column), and as the Fashion Editor at Tokyo Time Out magazine. Those were wonderful days in 1989-91, there were very few foreigners in Japan, nothing was in English (not even subway signs), and we made an absolute fortune. Again, just like the candy store, because there was little to no competition. When you’re the only game in town you can make scads of money very easily. It was wonderful!
Because there were hardly any gaijin (foreigners) in Tokyo at that time and I was doing high profile, glamorous activities, I was often headhunted and offered an amazing job opportunity about every 3 months. Since these were all long-term positions I really had to think hard about my future and what I wanted. And you know what I realized?
I kept being pulled back to my childhood dream of being a singer/songwriter. I had started singing in church at the age of nine and as the years went by I learned to play the guitar, took voice lessons, sang in bands, concert choirs and toured in musicals. What I realized after two years of raking in the money and living the high life in Tokyo was that if I didn’t make the break now to pursue my childhood dream, I would probably never be willing again to step so far backwards into being a “poor, struggling artist”.
Girl With A Guitar
So I left Tokyo and moved to London, England. Not only did London produce great musical talent, often more original than North America, but I figured my accent would work in my favor and get me in the door a lot quicker – which it did. I had an eight-song demo of songs that I’d written and recorded and I had my heart set on getting a record deal that would allow me to write and sing my own music.
Well, after three years in London I’d had a total of four recording contract offers – but none of them would allow me to write and sing my own music!
- One label offered me a personal trainer, wardrobe allowance, and nice apartment, but they wanted me to dress in leather and PVC and sing heavy metal. Eeuuwww on all counts!
- Another wanted me to “sing black” (this was just after Lisa Stansfield, but before Celine Dion and the flood of others that followed her). Why, when there were so many who could do it better?
- After performing in a nightclub in Rome, I was offered a contract by Italy’s top pop music producer, who did not speak a word of English – to become an Italian pop star. My Italian friend was aghast when I turned this down, “I don’t understand you! I don’t know what you want!” Um, to write and sing my own music…
- Then of course there was the standard, “F**k me and I’ll make your record”. Uh gee, no thanks.
My priority was not fame or wealth. What I wanted was to make and sing my music. You know, the ‘girl & the guitar’ thing. But this was seven years before Sarah McLachlan broke that genre wide open. At that time, no one was producing that style of music or artist and Sarah was just an underground artist going round singing on University campuses to a few hundred people at a time. What I was doing was good, it was just seven years ahead of the market.
What did I learn from the record industry?
- In the marketplace, timing is a big part of success. You can have a fantastic product, great delivery, etc., but if the market is not ready for it, or doesn’t want it, then it’s not gonna happen at that time.
- I realized that I would have been much further ahead if I had spent that 3 years setting up my own record label and releasing my own singles. This was unheard of at the time, but still, if I’d thought just a little more “outside the box” I would have come up with it. Instead, I wasted my time waiting for other people to give me what I wanted. Rather than just going out and making it happen for myself. BIG lesson learned and you’ll see later how this benefited me.
- Life is in the details. Here’s something else I realized: I didn’t like the lifestyle of a singer! It would have been very unhealthy for me to live like that and travel/tour incessantly. Since my health was already sub-par, I actually would not have been able to maintain the lifestyle necessary to do this career for any length of time. Also, I realized I would have to sing the same song over and over again. And guess what? I loathe repetition. I’m an “onto the new, onto the next” kind of person.
So, great life experience, I had a lot of fun and learned some good things – that’s what life is for right? If you never try, you never know…
1/ Take some time to go back over your own work/business history to date and list (a) what worked well for you and (b) what didn’t work so well. After you’ve done that, you’ll have a good picture of your strengths, weaknesses, lessons learned and a better game plan for your future endeavours.
2/ Remember in the first bullet point where I said: “You can have a fantastic product, great delivery, etc., but if the market is not ready for it, or doesn’t want it, then it’s not gonna happen at that time” –> So if you’re in it for the money, are you going to last 7 years waiting for the market to catch up? Not likely. But if it’s really and truly your top talent, the thing that holds the most meaning, or that you love the most, or that you feel is your destiny, will you last 7 years? Absolutely. And then when the marketplace does catch up to you, you will be in the number one spot, the trusted authority and you will ride the wave in. So ask yourself now: Out of all the things I LOVE to do, what do I love the most? Out of all the things I’m good at, what is my TOP TALENT? Then focus on that.
Note: You have to actually write all this stuff down. Just doing it in your head will not carry the same power, or yield the same results.
Okay, back to my story: I left England and moved to Vancouver, Canada where I began applying for jobs whilst working as an extra on movie sets and thought about what I wanted to do next. An old work colleague of mine approached me with a business proposition. He’d gotten into telecommunications and had a great idea for a niche product offering tele-dating to ethnic markets. Since realizing that I was now pretty much unemployable (you can’t go backwards in life, it just doesn’t work), I thought it sounded like an interesting business. And since this fellow had been one of the top-performing sales people in furniture and then diamonds for about 7 years running, I figured we should be able to make a go of it.
Telephone & Internet Dating
So we started a 50/50 business called Protocol Teleprocessing Inc. and we set up 1-900 ethnic telephone datelines for Chinese and Indians. Our Indian product was called Auntie-Ji’s Matchmaking Service and our Chinese product was Club 2000 (this was in 1993, so it sounded futuristic).
But here’s what we did differently that brought us success in a venture that typically required a large amount of start-up capital (which we didn’t have): Instead of buying ad space in the newspapers for our customer’s personal ads (remember the pages of personal ads in the back of the newspaper?), we joint-ventured with the newspapers.
We said, tell you what, you list all our ads in your newspaper and we’ll split the revenue from the 1-900 lines ($1.99/minute) with you 50/50. We put together a nice pitch-package with some tempting number forecasts and every newspaper we approached across North America said yes. For our top-performing Indo-Canadian newspaper I also wrote an anonymous advice column as a value-add and to expand the branding called, Ask Auntie-Ji – which also turned out to be a roaring success.
Things were going along tickety-boo, expanding nicely, when I found out (by unexpectedly walking into the middle of a phone call he was having) that my partner had gone behind my back to our lawyer and was in the initial stages of setting up an IPO (Initial Public Offering) to take the company public. When I confronted him he said, “But I wanted it to be a surprise, I thought you’d be really pleased!”
See what I mean about con-men believing their own con? Our lawyer was horrified to find out that I had known nothing about this super-expensive endeavour. When the dust settled, I bought my partner out (thank god we had signed a shotgun buy-sell Agreement when we started the company) and our lawyer, Peter Mogan reduced his bill to a fraction of what it was – you see, there are good lawyers with integrity and a sense of responsibility out there!
It was at this point that I also met my husband – Ian Thompson. He was living and working in telecommunications in Hong Kong at the time and we were hooked up by a mutual friend of ours, who told me, “Call him, he’s a real hunk!” Since this was just before the internet and email, we faxed and phoned each other for 2 months solid (our combined phone bill was over $10,000!) at which point I said, “You know, we either need to meet, or chill this out, cause this is getting ridiculous.” At this point, we still did not even know what each other looked like.
He said, “If I send you a ticket, will you come to Hong Kong?” I agreed, with the caveat that if we didn’t “click” in person, or if there was something non-negotiable like really bad B.O. then I was going to visit my friend Joseph in Jakarta. He agreed, sent me a ticket that weekend and I flew off. Well, click we did and got engaged 3 days later and married 6 months after that (in Las Vegas of course). That was 18 years and 3 children ago, and he’s still my Hunk.
Back To Biz Stuff…The Buyout
A year later I had expanded my ethnic dating company to include internet dating (we were one of the very first dating sites on the web). After several debacles with website programmers I realized, you know what, these guys can tell me anything and I don’t have a clue! So I went back to college at night and took a course in website design and HTML programming. That was one of the best things I ever did. And it has benefited me immeasurably ever since. But, a key point here: I don’t use that knowledge/training to program my own websites. I use it to manage and communicate with the people I hire to write the code for my sites – and to ensure they aren’t overcharging me.
A software magnate in New York read about my telecommunications company in a magazine article, made me an offer, and bought me out. To be honest, I was bored with the dating business and ready to move on to something new.
I was also at the point in my health journey where I wanted to write a book telling others how I had healed myself of widespread Crohn’s Disease using only natural methods – no drugs and no surgery. So I took the next two years easy, wrote the book and helped my hubby Ian in his marketing/advertising company – he had started his own company when he moved to Vancouver from Hong Kong.
Yes, I could have expanded the dating business into India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc. and made an absolute boat load of dosh (rather than selling it), but again, whilst I love having money, it is not my top priority. I like money to be a by-product of me doing what I want, not the sole or main reason I do something. And yes, this means I was not a millionaire by age 25. But you know what? I have always had enough money to do whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it.
Many people in the business world measure success primarily by one criteria: Financial.
I measure success in a holistic manner:
- How’s your health? (Good Health Is Real Wealth is the title of my subscription newsletter)
- Do you have meaningful, intimate relationships with your spouse and kids?
- Are you actually parenting, nurturing and teaching your own children, or have you outsourced that?
- Do you do things on a regular basis that nurture your soul and stoke your passions?
- Are you well-travelled and able to move fluidly in different cultures?
- How many languages do you speak?
- Are you helping the earth, or harming it?
- Do you have lots of fun and a good measure of adventure in your life?
- Do you have enough money to live the life you want to live?
- Do you have enough money to travel, pay for your hobbies and provide for your kids’ needs?
- Are you giving back or just taking? Are you actively involved in making the world a better place?
That is the kind of success that is meaningful to me. I know a lot of business gurus say, “The purpose of a business is to make money.” But I disagree. My motto would be more along the lines of “Figure out how to make money from something you enjoy, or that has meaning and a higher purpose to you.” And of course, I love what Muhammad Yunus (Founder of Grameen Bank of micro-lending) said in his book, Banker To The Poor:
“Somehow we have persuaded ourselves that the capitalist economy must be fueled only by greed. This has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Only the profit maximizers get to play in the marketplace and try their luck. People who are not motivated by profit making stay away from it, condemn it, and search for alternatives.
We can condemn the private sector for all its mistakes, but we cannot justify why we ourselves are not trying to change things, not trying to make things better by participating in the economy. The private sector, unlike the government, is open to everyone, even those not interested in making a profit.
The challenge I set before anyone who condemns private-sector business is this: If you are a socially conscious person, why don’t you run your business in a way that will help achieve social objectives? [emphasis mine]
I profoundly believe, as Grameen’s experience over twenty years has shown, that personal gain is not the only possible fuel for free enterprise. Social goals can replace greed as a powerful motivational force. Social-consciousness-driven enterprises can be formidable competitors for the greed-based enterprises. I believe that if we play our cards right, social-consciousness-driven enterprises can do very well in the marketplace.”
My younger brother, Ricken Patel, is living proof of Yunus’ economic theory. His very first company, an NGO called Avaaz.org generated millions of dollars in it’s first year and now has over 20 million members worldwide. Ricken has been featured in magazines and newspapers worldwide and most recently on the cover of The Economist – Intelligent Life – where they quoted from this blog post!
Fit Your Business To Your Personality
The other really important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to make all your money from just one thing. You can have as many revenue streams as you wish. This can be determined by your personality. Are you the kind of person that likes to focus on just one thing and drill deep? If so, then you need to be careful picking your business since you’re going to want to derive all your income from that one thing.
Or are you the kind of person that has a lot of different skills, talents and interests? In that case, you may prefer to have lots of smaller businesses, each of them in a different niche (or series of related niches) all generating you varying amounts of income.
I love adventure in life and business. I love the fact that I am in complete control of my life and finances at any given time – I can create whatever I want, whenever I want. And when life throws up an opportunity (also referred to as crisis) I 100% get to choose how I’m going to respond to that and what good things I’m going to mine from that experience.
When my book, Listen To Your Gut, was finished I used the big lesson I’d learned from the music business. Rather than looking for a publisher – spending months or years getting rejected, allowing someone else to edit my message at will, setting myself up to do all the marketing for only a 10% royalty on the sale price – I started my own publishing company: Caramal Publishing Inc. I called it Caramal because one of my husband’s pet names for me was Caramel-Coat.
A few years later I told a taxi driver in Mexico the name of my company. Guess what he said “cara mal” means in Spanish? It means “ugly face”.
Oh well, having company names that translate badly seems to be my destiny! At least it doesn’t mean “ugly twat”.
A month after Listen To Your Gut was published I gave birth to my first son, Oscar. I had already set up the website, automated payment processing, warehousing and fulfillment (sub-contracted to a company in Texas) so I was able to be side-whacked with the exhaustion of breastfeeding a new baby round-the-clock while my new business ticked along mostly without me. That was back in 2000. Now Caramal Publishing is a division of Listen To Your Gut Enterprises Inc. and has dozens of books, CDs, DVDs and an online health store selling 300+ products. I also have two more little monkeys – Zara and Hugo.
Make Money From Your Life Experiences
When Oscar was 2 weeks old, he developed colic and being an expert in digestive diseases, I figured out how to heal it. So when Zara was 8 weeks old, we shot a DVD with her as the demo-baby where I show other parents exactly how to heal their baby’s colic. I figured stressed out, desperate parents need to laugh, so I called the DVD, Baby Fart Aerobics.
One night my Mum overheard me telling a bedtime story and insisted it was so good that I needed to start recording my stories. So I did and they became the Murray the Shark series of Sleeptime Story CDs. In them I teach kids aged 2-6 (through storytelling) things like meditative breathing, listening to your body’s wisdom, the importance of trying new things, teamwork, etc.
As you can see, I walk my talk. I take the things that are interesting or useful to me and I figure out a way to make some money from them. I don’t do a whole lot of market research or testing, etc. My approach is more like the late Anita Roddick (founder of The Body Shop).
I once heard Anita speak at a press conference in Tokyo (and got a great goody bag!) and she said that she never researched the market before launching a new product; no focus groups, nothing. She said that if she wanted or needed it and if she liked it, then others would too. And she was right.
This method works well for me too – except that I tend to be about 5-7 years ahead of the market, so my stuff does eventually make good money, it just takes a while!
I also formulate health products. Again, these are products that I needed myself, that didn’t exist in the marketplace. So I created them. My liquid elemental diet product, Absorb Plus, has helped thousands of people with digestive diseases. And through word-of-mouth alone, it is now also used by people with Cancer, AIDS and the elderly who have trouble chewing or swallowing.
My FissureHeal suppositories, which heal anal and rectal fissures are used not only by people with bowel problems, but also by post-partum women. Did you know that 15% of pregnant women suffer from anal fissures – either from the pregnancy (constipation, pressure) or from the birth? No, neither did I – I discovered that after I had formulated and manufactured the product. I’d also like to market them to gay males, but haven’t had the time yet.
Recently (thanks to my children Hugo and Zara) I figured out a pretty much 100% effective protocol for healing ear infections – it even works for middle ear infections where blood and pus is coming out of the ear. And I’ve just finished testing and perfected a hemorrhoid remedy. Again, I let the natural progression of my life, my needs, and my interests guide my business activities.
Listen To Your Existing Customers
When I started my online health store back in 2005, I only did so because I received so many emails from my international readers saying, “I’m having to order 10 different products from 10 different suppliers, the shipping charges alone are killing me and it’s so exhausting! Isn’t there just one place I can go to get all this stuff?”
So Ian and I started the LTYG Holistic Health Shoppe solely as a result of customer requests. We were hoping just to break even. Little did we know that our U.S. customers (90% of our market) would also prefer to use the Health Shoppe (for the convenience factor) and order from us too! Today we sell over 300 products.
Next, I started a membership program called LTYG Wellness Circle. Many of my readers, like me, had healed themselves of their disease, but now wanted vibrant, full-speed-ahead health. There is a world of difference between being disease-free and enjoying energetic, top-level health. So LTYG Wellness Circle helps take them there.
People who never even had a bowel disease to begin with are now becoming members. These are people with “normal” health who have also realized there’s a huge gap between where they are and how good they could be feeling. They are also interested in preventative care.
How many times have you heard someone say, “He was perfectly healthy and then, boom, cancer.” This is the medical/pharmaceutical view of cancer. If that person had been pursuing holistic healthcare and utilizing holistic diagnostic tools, they would have seen the cancer seeds planted long before and been alerted to the precursors to cancerous growth. If they were viewing their body through a holistic viewfinder, they would have realized the negative emotions stored in the cells and tissues of their body and the effect that stress was having on their health and they would have pursued mind/body healing.
And speaking of healthcare models, there are indeed astoundingly effective natural treatment protocols for cancer that work for many types of cancer. Cancer is already curable – it’s the billion-dollar cancer industry that is working hard to make people think we still don’t have any cures for cancer.
But I digress… getting back on topic:
Mistakes Are Good
Well, there you have it. Some of the highlights of my journey to date. I hope I’ve given you some ideas, maybe opened up some doorways to freedom for you – or at least given you some glimpses of it. I’ll leave you with some choice words of wisdom from Stephen Pierce (took himself from homeless to multi-millionaire):
“Action is a learning process. It’s feedback; okay now you need to change this, modify that, move over this way… That is the process of life itself. Nobody is immune to that. So what we have to do is understand that and embrace that process and appreciate that process and no longer be afraid of the mistakes. Embrace the mistakes and the learning process equally – as we do the things that we get right.”
Oh yes, and one more thing. If you sense you have some financial blocks and saboteurs in your life that are holding you back, then an acupressure-based method called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a great tool for unpeeling the layers of resistance to abundance and clearing them for good! EFT has definitely played a key role for both my husband and I in clearing our self-saboteurs and blocks to abundance. Other good mind/body therapies are hypnosis (or self-hypnosis, meditation), Matrix Reimprinting, and spiritual healing.
A really helpful book on clearing your roadblocks to success is Energetic Boundaries: How to Stay Protected and Connected in Work, Love, and Life by Cyndi Dale – it has lots of really great exercises you can do on your own that produce great clarity and shift.
What Does Freedom Mean To You?
Currently I’m in the testing phase for my new “build a business from your passions” program, called Listen To Your Freedom. The program is an in-depth business training that begins with assessing your top talents (and interests and passions), through to putting up a website and earning money from those talents. And all the while, staying true to your authentic self and sharing the essence of who you are with the world.
But here’s what makes this program different: It answers the question I’ve received repeatedly over the years from my readers, “How do I get your life?” AND it is not a work like crazy and make a million program. It is specifically designed for my readers and my friends and the people I meet at parties and on airplanes; people who have young kids and are lucky to squeeze in a few hours extra work each week; people who have a chronic illness and can be laid out on the couch for two weeks at a time; people who need to keep their steady day job, but yearn to express their souls in a meaningful way – and make just a bit extra to take a great holiday or two each year.
If this sounds like you, then fill in the form at the top right of this page, and you’ll get an email from me when the program is ready. Like everything I do, it’s currently being trial-tested (by round two of my testers) to ensure that it is totally plug-and-play and that people get the results I want them to get.