“Hey I am going to help you to be successful, but can I have something in return?” – F.M Byers
Do you remember a point in your life wherein you were ready to risk everything just to pursue your dreams or goals? Or to neglect all the risks because of your life motto or to live up to what you say?
Let’s say, for example, you have a stable and earning job, yet you wanted to try something else, something that you’re passionate about. Would you look for another opportunity in line with what you love, or will you stay in that stable and earning job for the rest of your life? Some might remain in that steady career, while others won’t think twice to switch gears and risk everything just to do something they love.
The reason behind this is their ideals. They would gladly take risks for as long as they are true to their word and they can satisfy their honor as a person. Being a risk-taker is actually a good thing. However, if you want to take risks, make sure that you understand the situation that you are in. You have to make sure that you know when the risk is too far and when to step back.
If you can’t tell if it’s worth it or not, you might end up like FM Byers, who took a risk to pursue his ideals yet neglected warning signs. With that, let’s hear his story and learn some important lessons along the way.
It all started when FM Byers went on a cruise with his family back in 2014. FM Byers is the CEO and the founder of SM Digital Founders, and his job is basically related to digital marketing. On this cruise, he met a gentleman that happens to be his neighbor in South Florida.
FM Byers and this gentleman were talking, and it came to a point where Byers asked him what his job was. The gentleman replied that he was a global sourcing agent for a big Thailand company that works in helping to drive the e-commerce and retail stores from China into Thailand.
When Byers heard that he was stationed in Thailand, he got intrigued because he loves to learn about new cultures and how businesses run in different countries. For Byers, learning new cultures is a way for opportunities to come in, and he also wants to work and promote products from other countries. So Byers and this gentleman talked on the cruise until they arrived, and Byers told this gentleman that if he ever needs help with digital eCommerce strategies or how to go inside the US market, he should call Byers for help.
As years went by, Byers and this gentleman were still updating each other and conversing through emails and exchanging messages. Byers kept in touch with this gentleman because, for Buyers, he was the conduit to his marketing plan.
Byers found out that China is beginning to rise, and Chinese innovations are really amazing. China has smart and creative products, so Byers wanted to work with a Chinese company and offer his digital marketing services. For this to happen, Buyers wanted to ask for help from this gentleman.
1st sighting of Byers’ ideals: Offering Free Translations
Byers shared with the gentleman a problem that he always faces whenever he opens up Amazon and purchases Chinese products. According to Byers, the product is good, creative even, but it gets very confusing when it comes to their instructions on using the product. The instructions didn’t make sense and were poorly written.
Sometimes the instructions on the product are even in Mandarin, which is hard to understand for other Non-Mandarin consumers. It saddened Byers because the Chinese company has excellent manufacturing capability and precision, yet the instructions greatly impact sales. He told the gentleman his idea about offering free translation services to Chinese companies who want to show their products on the US market. A good product with clearly written instructions will surely be on top of the Amazon list. This was the first sighting of his ideals.
So the first mission of Byers was to look for a Chinese company and offer them his translation services so that consumers will not be discouraged anymore because of unclear instructions. The gentleman understood the concept of Byers’ and he agreed to his plan.
Byers then told the gentleman to spread the word and offer the said services for free to a couple of his Chinese contacts and to establish a good personal and business relationship. While the gentleman was looking for a Chinese company, Byers hired an intern from China and brought the intern to Columbia, where they’re based. The intern’s task is to help them with the translation and become the conduit whenever they make a deal with a Chinese company because no one on his team, including the gentleman, knows how to speak fluent Chinese or Mandarin.
2nd sighting of Byers’ ideals: Connecting Chinese and Western Companies
In the second sighting of Byers’ ideals, it was proof of his dedication to helping Chinese companies. Byers started to build Chinese focus landing pages and changed his digital marketing style to something that any Chinese company will benefit from. This was just the beginning, and there is more to it as we go along the story.
Byers suddenly had an idea that instead of translating instructions for Chinese companies, what if they will look for a huge American company and let them create a bond with a Chinese company. Then he could start developing digital marketing strategies for both American and Chinese products, which both companies will benefit from.
The timing was perfect for Byers because the Canton show where many Chinese companies will be gathering is happening a few months from then. He planned to look for a huge American company and connect them with any Chinese company present at the Canton trading show.
Byers then made his idea into a reality by going to the Canton trading show, it was one of the biggest trading shows of the year, and the main product that was being traded was office products and furniture.
Byers contacted the gentleman, and together they toured for three days. Byers was really amazed by the variety of Chinese companies showing off their products, and since it was his first time in China, it was a breathtaking experience for him. Byers added that if an American or European company can build a great bond at the Canton show, it would really be beneficial for both involved in the partnership.
After three days of touring, Byers finally honed in on one Chinese company that seemed to be interested in learning more about Byers’ digital marketing strategies and was intrigued about his project ideas. Byers shoved translating instructions aside, and the main project now includes branding and other digital marketing strategies.
Byers and the Chinese company had a meeting, and little by little, Byers realized that they had zero understanding of the concept of branding, but just to clarify, this was back in 2015. Maybe right now, in 2021, they pretty much have an idea about branding.
3rd sighting of Bryers’ ideals: Introducing Branding
Byers definitely wanted to pursue his ideals by dedicating his time to explain all about branding to the Chinese company. Byers let his intern come to the meetings to act as a translator and explain the importance of branding and fundamental concepts to establish a strong bond with them.
Byers explained in the most layman and simplified terms that if they want to drive a product and reach more consumers, they would have to invest in a brand name and logo. However, the Chinese company still did not understand why they have to invest money in something that is not visible or tangible. But because Byers was still new to the business culture of China, he did not push through with a more detailed explanation and picked a new topic for them to talk about.
Take note that he was still not paid for all of the things he did since the beginning. It was purely his intention and dedication to push through with his ideals.
After that meeting, Byers spent more time in China to learn more about their culture. He was accompanied by the Chinese company that he talked to and was introduced to several other Chinese business companies. Byers even had the opportunity to sit in a roundtable with three CEOS from huge multi-billion dollar companies.
In Chinese business tradition, if you were invited to have dinner at a roundtable, it means that you are already trusted, and the people within the circle are now your trusted companions. “I really immersed myself in this fascinating, but so different culture.” By then, Byers finally felt like he was part of the Chinese culture.
After that experience, Byers found a big manufacturer. He felt like that was the opportunity he was waiting for to finally build a brand for a Chinese product and present his whole digital marketing strategy to them. The product of this Chinese company was “pens,” like a literal pen for home office depot or Macs.
The Chinese market knows that they have to level up their marketing strategy, and it’s already time that the whole world knows they manufacture excellent and creative products. But they don’t know what to do for this to happen. This is the opportunity that Buyers were waiting for.
He wants to be this guy that will guide this Chinese manufacturing company to be known through the big leagues, through branding. The goal was to make the “pens” product enter the US market like Amazon. Byers gave the Chinese manufacturing company a whole dissertation on his plan and explained how they could achieve it, but still, like the previous Chinese company, they did not understand.
4th sightings of Byers’ ideals: Pursuing the Benefits of Branding
Byers understood that there were language barriers between them, so he still tried to look for ways to explain it to the Chinese company using methods they could understand. His intern also helped with the process, and they did not stop until the Chinese company understood their plan.
Mind you that after everything Byers did, he did not let them sign any contract at all. Byers stated, “I’m doing this because I believe in it and because I like it.” There was no contractual agreement between Byers and the Chinese company, and it was all done verbally. Byers was confident because they all sat on the round table, and these Chinese companies opened their doors to him, met their wives, and basically built a personal relationship with his client.
As you can see, Byers pushed through with his ideals and took a huge risk because of trust and his relationship with the client. Let us see how things will end for Byers.
Remember when I mentioned that the Chinese companies did not understand why they have to invest money in something they don’t see or isn’t tangible? Well, here is an explanation.
Chinese companies want tangible money and tangible processes. If they sell a pen and have 5 dollar interest, they want to see that 5 dollar interest and receive that money. But digital marketing is way too different than that because when you say there are already about 50,000 possible customers that your brand will reach, the digital marketing strategy will use the online world to reach 50,000 customers.
But because the Chinese company doesn’t know what branding means yet and has little idea about digital marketing, if they don’t see the 50,000 possible customers, they will not invest any money to start the branding process.
This time, instead of using words, Byers used a whiteboard and drew stuff related to branding. The translator also helped explain, and finally, the CEO of the Chinese company slightly understood the concept of branding.
After explaining the first step, Byers then presented the second step of his marketing strategy, making their own website. Which Byers believes is vital so that the US market could see the product.
Byers needed graphic images and showed them how it works, such as clicking here, looking at the product, putting it in, putting your credit card in, and many more.
After explaining the second step, Byers told them his final goal was to make their product reach Amazon. Byers explained that he would manage the whole process and make sure that the product will get to the US market in exchange for a bit of action.
During that time, Byers slightly told the Chinese company about what he wants to have in return, and it was said in a friendly manner like, “Hey I am going to help you to be successful, but can I have something in return?”
Byers didn’t want to sound rude and tried to be flexible regarding the payment. Byers told them that he could lower the upfront cost but will increase his compensation or shared salary when they are already inside Amazon. While Byers was explaining his fees, he noticed some indigestion in the faces of the CEOs, so he pivoted the topic and discussed the project.
5th sightings of Byers’ ideals: Bridging Chinese and American Companies
Byers tried to be very flexible, but he was sure that he wouldn’t do all of it for free. Even if it was clear at that moment that it was possible he would not be paid because of the reactions of the CEOS, he still pushed through with his ideas and took the risk of still helping them reach the US market. “I was trying to bridge the gap between how I can mold myself in the approach to make it a win-win and I wanted to be an alias or a true friend in this.”
But when they started talking about money, the attitude of the Chinese company came back and said they wouldn’t invest in something that is not tangible. If they cannot see the money right away, they won’t risk paying at all. We all know that digital marketing takes time and proper planning to guarantee that you will have money in the end. You have to invest money in creating a brand name, a logo, advertising, and many more before your product will reach a lot of customers.
6th sightings of Byers’ ideals: Presenting the Product to Potential Consumers
Byers’ team told him that they should look for another company that totally understands his plan, but Byers was still determined to try and change their way of thinking, and he really wanted this to work. “I love different cultures. I saw a big opportunity, and I knew it was coming.”
After a while, Byers thought of a new idea. Byers took the pen concept and thought of an idea involving emojis and AR. Emojis and AR were trending during that time, and his vision was to take an ordinary office pen and have stickers that would come alive with the help of an AR. So the idea was to let the pen owner collect emoji characters and share them with their friends.
This idea was interesting and had a lot of potential because the target customers were students. Pens and school are inseparable, so it would really become a hit if it was planned perfectly.
Byers pushed through with this plan and bought a very expensive domain name for the new project. They even developed prototypes and put packaging together, which the Chinese company approved and actually liked the idea. They loved the pens, and the Chinese company’s biggest client, which was Walmart, asked Byers and his team to come out to Bentonville, and they would gladly pitch the product.
Byers got on a plane, and they prepared a whole package of the product. They reached the place, and the Walmart buyer was impressed with the concept and even said that he had never seen it before. Byers received praise that the idea was really well thought and preparations were successful.
The prototypes worked really well, and everything was according to plan. As Byers learned Chinese business culture, he already expected that answers weren’t given right away. The Chinese company took the pens back and said that they would still review them. Byers did not hear from the company for a while, but they were still selling pens, and they were still in communication with the company.
While waiting for the Chinese company’s response, Byers decided to ask for feedback from his kid’s school by sending the prototypes to them and letting them use them.
7th sightings of Byers’ ideals: Sealing a Deal for a Potential Million Dollar Business
Even if it was unclear, Byers still did something to make the pens successful. He still wanted this Chinese company to make it into Amazon.
While waiting for the Chinese company’s response, Byers decided to ask for feedback from his kid’s school by sending the prototypes to them and letting them use them. The Chinese company sent a whole crate of pens for this project, and this was really great.
This is a perfect digital marketing strategy because they would know students’ feedback (important because this is their targeted audience) and know what kind of stickers or emoji is the most famous and loved by the students. The result of the trial was a success. 25 students believe that these are the best pens for their needs in the US market, and there are ten little emojis that come up with stickers.
Three months have passed, and they finally completed the project. They were now ready to present this to the CEO of the Chinese company manufacturing the pen. Byers convinced the sales rep based in California to invite the CEO from China to come to their office to present the final project.
This CEO sponsored the Chinese Olympics, and he’s a pretty big deal in China. They toured the CEO to the school, and he saw the kids using the pen and was really excited about it. All of the students were noisy, and they were playing with each other, sharing their pens with their friends.
Here is where it gets fishy. The CEO told Byers that he was shocked about the students being so talkative in school because, in their country, students are only allowed to talk when they are told to do so. Byers didn’t worry at all as long as he was able to show the CEO that the kids loved the pens.
After that, Byers told his team that it is now time to seal the deal. Byers will tell the CEO that everything is ready and they already have buyers from America, and they are just waiting for the CEO’s confirmation.
Byers invited the CEO and his companions to his office, and they didn’t expect this reaction from them. When the CEO stepped foot into Byers’ office, they were surprised and disappointed. They thought that Byers’ office was huge and had a lot of employees working. In the CEO’s mind, he couldn’t believe that the person in charge of handling this huge project was not a multi-billionaire.
But despite those reactions, Byers still invited them to dinner. Byers tried to seal the deal at dinner by pulling out the proposal and letting his translator convey what he wanted to say. Byers desperately explained everything so that his two years of work will not be turned to waste. The reaction of the CEO was really shocking.
He jumped up on the board and wrote a note in Chinese that Byers could not understand. It started to get heated because the CEO viewed the project as not that big, and the payment that Byers’ demanded was too much and was not worth it. The CEO added that they should not be paid for the upfront fees. This means that the CEO disregarded their two years of effort like it was nothing, and for the CEO, they did not put too much effort into the project.
Byers burst out into anger and felt really disrespected. Byers grabbed the deck that he had shared with the CEO during the roundtable dinner in China and threw it all over the CEO. He then said a powerful reply to the CEO, “why don’t we just fucking pay you to have the ability to work with you.” There was silence all over the room, and Byers left them. After that incident, they never spoke to each other again.
Byers pursued his ideals and tried to risk everything but did not get the results that he wanted. However, even though things ended badly for Byers, there are still lessons we can get through this client-horror story. Despite the risk, we can see that Byers is very motivated to overcome any challenges just to make his project successful. Here are some valuable lessons from Byers story:
1.Anticipate the problem before it happens
Remember when Byers knew that no one in his office could speak or understand Chinese? He anticipated this problem and hired an intern to be his translator and help him interact with any Chinese company. Byers knew that it would be difficult to make a bond with a Chinese company if they cannot understand each other. The language barrier is a great hindrance when it comes to expressing your true intentions in business.
2.Adapt to the situation and be resourceful
When Byers discussed the concept of branding to the Chinese company, he was very persistent in looking for ways to discuss the whole idea of branding with the CEO in ways they could understand. Byers also quickly adapted to the situation and decided to use drawings and images so that the Chinese company could understand. For me, it’s very commendable of him to be resourceful. It’s one of the greatest traits every business owner should have. But also, it would be great to prepare a simple digital presentation on your phone or tablet so you would have a professional way of pitching.
Byers knew that he could never understand the Chinese culture when it comes to business, which is why he immersed himself into their culture and experienced their ways firsthand. He went to the Canton trading show and interacted with a lot of Chinese businesses. He also went to China and shared a roundtable dinner with multi-billionaire business owners.
When Byers discussed the payment to the CEOS of the Chinese company, he noticed that their faces show disagreement. This was why he adjusted to the situation and became flexible with his payment so the CEOS, hopefully, would agree to his terms.
Byers took the risk and pursued his ideals even if there were already some bad signs. He was a risk-taker. However, if the result came out the way that he expected it to be, it might have been the greatest achievement of his entire career. But that’s part of being a risk-taker. The odds are sometimes not in your favor. And of course, ideals don’t always come to reality.
This article was based upon episode #6, please watch the complete episode here.