Ray Blakney started his first business, with his wife as a business partner, in 2008. Ray shares the story of how they started a B&M Spanish language school in Mexico and how to start an online business.
The Swine Flu shut down their business and forced them to go online..which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as now LiveLingua.com is one of the leading online language schools in the world.
Since then, Ray has bootstrapped multiple 6 and 7-figure businesses around the world. Most of this was done from home in his superman pajamas. Ray shares why it is important for him to have more than one business, and how he was able to climb out of working IN the business and start working ON his businesses.
You're listening to the strategic freedom podcast with David Lahav. Learn the best tips and tactics to increase your profits. Expand your mind and build the freedom you desire in your business and life. Welcome to the show.
David : Hello, podcast listeners. I'm so excited to host Ray Blakeney today. Welcome Ray
Ray : Hey, David, pleasure to be here.
David : Awesome, Ray? So, Ray, maybe we can just jump in and you can tell us a little bit about you and kind of like on a personal level. So where are you at right now?
Ray : Right now I am sitting in a city called Querétaro Mexico, which is in central Mexico. It's an old historic city here. My wife and her family are from this part of the world. So we decided to stick around here. We were planning on moving to Southeast Asia soon. But while recording this COVID is going on. So moving to the other side of the planet right now is probably not in the cards.
David : Absolutely. A lot of things have changed. So you live there with your wife? And do you have any kids?
Ray : We have a four-month-old, maybe going on five-month-old right now. So we're still learning this whole parenting thing.
David : Absolutely. And from what I understood from you, there are some benefits of living in Mexico or in areas where the cost of living is a little bit easier because you can get some help with childcare.
Ray : That's right. The caveat and that is obviously you need to be able to make US dollars or European currency and still live in these places, which luckily we are since all of our businesses are online businesses, I make US dollars and I spend Mexican pesos, which means we can afford a nurse, a cleaner, and a cook, which in the US would be you know, Rockefeller status stuff. But here no, it's normal middle-upper class, that's what you get.
David : Amazing, love that. I'm kind of jealous.
David: So, Ray, I think one of the most interesting things about you and your story is that you currently run a few different online businesses and I'm really excited to dive into that and learn more about how to start an online business. But maybe before that maybe you can share with us how you got started. What was the first business that you started out of all those?
Ray : Sure. And this story is actually a time appropriate, since the first business I started was an online language school. How to start an online business? We started it three months before the Mexican swine flu. So I have a lot of experience running businesses through pandemics or, you know, epidemics. I don't really know what the difference is, but the swine flu didn't, it was supposed to be a go all the way around the world that didn't. But you know, people were acting that way for at least a month. And this COVID actually has made it around the world. So that was the first business that my wife and I launched.
David : Did it affect the launch of the business?
Ray : Oh, well, to the business launch three weeks, three months before that happens. So there's actually an interesting story there. When we started our first business, I only had $2,000 in my bank account. That was to start the business and live right. So we would actually sleep on the floor. The first business was a Brick and Mortar Spanish language school in Mexico. So foreigners would come. We put them with Mexican families, and then they would study classes with us during the day. And we do tours and activities and events. It was a lot of work. I mean, I worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week during the high season. And so we started with that. And things went really well. Because back then I learned about something called SEO - search engine optimization. This was back in 2008. That doesn't mean I'm, you know, way back when, but back then, at least Spanish schools I had no idea what SEO was. So I was able to make us number one in the country of Mexico a month before we even opened our doors. So the first day we opened, we were fully booked, but we have no money.
Ray: So all we had to do was: they paid us the deposit, and we would take their deposits and run out and buy furnish for the classrooms like a day before the students arrive. If they've got 24 hours earlier, we wouldn't have had tables or any of the rest of it. And things were going real well, we were surprised that things were going well. And then three months later, swine flu hit. So we've done well enough that we were building up but we didn't have six months savings like we're supposed to or anything, and suddenly everybody canceled. And except for four doctors from the United States, ironically, who were telling us, This is crazy, this is not going to become a big thing. So they all came down, they studied with us. But that's actually how we started an online business - language classes online to make up for the downtime of students, which then became Livelingua, which is to date, my biggest business that I've launched. It's one of the top three online language schools in the world.
David : How long was the transition from like realizing, okay, the Spanish Flu hits, we need to make a change because we can't get students in the room. So when you started that was it because a lot of business owners are doing these sorts of transitions and changes right now. So how does that process for you and how long did it take until the new direction got traction?
Ray : Okay, well, there's two parts to that. How long did the pivot take, probably 48 hours? And but there's a caveat in there, I know most business owners can't do this, my background as a software engineer and as a developer. So putting up a new website was really easy. It was ugly. I mean, Ugly with a capital, you ugly website.
David : What year was this?
Ray : This was 2008. It was really bad. I mean, forget about mobile devices working, obviously, really, really bad. Five pages, you know, here's what we are, about us, costs, contact us. I mean, there was no payment system or anything.
David : So if you look at any website from 2008 right now, you're gonna say, It's ugly. But what I'm hearing from you is when it launched, it was ugly compared to the 2008 standard.
Ray : That's it. I'm not a designer, I'm a computer geek. You know. I'm the guy who... when I've worked for banks before, you hit the - send button, and it sends your money. There's a lot of complicated processes going on behind the scenes. I write that, I don't know how to make a pretty Send button. I mean, you know, that's a totally different skill set. So I, yeah, my website was not pretty and this was back before the days you could go out and just buy a nice design. Throw it out there that didn't exist. They were really expensive.
David : So you were alive within 48 hours and then what
Ray : I did SEO and since this was we had a pretty close to first-mover advantage at that point. Not that many people were offering online classes via Skype. Our only competitor was doing it via telephone calls. Back then I think it was SpeakSpanishOnThePhone.com or something like that. I mean, they're gone now. So I launched it up there, I did SEO. SEO was a lot easier back then. I had like software, which would build links and all the rest of it. So within two weeks, we were number one in the world for Skype Spanish Lessons, within two weeks. And then a student came in. Awesome. And keep in mind, this business was - me answering emails, and my wife was the Spanish teacher. You know, we didn't figure it out for us. So we did it. And she's an amazing Spanish teacher. So people signed up, like, the first 10 trial class we get, like, everybody signed up for online classes with my wife.
So I'm like, We need to, you know, bring in our teachers from our Brick-and-mortar school to start helping us out. So we did. But by then this one flu was ended, so we needed our teachers back at the school because we were fully booked like two months later. So we started hiring teachers from around the world and that's how the business grew. For the growth. It was probably within six months to a year that we were doing this well as our Brick and Mortar school financially. But we only worked like an hour a day on this online business and I was working 16 hours a day at Brick and Mortar school. So we decided to sell the Brick and Mortar school. By the time we sold it, there were three different branches. But it took 2,5-3 years to sell that. You know, I know you've acquired businesses before and I'm sure the people you speak to something, it's not usually, you, like, Let's throw it up on eBay. And within by Fridays, I don't know, come and buy it. There's a lot of, people kick the tires that came and checked it out, you know, for a long time, but it took us about three years to sell the school. And at that time, we were making way more in our online schools. We expanded out into multiple languages, all the rest of it. So we sold the Brick and Mortar school, we use that to buy our house. So luckily we have no rent or mortgage. And we had an online business that back then it was like a seven-figure business, but it was doing well enough. It was making about, you know, 50 to 60,000 US dollars, which we're living in Mexico is fine. I mean, it was a great salary. And we were doing fine and then it's grown slowly over the years. I couldn't tell you how to build a million-dollar business in, you know, in a year. I don't know how. It took me like six or seven years to get there.
David : Absolutely. And one really key lesson that I'm hearing from your story that also resonates with my story is that we, when you start owning multiple businesses, all businesses are not made equal. So whether it's Brick and Mortar versus online, or this industry versus that industry, all of a sudden, you find, oh, I'm spending so much time and effort building this business. But this new business that I've tried, it's starting to make more money, and I'm spending way less and I'm enjoying my life way more, which brings you the opportunity to make a big change with what has been your main business. So how do you approach your, you know, the different businesses that you're involved in right now? And maybe you can share with our listeners also, what businesses you're involved with?
Ray : Sure. So my main business right now is still Livelingua, that makes, you know, the large chunk of the income that we have coming in. I've also launched an agency called the Infiniteupcycle agency that was launched three months ago. We were doing pretty well until the swine, the COVID hit. And now you know a lot of our clients are not spending as much money on marketing as anymore. So we're kind of in a holding pattern there. We're trying to just keep it going. And then we'll, hopefully, we'll survive and a lot of our competitors. So by the time this all ends, we'll be ready to take advantage of it at that point. I own a website called toeducate.com. It's a social network for schools with about 200,000 users. I used to own a chocolate factory in Southeast Asia. I sold my stocks in that about two years ago, that was an interesting business. I was the primary investor in that. And then right now, the business I'm most excited about is I am writing a podcast analytics engine called podcasthawk.com, essentially, to give business owners and other podcasters data analytics on podcasts. So if you want to find podcasts to be interviewed on it'll allow you to with a click of a button to search that you want to find out, what your competitors are all, who are your top 100 competitors in your niche. What are their ranks and what keywords do they have in their use in their descriptions, and title on their podcasts? So you can kind of use that information to optimize yours to provide you with that as well. So it's kind of a whole analytics engine that I'm building. I'm hoping to have it ready... Where are we now? April, May... August! by August! I'm hoping to have it in beta, so that people can start using it and testing it as well. So that's my current fun project. I'm doing I haven't programmed in a while. It's kind of fun.
David : Amazing. Yeah, I'm really excited for the new business to launch. I think it would be a great hit personally.
David: So how do you spend your time so sounds like you have three to four active businesses projects that you're involved with? How does an average day or every week in your life look like now?
Ray : Sure. Um, yeah, I mean, let's see. One of my superpowers is discipline. So I think that helps me a lot. Like, my day, I could tell you exactly what I do every single day unless there's an explosion in one of the servers and it throws things off. But I wake up every morning at 6 am, have a cup of coffee, have a bowl of yogurt, workout, go to work at, you know, at 8:30. No, meditate 15 minutes, go to work at 8:30, have breakfast at 9, come back because I work at home. And then I answer emails for an hour and then I get started working on my project. So about six o'clock at night, and I'm pretty religious about that time scale, at six I stop. Six o'clock is time for the family, six o'clock it's time for extra activities. Under normal circumstances, I practice martial arts. So I do that twice a week. And on weekends, I don't work. That's entirely time for the family. And that has helped me keep a balance with what I'm doing. It also I think makes me much more productive at work. I work about 50 hours a week. Not ridiculous. I know. You'll hear somebody who's like, I put on 80 hours a week. I'm like, not worried about 50 hours a week. But I make sure I spent a lot of time with my son who's four months old, my wife, you know, and doing stuff as well. And being disciplined about work and about my free time I think helps me with that.
David : And how do you kind of prioritize your time between the different projects? Do you plan it out a week in advance? Do you, like, every day just decide where your focus needs to be?
Ray : I usually plan it out two weeks in advance up until recently. I've been using a software called Wunderlist, which of course got bought by Microsoft. And they forced me to switch to their version. I don't like it quite as much. I think it's called like Microsoft To Do. But it's good enough. And I plan three big tasks for every single day, I put them in the list. And my day starts and ends with those. So I work on those three tasks every day. If I need to put a little bit of extra, you know, extra time in, I sometimes do, but I'm pretty good at guessing. But if I end early, I also end my day early. If I finish my tasks at like, four in the afternoon, I finish and I just take the rest of the day off. So I'm kind of, you know, you get rewarded for working a little harder, and you get punished for not enough for me slacking off. I got to make it up as well.
David : And maybe a related question here is why do you have different businesses? Why do you work on a few different businesses? Is it just because you enjoy doing it? Is there something behind it?
Ray : Yes, that's actually a great question. There is something behind it. So when I was growing up, I don't know if I've ever shared this before. So when I was growing up I always felt poor. Now, I was not poor. Now looking back objectively, my family was probably middle-upper class. But I went to international schools I was I grew up in Istanbul, Turkey. And I went to the International School where all my classmates were the kids of international CEOs, and engineers, and like diplomats, like ambassadors and all the rest of it. But like private drivers coming to school every single day. My dad worked for the church, and they ran a publishing house. So yeah, we had none of those things. Luckily, they paid for a house, we had a nice house, they paid for my school, which is how we could afford to go to this international school, but we didn't have very much extra. So I always remember as a kid, like seeing my friends, they would go, the school had trips to Paris, Cyprus, all the rest of it. My parents were like, yeah, sorry, you know, we can't afford that. Reasonable. I mean, you don't have a few extra thousand dollars to be spent to send your kid to Paris for a week while my classmates did. So I always felt really poor. So the biggest worry in my life has always been money. And the reason I start multiple businesses is I don't want to have to worry about money anymore. Not because I want to have anything fancy. I mean, I look, if you look at me, I have a very middle, middle-lower class lifestyle. I mean, I use shirts I get for free to conferences, and I think I still have shirts from college 20 years ago. I mean, I still love those things. I don't care about that. I drive a Hyundai. I mean, you know, there's nothing fancy about any of these things. I just want to get to a point where I don't have to worry about money anymore. And I have lost businesses overnight. Like you know, Livelingua, I built it twice. Because the first time I built a Google did an algorithm update. And we just disappeared from rankings. I mean, not like to the second page, third page, like totally gone. I had to build it again. So I know what it is to lose business overnight. I want to have three seven-figure businesses even if they're low, seven figures, because then if you lose one, and you're living a middle-class lifestyle, you're like, Okay, that sucks. But you know, you have two more that are bringing in, you know, six, multiple, six figures of profit every year, and you're totally fine, right? your lifestyle doesn't change.
David : Absolutely, that's a huge insight. And I love it. It's very strategic, very, like thinking for the future. And I just experienced this myself, during, you know, Corona, the locksmith companies that I own, have really, you know, been suffering. And there was a lot of challenges. And it was really nice during this time to know, oh, even if I don't have a lot that I can do about this right now, I do have this other business that's making money. And that I can also shift my focus because that actually like digital marketing and Lahav Media, things I've actually been picking up during this time.
Ray : That's exactly it. And for us, it's exactly the same thing Livelingua, my online language school. We had our best month ever last month in the history and I've been running it for 10 years. We have never, I mean, and it's up by like 30 or 40% above, like our record. And that was the month we were featured in Entrepreneur magazine is like one of the best small businesses in the US, right? So it wasn't just that was like a freak month anyway, and we're already 30 or 40% above that. My agency, on the other hand, is stagnant because we're a higher ticket agency. You know, so we're talking like 5000 to 15,000 a month for a lot of our services. And yeah, we were on the first people, companies cut because you know, we work with small to medium size, you know, in the mid-six figures to seven-figures range, but you're not gonna be spending $10,000 a month when your customers have gone down by 90% is not something that you can afford to pay. But luckily, I've been able to save some jobs because I've moved people from my marketing agencies temporarily over to Livelingua and just like do some marketing stuff for my other business while we're waiting for this app, and I'm looking back so there's no I don't have to train them again, or teach them our systems, they just move right back in. And hopefully the transition will be easier.
David : This is another huge benefit that I think some people don't realize a benefit of owning a few different businesses is you get so many synergies and ability to have things happen between the businesses like with our portfolio of local companies, they pay Lahav Media to do marketing for them, and it's kind of a win-win for everybody. And it's one of those things that you might not think about. But eventually, if you end up having a few different companies that have a lot of good synergies between them, then your whole portfolio is safer. You get some benefits in terms of like the pricing or discounts extra revenue. And it really shows an impact at the end.
Ray : Well, that's actually how I generally come up with my business ideas. I'm not a visionary, right? I'm not Steve Jobs, who just invent something out of the blue and you know, like an iPhone. Like, I'm gonna invent something that doesn't exist and sell it. No, what I do for my businesses, I generally look for something that I need. And if I don't find it, then I build it. And almost all the businesses are that, that have worked well, for me, chocolate factory is a weird kind of out there. That was just some serendipity. It's because of that. I mean, you know, my Brick and Mortar school started, but swine flu hit. So we needed something which was to give income to our teachers, because they were, you know, they earned week to week, so I'm like - okay, my wife actually came up with the idea, let's contact our former students and see if they want language online classes. And I'm like, hey, why don't we just make a website and offer that to the general public? Okay, let's do that. So we started with that. My marketing agency came around because I've been, you know, successful bootstrapping Livelingua using the certain marketing technique that I just assumed everybody knew how to do until I went to a, you know, some conferences and gave a talk about it. And everybody came up to me afterwards and told me, could you do that for us? And I'm like, okay, yeah, I mean, I know it. So I built a team and I started doing for them. Podcast talk, this podcast analytics engine is I came up with a marketing idea of trying to appear on multiple pots, you know, trying to appear on podcasts. But there's no good way to do that right now, you know, to find you if the Google search and the email of all I'm like, Well, you know, if I just had got all the data from iTunes and put them together and had an email, it would be a lot easier, right? So I started doing it and I'm like, Well, I bet other people would want this as well. So my friends told me can I, you know, can I get in on that? Can I get that information? Like Well, I don't I just create a business around that. So all My businesses have been built that way and it to bring it all back. That's what causes that synergy there. If you're just calling, you know, building random businesses, that would not make any sense, you're not gonna have it. But if business A, you build a business A and you build a business to support business A, and you build business C to support business B, which is also supporting business A, then you're much more likely to have the synergy through all your businesses. And then you know, you can support move people back and forth.
David : Absolutely. And one of them I really love that that's the way you're building the businesses based on things that you need and figured out for your own businesses. And then the feedback that you're getting from other entrepreneurs essentially saying hey, I want that.
Ray : And makes marketing easier too because then you know, who wants it, who wants to buy your product before you even build your product.
David : And you have some customers who might, you know, might purchase the minute you launch. The other thing that I'm learning about in with acquisitions and portfolio companies is actually if you ever want to sell your businesses or you want to sell a portfolio of companies, this actually raised the value of the over the portfolio significantly, because the strategic investor might look at and say, okay, it's not just one business that if it fails, I have all this risk, there's a portfolio of businesses, they all support each other. And then you as the owner can get a much higher valuation from strategic buyers, private equity companies, which makes things a lot more interesting on the exit side as well.
Ray : Exactly on the equity on the equity side, somebody you know, some of the private equities that built their business around buying this kind of businesses, and then like splitting them off into their separate businesses and reselling them because they, they know better than I do, like, Oh, you know, a marketing business multiplier is this. So if we can get that packaged in with everything else, I mean, it's a great deal for me, but it's also a great deal for them. Right? They split it off, they have people they can sell it to like in a week later, they can just, you know, what he called? Flip it. And yeah, you know, sell it for a lot more money.
David : Would you sell your businesses? Do you have any exit plan?
Ray : Yep. At this point, I don't think I don't get emotionally attached to any of my businesses, which makes it kind of awkward because people are like, you know, You must love language learning. I'm like, that's fine. I love the business building the business process. I've discovered over this time that I'm a creative. And most people don't look at entrepreneurs as creatives, right? Oh, these guys like math, because I'm an engineer, by training do like math and calculations. And no, I love the creative side of business and step by step explore how to start an online business from zero. I come from a family of academics and artists. And to me, business, creating businesses is my creative outlet. It's my canvas, I'm like, I'm gonna try this, I'm gonna try this and remove this. And I can use this skill, which is, let's say, I can use this colour, which is SEO, and I'll use this colour, which is my knowledge of finance, and we'll kind of put it together and we'll create a business and that's the part that I like. But the final product, once it's done is sort of like okay, you know, running it's not really what I like, but I hire people to do a two who do actually have that skill set, and that's one reason why I do it.
David : I love that you’ve mentioned that. I feel very, very similar to you where I enjoy the process of creating it of getting it from idea to creation. And then in some ways I kind of lose interest once.
Ray: That's exactly, that's exactly it. And then I start with the new ideas, new businesses. Absolutely. Another thing that I'm kind of seeing in between the lines of what you're sharing is that some of your superpowers are around creating new businesses and then also specifically both with Livelingua and what you're working on now with the podcast is around the technical aspect of. I can use my development skills to create and launch a business relatively quickly.
Ray : That's exactly it. And I'll be honest with you, I mean, you know, I, I graduated, I sound old now, 20 years ago from university, right? I graduated when I was 20. So I was on the younger side, but I graduated 20 years ago from the university. So my coding skills I know are not like top of the line in the greatest coding skills in the world, in fact. When I hire programmers into my company, and they see my code, they're usually like, Ooh, you know. But it works. And that's one of the things like even for the podcast talk that I'm building right now. I'm just trying to get something that works in place. It doesn't have to be clean code, the page is not going to look super slick and elegant, and you know, have all the latest bells and whistles. No, it just works. That's good enough, you know, to launch your minimum viable product. That's what I'm good at. I'll have an MVP, I will launch it, people will come at it, they will tell me everything that sucks. I will fix it. And then it hopefully at that point, you'll start making money, which means I can go and hire a programmer to make it all better. But at that point, I haven't really invested very much money myself and I don't need $100,000 to build a business. I can do it for 50 and test out my idea before I have to hire a programmer.
David : Mm hmm. Yeah, I love this. And I think, you know, for every person, their strengths are going to be different, but it's absolutely key to focus on your own strength. And try to do as much of that and everything that's not in that bucket of the things that I want to do the things that I'm good at, to start have other people do that. However the challenge many times if you're like, first-time bootstrapper you don't have any money, then you kind of have to wear all the hats at the same time. And I'm curious to ask you. Was there some inflection point where you were able to step a little bit outside of the business and be working on the business or a term that I like recently is working above the business?
Ray : Oh, yeah, I'm definitely and that's the point I tried to get to in all of my businesses. It took me a while to realize that right for the first business, the Brick and Mortar school, I mean. I literally swept the floors and took out the trash. And I was afraid to spend money because I'm like - oh, you know this was not a huge at our peak. We were like low six figures a year right and gross, not even in profit. I mean, low six figures a year and grow. So it's like, yeah, I don't have like five grand to pay for a programmer.
David : In pesos or in US dollars.
Ray : Dollars! Luckily, otherwise pesos… Yeah. And when we sold it, it wouldn't have been enough to buy a house at that point. But I was really afraid to do that. And of course, I had the same mentality. A lot of entrepreneurs have that. Nobody can do it as well as me. And one of the quotes that I heard from...
David : Very common mistake.
Ray : Exactly. I think every entrepreneur goes through that. And but until I heard this one quote from an entrepreneur I respect that says. You came up to me and asked, so you're saying out of the 8 billion people on this planet, you are the best at doing what it is you do. I'm like, well, we put it that way. Yeah, probably not. I mean, like, unless you're really egocentric, and you think there's nobody out of the 8 billion people on the planet that can do better than you. There's probably somebody who can't.
David : I've seen it so much, both from my own experience and other entrepreneurs that I'm seeing. Doesn't matter what business you're running. Very, very, very likely that it's just making us feel good feeling that we're the only one who can do this well, or in fact, we can easily hire someone to do that as well as us, and in many cases did better than us. Which is the ultimate goal.
Ray : And that's I mean it, you know, it goes back to that, you know, you should be the dumbest person in the room mentality, right? If you're the smartest person in the room, get into a different room. It should be the same in your business in their relative fields. People should be better, you should always have somebody better than you doing. Especially on specific tasks, you should have a better programmer, a better accountant, a better marketer, a better copywriter, whatever it is you need for your business, you probably are not going to be the best at that. I found that my skill now and the way I look at myself is I am decent at a lot of different things. It makes much easier for me to hire people to do those jobs. You know, if I hire a copywriter, I've taken copywriting courses. I've done some copywriting. Hmm, I know what to look for when I'm hiring. You know, if you're not better than me, I'm not hiring you. Because why would I do that? Right? I'm a decent programmer. I've been doing it for 20 years. So if you're not a better programmer than me, then why would I be paying you money? So that's kind of what I've been doing. I always look for people I know are better than me to do those tasks. But um, you know, I'm a much better copywriter than my programmer, much better programmer than my copywriter. But my job is not to do those things anymore. It's just to make sure everybody speaks to each other. And I feel like kind of like a translator sometimes, you know, a programmer asked for something, I translate it into copyright speak, or I translate into marketing speak or customer support speak so that the customer support people understand it, or vice versa, customer supports, like, We need this. And I translate into tech speak, and I talk to the programmer and have them do it. So that's kind of, so that's my role.
David : That's your role in the company.
Ray : That's it. I'm a translator between everybody and that's it. And of course, I'd make sure that we're going in A direction. I'm not gonna say the right direction, because that would assume that I always knew the right direction to go and... I don't. I always have a direction. I'm like, let's go there for now. Let's see if it works out and sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't.
David : So assuming you weren't working on any, like new project growth projects, how many hours a week would you say you need to work in your businesses right now.
Ray : Probably like an hour to a day. I mean, and the proof of that is my wife and I, before we had my son, we would travel three months out of the year. And for like, one month, not three months at a time, but we would do three, one month, one month, one and a half month trips every single year. And I would just check the emails for an hour in the morning, and the businesses would do fine. And sometimes, I hate to say it, they were some of our more profitable months. So I must be bottlenecking something because, you know, they did the staff better when I wasn't there and some of these businesses. But, of course, the businesses didn't really grow that much either. Because that's kind of my job is to figure out how to grow the thing, not day to day operations. But I could probably leave for a year to two years before, you know, just attrition made us start going down. If you're not growing, you're getting smaller, there's no real way for a business to just stay the same level. Right.
David : I think it's an amazing point in business to get to that level. Because what it buys you at that point is the freedom to really work on the things that you want to work. Like the things that you have to do. Things that you have to do that you don't enjoy become very, very small...
Ray : There's no way around that. But yes, I have that totally.
David : But then you can spend your energy on creative things that you want to do and enjoy doing.
Ray : That's exactly right. Like, for example, volunteering my wife and I volunteer to school for the deaf two weeks out of the year. You know, once we get to that financial point where we don't have to worry about money again, that's kind of we'd like to start more of a volunteer organization, essentially doing the same thing. It's like building a business. But now money isn't the goal anymore, right? It's kind of empowering service. Exactly a service game, making people's lives better is the way you're going to measure it. But the process doesn't necessarily change. But that's what I like to get.
David : So back to your story. You said first was this realization and having that entrepreneur respect ask you that question is like you really want to tell me there's no one else who can do this, as well as you. What else was in that process of starting to work on the business above the business?
Ray : Burnout was also involved in that, right? Because you get to a point when your business grows to a certain point where you simply cannot do everything. I mean, it's physically impossible. And then you just burn out. I mean, there was a point I wanted to quit. And my wife's like, o, no, no, let's not do it. That was my first business, just to clarify, my wife and I started together. So she was my partner. There were points where she wanted to quit. And I told her Not. So we've survived that first business by working together. My downtime she picked me up and her downtimes I picked her up. But you get to a point where, okay, yeah, I can't do this anymore. And like so many entrepreneurs because I've been in the game now for about 12 or 13 years. I think what 2010 I read Tim Ferriss 4-hour Workweek and discovered virtual assistants, ironic since I'm half Filipino, and that's pretty much where all of them come from. But I've never heard of it before. So I went online, we find a virtual assistant. It had to be bilingual Spanish and English at the time. And overnight, I saw you know, within a week because I was spending most of the day answering emails because we were just so many customers that are class students at our school that I was just answering emails. Overnight I suddenly went from like working 10 hours a day to like two hours a day. And I'm just sitting there like, hmm, now what do I do? Of course, I found ways to fulfill my time eventually. But it was just a sudden realization that I'm like, Suddenly these people are taking care of 80% of the work, business is not going down. And I realized the fallacy that I was not as critical as I thought I was to the whole business, right? It did not rotate around me. And that was liberating, scary, as well. Right? Because suddenly you realize you're not as important as you think you are. And, but liberating at the same time, and that's really when a lot of the businesses started taking off when I had people come in, and help.
David : I love this part of the story, because it's a missed opportunity that so many entrepreneurs have available to them right now. And more often than not, freedom and getting to that level can happen very fast for me. I was also reaching burnout growing the digital marketing agency, and then I just decided, I'm going to prioritize my happiness and lifestyle and I'm going to Bali. And then if the business takes a hit, it takes a hit. And no one beholds, a few key decisions, like you mentioned, of certain hiring, delegating, and all of a sudden, I was working 10 hours a week, enjoying life, in Bali, surfing and the business, the metrics didn't change, I was still making the same amount every month. And it was just like that.
Ray : Most people are afraid to take the risk. And I understand where some people are coming from, especially if you're older and you have kids and you have to pay your mortgage and all the rest of it. It's much harder for you to take the risks. But then you have to ask yourself, How long can I keep doing what I'm doing? You know, if you've been if you feel burned out now, you know hating your business, hating going to work, you know, but you think, I can't sell it because it's only me. I mean, there's all these things. Could you imagine doing that for the next 20 years? Do you want to be doing that for the next 20 years? Because if you don't make a change, that's exactly where you're gonna be. And you're family, the ones you were afraid, you know, to take the risk for because it would have negative repercussions on them, they are going to suffer because they're going to have a stressed-out parent who's probably gonna have health issues, probably cranky at home and not paying as much attention to the kids and their spouse as they need to. So it's gonna, you know, choose one or the other. And most of the time when you make this decision, it's not like something you can come back from. You hire, maybe it was a bad hire, and it didn't work. And you might have to step into where you were before. But that's it. Anyway, that's it worst-case scenario, you're back to where you started. But best-case scenario, you're gonna be way ahead and you're gonna have a lot more free time.
David : Yeah, and it really helps to keep the... like, Why did you start this business in the first place? Why did you become an entrepreneur? And most often the answer is because I want this freedom, because I want to enjoy my life. And then you look back at the last two years, like, Wow, this is really not what I had set for. So yeah, I'm gonna prioritize that and try to bring that into bake that into my life right now. If it works - great! If not, I'm going to learn something and I can always go back. So the risk is really minimal. But the potential is to get a lot of the things that you thought might take you 3, 5, 10 years to get to, and getting them now next month.
Ray : That's it. And a lot of entrepreneurs, myself included, it took me five or six years to realize it. Even to think about why I was into entrepreneurship. When I first went into entrepreneurship, Oh, yeah, that sounds cool. I mean, it wasn't like this big grand decision or anything like that. But I mean, I did, we, my wife and I, we got married and started a business together a week from each other. I don't recommend that. We literally got married in our first school because we couldn't afford, like, that school building get-married. But I never, I just like to make money. I mean, I honestly, I didn't go into it with this like great vision about freedom and all the rest of it. I just thought it was a, you know, that's going to get make money. And worst-case scenario, I'm a computer systems engineer, and my wife's a bilingual teacher. We will move back to the US and we'll get, you know, six-figure salary. So I mean, you know. That was the worst-case scenario for us. We had no kids at the time. It wasn't an issue. It was a little later when I started thinking about why I had, why I was building those businesses, right? The story I told you about feeling for a sick kid that was a realization about seven years into my entrepreneurial life, right? And so, when people ask me why I do business, I say, I do it for the money. And it sounds really callous and cold, like, Oh, yeah, Ray wants his gold plated, you know, Maserati outside. No, it's nothing like that. For me, it's just, I don't wanna have to worry. It's the biggest worry I have, psychologically in my life, and I don't want to worry about it anymore. It is, you know, luckily, I'm healthy and everybody's healthy. So health is not it, but money is. That's why I work and it has always helped me. Whenever I feel like giving up or slacking. I'm like, imagine how it's gonna feel when you don't have to worry about that. When you know, it's not... money doesn't make you happy. But not having money does make you sad. I mean, it's kind of a cliche. You know, if you're starving and can't pay your rent, it is the most important thing in the world. If you have enough of it, it's not that important. So I want it to not be that important.
David : Absolutely. And in many ways, what, it's not for the money itself. It's what this money, what kind of sense of security or freedom or ability, the freedom it's gonna give you. Yeah.
Ray : Money gives you choices. You don't have, you know, as you said, when you're running a successful business, and you have the money you can choose to do the parts you enjoy and not do the parts you don't enjoy. But if you don't have the money you're doing even the parts you don't enjoy. And life is the same way.
David : And for me, also, it was a very interesting inflection point after… So for the longest time, I just wanted to be successful. I wanted to have a business that's making money, kind of making it clear, okay, I can, you know, run a business, I don't have to go and get a job. I get all of my expenses paid. I can have my dream of traveling the world and working remotely. And then after hitting that goal, it was a big, it was almost a crisis, right? Like I'm, this is what I dreamed of. I've done it. Like what now? Right? Because all my motivation ran out, because all my motivation was I just want to succeed. I just want to be able to reach this dream level and then you reach there. And then the same thing that motivated you. You don't have that anymore.
Ray : Exactly. So you need to find something deeper to take you kind of to that next level. You know, once it's Maslow's hierarchy of needs, right? Just for entrepreneurs, you know, that whole food housing thing, I think is just higher for us, right? It's not just food, housing, it's food housing freedom, that's our basic. And then after that, you need to find more meaningful things to fill in the rest of your life and you need to find make sure that whatever you do next, and doesn't necessarily have to be a business, meets that need some people just want to write. I mean, like, you know, if you want to be a professional writer, great. You'd have the money taken care of now, you can do that. But you do need to have some kind of goal in life. I always dream when I retire I kind of interested in carpentry. I don't know why I've always liked the idea of building stuff and I always get I will these ideas for designs for tables and closets and stuff like that. But that's why. I don't think I'm gonna run out of things I ever want to do. Maybe money won't be there but I have plenty of other stuff I want to do.
David : Retirement is not going to look like, Okay, I'm just gonna do anything and play golf, it's I'm gonna have more time and energy to work on impact and philanthropy. And then just projects that I'm interested in where I don't have to worry about money coming in.
Ray : There's an interesting story that, you know, some of your listeners might be, might want to try, let's say. It's what I like to call the rocking chair experiment. Right? You know, because the retirement typically in the United States, the idea is you sit on your porch in a rocking chair. All right? You got it done. So, my, this realization came to me because I hadn't taken a vacation in three years. When I went on the Brick and Mortar school, my wife, she bought, she didn't even ask, she bought the tickets to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. And she's like, here it is. We're leaving in two weeks. Dot. I mean, it wasn't like, do you want to leave in two weeks? We're leaving in two weeks. And I'm sitting there like, What? I have a ton of work to do. The business won't survive without me. We've already talked about that total fallacy that didn't even happen. And tour to all-inclusive resort with doing nothing, you know, that's not for me. I was, you know, I'm about backpacker, I stayed youth hostels and all that kind of stuff. I wasn't really looking forward to it. I went out there. And the first three days were glorious. I mean, it was, you know, food, taken care of, the book, I just sat by the ocean, read the book for three hours. Next two days, pretty good, like, okay, not that bad. But by day six, I was sitting there, I'm like, I need to do something, you know, I could, and that was my realization retire, you know, six days, and I was already ready to get back to work. Imagine if your retirement is supposed to last 20 years. And your plan is to sit on your porch and just, you know, not read a book all day. I can't imagine it for me. I can't see that happening. Right? I need to do something.
David : Absolutely. Same here.
David: I'm also interested to ask you. So running all these different businesses, bootstrapping them, and then you know, going through a lot of ups and downs. I'm assuming you've had to deal with some stress and crisis along the way. So how, what's your process of dealing with those ups and downs and the crises that come up.
Ray : I hit people over the head with a stick. That’s quick!
David : Remotely?
Ray : No, not remotely, in person. I hit people over the head three times a week. Like that's the martial art I practice it's called Kendo. It's Japanese fencing and we take bamboo swords dress up and kind of like this padding, and we whack each other and...
David : So you get hit over the head too.
Ray : Yeah, for people are better than me quite a bit, quite a bit. You get a hit over the head on the arms and the chest all the rest of it leaves little welts on you.
David : It helps focus you on what's really important.
Ray : It is! That's actually one of my candles, one of my passions in life as well because I love it. It's to explain the philosophy, it was based on obviously the Japanese sword fighting. So it's actually super popular in Japan, like it's a high school sport, it's like football. But then outside of Japan, nobody's ever heard of it, right? So I stumbled across it, I tried a bunch of different martial arts. And the interesting thing about kendo is that there are only really four attacks. No blocks. For attacks - you hit the head, you hit the forearms, the chest or you do a stop for the throat. That's it. You spend 30 or 40 years practicing back. That's it. There's no fancy, you know, a lot of the movies spin moves, but that's the philosophy of kendo. We start every session by meditating for five minutes and we end by meditating for five minutes. That's to leave the outside world behind, and then you know reintroduce the outside world before you do it. And the whole point of it is it's such a fast sport that if your mind is not 100% there you are going to get whacked. Like any combat sport, I mean, if you know, if you're boxing, and you start thinking, Huh, did I answer that email? You are going to get an uppercut to the face and to be on the floor, right? Kendo is was the same thing. And I do. I've been doing it now for almost 20 years, and it helps me mentally so much for that hour and a half to two hours of practice with sparring and all the rest of it, I am 100% separated from everything else, and just focused on that, and that time that space is almost meditative for me. I mean it's just sort of like, I am here in the moment right now. I don't have time to be anywhere else. I mean I can barely breathe and somebody is trying to hit me, I need to be thinking about this. And it makes me, when you get out you have the endorphins going, you've kind of been at peace whether, you know. It's not about winning, it's not like, you don't make money nobody makes money off the candle even the instructors, nobody. There's no dojo in the world where you pay to do, it's a volunteer from start to finish. And so you kind of come out and you're like, ah, I feel good. That is a huge help for stressful for me. I do exercise as well as the gym, where I meditate 15 minutes every morning but those that time would candle, I think is probably the number one thing that reduces my stress.
David : I love it and from my end I can share this insight and say, for me it's daily meditations, morning and afternoon or evening, for me it's between an hour, an hour and a half a day. And normally with those meditations, they completely do a reset, where I disconnect from all the worries, or the emails I didn't answer, and end up like fresh opening the eyes. Alright, what do I have going on now? This is amazing, especially when you're going through stress and worry, you get a big mental break from it and then you get fresh eyes on the situation, you disconnect from it personally because all those feelings of, I'm failing, it's my fault. I have to fix this, all these, so you get a little bit disconnected, get a little bit of a bird's eye view on it through this process, and that tends to lead to better decisions, and realizing, Oh, it's actually not as bad as I initially thought it's gonna be.
Ray : That was what... I learned mindfulness meditation, my wife and I went through some medical issues about five or six years ago, right? And it was something that lasted multiple years, so it was a very stressful time for us. And during that time we did one of our one-month trip to Peru, right? We did the Inca Trail. Amazing. Probably physically one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my life. But while we were there she also saw a little poster saying, Hey, three days, three days, a Silent Retreat in Lake Titicaca right on an island. I was like, Lake Titicaca! Oh, that'll be interesting. Let's try that. We've never done anything like that before. We also found that it was a meditation retreat. Now I've been doing more meditation in martial arts a little bit, but that five minutes of being in practice five minutes. Yeah, I mean not even close.
David : How many hours a day was it?
Ray : That's exactly! We go in there, they're like, Okay, you know, that you could talk the first half day because they give you the whole orientation. And it was a whole bunch of us beginners. It wasn't like there were these people who've been meditating for years, and they're like, Okay, we are going to be meditating on average 16 hours a day in the Silent Retreat. They give us no instruction. I mean they're just like your pillows. Have a seat. And let's get started, they ring the bell and they like, Okay, you're meditating for two hours. Everybody was like, What? So we did that. It was really difficult, right? I mean kind of to do it at that point I discovered I started doing this and later I discovered it was a technique. I started counting because I'm like, Okay, at least I'll know the passage of time sometimes they have no clock in there. So you're doing that but then it goes into a mantra state, right? When you're just saying, 1, 2, 3, right? You're breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth. And at the end of the three days... I'm not gonna say that, you know, my whole world change, right? But we're like, Okay, that wasn't bad. My wife and I talked, let's start meditating, again, so we meditate 15 minutes a day. Now, and trust me after you've meditated eight hours. 15 minutes was like pfff. I was like, we're just getting started. So at least for us, that technique of getting into meditation we've continued it now for five or six years was invaluable. It was essentially, they threw us on the deep end of the meditation pool. And we just have to learn to float, and then you go to the kiddie pool afterward and you're sort of like, Okay, you know? But if you start from zero and go to 15. That seems like forever, but if you go from eight t hours and go to 15 minutes. It works really well. So I'd recommend if you're looking to get into meditation, and you just kind of starting bit by bit, haven't worked for. You go to a Silent Retreat for three days and then come out 15 minutes will be super-super easy boy.
David : I love that advice and it's really funny how it works. It's counterintuitive. Even if you want to go to a retreat. That's amazing. For some people it's even, you know, it's a big investment and it can be scary, but if you want to challenge yourself, even at home. If you take an hour to meditate, something magical can happen in that hour, because your mind... You're going to sit there and for the first even 30 minutes or 40 minutes your mind might be like, This is bullshit, I'm not doing this right, I can’t do this, I want to get up, my back is hurting. And then, from everyone that I know that said down for an hour, there comes the stage of just like relaxation, not thinking, and you apparently don't have to do anything. Without instruction, you can just sit there and breathe. And you'll get to that stage after you've seen that had been over an hour period, then sitting for 15, 20 or 10 minutes a day becomes really really easy.
Ray : Let me, I'll add one other thing to the meditation conversation. Another thing that got added especially if you're an entrepreneur. When I went to a conference about two years ago, it was a really interesting meditation coach there. He was a former navy seal in the United States and he was saying, Okay, I teach meditation for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs do not meditate the same way most people do. So, I'm not saying you should believe this or not, but it was a very interesting theory and it actually works on and off for me. Because entrepreneurs, if you have that feeling to be an entrepreneur you have a very different mindset of the world. Probably, you're the guy who wants to see what's over that hill, right? And the hill after that, you know, thinking people stay in their little village, and then there was that one guy who was exploring and wanted to see what was over the next hill. That makes us apparently, according to him, in our minds much more visual. So it's much harder for us to meditate with our eyes closed. Because they've done studies and with the eyes closed, people with that mindset, who generally tend to be entrepreneurs that are other things do, their eyes kind of move around in their head a lot, and then disrupt the meditation. So the way he did was a navy seal. He put a bullet in front of all of us. And while you meditate with your eyes not fully open, but kind of partly open and you just stare at the bullet. And every time your eye moves away you stare back at the bullet. You're like, Whoops. And that's your sign because when our minds are wandering inside. When you close your eyes and our minds are wandering. We can't tell what's our, you know, our eyes are moving but we can't tell. But if you have it slightly open you're staring at a bullet, or a flame, there are different meditation techniques, right? And you just stare at that as soon as your mind wanders your eyes move. You like, Whoops, I'm not looking at the bullet anymore and you pull back and it helps bring your concentration back. And the thing he would do, he would touch your shoulder during the meditation, you'd go over and there you take a gun and you shoot it a target. And then you go back without breaking your meditative state. The whole point was that if you hit it, or you miss. You made no judgment on yourself or the world, whether you hit the target or not, you just went back and you meditated on the bullet. I was like, that was a really interesting, unique way. I think you can find his books somewhere. There it is. It's the red one with a bullet on it. You know, it's that works for me on occasion. And when the other meditation isn't working. Some people could try that meditative techniques if it works for them.
David : Awesome, awesome love this. Amazing Ray. So, Ray, I want to thank you for all the amazing insights you’ve shared with us today. Definitely will be looking out for your new business launch and potentially, we'd love to have you back. After you will have launched this so we can talk about it. I know you have some awesome ideas and plans on how you're going to market it, but I'm not gonna let people know before you're ready. In the meantime is there a place where our listeners can learn more about you or connect with you.
Ray : Yeah, I'm honestly I'm not much of a personal brand. I should start because people keep asking me that. But the easiest way to do it is to find me on Facebook if you want to do social media. Otherwise you can email me at a email@example.com that's my direct email and that'll come right into my inbox. I'm old school, you know. Don't follow me on Instagram. I don't have an account. So you know, Facebook, or email is the greatest way to get in touch.
David : Perfect, we’ll have all that in show notes. Ray, thank you so much.
Ray : David. My pleasure.
David : Thanks for listening to the strategic freedom podcast with your host, David Lahav. If you like our show and want to learn more, check out lahavmedia.com/podcast or leave us a review on iTunes. Join us every Thursday morning to listen to the next episode. See you then.
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