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The Story of Elon Musk

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In a hundred years, when most people reading this and the person writing this are long gone, Musk’s cars and rockets will still be circling the Earth and the skies. How can such a person get started against all odds is the question I ask here. And, more importantly, what can we learn from him?

Graphic by Anna Vital.

Graphic by Anna Vital.

Learning From The Outlier

Learning from Musk might seem naive. After all he is an outlier even among billionaires. I think this is exactly why he is worth studying – you don’t get insight into the extraordinary by studying the ordinary. Even with a sample size of one Musk we may find something in the way he started out that is fundamentally borrowable.
Sure, we can’t recreate the exact circumstances of his life for ourselves – we all have different parents, live in different countries, and have different bodies. Despite all the differences, we have control over our mindset as much as he does over his. This part of Musk we can borrow. The ways he deals with uncertainty, the books he reads, the ways he makes promises, and patches up his own mistakes are all borrowable, for example.

Thinking From First Principles (And Not Just By Analogy)

You might be skeptical about how studying another person’s life can help. His circumstances are not like yours. Musk would be the first to remind us here to think from first principles, as scientists do, rather than by analogy[1]. Why should you think like Musk? You might know better than him after all. It’s true that thinking from first principles gives a truer result. But it also takes time which is limited for all of us. Yes, it’s best to think about your situation from scratch. But reasoning by analogy makes sense given that life is finite. To minimize our own mistakes we don’t need to borrow the exact decisions Musk made but study the way he makes them. Then we can apply his thinking method to what we know to be true for sure.

It’s Easy to Explain Greatness in Hindsight – The Narrative Fallacy

One psychological barrier to learning from other people’s lives is the narrative fallacy – making a neat story out of facts that at the time of their happening made little sense. As the classic book on improbability The Black Swan explains, we do it to deal with the randomness of life – we explain it away because we know how the story ended. We’d rather not figure out why we didn’t know what we didn’t know.
The media often write this way. Articles about Musk call him a “genius”, which he is. But labels like this make his accomplishments sound like a foregone conclusion. They aren’t. For example, he still has to deal with big oil companies that want to see Tesla go down [2].

We might assume he knows what to do with this because he is a “genius.” But genius is not a strategy. And his victory is far from certain. As you are reading this, he is doing something to deal with the uncertainty of his situation. What sort of a mindset is he in?

In this article and visualization I want to transport us inside Musk’s mind to understand how he started from the absolute beginning. How did he figure out what to do with his life? How did he come up with the first money to start a business? How many businesses did he try before?

Life = Decisions + Circumstances + Results

Life is a combination of decisions – things you do; circumstances – things that others do to you, including people you’ve never met, like politicians; and results – your decisions + the circumstances.
Labeling each significant event in Musk’s life on a timeline produced a lot of decisions, unsurprisingly. It’s fair to say he is a product of his decisions more than his circumstances. Musk seems to have been decisive and deliberate from the start. A quick glance at the timeline shows that his decisions by far outnumber his circumstances.

When we complain about life we mostly complain about our circumstances, not our decisions. We seem to be fixated on circumstances. When I first meet a person they tend to ask about my circumstances first – where am I from? where do I live? how long have I been in San Francisco? This is also true in other countries I’ve been. It’s only when people get to know me that they ask why I decided to be an information designer, for example. Why do circumstnces interest us more than decisions? Sure circumstances happen to us before we can even make decisions – even before we are born. But decisions are by far more interesting because that’s how you change circumstances, possibly to the point that the circumstances disappear or stop mattering. Musk was born in South Africa. Is that good or bad? I think it’s neither. What’s more interesting is that while still a kid he decided to move to the U.S. Why did he choose the U.S.? How did he decide to make it happen? That is the interesting part.

How Can I Use This?
Here’s an experiment to try – put the major events of your life on a timeline from birth through today – then mark each event as either a decision, a circumstance or a result. Is there a pattern? Are decisions and circumstances about even? Do circumstances pile up before there is a decision? Or decisions outnumber circumstances?

Choosing The Tough Father

Musk did not disclose much to his authorized biographer about living with his father other than calling it ”misery” and that he experienced emotional torture. The biography also reveals that Musk decided to never let his children meet his father – which suggests that his childhood memories are more painful than most people’s. [3]

Ironically and unlike most kids, Musk had the option to live away from his father but instead he decided to live with his father and not his mother after their divorce. Most children age 9, or any age for that matter, would not choose to live with a parent who is tough on them given the choice. Musk often cites his difficult childhood as the reason he is able to cope with the stress of his job. So why did he choose it? He did not explain. But I think it’s worth pondering.

“Non Stop Horrible” is how Musk himself described this period in his life when on top of enduring emotional torture from his father at home he was bullied at school. Musk himself believes that this adversity is what made him stronger. Still, as a father of 5 boys today he is ambivalent on whether adversity is a parenting strategy. Bothered that his kids have it much easier than he did, he wonders how one could create arficial adversity. [4]

How Can I Use This?
Does adversity always make one stronger? Or does it break some people? It’s easy to image a chart tracking the hard times and the achievements of a person and then look for possible coorelations. And if there is not enough adversity to chart it’s pretty easy to create some even in a non-artificial way. Just migrating to another country, starting a startup, promising more than you can deliver together will create enough stress that you can experience your own “non stop horrible.”

Learning Faster Than You Are “Supposed To”

A pivotal moment in Musk’s life came when he got his computer. It came along with a BASIC programming language workbook. The workbook was supposed to take 6 months, but he decided to stay up for 3 nights in a row and finished the whole thing. Within 3 days he basically was a programmer by the 1984 standards. His new skill brought his first success – he wrote a video game called Blastar[5] and sold it for $500.
I think the idea of people learning things faster than others stirs some deep emotions inside us. Even today in most countries universities don’t encourage you to graduate faster even if you learn faster. Lawyers and doctors are required to be in school for a certain period of time regardless of their learning speed. I remember in law school learning 80% of everything in the first year. The sentiment was common among law students. Still there was no way to speed up the remaining two years. This, of course, doesn’t matter in areas where people are commonly self-taught like art, music, and programming. And Musk took full advantage of self-teaching.

How Can I Use This?
There are some proven ways to learn a skill fast. One that I have learned myself is realistic drawing. I used to think drawing requires talent. Now I think talen is just a code name for skill we don’t understand. I read “Drawing on The Right Side of Brain” by Betty Edwards and did the exercizes it offered. I started drawing realistically after 5 days. Try it.

The Immigrant Mindset

Do you need to move far away to bring out the best in you? Musk plotted his escape from South Africa ever since he had access to information about America. His idea of America was cliché – he didn’t overthink it. He wasn’t interested in criticizing the system – he wanted to move to the land of yes-men, and he was one himself.

How Can I Use This?
Have you ever felt what it’s like to come to a new land where you are just another upstart?

Getting His Hands Physically Dirty

Musk doesn’t seem to think that physical work is beneath him. He embraces it. When he moved to Canada at 17 on his own, he sought out a job that required him shoveling dirt in a boiler room wearing a hazmat suit. Even today, with his designer clothes on, Musk walks the floor of his rocket factory and sometimes gets physically involved in the process – his clothes ruined with epoxy.

How Can I Use This?
This might be the easiest of them all – get your hands literally dirty and see if it helps you get started.

Sharing Wildly Ambitious Plans


Compared to other people and companies, Musk has an unusually futuristic outlook. He has made and shared his plans for as far away as his death on Mars after he helps a million people move there on his rockets at $500,000 per ticket. It’s easy to dismiss this as marketing hype – and people did dismiss a younger Musk [6]. By now it’s clear though that he lives up to his ambitions.

How Can I Use This?
Create some stress for yourself by sharing your plans and see how it feels. Of course, others like Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs did the opposite. It probably makes sense to reveal your plans if you know that they are so far fetched that no one could copy them.

Not Looking Back

Musk is known for not hanging on to things or people. He looks forward. Ironically he might have a lot more to look back at and be sorry about than many. His first child died at 10 months old, he divorced his first wife, the first 3 times he launched his rockets they blew up – one of them destroying an expensive NASA payload. He has blown promises, missed deadlines, miscalculated costs and had to charge customers extra after they had already paid (Musk had to ask 400 customers who already prepaid to add extra $17,000 for each Roadster). [7] This list alone is enough, I believe, to make most people look back and infer that maybe it’s time to reign in the ambition, to mend relationships, etc. But that is not the point – for all his failings, Musk is capable of greatness. His products justify his mistakes. At the age of 44 he still has more to gain than he has lost – more rockets to launch, more cars to manufacture, and even more children to have.

How Can I Use This?
Think about it: if you believe there are more opportunities ahead it doesn’t make sense to be sad about lost opportunities. It makes sense to regret only if you lost more than you might gain. Here the key is probably in what you believe is still possible. We have to assume that the window of opportunity has not closed yet. In think on this point our intuitions are often mistaken – there is no proven critical period for learning, for example. This is even true for learning a foreign language[8]. Yes, most adult immigrants speak with an accent but not because of their age. It turns out that when you learn your first language your parents speak to you in “parentese” a version of language that emphasizes exactly the sounds that are more difficult to distinguish. Plus they are patient with you. I guess as we grow older we do become impatient with ourselves. But that is a choice. Maybe no one is these to anticipate our mistakes, at any age we could find a willing teacher.
So does it ever makes sense to look back and regret? Yes, but only if you can find conclusive evidence that what you want to do is no longer possible at your age.

Starting Really Small

Compared to what Musk is doing now – electric cars, rockets, and solar panels his first businesses were ridiculously straightforward – selling computer parts from his dorm room, running a glorified speakeasy from his house in college. Would he do this if he saw a straight path to making electric cars back in college? I think not. It looks like he took incremental steps towards a goal he had no idea how to reach at the beginning.

How Can I Use This?
If you want to start, start literally anywhere. In the long run, it won’t matter where exactly you started.

Just Enough Money To Start

Most people would say that it’s the lack of money that prevents them from starting a startup. Musk’s biographer helpfully tells the amount he had when he started. Between him and his brother Kimbal they had $28,000 that came from their father plus $6,000 from their friend Greg Kouri, who joined as a co-founder of Zip2 [9]. Today the $34,000 adjusted for inflation would be $53,000. This amount was enough to set up an office in Palo Alto. Musk and his brother slept in the office, showered at the YMCA, and subsisted on a diet of fast food.

How Can I Use This?

Would Musk make it without the $53,000? He’d probably have to work from a coffee shop for a little bit and sleep on someone’s couch. But it seems improbable that not having this money would have stopped Musk in the long run. Does $53,000 [or insert your amount] make the difference between starting and not starting for you? Figure out your minimum.

Teaching Himself From Books

When Musk decided to do something with space he apparently realized that he needed to learn about space himself. He correctly estimated that money alone, which he didn’t have enough of to start a rocket company either, does not solve the space problem. Wealthy people have done this before – threw some money at a space project and watched it fizzle out helpless without the engineering knowledge. Not Musk. Jim Cantrell, an aerospace engineer that Musk cold called back in 2001 said this about how Musk learns, “He literally sucks the knowledge and experience out of people that he is around. He borrowed all of my college texts on rocket propulsion when we first started working together in 2001. ”[10]

How Can I Use This?
Knowledge is free. It’s easy to carry around – it doesn’t weigh anything. Books are free at the library. Don’t underestimate how much you can learn just straight out of books.

Over-Optimism, Over-Promising, and Over-Delivering


With both SpaceX and Tesla there is a pattern: make a wildly ambitious promise, delay the reveal several times, finally unveil the product, promise to deliver it soon, delay the delivery date, deliver a product that surpasses expectations.
In design I’ve learned that you can have only 2 out of the three things: amazing, fast, or cheap. Musk doesn’t seem to compromise on amazing. He is definitely striving for cheap (100 times cheaper rockets than now, Model 3 at $25,000 after tax incentives). So you don’t get fast. The Model X, for example, came 3 years late.

How Can I Use This?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s going to take some time to do anything worthwhile. Yes, people hack prototypes in a weekend but it takes much longer to make that thing amazing.

Here in a nutshell you can see the story of Tesla through the eyes of the stock market. The stock was flat for a couple years because Tesla had yet to show profit. People weren’t yet buying into Musk’s optimism. When in April of 2013 Musk announced profit for the first time, the stock shot up. You can also see the incremental steps Musk took and how the stock grew accordingly.

Tesla stock chart, feb 2016

How Many Tries Does It Take?

It took 4 tries for Musk to successfully launch his first rocket. This number is low compared to his competitors who blew up a lot more hardware before it would fly.
There is one key difference, though – Musk only had enough money to launch 4 times. If the 4th time didn’t fly that would have been it.

How Can I Use This?
It’s hard to call Musk lucky considering the rocky start of SpaceX. You could be luckier or less lucky. The way you’ll compensate for the missing luck is just more tries.

Here you can compare the number of successful launches to the number of failures. The rocket size seems to grow with the increasing confidence. Still three failures at the very start is not ideal.

spacex-rockets-launches-infographic

Not Failing

“I’d rather commit seppuku than fail,” Musk tells an investor to explain why he should get the investment [11]. This is a theme with Musk in negotiations, physical activities, and relationships. He might move on but he doesn’t fail. He might be late on his promises, he might come across as too pushy, or get kicked out of the company he started, but he doesn’t let things fail.

How Can I Use This?
You can’t fail unless you give up. Why would you give up? Find your reasons and fix them.

__________

Most of the facts in the timeline are based on Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.
Elon-Musk-biography-by-Ashlee-Vance
Written with participation but not the final approval from Musk, this biography by Musk’s compatriot Ashlee Vance details the events of Musk’s life starting with his grandparents and all the way into 2015 when the book was released. Vance lets us see the world the way Musk sees it: employees grow complacent too soon, aerospace industry is incompetent and conniving, VC’s are short-sighted, co-founders run out of gas, engineers are too pessimistic about their own abilities. Throughout all this Musk doesn’t spare himself working 100-hour weeks. It is easy to adopt his ultralogical perspective of the world because it is inherently optimistic. By the end of the book I feel the comparisons between Musk, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg miss the point. Musk is the only one so far to build a future instead of just building products.

Notes

1. ^ Musk explained thinking from first principles in this interview with Kevin Rose.

2. ^ Elon Musk tweeted an audible sigh to the news that the Koch brothers who have major oil interests are planning to spend $10 million on an anti-electric car campaign.

3. ^ On the subject of his father Elon Musk dodged the more straightforward questions from his biographer Ashlee Vance. What he does say, in Chapter 2 of Vance’s book, sounds little more than ambivalent:
“It would certainly be accurate to say that I did not have a good childhood,” he said. “It may sound good. It was not absent of good, but it was not a happy childhood. It was like misery. He’s good at making life miserable—that’s for sure. He can take any situation no matter how good it is and make it bad. “He’s not a happy man. I don’t know . . . fuck . . . I don’t know how someone becomes like he is. It would just cause too much trouble to tell you any more.” Elon and Justine have vowed that their children will not be allowed to meet Errol.”

4. ^ It’s not lost on Musk that his kids won’t suffer like he did. And it bothers him. He’s not sure what he can do though. “What do I do? Create artificial adversity? How do you do that?” he asks in the last chapter of his biography.

5. ^ The source code for Blastar was published in a magazine so someone recreated it here.

6. ^ When Musk first said he would start a rocket company people didn’t take him seriously. In Chapter 6 of the book, Robert Zubrin, the Mars Society president recalls, “With Elon, everyone gave a sigh and said, ‘Oh well… he’ll spend hundreds of millions and probably fail like all the others that proceeded him.’”

7. ^ Vance notes in Chapter 10 that Musk personally sent an e-mail to customers who already paid $92,000 for the Roadster declaring a price hike. The cost would now start at $109,000.”

8. ^ It’s not proven, that there is a cut of period for learning languages, as mentioned in this Neuroscience book by Sinauer Associates.

9. ^ “Errol Musk gave his sons $28,000 to help them through this period, but they were more or less broke after getting the office space, licensing software, and buying some equipment. ” – from chapter 4 of Elon Musk by A.Vance.

10. ^ Jim Cantrell, space SpaceX founding team member, commented on Quora about Elon Musk’s learning about rockets.

11. ^ Musk actually said as much to one venture capitalist, informing him, “My mentality is that of a samurai. I would rather commit seppuku than fail.” – from chapter 4 of Elon Musk by A.Vance.

Credits

This visualization came to life thanks to Ahrefs who have diligently crawled and analyzed trillions of links on the web which helped me find the most relevant articles about Musk through their content explorer to cross check the facts in the biography. I also used Ahrefs to make sure that the Vance biography is the most cited book on Musk’s life today.
Here are some of the best articles that explore his life and his future suggested by Content Explorer:

Mark Vital was at the helm of data visualization behind the graphics. Alex Unak created the face illustration and the Dragon space capsule standing on Mars.

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About the Author

This article and infographic has been produced by the Anna Vital and the team at Founders and Funders. See more for informative infographics and post.

Entrepreneurship

Science is the Next Big Thing in Startups

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From pharmaceuticals to petrochemical processes: Newcomer companies and investors and investors alike are setting their sights on science. How the start-up scene moves beyond the mobile apps bubble…

For the last two years Silicon Valley analysts and venture capitalists are anticipating the burst of yet another bubble. This time, under the risk are the mobile start-ups which constitute the biggest share of the market. Out of 50 companies listed in Forbes’ “the hottest startup of 2015” (by valuation) only six companies are based on innovations in other-than-mobile area, one company provide cleaning services, while the rest are diverse mobile apps.

Meanwhile many products listed can be barely called innovative. A significant proportion of the listed start-ups are texting apps, apps for people search (starting from business partners to life partners) or delivery services. While those services can definitely facilitate one’s life, in general they differ from their predecessors by only a narrower audience.

Many venture investors expect stagnation if not decrease on the markets, which is why they start to transfer their capitals from start-ups offering customers software to start-ups offering specific solutions for existing businesses. Such companies are expected to demonstrate more stability in the near future.

The Market for Mobile Apps Might be Saturated

Back in 2012 a talented entrepreneur could walk into a venture capitalist’s office, say his startup was a mobile-first solution for pretty much any problem (payments! photos! blogging!), and walk out with a good-size seed investment. “That pitch was enough to get going,” says Roelof Botha, a partner with VC firm Sequoia Capital. “It’s not enough anymore.”

“I think investors are bored with investing in another messaging app. And our idea is crazy enough that it might just work. ”, has declared in 2014 Nadir Bagaveyev a founder of a start-up using 3-D printers to make rocket engines. By 2016 the company attracted investors funding sufficient to launch its first rocket.

Pharma and Biotech Start-Ups in High Demand

Currently the most successful science-based start-ups are the companies offering innovative solutions in the field of pharmaceuticals and biotechnologies. It’s noteworthy that despite the previous revelations and even judicial proceedings the list of the most expensive start-ups still includes Theranos, blood analyzing laboratory, whose story did not descend from the main pages of the global leading media from 2014.

It first amazed the audience with its fantastic take-off and then with its collapse. One of the crucial parts of the success story of this start-up is its fundamental difference from the majority of the services produced in the Silicon Valley. Unlike the others, it was not a story of yet another beautiful gadget for communication or mobile app, but the story of the scientific idea which intended to conquer the world.

The great success stories in other scientific areas are now happening on occasional basis. However certain facts allow to predict that the situation is to change soon. One of such factors is growing interest among the big corporations to attract innovative solutions from outside to develop their businesses.

Given the accelerating pace of scientific and technological development of the world, the activities of internal R & D departments are often turn to be insufficient to ensure stable development of innovative business. Outsourcing of the R&D may become the efficient mechanism to stimulate the growth of the company. And high-tech start-up can certainly benefit from it.

Start-Up Technology for the Petro-Business

In December, 2016 world leading companies in the field of gas processing, petrochemicals and chemicals announced their intentions to enforce their R&D capacities by attracting start-ups. 3M, AkzoNobel, BASF, The Dow Chemical Company, DuPont, Henkel, Honeywell UOP, LG Chem, Linde, Sibur, Solvay and Technip together created a global stage for startups and investors.

“The petrochemicals industry can and must rely on the potential of open innovations to facilitate further inventions and implementation of new solutions in all major application areas, from construction and medicine to packaging and 3D printing. Thanks to the participation of international partners, IQ-CHem is now the largest global project within the industry which attracts innovative solutions and provides for their implementation into practice,” said Vasily Nomokonov, Executive Director of Sibur, a company which coordinates the project.

Positive Experience in Chemicals and Beyond

Some of the listed companies have already gained positive experience in working with start-ups which may have driven them to elaborate a systemic approach to attract innovative companies.

At the beginning of 2016, SIBUR and RRT Global start-up reached an agreement to build a pilot plant for isomerization based on RRT Global technologies in Sibur’s Industrial Park SIBUR “Tolyattisintez”. According to Oleg Giyazov, co-founder and CEO of RRT Global cooperation with a large corporation bring significant advantages to his company.

“By cooperation with Sibur we get a huge industrial experience that enables us to develop technologies and solutions better fitted to the market demand. This advantage is often not given due attention, but we, on the contrary, see significant opportunities in it. Currently, RRT Global cooperates with several companies around the world” he said.

Another petrochemical leader BASF enjoys successful cooperation with Genomatica start-up. In 2013 BASF started the production of 1,4-butanediol based on renewable feedstock (renewable BDO) using Genomatica’s patented process and in 2015 the license was expanded to the Asian market.

Unlike traditional forms of cooperation between a start-up and a venture capitalist, a cooperation between start-up and a relevant corporation allows to minimize the risks associated with investing in a potentially promising idea where the key word is “potential” (but not “guaranteed”). While delivering services in the same field as the start-up the corporation gets an opportunity to more effectively and accurately estimate the market value of an innovative idea and to support its implementation.

Structural Changes Ahead: Outlines of A Coming Market

In the short term prospective, possibly in 2017, the global start-up market will face structural changes – both in terms of start-ups professional orientation and of funding mechanism. In the future science-based start-ups will dominate the market and will change our lives at a deeper level than the way of sending a text message or searching the restaurant for an evening meal. To be more concise this is already happening in the pharmaceutical industry, and the other scientific areas are to follow.

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About the Author

This article was written by Dominik Stephan of Process Worldwide. See more.

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Callum Connects

Norman Tien, Founder of Neuromath and Early Math Matters

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From a young age, Norman Tien, found his passion helping students as a math tutor and went on to translate that into a successful business.

What’s your story?
From the age of 14, I knew I would be in business for myself and started designing my company logo.

Growing up in a poor family, I worked part time while I was in school. That’s when I started tutoring and realised I had a gift to help students “see” mathematics. I delivered good results, and my students started to love math as well.

A turning point was when I was down with dengue fever and I realised I had to grow my business to the next level. I started a learning centre and that was the beginning of Neuromath. The initial years were tough as costs went up while my personal income took a dive. I almost gave up, but I pushed through.

Today, we have 3 specialty math enrichment centres managed and delivered by my dedicated team of teachers.

What excites you most about your industry?
“How to win” has always influenced how I position myself in the industry. I researched the psychology of learning, why some students are so naturally good at math, while others struggled. I managed to find the connection, and have always sought out niches to position myself so I can win.

In the beginning, I fused academic delivery with psychology to differentiate my services. Now I have a good team of teachers fully equipped with a psychological skillset.

In the next evolution of our business, we will incorporate technology into education in order to customise each student’s learning experience based on his or her needs.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and educated in Singapore. One key driver why I started a business was, as a youth, I witnessed how my dad struggled daily as a taxi driver trying to make ends meet.

That said, I am very blessed to be in Singapore and to be given the right education. I see this as a very important factor to my success today.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore – well, for one, most of my businesses are here. Singapore is convenient for business and is very well governed. There are rules and systems that make the entire entrepreneurial journey more secure here. One big plus is the location: Singapore is a hub that allows us to connect to the world.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
船到桥头自然直 –
There is a Chinese saying that when a boat goes near the pier, it will automatically align itself (with the current). It means we don’t have to worry too much, that things will take care of themselves.

A mentor once challenged me: “But who can guarantee you can even reach the pier?”

It is such a highly competitive world we are in, who can guarantee success? This is the ONE question that has been etched in my mind for decades. The Chinese saying always comes to mind when I am positioning, designing and strategizing for my business.

Who inspires you?
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew – The fact that he started ruling the country just like a startup. With limited resources, he was able to find a strong positioning to differentiate his country from the rest of the of Asia. With hardwork and proper planning, he transformed Singapore from a fishing village to a prominent financial hub in Asia.

Because Mr. Lee Kuan Yew positioned Singapore so well, government owned companies, such as Singapore Airlines, have emerged as the best in the world.

His story inspires me, spurs me to understand that success is not by chance but by design – every little step, all the strategies are all planned out. Not at all by chance.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
My business coach, Marshall Thurber, shared with me the power of the “Trim Tab” – a small part of the rudder system in a ship. This Trim Tab, despite its small size, is able to influence the entire ship’s direction by turning it.

This metaphor helped me see that a man can influence the entire world if the right effort is applied. We are now living in an entirely new world, the way we commute with an app on the phone – that’s the power of the Trim Tab at work.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would embark on the same journey but I would seek a mentor at a very early age.

I have been through many hard knocks along the way, and I definitely could have shortened the learning curve if I had a mentor to advise me on the many aspects of entrepreneurship.

How do you unwind?
Driving down long highways helps me unwind, that’s when I let my mind relax and wander.

I love long distance driving and riding. My wife gave me a Harley Davidson Tourer for my 50th birthday and we intend to embark on riding holidays together in Asia.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Hong Kong – I love the fast pace and the vibrance of the city. I love the cars there and it’s a very unique and exciting experience for me. And of course, I love the food there too!

Everyone in business should read this book:
One Minute Millionaire – this book highlights the mindset of an individual that is the key determinant for success in whatever we embark on. As long as we know we have a very strong reason why we need to do it, we can do it!

Shameless plug for your business:
I am the CEO and Founder of 2 Math enrichment brands:
Neuromath is a Specialist Math Learning Centre that helps students from Primary 1 to Junior College, empowering them with strategies, skills and a strong desire to learn and problem solve. We use technology to train students to avoid careless mistakes reclaiming 30 marks or more in Math exams and achieve their full potential in math.
www.neuromath.com.sg

Early Math Matters is a premier Mathematics and Cognitive Development enrichment centre for preschool children aged 3-6 years old. Through purposeful play and our renowned EMM approach, we help learners build a strong foundation for problem solving at an early age, and instil in them a passion & love for math that will stay with them for life.
www.earlymathmatters.com

We are actively seeking passionate teachers, entrepreneurs and investors who are keen to grow the education business with us.

How can people connect with you?
I speak regularly at workshops for schools, parents and platforms demonstrating the use of technology for peak performance in education.

Do contact me at
www.NormanTien.com

Alternatively, you can connect with me:
www.NormanTien.com/facebook
www.NormanTien.com/linkedin

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
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