Business Lessons From Mexico – Make Time For Family

This is the third post in my Business Lessons from Mexico series.  If you haven’t already done so, please go back and read the first and second posts on “Do One Thing Well” and “Make Sure You’re Protected” for additional context.

One area I personally struggle with, and am always striving to do better with, is making time for family.  Because I enjoy my work, I often find that I’ll try to grab an extra hour here, an additional 15 minutes there, and before I realize it’s time for bed.

This last trip to Mexico, I was unable to get phone or internet service on the beach.  The most advanced technology we used was an iPod to jam out while playing sequence on the beach and playing fart games with unsuspecting visitors.

My wife had the incredible idea to buy a little remote-controlled whoopee cushion.  You take the portion with the speaker and hide it somewhere and then use a remote which looks like a car keychain remote.  Whenever the remote is pressed you get a random and realistic fart sound from the other end.  As juvenile as it sounds, eventually EVERYONE was playing with the little machine.

From little chuckles to long, loud barrel laughs, everyone loved it!  Eventually, once everyone in our little camp had been tricked into believing that the person sitting next to them had no respect for anyone, we had to move on to the neighbors.  They would come over to visit, be invited to the kitchen where grandma would proceed to test their patience.

I don’t think I’ve laughed so much or so hard in a very long time!  The impacts of this 4 day break in Mexico has had on me personally are pretty amazing.  I came back to the United States and have been  hard at work, but things are flowing so naturally.

I don’t find that I’m distracted by Twitter and Facebook as much as I was before I left.  I’m able to whip out blog posts at record speed and I feel I can focus on the things that are most important.  I was able to move a couple of my personal projects forward by leaps and bounds in a matter of days.

I owe this to my family as they have ensured that in spite of a long list of to-dos waiting I always set aside some time with family to be able to recharge and keep from burning out.

Make sure you set aside time to recharge!

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Business Lessons From Mexico – Make Sure You’re Protected

This is the second post in my Business Lessons from Mexico series.  If you haven’t already done so, please go back and read the first post title “Do One Thing Well” for more context.

Every business owner needs to ensure that they are properly protected.  From insurance to contracts there are a LOT of different ways to protect yourself from litigation in the United States.  It’s a little funny that I’m writing about this with relation to things in Mexico where there really is no litigation to speak of.    The most extreme example I saw on this trip was a truck full of police officers, armed with M-16s, driving 70+ miles per hour down the freeway.  As we approached I saw that at least 4 of them had a least 1 leg over the side of the truck.  If one of them had fallen it would have been their own fault and no police chief would have been sued.  (Getting down off my soap-box now)….

The last time we were down at Medano Blanco  for Easter, my step-daughter and I were eaten alive by the JeJenes (a small mosquito-like bug).  They really seem to like the white people.   This time my wife came prepared with multiple types of bug spray, sun block and allergy medicine just in case.  We were fortunate and made it out of Mexico with no more than 2 bites and a mild sun-burn.

This translates perfectly for every business owner.  It only takes a few extra dollars to have someone review your personal and business dealings to ensure that you’re not likely to get bitten by any Jejenes that are looking for a quick and easy free lunch.  The way that I’ve begun to address this personally is to hire a financial advisor.   For a very reasonable fee he has reviewed my entire financial picture and has already recommended small changes for me to make.

Some examples of things that he has recommended are: putting an umbrella insurance policy in place, creating proper wills / powers of attorney, life insurance policies, etc.  I don’t really want to go into a lot of detail here, but I must say that the piece of mind these things provide are definitely worth the money.

In my next post I’ll share with you what I found happened as a result of Making Time for Family.


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Business Lessons From Mexico – Do One Thing Well

For Easter I took a very short and relaxing trip with my wife and step-daughter to Bahia del Perihuete which is known as  Medano Blanco (White Sand Dune) to all of the people in Angostura, Sinaloa, Mexico.  My wife’s parents have a 30 year tradition of spending “Semana Santa” (Easter) on the beach with any family members that can make it.

They set up a fairly large camp right in the bay.  Outfitted with electricity, shower room and toilet.  It’s not quite “roughing it”, but it’s certainly more rough than a hotel.

If there is one thing to take away from Mexico, It’s “Do One Thing Well”.  The best example of this is from a small taco shop in Hermosillo called “Taqueria El Chino”.  When I last stopped there about 3 years ago they had about 5 tables, restrooms, a nice prep area and a small beverage service area.  They are well known for their tacos made from pretty much every part of the cow’s head; Cabeza (a mix of the following items), Cachete (cheek), Lingua (tongue)  and even Ojo (eye).

On this visit I was impressed to find that they how now tripled the number of tables, designed a nice logo, outfitted all of their employees with spiffy new uniforms and built a nice clear menu so visitors like me would know what to choose from.  The largest improvement was a massive new awning that protected all of the customers as well as their vehicles.

In spite of all of this growth, their menu was pretty much the same as it had been 4 years prior.  The only exception was a new “Torta” (sandwich) which we decided to order as a to-go item.  As usual their tacos were awesome!  We left extremely happy.

A few hours later when I got hungry I took a big bite of the Torta and it was terrible.  I’d be curious to find out if this was an experiment that they were running or something they had on the menu for very long.  In either case I’m hoping for their sake that someone lets them know that they should take it off the menu and just continue with what they already do well.

I saw more examples of this lesson all over the place.  From places called “Tortas y Tortas” (sandwiches and sandwiches) to every town having at least one Llantera (tire shop) prominently placed right next to the highway.  They are extremely specialized and able to support their families successfully by staying this way.

In my next post I will discuss making sure you’re protected…

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The Lean Startup Machine – San Francisco

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending The Lean Startup Machine in San Francisco along with my friend Warner.  I’ve been reading a few books and watching quite a few videos on Lean Startup recently was very excited to get to go put it all into practice.

After a few awesome presentations on Lean Startup (Eric Ries), Customer Development (Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits) and business modeling (Dave McClure) we dove right into presenting our business ideas.

This is where I needed to first push myself outside my comfort zone and get in front of the group to present.  I decided to present an idea regarding creation of a gift registry for kids.  I thought it would be the perfect project to focus on for a weekend and to find customers in downtown San Francisco to interview.

It turned out my idea didn’t end up getting picked and I made my way over to one of the ideas I found very interesting which was the Social Change Log team.  The idea was to sell Twitter users a product which showed them a timeline view of their tweets, re-tweets and follows so they could correlate which actions were strengthening their community.

After an evening of debating where to start and getting comfortable with the team we decided to call it a night and hit things hard the following morning.  I went to bed really feeling like our team didn’t quite know which direction to head and was feeling that I should get up early and try to define our direction to get us on track.

That’s just what I ended up doing and where I began applying another skill I’m working on which is my leadership.  Considering I had only met my team members less than 12 hours prior I was a little apprehensive about taking charge.  Looking back, I feel I made the right decision.

We were off and conducting custdev interviews within a few hours and learning TONS about how many of the mentors were using Twitter to market their companies and personal brands.  We very quickly learned just how much we did not know about the market we were getting into.  We decided that the best way to get more data would be to put together an online survey and try to get feedback from people outside of the room.

This took up the remainder of the day and by the time we were ready to call it a night on Saturday we had about 35 responses to the survey and were ready to pivot.  We had learned that customers did not want to see the actual data or graphs, but wanted it as support to some sort of a specific recommendation.

Sunday, the final day of work before presenting what we learned was a little unnerving.  The team started to lose focus again and we decided to split into sub-teams to work on our final presentation while still trying to learn from customers.  Due to two of our members needing to catch a flight we volunteered to present our findings first.

We got up in front of all of the mentors and showed them what we had learned.  As a hook we thought it would be best to provide some specific lean-style recommendations for each of the mentors.   This hook ended up working great as we ran out of time with the presentation and the first follow-up question the mentors asked was “what are our recommendations?”.  We had obviously found something that struck a chord with the mentors!

More details soon…

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Angostura Mexico – Part 2

Luckily it appeared that the driver was not hurt and neither were the other two trucks that had to avoid hitting him.  I think that if we had been there a few minutes earlier it could have been us avoiding the truck.

A little bit further we arrived in Santa Ana where we had planned to sleep for the night.  Unfortunately we stopped at 4 different hotels and each one was full.  We decided it would probably be best to continue on and sleep in Hermosillo instead.  At about 3am we arrived in Hermosillo and found that the hotels there were all full as well.  The holiday rush was upon us and we were unprepared.  After a bit of searching we finally found that the Holiday Inn had a handicapped room available for us.  We were quite happy to be able to finally get some sleep.

After a short four and a half hour nap at the Holiday Inn I woke to Maria bribing me with the back seat of the truck.  She said that if I would get up now she would let me lie down in the back seat and Miranda would sit up front.  Since I’m still trying to kick a nasty cold it appeared that my body wanted more sleep than four and a half hours so I got up and climbed into the back seat.  Rather than head for the highway immediately Maria wanted to stop at her favorite taco stand called “Taquerias El Chino”.

I’m not sure why they named the place the way they did as there are no Chinese people working and they don’t serve anything with a Chinese flair.  In spite of this, the tacos they serve are still really good.  The first time I ever had tacos de ojo was here.  They are a little juicier than tacos de cabeza, but definitely not anywhere near as gross as they sound.  With a little salsa and cilantro they are pretty damn tasty.  Since they did not have a drive-through, Maria went and picked up some tacos while Miranda and I stayed in the truck. 

We figured we would try to eat them on the road, but this didn’t work out very well since they are so messy.  We ended up eating them in the parking lot of the Kumon which had some nice pictures of kids playing together.  Their slogan was a little weird and I wasn’t sure how to translate it properly.  After our stomachs were full we hit the road once more.

Since I was still in the back seat I decided that I would take advantage of the time and go through an awesome ACN getting started book that Jeff gave Maria and me right before we left.  It has some great forms and ideas for getting the business up and going.   Since Maria was still driving I helped her get some ideas for people to contact when we get back to Tucson.  She used some of the memory joggers to think of people she knows that might be great distributors.  After a little while we lost track of the subject and I started listening to a Xango CD my mom made for me and then dove into my Critical Thinking book which is very interesting.  It was a text book that I purchased for a class at the University of Phoenix a few years ago, but never got the chance to use it because I had to cancel the class.  I will get some more info about this posted later once I’ve had a chance to read more than the first few chapters.

The next four hours went pretty quickly and soon we were passing Los Mochis and Maria began getting very teary eyed.  She was missing her grandmother who passed away earlier this year and we had just passed her house.  She asked if we could stop at her Tia Mapy’s house to say hello since this was where her grandmother had been living prior to her death.  We stopped by the gas station that her aunt owns, but she wasn’t working so we continued on to her aunt’s house. 

When we got to the house Maria and her aunt hugged for a solid minute or two and I think Maria needed that very badly.  Soon we were ushered into the house and saw little Pilarcita who is now about 14 months old.  She is the cutest little girl I’ve seen in some time.  She is still very small and quiet and seemingly curious about most of the world around her.  She and Miranda ran over to the Christmas tree and began playing with all of the lights while the adults were telling stories.  After about twenty minutes of chit-chat we said our goodbyes and got back into the truck.

Maria wanted for us to go through La Palma which is a small town where her dad was born.  To get there we needed to take a small dirt road that separates a few of the bean fields a few miles and then turn.    She gave us a guided tour of the town and where she remembered playing when she was young.  There can’t have been more than the equivalent of 1 city block of houses and I believe most of the people were farmers.  About a half of a mile outside of the town we finally entered our final destination which was Angostura.  It only took about 20 hours of travel to make it from Tucson to Angostura.

After saying hello to everyone we quickly began unpacking the overloaded truck.  It turns out that Maria’s parents had 2 brand new rooms added to their house and we were going to get to stay in one of them.  They are not huge by any means, but they were perfect for Maria, Miranda, Fito, Megan and I to crash in for a few days of partying.  I told Maria’s dad that if he added a few more rooms he’d have the perfect setup for a small hotel.  Considering the fact that Angostura only has a population of about 30,000 people and no hotels it could come in handy.

Soon after unpacking we all gathered around the table on the back porch to catch up and have a drink or two.  Since I don’t usually drink beer I grabbed some of the whisky that they had and mixed it up with some soda water.  We had also brought some Disorono and Megan came up with an awesome idea to mix some of it in to sweeten it up a bit.  This worked beautifully and when mixed with the Marlin dip and some tortilla chips I was quite content.  The weather was perfect.  It was about 70 degrees once the sun went down which was cool enough to keep the mosquitoes at home and keep me from sweating.  As always Maria’s mom was running around serving food and drinks, and trying to make sure that everyone is having a great time.

                David and Fito decided that they needed some beer so I hopped in the pickup with them and we headed for the Tecate stand.  While figuring out how many cases of red and how many cases of light beer to purchase there is a crazy old Mexican man that comes over and starts questioning us about where we’re from.  He keeps yelling “MEXICANOS GABACHO” which I didn’t understand at the time.  It turns out that he was telling me that he was from Mexico and that he knew I was from the United States.  Luckily my Spanish isn’t very good and I told him “nice to meet you” which I believe kept things friendly all around.  David later told me that since the guy was older he didn’t take it offensively.  If it had been younger people it might have started a fight.  We took our Tecate and headed back to the house.

                When we arrived back to the house Maria’s sister Cynthia had proclaimed that her pregnant belly would like some carne asada tacos from one of the local taco vendors.  The ten of us piled into two vehicles and headed to the taco stand.  They have a special menu item there called Vampiras which translates to “female vampire”.  It was a regular carne asada taco that has been flattened like a tostada and then they add some extra picante sauce and tomatoes and toast it until the tortilla is a little dark.  It turned out that even though I didn’t order one of these I got one with my dinner.  I think it was supposed to go to Tia Florida, but it was misplaced in front of me.  Since I don’t know the difference I had it almost finished before anyone had even noticed the mistake was made.  It turned out just fine and the ten of us ate dinner for about five hundred pesos which is equal to about forty dollars.

                We took two small bags of tacos to go and headed back to the house.  To our surprise Maria’s older brother, Javier had arrived while we were out eating.  He brought along his wife and four children from Monta Rey, Mexico.  They brought some very weird looking fruit that his wife Jaqueline likes called cherimoya.  It is about the size and color of a green apple, but the outside is shaped like a human heart and has many small divots in the skin that allow it to be held very easily.  It tasted very sweet and was quite refreshing.  We all continued to hang out and visit for a while more before bed.  After only getting a few hours of sleep the previous night I was exhausted and slept very well.

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Angostura Mexico – Part 1

After a full day of insane domestic catch-up, security companies, sales calls and other necessary evils we were finally able to begin packing for our trip.  We have everything you can imagine crammed into the back of this poor little Tacoma.  We’ve packed in luggage, clothes, chairs, booze, Xango, a television, and quite a few other assorted goodies.  Needless to say it took quite a while to get all of this into the back of the truck and we were finally ready to leave my house around 10pm. 

Of course by this time our light dim-sum dinner from earlier had worn off and we needed to make a drive-through pit stop for some greasy Sour Dough Jacks.  I ate mine in about three bites and since Maria was driving it took her a little bit longer to finish.  We were all done with our second dinner before we even made it to I-10.  Miranda fell back asleep only a few minutes afterward and it allowed Maria and I time to catch up since things have been so crazy lately.

Around 11:30pm we arrived at the “Centro De Importacion” to get the permit for Maria’s truck.  Since we’re heading all the way to Angostura which is in Sinaloa we need one.  Miranda was still out like a light in the back seat, so I stayed in the truck while Maria went to go deal with the slow people working.  I’m not sure whether it was because it was only about 4 degrees outside or because they had a fresh pot of coffee, but tonight they decided to move a little more quickly than usual.  We were fortunate enough to be back on the road by about midnight. 

Maria is happily telling me about some of the strange dramas that have occurred at Costco during her last few days there.  Her stories continue to remind me that we need to work very hard to get her to a point where she can leave if she’d like.  My dreaming is shattered by some fancy footwork by our driver.  I look ahead and see police lights and smoke.  It looks like one of the sleepy truck drivers has jack-knifed his eighteen wheeler and completely blocked all of the southbound traffic.  In typical Mexican style all of the traffic proceeds to the opposite side of the highway and drives into oncoming traffic with their emergency lights on.


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