When it comes to finding efficiencies and cost savings, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeves. It’s certainly helpful as an entrepreneur – sometimes bootstrapped. Of course, not all things are tricks as much as they are realizations. Here are a few:
  • I attended Emory University’s Goizueta Business School back 2012-2013 for my MBA. Back then, early on, at least, I thought I was going to graduate and re-enter the world of consulting. I suspected I would garner a nice-sized pay bump. I had visions of getting a BMW M3 and upgrade my house (purchased 2009). Except, I ended up going full-time into boot-strapped entrepreneurship. There were no upgrades. I kept my expenses relatively low, and stuck it out with the same car and house for years.  I did eventually change my car last year but stayed in my house. What’s fascinating are the visions for bigger, better when I thought about higher wages. However, they’re not things I needed. I’ve been happy in my home, and honestly, I probably should’ve kept my car instead upgrading. Not everything needs to be (or should be) “upgraded”.
  • I eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. Outside of company lunches or going out with others, I largely eat peanut butter sandwiches. No, there’s no jelly. Over the years, they’ve tasted more and more bland. However, I stick to them for a few reasons. For one, they’re incredibly cheap. Two, I eat one at a time and perhaps three throughout the day. It helps control my appetite while providing some nourishment. Three, it takes seven swipes of the knife with about a tablespoon of peanut butter to spread + a couple minutes in the toaster oven. When this is extrapolated across the days of the week, the weeks in the month, and the months in the year, it’s a known quantity of what I’m dealing with – highly efficient in preparation and cost. Four, it’s incredibly clean. Without jelly, a toasted peanut butter sandwich keeps my hands clean, and the sandwich bag can be reused throughout the week. Eating while working then is easy. Five, at any moment, I can still be flexible in going out for lunch. The sandwich I would have for lunch that day can be saved for tomorrow. The shelf-life is helps extend that “lunch runway”.
  • Oatmeal for breakfast almost every day. I don’t typically eat or go out for breakfast like I occasionally do for lunch, so my breakfasts are even more routine than peanut butter sandwiches. In this case, it’s a half-cup of oatmeal. I’ve recently thrown in a half-tablespoon of chia seeds for more substance. I put more water into the oatmeal than required, and I prepare it in a cup. This allows me to “drink” the oatmeal without using utensils. It keeps everything clean while being highly efficient for consumption.
  • Blueberries or similar small, round fruits for fruit/ snack. Another staple of my daily diet is a cup of blueberries, typically, kept in a round container. Blueberries in a round container allows me to also “drink” the blueberries as they roll out of the cup. It’s simple. Like the sandwiches and oatmeal, this snack keeps my hands clean while reducing “friction” of utensils, peeling a fruit, use my fingers to pick up, etc.
  • Meal prep with an Instant Pot. My dinners are usually varied from week to week – contrary to my otherwise routine daily meals. However, I still have the same dinner throughout that week. Ever since I acquired an Instant Pot, I’ve been able to prepare a larger, more varied quantity of food while adding varying degrees of taste. It’s been fantastic versus my tried and true pasta menus of the past.

I’ve always been easy with money – never budgeting. I made enough while being light on expenses to not worry much about budget or retirement. However, times have changed.
In my current “situation”, I’ve become much more cost-conscious as my income has dipped significantly. I used to view my financial position as comfortable, and I wanted to be able to go out without worrying about buying “extra things” if I wanted. However, this has since flipped. It’s a different lifestyle I am adapting. I still go out and visit the local coffee shop to work. I’ve determined that spending a little in this area enables me to be more productive in other areas. Thus, it’s an investment I should make. However, I am being humbled with my choices now. Even little purchases like choosing a medium-sized drink vs. a small is coming into view. My selection of a simple iced tea is not just out of preference anymore.
I share all of this to be transparent while also helping others consider the choices they make – need vs. want. I still take in some luxuries; though, much less frequently. But also, all my small “sacrifices” and tweaks are just that – small. They can add up to be a more significant cost mitigation. However, they can easily be wiped out with a single carefree moment.
For example, my car that I traded in last year was fully paid off. I had just received a pay bump at my job. Now, I pay almost $600 monthly. That’s an incredible expense today. Forgoing a few Grande Strawberry Acai Refreshers and Pad Thai dinners don’t mitigate anywhere close to that monthly car payment.
This is a humbling experience. I can easily pull a rip cord and jump back into a high-paying job where none of the financial pressures I put on myself today “matter”. However, how would that fit into my personal mission? How does all of this affect my pursuit of entrepreneurship? Entrepreneurship oftentimes boils down to burn rate.
I’m also enjoying this experience and financial perspective. This is causing me to think more critically about my resources and expenditures in every way.
Think about where you are today in your home, your car, your clothes. Are you still seeking more? Why? What happens when you cut back on expenses? What happens when you cut back on pay?

I just wrapped up The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I’m finally crossing off books that have been recommended to me several years ago. This was one of those books that I had already heard so much about, especially given my highly habitual life.

The book centers around 7 habits that Covey covers:
  • Be proactive.
  • Begin with the end in mind.
  • Put first things first.
  • Think win-win.
  • Seek to understand, then to be understood.
  • Synergize.
  • Sharpen the saw.

The first three habits are focused around the self while habits 4-6 are about the external relations. The last habit is about constant improvement. 

What makes Covey’s book easy to understand and approachable are the real-world examples and applicability to everyday life. I won’t go into detail about each of the habits. However, I will say that each habit is a constant practice for me which makes sense given Covey’s message.
Of the habits, the most difficult for me are seeking to understand and thinking win-win. Too often we hear the saying that we have two ears and one mouth – pointing to the importance for active listening and focusing on the speaker, not of how we should respond or navigate the conversation to fit our own motives. Personally, I can be highly impulsive and want to jump into conversations quickly. As a sales person, this is a well-known problem. It’s akin to pitching without knowing or understand the needs of the customer.
The second habit I know I struggle with is to think win-win. Admittedly, I do struggle with looking for winning scenarios for other parties, not just myself. This is a key to the negotiating text Getting to Yes – while focusing on interests, not positions. My default thinking is to win regardless of other parties. I want to point to my competitiveness to want to be the best. However, it’s most likely just my own selfishness and ego. Maybe it’s all the same.
I believe I have very strong locus of control when it comes to my internal drivers. This also fits well with seventh habit of always sharpening the saw – always improving. In fact, Covey touches on, in particular, the importance of physical health and exercise. This is one of the most important areas of my life. As an extrovert, continuing to develop my external-facing habits is critical for continued success. Covey reiterates over and over again how society is beyond independent people. Instead, it’s about society –interdependence. We rely on relationships to build and succeed.

Recently, my company and I left @ATLTechVillage. It was bittersweet — a place I visited right after @davidcummings bought the building, and always wanted to be a member of. As I left, I wanted to write a letter, but decided a list of lessons from my time would be more welcome…

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

Here are my 21 lessons learned from my time @ATLTechVillage… to all you Villagers, entrepreneurs, Atlantans, the Community. (Many more sure to come up as time goes & things marinate, but here goes!)

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

1Don’t EVER merge into the right-turn lane in front of ATV on Piedmont too late during lunch or afternoon rush hour. Police will yell at you to “unmerge”. Talk-back & get a ticket. Think you got away? Check your rearview. She’s likely running after you.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

2If you want some mid-day entertainment, watch the traffic police during lunch or afternoon rush hour to see the above lesson in action. Warning: 15 minutes will pass without you knowing.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

3Spend more time getting your oatmeal or morning coffee, and finally say hello to the people you always see, but still never get to know. It’s amazing how many strangers with familiar faces there are in the place you spend so much of your life in.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

4If you’re going to interact with the @ATLTechVillage Community Team, be incredibly enthusiastic because that’s the level they always bring to the table. If you’re emailing, include at least 12 exclamation points. Doesn’t matter how many sentences.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

5The ATV cleaning staff is made up of some of the hardest working, friendliest folks you’ll encounter – shout out to Rossy and Crescensio. They’re likely there before you, and they’re likely there after you. Say, “hola” and “adios” more often.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

6If you enter the building and exit the building via the first floor, you have the added benefit of saying good morning and good night to the security team.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

7@Lane_JKL is great at creative handshakes.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

8The walls are thin. Realize that your Lady Gaga and “Kiki, do you love me” on the TVs and computers can be heard during a demo to Fortune 500 leadership teams (everyone).

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

9When you least expect it, those damn columns in the parking deck move causing you to scrape your car.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

10Feedback and help are literally next door. There’s so much brain power and creativity in your own office, I’m sure. But there’s even more when you consider all your friendly neighbors.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

11After walking to and from lunch on a hot summer’s day, the best way to cool down is sitting on the couch in the mailroom. It’s always the coldest, most refreshing room in the Village.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

12Don’t wait for the elevator if you’re going up or down one flight of stairs unless you’ve got a good reason. From a productivity standpoint, you’ll lose time 75% of those trips.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

13I never took advantage of the roof enough during the good weather days that I then regret during the bad weather days. When the weather’s nice, go up there.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

14Even though many of the hallways are whiteboards (paint), the writing tends to stay there for a long time. Don’t write something that reflects poorly on the Community, your company, and you.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

15Never steal food.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

16Okay, the nap room is a little weird. But when you need it, it’s the best room in the Village.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

17Freestyle (verb. To travel to and acquire beverage from@ccfreestyle machine on the 1st floor next to the Community Room) whenever you can for the exercise, for the break, for the hydration, for the community.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

18Post a bunch of times on the Atlanta Tech Village Slack and Forum to sell used equipment. It moves your inventory and keeps good tech amongst good tech people. ?

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

19Go to events as much as possible. The world is built on relationships. Those “organic” meet-ups can make the world of difference – a sales opportunity, a partnership, a creative idea to get over a problem, a friend, etc.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

20To the last point, say hello to more people, and then, go beyond to find out who people are. So many strangers with familiar faces, and the world needs more authenticity. Say hello and find out what drives people. You’ll be amazed.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

21The Atlanta startup ecosystem is bustling. Amazing to see folks taking the leap and dreaming big in ATL & @ATLTechVillage. Soak it all in. Rare to be around concentration energetic people who love what they do! Say hello. This is the Village, not Atlanta Tech Building.

— Daryl Lu (@TheDLu) August 9, 2018

I just finished The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni on why organization health is the number one reason companies succeed. Lencioni argues it’s the true competitive advantage companies have.

I’ve read a lot of business books and have gone through an MBA program to learn about competitive advantages and the “it” factors that makes some companies better than others. Most of the readings have been about culture with a sprinkling of motivations. Culture makes the most noise for success, and it’s not a surprise. Culture is more uniquely applied for a company. How it operates with values and its mission. If values and the mission provide the map of a company, then organization health is the step-by-step directions to navigate.
The key take-aways:
  • Organizational health starts from the top. Much like culture, leaders can determine the health of company. Eliminating office politics (big points here from Lencioni) while ensuring the leaders row all in the same direction fosters strong health. Removing politics and acting in as a single cohesive executive team cultivates greater success than operating well but in silos.
  • Lencioni hits hard on trust across the executive team. This is the key to removing politics. Encouraging individual leaders to be vulnerable enables folks to work better together understanding individual purposes and reasons for actions – he encourages leaders to share vulnerable stories from early years (oftentimes, childhood). Trust enables leaders to have healthy debate, and agreement to move forward together as a team despite opposing feelings individually.
  • Healthy organizations exhibit cohesive teams where the whole is greater than the parts. Organizationally healthy companies exhibit functional groups who may operate outside their functional silos and even, at times, reducing effectiveness of a functional role to support another function as long as the greater company is positively impacted. In one case, this could mean sharing engineering resources to help on the marketing or sales side.
  • Meetings are big, big deal. Typically, meetings are also a waste today due to not only a lack of action, but poor structure and categorization. Lencioni argues for four types of meetings: the daily check-in, weekly tactical, monthly strategic, and quarterly off-site. In some ways, these meetings can actually increase the number of meetings in the short-term. However, long-term, meetings can reduce, but also be highly actionable making meetings productive. Being structured on the topics and the goals for each meeting type drive results. Lencioni argues that this is the biggest and lowest hanging fruit for companies.

This book was recommended to me by a friend who works at one of the top companies to work for in Atlanta. It’s not surprise why he recommended this as he’s seeing the book’s influence at his company. It’s clear to him how Lencioni was onto something on building organizational health.

“Business insulation” – I’m going to trademark that to stand for both the visible and hidden layer(s) that stops/ slows businesses from learning outside processes and systems. I think about business insulation for two reasons:
  1. It’s common for companies in “typical” industry positions to operate much like they have operated since inception. Many industries and businesses stay closely aligned to original go-to-market strategies. Folks do not realize the opportunities afforded by fast-growing technology companies and the evolution of “best practices”.
  2. Companies with business insulation are ripe for both good and bad opportunities. The good opportunities include companies that can be made stronger and grow faster sustainably with streamlined workflows and minor tweaks to business systems. The bad opportunities (“challenges”) include the difficulties for companies to overcome the insulation. How do they learn of opportunities, let alone implement them? Think: change management is the number 1 driver of failed implementations.
Business insulation masquerades today as:
  • Excuses from “That’s just how we’ve always done business” to “Things are going well, let’s not rock the boat”.
  • Working so deep in the day-to-date that leaders are unable to pull up for a more strategic view. They’re unable to steer away from risks and steer towards opportunistic endeavors.
  • Hiring the same type of candidates repeatedly creating a homogenous workforce and culture.
  • A team led by distrustful executives playing political chess.
  • Lack of deliberate time for learning from current and outside industries.
Of course, business insulation has the benefit of keeping companies squarely focused on what they’re good at. That can be a type of long-term strategy. However, over time, these strategies turn companies into highly niche offerings that take the company from long-term sustainability to short-term rewards.
What elements are contributing to business insulation where you are? How are you contributing to the insulation? How are you tearing down insulation?