Thailand, Strengthened Relationships & Good Guidelines
Last time on The Chirp we sat down with African Irishman, Ngalinda Ngalinda to talk about the power of hard work and dreaming big. An episode filled with so many tidbits of wisdom, if you missed it, you definitely need to check it out before your dive into our latest story. We talked about everything from the power of intentional thought to the realization that life is all about overcoming struggles, so before you listen to Story 23, rewind a bit and check out Story 22: Remember To Struggle.
Another exciting episode this week! In our conversation today, we spoke with a well-seasoned entrepreneur by the name of Buddy Rathmell. Having spent nearly a decade in Thailand building escape rooms and other ventures, Buddy now helps other entrepreneurs across the world broaden their footprint online via his agency Map Winners and his school focused on ethical business called The BAM School. From stories of failed ideas to tales of friendships strengthened by simple acts of generosity, Buddy reminds us that setting the right expectations when navigating anything in life can often lead to better outcomes.
This Episode In A Nutshell
Life is full of expectations. Whether struggling to understand the desires of a significant other, confused about our roles within our careers, or tired of being let down by the people around us, meeting or achieving expectations is a tough reality we all have to deal with. Just like everyone else, our guest this week, Buddy Rathmell is no stranger to expectations. Having moved halfway across the world from the United States to Thailand in hopes of starting a successful escape room business, Buddy shared with us the gravity of the expectations he faced along his journey. A journey filled with uncertainty, angst, lifelong friendships, and financial insecurities we discussed all the hurdles but also triumphs that can fill life when expectations get involved. Sometimes expectations work out as planned and other times they lead to disaster, but all in all, setting the right expectations is key to making sure everything works out in the end.
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Audio Transcript of Story 23: Set The Right Expectations
Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of The Chirp: A Podcast By Pigeon where we interview people from all walks of life about their relationships and how they are affected by money and by loans.
In today’s episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Buddy Rathmell from Virginia. Buddy is a gentleman I’ve met through my online podcast networking over the last while. He is an entrepreneur with his current venture being MapWinners, a company that helps improve their Google Maps listing.
Buddy has lived in Thailand and has lots of experience with business and loans and was able to share some very interesting stories about what he has learned from his endeavors over the years and what mistakes he won't make again.
And hey, if you’re looking to up your digital presence online using Google Maps, be sure to stick around and get his contact details at the end of the episode.
Hope you all enjoy and let’s dive in.
Buddy. Thank you so much for coming on to The Chirp. It's a pleasure to have you, how are things?
It's going great, Cameron, thanks for inviting me. Glad to be here. And looking forward to our conversation.
Yeah, my pleasure. Me too. Me too. So we kind of know each other through the podcast industry, networking in that way, but I'd love for you to tell our listeners a little bit about who you are and what you're doing at the moment as well.
Sure. Yeah. I've spent my life like living all over the world, most of the time out of America, more time than in, but just recently moved back from Thailand to Roanoke, Virginia. And I had a school for entrepreneurs there last year. And out of that school, I launched a business called Map Winners to help clients get to the top of Google and I’m really enjoying that.
One of my first clients, I helped him triple his business to go from five employees to twenty. And then we were off to the races. I started consulting in 1999 after a stint in corporate America. And then did some mission work. We did some anti-human trafficking work in Thailand and then after a season, I went back to business consulting and in my business consulting I was helping this guy with a pitch he wanted to do. He was a solar installer and wanted to land a big Japanese company.
So we did this whole PowerPoint pitch for him. And as he's leaving, he's like, “Yeah, I got in a huge fight with my wife last night”. And I was like, “Oh, really? Like what happened?” And he goes, “Well, she hasn't answered Facebook messages from potential clients in three months. And this German guy got all over my Facebook. He wrote on every post, like how I wasn't real. And I sucked. And it turns out like, we just haven't been responding to messages”. and I was like, “Well, how are you getting business?” And he said, “Well, that work that you did for me on Google last year. I get more business than I can handle just from that”.
And I was like, as he's saying this, my mind is spinning, because I knew I spent like five, six hours of like SEO work and it had helped him to go from five employees to twenty. So I was like, "Holy crap". And so I found one of the best guys in the world, I asked him to mentor me and it's just like the power of Google business profiles right now for businesses is just off the charts.
And so like he has like 300 clients and hardly ever does a client leave. I'm a little bit earlier in my agency. But it's super powerful for businesses. Like it's really the only advertising channel most businesses need after they get theirs set up. So it's, yeah, it's really fun.
I love helping people just in general. So it's kind of fun to help people grow their business.
Fantastic. And you, Buddy, growing your own businesses, have you any stories about your own career trajectory, where money or loans have maybe affected your relationships or maybe just your own life in general?
Yeah, well, I've had money and I've been in debt and it's a lot more fun to have money indeed, for sure! But yeah, in 2015, I decided to start a couple of escape rooms in Cambodia and Thailand. We were with the largest franchiser of escape rooms and these were gonna be their flagship stores one was gonna be in Cambodia, in Angkor Wat.
And we had multi-level rooms, elevators that you would go by, and flowing water rooms that moved all this stuff. So I needed a lot of money for the build-out. It was about a hundred thousand in each location to build out the places.
We had the highest rents in each city and huge rooms. I had eight rooms in one city, six in another. So I had to put all of my life savings plus about a hundred thousand of investor capital into these. And about eight, nine months in, I knew like this was never gonna take off. I called all the others in Asia, like the ones in Australia and Europe and North America and they were kicking by all the ones in Asia.
Pretty much everyone I talked to eventually went under, including the number one location in Bangkok. They all ended up shutting down. So yeah, there was a lot of stress around that. Like I got done and I'm a hundred grand in debt to investors.
So we sold a car, didn't go out to eat for five months at one point. And thankfully we were living in Thailand and so our expenses were quite a bit less. But yeah, that wasn't a fun season for sure. Of being in debt. And I had personally guaranteed all of the loans, and looking back now for like a large business like that, I would and have structured it differently where I'm not personally guaranteeing that kind of money going into that.
Even though I would do everything in my power to pay people back. In fact, one of my investors, I saw at a conference in Silicon Valley a couple years ago, he just said, “Hey, I really appreciate your integrity in doing everything you could to pay me back on time with interest in spite of your circumstances”.
So I have respect for that, but was not a fun situation. And so moving forward for our family, we just kind of structured things where it's like, okay, business finances are totally separate from our life and family and personal finances. I think that for us, that was just a really good way to go moving forward for sure.
Absolutely. And do you mind me asking why… this is a little bit of a tangent question, but why didn't the success from Europe and the Americas translate in Asia? Why did that kind of industry tank a little bit? Was it just not as popular?
Yeah, I'm not sure exactly. I know part of it is like, especially in Southeast Asia, they're really big in China, but there'll be one room where it's just kind of more like puzzles where ours were these big things.
We had one room where you would open a door and realize it was a brick wall and clues would tell you what to do. You'd push it down and then you'd open another door. At the end you're shooting a laser through one room, it's going through a statue and there's a mirror hidden in the eyes of the statue, and that shoots out the laser and you see a brick on the wall.
One survived in that same city, but they were just really small. Like in Asia they have these things where it's like a business on the first floor and the family lives on like the second and third floor. It's a really common thing.
And so people that have built small ones, where maybe their rent is like $500, $600 a month and they just have a little bit of room, they're kind of simpler. So those kind of survived.
Honestly, one of the biggest lessons I learned from that, and I tell this to everyone… There's a book called Designing Your Life written by these design professors out of Stanford University. And they talk about if whatever you want to do in life, it doesn't matter if you wanna be doctor, nurse stockbroker, podcast host, whatever. The best thing to do is call 20 people and ask them what it's like. Just say, “Hey, what's it like being a podcast host, what do you love about it? What do you hate? What goes well? What doesn't”. And a lot of times, people will get actually get job offers from this. Like if you call 20 podcast hosts, maybe somebody is like, “Hey, we're expanding. Do you want to join our team?”
And that's what I did. I had read that book. And I thought about that part and I called all the other people in Asia one morning and I was like, “Oh crap, I'm screwed”. Nobody was profitable and it was another like five months of grinding.
I was like, “I can make this work”. Like I said to someone one time, if Richard Branson was here, he would find a way to make this work. He would do something. And I had said that to a number of people. I'm like, “He has the naked chick on his back parasailing!”
And someone was like, “Hey bro, like half of Richard Branson's businesses have failed. He didn't have every one of his businesses be successful”. And so yeah, just market forces. But there was a couple of lessons for me.
I tried to launch two big ones in two different countries at the same time. And in Asia, starting a company is so much more difficult than in the west, especially America. Like I can literally go online and have a company, bank, website, everything for America done today, you know, and I've got a registered company. That's not the case in Asia.
Yeah so just market forces. I actually helped somebody get a job just this year. They were a teacher coming back to America and I was like, “Hey, just call people in the industry and just ask them like, what's going on, you know?”
And they ended up landing a job just by saying, “Hey, do you know anyone that's hiring for this?” And they were like, “Oh yeah, actually my husband, blah, blah, blah”. And they ended up getting a job. So I think that calling up people for prototyping conversations would've saved me a quarter million dollars.
I think all of those things together combined for a massive failure and a big slice of humble pie for me!
Brilliant. Brilliant. And you said something there that was interesting about moving forward. You're gonna separate your personal, familial finance with your business finances.
Can you talk to me, without getting too personal, what the actions are that you're gonna take now, you and your family. What are some of the things that you are going to do differently in that regard?
So one of the things, this school that I started last year was actually funded by an investor.
And so I set up a holding company, set up the company, set up the bank account, and got an investor to fund the school. The idea is that we're funding him, and paying him back through the business. And that was set up. I asked for I think $86,000 to run the first startup school - was about 7 months.
And he sent me a contract from his lawyer that had a personal guarantee. And I said, “Hey, listen, I'm not doing a personal guarantee”. I explained my history. And he said, “Okay, I'll still do it. Let's do 50 grand. No personal guarantee, just on the company”. And so that was 10% interest for the first year.
We have it structured that if I don't pay him back at the end of the year, it increases in interest. And also I said, I would do a three-year run of this. If I didn't get it by year three and pay him back, I'd close down the company and he's really chill.
I've been talking to him along the way. I may or may not get to the full amount by this first year. I'm still like getting clients and building up the agency. But I think this next client that I just landed, I know I'm gonna do a great job for him.
I'm going to use him as an additional case study, because I think we're really gonna explode his business. He's moving into a more profitable sector. And so I'll just use him as a case study. So I might be paying back the full amount with interest. If not, I've been talking to him and I said, “Okay, I'll pay you this and then we'll do the interest off the rest for until that's paid back”.
But that just eliminates the stress of if my family was like, “Okay, we're on the hook for say 15,000 if I don't get any more clients”. That's not a fun place to be where it's not like there isn't pressure because it’s still a loan.
But this guy doesn't want me to feel any stress or pressure from it. We were upfront with the contract. I was upfront at the beginning. I think when you have good guidelines and you're on the same page, I think that's important in anything, a dating relationship, a business relationship.
And when you put money into the situation, you just take that times five. Even with my with my first business we ended up paying back everyone on time. A couple of people were like, “Hey, since this crashed and burned, don't worry about the interest. Just give me back my principal”. I really appreciated that generosity.
But everyone was paid back within the terms of what we had agreed to before. And some of those people were really good friends. And so you want that relationship to continue on after in a good way, you know?
And yeah. So I just think it's important in anything that you structure things so that you are both on the same page with something. I think values are really important. So if you're in a relationship it's like, let's talk values. Like I had talked to you personally when we were talking about a different project.
On my own website, BuddyRathmell.com, I have on there personality tests, values tests, different things like that. I'm like, if we work together, this is who I am. And this is what you're getting into. I'd love to know a bit about you. Is there a good fit within that?
And then you throw in money and if you don't have things really specific, it can go sideways in a hurry.
And from your personal life with your friends, have you any other stories where loans have been an issue between you and a friend?
Yeah, so I had a friend and we reconnected after high school maybe like five, six years ago.
He was a really good friend in high school and just got busy, kids and career and all that kind of thing. But we have reconnected and stayed in touch and talked regularly. Now, in fact, we just went to our 30th high school reunion a couple of weeks ago together. And I knew he had had a business that had done pretty well, but he wasn't paying his taxes and then got way into debt with taxes, because he was just living off the business, not paying the taxes.
But then he'd come out of that. He's doing really well in business, like doing the best he's ever done in his life. But about seven, eight months ago, he'd gotten out of his credit card debt. But some sales hadn't come through, some commissions for some of his sales, and he was about to go on vacation, and he was like,
“Hey bro, I feel really bad asking this, but is there any way you could loan me $2,000? I just need it for like a month. I'll get paid, I'll pay you back”. And I had said to my wife, I'm like, “Hey, my friend needs this”. And she was like, “What? $2,000? Like if he has money, why does he need a loan”? I was trying to explain how commission sales work.
So I just said, you know what, like I'm gonna do it. I didn't do a contract or anything with him because I was like, this is a friend where, even if he doesn't pay me back, we're still friends. He's in a bad place. I know he wouldn't ask. I know the character of who he is.
So he just shot me a message and I Venmo’d him $2,000. Maybe like three, four weeks later, he paid me back! Plus he gave me a hundred bucks. He just said, “Hey, thanks for helping me out of a tough spot”. And it's not like a big deal. I think he mentioned it like once since then.
I actually appreciated it as a friend. I love it. That’s a good friend of mine that said, “Hey, can you help me out in this situation?” Because I think most of the time we don't ask for help, right? When I was a kid in college, I broke my jaw playing soccer (or futbol for you Europeans) and I just didn't have a lot of money.
All my money was going to school and I was literally hungry part of the time. I didn't have enough money for food. I was going to college and I knew if I called my parents or my grandparents or a friend or anyone, and was like, “Yeah, I'm a little bit hungry ‘cause I don't have enough money for food”, a hundred people would've given me money.
But there was just pride in that. And some of that I think is good but then there's an area where it's like, for this guy, it would've been a real bummer for his kids and his family to be like, “Yeah, dad doesn't have the money. We're not going on vacation”.
And it's like, Ugh, that's when you start bringing kids and others into it. It's like one thing if you suffer a little bit, but it's another thing if you're like, “Yeah, the family's suffering because of this situation”. So yeah, I was really, really glad that I did that.
I felt like it was another step in our friendship. It worked out really well. I would've been bummed a little bit if he didn't pay me back. Especially if he had gone and didn't pay me back, I know that that'd been tough in the friendship. And that's how things go at times.
And I probably could have structured it a little better. We could have put a document together. We could have done something, but it's like, he was a good friend. He was leaving in like two days. And I was just like, all right.
I think it's very interesting though that you said that it's strengthened your relationship that you did execute this loan.
It was a sizeable enough loan. He paid you back with a little cherry on top, and you're actually saying now that you are better friends from it. Is that it?
Yeah! I tried to learn Thai for a little bit, but I was working in multiple countries with anti-trafficking work and I hired a Thai assistant.
His name was Bay. I would ask him, “What are your dreams? What do you wanna do in life?” And he is like, “My dream is to someday have a cafe and it would fund me, I'd get to travel, do different things”. And I kept saying “Bay, I think you could do this. Like you could have a cafe”.
And one day he is like, “Hey, I'm gonna quit. I'm gonna start my own cafe. Could I have a loan to start it?” And that was like a knife to the heart because he was just the best assistant, and spoke great English. He was Thai but understood the Western mindset. But I gave him the loan with no expectation of him paying me back.
I didn't say that to him, but I was like, If he doesn't pay me back, he doesn't pay me back, but a year and four months later, he brought all the cash and lump sum and gave me a t-shirt for his business. So if you're ever in Chiang Mai, look up Food For Thought, Bay's cafe. That’s the guy who, 10 years ago, asked for a loan.
And, again, I think that was a strengthening thing. We worked together for a year and a half, so we were a little bit closer, but then yeah I think when money goes, well, it can strengthen things and when money goes poorly it can break things. And so yeah, I'd go to his cafe a few times a year, it was about 25 minutes from my house so I didn't go a lot.
It's just always fun to see him there and fun to know I had a little hand in getting this thing going which was a cool thing. Well, actually, like more than the money, even, it was probably just the belief in him. Like, hey man, you can do this I've seen a hundred people start cafes. I know you can do it. You've got what it takes.
And I love that, and those are the people that I love working with. I love it when you see that they have the energy and the hunger and the drive. So I just got a client last week and I told him, “Listen, you're paying me for the Google business stuff. But what you're gonna get, that's gonna be way more valuable for you in the long run. I have other clients that are doing a million a month in sales, right now you're doing $20,000 a month in sales. So I know you can get there I'm gonna give you the belief I'm gonna, I'm gonna push you, I'm gonna encourage you”.
And I'm just gonna help you see some of the things that you don't know when you're running a $20,000 a month business on your journey. His goal is to someday be a $500,000 a month business, like $6 million a year. And so those are the things that I love.
And that's part of what happened with Bay. The belief and the money came together for him.
Brilliant. Okay, the future for you now, Buddy. You’re landing clients with Map Winners, what can we expect from Map Winners in the future? What are your goals?
Honestly, I'm hoping that this is an agency that does really well. Right now in this niche the return on investment for businesses, the cash outlay versus what they get, is such a big jump that I think it's gonna grow pretty fast.
My goal is to work it really hard this first year. And then next year I want to get a bus and a driver cuz I've I do some of that now like where I'm driving and I'm like, “Man, if I had my own driver, I could be working while I'm going”. I love to travel. Love to see clients in person and to see friends in person and I will!
I'll run my school. It's TheBAMSchool.com starting in January. So I'll have my students helping me with some of those pieces that go along with it. The operating model is it's free for students to come. They help with the businesses in the first three quarters of our time together. And then that month or so, they start working on their own business.
They get to see the workings of the business and then they get to take the same model. I have map winners, that's like all niches. And then I have a specific niche that I'm working on. But they'll come in and they'll pick one niche and go, “Okay, I'm gonna go out and I'm gonna do this”.
So yeah, looking to see Map Winners grow in the future alongside The BAM School and I'm excited about the future and what's coming up.
Fantastic. Sounds very exciting. Well, listen, Buddy. I really appreciate you coming on and sharing those stories. There are some really good stories that you shared that are very relevant to what we like to talk about on The Chirp.
If people wanna get in touch with you or wanna learn more about Map Winners, what's the best way to get in contact?
Yeah, just email@example.com is probably the best way to reach out to me. I'm on LinkedIn and Facebook. I'm the only Buddy Rathmell in the world, so I can find people there as well. And yeah, thanks for having me on Cameron. Really appreciate it.
No. Fantastic. Listen, thanks again, Buddy. Hope to hear from you soon as well, and looking forward to seeing all of your success in the future also.
Yeah. Thanks. You too, Cameron. All the best.
Some interesting tales of lending money there from Buddy. Both positive and negative, which is what I love to hear. On one hand, we have a situation where he took a risk on quite a niche industry, Escape Rooms, and got investors involved. While it didnt work out he did honor the debt he was in and paid it all back.
And I appreciated his cool, calm demeanor while he was explaining it. No remorse, sadness, or anger. I can tell he’s a pragmatic businessman who knows that sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
But my favorite story of Buddy’s was his loan with his friend that all went rather swimmingly. And he said an interesting thing; that their friendship was strengthened by them getting involved in a loan together. And that Buddy actually appreciate his friend even asking him for the loan, because it showed a level of trust on the borrower's side that he could rely on Buddy.
Buddy seems like a good friend to have who understands that a simple gesture on his end contributed to his friend having a nice holiday, but also his kids too. This was a small gamble but the payoff was huge. Not just the cherry on top for Buddy, the $100, but the fact that he was able to help out the friend and his family. It seems like everyone won!
That’s all for this episode. Be sure to get in touch for more information on coming on to The Chirp and telling your story. We’ll be back in August with another episode. Be sure to give us a rating on wherever you’re watching, or listening, to this episode, and we will see you again in two weeks. Take care.