Saving my Company Money (and my Life) - Medium Article by Julian Uhlig

Running a fast growing international start-up can become extremely costly and take a toll on your mental and physical health. Here’s what you can do to reduce your costs drastically while improving your quality of life.

It was 2015 when we were exhibited as Germany’s ‘Best Engineering Company’ at the Hanover Trade Fair. Our business took off overnight. After ten years in the lab, we entered the global market. Our biggest challenge had been that in our home market, our product had no traction whatsoever, as government support had just been slashed to zero, and we had missed the wave. So, we went global from day one, entering the US market with projects in Los Angeles, the UK, Austria, then Asia with a reach out to Africa.#

Global Marketing Tour with Schneider Electric in Hong Kong

Global Marketing Tour with Schneider Electric in Hong Kong

We established offices in all time zones with distribution partners and trade fairs. This was great, but there were a lot of challenges to go with it. Firstly building successful projects on the ground, then hiring staff, and building a new management structure — all while fighting the in-house demons which were mainly working on self-protection in a fast-growing environment.

Initially, we lacked the necessary funding to grow the business, as investors basically wanted a return on their investment from day one and starved the market. So, while building the brand, product, and markets, we also had to run an around-the-clock marketing campaign and run a roadshow to build traction in order to attract new funding rounds. Within two years, our biggest operation was in the UK. Our fundraising was done in Los Angeles, our future was in Asia, our administration and development in Germany and our testing in Austria.

Always picking the cheapest and preferably over-night plane

Always picking the cheapest and preferably over-night plane

Initially, we lacked the necessary funding to grow the business, as investors basically wanted a return on their investment from day one and starved the market. So, while building the brand, product, and markets, we also had to run an around-the-clock marketing campaign and run a roadshow to build traction in order to attract new funding rounds. Within two years, our biggest operation was in the UK. Our fundraising was done in Los Angeles, our future was in Asia, our administration and development in Germany and our testing in Austria.

My management strategy was always based on meeting and talking to new staff, building relationships, going out for a meal, and building loyalty. I do think of myself as a pretty good leader, but sometimes, a poor manager. I thought I was still saving money. I got the best mobile roaming contract on my phone I could find with ATNT from the US, which is expensive but functional, so at least I was always reachable. I would exclusively book the cheapest airlines I could find, including Ryan Air, Easyjet, Air Asia, and my favorite, Norwegian Airlines. I only flew economy and started booking every hotel on Hotels.com, mostly in two-night intervals in order not to pay cancellation fees if plans changed. I would always find the best deal per night as prices fluctuate daily in places like LA, London or Singapore — with differences of up to 200–300% sometimes because of an event or trade fair. For me, there is nothing that justifies the price difference from 500 to 5000 EUR for upgrading to Business Class.

Short-lived fame singing and presenting on Chinese TV

Short-lived fame singing and presenting on Chinese TV

Nonetheless, my costs continued to increase. More and more staff and customers expected facetime with me, my attendance at press events, conferences, partner meetings, and the investor board demanded more and more in-person contact. Especially in Asia and Africa, I simply had to be there to get things done. With my board is mostly comprised of older individuals, the adoption of new technology was limited — we depended on a face-to-face communication mentality. There was absolutely no understanding that one in-person meeting would cost 3000 EUR on average as well as two to three days to get there and back.

The next issue was that with the constant traveling and changing of time zones, my ability to retain information steadily decreased. I could pull myself together for a fantastic presentation, but then I would have to find a corner to sleep for 30 minutes before the next meeting. When I woke up, I often could not remember the next steps and important details of the previous session. I was too tired to build any short or long term memory.

Japan especially is a face to face society and video calls are useless with the older generation

Japan especially is a face to face society and video calls are useless with the older generation

To be more productive, I decided that I needed to employ someone else to get the actual work done. I added a project manager and a lawyer to my traveling circus so that paperwork and project planning could be developed while sitting down in these meetings.

During this whole process, my spending increased more and more. At one point, it reached about 30.000 EUR per month. This might not seem much for an international corporation — that’s about two business class trips for two per month. But for us, this was a lot of money. My phone bill alone ballooned to over 2000 EUR per month, with constant roaming and all the massive documents that were CC’d to me via email.

I ended up concluding that this was not working for anybody — the more I made myself available, the more everyone expected me to be present. My health deteriorated considerably with massive weight gain. It took me seven months to get back on a decent sleeping schedule and to wake up feeling better than when I went to sleep. Also, my weight kept going up every day.

The Personal Low point at 115 Kg + 30 in Years

The Personal Low point at 115 Kg + 30 in Years

Since then, I’ve managed to develop a strategy to save enormously on these costs and make everything easier for everyone involved.

The steps that are saving 98% of my monthly overhead are as follows:

  • Don’t travel unless someone else is paying for it. I only fly to investor meetings where I am 95% sure that they will invest. All other meetings, I do over the phone.

  • Take a fraction of your travel and marketing budget to build an easy-to-follow online sales and information hub. This makes it easy for others to opt for talking over zoom or the phone.

  • Stop using your mobile phone credit on roaming for calls. I use cheap, local sim-cards which cost me about 20 EUR per month with maximum data. I don’t take inbound calls — if you want to talk to me, send me a WhatsApp, WeChat, telegram, Messenger or email, or via the website.

  • For outbound phone calls, I use Hubspot- the only software I am willing to spend a lot of money on. Using the build in free phone function lets investors and customers see my number to they know who is calling while I call landlines and mobile phones almost anywhere in the world for free. This alone saves me hundreds a month.

Now my living costs less than my mobile phone for a month. By moving away from London, LA, and Singapore, where everything is expensive- I moved my family to a beautiful little villa in Bali and a temporary apartment for manufacturing in Malaysia. Here, I can have dinner for 4 EUR, drinks for a dollar, and still, have a fantastic lifestyle with the beach and nightlife and cool international people around us.

If you want to be happier, more focused, and simply live a better life while working hard — move to a fantastic cheap place. Now, I fly to Singapore for 2 days, and in this time schedule 10 meetings. This costs me 200 EUR for the whole trip on AirAsia, including an affordable hotel that is 20 EUR per session. This has reduced my costs massively while giving my family a much-improved quality of life. And on top of that, my work productivity has gone up dramatically.

Article by Julian Uhlig writes about energy and waste

www.julianuhlig.com

Living a Healthy Happier travelling in Bali while being more productive than ever

Living a Healthy Happier travelling in Bali while being more productive than ever