Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A new millenium With one we start by having faith in One

A hundred in 360 with 60 times 6
A seventh, the final seven starts with 1433
1,4,3,3 makes this 11, the first year of the seventh
The King has given the successor the command of One

Moharram starts with One
The sacrifice on the 10th begins and ends with One
One sacrifice for the many on the seventh sixty
60 into 6 - 360 every year
One day on the tenth the sacrifice

Let there be the One sacrifice we see
on the 10th a reprise we long
Shall we go and see such sacrifice
For maybe we beg for that glimmer
A glimmer of the One tear
rolling down making 360 into the seventh

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Leapfrog Technology for The Industrial Distribution Sector

It was Dec 2006 and the entrpreneur team of Ron Shaw, Steve Baker and Taha Raja went to the closing table to purchase an old fashion industry distributor - Fasteners for Metal and Wood, today known as FMW Fasteners.

The objective was to bring modern systems and new capabilities to an old school business.   Lets bring new technology to a traditional business and provide a "new way of doing business".

The thought and the theory was sound, but the question was how?  What technology and what systems would bring the competitive edge?  It took 18 months for our team to figure out the best way to address this challenge. The answer came with Sererra and Netsuite.

In an industry that is dominated by business owners with 30-60 years of experience, entrenched relationships and customer loyalty, it becomes very difficult to compete.  As anewcomers to an old established system, the choice was clear.  Compete in the field created by your competitor well established for 60 years or change the game and the playing field and have them chase you?

With Sererra and CloudTurn (A Sererra initiative using the Power of Netsuite), FMW was able to turn a traditonal brick and mortar business into a true online ecommerce business at a fraction of the cost required to bring similar capabilities using traditional software and systems available in the market space.

FMW vetted out many software providers and none of them provided the ease of deployment, rapid customization, and end to end integrated CRM, Accounting, Inventory Management, Accounting and Ecommerce in one package.  Further it provided the ability to bring unique industry specific capabilties like certification tracking, WMS, lot and serial tracking, and other unique fastener specific needs with rapid platform development capability.

The other challenge to "leapfrog" our competitors was how to do this using a budget that worked?  Endless money could have been spent and most traditional software systems required a perpetual license investment, infrastructure and other soft and hard costs outside of simple licensing.  CloudTurn uses the power of cloud computing which provided a rental - month to month approach to our investment.

CloudTurn provided FMW Fasteners with a professional turn key solution that clearly leap frogged our competitors.  Today we are launching hundreds of new products every month and providing a true low cost supply of quality fasteners through out the USA with the ease of point, click and buy!  Something very few Fastener distributors can offer today.

CloudTurn provides the automation and the ability to increase productivity by multiple folds!  What was before tied down to a brick and mortal location with sales people pounding the pavement with their relationship has now been replaced by Google, Yahoo and Bing as our premiere sales people touching thousands of customers every second!  Now that is reach, potential and a game changer!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A New Moon of Shawal Al Kareem

Today the New Moon marks Eid
The hilal of the giver of grace
The ship of rehmat sails to Najaf and Kufa
For Ali and Husain, the vessels of grace will arrive
Twice they will embrace
The captain and his first together
With them the spirtual yearning of thousands
The sacrifice of Kerbala and the sands that heal
Beckon the arrival to the very shores
Where the tents once stood firm
Winds of injustice replaced by the gentle breeze
As the vessels sail to the shores of Hussain
Embracing Burhanuddin and Saifuddin.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

3 Stages of 30 Days - My Journey Through Ramadhan

Here we are in the middle of summer, dog days of August knocking on my door step and with it Ramadhan!  For the past decade plus, living in Houston, we have been lucky due to the lunar calendar, Ramadhan has mainly fallen during milder weather months.

But finally this year, it has started smack August 1, 2011.  Now mind you this has been slowly inching towards summer for the past few years, but for some reason it is hitting hard this year.  Part of me is kind of not looking forward to this difficult task of fasting.  The emotional side of me like every other American, continues to want to eat , drink and live happily ever after.  And why not, right?

So my life is about to dramatically change for 30 days.  The morning will start early to have breakfast approximately 90 minutes prior to sunrise.  Yes sunrise!  That will make it around 5AM in Houston.  I know for some northerners that is late because I know some of you may have to wake up far earlier than that.  With my sleepy eyes and a massive headache from the previous long day, I will scramble up something and eat in a few minutes.  Right after, it will be time to get ready and go to Masjid (mosque) for Fajr (early morning) Namaaz (prayers).  Aaah....but let's not forget, this year the Houston Congregation of the Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat does not have a masjid!  Our masjid was demolished last week in preparation for the reconstruction of a new Masjid.

Yes our Masjid in Houston was too small and in 2008 the Jamaat created a Master Plan to redo the Masjid, Mawaid (Dining Multi Purpose Hall), and Madresah (religious sunday school).  The Jamaat completed the Mawaid building - a state of ther art facility of 40,000 sq ft last December.  Now that the Masjid is demolished, Ramadhan will be observed in the Mawaid building.

So this year will be different...after weather, no masjid, long days, and of course lots of changes in my personal life...continuing.....

On the personal front, this year is the year of major change.  The past 3 years I have gone through the meat grinder and now the process of rebuilding has started.  Ramadhan is about sheding the old and building a foundation of ideas, new starts and beginnings.  Its a month where we reflect back.  Thirty days of Ramadhan can be split into three sets of ten.

The first 10 days is about reflecting back and see what went wrong and how I could have done things differently.  I am definitely more wiser and more deliberate in my decisions.  My risk profile has changed and I am humbled in more ways than I can remember.  Humbled by realizing that I should have heeded the wiser experienced advise, humbled by the fact that the experience from our elders is worth considering.  Maybe it is because I am just getting older, or maybe because I now have children approaching the age where they are starting to make the same mistakes I made?  Either way these first ten days are a way to start earning this wisdom by first looking back and realizing the errors of my ways.

The second 10 days are to start formulating a new plan by spiritually connecting with my maker.  The long fasts provides a meditative state that provides plenty of times to dig deep into ones spiritual strength to start coming up with ways to move forward from the realization earned in the first ten days.  The first ten days are the hardest as your body acclimates and so by the second third, your mind, body and spirit are starting to align and your focus and your perception starts becoming clearer.  Thus it will becomes a great time for me to start creating a road-map for myself.  This year I am hoping to be able to get clarity on what I can do to execute this recovery for myself, my family and my business.

The last ten days are going to be the last stretch!  Like a marathoner, the finish line will be a reality.  My mind is clear, my body has shed the excesses.  The fat of gluttony, greed and selfishness will be minimized.  Physically my body will have completely adapted to the fast and my body will be in a groove!  And spiritually I will be in a groove too!  Clarity of vision, victory will be close, the mental victory of having accomplished a task and therefore my mind becomes free of the shackles of the past.  Rebirth of the mind will provide the motivation to move forward and seek a new beginning.  It will culminate with a victory lap on Eid-Ul-Fitr when my lips will touch the moist flash of a date early morning of Eid-Ul-Fitr marking the end of a thirty days of fast piety and prayers.  Inshallah, I will emerge a new man with a new beginning.

Till then.....this is the first day only...I can only ask the almighty Allah to give me strength, health and the sound mind to execute these thirty days as best as I hopes to earn the wisdom to be reborn again....Ramadhan Mubarak to you all!  Pray for us all to have a spiritually fulfilling month.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Trap of Extending Credit

The crux of the issue on this past Great Recession was credit.  We all overextended ourselves by borrowing too much and we all over extended ourselves by lending too much.  Both sides the debtor and the financier were at fault here.

So what are the lessons learned for a small business?  My business FMW Fasteners  is a small regional distributor of fasteners serving the construction and commercial applications industry - an industry hardest hit by the recession.  Like everyone else we had many customers "On Account" where they picked up fasteners and then we billed them / invoiced them on a standard Net 30 terms.

Like always, necessity is a mother of all inventions (or reinventions)!  At FMW we took a close look at our customer base, average transactions, and the type of customers we had.  For the most part a large majority of customers with the highest transaction costs were small customers that bought $20-$300 worth of Fasteners "On Account". 

The issue with these customers was the entire transaction and cash flow was not profitable at all!  How many of our small businesses have these type of customers?  Those that walk in, buy about $30 worth and then walk away with a signature putting this small order on account?  Then what happens?  Well, you have an administrator that "bills" this invoice or your system "invoices" this customer.  This invoice is then sent to the small business owner via email, fax or mail.  

Then 30 days go by and guess what.....the customer has not paid the $30 invoice....ever have that happen?  I am sure this is a common issue all of us have faced?  So now you start chasing a $30 invoice.  You try calling them, emailing them, faxing them...taking up time and money.  Let's assume you had 50% gross margin on the invoice.  That means you made a gross profit of $15.  Take out transaction cost of picking the item, packing it, giving to the customer, admin costs, etc.  You may be down to a measly $5 to $6 profit.  Now you have to wait for 30 days for this profit?  If you end up making any follow up calls, emailing, or any other follow up work you will start losing money.

So now the question comes, what can you do differently.  At FMW have made a conscience choice to convert our customers to debit card, credit card, checks or cash.  Would you be willing to pay 3% to a credit card company so that they can take up the burden of lending that $30 customer the money to pay you immediately?  3% on $30 is $0.90!  far less than the cost of making a single follow up call or the cost of two stamps for mailing the invoice and a statement?

The answer for us was a resounding yes!  Have a policy that if a customer does not do more than $5000 per year with us you, do not even contemplate giving them credit.  Further, those that you extend credit to have to either be a public traded company or have a good DUNS credit report.  If they do not have a DUNS number then we absolutely require personal guarantees on the credit application.

The rest who do not meet the above criteria, here is how my conversation goes:

CUSTOMER:  Can I put this order on account.

FMW:  Sir, I am sorry but effective this month, we are no longer extending credit terms to any of our customers.  However, for your convenience we accept all other forms of payment.

CUSTOMER:  Why is that?  I have always had an account?
FMW:  Yes I understand and we continue to appreciate your business.  But in order for us to reduce our transaction costs and to allow us to offer you the most competitive prices and service, we are no longer extending credit to any of our customers.  We can accept Debit cards, credit cards, checks or cash and our system can easily have that securely on file so that the next time you buy from us it will automatically charge to that system, if you like.  

CUSTOMER:  That does not make sense....why not
FMW:  Well sir, FMW is a small business and we simply are not well equipped to continuously evaluate credit for our customers plus we are able to extend to you more favorable prices if we you buy with credit card, cash or check. 

Normally, this resolves about 80% of the objections. The customer whips out their CC and pays for it.  Most of these customers are small business owners themselves and they can certainly appreciate what you are doing.

Yes there will be the 20% who will argue or will say I do not have a credit card, etc. etc.  To those I start wondering....that if a customer does not have a way to pay for a $30 transaction using a credit card, cash or check, OR if the credit card company does not deem them worthy to give them a credit or debit card then do you want to extend them credit?   In these 20% cases, you can always evaluate on an individual basis and then decide.

At FMW we have implemented this cash basis transaction and it has dramatically reduced admin workload, improved cash flow and vastly reduced dead beats!  Would you rather do a $100 in sales and make $50 or would you rather do a $200 on account and get only $30 after 30 days? 

Evaluate your customers, use technology to monitor your cash flow and understand your transaction and collection cost.  You will quickly realize that this simple technique may save you a lot of headaches and save you time and money and make you more profit!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The World is "...Pursuing Happiness..." Is that the Key?

Hosni Mubarak has left Egypt....Who would have "thunk" that? Why is Egypt in turmoil while the Chinese enjoy stability. Both have autocratic central governments with little to no democratic reforms.

The difference I believe is the fundamental "pursuit of happiness". The Chinese have figured out that the basic human need of pursuit of happiness is far more important and it is the root cause of wanting freedoms and democracy.

In todays world - what is the pursuit of happiness? It is the desire to support oneself through a dignified living, being able to raise your family and progress through generations so that you leave your children a better world than yourself.

Now look at these basic principals from the eyes of the Chinese. Just a generation ago, they were toiling in farmlands earning pennies with no progress in sight. But the last 30 years, their government has invested trillions into building their infrastructure, invading the global economy with their goods, building cities from wasteland, and raising the overall standard of living of 1 billion people - all this in less than 30 years!

Compare this to Egypt and we see a government that has loosely tried to "reform" itself, but overall it is marred in corruption where the elite and the military control 90% of the wealth. Religious fundamentalism has grasped aspects of their socio-political spectrum. And of course the political elite did nothing but drained the economy of millions if not billions over three decades.

Essentially both countries over the same period theoretically same governing system, and yet they both took drastically different paths. China has now become a dominant economic power house while Egypt sank into utter chaos last month that has resulted into pressing the reset button for them. In the next 10 years, China will race to the top of global dominance while Egypt will spend it building their systems again (if they are lucky and do not see another corrupt strong man).

The lesson to be learned here is....."the pursuit of happiness" should be the fundamental core of any government's principal. It does not have to come from a US Based Democracy but rather the goal of uplifting your people so that "The Pursuit of Happiness" is realized for each one in their own way.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Immigration - A Way to Move Forward in A New Global Economy

It was 1776, July 4th and our great nation was born with these immortal words....

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,[72] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

Everyone recognizes this of course as our nations declaration of independence from the Great Britain. It was a nation that took universal values implemented from global ideals through many different nations and cultures that were prevalent at that time. The founding fathers were brilliant in incorporating these values into our declaration and the constitution.

The cliche - true - is that our nation was built by immigrants and as such our country prides itself from the diversity and the melting pot that was created over the past three centuries. But I feel in the past 10 years, we are turning more inwards and we think we can continue to compete in this world alone. "We have had enough immigration, we really need to stop those "immigrants" from coming in and stealing our jobs."

Well, guess what, these "immigrants" do not need to even come to our country to "steal" our jobs. In this "Flat World" jobs are going anywhere and everywhere. In fact we are now competing for talent as well as jobs around the globe.

So how do we fight this fight and how does immigration come into play? First and foremost, our nation is underpopulated compared to our competitors like China, India and Brazil. We have vast resources our population is 1/3 of China and India. This gives us plenty of room to increase our population through immigration without putting a dent on our natural resources. Second, we absolutely need positive immigration to continue to attract the skills and talents from abroad. We simply will not be able to produce local talent fast enough to keep pace with global expansion of skills. The reality is we do not reproduce enough and secondly we can't educate more skills fast enough. Best case if we revolutionized our education system and forced everyone who needs retraining to get magically retrained tomorrow, we still would not be able to keep up with the new skills and talent that we need to revitalize and compete in the global economy.

So how do we manage this? Immigration is the answer - the very thing that built this nation and the very document (Declaration of Independence) that has been the beacon of light for all people. Instead of turning xenophobic and putting up more walls, we should open up our immigration policy. Now wait a minute, are we saying just do not monitor borders and allow everyone that is not what I am saying.

But let's examine two extreme sectors and I think my point will be clearer. First let's consider the blue collar workers like farm workers, day laborers and other traditional Central and South American workers who dominate our economy today in this sector. We all know that much of the national outrage is focused on these kind of workers, i.e Arizona Laws. Our complaints for them is they are using up our resources like education, healthcare and other social services when they are illegal and not paying into the system. So should we kick them out? The answer we all know is a BIG NO! Why? Because simply put we need them here. There is no way our economy could function without their contribution. BUT we should legalize this process by making it easy for them to come across the borders, work legally and contribute their "fair share" into our society. Issue workers permits in those employment categories with no pathway to citizenship. This would allow these workers to legally come to the United States, be gainfully employed, pay taxes, sales taxes and property taxes but they would not have a pathway to citizenship or residency. They must keep their criminal records clean and they cannot have unpaid debts. You combine these with other simple restrictions and then have a 5 year permitting process, we will gain tremendous advantage in competing globally by allowing cheaper laborers working in this country doing the work necessary to increase manufacturing and provide services that there is no way to produce without these workers. Will they displace "American" jobs? Maybe, but I doubt these jobs are being fulfilled by native American in big numbers to begin with. Yes there will be casualties but the upside is huge and necessary in my opinion. President Bush's workers permit program was a good program and we should implement it. This is the way we compete with the "low wage" workers in other countries. We bring our own here. We have the room, the resources to make it happen and many are already here but they can not participate in big numbers contributing to our growth.

The second category is the highly skilled educated workers. Historically we have done fairly well in attracting these type of immigrants, but after 9/11 our immigration policy at all levels is very prohibitive. Combine that with the growing opportunities in China and India, we are much less attractive for these workers and entrepreneurs to come to the USA. Why would a highly skilled person ready to make money and invent 10 things wait 15 years to immigrate to the USA or work under a dubious H-1 visa when they can stay / go to China or India and work for the same US multinational company and invent and contribute there immediately. Or better yet, why should a student studying at Harvard, Stanford, MIT, or any of our hundreds of first class universities getting a PhD or Masters try to find a job in the USA when he/she can go to India and quickly start reaping the rewards of his/her degree faster? Because staying in the USA, means I have to convince my employer to "Sponsor" my green card, toil in the system for a decade, and then maybe I will have the rights to stay here. This antiquated immigration policy is causing the brain drain in reverse! We used to be the brain drainers in the past. Now its going the other way, we are experiencing lack of positive immigration from the elite highly skilled people simply because they do not see our immigration policy favorably. Its too difficult and cumbersome! I propose that we streamline this process. First and foremost, if you study in the USA and get a Masters or PhD in any of our first class university, we will staple a green card to your degree/diploma upon graduation. Why not? The country just spent thousands of dollars educating this person (all universities receive government subsidies at some levels) and now we are going to let him go back to China, India or wherever to implement this education? Why? Keep this valuable resource here, have him invent contribute and engineer here for a US Company. We still have some of the best quality of life and systems and in my mind most of these folks if they were to be incented to get a green card upon graduation they would stay. This would immediately increase immigration of highly skilled workers to the USA. Young bright students that qualify to go to our top universities will gladly come to the USA to study in hopes of getting a green card. Exactly the way to accelerate the future skill set in this country. Keep us in the competitive edge for a very long time. Oh and by the way, how do we limit this? We make sure that they graduate from first class accredited university. Not the local internet school that hands out Masters and PhD's. We are talking the great private and state universities of this country - and there are hundreds!

So do we need to strengthen our immigration policy? Yes we do, but I propose we strengthen it by doing some of the things I suggest above. Yes we still should secure our borders and yes we do have issues, but I can tell you this....spending $1 billion dollars on a great wall is not the answer! I assure you this will not keep the crazies away! Spend a billion dollars in educating these immigrants and then encourage them to stay in this country. The biggest benefit we have for this is we will start bringing the very talent that China and India depend on back to the USA. Second, by having a positive immigration policy, we will start the next step in enriching our country with the people we need to add to continue to compete with the emerging economies.

To protect this country we need to open ourselves more to positive immigration not shut it down! We are competing for the people to make us successful. I assure you what we have locally is not enough. We need more people to create new companies, innovate and produce more. That will inevitably help grow this economy faster than the measly 2.5% we are doing right now.

So write to your congressman/woman and encourage them to reform immigration...not by putting up walls up but rather encourage positive immigration of the skill, labor and talent we have been so good at attracting in the past.