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My first business ever was taking care of people’s homes for them when they went away. Hence IYA - “If You’re Away”. We then used the IYA brand for all our future endeavors, such as buying vending machines, selling candles, and creating textbooks for an English immersion school in Taiwan. After it all, we were able to net enough money for the three of us to backpack through Japan for 18 days.
We wanted to learn how to be business owners – not just employees. So the entire mantra of IYA was to make our money work for us – not the other way around. We would be the ones booking the jobs, then getting our friends to do it, saving them time in finding jobs while saving us time doing the job. That summer, we made a whopping $30! But it was the start of something bigger…
We thought and we thought about opportunities to have money work for us. One day, my business partner and best friend Andrew Chen needed to go take a passport photo. While Bryan Chou (the third business partner) and I waited, we saw a vending machine and thought – there it is! Money making money! So we copied down the phone number inside and got in touch with Bob Scott, the man who placed the machine there. Eventually, we bought our own vending machine and placed it at a video store in a busy mall. It was a bulk candy machine and would generate about $120 in revenues every month for us. We then reinvested that money into a second machine, which we placed at a driving range.
American Eagle School:
One day, an opportunity came for us to translate some agenda books for an English Immersion School in Taiwan called American Eagle School. Since we were all fluent in both Mandarin and English, we were able to not only complete the job, but also present it in a professional manner that really impressed the school. Through further talks, we signed onto a job to help them create science textbooks for their Kindergarten curriculum.
Our work with American Eagle School ended up being the main revenue stream for IYA. Not only did we complete their science curriculum, we also ended up doing an entire math curriculum for them and another science textbook supplement. By the end, we had an entire team of our friends splitting up the work and doing things efficiently. We had team leaders and designers, and the entire experience taught us how to manage from a higher level. It also really taught us how to run an efficient team, and how to properly motivate them and deal with issues that arise. incidentally, the picture you see above is our team after successfully completing the IYA Math Wings project. Everyone is wearing a customized IYA zip-up sweater with their name printed on the back. That was paid for with a bonus that we got from American Eagle School, and we figured that bonus should be shared with the team.
IYA also did many other things to make money – some successful, some not so much. For example, we once shipped over an entire box of jelly candles from Asia and sold them during Christmas. Another time, we tried to invent a hamburger where instead of using bread as well… the bread, we used rice. We also wanted to rent out tandem bikes by the beach that had advertisements on them. Each one of these opportunities taught us something and though some were not profitable, I believe we were all better for having ventured into them.
Once we all went to university, IYA stopped running. During the 4 years it was active, IYA pulled in over $15,000 in profits and even won the City of Surrey’s Self-Employee of the Year Award. Through IYA, we were able to experience being the business managers we all aspire to be, while having lots of fun at the same time. IYA will never stray too far away from our hearts.