How to grow rapidly? By doing non rapid-growth things

This is from a podcast I listened to by Reid Hoffman – founder of LinkedIn – who interviewed Brian Chesky, founder of AirBNB; and the topic was “scaling.”

In order to scale, you need to work on things that don’t scale (say whah?)

Stop thinking big, and start thinking small. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t invite 1.8 billion people when he started Facebook. He just invited a few people, created fans out of them, and made it easy and more fun to use when they invited others.

Hand-serve your customers at the highest level before scaling; the growth will be an automatic byproduct. Just like helping your customers should be the main focus, as the monetary rewards will come naturally.

It’s hard to get 10 people to not simply “like” you, but LOVE you. But you can get there by spending time with them, caring about what they say, and crafting the product/service of their dreams – one they are fanatical about.

When you handle everything personally in the beginning, this is when you are most in-tune with your fans; and this is where you are most creative. Only until you master this can you ask for more; but try not to forget that when you grow and can afford to add more people and systems in place that create distances from the customer.


Impossible to stop growing


I’m walking along the streets of New York City right now and saw this skyscraper currently in being built.

I am marveled at how new construction can continue in one of the most crowded cities in the world; but this sight sends a wonderful message that regardless of where you are in life – maturity in age, profession, relationships, whatever…you can still make time for change, you can still grow, you can still build upon, you can still tear down and recreate.

If you’re thinking you’re too past your prime in starting a business, leaving your job, trying for different position, taking on a hobby, breaking up a comfortable but toxic relationship, starting a new and better one, reinvigorating your existing ones…I believe it’s just a mental prison with unlocked doors where you can leave at any time, and living in fear instead of love and the courage that comes with it.

Don’t be greedy

Being in the restaurant franchise industry for 10 years, I’ve met the whole spectrum of food entrepreneurs – from the 1-2 unit mom-and-pop shops, to the big organizations who own and operate hundreds of stores of different concepts. 

Regardless of what you consider “success,” a glaring common denominator to achieving it lies in the avoidance of being greedy.

If your goal is to have more time with family and friends, or focusing only on what you’re passionate about doing (your “art”)…not being greedy means delegating tasks that you’re not excellent at or in love with, to very capable people who want to help you grow, and paying them well to show appreciation. It means knowing when to stop building more stores if it doesn’t align with who you are, and just focusing on delivering an incredible experience for loyal customers for your existing platform. There is always enough to do with what you’ve got.

Customer’s see immense value in what you provide, and will pay and refer others to you. Employees feel appreciated, will work together in protecting and sustaining your company, and will stay there for a long time. 

If your goal is to be a market leader with strong penetration – something my Halal Guys SoCal team and I are trying to achieve here in our home market….not being greedy means finding great partners who will bring their unique strengths to the table (I love love LOVE my partners), divide and conquer, and lighten the load so you can focus on your work, and sharing in the risks and rewards fairly. It means that we empower and handsomely compensate a great management team who will hire and train a great operations team who will deliver a great customer experience who will build a sustainable customer base – the gift that keeps on giving. It also means you can attract investors who will gladly fuel your growth to heights you’ve never imagined nor reached without, and that you’ll never have to ask for money again. 

Being greedy means that you will not allow employees to develop and feel useful – and they will leave for a company that will appreciate them, pay them well, allow them to grow, earn their commitment – causing you to continually have to replace and re-train staff. It means you will cut corners on food quality, portions, and service to save a few pennies – and lose customers who don’t feel taken care of and who don’t believe you’re worth their money. You won’t be able to focus on your craft because you’ve hogged all the duties and you’re busy putting out fires that you haven’t allowed capable teammates to learn and help with. Being greedy means screwing investors over that lead to a dry well, regret, a horrible reputation, potential lawsuits, and constantly having to look for money. 

Find out what your unique definition of success is, and jot down your list of things you can do to grow your business without greed. These two to-do’s are oversimplified, but it definitely will set you on the right path to doing amazing things. 

“Success” in YOUR dictionary – not Webster’s

Philosopher Alain de Botton said this in a past TED Talk that made me reflect:

“One of the interesting things about success is that we think we know what it means. A lot of the time our ideas about what it would mean to live successfully are not our own. They’re sucked in from other people. And we also suck in messages from everything from the television to advertising to marketing, etcetera. These are hugely powerful forces that define what we want and how we view ourselves. What I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we’re truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.”

This is so incredibly true. OMG.

Success to me used to mean that I had nice things, had money in the bank, and owned companies. They were definitions formulated by:

* All the business books I read (unnoticed brainwashing is so scary!). Nothing wrong with knowledge – and obtaining it is encouraged and necessary; but like authority, money, or most other vehicles – I used it for the wrong reasons.
* My immature/undeveloped/limited mind and ego – which is always the enemy (right, Ryan Holiday?). And
* Lack of experience. I am a stubborn person who needs to learn the hard way. And divorce, re-marriage, having kids, health issues, strained relationships, and the absence of God in my life are what it took to change things.

The last sentence in Alain’s quote above hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve been fortunate to experience my Version 1.0 of success – and have been let down. It left me disappointed, underwhelmed, and asking WTH.

So…what’s my Version 2.0 look like? What is the definition of success that truly belongs to Paul Thien Tran?

It means that I’m in great health. I get to play with my kids, run with my dog, am building muscle, am enjoying food in moderation, and I’m in the same shape or better than I was when my metabolism was doing all of the work.

It means that I am serving others in a Godly way, and changing their lives – whether through my life experiences, things I care about deeply, or pure love. The last two mean that there is no experience necessary to care about people – so there are no excuses.

It means that I spend more time reading, writing, and traveling – my absolute favorite things to do, and something I aspire to do all day.

It means that I am always inspired, curious, taking risks on scary and/or “hell yes” ideas, and growing.

It means that I know myself.

It means that God is involved in the beginning and throughout every little thing I do; that I’ve eliminated my ego, my agenda, my own power, my own limitations – and have opted into His plans, His compassion, His operating manual (the Bible), His infinite power, His love, and His unlimited capabilities.

It means that I am enabling my family to achieve all of the above for themselves.

What’s success look like to you, (insert name here?). Are you making sure that success belongs to you and no one else’s?

When meaningful change can truly take place

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change” – Carl R. Rogers

When I’m trying to enact growth or recompose myself i.e. losing body fat, gaining muscle, building a new company, changing my practices, reorganizing my priorities, etc. – I need to:

Stop beating myself up about why I keep failing to change. I fail because I am human and make mistakes – I am not God and shouldn’t expect results as if I am my Father. I fail because I have limited knowledge – which is to be expected, like a baby will falter 100% of the time when learning how to walk. I fail because sometimes, it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing.
Stop being impatient. I am causing undue stress on the process. Sometimes there are not shortcuts. I need to enjoy the journey and not just focus on the destination.

Understand that frustration is a matter of expectation. Yes – make well-thought out goals and take realistic steps toward change, but understand that sometimes your goals won’t be achieved; that sometimes, God has an even better plan for you than your limited knowledge wants. Most of your life’s greatest moments are unplanned – I guarantee it. 

So if the future is uncontrollable to a certain degree, and there is an unknown that you can never predict…why not focus on what you can control? 

Learn to really accept yourself as you are – warts and all. Be present in your circumstances – be they good or bad. And remind yourself that you are enough. 
I am far from perfect in doing these things (do as I say, not as I do lol!), but I can tell you that I can go much further when my gas tank is full =)

Love yourself. 

Growth opportunities and doing the math

If it’s the right thing for your company to expand rapidly, consider giving some of your profits away.

This can be engaging a marketing company; hiring a top salesperson or sales organization; accepting money from investors; and whatever is relevant in your industry that fosters growth.

I talk to many business owners who are so focused on costs and percentages in a vacuum, that they lose the context of those numbers, don’t appreciate the ability of strong partners, and lose sight of why they want to grow in the first place. And because of that, their performance hits a ceiling and they set themselves up to either get eaten alive or remain unfulfilled.

Owning 100% of a million-dollar company sounds sexy; but for me – I’d rather own 1% of a billion-dollar company.

Of course – the above is over-simplified and there is much more to making a decision that relates to this. You need to make sure that growth is truly a lifestyle and decision with consequences that you’re prepared for (which is why I wrote “IF it’s the right thing…” in the beginning); you need to properly vet growth partners (they are not created equal, and the cheapest is never usually the best); you need to play out best/average/poor-case scenarios (plan for the best but prepare for the worst); and you need to take inventory of your current resources (is your existing manpower, capital, experience, and team reflective of your 1-, 3-, 5-, and 10-year goals?).

But don’t be so consumed with how much something costs that your blinders are on to how an investment could return for you. Marrying your spouse COSTS you. Having kids COSTS you. Buying a nicer, more reliable car COSTS you. Going to the gym COSTS you. But they can be exponentially rewarding, and if you only lived life based on what’s safe and how much something costs…it’d be a sad life on at least, 1,031 levels #exaggeration

If you really want to measure costs, compute the loss of opportunity as well. Don’t orphan that super important metric.

Let go of what is, so that you can receive what’s possible. If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.

The Halal Guys – Store #4


I am BEYOND EXCITED that my team and I are opening our fourth store in the city of Cerritos, California next week!

I have a nostalgic relationship with this town. Back when I was a college kid with little funds (student loans bankrolled my adventures, lol) and had a machine-like metabolism (I still eat like I do *sigh* *smh*) – my friends and I would frequent this area for cheap  desserts (Guppy House was my jam) and Filipino food (Jeepney Asian Grill and Red Ribbon bakery). It made my childhood delicious.

Since then, it’s grown so much into a major foodie hub in Southern California – with the entrants of iconic brands like 85 Degrees Bakery, North Shore Poke and Neptunes Raw Bar (owned by one of our partners); and upcoming monsters 7 Leaves, Cauldron Ice Cream, Afters Ice Cream, and soooooo so many more of our friends and peers in the industry.

This place was a no-brainer for the brand.

I am proud of my partners, vendor partners, staff, and corporate. It’s unreal to think that over the last 16 months we’ve grown to four stores (along with Costa Mesa, Long Beach, and Koreatown), three more in construction, I’m hoping for five more by year-end, and we have 40+ more to go…but it’s not surprising when God’s involved, and when you have an amazing team.

If you want to go fast – go alone; but if you want to go far – go together (we got best of both worlds!).