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From a Net Worth of $200 to a Near Seven-Figure Exit – Leigh Huynh’s Story
One of the most difficult aspects of selling a business is getting the timing right. Beyond the valuation aspect there are also personal considerations. In another incredible exit story, today we meet an entrepreneur who has had an amazing road to success. The story of her business and the timeline of her success in the Amazon space is truly remarkable considering where she started less than 20 years ago.
Leigh Huynh’s family came from Vietnam with $200 to their name nineteen years ago. Learning from her family’s determination, Leigh started to build a life and an understanding of what was needed to build a business. She started in the Amazon space and found success in beauty and skincare products. Leigh’s initial sale listing did not make sense for her timewise but she came back 15 months later, listed for more, and sold for more than the initial listing. This episode is a reminder to sellers that they need to plan to sell their business rather than decide to sell their business. Leigh’s story also brings the human aspect to the deal and serves as a reminder that there are many considerations behind each transaction.
- The entrepreneurial journey of Leigh’s business and how she learned to build and sell on Amazon.
- The categories she chose to go into on Amazon and why.
- Leigh’s initial launch investment.
- How many skus she had to go through to get it right.
- The investment loss on the first skus and how one product became the home run.
- The process that led up to selling the business.
- Reasons why the timing on the original listing was not right.
- Any moments when the transaction process was difficult.
- Transition times for the hand off.
- Leigh’s plans for the future.
- Wisdom Leigh shares with young female immigrant entrepreneurs.
Mark: One of the most difficult things Joe, as you know when you’re trying to sell a business, is getting the timing right. I mean first there is the valuation consideration; you have to get the right timing if you want to maximize the value of your business. And then on top of that, there’s also the personal considerations as well, right? Sometimes just personally where you are in life isn’t the best time to be trying to sell a business because it’s a lot of work. And I know that you had Leigh on who’s got an amazing back story. It absolutely makes one of these entrepreneurial success stories that we look at and just kind of think wow like that person is amazing. And woven into this story is a story of also just timing the sale of her business and you have the opportunity and really the honor to be able to work with this really amazing woman.
Joe: Yeah, I think you use the right word there; it was an honor, to be honest with you. I mean this is the American dream story, right? Leigh came over at the age of 15 from Vietnam. Her mother came with three kids and $200 to her name. They came from a small village in Vietnam. Leigh didn’t speak any English at all. And 19 years later; that’s aging Leigh, right? She’s 34; she looks like she’s 20. She sells a business for a high six figures; pretty impressive. An amazing story. She’s just a hard worker entrepreneur. We had the business listed in early 2018 and as you said timing, stress, family, baby, it just didn’t make sense after she got it listed and she said Joe I just can’t do this right now can we pull the listing? And of course, I said absolutely it’s your business, it’s what we do at Quiet Light. We’re always working in our client’s best interest. And you and I ran into her down at Brand Builder Summit down in Austin. We got to see her when she was pregnant with her second baby and she came back and 15 months after we initially listed it we listed it for I think a quarter of a million dollars more. Got it out there, things were more streamlined; things were more efficient in the manufacturing process. We had a multiple offer situation and sold it very quickly to a great buyer as well.
Mark: Now I love this story because there are so many different layers to it. I mean one there’s just the transactional to it. And I know I was speaking with somebody who is going to be coming on board as a Quiet Light client recently and we were talking about his goals and immediately where do people go when we talk about their goals? They immediately go to the money side and I tried to explain to him let’s talk about some of the other goals that I know that you have, right? Let’s start to unearth some of these because when you get into the process these become really, really real and really start to surface as you’re going through the step of selling process so it’s important. And an important reminder both on the buy-side and on the sell-side that yes what we do ultimately comes down to a transaction with value and money being exchanged for a valuable asset but there are a lot of other considerations to always be looking at but the other; I mean look let’s not mince any words about this, the hero of the story, the real amazing thing about the story is the human aspect of her background and her story. So I’m really excited to listen to this because I love digging past the transaction and seeing some of the amazing people that we get to work with both on the buy-side and the sell-side.
Joe: That’s exactly what this is. It’s an amazing story. She’s an amazing person. A great buyer came. It’s just kind of a perfect fit and I’m excited to hear her journey in the next several years. I’m sure we’ll stay in touch and I think everyone should listen to this one right through to the very end.
Joe: Hey folks, it’s Joe Valley here at Quiet Light Brokerage and this is another episode of The Quiet Light Podcast. Today we’ve got another of the Incredible Exit stories to share with you. We have Leigh Huynh on the podcast with me today. Leigh, welcome.
Leigh: Hi, Joe. Thanks for having me.
Joe: I’m so glad you’re here. You and I have known each other now for; it’s going on two years almost I would say, we should go back to the original time that we started chatting.
Leigh: Yeah, I mean a couple of years ago.
Joe: Yeah. So let’s talk about that full story. I want people to get to know you a little bit in your story as an immigrant to the United States when you came in and then your entrepreneurial venture as well. Why don’t you tell people a little bit about yourself just the background of who you are and then we’ll dig into the questions?
Leigh: Alright. So I was born and raised in Vietnam; a very small town. I came here when I was about 15 with my mom and my family. So we came here. I was just talking to my mom the other day like hey mom do you remember how much money we had when we came? She’s like maybe 200 US dollars. And so we got sponsored by Jewish people and I was getting on [inaudible 00:06:11.2] and some supplement or something like that at that time to help with rent in the house and all of that. And my mom is working with them 6 months my camera away naturally. And then we got off that program and I was in school so I kind of understand money at a very early age. Yeah, my mom has a store; a brick and mortar store, so every day after school or before school we are always at the store helping with the customer, buying product, we sell them, dealing with supply, and all of that. So I guess my entrepreneurship kinds of starts at a very early age; 10 or 12.
Joe: Amazing. And when you came to this country Leigh if I recall our conversations you didn’t speak any English at all at the time is that right?
Leigh: No, no English. We came from a very small town so we never really travel anywhere out like one hour.
Joe: So listen I came from a small town in Maine and small in that in that regard was 10,000 people. What are we talking about in terms of a small village in Vietnam? How many people were there?
Leigh: I don’t know the amount because it’s [inaudible 00:07:26.6] so much now. But I would not; like everybody would know anybody and when I was growing up there’s no electricity, no TV, our room was leaking and I remember we’re having dinner and we have to move our dinner table because the roof was leaking.
Leigh: Yeah. So like the whole neighborhood, there’s only one person that have a TV.
Joe: In the whole neighborhood only one person had television, no electricity. You came here with less than 200 US dollars when you were 15 years old. You didn’t speak any English. And just to cap it off we just closed a transaction in the high seven-figure range; high six-figure range. I always get that wrong people sorry about that but the high six-figure range. More money than your mother probably could ever have dreamed of. And she must be so incredibly proud of not only the risks that she took and proud of herself for coming here and starting a new life but wanting to give a better life to you and your siblings and she must be very, very pleased that she’s accomplished that.
Leigh: Yeah, definitely. I just told her and she was really, really happy and shocked.
Joe: You’re married to someone that’s also got quite a journey. Can you talk briefly about Tai and what it took for him to get to this country?
Leigh: I think Tai’s family had more of a tougher life than us. He tried to escape Vietnam and there are many try. And then the last time that they tried they walked all the way from Vietnam to Cambodia to Thailand and they stayed in a refugee camp for 7 years. So they didn’t have any education from he was 5 until he was 12. And then they got sent back to Vietnam and he had to go to school. So when in school he didn’t know how to read a part [inaudible 00:09:27.7] you’re so dumb like you don’t know how to tell time. But because he was lacking up that whole period of time; lack of education then he came here with his family and worked so hard and became like an engineer.
Joe: It’s incredible. I’ve met Tai folks. I’ve talked to him. He’s impressive, obviously leads accomplished a tremendous amount in a short period of time where the most people dream of in a lifetime; incredible, incredible stories of overcoming adversity and living the American dream. Well, let’s talk about your entrepreneurial journey a little bit in terms of the Amazon world because that’s the business that you just sold. It was the vast majority of the revenue produced from the true brands that were inside of the business you created were Amazon. What programs, what mentors, what podcasts did you focus in on to learn if any how to build your Amazon brands?
Leigh: So back in 2014 Tai and I was following Robert Kiyosaki; rich dad and poor dad stand in an interview with Matt and Jason on how to sell on Amazon. I don’t think I saw the interview but I did in one of the emails and then I was just looking up and do wow that is pretty cool and pretty interesting well I can really do that. And so I found Ryan Daniel Moran on YouTube about how to sell on Amazon and then I was like okay I’m going to sign up for it. And I just kind of did that without thinking very deeply about it. And then Tai came home from work and I said hey I signed up for a course to sell off on Amazon. And he’s like you did? And I said yeah I mean it. Wow. Okay but don’t quit. And that’s how I got started.
Joe: And you didn’t quit. For those that don’t know who Matt and Jason are that you’re referring to it’s the Amazing Seller Machine; some folks out of Austin that have done some tremendous things there as well. Ryan Daniel Moran is also out of Austin, the same area. Austin is a mecca for e-commerce and Amazon for sure. I’ve been involved with a lot of people that have done very well by going through the Amazing Seller Machine courses early on. But no matter what there are a lot of people that failed and succeed so full credit without a doubt goes to you Leigh and Tai saying great; congratulations that’s great don’t quit because you’ve had some trials and tribulations along the way. What year was that you said it was 2014? So 5 years later is when you finally sold the business.
Joe: Yeah. So let’s talk about the categories. I don’t want to name the brands in this but the first category that you chose to go into in terms of the brand that you launched on Amazon first what was it?
Leigh: Oh, it’s skincare.
Joe: Skincare. And did you have any background or experience in working for skincare companies and developing skincare products?
Leigh: Yeah a little bit because when I was in school in college I had a job. I’m a manicurist and then aesthetician. So I was always working doing that during part-time for school and after college, I kind of did that full time for about a year or two. But I was putting so many hours; about 70 to 80 hours a week into work and it’s got really tiring so I learned a little bit. I know some customers and I know what they need.
Joe: Mm-hmm. And how did you go about doing the research and finding products and formulating things of that nature?
Leigh: They kind of teach you in the course like you search for private label products and then go do it in the research and then I was able to kind of test on my customer at that time.
Joe: Okay good. Then what type of; if you think back and I know we’re digging deep into your memory here, do you remember what kind of dollar investment you initially made in terms of launching that first brand and product on Amazon?
Leigh: I put everything that I had from my job into the business; all of the money that I was making; everything. We did a lot of launchings and re-launching and labels; everything.
Joe: Were you successful out of a gate on the first SKU that you developed?
Leigh: Not quite. Yeah, I think it’s only until the third SKU that we’re actually making some money.
Joe: On the third one, so the first two failed. How much money do you think you lost? I guess we’ll say it was lost even though there was a great gain in knowledge. How much did you invest on those first two SKUs before you had some success on the third one?
Leigh: Maybe about 10 to 15,000.
Joe: Oh goodness. Wow.
Joe: And did you lose that 10 to 15 or you invested 10 to 15 and you just broke even and loss a little bit?
Leigh: We invested in and then we keep it; well we still keep the product because it’s still selling. It’s just not like a home run.
Joe: Okay. So the third one was a bit more of a home run if you will?
Leigh: I actually put more time in it and I actually formulated a formula; as in I put my heart and soul into it so I guess it turned out great. [inaudible 00:14:45.0], it’s unique and it’s a very good product.
Joe: And then you expanded to additional SKUs from there and at one point, and this was less than a year prior to us talking two years ago you decided to add another brand in a different category. And you did it under the same seller account which so to the folks listening now that’s okay as long as you’re selling off both brands. It’s not necessarily okay if you hope to sell off one brand. It just makes it more challenging because people want the transfer of that seller account to go with the sale. With that second brand that you started, you had done some things that didn’t make it as transferable and that was using a lot of local suppliers in the San Francisco area at the time. Let’s jump to what we learned in terms of that process, building up to listing the business because folks we’re in September of 2019 and that’s for the folks that are listening to this five years from now we just closed the transaction in late August of 2019. But Leigh and I originally listed the business for sale back in January of 2018, right? We listed it and then pulled it and then listed it again and we’ll get into why in just a minute. But some of the challenges on that second brand that made it tougher to sell were that it wasn’t automated, right? You didn’t have things in place to automate it so that somebody in Boise Idaho couldn’t buy it because the result a lot of local suppliers and vendors. And you ran around the city and around the market’s areas to pick up these products and package it and do things of that nature. And that made it partly difficult to sell when we initially talked about this listing it and did list it in early 2018. Most people at the time if you remember they were interested in the skincare line that even though the second brand was growing faster they were interested in the skincare line because of the automation and the recurring nature of it. I think that we had it listed for about three weeks and you called me up and you said Joe I just can’t do it. I don’t want to sell the business right now. Do you remember that conversation?
Joe: Can you talk to me about why? What led to you moving forward with listing the business and then and then saying oh wait no I don’t think I’m ready; what was going on in your life and in your mind at that time to make you ultimately make the right decision? I think it was a good decision for you. You ended up selling the business for almost twice as much. So it kind of worked out pretty well but what was in your mind at that time?
Leigh: I think the reason I wanted the sell the business was because I had a brand new baby at time. And we’re just doing too much at that time and I wasn’t able to streamline the business. And we have the business listing and going through the financials and the process of the business and I just streamlined that you know what this is it not ready even if I turn over a new business owner will be just; it’s just too much for them to even handle. I need to get my thing in order first and continue to grow it a little bit further.
Joe: And we did just that. We had people that were interested. We had plenty of calls and offers that were just about to come in and you made a decision that again I supported and I think it was the right one for you. You were emotionally tired. You had a baby. You were ready to move on so we moved on but I think we both knew that it was challenging. There were certain components of it that made it harder to transfer. It wasn’t automated. And the buyers were telling us that they liked one brand but not necessarily the other and can I buy just that one brand which was the skincare line. Fast forward; that’s six months maybe, right? We ran into each other in Austin at Ryan’s event down there. You were pregnant with another baby so you had another one on the way. Were you pregnant when you made the decision to pull the listing? Did you know what was coming or that hadn’t happened yet?
Leigh: No, that hadn’t happened yet.
Joe: It hadn’t happened yet. For people that are over on our YouTube channel and actually watching this when you see Leigh speak and can tell she appears to be very young. She’s in her; I want to…can I age you? Can I say you’re…? I think you’re in your early 30’s, right?
Leigh: I’m 34.
Joe: 34, alright. So she could. So I’m down in Austin at Brand; what was Ryan’s program? Something summit?
Leigh: Brand Builder.
Joe: Brand Builder Summit. Yeah. And I see Leigh in the lobby and I swear people she looks like a teenage bride; I’m sorry a teenage mom because you were four or five to six months pregnant, you were showing and you’re very young. Now that’s your heritage as we’ve talked about as well but you also use your own products which is what you sell.
Joe: But it was great to connect and learn more about your story and how you learned from Ryan’s program and course in some of the folks there. And we continued to talk and you continued to do the right thing which was respond to that second brand and streamline it with an eventual plan to exit. You learned a lot. You went into it going okay I’m done, I’m emotionally ready, I got to move on and then learned that maybe as an entrepreneur you want to plan to sell your business instead of decide to sell your business. And so you decided then I’m going to do some more planning. You streamlined it and we came out in late spring; very late spring of 2019 with a listing. Multiple parties were interested. We ended up with multiple offers and full price offers from SBA buyers. You had your tax returns in order. We ended up going with a cash buyer that was a very, very strong cash buyer that we accepted a tiny discount because it was cash. These particular buyers loved you first and foremost, and people when you are looking at the four pillars of a sellable business those being risk growth transferability and documentation there’s an invisible that’s one and that’s the person behind the business. Leigh was very, very likable and connected very well with both parties involved. There is one gentleman that is the money behind it and then he’s got a woman that runs everything for him. And you just connected with them very well. So I commend you for that. And then we went through due diligence. Were there any times in due diligence where they’re going through the financial verification process where it was difficult or stressful or it took turns that you didn’t think it would take or do you feel like everything went okay?
Leigh: Everything went out great. I think because we picked the right buyer and they have done the process before. So it was just very smooth. It was a very easy transaction. We put everything in a folder like you created. I think you [inaudible 00:21:59.6] everything so we just put everything in one shared folder and they are able to find everything and they actually didn’t ask for anything else. Everything was there.
Joe: We talked about it at length. It’s kind of funny. We picked the right buyer. There are multiple buyers. The others have been great as well but this one had a tremendous amount of experience in the Amazon space building a portfolio. There were times where they were so laid back. You and I were thinking, right?
Leigh: I know.
Joe: Okay, are we signing this as an asset purchase? Are we closing on Monday? But it worked out great. How has it been now two to three weeks out in terms of transition? Have you needed to spend much time with them in terms of them taking over the day to day operations of the business?
Leigh: Not really. So it’s been only three weeks and I think we only used three hours.
Joe: Three hours. Okay, that’s pretty impressive. Typically, folks, I think the language is pretty standard it’s up to 40 hours over the first 90 days after closing and that’s part of the purchase price and it changes depending upon the complexity of the business and the experience of the buyer. These folks are obviously very experienced. So good, we’re done, it moved on. Are you talking with your mom about how you came to this country with less than $200 as a family and now Tai is an engineer doing incredibly well and you’ve with him invested in real estate, started an e-commerce business, sold it in high six-figure range. What’s next for you? Are you going to take some time off? Are you going to plan out your next adventure? What are your plans for the future?
Leigh: I’m going to take some time off and we’re moving to South Korea just to explore the area and the country nearby, a lot of good food, and spend a lot of time with the kids, and I think this [inaudible 00:23:53.2] this time, not a business.
Joe: You’ll be back in the e-commerce space do you think in the Amazon space?
Leigh: Yeah, definitely. It’s a great business.
Joe: Good for you. So you guys are going to sell what you’ve got here? You’re in a home now in California, are you going to sell that home or are you going to rent it up and travel?
Leigh: We’re going to rent it, yeah.
Joe: You’re going to rent it. You guys are true entrepreneurs. It’s really incredible; very impressive and a great story. I have no doubt, Leigh, that we will talk again someday and be on the podcast about your high seven-figure exit, maybe even get to eight figures and get over that 10 million dollar range someday. That would be a great success story don’t you think?
Leigh: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, always something that I wish just for,
Joe: You’ve learned a lot. You’ve succeeded through sheer grit and taking risks and not quitting and not giving up. Do you have any thoughts or any advice that you can give to young entrepreneurs, immigrant entrepreneurs, female entrepreneurs in terms of what it takes and any pearls of wisdom that you could share with them in regards to being an entrepreneur and succeeding?
Leigh: You know at one time I didn’t; I knew it was possible but we just don’t know how. But if you continue working towards what you want and just focus on it like knowing that it’s possible and you do something and you can do it. Just keep looking towards it and don’t quit. I mean if one part of it doesn’t work it doesn’t mean that the whole business doesn’t work. Give it another try and get a side hustle or do something if you want your life to be free from a job or from a place.
Joe: Leigh I could tell you it’s been an honor and a privilege working with you for the last 24 months. I’m so proud to see you achieve your goals and glad to be in at least a little bit a part of it. So thank you very much, congratulations, and I look forward to hearing about your adventures in South Korea and your travels around the world and the next eventual exit someday as well.
Leigh: Yeah. Thank you, Joe. Thank you so much for all your help.