In the next several sections I examine my plan to escape the dourness of being 66-years of age and in need of employment in the United States, why my plan to escape this dour plight failed, and what I have tried to do in order to salvage the best part of what I had planned and to surge ahead.
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Table of Contents
Department of Revenue, WA
In order to prove my sincerity in the establishment of a new business, I applied for a Washington State business licence and received one. Search for nudge.online under trade-name search, and you will find it.
A Three-Prong Strategy
My business plan consisted of a three-prong strategy that covered my immediate financial needs, those required for the investment necessary to cover my long term needs, and the long term investment itself. This three-prong strategy is outlined below. It can also be found in the loan application packet that I sent to several micro-financial lending agencies established specifically to help small businesses. After repeated rejection several more lending institutions were contacted, but this time with the reasons for my previous rejection already in hand. The result was everywhere similar, if not the same. See In Search of Funding below for more details.
ONLINE VIDEO-CHAT (Immediate Term)
Making Good on an Established Skill: Realizing that my effort to obtain employment in the United States that was similar to how I been employed overseas would not occur before my funds were exhausted -- if it were ever to occur at all (see my 2015-2016 annual report) --, I began looking for alternative forms of employment that I had not yet attempted. Having recalled my colleagues at King Abdulaziz University engaging in one-on-one lessons on the net, I figured that I could do the same, if only I could find the proper forum. This is when I discovered Cambly.
Short-Term Pecuniary Advantage: Although Cambly is a highly competitive forum in which students choose their teachers, my confidence, agility, and knowledge made it very easy for me to compete, and within six months time I had acquired well over 600 hours of online sessions. In my final week alone I had spent nearly 28 hours online. Unfortunately, the pay was very poor (about USD 10 per hour), and it would hardly cover both my rent and living expenses -- this, despite my regularly received social security payments that barely covered half of my monthly food bill, let alone my internet user fees. Spending more time online waiting for students was simply inefficient, because of the constant interruption of new students looking for fun and entertainment with the few free minutes given to them by Cambly in an effort to attract new paying customers.
By the end of May I had received my first six-month Cambly certificate for outstanding service and performance. Alas, in addition to my PayPal receipts I had something to show potential lenders as a viable source of income.
Long Term Strategic Advantage: After several months on Cambly I realized that I had made a wise investment in time and energy, as the Cambly forum was gradually becoming a valuable source of new information and student contacts that could assist me in my long term strategy and development of Grammar Captive (see below). Provided was valuable information about students' typical online needs with respect to grammar and online second-language learning in general. In addition, I was learning about the nature and kinds of online resources that students typically use to complement their studies both in school and out. No longer was I exposed to the captured audience of a university classroom in which my students' problems were strongly determined by their native tongue and by the training that they had received as manipulated objects of alien language programs implemented by their respective national governments. Rather, my students were from all over the world and all walks in life, and I was meeting them one-to-one, each with his or her own special needs. Further, I had the opportunity to experience the weaknesses and strengths of the online teaching experience and could focus on what to avoid and encourage on my own online-platform.
NUDGE.ONLINE (Intermediate Term)
What People Want: Responding to Thomas Wood's advertisement for an affiliate online company that provides a software platform for producing mobile phone applications that "even a child can produce" I purchased an annual subscription for just under USD 300. The business model that Tom Wood's and his affiliate were promoting sounded good, and unlike Thomas Woods I am not exactly a no account when it comes to the technical aspects of internet technology. Building mobile applications was not something that I really wanted to do, but I knew that I could make it work, and it would generate enough income to get me through the pending credit crisis looming just around the corner -- the upper limit on my Bank of America VISA card!
Already, while I was still in Saudi Arabia, I had begun exploring how to create a mobile application (app) for my own personal use. Now I had the opportunity to do it without a lot of developmental work and make a profit, as well. Further, I could use my newly purchased platform to help promote political candidates in the Seattle area who, at least, potentially represented my own well-founded political beliefs. Moreover, I would be selling my apps to small, local, business entrepreneurs to whom I could later go and advance my own ardent, sound-money, free-economy, political agenda as a political candidate myself. I was motivated, and nudge.online was a means to still another end! So, I purchased an annual subscription. Thank you, Thomas Woods!
As I was still working on my annual report, it would be sometime before I would be able to make use of my new subscription and safe passage out of debt and financial desperation. In the meantime, I had plenty of time to plan ahead. With the exception of the legal aspects that were still unclear, the rest of the business model made good sense, and I began preparing. This email insert (email stationery template) was the result of my preparation; it would be my marketing approach both on- and offline.
GRAMMAR CAPTIVE (Long Term)
The lingua francas of our world have come and gone with the winds of prosperity; the languages of our world's great nations have endured all times.
Hong Kong, January 2004
What People Need: The idea of Grammar Captive as an online business was inspired by a webinar hosted by John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur on Fire. In this webinar I learned how a very successful online businesses works and how to go about developing one.
Further exploration led to participation in several more webinars and soon I had begun to hatch a business plan of my own. Although there is no guarantee that my plan will work, my potential online audience is very large, and I have something to offer that during my entire professional career in the English language industry I have experienced almost nowhere else -- common sense. In fact, when I compared my idea with what is currently succeeding online, what I discovered was mere hypertrophy of the same failed approach to learning English as a second language that is being promulgated by the world's academic community and national governments around the world -- the Communicative Teaching Methodology (CLT). This is the notion that one can learn a second language in the same way that we learn our first language, but under a very different set of circumstances. The problem lies, of course, in the creation of the very different set of circumstances. For, in the end, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, these special circumstances are simply not available to most. In fact, the CLT approach, as it is currently applied, is in most cases, not only economically wasteful, but it is also socially detrimental for just about everyone except those who are profiting from its misapplication. These latter are many.
Like most snake oil sold in any market, the CLT approach is based on certain truths about language learning -- in particular, that language is first and foremost an audio and oral activity acquired and developed in dialogue, and that one cannot learn to speak a language without actually speaking it!
Having spent nearly four decades in the English language industry in eight countries on three continents including in the Middle East, and having taught at nearly every conceivable level of formal language education, I know a little about the ineffectiveness, current misapplication, and touted success of the CLT approach. Between the years 2002 and 2007 I thoroughly researched Hong Kong's English language industry with data obtained directly from the Hong Kong government's Ministry of Education and came to realize the true nature of the world's global English language industry as a result. Indeed, if the CLT approach to second language learning were to be effective anywhere in the world, it would surely be effective in Hong Kong! It was not. In fact, what I discovered was an enormous amount of economic and social waste and even developed an economic model to help explain it. This model was presented, in part, at the WEAI's Biennial Pacific Rim Conference in Hong Kong in 2005.
My failure to succeed in my endeavor to reform Hong Kong's English language industry was of little fault of my own. For, when I took my preliminary findings to the Hong Kong government and requested money to develop my research further, I was told by the Director of Hong Kong's English language program that no money would be forthcoming. And, when I asked why I was being refused, I was told that no money would be spent by the Hong Kong government on research that had the potential to undermine current government policy. Well, at least, he was honest -- the truth did not not matter! When I subsequently went to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong's largest and best known charity, I was served hot water and told that ballet was at least as important as English, and that English language research was already being funded by the government. It was the first time in my life that I had ever been served hot water at a scheduled meeting, but I was still a little new to Hong Kong. It was only my fourth year. It was thus that I decided to take my effort to the general public and developed a workable model for success. What followed is history and hardly worth repeating here, but a very valuable lesson was learned about law, government, society, and the state. Since then, I have also learned an important lesson about commercial success and moral integrity in education: first give people what they want, and then teach them what they truly need.
Many people believe that academia and trade and commerce are very different sorts of activities. With some experience and careful reflexion, however, you soon realize that the primary economic activity of most tertiary education today is certification and accreditation -- not education. From here, it is a very small step to understand how the world's English language certification and accreditation industry has become a major global industry worth several hundreds of billions of US dollars. In short, I am no novice to either business or government. What is more, I already know how to build a somewhat successful internet audience about, what is to most, a very boring subject -- Hong Kong's English language industry. What I learned from John Lee Dumas is how to build a far more interested audience with a commercial return based on the natural inclination of human beings to engage in reciprocity. You give away at no charge to your audience something that solves a very real problem for them, and then provide your audience with the opportunity to purchase something that complements your solution to their problem. In effect, your audience buys in, and you cash out. It is a win-win commercial deal for everyone: your audience, your supplier, and yourself. Hooray! I had found a way to fund my retirement from my own tiny studio apartment that could actually help to create a better world. Thank you, John Lee Dumas!
According to Mr. Dumas it usually takes about three to six months to know whether an online business will succeed. However, there is also the preparation time required to make one's first launch. So, I looked at my calendar and compared it with my remaining savings and realized that I did not have enough. This was already in October of 2015. It was from this realization that my three-prong business plan was developed and acted upon.
My Falling Out with Cambly
My plan was working, but there were some built-in pitfalls, that I could not see, and into which I clearly fell.
I was new to online teaching, but a seasoned veteran to second-language education and cross-cultural communication. Unfortunately, the Cambly administration, like most administrations in the education industry, appears primarily concerned about making money and only secondarily about the long term effect of its method of teaching on society as whole. Now, Cambly can easily claim that it teaches nothing, and that this is the job of the teachers for whom Cambly provides a forum to access students. However, as many of us in the communications industry clearly understand: the medium is, indeed, part of the message and contributes significantly not only to the learning experience, but also to what is learned. In the end, Cambly and I suffered a falling out on this very issue, and my meagre USD 1,200 monthly earned income that had taken me six long months to establish was wiped out with a simple program reset on the part of the person in charge of my Cambly account. In effect, I was suddenly denied access to the forum and nearly all of my students in a blink of an eye. Although I found an alternative online forum that overcame the technological feature to which I objected on Cambly, it was going to be an even slower process to rebuild the student base that I had so successfully established on Cambly. Alas, it took nearly three weeks just to be approved for an online account! My soul source of income that was in addition to my meagre USD 403 in unearned social security benefits suddenly vanished. My soul credit card simply could not bear the strain. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the story.
The Unzapable Zapable
The Writing on the Wall: Before my purchase of an annual Zapable subscription, while I was still chronicling my disastrous return to the United States, I participated in a webinar co-hosted by Thomas Woods and Zapable, his commercial affiliate. As the business model presented in the webinar required an integument of legal relationships that involved Thomas Wood's affiliate, nudge.online (my company), the small business owners to whom I would be selling customized mobile applications, and Apple Computer's iTunes store, I was concerned about what I was getting myself into. So, I asked what I thought would be a question for which Thomas Wood's affiliate would be well-prepared to answer -- namely, "Who owns the mobile applications that subscribers produce using Zapable's developmental web-application". No, answer. I asked, again. Nothing. In the belief that there were many participants and that my question had been simply overlooked, I asked again, "Who owns the app?". Still no answer. I began to wonder.
Thomas Wood's is renowned on the internet (over one hundred thousand podcast subscribers) for being a Libertarian. Libertarians are supposed to know a thing or two about law in general and contractual law in specific! Realizing that the Webinar was about promoting new subscribers, that Thomas Woods' affiliate was probably not very interested in talking about complex legal issues, and that surely other webinar participants would likely notice that my questions had been ignored, I decided to take a different approach and asked a different question: "What if Zapable goes out of business? What happens to the app then?" This time, I received an answer from Thomas Wood's affiliate. He replied something to the effect, "Not to worry, Zapable is not going out of business". That was it. Nothing more. Noteworthy was the silence on the part of Thomas Woods throughout the entire non-exchange.
When the seminar was over, I did not subscribe and wondered about the financial consequences of my failure to buy in. Did I have a real alternative? Under the assumption that Thomas Woods would not be recommending an affiliate to his own following unless he had checked it out in advance, I succumbed to the game of scarcity created by salespeople to secure buyers before they walk away with second thoughts and purchased a subscription within the allotted time period. After all, I could stil change my mind were I not to receive a clarification about my legal questions at a later date.
As my annual reports are generally a very large investment in time, it took me several weeks before I was ready to begin making good on my new subscription. Whereupon it took me several more weeks just to establish contact with the Zapable administration, and only then after I asked Thomas Woods to intercede on my behalf. All I needed was a password that would permit me access to the online application that would allow me to develop a sample mobile application for potential customers. These delays were only the beginning of many more to come.
Indeed, it would take six full more weeks and another USD 100 until I got my first mobile application to appear on my iPhone™ using iTunes Connect™. What is worse, what appeared on my phone was not anything like what was displayed by the unzapable Zapable mobile application's emulator. Two more weeks past! Two full months! And still, I had nothing that I could show a client with the pride and confidence necessary to look him or her in the eye and say, "I've got something that can help you!".
A Clue As to What Was Happening: It is my guess that Thomas Woods had been sincere in his recommendation; simply he did not have enough knowledge about what it was that he was recommending to provide an accurate appraisal. He clearly admits his own lack of knowledge about internet technology and even provides a strategy about how to make good commercial use of other people's technical knowledge. Then too, hype breeds hype, and Thomas Woods is no shirker when it comes to promoting his and other people's online products. Simply, I did not have the financial wherewithal to make good on his advice, and I had just gotten berned.
I have been active on the internet since 1994 when I purchased my first, used, Apple computer somewhere on the other side of Tōkyō's Yamanote Line. In fact, I was weaned on computers in the Japanese language, and making the transition from Japanese to English IT terminology was not always easy. To this day the language of my cell phone's iOS is Japanese -- if not for additional security, then for maintenance of my knowledge of Japanese. Well, the language barrier had long since been overcome when I was introduced to Zapable, and it was fairly easy for me in the end to realize that I was being used by Zapable as a guinea pig for their own software development. This suspicion was confirmed when I was suddenly dropped from the unzapable Zapable's community forum for poking fun at Zapable for being unable to solve, let alone recognize, the problems that were arising from the use of their software. I was subsequently invited for private consulation or a refund of my annual subscription. So, for another week I entertained the idea of private consultation.
After all, if I could get my first mobile app up and running and obtain written commitment from those whom I had already approached about the purchase of a nudge.online app, then I could make my loan applications even more credible and attractive. So, I wrote nine email messages each with one unresolved issue and waited for Zapable to address them. Six of them were finally resolved, but not without some additional innovation of my own. Of the three that remained, however, one was a basic feature in my advertisement campaign. I then asked myself, what would life be like in the afterworld with the unzapable Zapable, if I had to go through a similar routine each and every time that I sought to customize a new app for a different customer. In effect, nine full weeks had now past. So, I dropped the account, secured the promised refund, and managed another two weeks worth of groceries, while I sought a new online mobile application development platform, and prepared my documentation packet for a small business loan. I had unknowingly exceeded my VISA credit limit and was in deep trouble.
Fortunately, I was able to find an alternative solution with Motiply, but by this time I could no longer afford the USD 199 monthly service charge and was still unsure about the legal relationships involved with developing a mobile application business using a third-party development platform. In any case, I had already completed much of the preparation needed to make nudge.online a workable business plan and began approaching lenders.
Surf Incubator and Eric Ries's Lean Start-Up Approach: Exactly how I had been used became inexorably clear when i visited Surf Incubator, a so-called Angel Fund in Seattle. It was just after my rejection for a small business and later personal loan by numerous lending institutions. For, at Surf incubator I was introduced to the concept of The Lean Start-Up -- an incremental approach similar, but different from that recommended by John Lee Dumas. Whereas Mr. Dumas advocates an on-going dialogue with one's audience and an ever-developing Avatar approach, the The Lean Start-Up method is quite explicit about its use of unsuspecting participants in the developer's technology experiments.
Now, it is one thing to offer beta software labeled as beta; it is quite another to offer the same as a finished product and hide its beta status from unsuspecting consumers.
After additional email from the unzapable Zapable advertising how great their product is I composed an email that I addressed to Zapable's co-founder Andrew Fox and Thomas Woods in an effort to dissuade Thomas Woods from further promotion of the unzapable Zapable's mobile application development platform. Although I did not expect anything from Andrew Fox, I was surely expecting a reply from Thomas Woods. Nothing was forthcoming, however. Neither a thank you for the heads up, nor even an acknowledgment of receipt from his automated email handler. At a minimum, my email input box is no longer being cluttered with advertisements from the unzapable Zapable.
No, should I live to tell again, I will likely never trust another Wood's affiliate that I have not thoroughly explored before signing on. Let the buyer's seller beware!
In Search of Funding
Small Business Loan
So, where does one go when one needs funding and does not wish to be a burden on one's friends? Is it not a bank? And, to which bank, if not your own.
When I returned to the United States from my more than 16-year sojourn in East Asia in 2007 I had no idea what bank I should choose, and I needed to act quickly. The many ATM machines and frequent sitings of branch offices attracted me to the Bank of America. As I did not have a job and did not know where I would end up, the name alone suggested a bank in every state. This is not true, but for the moment it seemed to be a proper assumption. I was now in America! I had just come home! Oh, well. Little did I know how much my motherland had changed while I was away.
It was now nearly a decade later, and I had recently returned after another seven years overseas. At first I asked for a small business loan and was told that Bank of America does not handle such loans. Then, I asked for a personal loan to eliminate the overdraft on my credit card and thus preserve my good credit rating. I was told that my credit card was my personal loan and was instructed to try the Small Business Administration in downtown Seattle. This, I did and eventually received a list of potential SBA guaranteed lenders in the Seattle area. My effort to speak with an SBA official, however, was only realized after two additional trips, numerous telephone calls, several recorded messages, and two email messages. Anyway, I finally got the advice that I was seeking and began preparing my loan application packet.
Small Business Loan Applications: The information provided me by the SBA was actually useful, because it told me what materials would likely be expected of me by most lending institution -- not just those guaranteed by the SBA. I do not like the idea of the federal government socializing the risk of private investors, but in the end I would only become a burden on the American public, if I were to default. As I had every reason to believe that I would succeed, and everyone seemed to be pointing me in the same direction -- namely, SBA-guaranteed lending institutions, I made good use of my list and began filling out online screening applications. To my delight I past the initial screens of four micro-lenders and was eventually able to speak with all of them over the telephone. It is during these calls that I learned what I have already addressed elsewhere.
Once it became clear that a small business loan would not be forthcoming, I returned to my bank and was reassured that the internet would be my friend. So, I performed an online search and found an organization called the Lending Tree. I carefully read about who they are, what they do, and how they operate. When I was satisfied that I was at the right place, I filled out their online application. By the time I reached the end I was beginning to feel like it was 2015 all over again, but persisted until the end.
This was new territory for me. It was just before pressing the enter button that I read the fine print just below it and balked. Since the Lending Tree is a consortium of a numerous lenders, I was afraid that my email box would suddenly become flooded with advertisements that I did not want. So, I called Lending Tree and was given the name of two lending institutions that serviced the national area. I was eventually rejected by both for lack of sufficient income flow in the area in which I was resident. So, I went back to Lending Tree again, told them about the problem that I was having, and they recommend still another institution -- this time, with an affiliate lender's local branch office. Whereupon I was invited to set up an interview and pay a visit. Before going I placed a call and was interviewed by a loan officer. I explained my situation and was asked, if I had an automobile. When I replied no, I was told that I should not bother to arrange a visit. A new twist in my search for funding.
It had never been this hard when I applied for financial aid to fund my graduate education in economics. And now, I held two graduate degrees and had thrice before been a small business owner: once in Japan as a freelance language consultant, once in Hong Kong as the owner of a research and translation firm, and once even in Seattle as a research economist shortly after my graduation from the University of Washington. Not only this, but I had decades of proven work experience in the very same area that i wanted to create an online business! What gives?
Was I to believe that students with no, or near zero employment experience are a better credit risk, than I -- a several decade-long veteran of secondary labor markets around the world?
And, here I was with an above average credit rating with two of America's best known credit agencies, and a slightly below average credit rating with the third. What is more, my credit rating with Experian would still be above average, if only the Bank of America had refused me the first time that I sought credit that went over my limit! I had never been allowed to exceed my debit card limit of zero --, so why would I be allowed to exceed my credit-card limit of USD 4,500? Even less understandable was the fact that I was still able to use my credit card to make grocery purchases at QFC, but not able to pay my rent at the online RentCafé. Indeed, it was the strangest personal loan that I had ever had, and now I could not get a bonified small business or personal loan to return to financial sanity. That I not diverge!
All I really wanted was enough money to bridge a gap until I could secure enough income on Verbling and switch to a new mobile application development platform. This is how I was being rewarded for having been frugal shortly after my arrival in Seattle and depending on other forms of transportation that did not fill up scarce garage space.
There was still another hope. Share the ownership of my firm with a venture capitalist -- someone with liquid capital who enjoyed helping others with bright ideas succeed in the market place for profit!
Soon I discovered Surf Incubator Seattle and attended a meeting at 8:30 in the morning at the Wells Fargo Building in downtown Seattle. In preparation for this meeting I changed my business strategy from a three-prong approach, in which I would spend numerous hours online as a tutor and numerous more off-line as a salesman selling customized mobile applications that depended on the competence of still another online, mobile, application development platform, to a one-prong, spear-like approach that would promote the potentially far more lucrative Grammar Captive project that was backed up with an already tested teaching methodology backed up with many years of hands-on teaching experience in eight countries on three continents including in the Middle East. Accordingly, I also adjusted my anticipated negative cash flows for the first year of development. In effect, I painted a worst case scenario as a negotiation tool from which I could easily back away, if only I could find someone who would be more interested in discussing my project than my current financial plight.
So, I dressed up a little thinking that money attracts money and arrived slightly early. I was the first attendee who was not an organizer and had the opportunity to speak directly for several minutes with the person whom I was told to meet by another located in Belleview.
What this former told me is what I had already heard many times from the SBA and personal loan lending institutions -- without an established cash flow already in the works no one will be interested in buying in. What is more, this person had never heard of John Lee Dumas from Entrepreneur on Fire and seemed to be advocating the very same kind of online activity that had just been the cause of my departure from the Unzapable Zapable!
Others started arriving, brief introductions were made, and an open discussion followed. I participated until the meeting's organizer seated across from me pulled out his computer and told me that he was going to correct the error that I had pointed out to his Belleview colleague in an email exchange previous to our meeting and could be found on the Surf Incubator website. So, there I was helping others to improve their own operation while my own was pushed aside. Oh yes, I was invited back to help fill a room for Surf_Incubator's upcoming lecturer and was provided with a list of literature that would re-educate me. Unfortunately, I simply did not have either the time or money to engage in such social and literary erudition. So, I shook hands with those whom I had spoken and left the room never to return. I had discovered incarnate the malaise with which Tom Woods and Andrew Fox had beset me -- the so-called Lean Start-Up method promoted by Eric Ries.
I have a business plan that I have very good reason to believe will work, but as before was simply not given the opportunity to discuss it in any degree of detail with anyone who was truly capable of helping -- namely, those with business experience and the money to back it up.
A Strategic Afterthought
What I did not take along with me to the meeting were statistics from my websites hosted on Lunarpages that document that I am capable of generating substantial traffic to my already created websites, but that, up until now, I have never used as a means to generate sales. Indeed, it was never their purpose, and I was embarking on a new adventure with a much broader potential audience -- second-language learners of the English language. So, I prepared a new packet of information including a rigorous description of the content and history of my websites and the statistics from Lunarpages validating my claims. No, I was not under the illusion that this new packet of information would have had any effect on the outcome of my meeting at Surf Incubator Seattle, but it may possibly have an impact on others who might just understand the genius, if I may, behind Grammar Captive and why it might just very well succeed!
making the proper choice
Now it is your decision. I have made mine. Please select from among the available alternatives unless, of course, you can think of another.
That Charity Be Given Freely, or Not at All!
Hunger Strike Page
the Courage to Act,
Roddy A. Stegemann
August 4, Seattle, Washington
I take full responsibility for all content.