I Used to Be Somebody: (Un)Retirement Lessons Learned

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Dat Truong Interview: High Tech Exec to Best Pho and "Grandma's Secret"

Diana Landau | September 07, 2023

Dat Truong
This week Carl interviews Dat Truong, a former Silicon Valley Techie who left the big paychecks behind in search of something new, something fun, something more meaningful. Dat, who currently owns Lela's Bistro and Grandma's Secret in Portland, OR, started his career on Wall Street, working with the likes of Wall Street Systems, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and others. He then pivoted to Silicon Valley where he contributed to several software start-ups that were later acquired. Now at age 53, Dat says he's living life on his own terms and is loving his new endeavors as an entrepreneur and restaurateur.
 
When Dat was 5 years old, his family immigrated from Vietnam to New York, just days before the fall of Saigon in 1975. He says his father, who he aspires to be like, was the most selfless, hard-working person he has ever known, working as an engineer while Dat's mother managed the family. After college in New York, Dat lived in Manhattan and worked on Wall Street.
 
Dat felt like the black sheep in his family. He was always very social and outgoing, as opposed to his studious siblings. These qualities served him well in his high-tech career in management. "You have to learn to work with people; communicate tactfully, be a good listener and know your audience." In 1997, ready to escape the hectic lifestyle of NYC, a friend encouraged Dat to move cross-country to Silicon Valley to join an internet security start-up. 
 
After 20 years in Silicon Valley high tech, Dat moved to Portland to leave the hustle and bustle of the bay area, searching again for something new, something more meaningful, something that would fit with his healthy lifestyle. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do next. "It was a real struggle contemplating different directions I could take." In Portland, he found Lela's Bistro and loved their Grandma’s beef pho so much he ended up going there 4-5 times a week. "Their food is so clean, so deeply flavorful." 
 
After several weeks, Lela's owner asked Dat if he had a job, because he was there so much. After telling her he was contemplating a new career that aligns with his healthy lifestyle, she told him to buy Lela’s and they'd work for him! Never owning a restaurant before, Dat's "Aha" moment came when he decided to take his own advice and embrace his sense of curiosity, of which running a healthy restaurant was one of them. And the rest is history. "It was one of the best decisions of my life. We provide honest wholesome meals, made from scratch by Grandma Chef, to a lovely community.” 
 
Dat learned to hire genuine, kind -hearted people. "If you surround yourself with good people, a good team, good things will happen," he says. Grandma, (Co Ngan, who makes the amazing beef pho), told Dat she used to sneak out in her 20's to underground bars in Saigon to satisfy her curiosity and sense of adventure. Another "Aha" moment came for Dat. He wanted to celebrate Grandma’s younger years. He created this wonderful subterranean mid-century cocktail bar, reminiscent of a French Colonial bar in Saigon, with vintage glassware, black and white photos of a young Grandma, soft music and conviviality. At Grandma's Secret, a blue light shines when they're open but there's no sign, relying on bringing in patrons by word of mouth. It's no surprise that the bar has already been featured in Eater Portland.
 
Dat says two things have helped him in his new endeavors. "I've let go of my ego and I stopped caring how others judge me. Removing those two aspects of who I am has been liberating. I can just be myself!" We think that's great life advice too.
 
Dat Truong's (un)retirement advice:
  • Pursue your curiosity. What drives you inside? Stop saying "What if?" and try it!
  • Pursue aspects of your lifestyle that are important to you. I love healthy eating and meeting new people. Lela's and Grandma's Secret are part of that.
  • Surround yourself with good-hearted souls. This is important in work and in life.
  • Have genuine intentions. It's a reflection of you!
   
• More about Dat Truong
Lela's Bistro
• Sponsored by How to Retire and Not Die
• Sponsored by Capital Advantage
• Sponsored by Mike Ownbey, COMPASS
• I Used to be Somebody World Tour: First Stop -- Tuscany
 
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the "I Used to be Somebody" blog.

 

Tags:    Blog   Dat Truong   Interview   (Un)Retirement   I Used To Be Somebody   Pho   Business Owner   Bistro   Grandma's Secret   Carl Landau  

Steve Segner Interview: Pet Biz Exec Reinvents Himself, Builds Luxury Hotel

Diana Landau | May 10, 2023

This week Carl interviews Steve Segner, a man of boundless energy. At 74, he's a long-time entrepreneur with no plans of slowing down. "I have no intention to retire!" Steve says--and we believe him. He has successfully run a newspaper distributorship, owned pet stores, developed lines of all-natural dog food, other related businesses and an amazing hotel and so much more.

 

Steve grew up in Burbank, CA in a neighborhood of blue-collar families right across the street from Lockheed and Disney Studios. He says the area was almost rural back then. From an early age, Steve remembers being fascinated by his parents' friends' stories, who were inventors and people who created things. "I just wanted to run a business," he tells us. "I thought I'd be good at it. I wasn't good in school--they didn't know what to do with dyslexic kids in those days."

 

Right out of high school he worked for a brokerage firm that suddenly closed. He decided right then he would never work for anyone else again. At age 21, he charted a course to become a life-long entrepreneur. He took a job as an independent distributor of the Pasadena-Star News, where he eventually met his wife, Connie.

 

Always eager to jump at a new opportunity, two days after they got married Steve decided to buy a nearby pet store. "How hard could it be?' he thought. He and Connie always had a strong work ethic, working at the newspaper in the early morning and then at the pet store until the evening.

 

Along the way, Steve and Connie developed an all-natural, healthy pet food line, a delivery service, a birdcage company and bought more small pet stores. Then Steve got involved in the World Wide Pet Supply Organization and as their Board President convinced them to relocate and expand their annual trade show to Las Vegas, NV. "Super Zoo" is now America's largest marketplace for the pet industry.

 

FUN FACTS: You'll have to listen to the podcast to hear the story about natural dog food, actor Abe Vigoda (of Barney Miller and The Godfather fame), NBC's Today Show and the advertising that went viral before things "went viral."

 

After years in the pet biz, Steve started thinking about doing something new--again. He wrote down goals for himself, including starting a completely new business by age 55. He wanted to learn something entirely new, something different, something more meaningful. (It turns out Steve is living proof of what we always talk about on the podcast.)

 

Steve knew he loved retail and they had purchased a vacant lot in Sedona. He set out to build an Arts & Crafts, hacienda-style adobe hotel. The El Portal, a gorgeous Sedona Inn, became the new vision. Steve worked with the architects and designers to build an adobe inn in 2003 that looks like it was built around 1900. Guests from all over the world have stayed at El Portal, including Supreme Court Justices, actors and record producers.

 

Steve's next act was to build a "Greene and Greene" style Pasadena Estate and a new high-rise condo in Scottsdale with curved glass walls circa 1960's. Their homes and inn have been featured in architectural style magazines. In addition to running El Portal, Steve loves developing new projects, working with local government, mentoring, speaking, still passionate about his pets and gardening. "I always want to be curious and excited about new projects and opportunities!"

 

Steve Segner's entrepreneurial life tips:
• "Sometimes it is OK to stay in your lane, what you're good at. And it's OK to fail--just try to fail small."
• "You are always missing opportunities, so you always have to be actively looking for them."
• "Moving forward into unknown territory is where the path to success lies."
 
• More about Steve Segner
• Sponsored by Mike Ownbey, COMPASS
• Sponsored by How to Retire and Not Die
• Sponsored by Capital Advantage
 
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” blog.

 

 

Tags:    blog   steve segner   unretirement   pet   business   executive   luxury   hotel   pickleball  

Brian Smith Interview: Founder of UGG

Diana Landau | April 07, 2023

Episode 68: Brian Smith
Carl interviews Brian Smith, the founder of the international brand UGG boots. Brian left his CPA career at age 29 and embarked on a wild ride into entrepreneurship. He's also had many other successful ventures and wrote a book, "Birth of a Brand." Brian has lived through the ups and downs of running businesses big and small. "I love the chaos and unpredictability of start-ups!" he tells us. His story is about perseverance, achievements, lucky breaks and near disasters.
 
Brian grew up in Canberra, Australia and eventually made his way to UCLA's Graduate School of Management. He was 29 and he says he went straight to Malibu and surfed, He wasn't so interested in becoming a career CPA. "I was looking for the next big thing in business," he says. While on the beach he noticed that no one had sheepskin boots. So my friend Doug and I bought 6 pairs from Australia as a test--UGG was born."
 
It was quite challenging in the beginning. "I registered UGG as the trademark and settled down to be an instant millionaire. What I didn't know is that Americans don't understand sheepskin the way Aussies do." The duo thought they'd target shoe stores and were told "No." Brian raised some capital and had a lot of boots to sell. His friend eventually got a job and Brian was about to give up when he started selling the boots out of the back of his van in beach parking lots. Sales increased. "I had a brand that was like the very first pop-up!" he tells us. Word-of-mouth sales spread.
 
As he started targeting surfers and surf shops, sales took off and the rest is history. You will have to listen to the interview to hear the super-crazy ups and downs Brian faced in keeping the company going for 17 years! (Being a surfer probably helped.) As sales reached $15 million, he sold the business to Deckers Outdoor Corporation. "I'm an entrepreneur, not a big corporate guy," Brian adds. The UGG brand has since exceeded $1 billion of international sales several times over. Always an entrepreneur, he has had other successful ventures as well.
 
At age 76, Brian is still going strong. He speaks about the principles in his book all over the world. He's also a mentor and advocate to business leaders and entrepreneurs, showing them how to find passion and follow it to a rewarding life. Still in Southern California, in his spare time Brian enjoys golf, yoga, meditation and traveling.
 
Brian Smith's Tips to (Un)retirement and Second Acts:
  • "Combine truth, beauty and goodness into your daily life. You'll start living differently as you practice this. You will lead a more spiritual and energized life!"
  • "Health is everything. We should be looking at it every single day. Exercising and eating less is what works for me."
  • "Don't force a hobby for yourself. If you are not energized and inspired to get up every day and do it, it means you haven't found "it" yet. Don't give up looking!"Check out more super fun Unretirement ideas

 

 

Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” blog.

 

Tags:    blog   brian smith   ugg   unretirement   health   cpa   mentor   business  

Dan Kennedy Interview: Biz Publisher Creates Zen Life!

Diana Landau | October 19, 2021

 
Carl talks with Dan Kennedy, former Publisher of the Sacramento Business Journal. He has achieved so much in media and business mentoring over the years. Whether working with journalists, as head of the Small Business Administration or now actively teaching students in UC Davis’ MBA program, Dan has also forged a mindful path--- practicing yoga for decades and even spent some time in his youth living in a Pennsylvania monastery.

 

Dan was born in Brooklyn and his parents moved the family when he was young to New Jersey. Dan’s father was a Harvard CPA, traveled globally for corporations, and then died suddenly from hepatitis when Dan was only 5, his brother 3. After high school, he went into the monastery, even living a cloistered year in the mountains with no talking or contact with the outside world. “It’s all about inner development. You are cut off from the world,” Dan says, “but the impact (on my life) has been huge and wonderful.”

 

After four years at the monastery, Dan went to Boston University and The University of Toronto. He began working in media and with journalists, and at one point was the head of the Small Business Administration locally. Dan became the Publisher of the Sacramento Business Journal, during its heyday. “We had huge staff, good profits, and wrote hard news, “ Dan says. By the time Dan was in his early 50’s, he tired of the corporate pressure and started thinking about new things he wanted to do. “It’s great to have something rolling before you retire. I wondered, where do I move on from here?”

 

Dan eventually left the Journal and started teaching students at UC Davis’ MBA program. He enjoyed it so much he wondered if he could begin teaching even more—and an opportunity opened up for a full position. Now 75, he enjoys mentoring students, teaching, yoga, and world travel, serving on nonprofit Boards like Make-a-Wish, hobbies, and more. He still remains social-media-free. “I am pursuing my best self,” Dan tells us.

 

Dan’s (un)retirement wisdom:
• Inner Development: “Now you have the time to look inward. Ask, how can I be a better person? Who would my loved ones want me to be? Why aren't I? I want to make everyone in my life feel better that I was alive.”
• Volunteering: “Even busy business people can volunteer, (as in helping the organization strategically vs contact with actual those in need). You can be one step away and still change the world.”
• Zen Life: “Meditation and yoga partner up very well. Begin with five minutes or even two minutes. Go online, it’s the easiest place to get started." 
 
• More about Dan Kennedy
• This Week's Sponsor is LoveMyHeartStudy.com or call (866) 955-1594
 
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” weekly blog.
 
 
Tags:    blog   Dan Kennedy   interview   Small Business   yoga   zen   meditation   Sacramento   journalism  

Tim Jordan Interview: From CEO to Old Soul

Diana Landau | June 04, 2021

Carl interviews local legend and cool coffeehouse owner Tim Jordan in the Tiki Bar. Tim had a big time career in the printing industry for 20+ years, starting out as a copy clerk for a small printer and working his way up to production manager, then working for a big-time printing company and eventually moving up the ladder to VP then CEO. Carl says he has always had a soft spot for printing companies, as he used to be a niche magazine publisher.

In 2004, dissatisfied with corporate life, Tim left the print biz. He wanted to get back to his roots. He took off a year to find his passion. In what he calls “the world’s craziest decision,” Tim became a first-time entrepreneur with his biz partner Jason Griest, working 20 hours a day roasting artisanal coffee, learning to bake, and creating one of the coolest art coffeehouse vibes in the Sacramento region. Today, Old Soul has 4 locations with 3 more in the works, a catering side, wholesale operations, and a thriving online retail biz in 50 states. True to their artisan pledge, Tim adds, “We have a small local business that we’re proud of and we don’t have to work 20+ hours a day anymore.”


Tim grew up in Sacramento and both his parents worked for the State of California. His older brother works for the State too. “My mother was always wondering about what trouble I’d get into,” Tim tells us. “I was precocious, maybe obnoxious?” Carl says he was the same way as a kid. He first wanted to be a baseball player when he grew up and still today is a loyal St. Louis Cardinals fan, like his father. His first job was frying chicken at KFC at age 15. “I thought I’d earned a future in fine dining,” Tim recalls. He began working in printing at age 18 and the rest of his first career is history.

Lucky for Sacramento, Tim and his partner gave Midtown the cool vibe it needed. The neighborhood has become the hub of culture, creativity and vibrancy in the urban core. It wasn’t so easy in the beginning, however. At first, Tim and Jason intended to create a wholesale biz, selling artisan coffee and baked goods to local high-end restaurants. (Never mind that the two didn’t know how to roast coffee and bake but they learned!) They spent a year renovating an old warehouse space and soon the aromas of great coffee and tasty baked goods were wafting out the door. No surprise, people kept dropping by to see what was happening. It got to the point where they had a self-serve station, an “honor jar” for money and some vintage furniture to settle in. Tim says he had been working 7 days a week, crazy long hours, and people kept asking how much they should put into the honor jar. “I was tired and I got mad and just said two dollars! Everything is two dollars!!! (This blogger fondly remembers that time and how chill it was to sip exceptional $2 coffee in the funky vibe of that warehouse. It’s still there, but the pricing is truer now.) Their artisan coffeehouse grew organically into the successful business it is today.

“I’m old and Jason’s the soul. We have a real brotherhood,” Tim says of his business partner of 16 years. “And I’m working less than 40 hours a week now.” He lives on 38 acres of “delta breeze bliss” with his wife of 18 years, Jill Withrow. They are big supporters of the local community, and also have their non-profit literacy foundation, “Sacramento Has Soul” which helps students who have fallen behind in their reading skills.  It’s no surprise that Tim is already thinking 4-5 years ahead for his third act, pondering what his next (ad)ventures will be……..


Tim Jordan’s advice on Second Act Entrepreneurship:
  • “Do something that you really love and that you feel like you're good at.”
  • “I wished I’d recognized a little earlier on which details to sweat and then start to pro forma ones you can’t sweat so much, so you can find your balance…. (and) you can have a quality of life that is not dictated to you, rather you can dictate it instead.”
  • It’s essential to find a good fiduciary that is a steward for the company’s finances. It gives you peace of mind and clarity.”unretirement tips and newsletter
  • “Know your business, know what’s important, know what to let go.”
 
• More information about Tim Jordan and Old Soul Company: https://oldsoulco.com/about/
 
 
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” weekly blog.
 
Tags:    blog   interview   entrepreneur   Tim Jordan   coffeehouse   small business   local   Sacramento   Midtown   soul   baking   coffee  

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