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Taking Their Piece of the American Dream

International Examiner, News Feature, Peter Tran Posted: Sep 13, 2008

For young seeding entrepreneurs, looking for the key to success and moneymaking can be a hair-plucking experience. When the risks are high and the outputs are low, its tempting to just throw in the towel and call it quits. Closing doors in business could be a lost of a million-dollar opportunity. So whats the big secret?

In this issue the International Examiner has taken on an investigation of some of Seattles many thriving Asian American entrepreneurs who have gone through trials and tribulations and made it out winners. As was found, success lies in many baskets, not just one. It could be anywhere from mens beauty salons, Nike Dunks and vintage sneakers, a love for information and data, to exotic dancing cowgirls in a western saloon in the Pacific Northwest.

Jason Nguyen is a 32 year-old CEO of 1st Financial Security and storeowner of two men salons, called Tight Cuts. When Nguyen comes to work, he meets with his staff of 13 female hair stylist and secretaries in sexy tight black skirts and white tops. Clients are served with complimentary drinks to sip on while they lounge in the large comfortable black leather chairs. The interior design of the salon resembles a modern bachelor pad with mellow colors, moody lighting and hip hop playing in the background. Sexy sells, says Nguyen. His salon is designed to cater to the underrepresented male population in the beauty industry. And sexy is not all that Nguyen is good at.

To Nguyen, you have to dream big, start somewhere and keep on going even when the roads get rough.
God created everybody with some skills to use, says Nguyen. And God didnt create me to just sit there but to accomplish something and theres times when nothing goes right except for your faith.

Through his experiences in failure, he found an answer: Successful people ride the bumps and unsuccessful people fall with the bump.
A Vietnamese refugee, Nguyen grew up in the low-income areas of Federal Way. Nguyen graduated from Seattle University with a bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering. After working in the field for a few years, he decided to quit his stable engineering job to partner up with his old high school math teacher in a risky 50/50 business endeavor. He and his partner put in $7,500 each from their pockets to pay for cheap computers and loan out necessary equipment to start their baby corporation. Within a few years of hard work and dedication 1st Financial Security was turning in large profits. Together with his profits in the real estate industry, Nguyen used his capital to invest in two Tight Cuts salons in Kirkland and Everett.

Big success is also sometimes hidden in what seemed at first to be a stream of failures and mistakes. David Tran, owner of Cowgirls Inc., Venom, and Amber night club was a third year undergraduate at the University of Washington when he decided that he wasnt going to need a degree to pursue his dreams. It was at that same time that Tran became an unexpected father of a baby girl, Marlei. Tran took on a full-time job at Child Haven, a youth organization that helps disadvantaged children.
It absolutely changed my life, said Tran. It taught me how to become a better dad and how to give back to society.

At the same time, Tran took bartending classes and worked at the China Harbor restaurant.
Some days I would work at Child Haven until 6 pm. Go to China Harbor and sleep on their couch for one hour and then work until 3 a.m.. Go to work at Child Haven at 7 am, hour of sleep, work, and take care of my daughter.

It wasnt until after working as a bartender, Tran discovered his unique gift of networking and promoting. He read a 300-page self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

The title of the book sounds ridiculous but it taught me everything I had to know about dealing with people and becoming successful.

It wasnt long after that Tran and his friend decided to put down some money and organize a big party event. On their first night, they doubled their amount of costs into profits. However, the second, third and fourth were bringing him and his partner into the negatives. His partner decided to go back and get an accounting degree while Tran decided to stick it out and pursue what he saw to have potential. Finally after sticking it out, Tran hit big success with an event that he coordinated at the Polyesters night club and from that he made 6 digit profits for a solid 3 years.

Looking back, Tran is very grateful that his daughter Marlei came into his life when she did and forced him to pursue his dreams.

Shes the reason why Im not living with 6 other college guys now. Currently, Tran owns real estate companies, three prominent clubs and has countless investments all around.

Tran dreams of the day when he has enough money to give back to the community.
Ill always be a businessman thinking of turn and profit, turn and profit, says Tran. But at some point, you have to give back to the community that helped you grow.

Being a philanthropist is Trans future goal. Currently Tran is a big financial contributor to Child Haven and supporter of many other charity organizations.

Some entrepreneurs just rely on numbers and information to actualize their business dreams. Justin Low is a UW graduate with a Bachelors in Communications New Media but has been working with Helly Hansen as business coordinator. The new grand re-opening of the Westfield Southcenter mall July 25th in Tukwila was Lows first, proud, grand-opening of his new clothing store, Outdoor Escapes.

Growing up, Low realized his very opinionated and die-hard skeptical character. I had a hard time accepting what was being taught in my science and math classes, said Low. I wont believe it until I try to solve it and find it for myself.

But it wasnt until he met Prof. Lisa Coutu in a Communications 100 course that he found a way to bring his love for data and information into a moneymaking skill.

She totally revolutionized my thinking, said Low. Instead of looking at dead numbers, Low now takes information and conceives it into profit solutions.

Low worked from a bottom sales associate position at Helly Hansen in Bellevue Square and worked his way up to top management positions. By the mentorship of the part-store owner, Katherine DeStephano, Low learned all the ins and outs for running his own business.

Low has to take many risks in his career. When youre young, you can afford to take risks and you can learn from your mistakes, said Low, but it has to be an educated risk based on information.

Low, like Nguyen, believes that you have to keep yourself moving forward and maximize all the time you have.

When youre stagnant youre declining, said Low. If life is this short, than why dont you try to maximize every point of your life whether it be business, friends, or hobbies. Increase it every year and at the end, youre going to have an exponential amount of things to show for yourself.

Adding to the mix is an Asian American female entrepreneur who finds her passions in a very male-dominated sneaker i ndustry. Jennifer Wang, a full-time Ph.D. graduate student at UW, decided to take on side endeavors with her brother, Jason Wang to create a hip, online sneaker store, Sneakerology101 (www.sneakerology101.com).

Appearing to others as a stereotypical timid and shy Asian girl, Wang loved to wear loud sneakers to express the spunky side of my personality and to also display my devotion to sports and art, two activities I took very seriously when I was younger, says Wang.

But being an Asian American, Wang sometimes encounters problems with tough customers.

Once we had a customer who couldnt believe that an Asian American woman knew much about sneakers and called us multiple times to make sure I knew what I was selling, directed me how to mail the package, and so forth, said Wang.

Despite these rare occasional setbacks, Wang and her brother are successful in their trade and even sold a vintage sneaker for almost $700 and numerous moderately-priced sneakers from the $200-300 ranges.

From these four entrepreneurs, men and woman, all echoed each others belief that whatever people choose to make out of themselves, make sure youre passionate about it and enjoy working.

Do something you love to do and figure a way to make money from it. said Tran.

Nguyen made an analogy for himself that if you have a plant thats not yours, youre less likely to take care of it and nurture it to grow healthy. But what if it was a plant that you owned? Nguyen asked. 

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