Shawn and Carmen Gray were featured in Networking Times in 2010 when they were just launching their business in Southeast Asia. Almost five years later we had another conversation where they shared some important updates about what it’s like to build in one of the most populated regions in the world, especially given the fact that in certain Asian countries multilevel marketing continues to be officially illegal.
Despite monumental changes in the world economy, here’s an excerpt from the 2010 article that still holds true: “While Shawn believes networkers should focus first on building a strong home team, he also encourages them to open their minds to international expansion, especially into the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China. His goal is for everyone in his organization to have a downline report in a language they can’t understand.”
What has changed is our world has become even more connected, and people everywhere are eager to change their lives in an even bigger way. “If we focus not on our own paycheck but on helping others accomplish their dreams, this business rewards us a thousand fold,” says Carmen, and she is not just referring to the unlimited income potential.
“It hasn’t come without challenges,” Shawn adds. “Everybody wants the gold medal, but not everyone is prepared to run the marathon. You’ve got to push yourself emotionally and physically. When you find out what your limits are, you expand them—which is the fun part.”
Respectively from Minnesota and North Dakota, Shawn and Carmen met in college and never got jobs after graduation. Instead, they joined network marketing, became students of the profession, worked hard, and eventually reached a good level of success. When their first company went belly up, their determination to build a lasting, global business only grew stronger. They held on to their vision, built a massive team in Greater China*, and are about to do it again in India—and it all started with one conversation.—J.G.
*a term used to refer to Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
How did you stumble upon network marketing?
Carmen: We were in college and dating. Both of us were working part time at a Mexican restaurant. One of our coworkers approached us about a telecommunications business. Shawn was too busy, but I took a look at it and got excited. I saw a way to make a few extra hundred dollars while helping others save a little on their phone bill. “Do me a favor and check it out,” I asked Shawn.
Shawn: I give Carmen all the credit. She got us started in the profession in November 1995, while I had other plans. I was going to be a commercial airline pilot. I attended one of the best aviation schools in the U.S. and borrowed $100,000 to get my degree. I was planning to get a job like everyone else I knew. I took 20 credit hours, was president of my fraternity, and trying to work a couple of jobs. Thankfully my closed-mindedness was overcome by her arm-twisting. Soon we will be celebrating our 19th anniversary in network marketing.
Did you have any previous experience in the business?
Shawn: Growing up I saw my parents build a company part time with some success. I had great respect for that because it taught them how to think differently, which influenced my thinking.
Soon after Carmen and I joined our first company, we went to a big training and discovered the lifestyle. We saw people who had time, money, and freedom to travel. It really opened our eyes and we decided we wanted to be entrepreneurs. We spent the first few years trying to figure out the business and experienced a lot of failures, but we stuck to it, worked on ourselves, signed up a few people and eventually began to see some success. We ended up earning our first million dollars in networking before age 30.
When did you start building internationally?
Five years into it, while working towards an incentive trip, we ended up being the number-one point earners in the company. Because the owners saw our commitment and desire to build a future, they invited us to join a group of leaders and flew us on their private jet to Western Europe, where the company was going to launch the U.K. and Germany. We were young kids at the time, not even top level in the company, and got to accompany them on this nine-day whirlwind tour. We hit five cities in four different countries and came back transformed by what we didn’t believe was possible.
Carmen: Since this was our first international experience, we had to get passports rushed to us, as this was a last-minute invite. It really opened up our minds. We connected with a few folks while we were there and started building a team. Over the next years we made many trips to England, Ireland, and Germany to grow our business. This got us hooked on building internationally.
How did you select your current company?
Shawn: When our first company closed in 2004, we were among the top-20 money earners worldwide. Once you’ve built something for nine years, you think you’ve got something solid. Then all of a sudden you hear your company’s gone bankrupt. That’s when you find yourself at this teetering point and say, “Next time we need to build something that lasts.”
We also needed it to have global potential. We eventually chose a company that was one of the oldest brands in the West, but was operating in the fewest countries of all established companies from the U.S. We saw ourselves helping to bring that brand around the world.
Carmen: We first built a strong team at home, again growing ourselves, developing leadership skills, and going through the basics—learning how to do presentations and talk with people, asking a lot of questions. No matter where you build or what company you’re in, it’s all about networking—being able to work through sections of people who know people who know people.
Shawn: One question we often asked was, “Do you happen to know anybody who is from Asia or who has lived there or works there, or who has connections there?” Once we knew our company was going to open in Greater China, and eventually India, we started asking this question to everybody we met.
One day on an airplane, we sat next to a lady named Ruth. She was Asian American and we started chatting about life, business, health and nutrition, and at one point I asked her where her family was from. She was from Taiwan, but had lived in the U.S. for a long time. I continued, “We’re going to open in Greater China, I’m curious to see if you happen to know anybody from that area who would be interested.” She said, “My Aunt Nancy is well connected in the business community there. She knows a lot of people… you should chat with her.” That conversation opened a door and eventually created the bridge for us to move from the U.S. to Asia.
Decide where you want to go... and look for a bridge.
Shawn: You may have to look through quite a few people to find that bridge. Technology makes this so much easier today then seven years ago when we met Nancy. In the last three and a half years that one conversation allowed our Asian team to grow by over 100,000 people, and today we do over $70 million a year in sales in Asia alone. It’s helped us become our company’s number one global earner from the U.S. and we received the Distributors of the Year and Leaders of the Year Awards for 2012 and 2013, as well as the Global Ambassador Award for 2014.
Carmen: We feel incredibly blessed and honored by the wonderful people that have joined our team. The shining golden power of network marketing is that anybody can build an empire in a handful of years, just by having a normal conversation, through social media or in person, if you have the vision and the willingness to do what it takes.
Network marketing is borderless, it’s a business not bound by culture, geography, language, or religion. It truly is one of the purest forms of capitalism America has ever brought to the world. We all want the same things: time with family; freedom to buy what we want and to give our kids the education they deserve; fulfilling relationships and lifelong partnerships.
Shawn: Again, technology makes this so much easier today. When we were in college no one used email or mobile phones. Now you can FaceTime with somebody back and forth in real time anywhere in the world. Our phones instantly translate text messages from English to Chinese. The connections and closeness between people that only a few years ago were inconceivable have now become commonplace. Over the next ten years, we see network marketing integrating globally more than it has in the first 50, 60, 70 years of its history combined.
This global connectedness might even bring us closer to world peace.
Shawn: I think you hit that right on the head. For instance, 20 years ago our grandparents probably didn’t see China as an ally; it was the root of communism. Personally we really appreciate Chinese people. We appreciate their hearts and minds, and what they think about Americans.
If you take political differences out of the equation, people’s hearts would join together, and most issues we fight over would never be problems. Most problems in human history, from individual disagreements to government wars, come from misunderstandings or greed. If people were able to sit down and communicate even though they speak a different language, they would feel a connection and see the other’s perspective, which would solve a lot of issues in the world.
When did you start working in Asia, and at what point did you move there?
Shawn: Our first trip was to Taiwan in 2007. We didn’t just pack up and move; we first traveled back and forth. Our business was still small as we were trying to find the right people who could lead us to their people. Our son was one year old when we started and we wanted to have the ability to go overseas for a month, and come back to the U.S for a couple of months. We did that for the first couple of years, trying to find the people we could build a future with. The first couple of trips we stayed in a hotel room, and then some local partners helped us rent an apartment within walking distance of our office. In Asia a lot of business is done through the local corporate office.
Carmen: We were told that in the big cities most people speak English, but our experience was different. A percentage of people did speak English, but it was difficult to have in-depth conversations. In Taiwan Nancy helped us when she was available as we tried to learn the culture and how to best enter that market.
Today we have two full-time assistants in Greater China, one who helps with translation and relationships, and the other who helps manage our office meetings and trainings. Having local assistants who not only speak the language but also know the culture inside and out is essential. It’s also helpful in the beginning if you have some business partners who are bilingual.
How has your lifestyle affected your son?
Carmen: His vision on life is quite unique; at nine years old he’s seen things most people never experience in their life. He simply thinks that’s how life is. You go on airplanes, you land in another country where you have friends, and you speak Chinese to them.
Then you go to India and see the Taj Mahal, you go to the Maldive Islands on vacation, whatever. We’ve built our business as a family from the beginning, which has exposed him to tremendous cultural diversity. It’s an amazing experience that only this kind of business can give you. If you take a job overseas, you’re focused on that job and get to know one place, whereas we’ve had the ability to see a lot of cultures.
Travel and international friendships are especially attractive to Millennials.
I think the world is evolving that way. Whether in China, India, or the U.S., people want to experience the world. They are not satisfied with what they see on TV. If you can offer average people the opportunity to go see places and things they could never imagine (after they first work hard in their own country), they will work for that. You may not like everything you see, but you just keep an open mind and let go of preconceived ideas or expectations.
Carmen: You just embrace their culture, even though you might not like certain foods, for instance. If you make the best of everything, it enriches you on many levels.
Shawn: Personally I love Chinese food, real Chinese food. If you go to most Chinese restaurants in the U.S., you get a modified version to make it palatable to Americans. The food in China is amazing. You may be served some crazy things, but you eat it and enjoy it as part of the culture. This is an eating and drinking culture; it is how a lot of business is done.
I can’t even tell you how many nights I have spent in different cities having dinner with people until midnight or later, conversing only through translation, and at the end of the night you look someone in the eyes and say, still through translation, “We’re going to do great things together.” It can be such a rewarding and mind-expanding experience that if everyone were to experience it, the world would be different.
When signing up a new distributor, how do you get him or her started? Are there any differences with how you would launch a new person in the U.S.?
Shawn: When building a company abroad, you follow different rules and regulations. For this reason, you need someone you can trust and who knows what you don’t know. It’s helpful to have business partners who have either prior experience in networking or extensive experience working with people.
When enrolling a new recruit, I don’t manage every little detail of getting that person started, because if I have the right partners, they can help with that. Doing detailed training through translation can be treacherous, because there are many cultural nuances and risks for misunderstandings. Carmen and I stick to giving people an umbrella overview of the company, the products, and the compensation.
The getting-started process starts with finding out what people want and why they’re joining. Next, tell them about the time and money commitment they’re going to need to make. Manage their expectations so they don’t think they’re going to reach the company’s top level in three months. The Chinese have a saying that if you try to make a plant grow taller by pulling on it, you will kill it. Let them know they’re at the beginning of a country expansion, that there is huge opportunity to do big things in the first few years, but that everything good takes time to develop.
Next comes creating a list of initially 50 people. We ask them to introduce us to the top 30 with whom they have the closest connection. I know we can get results if 30 new people hear the complete story. Next, we teach them how to invite those people to a meeting. Because our brand is unknown here, we put more energy into building brand awareness and telling the company story than we would in the U.S. Who are we? What’s our background? What’s our history? Then we show people how to share the company and product information using the tools created specifically for the market. Then, we sign up those who are interested in either product, opportunity, or both. Finally we teach the entire duplication process: how to dream, what commitments to make, how to set goals, and so on.
The basic steps are the same in Asia or in the U.S.
Do you work differently today than when you first arrived?
Shawn: In the beginning you’re trying to find your diamonds in the rough—those who are going to help bring people in, and who can help with the details. Next, your attention moves towards larger events, and how to manage a growing team.
Many times leaders fill a different function in Asia than they do in the U.S. Our main role here is to represent the brand, the company, but most importantly the team. “Here’s what our team can do for you. Here’s the company history. Here’s what the products do. Here’s what your life can be like,” as opposed to, “Here’s what you say when you call your mother,” or “Here is what you do in the first 90 days.” Our job is to give some details, but mainly emphasize team targets and convey the larger vision for the future.
Our company has a strong one-big-family culture, but when we came here, we still needed to create a clear team identity. We came up with the idea of the Chinese American Team (Zhong Mei Tuan Dui) and our team logo is based on the yin-yang symbol. We put the Chinese flag in yin, the American flag in yang, and our company logo sits in the middle.
This symbolizes “Together we create more.” If we unite the best from Eastern and Western culture, we all come out stronger and everyone wins. People have really grabbed on to this, it gives them something they can believe in.
Carmen: Over time we also learned the importance of recognizing and rewarding people for their efforts and results. When someone’s business takes off, we ask ourselves, “How can we make this person feel even bigger and better?”
Shawn: “How are we making our people feel?” is a question every leader needs to ask, regardless of the culture you work in. Regularly inquire within, “Am I talking or am I listening?” Even through translation, effective communicators consciously try to understand other people’s emotions. They’ll ask questions about the answers to the questions they just asked. This shows people that you care and understand what they’re going through, and that your focus is on them.
Carmen: We also teach people small skills we’ve picked up. For instance, people feel connected to you if you look them in the eye, especially if you speak a different language. They trust you. Eyes can’t lie. Words can. Everyone appreciates when you remember things about their family, their background, what’s important to them. Make an effort to remember people’s names, even if you don’t know how to pronounce or spell them correctly. This makes them feel important and that you value the relationship.
How has the environment changed?
Shawn: In Greater China the larger cities have become much wealthier and the cost of living has skyrocketed. Although even $1,000 per month is still a full-time income for many and can be life-changing, people’s expectation of what defines success has changed. In business circles, earning $3,000-$5,000 a month is no longer a high target. Many Chinese have their eyes and visions set on much larger successes. Even coming from developing regions of China, people believe more, want more, and will work harder to have more because they’ve seen others do it.
Carmen: We have a lady on our team, her English name is Stella. She and her husband have been in the profession for twelve years. Their main goal was to send their daughter to high school in the U.S., which costs $30,000 to $40,000 a year. They worked hard the first twelve years and were never able to accomplish it, but they developed themselves. We met them three years ago and they became our first core leader in Asia. A year into it, they were earning $40,000 a month. This summer they attended their daughter’s high school graduation in New Jersey and this fall she is starting college there, all because her parents joined our business. To see somebody who doesn’t speak your language, but with whom you make a deep connection, accomplish their dream is amazing.
Shawn: Another example is a guy whose name is Cai, and he’s from a city by the sea. He’d been in the profession for quite a number of years and had accomplished a
good amount of success in the past, but wanted a company and team he could create a lifelong partnership with. Three years after joining our team he’s earning $1 million a year, and several people in his team have created similar incomes.
Because of these success stories, the expectation people have when they come into the business has grown. They want to change their lives in a big way and are willing to do what it takes. They have a work ethic we can learn from in the West. When you have it too good for too long, you sometimes take for granted the opportunities that come your way—and that our country was built on.
What’s your next horizon?
Carmen: We will always have connections in Greater China—business partners and as well as lifelong friends. As far as where we’re going, our next project is India. Our company is opening there in 2016, so we’ve visited three or four times already to look for the right partners. We’re doing the same thing we did in the Chinese-speaking world. We already have a great network of people, some with experience, others without. We’re currently doing prelaunch meetings there.
Some connections come from the U.S. We are starting a group in New Delhi and some of our leads started with talking to people in our own backyard, networking locally with the intent of going global.
One advantage in India is that we don’t have the social media block. Certain areas in Greater China block all U.S.-based social media. In India that’s not the case, which makes it easier to build relationships and start marketing. We hired a full-time assistant in Mumbai to put feelers out online and find people who may be interested in helping us expand our brand.
Shawn: In India half the population is younger than 25 and 75 percent of online connections happen through mobile phones. Many believe the new government’s policy of foreign investments will invite considerably more foreign business over the next ten years. We think network marketing will finally take hold in India, even though it’s done well already in certain places. The world is waiting to see India succeed because it has many things going for it. We all know many educated Indians around the world and the Indian economy so far hasn’t done what the world thinks it can do. Many feel the next ten years is India’s decade and we’re committed to help make it so.
Carmen: It all goes back to having that next conversation. If you’re genuine and open with people, and you’re not trying to sell them on something, but just say, “Here’s a chance, let me tell you what we have going on,” people will respond. “I’ve got a sister who might like this.” “I have this friend who might be interested.” They’ll open the door. Our approach today is a little different in that we can tell the story of what happened to those who partnered with us when we opened Greater China. Because of this, we’re able to attract people who have some experience in the business and are looking for a change. We are convinced India can be as big a market as Greater China, if not bigger, and we welcome anyone who is ready to take on the challenge.