Hao Lam | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Hao Lam


Hao Lam founded the Best In Class Education Center in Seattle in 1995. It has since grown to a national tutoring franchise that helps K-12 students and teachers. Lam aims to have 100 locations across the country by 2020.

The Mistake:

Back in the old days, 10 or 15 years ago, I was feeling very financially insecure. I was a refugee, I was born in Vietnam, and I left my country and all that. I didn’t want to have a single source of income, so I was doing many things at the same time.

For example, at one point in time I was doing real estate. And at the same time I owned a mortgage company, in addition to my tutoring school. I was doing three things. I thought I was able to multitask, but I didn’t realize that I was spreading myself too thin.

I was spending one-third of my time in each area, I had three businesses. And obviously, none of them were doing well. I sacrificed my health and my family, and I basically didn’t have fun with life at all. Things were really hard, and it never stopped.

So later on I woke up. I quit everything [else] and I just focused on growing my tutoring empire. And now I just want to stay focused. I want to do one thing and one thing only.

But that was not the end of the mess. I was doing tutoring only, but because I was so used to working nonstop, I was all over the place. I had so many goals that I wanted to achieve. I was going 200 miles an hour without knowing where I was going. And again, I was super-busy because I was used to it. I was a ‘yes man’; I said yes to everything. I went to every event and every meeting and tried to grab every single opportunity I could get. I was trying to do so many things that kept me busy and bragging that I was Superman.

But being busy doesn’t mean [you’re] being efficient or productive.

The most important lesson I learned is to stay laser-focused​.

The Lesson:

About four years ago, even after I was franchised, I didn’t know how to sell franchises. I realized that I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I really needed help. Things had gotten a little better, business had been a little more stabilized, but still I was all over the place. So I needed some mentorship and coaches.

I was searching the internet and talking to some friends, trying to get help. One of my friends [was] in this wonderful organization called EO. Entrepreneur Organization. It’s a global, non-profit entrepreneur organization. So I did some research and joined, hoping that I would take my business to the next level. That’s what I needed. And that was the best decision I ever made in my life.

We have 150 like-minded people [in EO]. I joined and I realized that I wasn’t alone, everybody was like me. So we shared experiences and all that. Most importantly, because of the group, I attended so many learning events and workshops. And I hired a business coach.

That was about three years ago, and things started to get better with the help of the coach. He started to calm me down and said, “Let’s set a three-year goal, a five-year goal, a quarterly goal.” I managed my time more wisely and more efficiently. I learned how to say no to meetings, calls and events that were not helping me achieve my goal. I started to say no to many opportunities that in the past I would just grab.

Now I only have one goal, and I’m going to stick to it. I know where we’re going in the next five years; I know where we’re going before 2020. The most important lesson I learned is to stay laser-focused. That is super-critical. Just do one thing that [you] really want to do, do it really well and do it with all [your] passion and energy.

Follow the Best in Class Education Center on Twitter at: @BestInClassEdu.

Photo courtesy of Hao Lam.

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