Category Archives: Buying stuff

Where to shop to get yourself equipped – from car buying to furnishing your house to everyday grocery shopping.

8 books to read to fuel your entrepreneurial itch

So you have the itch.. the entrepreneur’s itch. Being in Silicon Valley it’s hard not to have it when you get to rub shoulders with many founders and investors on a weekly basis at the many meetup events organized by like minded individuals. There you hear many inspiring stories and adventures in entrepreneurship and how you too can walk that path when you set your mind to it. To get you rolling on this journey, here are my top 8 books which are sure to fuel your entrepreneurial itch!

Keys to the Vault: Lessons From the Pros on Raising Money and Igniting Your Business

by Keith J. Cunningham, the Real Rich Dad from Robert Kiyosaki’s popular series Rich Dad Poor Dad. Keith is also a speaker at Anthony Robbins Mastery University.

I purchased this book after being inspired by Keith during a presentation on business entrepreneurs. Keys to the Vault is The Formula, the recipe, for raising money and creating a successful business. No fat in this book, just pure step by step here’s how the industry works and here’s how you can do it yourself – step by step! My favorite of the lot.

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days

by Jessica Livingston, founding partner of the valley’s famous seed stage venture firm Y Combinator.

I purchased this book after being inspired at Startup School, by YCombinator. Founders at Work is a collection of interviews with founders of famous technology companies about what happened in the very earliest days. Some of the companies in question include Apple, Flickr, PayPal, Gmail, Twitter etc. You will learn that these founders had no special human powers but persevered during hard times and worked hard towards their vision.

Never Get a “Real” Job: How to Dump Your Boss, Build a Business and Not Go Broke

by Scott Gerber, serial entrepreneur, angel investor, media personality, public speaker and the most-syndicated young entrepreneurship columnist in the world.

I purchased this book after being inspired by a very successful Silicon Valley CEO – his company is mentioned inside this book. Never Get a “Real” Job is straight to the point, no bullshit, that having a JOB (Just Over Broke) suxs! Being an employee is not rewarding enough as being an entrepreneur. This book is a wake up call and tells you how to make dramatic changes from an employee to an entrepreneur without going broke.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

by Peter F Drucker, who was a writer, management consultant, and self-described “social ecologist.”.

Peter shares with us an excellent framework for innovation providing some general guidelines for identifying innovative opportunities. The key take away is that successful entrepreneurs do not wait until having a “bright idea”; they go to work. He was ahead of his time, a man of pure genius!

Rework

by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of the very profitable and successful 37signals.

37signals business model of profits from the word go inspires me hence why I purchased this book. Rework is a collection of the best posts from Signal vs. Noise, a weblog by 37signals about design, business, experience, simplicity, the web, culture, and more. The book can be read in 2 hours and it damn straight to the point. It will make you extremely uncomfortable. But that’s why it’s so good because it breaks through all the bullshit and tells you how it really is.

The Monk and the Riddle : The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur

by Randy Komisar, a new breed of executives who have been called “virtual CEO’s with a wealth of experience under his belt.

Randy takes the reader through a hypothetical Silicon Valley start-up and what it takes to get a business running, funded and profitable. This books reminds me of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams & Reaching Your Destiny with a focus on Silicon Valley startup.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

by Daniel H. Pink, an American writer, speechwriter, and motivational speaker.

The holy grail of people management. Daniel shares with us the surprising truth. People want Autonomy (control over their work), Mastery (get better at what they do) and Purpose (to be part of something that is bigger than they are). It’s that simple. Yet many employers fail to see this and use old aged approaches. Here’s a fantastic 10 minute animated cap by RSA of what the book is about: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

by John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant whom publishes fascinating insights on his Brain Rules website about what’s really going on inside our heads.

I am also a life hacker, and as such, this book had to sit in my book shelf. If workplaces had nap rooms, multitasking was frowned upon, and meetings were held during walks, we’d be vastly more productive. Brain Rules reveals – in plain English – 12 ways our brains truly work. Killer killer killer content – it will reshape how you do business and function on a daily basis.

ReadingList – what else am I reading?


If you like my suggestion of books I highly recommend you run my Facebook App called ReadingList where I share with my followers all the cool books I’m reading, my reviews and comments. Give it a shot, it’s a FREE app. Go there now: http://apps.facebook.com/readinglist

I love comments so don’t forget to say G’day to this Aussie in Silicon Valley.

~ Ernest

Where to shop in Silicon Valley

Landed in the valley and not sure where to shop to get your groceries, electronics or grog? Here’s a small list to get you going. To find out locations of each stores just click on the Website links below to visit the store’s website.

American’s love coupons. It has always been a Sunday paper tradition to cut them out for the week ahead. With the advent of technology this changed and most coupons are now located online on sites like coupons.com, retailmenot.com etc… check out my previous blog post on saving money with free coupons located here before you start shopping!

Consumer electronics retail

Fry’s

This is a mega super-duper store for all your electronics needs. Nothing comes close to its sheer size, content and prices. Also keep an eye out for their “weekly” specials catalogue (also available online) where you will find pages of discounts for that week only. Some of the stores use cool themes and props like Ancient Egypt at Campbell, Wild West at Palo Alto etc.

  • Products: Software, consumer electronics, computer hardware, movies, music and household appliances.
  • Website: http://www.frys.com/
  • Aussie version: JB Hi Fi or Harvey Norman but heaps cheaper

Best Buy

Another big store but this one is more of a specialty retailer of consumer electronics. Best Buy is sometimes called the “big blue box” because of the prominent blue design on Best Buy stores. If you find something at Fry’s cheaper tell them at Best Buy and they will beat it by 5-10% – so carry your smart phone so you can compare prices.

  • Products: Software, consumer electronics, computer hardware and household appliances.
  • Website: http://www.bestbuy.com/
  • Aussie version: JB Hi Fi or Harvey Norman

Grocery

SafeWay

North America’s third largest supermarket chain. Their free loyalty membership program entitles you to cheaper purchase on 80% of the groceries. They also have a fantastic program called JustForU which basically allows you to load grocery coupons onto your loyalty card.

SafeWay

SafeWay in San Antonio

Whole Foods Market

A healthier alternative to SafeWay. They house natural and organic groceries. Originally called SaferWay, the name being a spoof of Safeway. The downside is the groceries are around 20% more in price and there is no loyalty membership programs.

Whole Foods Market in San Antonio

Whole Foods Market in San Antonio

Kroger

Alternative to SafeWay for grocery shopping.

  • Products: Bakery, banking, beer, dairy, deli, frozen foods, gasoline (select locations), general merchandise, liquor (select locations), meat, pharmacy, produce, seafood, wine.
  • Website: http://www.kroger.com/
  • Coupons: http://www.coupons.com/
  • Aussie version: Coles

Trader Joe’s

A specialty retail grocery store. They have a nice selection of healthy and organic produce at great prices. Trader Joe’s describes itself as “your neighborhood grocery store” or “your unique grocery store”. Their wines are also cheap – it’s the 1st place I bought my 1st wine in California and was impressed with quality and price.

Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's in San Antonio

Walmart

Chain of large discount department stores and a chain of warehouse stores. This is a great place to start when you 1st come to the Valley – I bought all my initial necessities here and they were cheap – dirt cheap!

Walmart

Walmart in San Antonio

  • Products: Discount Stores, Supercenters, Neighborhood Markets.
  • Website: http://www.walmart.com/
  • Aussie version: Like Target, Aldi & KMart combined but cheaper

Department stores

Macy’s

Is a chain of mid-to-high range department stores. Its selection of clothing merchandise can vary significantly from location to location, resulting in the exclusive availability of certain brands in only higher end stores. The company produces the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a well-known parade which has been held on the streets of New York City annually since 1924. Like Safeway they also have a loyalty program via the Macy’s Credit Card star rewards. Make sure you have some credit history or your wont be able to get their card.

Nordstorm

Is a chain of an upscale range department stores.

  • Products: Clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, and housewares.
  • Website: http://www.nordstrom.com/
  • Aussie version: David Jones

And you will also find Westfields. There are 2 I know of, one in San Francisco on Market St and the other in Santa Clara.

Housing

Bed Bath and Beyond

Is a chain of domestic merchandise retail stores feature mostly medium-ranged, but also a limited selection of high quality, domestic merchandise: items for the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and dining room.

  • Products: Bedding, bath towels, kitchen electrics, cookware, window treatments, storage items, gifts and much more
  • Website: http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/
  • Aussie version: reece

Mancini’s Sleepworld

You one stop shop for all beddings & mattress requirements. When it comes to buying a bed & mattress it’s like buying a used car. You need to negotiate and deal with pushy salesman but it’s always worth it since in the end you save plenty of money. Visit similar stores like Sleep Train so you get an idea about best deals and just haggle between the stores until you get a fantastic deal.

  • Products: Bedroom furniture, kids furniture, futons & sofas, massage chairs, daybeds and more.
  • Website: http://www.sleepworld.com/
  • Aussie version: Sleep Doctor or Forty Winks

Others

Costco

Is the largest membership warehouse club chain in the United States. Costco focuses on selling products at low prices, often at very high volume. These goods are usually bulk-packaged and marketed primarily to large families and businesses. Great place to shop once you settle in and have identified what you can buy in bulk for the next few months.

  • Products: Merchandise, Private label brands – Kirkland Signature
  • Website: http://www.costco.com/
  • Aussie version: Campbells-Wholesale

REI

REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) sells outdoor recreation gear, sporting goods, and clothes. Their one-time fee of $20 for lifetime membership entitles you to an annual dividend check equal to 10% of what you spent at REI on regular-priced merchandise in the prior year.

  • Products: Sporting goods and outdoor gear.
  • Website: http://www.rei.com/
  • Aussie version: Rebel Sport

BevMo

Also knowns as Beverages & More! selling a HUGE range of alcoholic beverages. Some larger outlets house wine tasting sessions for $5. Every week they select a bunch of wines to go on special if you hold their free loyalty card – worth getting it. Every few months they hold a buy 1 get the 2nd for 2 pennies – even for wines which normally cost $30 each. Bargains here all the time!

BevMo

BevMo in San Antonio

  • Products: Alcoholic beverages and accessories.
  • Website: http://www.bevmo.com/
  • Aussie version: Valore Cellars, Dan Murphys or BWS (Beer Wines Spirits)

Hope these help you get rolling. It’s a great start and I’m sure you will come across many smaller outlets. If you see something I missed or want me to add it to the list above please put it into the comments below and I will include it.

Happy shopping!

~ Ernest

Save money using coupons

Americans love coupons. Coupons are sexy. Coupons save you money.

It has always been an American Sunday paper tradition to clip coupons out for the week ahead. With the maturity of technology this landscape evolved and now most coupons are located online as the newspaper industry declines. So before you head out to shop in Silicon Valley, visit one of the following coupon sites to grab a bargain and save more of your money using coupons.

You might have already noticed that in the header navigation (above) of this site (The Road to Silicon Valley) I have already hooked up a “Save money” section to provide you with quick access to FREE at home printable grocery coupons and internet coupon codes. Those are powered by the no.1 coupon provider in America, Coupons.com. Keep on reading below to learn more about the best options to save money.

Coupons

A coupon is a ticket or document that can be exchanged for a financial discount or rebate when purchasing a product. Customarily, coupons are issued by manufacturers of consumer packaged goods or by retailers, to be used in retail stores as a part of sales promotions. Basically printing a coupon is like printing money without any commitment to purchase required (unlike group buying below which is the opposite).

Top 2 sites in the USA for printable coupons are:

  • Coupons.com – Top 50 U.S. web property and No. 1 in the Coupons/Rewards category*—as well as Grocery iQ® and Coupons.com mobile applications for iPhone® devices and the Android™ operating system. Coupons.com Free GroceryIQ mobile application is superb and does all the hardwork for you by connecting coupons and your SafeWay loyalty card program to your shopping list. It couldn’t get easier to plan your shopping and load coupons!
  • Coupon Mom – Stephanie Nelson is The Savings Mom™ on ABC News’ Good Morning America, where she has been a regular contributor since 2004. Her Good Morning America segments have taught viewers how to save in many areas, including travel, clothing, restaurants, groceries, gifts, theme parks, gardening and entertainment.

Group buying

Group buying works that if a certain number of people sign up for the offer, then the deal becomes available to all; if the predetermined minimum is not met, no one gets the deal that day. Basically you have to “purchase” the deal in order to save X amount eg. buy for $10 and get $20 worth of goods. So there is a level of commitment required. Unlike coupons where no purchase commitment is required.

Top 2 sites in the USA which allow you to participate in group daily deals are:

  • Groupon – the big boy in group buying. No doubt you would have heard of them. Easy to use and always great products & services to buy. I’m a regular user of their simple, easy to use and efficient service.
  • Living Social – this is a Groupon competitor. Not as popular as Groupon but they do feature some good deals. The beauty of using these 2 sites is if a limited (1 per purchase) deal appears on Groupon you can go to Living Social and purchase it here too.

Coupon codes

Also known as internet coupons since you need to be making an online purchase to take advantage of these – think godaddy codes. Internet coupons typically provide for reduced cost or free shipping, a specific dollar or percentage discount, or some other offer to encourage consumers to purchase specific products or to purchase from specific retailers. Nearly every online retailer or website has a place within its shopping cart or checkout process for promo codes or coupon codes. Use the sites below to get your discount codes when making any online purchase.

Top 2 sites in the USA which allow you to get internet coupon codes are:

  • RetailMeNot – offers discount coupons for more than 65,000 stores around the world. They have been around for a long time and always provide quality active coupon codes.
  • Coupons.com – a one-stop shop provider for printable grocery coupons, local coupon, coupon codes and daily deals. Don’t forget to sign up to their free newsletter so you never miss a great deal.

Other specials to watch out for

Finally, regularly visit your favorite store’s website. They will always feature one-off limited time discounts especially around holidays. Any holiday in the USA is a good reason for these companies to lure you into their store via a great deal – some even up to 50% off during Thanksgiving festive season. I find subscribing to their newsletter always keeps me in the loop.

Best deals can be found during the following times of the year:

  1. Black Friday (3rd Friday of November) – the day after Thanksgiving (3rd Thursday of November).
  2. Christmas sales (before and after 25th of December).
  3. Half year sales and other random public holidays. Get to know American public holidays.

So next time you plan on shopping don’t forget to check the above websites and save anywhere from 10-30% on your shopping bill. While your there, sign up to their newsletters / daily alerts so you never miss that deal. The money saved from this simple habit can be used for your education, your start-up or directed toward a number of other investment vehicles.

Here’s to happy savings!

~ Ernest

Links mentioned in this post

  • Coupons – Coupons, Grocery Coupons, Printable Coupons, Restaurant Coupons, Coupon Codes
  • CouponMom – Cut your grocery bill in half!
  • Groupon – local daily deals
  • LivingSocial – local daily deals
  • RetailMeNot – Coupon codes and discounts for 65000 online stores!

Checklist – buying a car

Here are a few things to take into consideration when buying a car. I’m sure this list can be expanded but this list should prove to be fruitful in your 1st endeavours.

Checklist

General

[  ] Are you shopping at the end of the month? If not go home and come back closer to the end of the month. Dealers need to meet their monthly quotas hence will give you a better deal towards the end of the month to make the sale.
[  ] Research “Kelley Blue Book” to understand a reasonable price of the car you want.
[  ] “YELP” the dealer you plan to visit or have visited. Yelp is a great resource of information about service & product orientated businesses. Yelp is where I also located a fantastic (seriously fantastic) mechanics (Gary & Chris from The Car Doctor) – http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-car-doctor-mountain-view
[ ] Look up the car you are interested in on “Edmunds.com” and check its reliability and consumer reviews.
[  ] Does the vehicle come with at least 50% coverage or 2 years warranty? Make sure you get warranty which fits your risk profile.
[  ] Is the vehicle Pre-Owned Certified? Expect to pay up to $2K more for certified vehicles since this typically includes at least a 100-point inspection of the car by 2 mechanics and a quality guarantee from the dealer.
[  ] If the vehicle is not Certified, have you got it checked by a 3rd party mechanic? See The Car Doctor’s above.
[ ] Does the “CARFAX” and Log book tell an ok history of the vehicles maintenance?

Vehicle inspection

[ ] Inspect the car for dents, dings and scratches before taking final delivery. Any dents or dings tell the dealer to fix under their own cost before you even sign any purchase paperwork.
[  ] Run a magnet on parts of the body you suspect damaged. Where there is bog (material used to cover-up previous accident) the magnet will not stick and your suspicion will be correct.
[  ] Test-drive the car under your normal driving conditions.
[ ] Ask for last service, why whom and what oil was used. Synthetic oils are the go and also protect the engine. Organic oils are only used on new engines to wear them in but to maintain engine quality, more expensive Synthetic oils should be used.
[ ] Check whether all accessories are in working conditions eg. power seats, mirrors, lights, windows, air con etc.
[ ] Under the bonnet look for oil leaks on parts like suspension or shazzy (the body). An oil leak can lead to expensive future service.

Speaking with the Dealer

It’s not what they say it’s how they say it and what their body language speaks. Observe and listen to their context, content is not as important since it only accounts for 20% of the message.

  • Understand the dealer’s primary human mode – best way to communicate with them using the right words based on who they are. See my post inc. tips on my productivity blog here: http://ernestblog.com/visual-auditory-kinestatic
  • Does the dealer cross their arms or step back when you ask a question about the vehicle?
    • Crossing arms are an indicator of hiding something and
    • Stepping back is a strong indicator that they are trying to distance them-self from your question – maybe you hit something which they are trying to hide.
  • Build rapport with the dealer by imitating their body language or tone of voice.
  • Stamp wide feet apart, arms by your side and head high. This sends a positive and strong message that you are strong and in control of decision-making. Never put your hands in your pocket, behind your back or fidget with them in front. Never look down either. Unless you want to send a message of inferiority and get taken for a ride.
  • Read my blog post on how people tell lies here: http://blog.ernestsemerda.com/2010/02/15/telling-lies-how-do-people-lie-and-how-can-they-be-caught/

Have fun!

Remember that this is all just a game and never take anything personal. Enjoy the experience and make the most of it. Good luck with the car hunting!

Ernest

Don’t get ripped off – how to buy a car in America

So I bought a 2nd hand VW Jetta from a dealer. 1st time ever from a dealer let alone one in America. In Australia I always bought cars from private sellers. I don’t believe in buying new cars since cars are a depreciatable liability, not an asset. I believe that if you want a new car you should lease. Better still, if you have a business structure with profits, run it through that.

The good news – cars are cheap in the USA. Dirt cheap. So is petrol, or should I say “gas” as the American’s call it.

My experience

I’ll be upfront about this, I don’t trust dealers. They are nice just to get you to sign that purchase paper work and then forget about you. That’s commission selling. Get used to it. Remember, they are not your friend, your pal, or someone who is on your side. They want to make money. It’s that simple. Keeping this in mind should help you stop from falling into their “nice guy” charm and help you stay focused on your goal, to get a car for as little as possible.

Dealer or Private?

I went with a dealer. I didn’t need to, I never have in my life, so why now? Because I needed to get a loan to build credit history in the USA. I recommend you read my post on building credit history to understand the ins-and-out of this approach. A car loan is by far the quickest way to build credit history.

I could have also gone private but the hassle of connecting the buyer to my bank to get part loan sorted would have been a nightmare. Also it’s far easier to get a loan from a bank if you are buying the car from a dealer.

Dealer it was.

Remember that:

  • The dealer is a person like you but with a different need. You want to get a good car for a bargain price and the dealer wants to sell you a car while maximizing his profits.
  • A good dealer will not waste time with you if you are “playing the game” – the game of haggling. So make sure you know what is a reasonable value of the car you want to purchase and tell him straight where you stand and what you want to offer. Know what you want and ask for it when the time comes.
  • Always go for a test drive. You just never know, the car you may be looking at drives like crap or you do not like how it handles and it’s not worth your time pursuing it any further.
  • If you are not buying on the day of inspection make it clear that you are researching around without any intent to purchase. Leave your business card with the dealer if you feel you may want to connect with them later. Check out my post on your privacy using free online tools so that you can protect your privacy.
  • If the dealer offers you a great deal on a car remember that this great deal is good but there are others out there who can do better. Never buy without sleeping on your decision. Compulsive buying due to fear of loosing on a deal leads to long-term withdrawal and regret as you subconsciously try to align your conscious reasoning with the subconscious decision.

Your accent – they know you are a foreigner

So if you are from Australia (like me) or England, you will stand out like a sore thumb when you speak. The seller will know you are a foreigner. As much as we want to believe it that we live in a perfect world where everyone is treated fairly, you are wrong. Some people will take advantage of you if they can gain something from this interaction. So be prepared, show that you know how the law works in this country, you understand the ins and outs of buying a car and know your car details. All of this comes from research… and this blog is here to help you.

The car – inspect it

So you found the car you want, what next?

  • If you are using a 3rd party dealer get the car inspected by an authorized workshop. Do not opt in for someone the dealer knows. Find your own workshop using YELP.com and pay the $150 to get the inspection done properly. This makes sure you do not buy a lemon. There is a California lemon law which protects buyers from shonky dealers having sold a lemon (bad vehicle).
  • If you are buying through an authorized name dealer like Volkswagen then make sure the car is “Certified Pre-Owned“. This means they dealer has done a 200 point inspection by 2 different mechanics and has certified the car to be in perfect condition – like brand new. Expect to pay $1-2K extra for a certified vehicle.
  • Find out what type of warranty the vehicle comes with. Don’t settle for anything without at least 50% coverage and 100K miles or 2 years. This means you pay 50% to get the vehicle fixed and the rest goes under the warranty.
  • I have crafted a wonderful checklist based on my learning’s from this adventure which I recommend you print and use when making your vehicle purchase. Click here to go to the post where this checklist is located.

Let’s buy it – you got the deal and now what

Here’s how it went down for me considering that I was doing a 50% car loan and 50% down right payment for the vehicle.

  1. If the vehicle inspection came back with minor faults get the dealer to fix them before you make the purchase. Fill out paperwork which specifies what the dealer has to fix at no charge.
  2. Tell the dealer you are going to pay half in cash and half using a loan.
  3. You will pay the 50% by bank cheque. The other half (the loan) will need to come from the bank as a deposit cheque. Make sure you have this pre approved from the bank or at least in the works so that your purchase isn’t delayed.
  4. Fill out all these paperwork:
    1. Paying fee is bullshit. These are the hidden gems dealers use to get extra cash from you. Make sure you speak up and get them to waive it.
  5. Make sure you have purchased vehicle insurance. The dealer will not hand you the keys unless this is done. Read about the common types of vehicle insurance here.

Finally drive away and enjoy your new car!

Online resources

Here is a bunch of great websites which have helped me in my quest to get the “right car”.

Similar to (Australia): http://www.redbook.com.au

Purpose: Great resource for New Cars, Used Cars, Blue Book Values & Car Prices. Use it as a comparison guide to make sure you are not being taken for a ride.

Also check out http://autos.yahoo.com/ and http://sfbay.craigslist.org/ to get an idea about car prices and what’s on the market.

Purpose: Allows you to get a detailed vehicle history report from a nationwide database. All your need is the vehicle VIN number.

However be aware that this is not a full record history. Not all service centers record service history into this nationwide database. If there is no record history, be suspicious and ask questions why. Check the log books and if there is nothing there either you know something isn’t right.

Purpose: Review of a lot of businesses in USA. Great resource to see people’s experience in all business services inc. car dealers. Just don’t forget that majority of people only ever review a business when they have something to complain about or are ecstatic about a service. Nether less, great resource to get an idea.

Check list

I have crafted a wonderful checklist based on my learning’s from this adventure which I recommend you print and use when making your vehicle purchase. Click here to go to the post where this checklist is located.

Most of all, have fun. Remember that a mistake has a companion, learning. Something learnt is worth sharing with the rest of the world. Please use the comments field below to do just that. However it’s always best to learn from others mistakes so you don’t have to make them yourself. This is why this checklist and blog exists, to help you learn from my adventures in Silicon Valley. Have fun!

Ernest