2020 Year In Review, 2021 “Plans”

In blog, business by Michael Michelini

Time for the 2020 Year End Review and 2021 Plan.

High res image of Mike and Maggie

What a year it has been. Year 2020, I almost want to call the inflection point of “AC/BC” (After COVID, Before COVID). And, next year to not be 2021, but to be “1 AC”. Chatting to a friend about our meeting in Spain in 2016, I called it 5 BC (or is it 4 BC?).

So with any new year, we need to reflect on the previous year and then make our plans for the coming year.

But all that I can think of right now is the Mike Tyson quote:

“Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face”

But we still need to do our best to plan! Without a plan, we are just wandering around Earth. But hey, maybe that is what we are supposed to do. Yet the typical “modern human” in me wants to organize and plan. But before we get to the plan, let’s reflect.

Starting with the tail end of 2019…

Flew The Wife and Kids to Hometown in China

Pre-Covid, we had already planned to fly back to China after the kids’ Fall semester in 2019. We had the kids’ school Christmas party in Chiang Mai, Thailand and then boxed up our stuff and rented out the house (Wendy’s Chinese mommy Wechat groups come in handy). We put as much in checked luggage as we could and flew to Shenyang, China.

Wendy’s parents both had various health issues, as well as other aunts and uncles. Her grandmother recently passed away (in November 2019) and she wanted to be a good daughter and be with her family during this health crisis amongst the whole family.

For me, I couldn’t imagine living in Northeast China (‘Dongbei’) in the dead of winter. Plus I was only allowed to stay in China 30 days at a time due to my business visa. The idea was Wendy and the kids would hang with her family for the Spring, I’d spend time traveling / doing business outside China, and in the Summer of 2020 we’d all return to Thailand for the Fall 2020 school semester there for the kids.

I picked Manila, Philippines as I was recently joining forces with an Amazon FBA acquisitions firm Alpha Rock, and it seemed all like a good plan. Wendy would have time to help take care of her parents, kids would keep their Chinese skills “sharp” (in Thailand, their English accelerated – it was amazing), and I could be a “digital nomad” for a bit.

After spending Christmas and New Years in freezing cold Shenyang, I booked a flight to Manila on Jan 8 or 9, 2020.

I vaguely recall reading news online about a virus in China. I can’t pinpoint it, but I do recall the memory of hearing about a virus in China while I was still there. But of course it was not mentioned as a big deal and you hear news about all kinds of crazy issues in the news.

I packed my bags for a half year away from the family. The idea was I’d come back every couple of months or so.

Welcome to Manila – Volcano Time!

After a long flight (believe it was a 10 or so hour connection in a random Chinese city airport), I arrived to Manila. I recall it being a Friday afternoon Jan 10 and being exhausted. I did have dinner w/ Marc and David from Alpha Rock (nice Spanish Tapas) and had an early night.

Sunday, Jan 12, I woke up to breaking news of falling ash in Manila from a nearby volcano eruption. Flights were canceled (I felt lucky I had just flown in so I avoided flight cancellations), and people were buying masks everywhere. Not many people were outside, offices were closed, and you could feel the soot in the air (if you were brave enough to go out).

Masks for Volcano Turned Masks for COVID

By mid-January, news was out that COVID was a thing, and it was spreading fast.

We had already gotten masks for the volcano ash (thanks Marc) so the frenzy to get a mask (lines were out the door at pharmacies in Manila) was checked off the list.

At that point, the consensus in our team in Manila was that it was mainly a China virus problem and not yet a problem in Philippines or globally.

I was worried about my wife and kids. I was considering going back to China but just not sure how long the virus would be for and what to do. So I remained in Manila.

Wendy and the kids in China started going to lockdown and we had regular video calls to make sure things were ok.

In the Media About COVID, China, Supply Chain, Amazon

For most of Jan and Feb, the news was all about what to do about the COVID problem in China. Journalists and reporters connected with me as an Amazon and ecommerce seller to understand how this would impact the supply chain.

I was in Wall Street Journal and Yahoo Finance TV to discuss this.

Peak Escalation and Lockdowns Start Globally in Mid March

Just as I took a flight to Bohol for the Shadstone management team retreat, rumors about a total lockdown started.

Thursday, March 12, I flew from Manila to Bohol and the next morning, everything shut down – flights, shipping, everything. We had to end the retreat early and catch last minute flights and ferries. I couldn’t get a flight back to Manila as the last 1 or 2 days of flights were fully booked.

So I headed to Cebu and tried to catch a flight there.

Just wish I had taken more luggage. With only 2 sets of summer clothes and flip flops, it would be a tough week or so.

I made at least 3 attempts to fly out. Finally, after so many attempts Wendy got me a flight from Cebu to Korea to China. I bought some pants, shoes, and warmer clothes and made it in the nick of time.

Entered China Quarantine, Borders Closed

End of March 2020, I arrived in China, in the not so famous city of Shenyang. I was the only foreigner that I could see (except a few Koreans). We were taken by bus to a quarantine hotel – 14 days lockdown.

Joining a Wechat group, we had 3 meals a day delivered, and only left the room for COVID tests.

A few days into the quarantine, China closed its borders to almost all foreigners. That was a tough day, as a few good friends were in Hong Kong quarantine waiting to get out and then cross into Shenzhen, China.

The end of March started to separate families and loved ones between borders in China and the outside world.

Diving into Mask Trade to Launch Loadpipe

Everyone and their mother was pinging me for masks. It was true chaos. So as an ecommerce and internet marketer, I felt this was the time to finally launch an idea I had for a long time – Loadpipe.

We help people get these masks factory-direct, with a supply chain and group-buy solution.

Lots of sleepless nights in quarantine doing trades and deals, it was utter insanity. Realized a better technology solution has to be put together.

Launched it on my birthday, in China quarantine, April 2, 2020.

Did quite a few rounds of group buys with our beta and collected countless feedback on how to make a better and more transparent supply chain solution. But decided to pause in June or so due to dropped demand for PPEs and other products not under much demand. It did a good job to help get PPEs in the hands of people who needed them at extremely reasonable prices.

Finally Re-United With Family

After quarantine, I was finally allowed to see the family after about 4 months.

And then, adjust to a post-COVID world.

And more health checks, tests, data processing.

Everyone Rushing Into Ecommerce and Online Business

Once the PPE craze ended in the summer, everyone started rushing online – in droves. It was a boom for any kind of ecommerce or online marketing software or solution.

I also took this opportunity to be more active in helping people get on board their online businesses and other ecommerce opportunities. I had a Power Hour where people can book consultations with me on e-commerce and digital marketing.

Started My New Normal in China

Trying to get settled in our family’s new normal in China, we also found ourselves an apartment to live in. We briefly stayed with Wendy’s family while all the chaos of COVID was still ongoing. But when the situation started to stabilize, we searched for an apartment to move in to. Lucky we found a place just near Wendy’s parents and relatives. We still see each other often.

Home Schooling the Kids (Being an English Teacher)

So I did end up being an English teacher after all. This time, for my kids. Waves of half day school to a couple hours a day (we have tested full time home school and now have them in full time Chinese school). I feel it is my duty as a dad to make sure they keep their English skills up.

I use a book “Teach your Kids to Read in 100 Lessons” and go through that with them each day. Besides me, they are fully immersed in Chinese language and society here.

Realizing that is what life is all about – family, health, sharing.

Adjusting To Being Remote and Alone in Northeast China

The first few months after quarantine were “action packed” with PPE masks and the ecommerce rush. But I feel that the whole of society kind of went crazy in extended lockdowns.

For me, I’m the only foreigner here. Totally local Chinese lifestyle here. It feels like living in a world where you don’t belong, and not sure how long it will be. Immigration has stopped by a few times to ask what I do here. I’m a stay-at-home dad, teaching my kids English, waiting for the Coronavirus to finish.

One thing for sure, I have really invested a lot in online tools and systems. While we were a bit ahead of others as Shadstone was already running totally online, we had to double down on improving the systems and processes.

Plans for 2021?

I still keep trying to get back to Thailand. I was thinking summer 2020, then Jan 2021, but now realistically thinking, summer 2021.

One more school semester in Shenyang with the kids. As a parent, you know (or will learn), your life now revolves around your kids. So we want to have a full semester in the Spring, then in summer hopefully I can move all of us back to Thailand.

Luckily most of my work is online. I’m starting a new Amazon brand, building out more websites and traffic sources, and fostering the community at GFAVIP as best I can.

For the team, I’m working on building leaders. My passion and job is to train, provide education and an environment.

My favorite thing of the year has been our Cross Border Summit, which we had to skip in 2020, and to be realistic, may need to skip it again in 2021. It takes at least 6 months of planning and promotion and it’s hard to do that when you don’t even know if the world will open up or not.

Expecting another rather remote year, grinding online, building content and ecommerce businesses.

Let’s All Stay Motivated

We have to keep some momentum. We cannot get lazy and isolated.

Humans are meant to interact with one another and we need to continue to adjust to that in the new post-COVID world.

Let’s make things happen.

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