I found Phil Smy though his wonderful YouTube channel where he has videos on Peter Drucker’s teachings and a wealth of book reviews I’ve found really useful.
Phil has lived and done business in his native Canada, the United States, the UK, Germany, Spain and now resides in Japan. He’s an interesting guy: we chat about doing business across the globe as well as delving into Drucker’s teachings and a range of other topics. Enjoy!
Jon: Welcome to another positive chat. This time we speak to Phil Smy, a businessman who has travelled the world from Canada to the UK, to Spain, to Japan, and has lots of interesting things to say. He runs a YouTube channel where he reviews books and a series on business experts such as Peter Drucker. He’s an interesting character and I’m really glad that we got to speak to him. I hope you enjoy it. Let’s get going.
Hello, Phil. I know Phil from his YouTube videos on the lessons of Peter Drucker. Have I got that name right? I’m worried I got that name wrong there.
Phil: No, it’s right.
Jon: Excellent. So I love the videos. Never thought I’d be interested in that kind of stuff. When did you start blogging and what gave the inspiration to start doing that?
Phil: You know I got my YouTube channel back in 2006.
Phil: And so ten years ago and I did literally nothing with it until last year I realized what I wanted … you know, I wanted to raise my profile and YouTube was kind of the way to do it. And I’m somebody who has, you know, a background in making film and everything. It seemed natural for me to do it.
So about a year ago, yeah, maybe … maybe a little bit before that so like December 2014 maybe. I started to make videos and then last April, so April 2015, I started to do videos about the Ty Lopez 67 Steps. Those are the videos that really kind of pushed me, because I said I’m going to make a video about every step and then every ten steps I’m going to make a summary video. So I made like 75 videos about that thing. And yeah, that’s kind of really how I got deeply into the YouTube thing.
Jon: Excellent, so you just forced yourself into it, because that is a big series of videos to commit to.
Phil: Yeah, you know I’m … I have a history of doing stupid things like that.
Jon: That’s … I’ve also done the same. Calculated risks. But I need to start blogging. I mean I’ve done some podcasts before but I really need to do it more often. Have you got any tips other than just get going?
Phil: I mean just get going. And I also think that it’s … you know different people have different ways, you know. Like I did a podcast myself quite some … like maybe five years ago or something. I did a podcast that was about the news from Spain and I would just like read the weird parts of news from Spain.
Phil: And that was kind of interesting, but what I realized is that for me the video part is cool because like, as you see in my videos, I like to put in little referential videos and weirdness and things like that. And that is just my style and I’ve been doing that kind of thing for a long time.
Phil: In other media. I thought ‘Well so for me it works on YouTube.’ But other people don’t do it like that. So it’s also about kind of finding your style.
Phil: And I think really it’s just starting and doing it.
Jon: I think I’ll do one this week. I’ll do my first one based on this chat. I do like the style where you cut in with some funny references and such like. It’s cool. So yeah, I see that you are in Japan now. Whereabouts in Japan are you at the moment?
Phil: I’m up in northeast Japan, which is called Tohoku around the city of Sendai which is now famous for earthquakes and tsunamis.
Jon: Oh nice.
Phil: Have you ever seen the video of the tsunami coming in, wiping out an airport?
Phil: That airport is about fifteen minutes from me.
Jon: Kricky. Well you … how long ago was that now?
Phil: It will be incredibly five years ago in March. I wasn’t here at the time.
Jon: How is the city now?
Phil: There are some broken buildings if you go to the little villages and things, but really I think a casual observer would never know it happened.
Jon: I imagine … well as I was saying before that the Japanese work ethic. It was sorted out pretty efficiently. How do you find doing business? I know that you are an international sort of businessman. How do you find doing business in Japan and things like tax and bureaucracy and things? Is it any different or is it pretty much the same?
Phil: Well I try to avoid it as much as possible. So I literally … I don’t really do any business in Japan.
Phil: Because of … I mean the work ethic is insane and you know, I’m always like ‘Oh I could … maybe I could get a job here.’ Because sometimes … you know the start-up … the concept of a start-up is just taking off here.
Phil: So I kind of think ‘Oh you know, maybe it would be good to get in that.’ Then it’s like I’m not going to work until eleven o’clock every night doing that stuff and everything like that. So I don’t really … I’m not really involved in the kind of work a day thing. So I mean I just sit in my room and do my thing here and you know, taxes and everything like that, you hire somebody. I always …
Phil: I mean I did the same thing, always. I just hire somebody to do that.
Jon: That’s a very … it’s a very blunt question to ask. Sorry.
Phil: No, no, no. That’s the kind of question that’s no problem. I mean taxes, I hate them.
Jon: Yeah. Who likes them? So yeah, so you get to enjoy Japan while not working like crazy.
Phil: Yeah, I mean like I … you know, I have this web … my web … my personal website, PhilSmy.com, and I wrote some article on there, the one hour work week. You know? Because really the bulk of my money is made from one hour work a week, which sounds great but really what it means is that almost all of my time is not being effectively used. That’s the way I look at it.
Phil: So my goal and the goal in that blogpost and the goal really for me for 2016 is maybe to be making money from two hours a week. You know?
Phil: But you know what I mean.
Phil: It’s true. I have a great lifestyle, I can’t complain. You know? But I would like to be doing more.
Jon: Yeah. Do you find yourself … because it sounds like you’ve gotten into the position where you have built something up over time that has given you a constant stream of revenue and you can
kind of … not to put words in your mouth, you can kind of coast on that.
Jon: But that’s not a bad thing. You can enjoy life more but you want to …
Phil: I’m not that type, you know. I think I’m kind of a motivated person, you know?
Phil: And you get complacent. I mean some people look at it ‘Oh yes, I’ve got a safety net’ which is true. But you know, I want to … okay, say ‘Okay, I’ve got the safety net and now let me do something.’ So you know, like with the lottery site I’m trying to add more features and with the other site, with [Zone Master], that’s really starting to roll out. Like 2016 is going to be the year for that site for me. Like really I’m starting to focus now.
Jon: Cool. Yeah, you want to do something with that freedom. It has given you the freedom to do more adventurous business things.
Jon: So tell me about that site that you say is going to … that you are putting your efforts into in 2016, if you don’t mind.
Phil: Yeah, the site is called [ZoneMaster.com] and it’s for people who sell on Amazon. And I don’t mean like people who, you know, sell books or things like that, but people who have their own listings on Amazon.
Phil: You know there is a whole sub-culture there that I didn’t know about. About a year, maybe a year and a half ago, a former business partner of mine from [Toygaru] actually came to me and said ‘Look, he’s selling. He’s got his things on Amazon.’ And this whole sub-culture of people who import or get things custom-made and list them on Amazon, I never even knew this economy …
Phil: … existed. But where they are, they are greatly under-served by Amazon as far as customer relationship tools. So we have this customer relationship tool that lets you go … you know, when you sell something you can send out basically triggered emails, kind of like auto respond or email type things, when something is shipped, when something is delivered.
Jon: Yeah, there’s a huge industry of people. I guess that’s how Amazon has grown so huge, is that part of it.
Phil: Right. And I mean really I’m at the point now where I almost think that if you are somebody who wants to get into e-commerce, I don’t understand why you don’t do … you know, why you don’t just use Amazon as your e-commerce platform. Of course there is a fee, but it’s good.
Jon: I think some of our clients that are e-commerce, they have Amazon listings. It’s just part of their marketing. You know, you list it on Amazon because some people only search on Amazon.
Phil: Yeah, I mean it’s the third largest search engine in the world. You know?
Jon: Is YouTube still second? I remember Google …
Phil: I think so, yeah.
Jon: Sorry to keep bringing it back to Japan, just because it’s interesting. What is Amazon like in Japan? Is it as quick?
Phil: Amazon is awesome in Japan. Amazon is … you know I have lived … well like I say, I lived in Spain for ten years or so before coming here.
Jon: The anti…
Phil: The anti-Japan. And you know, we didn’t really have an Amazon Spain or it was very basic at that time that I left. And I always got from Amazon UK. But Amazon Japan, it’s almost like … it’s almost surreal how good it is. I can place an order and it will be in my hands certainly under 24 hours.
Jon: Yeah, yeah.
Phil: You know I don’t like in a big city. You know? I don’t live in a big city.
Phil: It’s totally amazing.
Jon: How far … I know Japan is a big place. How far away are you from Tokyo?
Phil: Tokyo? I don’t know. Like an hour and a half on the Shinkansen, so maybe I am like 400 km or 300 km, I don’t know, something like that.
Jon: Yeah, you are …
Jon: So yeah, thousands … yeah, I would imagine … is there any other … Amazon. Japan is pretty famous for its technology. Is there anything else there that would give us … that we’d find shocking?
Phil: Well I think the thing that’s interesting is that the Japanese really don’t … and I apologize to anybody who is Japanese who is listening and thinks I’m lumping them all together, but the Japanese mentality in general is don’t let a foreign company come in and do it, do it yourself.
Phil: So it’s quite amazing that Amazon has this position. Because for instance e-Bay is totally non-existent in Japan.
Phil: Because there is another company called Rakuten and Rakuten is also one of the biggest companies in the world and I know they own big things in Spain. But Rakuten have like an online auction thing. But Rakuten is kind of like a Japanese Amazon, so it’s very unusual that Amazon managed to carve out a niche for itself. But all of these services, you know, like Uber … Uber has a small presence in Japanese but there is a Japanese company that does it.
Jon: Is that very much the mentality? Is Google’s presence big there or is there a big Japanese search engine?
Phil: There is … I think Google is probably the de facto. And I think something like that, it’s hard to beat. But Google also is really, really good at localization so that’s their strong point.
Jon: Well that brings us onto the conversation, sort of onto the conversation about Druckers. I believe one of the things that Drucker talked about is after the World War what happened and how this huge economy was built and the principles it was built on. I believe that was part of your video, maybe only a small part. And just the … I think there is an example of one in the … I think it’s a technology company that gets licenses for … is it digital cameras?
Phil: Yeah, well it was Sony. It was Sony in the start. I mean that is one of my favourite stories from … that I learned about through Drucker, is that the Americans invented the transistor and then everyone was like ‘Oh yeah, we’re making good money with tube so we’ll get around to changing over to transistors.’ You know, the head of Sony was just sitting and he literally read it in the newspaper that they had invented this transistor. It took him a couple years and he finally went to America and he licensed it from Bell labs, and then within five years it kind of wiped out everybody who was making tube radios. It was just out of their own stupidity.
The thing that is amazing … I mean that story in and of itself is amazing, but the thing that is really amazing is that Sony just did it over and over. They just looked for these technology inventions. It wasn’t until the late seventies or eighties that they really started to do their own inventions. They were just smart at licensing.
Jon: And Sony wasn’t a huge company at this point was it, when that …?
Phil: No, I mean … no. I mean Sony was … it was an electronics company, but we are talking about in the late forties, early fifties. So I mean it’s only five years after the way.
Jon: Yeah, yeah. And then that kind of spread. And I guess with that mentality of ‘We’ll do it ourselves better rather than have foreign companies come in.’
Phil: So actually I think … just … sorry to interrupt but to go back to this thing about the Japanese work ethic and how that impacted it, the Japanese are absolutely obsessed about perfection. Right? I think it’s a downside of the society as well as an upside. But they are absolutely obsessed with perfection and they will take … put the hours in or the years in to make something perfect. So one of the things about living here is that you realize everything is perfect.
Phil: You know? The stuff that you buy even from the convenient store, it will always have a tab so it opens perfectly.
Phil: Just everything works perfectly, from the packaging to the product to the whatever. And so the problem is that if something is latched onto by a Japanese companies, they are going to find out the absolute, perfect way to do it or … until it kills them. You know?
Jon: Yeah, yeah. Well they apparently … Dave [Trott] who is an advertising guy that I look up to and he has got some great books, great videos online as well. He was talking about what killed the Detroit was the Japanese out-innovated them with the cars. Instead of just releasing something that was the same model but a little bit different, Japan totally reinvented what the car was.
Jon: There is an innovation thing there as well, I believe, in some sectors.
Phil: Well I think … I don’t see … I’m on the edge about … I mean its technically … it’s innovation in the way that Drucker talks about innovation. But its … okay, it’s innovation, it’s not invention.
Phil: And there is a big difference between those two things. The Japanese are brilliant at innovation, brilliant.
Jon: That’s a good distinction to make. It’s innovation, not invention. It’s interesting. So to … it kind of … sorry to come onto Japan so much, but it’s fascinating. I’ve only been once myself. How does that match this work ethic with … because Japan … again, correct me if I’m wrong, it seems a very sort of … always got this attachment with the very spiritual side of life. Or is that …?
Phil: Yeah. I’ve literally … I’m trying to think if I have ever met anybody who … any Japanese person who actually like goes to … is religious, what we would say is religious. Also because the religion is slightly different I think the religion is engrained into the culture. So you don’t have to go to someplace. It’s something about … it’s a very complicated thing that is beyond my skill to explain. But I don’t know if spirituality is a direct impact on things, I just think it’s the whole culture of perfection and respect. Especially respect is so important because you use that as … if you run a company the person you respect is your customer.
Phil: So you do everything you can to make the customer’s experience really good. I mean that is the party line. I mean of course it’s not always true because there are people who are idiots everywhere, but the basic thing is you do everything you can to make the customer’s experience perfect.
Jon: Yeah. Is this … how did you get into Drucker then? Was this before he came to Japan? What time did you start reading his books and such like?
Phil: Well I am a big fan of the Harvard Business Review magazine. I say that somewhere, in some video. I literally … I think it’s the only business magazine you ever need to buy.
Phil: Drucker wrote a lot for the Harvard Business Review and so they … I guess they have the rights because they constantly recycle his stuff. So I first read him in the Harvard Business Review, and really that magazine … like that’s like … it’s kind of like Wired magazine for business. It is … I really can’t say enough good things about Harvard Business Review. You know? It was through that that I’ve heard about Drucker. Yeah, I don’t know
Funnily enough, now that you bring it up, I was working in Germany and coming to Japan and I would spend one month in Germany and one month in Japan. This was about five years ago. And so I was flying an awful lot. So I would buy the magazine and it was during those flights that I started to read about Drucker.
Jon: Oh interesting. So you were working in Germany as well? Another company?
Jon: Sorry, not … famous for its skilled engineering, sophisticated engineering. Do you think these stereotypes apply? Like you talk about Spain as the anti-Japan, German, ruthless efficiency … sorry, Germany, ruthless efficiency, Japanese massive work ethics. Do these stereotypes loosely apply?
Phil: You know I … I might get some flack but I believe stereotypes exist for a reason. You know? I think that in general not to a person but to a kind of national psyche those stereotypes are accurate.
Jon: Yeah. So how did you find working in Germany? What were you doing there?
Phil: I was working for a bedding company.
Jon: Oh, okay.
Phil: Like I spent a long time in the gambling business, you know, as a consultant and writing software and this and that. So I was working for a gambling company there. Germany is kind of an interesting middle ground between Japan and, let’s say, England. You know, they are obsessive about somethings but they are in love with their bureaucracy, that’s for sure.
Jon: That’s interesting. So yeah, you have done … well you have been in business and travelled the world while doing it. So you have been in England as well you stayed in the US, Canada.
Phil: My parents are British so …
Jon: Okay, interesting. So whereabouts … did you grow up in Canada?
Phil: I grew up in Canada but we spent a lot of time in England and the summers in England and things like that. My parents immigrated to Canada and they had no family or anything. So you know, we’d go back. So I spent a lot of time when I was growing up in England.
Jon: Whereabouts in England?
Phil: My father is from London.
Jon: Okay, excellent.
Phil: And at that time … so yeah, London and south end. I spent a lot of time in the south end.
Jon: Excellent. So where did you go in Canada?
Phil: In Canada … like I grew up funnily enough close to Detroit, so kind of just over the border into Canada from Detroit. So I am very familiar with Detroit and the downfall of Detroit. So that kind of is my area. But I worked in Richmond Virginia and Santa Fe, New Mexico. You know, my whole working career has been about lifestyle. I have never chased the big money, I’ve chased having a great lifestyle.
Jon: Yeah. Well you’ve seen a lot of the world. I see that one of your other channels … you’ve got another channel, haven’t you, on YouTube, which is the Japanese videos.
Phil: Yes, yeah, that’s true.
Jon: Excellent. And yeah, you say at the moment your goal at the moment, 2016, is to use more of your time for this business. But also you were talking about the filmmaking, the business of filmmaking as another interest, as a side interest.
Phil: Yeah. You know, what I am toying with right now is … because I am doing my masters in film and focus on film business and what I am thinking about doing is kind of like an online course for filmmakers in business. You know, something like that. Recently I have been reading a lot of these guys who have ‘how to make money online’ kind of guys. We’re kind of in phase two of those people. You know? Where you have people … they’re all saying the same thing and they are really, really driving me crazy. So I’ve kind of decided to do an online business course like that, that’s kind of more realistic. But also maybe do one focused for creative people, not just maybe filmmakers but also for photographers and musicians as well.
Jon: Interesting, interesting. So how did you come by London [Reel]? I guess we should … we should give them a mention as that’s how I found your videos.
Phil: You know, I came across London Reel because … I don’t actually know why, but I was looking for Ty Lopez or something. It was something to do with Ty Lopez. The first video I ever saw on London Reel was a Ty Lopez video.
Phil: And there is a lot of interesting things. I mean I have less than no interest in the physical fitness things.
Phil: And that kind of bugs me about London Reel.
Jon: I like that.
Phil: It’s as low as possible, you know. It’s like negative interest.
Jon: Yeah. But the entrepreneurial side is interesting.
Phil: Yeah. He has had a lot of great guests on there and he manages to pull out a good interview from people.
Jon: Yeah. Yeah, he has gotten very good at it.
Phil: And I think because like we mentioned before the wide range of guests and the way he does it, there is this kind of … people who are around him now like in the London Reel Academy and things like that, those people come from quite a wide variety which is really interesting.
Jon: Yeah. He has done well. I guess we wouldn’t be doing this right now, if it wasn’t for London Reel. So he’s done something right there. And the guests he’s getting now, like Eddie Izard, he’s getting some really high quality guests.
Phil: Yes. I mean I’d love to see him do like, you know, some of the big guys like Tony Robins or somebody. That would be fascinating.
Jon: I think now that he has got to this level it’s a matter of time. I don’t think he’s going to stop, but we’ll see. So what is your goal for the … you are going to continue to do the vlog? Have you got any other topics that you’re thinking of covering?
Phil: Well I really … I’ve been getting into doing these book reviews so now I am trying to do a book review a week, which is a lot harder than it sounds. Luckily I have got a huge backlog of books that I’ve read. So I’m doing that and I think I might … I’d like to do these multi-part series. So I did the Ty Lopez one, I am doing the … I did the Peter Drucker one. I might do a lean start up one because I just reviewed the book yesterday.
Phil: I might do a lean start up one because we might focus on doing this online business course.
Jon: Oh, excellent. That’s all very interesting stuff. So I’m going to try and do the same myself, but I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do. I run a digital marketing agency as you probably know, so probably something around that. But you say just get going really. If I’m doing this, video blogging shouldn’t be too hard. It will be a little bit … is it a little bit weird when you first start, because the camera is focused on you? I found I when I did the video interviews I kind of changed personality, but I think that is very question/answer. The format is sort of quite rigid.
Phil: Yeah, but it’s a good point. For me I don’t do an interview show. If I did an interview show maybe it would be different, but it’s kind of just me talking to the camera. And I think it’s true, you do change your personality a little bit. You know? But it is what it is. I am comfortable talking to the camera, it has never been a problem for me. And … but if I was doing an interview show that might be different.
Jon: Yeah. I find it … like I’m comfortable, you know. I’ve done so many sales pitches and such in my life. Public speaking even I’m getting better at. But yeah, weirdly put a camera on me and I change. Like this now I’m talking, I can tell, quite close to my normal personality. Obviously it’s a little bit different because its … you can tell you’re being recorded. But yeah, put that camera on me … I’m just going to stop yapping about it and get going. Cool, well this has been really interesting. I didn’t really plan a lot of questions but it kind of went all over the world there. Is there anything else you would like to add for anyone listening?
Phil: Subscribe to my YouTube channel which is youtube.com/philsmy and … yeah, go to that, look around. I think for me it’s just if you are listening to this because you are interested in business I think business is the most exciting thing right now. Also because we are at a time when you can sit at home alone and do any kind of business you want and make money, which is amazing.
Jon: Yeah. The opportunity is there. Like me with my video blogs, the lesson is just get going.
Jon: Excellent. Well thank you very much for your time. I hope to have you on again sometime when I’ve planned a bit more. But you have so much we could potentially talk about with travelling around the world, but I think we covered a good portion there. Thank you very much for coming on and people, please check his videos out on YouTube. They are very, very good. Have a great day, Phil.
Phil: Alright. We’ll talk to you soon.
Jon: Bye bye.
Get more great stuff delivered fresh to your inbox.