Raj Lahoti, CEO of onlineGURU
May 17, 2011

Would you please say "hello" to south korean young entrepreneurs and your feeling about korea?

Annyong haseyo!

I'm very excited to be a part of this Interview and would like to thank James for thinking of me to share my story with other young entrepreneurs and those aspiring to be entrepreneurs.

Although I don't know MUCH about the country of South Korea, growing up, many of my best friends were Korean and my School had between 30-40% Korean students, so I was definitely exposed to the culture AND food.  Some of my favorite ALL time dishes are Korean --  I absolutely LOVE Dolsot Bibimbap and of course Kimchi.

One thing that I notice with Koreans is that they are inspiring to others because of their major focus on their health and longevity. It is nice to see them stay so young... even many of the Korean grandparents I see continue to take care of themselves.

Tell us a bit about yourself – your background and education?

It's always nice to share my story. In doing so, I am also reminded of how I got to where I am, and also see that some of the "problems" that I faced were actually gifts in disguise, but I didn't realize this until later on.

Here's a chronological view so you can connect the dots to where I am now.

Before I was Born

The previous 10 years prior to me being born, my family owned and operated an Indian Movie Theater and Indian Grocery Store in Los Angeles, California. Both of these businesses closed just before I was born. And although I wasn't alive to see them around, they had a big impact in shaping my life as an entrepreneur because I was exposed to entrepreneurial thinking all my life from my family.

Elementary School (Age 5-12)

In 4th grade, my teacher noticed I enjoyed Math and asked that I join the Math Team and compete in Math competitions. Even though many of my friends laughed at me for doing so, and I had to give up my lunch time to practice, I feel so thankful that I did so. This experience helped me out SO much... having very quick math skills is something I use on a daily basis... especially in business!

When I was 6 years old, my sister was supposed to take my brother and I to get ice cream. We were excited about this, but then just before we were leaving, my Dad called all of us into his room and told us he had lost his job. I didn't really understand why losing a job was such a bad thing until my sister said, " ... sorry Raj... Dad lost his job... No ice cream today..." This made a HUGE impact on my life... NO JOB... NO ICE CREAM...! From that moment on, I was motivated to learn how I was going to make money. Looking back on this experience, I can see that although we thought my Dad losing his job was a "bad" thing, it is the exact event that gave me the motivation at such an early age to get into business.

From 8-12 years old, my brother Ravi (whom is 4 years older than me) and I started collecting comic cards and Baseball cards so that we could sell these to friends, classmates, AND baseball card shops. Our interest was not in the comics or the sport, but purely to make money. This was my first real life experience with business.

Junior High and High School (Age 12-18)

I was accepted to to Whitney Junior High and High School (#1 School in California).

During my 7th and 8th grade classes, I did pretty well and my grades were almost all A's.

Because I was already on the Math Team before, I decided to do the same thing and serve on the Math Team here and I enjoyed this experience tremendously

From 9th-12th grade, although I was attending a great school, my OWN performance in school really declined. I got my first "D" grade on my report card! I didn't enjoy being a part of the public school system. I didn't enjoy learning from a "standard" curriculum. I felt like the school didn't really understand me.

Because I wasn't really interested in school, my passion was focused AFTER school playing on computers. At 14 years old, I got the passion for building websites and got into developing websites for fun. This was my first real experience with the web and being a part of this NEW thing called the "Internet". I used to tell people what I was doing, and they would laugh at me and discourage me. But regardless of what people told me, I still followed my own heart and passion and continued on this path.

At 15 years old, in addition to the web stuff, in order to start making money, I worked almost every single weekend for my sister. She had a business of selling watches at outdoor malls/marketplaces. My job was to set up the tents, the tables, sell watches, put batteries in watches, and even fix them. This was such a great experience because I broke out of my "shell" and learned how to talk to customers with confidence. I learned how much I enjoyed selling and how much I enjoyed putting smiles on customers' faces.

After High School (Age 18+)

Because I didn't do very well in high school, I didn't get accepted into many good universities. I opted to go to a local Junior college, in order to get the grades necessary to transfer into a more prestigious university.

At 19, while in school, I saw an opportunity to dive into the web and I co-founded my first Internet company with my friend. I learned SO much being a part of my own company and working with a partner. We learned and grew together and had so many different responsibilities that we got a chance to understand all the aspects of running a business. I am still an owner in the company, AffiliatePrograms.com, and I serve as a Director on our Board. Most recently, we were named #129 on the 2008 Inc. 500 list of fastest growing privately-owned US-based companies.

At 21, my brother and I started another internet company (OnlineGURU) at the same time I was transferring into USC (University of Southern California).

Two month's into school, OnlineGURU started doing very well and I decided to "retire early" from my formal university education and focus purely on my business. My GPA at USC is a 0.0 -- both classes I received my first two F's of my LIFE on my report card!  =)

From 21-28 -- Although I have not gone back to any "formal" university education, I have attended countless seminars, workshops, and conferences to learn anything and everything to help me be a better business man and overall person. I LOVE learning and know that the best way to learn is to experience and learn from others who are actually DOING those things I want to learn.

The information and subjects I have covered are very wide and range from:

Fundamentals of Business

Business Law

Search Engine Marketing and Optimization (SEO and SEM)

Art of Negotiation

Art of Selling

Business Planning

Finance and Accounting for Business

Holistic health

Yoga

Ayurveda

Massage

Acupuncture

and many more....

What inspired you to start Online Guru?

My older brother Ravi was the main inspiration behind starting OnlineGURU. Ravi owned many amazing domain names and although he didn't build a website on every one of his domains, he DID build a small website at www.DMV.org and this website started doing well. Well enough that he saw an opportunity to do something bigger with it and turn it into a bigger business.

So he approached me and we decided to form OnlineGURU to focus our energy on DMV.org along with building many other of his domains into websites.

Even though I personally didn't have any money or any domains to start the business with, my brother DID, so I was able to leverage that to be a part of it. What I have learned is that in order to run a business, you can't let your EGO get in the way.  Business is NOT about doing things yourself to prove to others that you can do something without help; business is about finding an opportunity to solve an issue for others and leverage anything and EVERYthing that is around you in order to get the job done.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy?

Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization has definitely been most effective in my overall marketing strategy. The beautiful thing about search engines is that you can target users who are looking for EXACTLY what you offer at the EXACT moment they are looking for it. Google Adwords has so many tools, such as the Google Keyword Tool where you can learn what people are searching for and how many people are searching the same thing. This has allowed me to learn about WHAT the world wants and gives me ideas on how I can provide solutions to help people with what they are looking for.

This has also inspired me to come up with new concepts because I am able to study the trends and what people are searching for and looking for... so I can always come up with new business concepts or new ways to improve my existing businesses.

Tell us about some unexpected problems you have faced after starting your business and what you have learned from that.

"No Business. No Problems. No Problems... No Business!"

- George Nadaff (The "franchise guru")

First of all... I love problems!!! Problems are an opportunity to learn.. and grow from. Of course, please do not mis-understand me -- WHILE I am going problems, I hate it! I don't like having pain, and going through difficult situations. But after I am done with each problem... I look back and see how much I learned and how much stronger I have become.

"The-that that don't kill me... can only make me stronger!"

- Kanye West (Hip Hop Music Producer/Artist)

Although I can name over 1000 problems I have faced, the biggest issue in business I have faced is Mis-communication and Mis-understanding.

I have dealt with so many people-related issues and had many years of pain and suffering because I didn't understand why I couldn't get through to people. Without having positive relationships with the people we do business with, we cannot run a successful business.

Recently, due to so many issues with communication, I ended up going to 3rd party mediators/counselors/therapists to help me effectively communicate with my partners. I've gone by myself, and many times, I go with my business partners. In this process of learning, I have picked up so many skills on dealing with people.

What have I learned? Well, believe it or not, every single person has their OWN unique story and within them is an entirely different view of the world from one another. Each person is shaped by their own experiences and makes decisions based on their personal experiences. But if you break a person down to their core and truly study them, you'll realize that we all want the same thing... to be happy!

Once we understand that everyone wants the same thing... then usually, everyone should be on board with the same direction, but the challenge is that we need to learn how to EFFECTIVELY explain to people what we we want to accomplish and get them on the SAME page with us so that we are speaking the same language. Once everyone in the room understands and looks at something with a similar perspective, it is very easy to form a common direction. Although it takes a lot of patience and lots of listening... it is worth it because the outcome will always be better as opposed to rushing through the process.

What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?

At first, I sacrificed my time... my sleep... my friends... my health... my life...

In my first year of business, I gained nearly 40 lbs! (nearly 18 kilos!).  It's taken me many years to learn and realize that NO amount of money is worth sacrificing your health. You can't buy your health back.  Even though my business was doing well, my health wasn't doing well, so I was never happy.

I've learned that it's far better to be specific with our intention and FOCUS our energy on a specific direction as opposed to working a crazy # of hours (i.e, 15 hours/day) and trying to do everything... and ultimately, getting nowhere.

Now, I don't sacrifice anything and if I catch myself sacrificing something, then that means that either A) I need to change my perspective on the situation... or B) I need to change what I'm doing.

I don't see a point in sacrificing something today for some future benefit. We have to learn how to enjoy every moment  because ultimately, life is a journey, business is a journey! We'll never hit a final destination and be DONE. We'll ALWAYS want to move forward... so we should enjoy the moment and each and every step of the way!

How do you find people to bring into your organization that truly care about the organization the way you do?

Wow... what a great question! The best way to find people to align yourself with is by going to events, seminars, and places that like-minded people go to. Then it's easy to find people who enjoy and share similar passions because they are obviously enjoying the same events that you are enjoying.

Ultimately, we want to hire and partner with people who we like, if we don't like people or are not on the same page, then we will NOT enjoy working with them, and eventually they will quit, or will be fired.

I have such an amazing team at OnlineGURU and really enjoy being around them. I learn from them... they learn from me... and we are growing together. It's a family-like environment and people really value that since they spend MOST of their life at work.

What advise do you give to people who have a conflict mind whether to get a job or challenge for starting their own business?

The reason I was successful in business is because I didn't let my ego get in the way of receiving help. I leveraged every resource around me -- My parents, my brothers, my sister, and my friends. I didn't try to "DO IT BY MYSELF" and I WASN'T trying to prove something to anyone.

If you live at home with your parents, that is SUCH a good time to start a business because you have a wonderful safety net. If the business fails, you still have a ROOF over your head.

Even if you DON'T live at home with your parents, the truth is that WE ALL HAVE safety nets --  our friends, our family, the universe! And we can be fearless and do what we LOVE to do.

But I DO NOT recommend people starting a business just to get away from working for someone else. It's better to find a job that you love to do, regardless of whether that means starting your own business or joining an existing business. It doesn't matter, as long as you enjoy what you are doing.

If you are truly in conflict and can't decide, SURROUND yourself with entrepreneurs who are in their own business. That way you can speak directly to them. Find local events that are made for entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs and keep attending these and learning, you'll eventually learn if starting your own business is the right path for you or not.

What is the best way to achieve long-term success?

Enjoy the moment... and every step...

For me, practicing Yoga and Meditation has helped me out tremendously because it has given me the awareness and peace that I need to sustain stressful situations and not get thrown off my path.

how do you define Success?

Depends on the goal, doesn't it?

If my goal is to run a mile in 6 minutes, and I practice every day, and eventually run a mile in 6 minutes, then I was successful at running a mile in 6 minutes.

If my goal is to be happy, and what I do makes me happy, then I'm successful at being happy.

My goal in life is to be happy and I can honestly say that I'm happier at the present moment than I ever have been in my entire life. Therefore, I am successful!

would you please advice to korean university students how to spend the time in youth and university life

Surround yourself with positive people and like-minded people who share similar paths and passions.  It's okay to stay away from people that are negative or bring negative emotions within you.  Ultimately, if you are around people who want to see you SUCCESSFUL at your goals... you'll eventually get there.

So many college students try to be friends with everyone and try to be "POPULAR" amongst the entire crowd. This is something that will only bring stress because you'll have to change who you are to satisfy everyone around you.

One more thing... try to stay away from watching television. If there are certain shows or movies you enjoy, you can watch the ones you enjoy on the Internet. But I got rid of my TV and so many negative thoughts about the world seemed to have gone away. I don't know the situation of television in Korea, but if it is anything like America's, then my advice still remains!

Have you any plans (personal or business) that you can share with us about your future plans / goals / lifetime goals?

My purpose in life is to Enlighten and Awaken and this single-pointed focus and Intention serves as my guiding compass in anything and everything I do.

I decided recently that I am going to be President of United States in the year 2020.

This is the big goal that I just came up in the last couple of months and is something I share with almost every single person I meet. This is the first time I've shared this with the "Onilne World" so thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so. Each day that passes, I'm slowly starting to believe that it will ACTUALLY happen. This is a very exciting time for me and I know that this intention and goal is guiding me in my path in everything I do.

If you enjoyed this Interview and want to stay in touch with me, follow me on Twitter: @RajLahoti or Friend me: Facebook.com/RajLahoti

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