Hundreds of Ways

How to Network Your Way Out of Corporate America w/ Julia Xu, Independent Startup Business Consultant

August 21, 2020 James Knight & Eliot Raymond Season 1 Episode 8
Hundreds of Ways
How to Network Your Way Out of Corporate America w/ Julia Xu, Independent Startup Business Consultant
Chapters
Hundreds of Ways
How to Network Your Way Out of Corporate America w/ Julia Xu, Independent Startup Business Consultant
Aug 21, 2020 Season 1 Episode 8
James Knight & Eliot Raymond

This week's episode features Julia Xu, Independent Startup Business Consultant. Unlike our previous guests, Julia has just recently made the shift into entrepreneurship, having left her job at Alibaba North America earlier this year. We talked about what drove that decision, going in-depth into what that change was like and how she found her first clients,

We also chat about:

  • How Julia uses modeling to help startups chart their path forward.
  • How being a consultant has allowed Julia to experience a multitude of business models and industries.
  • Why your "dream job" might not actually be that much of a dream.
  • How you can leverage your existing networks to find your first clients.
  • How to sell without being "salesy".
  • What a great sales page looks like.

Read more about Julia here: https://www.juliaxuconsulting.com/
Check out Intimately here: https://www.intimately.co/

Show Notes Transcript

This week's episode features Julia Xu, Independent Startup Business Consultant. Unlike our previous guests, Julia has just recently made the shift into entrepreneurship, having left her job at Alibaba North America earlier this year. We talked about what drove that decision, going in-depth into what that change was like and how she found her first clients,

We also chat about:

  • How Julia uses modeling to help startups chart their path forward.
  • How being a consultant has allowed Julia to experience a multitude of business models and industries.
  • Why your "dream job" might not actually be that much of a dream.
  • How you can leverage your existing networks to find your first clients.
  • How to sell without being "salesy".
  • What a great sales page looks like.

Read more about Julia here: https://www.juliaxuconsulting.com/
Check out Intimately here: https://www.intimately.co/

James Knight :

Welcome to hundreds of ways the podcast that celebrates entrepreneurship and lifestyle independence. This week, Julie issue describes her transition from the big corporate life at Disney and Ali Baba, to working with over 30 startups since going freelance earlier this year. So join us as we explore which of the hundreds of ways belongs to Julia.

Eliot Raymond :

Hey James, Good evening.

James Knight :

Good morning Eliot. How are you?

Eliot Raymond :

Doing great, other than the tornado and torrential downpour we had last night. We've seemed to have made it through cities. All right. And it's a beautiful sunny day here in Chicago. What's going on on your side of the Atlantic?

James Knight :

Perfect. I am recovering from a cold so five cups of coffee a nap and four vitamin B's later I am a functioning adult.

Eliot Raymond :

I don't know about that, but I'll give it to you.

James Knight :

Which is good because today we have another wonderful guest, Julia Xu. Welcome to the podcast.

Julia Xu :

Hi, everyone. Pleasure to be here today.

James Knight :

Julia is probably our most corporately decorated. Guest To date, her resume has some serious heavy hitters on IT companies like Disney McKinsey, and Alibaba in North America. And while I want to spend some time talking about your previous experience, I'd like to start off discussing your current work. Could you tell our listeners a little bit about what you do?

Julia Xu :

Sure. So I'm currently a startup business consultant. So helping mostly early stage entrepreneurs with business strategies, financial models, operations management, it's pretty interesting type of role basically get to work with people in all kinds of fields doing different types of things. And yeah, I think it's like my first step into entrepreneurship officially, away from corporate.

James Knight :

Very cool. Well, congratulations on making that shift. So when you talk about business projections and financial analysts for startups, that's a very broad topic, what sorts of projects do you typically do for your clients?

Julia Xu :

So I would say 80% of my projects are probably financial modeling. So I just build a bunch of financial models and you mentioned that I worked at Disney before I actually was building a global financial model for Disney plus the video streaming service that launched last year. And it's hopefully everyone's watching it right now during quarantine.

Eliot Raymond :

I've heard of it briefly.

James Knight :

So one of the things I think about finance, so my wife is a finance and accounting professional, and even sitting next to her on a daily basis, I often don't fully understand the work that she does. And even as a business owner now for over five years, I'm not always aware of what I need, or what I lack from a finance perspective. So when you talk about doing financial modeling for your clients, what sorts of problems do these clients have bigger solving with this financial modeling?

Julia Xu :

Yeah, so I think most typically, if they are running in business, they don't necessarily know all the type of revenue model that's, you know, associated with the business like what are the different sources, what is their actual costs, like the direct cost versus, you know, overhead and, overall, just what's the profitability and projections for business, so I think that's what I'm helping a lot of entrepreneurs, especially they don't come from like a finance strategy background, it's very easy to just focus on the fun stuff like branding and you know, trying to get the products right. But is this actually a product that's scalable in terms of, if you look at the numbers, and can you pitch it to an investor and raise money?

James Knight :

Very cool. Yeah. I think one of the things with startups that you hear sometimes is this idea of the numbers don't always make sense, especially with with, like you said, these companies that focus so much on product first, you know, there's the old adage, oh, yes, we're not profitable, but we'll make up for it in volume. And having someone like you that's able to come in and go, Hey, this product is great, but the numbers aren't gonna work, especially as you scale can be super helpful to these early stage companies. Yeah, totally within startups. Is there a niche that you work in at all or is it kind of just anyone who's early stage?

Julia Xu :

So I try to focus on b2c e commerce brands, I try to like build my presence, especially in that industry, because I'm personally very interested in it. I think like down the road, that's something I want to pursue, but lately actually got, I don't know, does it involve in a lot of random industries like biotech, like pharmaceutical, like I would go to education, which is interesting. I think I try to branch out and like, basically work with any projects that I find interesting. And sometimes they're very different, especially I'm like, I can only probably experience those different industries now as a consultant. But yeah, I hope that going forward after I've explored a couple different industries, I can come back to like DC commerce and hoping to also build a online course around it. The Tennessee commerce, financial modeling,

James Knight :

Sure.

Eliot Raymond :

I'm processing all of this because a lot of this is foreign to me. So taking a couple of notes here, but some of the conventional advice that I was given as a startup founder or founder in general going on my own entrepreneurial path was focused on a specific niche and it sounds like you found that within startups, but it's Also a broad array of startups, you have this focus within b2c, but also as you said biotech and a variety of other companies that are featured online. How do you find that when you're going to talk to a founder or going to talk to a company, they receive that and are they excited that you have a breadth of experience? Are they really looking for somebody who's really narrowed down in whatever field that they're in?

Julia Xu :

I think most of them if they're just looking for say like financial modeling business strategy health doesn't seem like they mind you having like a lot of different type of industry experience because for consultants, that's pretty typical. But I do think like having some past like relevant industry experience is helpful. Like it's so much easier for me to build a model for e commerce I know it like inside and out, like for subscription business, right Disney plus model I can like basically, like, I can talk about the live items in my dream, probably like I've bought over two years. So that's just I think, easier for me, whereas in biotech, the ramp up is like it takes a while like I need to Learn about the whole industry, I have no idea how the monetization model work. So, yeah, I think hopefully going forward, I think as I also exposed to more industries, it will be just like knowledge built upon like what I've done before, hopefully.

James Knight :

So that's a really fascinating thing. I think about finances that there is this process and number level that is the same across industries. But then there is this very unique aspect to each kind of business in the different way that the finances play out. How much of your time would you say is spent dealing with kind of finance fundamentals and how much is spent, like you said, figuring out these different business models. Earlier you mentioned you know, the different inputs and the different outputs and how things are classified as expenses or not, given that in any given finance project, you're going to be spending time with kind of fundamentals as well as spending time with these industry specifics. How much time on a given project are you working with with one or the other?

Julia Xu :

Yeah, so I think that most of my time is probably spent understanding The actual business model and the market landscape associated with that specific industry, the business, competitor, market sizing, all that kind of stuff, because these are the inputs that that's going to flow into the model. The actual technicality part of the model doesn't take that long. Like, I mean, Disney trained me pretty well. Like basically, like probably can turn a model. Like, if I already know the structure in 30 minutes or something, it's like really quick. Well, that's the part that you really have to spend time as understanding of business model, like does it make sense? Like, how do you translate some of the founders idea long term strategy into numbers that makes sense. And that may include building out different scenarios like creating a different type of outputs to showcase like their story? I think that part is what takes the time, especially depending on like new industry, right, like new industry, I think that takes even longer just understanding the whole like terminology that jargons and

Eliot Raymond :

yeah, so I'm fascinated by all of this, but again, it's really not my realm. It's not what I'm doing on it. day to day basis, would you be able to just contextualize what you're saying by applying it to one of the clients that you've worked with on your website? And I see this amazing array of a roster of clients you have. Could you just give an example of who you worked with and apply what you just said to what you did with them? Kind of contextualize it a little bit?

Julia Xu :

Yeah. So I'll take intimately dotco as an example. So they're basically like a woman underwear brand, or lingerie brand for

Eliot Raymond :

direct consumer kind of space, correct?

Julia Xu :

Yes, yes. So they're really new. I the founder is also a brown recent grad. So I've been helping them as like fractional CFO, CEO, and just like scaling a business. So initially,

Eliot Raymond :

for people don't know, fractional CFO, that would be somebody who's taking on that role part time or outside of the company, but not as a full on full time CFO. Correct?

Julia Xu :

Right. Good to note that I take it for granted.

Eliot Raymond :

Yeah no worries, I do it all the time,

Julia Xu :

basically, but In financial model and figuring out the margin for a different type of business, so whether it's like reselling other products or developing their own product, the margins like quite different and obviously, if you have your own product is better margin. So there's more scaling potential, but also kind of figuring out the social element because we're empowering women with disabilities were trying to create beautiful laundry for women with disabilities, and basically showing that disability is beautiful. And there's things to appreciate about any type of body. I think it's like one step further than just the adaptive apparel that we see these days. And there's currently not a lot of focus on women with disability. So the community aspect and the actual like empowering aspect I think is also really important. So we're launching community actually launching this week. So we're trying to create Yeah, new things to bring people together that involves the actual like back end, like the form hosting it, event scheduling and bringing together influences which is kind of the The fun part and that's like my CEO said I'd say, and then on the CFO side is making sure Okay, once we have the operations part growing once we have our audience builds out, how do we really scale the business? And where can i in parallel with developing our own product, finding manufacturers and scaling that hopefully in the next couple years, so I think that's like a pretty interesting example because there's like so many different elements. It's not just modeling, which is more fun for me. Whereas other projects, you know, it's probably all just me building a model and making some pitch decks, which is also interesting, but I don't get like as much like hands on fun experience, aside from that model.

Eliot Raymond :

I just want to follow up on that really quick. It sounds like a Disney are doing one thing you had to correct me if I'm wrong, but you had one job. And yes, here you're doing everything from p&l to manufacturing, audience growth, community influencers even and so how do you even get started? How do you start when a company comes to you? And they say, We want you to come in and consult for us? What are they asking you to do? And then how does that evolve?

Julia Xu :

Yeah. So I think that most of the time I get in to like working with a company from a financial modeling project, and it usually expands from there. Just because I think everyone knows I do financial modeling. Like I told everyone that I'm going to do it Everyone

Eliot Raymond :

It's on your website, it's your brand.

Julia Xu :

And honestly, that's like the, I guess, like the hard skill that probably has the most selling potential value that, you know, people know exactly what they're getting from working with me. Whereas if I'm like, I'm just doing strategy, like, what does that mean? Right? Like, what is the deliverable? So it's very common for me to kind of start working with founders from a financial modeling project, or like a data analysis type of project and then afterwards, expand a row and realize that Oh, there are like different things I can start working on. And I think I didn't mention but in college, I actually started my My own nonprofit startup that's helping single mothers and basically just making knit hats and scarves and so at the brown university bookstore and give all the profit back to the moms. So it was like a very cute, very fun idea was like not a real business really, it's just more like volunteering and social impact work. But that's kind of all about like operations about marketing. So I had some experience in that just like building my own thing. And I think that's like the process that I really enjoyed, but unfortunately, then went on the corporate and basically didn't have a chance to use any of those skills. For I think I use a little bit of that when I was at Alibaba because I was a chief of staff of Alibaba us which was afters means that you do a little bit of everything and it was definitely more ops less financial model. I remember I was like, wasn't touching itself for so long and it felt super weird watching other people motto because I'm like, always don't want who's supposed to be Live bodily. So yeah, I think like those kind of experience just all in very different fields, different background, and then now kind of applying that to startups that are growing and are pursuing, like a mission that I'm personally passionate about, I find it like, really fulfilling.

Eliot Raymond :

I think one note that you said there is so many entrepreneurs are, from my perspective, so many entrepreneurs want to go out and do everything. When I started, I said, I offer these 100 services. And what I get out of what you just shared is that the way in is one vertical or one offering that you're really good at. And that's how you get into a company. And then you begin building the relationships with the leadership there. And they understand Wow, Julia has this capability or this capacity and can help us with this. And that's how you grow a relationship. And that's how you can really establish long term client relationships. You get your foot in the door for what you're known for. And then you can grow that relationship and build that as a as a consultant.

Julia Xu :

Yeah, and I think that is the same for a lot of startup like for a lot of business right? It's really hard to get known as like a one size fit all type of brand you have to be very and you should maybe have like one your product and then from there you kind of expand your potential like offering people already know about your brand and maybe they'll like come and purchase like more different stuff. I think it's like the same thing. It's easier to get like basically known for like one specific nation one specific I think like feature and then later on,

Eliot Raymond :

I think all birds comes to mind they have one killer shoe that everyone knew about and was sustainable and had all these great features that they brought to market and then rolled out another shoe and another shoe and now they're doing underwear and socks and you grow from there. So similar with any startup or consultancy, you start with one thing you're really good at and then grow from there instead of trying to do all hundred things and be the jack of all trades, if you will.

James Knight :

Yep. I love the way that you put this. So one of the things I think that excites a lot of entrepreneurs, and it's something that's come up in almost every episode we've done so far is this idea of wearing many hats, that as an entrepreneur, every day, you're going to be doing something a little bit different. And for people who maybe have had a more traditional job similar to the career you had previously, that sounds really exciting, right? So you know, after spending X number of years working on the Disney plus financial model, the idea of doing anything might sound really, really interesting. But I love that you put it in this terms of as an entrepreneur, yes, you get to do these things, and you will do these things. But when you're focused on selling, and when you're focused on attracting clients, and then working through that sales process and closing them, it really is about trying to hone in on the one thing that you can do the one problem you can solve for them. And then like Elliott said, growing that relationship, growing your authority with that customer to a point where they start letting you do all these other things. It's very similar for me, even though we're in very different fields. Elliot and Julie and I are in very, very different fields, but in tech It's the same thing on my site, I focus on very, very specific aspects of what I do. But most of my projects eventually grow to the point where I'm this kind of bizarre combination of CTO. And also I'm doing design and I'm the product manager. And maybe I'm doing their website, maybe I'm talking to clients or customers and working on new features. And that is not something that other than maybe starting a company myself I would get to do. But because I focus on, hey, you want me to build this app, I can build your app. Eventually, I get to the point where I get to do all these other fun things. So thank you, Julia, so much for sharing that because I think it's so cool for our listeners. To hear it. It's the many hats but there's a path to it. That is a lot simpler, more straightforward.

Julia Xu :

Totally. And as you mentioned, building websites. I even started building one of my clients and I have zero technical background. So definitely learned a lot of things like in this journey. Sometimes it's just like in a startup, especially they just need someone to figure something out. And it could be anything right? Like, if you like, really are the person who's like reliable and cancelled the problem, you get to experience and you get the exposure and I think that's also why like really enjoy starting off as a consultant because I'm not really sure about exactly what I want to personally build if I were to do like a real startup called like my current one not really a real one I'm still like more on a freelance around then like actually being an entrepreneur, but you basically learn from all the other entrepreneurs like mistakes or things that they need to resolve the problems and you get a really like a bird's eye view of this whole like entrepreneurial world before you actually go full in and like commit your time into just like one idea and building one thing.

James Knight :

There's a lot of literature and Instagram personalities talking about the different kind of mindsets and personality that you need to be an entrepreneur and I think a lot of is bullshit in terms of you don't need to be this this crazy hustler you don't need to be working 80 hour weeks but but the things that you You do need to be flexible and to be helpful. Those are the two biggest things. And just like Julia said, if you have a client and you remain flexible and helpful throughout that engagement, they're going to come to you with with things that are not in your area, right Julia's website, her site for her services don't say that she builds websites, but because she has become the go to person for these clients, when these clients hit a wall, and they go, Oh, crap, we don't have the skill set in house, we have a problem we need it solved. They go to Julia, because she has proven to them that she's capable of taking on whatever challenge and so that's where you really want to get with your customers and with your clients, as a freelancer, or a service professional is at the point where you're just they have a problem, and they're just gonna come to you because they know that you'll solve it.

Julia Xu :

Totally. And I think Google is your best friend. There's nothing you can't figure out there. Google, if you're like are willing to put in the time to learn. I figure out like a bunch of domain issues and like, how to how to even code and fix some coals while I have like, No idea It goes on. And you know, just through Google and watching YouTube video. So I think that mindset is important,

Eliot Raymond :

completely unrelated anecdote, but one of my best friend's dad's just texted him the other day, I was with him. And he said, Oh my gosh, have you heard of this thing called YouTube. And we go, of course, you've heard of YouTube. And he's sitting there with a power washer rented from Home Depot, something that broke on He's like, there's a video on here on how to fix this exact thing that broke on the power washer. There's a video for everything. And as ridiculous as that may sound, there's literally a YouTube video for everything. And yeah, we've talked about the value on this podcast, we've talked about the value of university and you know, the connections you get out of it. But if you want to learn anything, it's on the internet. And so somebody else on this podcast said recently, it's great to take on a project that's a little bit out of your comfort zone and do that extra coding or the website or whatever it might be as long as you know, it's in the realm of your capability because you can learn to do it and then grow your own capabilities and offerings. Through that by using that clients requests. So great note there.

James Knight :

Yeah. So we've talked a lot about the what, and a little bit about the how but one of the things that's super exciting about you coming on is that you're relatively new to entrepreneurship correct?

Julia Xu :

Pretty new started. This may be like five months ago, officially.

James Knight :

So this is so cool, because we've had most people we've had on the last few episodes, been doing this for a few years. And one of the things Tim actually brought up a couple episodes ago, was that as an entrepreneur with things moving and changing so fast, within a year or two of you doing this, you really forget what it's like to be a fresh freelancer, for someone who is coming into this, again, from maybe, maybe right out of college, or maybe out from a more traditional career. It's really hard to remember what it was like what your thought process was, and all of that years down the road. So I'm super excited to have you on because I think you bring kind of this more fresh perspective and especially for our listeners who are maybe thinking and making these changes themselves. I think you'll have a lot but they can connect with. So since starting in May, how many clients have you worked with

Julia Xu :

I would say maybe 30 or 40? I don't know, like on average, maybe like almost 10 a month. Like sometimes I 10 at one. Yeah, it's insane. So like, especially when I'm just building like a one off like financial model project, it's not gonna take that long and yeah, like, I mean, I can start parallel building a bunch of models and then I realized that Oh, I just built like five models this week. And like five different bottles. Like one day I'm building a model for prostate cancer test the other day I'm building like a model for a Berry Farm and then I'm building a model for like a I don't know k 12 school and then it's like, okay, ecommerce brands and then there's like tech, so sometimes I feel like I'm going a little crazy. And then I like have folic acid like live events where I need to go and talk and then it's like a different side of your brain and it's, yeah, like I think it just definitely is very much your just hustling and doing different type of things like all the time

James Knight :

for sure. Yeah, I think it's funny because you know, there's this perception from we'll call normal people do what we all do, people who are saying and not crazy and risk taking. There's this perception that in these big corporate jobs you get experience and yeah, at Disney getting to build the Disney plus model is a huge experience. But in the last five months, you've had 30 or 40 different clients, you've worked on 30 or 40 different projects like that is experience and that's in five months so that's something that's just so cool I think to doing this entrepreneurship thing is just the speed at which you get to experience things

Julia Xu :

yeah, and it feels like I'm building my own business going away like TBD if I'm still actually own a business school but like basically if I want to learn about something, I just go like find a client that industry but so far, honestly I like done. Zero direct outreach to clients, like I just have people like coming to me, which is pretty fortunate and I think networking earlier paid off. I didn't mention but I took a month off and full time networked. Probably had 100 pounds. Coffee and that led to all my clients initially. So yeah, I think it's just like you get to learn about all the different fields and work with so many different people, which like, Whatever you do, like down the road is super beneficial, I think.

Eliot Raymond :

So I was just gonna jump into kind of what your sales cycle was like and what that process looks like. But it sounds like everything is through personal connections, which is really exciting for you.

Julia Xu :

Yeah, I would say personal connection, then networking. So I like caught up with all my past friends and coworkers, which is like a lot, I think, like, literally went back to the Disney office, like pretty shamelessly. And I wasn't even at Alibaba that long. So it was like, not even a year since I left. So I like one back and I got coffee with everyone there. And I was basically like, I guess like I'm back and trying to just like, catch up with everyone. And that was unexpectedly helpful because a lot of my own boss actually happen to know people in New York. We're also doing like entrepreneurship in the field I'm interested in so they connect me with their friends, their wives actually are working on super cool stuff that I'm like really interested in, I get connected to them and they connect me with other people. So I think that was like a really good step, just basically opening up yourself and telling everyone exactly, you know, this is what I'm doing. Can you help me? And chances are, they're people who you think will help you, that ends up not being very helpful. And there are people who you were just like, I'm just gonna go catch up with this person, no expectation and realize, wow, actually, they really helped you a lot like or even finding like your next client. So yeah, I think just like kind of keeping open minded and first, like hitting up your own network, and then also like expanding your new network. So I was basically attending all startup events in New York that I can find. It was insane. I think I would like do like 10 back to back like coffee slash events in a day. And I'm like running around from I live in Brooklyn. Now I would like go up, starting from like Friday and then going up to like a unit. And then I'm like going to like upper side and then just like kind of running around town all day and meeting with like different people. And I found that just like really paid off like later on I started to realize you know that's when I started getting people reaching out to me because they all heard like their friend who like know that this person building financial model then potentially maybe can help them build a model but also granted like they're not that many financial model freelancers out there I still probably know I don't know like five maximum even after doing this for so long. It's not a lot of financial model builder or people with like corporate background who left corporate and became like an independent consultant so there's that like pretty fortunate that way just not a lot of supplier competition, I guess.

Eliot Raymond :

Oh my gosh, I have to connect you with my friend in New York who she's the exact same way there is not a night where she a morning she doesn't have a coffee in a night. She doesn't have drinks with somebody. I mean, she is the networking Queen of New York so

Julia Xu :

oh my god. Awesome. Yeah. I feel like I still need to network more in New York before. I mean, I was in LA mostly. And then I moved to New York last year when I joined Alibaba, but I was flying to China every month, which means I literally didn't have a new, like New York like real experience. So yeah, I mean, I guess

Eliot Raymond :

she moved to LA and just moved to New York last year, too. So I needed

Julia Xu :

networking actually a fun fact. So when I was trying to get the Disney job, because at the time when I was in college, it was like the dream job like working for Disney. And their corporate strategy team. Like literally, I thought it was so cool. Turns out not to be so cool. But at the time, I thought it was really cool. So super intense and trying to get this job. But I realized that actually, they don't really take a lot of people that's not from Harvard. Like they don't have an info session. They only have an info Center, which is like not that great, right, but But yeah, so it was hard to try to even get my foot in the door. And initially, I was was like, Well, so what should I do? And I like started networking. So I literally hit up I think all the analysts like LinkedIn stopped the whole group and just spammed everyone to like LinkedIn at there's like those websites where you can find people's email or guess like the Disney format of the email and literally like emailed everyone. So I ended up talking to maybe like half the animals class even before the first round interview, or like, even before they decided who to get the first one to agree to. And I think like last minute, I found out that they're actually hosting a session full session at Harvard, the day off, and I just like, hopped on a train and like, showed up, and I was like, yeah, I'm like, not from Harvard. But I really want this job. And I think that's how I like ended up getting it. So you know,

Eliot Raymond :

more than the hundreds of Harvard students having a one grad student who just showed up. Like, this is who we need to hire.

Julia Xu :

And it's also showed up and everyone's like, oh, like I talked to her, she like, bugged me. Through all social media channel possible one dude, now we're like really good friends, but he was also a brown alum and I was like, spam him so much and basically like, I need to talk to you. And he just like ignored my LinkedIn message ignored my email and I finally found his buddy and like, maybe the same frat house before he was like my friend and then I was like, dude, can you connect me with him? And he started like a facebook group chat. So like literally he can ignore me. Have leave you found my buddy, I guess I have to talk to you. So that was really funny.

Eliot Raymond :

That's an amazing story though.

Julia Xu :

They still make fun of me even until this day.

James Knight :

So this highlights something about networking, especially when you're just starting off that I think a lot of people don't understand is that networking is a network. It's not you and everyone you know, and then it's done. Networking is really this. You know, a lot of people and they all know a lot of people too. And so especially when you're starting out like how having these conversations with literally everyone, people like that. Yeah. Okay, your mom's hairstylist probably doesn't need financial model, but her cousin might be in a startup and might need that. And so you never know what kind of second degree connections, third degree connections you might have access to. And if you aren't comfortable being uncomfortable, and going out and saying, Hey, Mom, can you ask your friends if they need any help with this new thing that I'm doing, hey, these 400 people I have on LinkedIn that I literally never talked to, I'm gonna send each one of them a message and let them know that this is a new thing I'm working on that this is the kind of work that I'm working. Sorry. This is the kind of work that I'm looking for. Now. You have to be comfortable to do that. Because you never know. Again, maybe not the person you message but they might know someone who needs exactly the sort of thing that you're offering. So networking is huge. And you really have to be comfortable getting out there and trying it.

Julia Xu :

Yeah, I think that's a great, great thing. You have like all this stuff that I've done. And I'm a full believer of just kind of putting yourself out there, right? Like, you don't have any expectation, but you're just letting other people know, this is what you're trying to build. And you know, see what comes next. And you're always surprised with different opportunities if you keep doing good work, putting in like a lot of effort and you know, being reliable and hopeful that things come to you. And this

James Knight :

is something that's come up again, in the show off and on is this idea of, a lot of people aren't comfortable selling themselves. We have this unfortunate view of what sales is and isn't due to media. You know, a lot of people think it's the kind of Wolf of Wall Street, I'm going to be bold and vulgar, and eventually make a ton of money. But really, at the end of the day, what sales is, is you saying, Hey, I do this thing? Do you need the thing? And if you do that enough, eventually you'll run into someone that goes, Hey, I need the thing. You do the thing. Let's work together. And not only that,

Eliot Raymond :

it's you're reaching out to people saying I do the thing. I do it well and it's ultimately going to help you and so, so many people People are scared to reach out and say like, this is what I can do for you. But you're only saying like, hey, I want to help you out, make your business better and grow your bottom line or whatever it might be. But that's what I always have to remember, every time I get hung up on or somebody you know, is unhappy with me reaching out, it's like, well, I'm just here trying to help you. That's what I'm what I'm trying to do. So you're right, sales has this negative connotation. And really, at the end of the day, that's what you're you're there to do is offer your service and help somebody out with it.

James Knight :

Yeah, no one's gonna hire Julia to put together a business model if they don't need one. No one's gonna be like, oh, Julia is really sad. She's twisted my arm. I really, I guess I'll pay her and she'll put together this business model for a business I don't have. People are only going to respond to your sales efforts, if it's something that they're interested in. And so you should never be afraid to put yourself out there and say, just like I said, this is what I do. I'm good at it. If it's something you need, I can help you.

Julia Xu :

Yeah, I think sometimes, unintentional sales actually work the best right like there. Multiple times that I just thought, oh, someone's doing cool stuff, I'm just going to talk to them for like a coffee chat, like just a quick career type of advice chat. And it turns out into my next client. So I think it's not uncommon, right? Like sometimes you, when you get connected, you actually get to know someone on a personal level, especially as a freelancer. Like they actually like your story and actually believe that you can do to work is a no brainer if they actually need help in the area of your specialty that they're going to choose you over some like other random person who they found on Upwork. And they have no idea about their kind of background and story about so

Eliot Raymond :

connections are everything. I think that's a really good segue into my next question, which is just about when you're working with all these different businesses, you've got, you know, dozen clients, sometimes a month or even at the same time. Is there ever a time when you feel like wow, what am I doing? Why are they trusting me to do this? And the word that we use on this podcast loves imposter syndrome, but it's like okay, I'm fresh off of an new job I'm a new freelancer. Is that ever something that you experience or that comes up for you? Oh,

Julia Xu :

totally. Like I mentioned my age, I just turned 25, which is very, very young myself with

Eliot Raymond :

Partha factors at the time, the age thing,

Julia Xu :

yeah, and I, like had two jobs. And it's not like I have like a ton of experience and like already built a bunch of things. So, like, a lot of times, I would feel like well, it's weird that at first, like, it's so weird that people actually trust me to build this model, I guess. And then I'm now currently building like a basically figuring out the commercialization plan for a new prostate cancer test, which is like, you know, the next groundbreaking revolutionary science, I don't know, I don't even know how to call it like, literally when I joined. I had like, no idea what this is, and trying to figure out like, how do they actually go to market and it's really powerful that a lot of those people who are experts those skills now basically came to someone who had like zero background in this industry, but don't really have a lot of years of experience. And now it's like asking me like, so how can we go and commercialize this technology? I think that imposter syndrome is real. Sometimes I have those thoughts as well. But I just need to remind myself that, you know, there's a reason that people do trust you. And if they do, you just need to deliver and not let them down. And by doing that, you kind of try to overcome it over time as well.

James Knight :

Something I think a lot of people forget when they're in this career path, especially when they are maybe a high powered version of that career path. So your experience at Disney. I worked at Google for a couple of years. When you're in an industry, that is the industry, you're working as a finance professional in a finance track, or you're an engineer at a tech company, you can lose some confidence about your relative ability, right? So you look at Google, we have a staff engineers that have been there for 30 years and they wrote programming languages and they just They're names on papers that are fundamental to the field of computer science. And you're sitting there and you're like, I build up, so I don't know. And that can be super disheartening. But then when you go and you leave these fields and you leave these tracks, you're no longer in the in this org chart under the CFO of Disney. Now, you're, you're just a finance professional out in the world, you forget that everyone else who isn't a finance professional at all, is way less experienced than you on these topics. If you're an engineer and an engineering track, and you leave that engineering company, your clients don't know anything about engineering. When you leave that track, and you're no longer in this org chart under these fantastically talented people, you're suddenly the expert again. And that can be a hard shift to make. But I think you know, for Julia, now that you're working with these startups, even though before you were just another person at Disney in the finance department doing one of many business models, now you're the business model person in the room. has a lot of power. And I think that is something that is a shift. It's hard to make. But it's one that you need to make mentally when you go out and start doing these things on your own.

Julia Xu :

Yeah, I think that's really accurate. Sometimes I'm just like, are they sure? Like, am I seeing it? Right? I feel like my old boss will like, yell at me.

Eliot Raymond :

Your old boss isn't there. It's you.

Julia Xu :

I know. Yeah, but it's also you know, sometimes the standard and expectation is very different when you're working for like a company that's like going public. And literally all those numbers are gonna be like everywhere. When I google like Disney plus investor day presentation, I still see the number output from my model, which at the time when I was watching, I was like, Oh my god, I can't believe they showed those like, I tweaked in, like those data by tweak them. Like I'm not really sure if he showed that but things like that where you realize that while like suddenly you do have the authority and expertise but you still want to make sure that you're like actually delivering things like to the standard Right. So like, I hit up a lot of my, like coworkers, and even bosses to walk through what I'm doing. And exactly this is the type of model I'm building, like, does this make sense to you, and they all give me like, really good feedback, and then I improve on it and keep building on it. And then it also increases my like level of confidence, right? Because now I know that even people that I work with were super smart and talented before, they basically look at it. And they're like, this makes sense to me and keep doing what you're doing. The more different professional people in the same field that you work with, the more I guess, like school of thoughts that you get exposed to, and then ultimately, you can probably form your own after really seeing the different ways of doing it.

James Knight :

And that's maybe a common misconception about being a freelancer, or even just kind of being the head of an agency is that that means that you're now working by yourself. But being a freelancer means that you have lots of opportunities, and lots of control over collaboration, who you get to collaborate with in what capacity and just Because now you're independent doesn't mean that you can't be working with other really brilliant people in your field and learning and growing your skills through that collaborative process.

Eliot Raymond :

And so I'm starting to get like a little bit of a hint of why you may have transitioned into what you're doing now. But from an onlookers perspective, especially me who went to school with a bunch of film and business students in LA, where the dream job was to work at Disney, and for other people, potentially, in financial planning and analysis or related fields, working at a mega behemoth company like Alibaba would be like the kind of the dream, that's where you want to be. You have a good salary, good benefits. You're getting to fly to China every month. I bet that's not too bad if you're interested in travel. So what was the catalyst that got you to in the middle of a global pandemic? Send it out on your own and start your own consulting business?

Julia Xu :

Yeah, I mean, I think one day I started to realize that I was chasing all those golden trophies that I thought were like my goals, right? Like when I was in college I was trying to prove myself the easiest way to prove yourself is to get in, get a good job get into a big company put some big labels on yourself. So I was like, well, everyone's trying to go into consulting Well, I guess like for me it was a little bit different. I started a nonprofit I mentioned I'll be single mothers they want to make conceive woman's Impact Award. And basically I started joining this crew that starts getting brainwashed by consulting and everyone's like recruiting for consulting like this is like the best job so yeah, I was like part of that. And I thought you know, that was like the next trophy and very luckily got it and then God and I was just like, well, they're like really good things about it. There was like fancy dinner like fancy hotels in Miami that everyone's like staying at and all those like meals, but at the same time, I'm like, not really sure if I'm working on something I'm really passionate about, especially because the industry is pretty random, especially if you're like a first year Junior analysts, that also means that you're not really driving much. You're not having Like as much ownership maybe down the road, but at the time, I was a little uncertain about if I actually want to pursue consulting in corporate full time. So I came across Disney that was kind of like the next thing. It was like, the dream job at the time. And I mentioned crazy networking I've done and finally got it. And after I got I realized, well, you know, it's just another job. It's like, yes, it's working on really cool content. I was like building the future of Disney plus, which is like a streaming service that is launching at the time, I didn't know but literally building every single decision like, we formed the decision of like adding in Star Wars content, Marvel's content, and then we were crying 21st Century Fox and putting on that to content. And at the time, I like no idea what I was doing. And now when I look back, I was like, Wow, that's pretty cool. But is that what I want to do forever? Do I want to just be a financial modeler for one thing forever or do I need to learn about like different skill sets and work with different people and that's when I realized maybe I need to make another career shift and try to work on something that you can get like a really holistic experience a bird's eye view of the business. And she the staff, I think was the hottest like role at the time. Like, even now like so many people are like looking for the best afros. And it was really random. For me. I think I just got really jaded one day with my financial modeling job. And I was like, Do I still want to be Billy mod I need to get out. And I was like, Yeah, I was like scrolling on LinkedIn. I was just feeling like, I was just messaging my friends. I'm like, I think I need to quit. And then I came across this job and people were like, did you see this posting? Um, it's like a cheapest afrodite Alibaba and I grew up in China. So I'm, like, fully bilingual. My family's in China. I was like, oh, that seems really interesting. I always wanted to work with China. It's like a Chiba Safra. Which is like, seems like all the coop people are going for. Yeah, exactly. And then I was like, okay, so I basically like emailed the president. Literally her Back from him the second day and like within two weeks, got the job and I was like, Okay, I need to now break my lease, sell my car and move my cat from LA to New York. So did that. And it was crazy and definitely not enjoyable. Don't want to think about it again. But yeah, it was like, okay, on to the next thing. This is the next trophy I got, which is very lucky that every step I was like, actually getting the thing I wanted, but you only feel the emptiness after you get it. There probably is a saying,

Eliot Raymond :

but it's like consumerism, right? I mean, you always want the next iPhone or the next car, whatever, then you get it and you're like, Oh, yes, actually, isn't that great? I've got what

Julia Xu :

exactly and it's like you have a different goal or dream like every point of time and after you get your previous like, I guess like achievement you you're on to the next thing. So I don't know something about like human never being satisfied with what? Maybe sometimes I'm like, I need to take a step back and just appreciate what I have. But that's the nature I think so after I did. Alibaba has as Chief of Staff, I was like getting all those like really cool experience. My boss was like, going to all those like TV talk shows. And I'm just like going with following him. And I'm like, wow, this is cool, flying to China every month back and forth and being involved in all those high level discussions and literally being the youngest person in the office, but like, managing a lot, right, like having a lot on my shoulder. I think it was a great learning experience, I probably wouldn't have the courage to just go off and do my own thing if I didn't experience that. But at the same time realized, I know, I'm still working for a corporation. I'm not really in charge of any decision and probably won't be even in like, I don't know, a decade maybe I'm always going to be working for someone else and doing something that's not exactly aligned with my vision of my belief. And like I said, you're kind of restricted to the people that you're supposed to work with. And I was at the time in New York, and I was like, there's so many events I want to go to never fits my schedule because I'm always in China when they're traveling. I know Without long term I want to be in entrepreneurship. But I have no time. Like I literally can barely just like, put my, like, I guess life back into shape. Like on the few weekends I'm actually in New York. So I just felt like I like networking. I like going to events. I like exploring new things, but with the pressure and everything with a job, it's impossible and I have no time to myself to explore the path that I'm actually going to pursue. So I think after it was after Christmas and New Year's break, I like basically finally took a break away from that everyday craziness, like all those like work and travel and I realized that I feel like I lost myself. I feel like I lost. You know that really passionate, younger me who built the nonprofit who like had a fire in her heart like in high school. I was like, building this public speaking organization. Now it's like almost a decade after they're still running. Cool. I was like the kind of rebellious kid in a Chinese traditional Chinese high school who was like You know, people need to talk about their ideas. Like think critically, you know, express our thoughts like we need to talk. So like things like that, that I've like done in the past, I felt like gradually lost entrepreneurial me. And it was almost like I heard it calling back to that.

James Knight :

Sure. So you take this time off in December, how long after that, then did you pull the plug on the

Julia Xu :

career? So I had, like, I guess like two weeks off for holiday came back literally went back into the office for a day at a time, I still thought I'm gonna like, stay on. It just took like a day. And I was like, oh my god. Yeah. And I was sitting there. I was just like, what am I doing with my life? So I quit immediately. And I was just like, I don't know what I'm gonna do next. But I know I can't stay here. And I know that if I stay here, I'll never know what I'm gonna do. Nice. So, yeah,

James Knight :

I've had two or three experiences, the same thing where you make that kind of soft decision. You're like, Alright, this thing isn't working. Something's got to change. It's not now. I'll stick with it for six more months, three more months. And then yeah, you go back live in the next day after you make that tough decision. And it's just that first stupid thing that happens just the first little like, like the coffee machine is broken and you're like, EFF this place. I'm out of here.

Julia Xu :

Yeah, I think maybe I should have taken more like rationally. Yeah, I don't know. I'm

Eliot Raymond :

so funny cuz I did the exact same thing a year earlier. I've had my holiday break as at home thinking like, man, I don't know what's going on. But yeah, I'll stick this out for a little bit. Get back into the office first day. I'm like, yeah, I'm out of here. And

Julia Xu :

right. Oh, sometimes it's a change of scenery and a different type of lifestyle and you realize that difference sometimes if you're in something for so long becomes your routine. It's really hard to realize if you're unhappy with I think like even having like a check in with yourself like every month, or at least every quarter asking yourself if this is what you really want to do. Are you like really happy? Are you really fulfilling is so important? Even now, like I started questioning myself. I'm like, a couple months into doing freelancing. And yeah, I like work with a lot of awesome people. But sometimes I ask myself, am I building towards my long term goal, I can keep doing freelance work, I can keep working and making income but like, that's still not paving towards, like my long term goal of me starting my own startup. So maybe I need to work with startup just specifically in this area that I wanted to further like, learn and grow upon, or maybe I need to, like branch out to like different things and get all those skill set. Like what is my next thing, right, like and then I'm like, kind of pivoting myself as well trying to take on fewer things that are irrelevant, maybe be more focused, and try to be more intentional with my like, time and my choices. So yeah, I think it's like an ongoing process. And even when you're your own boss, it's like the same thing when you need a steer to ship you're the captain. Now you really need to know where you You should be driving this. You don't want to go on the wrong path like down and then years later realize that wow, I just like wasted. I mean, not really wasted. But like I could have been doing something that maybe is more fulfilling

James Knight :

something, Elliot, my advocate for a lot is that kind of a safe path, right of like, hey, okay, you want to switch into freelancing, you want to switch into starting a company, start the company, start doing sales, maybe even get a project that you work nights and weekends, build up some extra cash, get your first client under your belt, and then make that transition. But for a lot of us, that's not an option because we don't have the time or energy, some combination thereof of the two because of our day job. And so sometimes, we're in risky agreement.

Eliot Raymond :

There's all sorts of

James Knight :

Yeah, right. That's true, too, which aren't really enforceable, typically in most states, but that's really the people who don't need to get into legal. Don't listen to me. I'm not a lawyer. I think we now legally have to say that now that I opened my mouth. But sometimes even though it is the rescue decision, you have to take the leap. So that you have time to do these things. So like Julie said, sometimes you just need to take a change of scenery. So a little bit of self reflection, ask yourself, What am I doing? Where am I going? And sometimes the answer of what's next is leaving your job first and figuring out the next steps later. So thank you, Julia, for sharing that.

Julia Xu :

Yeah. And I think the most important thing is to really believe in yourself and put in whatever it takes for whatever you're trying to build and wherever you want to go. And I think if you always like, believe in yourself and follow the path that you want to go and follow the path that you actually want to go down, I think you're never going to regret it. Like people asked me Do you regret like taking the leap? Do you regret quitting like a great corporate Pat? And I'm just like, well, I've always chose myself I didn't chose a external label. So sometimes people ask me, Do you regret like quitting this corporate path and now you know, being completely on your own and have to figure out basically everything yourself but I think if you choose yourself, you'll never regret it because You choose yourself over any external factors, what was like a label or anything that is monetary, you're like actually pursuing your own passion. And that's something you'll never regret.

James Knight :

Totally agree. So it really is something that I've learned from my wife's experience in finance and accounting, as well as just with accountants and analysts that I've worked with personally, is that a lot of finance and accounting professionals lacked strategy. They're very process oriented, and they're fantastic at it. If you can direct them, they'll do a great job. But as soon as you need help on a more strategic level, they just completely seize up. They don't know how to answer the questions. They don't know how to think strategically. They're basically just, you give them an order and they do it. Well, you obviously don't have that problem. So for someone who's listening to this, who might be an accounting manager or a financial analyst, some other technical process heavy profession, who wants to eventually make the move to freelancing, starting an agency, anything that's going to require that more strategic work, what do you recommend the do read listen to consume, develop, yeah, prepare with Hmm. To help develop a strategic mindset.

Julia Xu :

I think the first thing that you have to do is you have to experience what your client experience meaning whatever is just like a side hobby or whatever do like some sort of entrepreneurial thing. Start something from scratch and then actually learn to process like, for me, I mentioned I did something in college and now I'm like trying to start this like whole side dropshipping business, literally to spend the past weekend like building a new Shopify store, like figuring all the like back end and branding and all that. And that I think, helps me also just like understand it, right? Like from a strategic level, if you aren't a business owner, what do you care about? Like, why do you want to find a freelancer to help you with this issue? And if you do find someone, what do you hope that this person helps you with? So I think like experiencing it firsthand is, I would say the most effective way of just like putting yourself in the shoes of your client and whoever you're working with, so I think maybe that's the first thing. Secondly, I think, like you said, accounting and finance is like pretty different from strategy. I wouldn't even say I have a very strong like, finance accounting background even though now people say that I'm like the financial model because building financial model that's like a projection model is all just like using your tool to translate the strategy and the idea whereas if you're like an accountant, you know, finance professional, you're really going for the fact base, like making sure everything's accurate, but like honestly, the model I feel like there's no like right model it's all just like an informed decision making process. So I think kind of shifting that lens and being less like focus on being 100% correct and more at 20 more into like a consultant mindset is helpful. And yeah, I think just like learning different ways of kind of like working with different people is also very helpful because sometimes if you're just like in a profession for allow you to work with the same boss, very difficult to kind of shift a mindset and be working with like 10 different people with a completely different personality and works working style, critical

Eliot Raymond :

processing that sorry. So any specific media that you'd recommend to people who are just looking to get started and do what you do or follow a similar path, whether that's books, you talked about starting your own course. So maybe one day that will be a recommendation we can include but courses, YouTube videos, influencers, the whole gamut, anything you would recommend to people,

Julia Xu :

I've been a pretty big like Tim Ferriss fan, as I like been reading a lot of his books lately, four hour workweek tribe of mentors, and I think that's kind of the mindset, especially for entrepreneurs or freelancers, right, you wanted to figure out ways to automate increase efficiency. So I would recommend that courses because I've already learned all those like modeling stuff at Disney didn't really take any online course and then all the kind of branding and marketing stuff. I think I kind of just like tried it out and I was like, I hope this works and then I think

Eliot Raymond :

Welcome to the world of marketing.

Julia Xu :

I think it ended up working so I haven't like personally taken any it probably should. I'm trying to learn about VC and learn about drop shipping a lot of like different things. That's not really in my skill set. But so far, I have not yet had the chance I should probably branch out. other stuff. I recommend Disney plus to everyone.

James Knight :

Bump those numbers Exactly.

Julia Xu :

The other day I just heard that move on became like a premium purchase. I was like, oh god, my first reaction is like, thank God. I'm not the analysts behind it. That seems like a nightmare. And then I contact my friends at Disney. They're like, yeah, that took like four weeks of nonstop. Yeah.

James Knight :

Not my problem...

Julia Xu :

But anyways, I personally I actually don't watch a lot of TV. It just takes so much fun. Maybe once in a while, like movie Yeah, I would say, books I definitely find really helpful daily stoic is actually really good. Everything just like read a little short paragraph, it's trying to motivate myself. Lately, I've been using this app called fabulous. It's not really media. But basically it's like, self development routine habit building type of app that reminds you to do all those things that you tend to forget, especially if you're like just hustling as a freelancer, I had a month where I just like go to bed at 5am and totally forgot about my workout. Whereas like before, I used to work out every morning at 6am. And now I'm just like, I don't even know what that means anymore. He had to

Eliot Raymond :

go to bed at 5am and then wake up at 6am to work out a different workout.

Julia Xu :

Exactly. So I think like just habit building like kind of forcing myself try to be better at least like have some time to yourself. Like still have your kind of self care, evenings and weekends, and I was pretty bad at it to be very honest when I first became a freelance So just because I just always feel like I need to be working and you'd be building I need to be taking whatever is coming my way and ultimately I like burnt out right like started feeling physically unwell like started feeling that just kind of very lethargic which is not normal for me. And that's when I realized Okay, you can't just keep pursuing things and not giving yourself time So yeah, I would say Yeah, exactly. That's not exactly all media but I think it's just like oh yes all sorts of things I'm like currently using and trying to you know, be better and just like have some reading time every night.

James Knight :

Yeah. So for anybody who is looking to contact Julia, please check her out her website at Julia shoe consulting COMM And again, we'll have a link to that in the liner notes. Like always, even if you're not interested in Julia service. If you're ever planning on selling your services online, Julia's website. She just said that she just learned this herself. I don't believe her. I think she's lying. Because this website is perfect. It really is. Almost a masterclass in copy. In organization, the flow she goes from her tagline which describes what she does in a single sentence to more detail but not too much detail because then she switches the social proof showing that people like her work. And even just the mood it's cute without being kitschy The colors are fine, but they still maintain a seriousness to them. So again, if you have any interest in freelancing or running an agency of any sort, and you want to see kind of a really, really fantastic example of how to sell services online, please go check out Julia site at Julia shoe consulting.com. It's really, really fantastic. So thank you so much, Julia, for coming on. It's been a really great episode. I had a really great time and hopefully we can have you on again sometime.

Julia Xu :

Thank you so much, really appreciate it.

James Knight :

on next week's episode, we're joined by Tom Critchlow to talk about his work as an independent strategy consultant and co founder of Brooklyn art collective fiercely curious, as well as his upcoming relaunch of one of my favorite email newsletters, little futures. Until then, stay safe as you walk whichever of the hundreds of ways belongs to you.