Edmund Tee talks about reaching FI and the goals of teaching more people worldwide about Financial Independence.
Although the idea of permanently sipping Pina Coladas on the beach sounds like a dream, the majority of FI people do not seem to take that route. What are you going to do with all of your free time once you’ve walked away from the nine to five?
[Financial Independence] is something we think about all the time; and ‘how do we spread this message, what do we have to do?’ And Jonathan, we’ve talked about autonomy, mastery, purpose, identity, and connection. And I think when you’re looking for something beyond FI that one, or many, of those five items, those are what light you up.
Instead of sailing off into the sunset after reaching FI, Ed works hard to spread the message of Financial Independence as part of the ChooseFI team.
Related: What Does Retirement Really Mean?
Ed’s Path To FI
Ed grew up in Singapore in the 1970s. The country had recently obtained its independence from Great Britain. The country had no natural resources, so it was a third world country without a lot to go around.
All we had was two things: The ability to educate and learn. And then the ability to work really, really hard.
Ed grew up in these conditions with a single mother. Based on that, it was critical to always be learning. He worked diligently to be frugal and optimize as much as possible in order to save a few dollars. That mentality has stuck with him throughout his life.
My wife often tells me, ‘honey, you don’t have to do this anymore.’ And I still do because, you know what, it’s a part of my DNA now.
Although Ed had been building his ability to learn from a young age, he did not recognize it until he was serving in the Singapore army. His job was to travel ahead of units in partner countries and set things up for the unit. As a part of this job, he had to learn the languages and customs of the area to be accepted. He realized that he was able to learn and take direction from those that came before him.
Not only did he realize that he was coachable and able to learn but also that he had exceptional organizational skills.
I was in a [military] unit where I’m not the fastest guy, I’m not the strongest guy. I could not shoot as well as them, I couldn’t do a lot of stuff as well as them but I could organize. That was my superpower. I could organize. I could get things done…every single thing that’s needed for a complex operation to take place, I was able to do that.
These hard-core organizational skills started to develop in his childhood. Ed did not grow up with a lot of things, so it required him to work on optimization, finding loopholes, and finding ways to get things done outside of the norm.
…you trade in time to do research and to experiment and to poke holes at concepts and hypotheses and then find a better way. That in itself is a very multifaceted endeavor. And so I think, even, like as a teenager, I was already knee-deep in trying to figure things out, make it better and organization came as a by-product of that.
Eventually, Ed discovered that big companies value that world-class organizational capacity. Through word of mouth, he was able to use this organization skills to support his family.
If you can cultivate a skill set that is in high demand, then you can get virtually any job you want.
Here’s an image of Ed (center with black shirt) and a team he put together at Microsoft. Together they built a portable disaster shelter and inventory management system for the Red Cross.
How To Approach Organizing A Large Event
One of the most recent endeavors that Ed successfully managed was the Evening of Financial Independence in Richmond. It was a seamless event that introduced 500 people to the Financial Independence movement.
Ed started planning with a template that his wife, an event planner, created. He executed the template to the letter. And anticipated any foreseeable issues.
Anyone can have a template but you need to be able to communicate that with your team.
For the Richmond event, Ed held a call with all of the volunteers before the event. Each volunteer learned exactly what they needed to do so that the event could go off without a hitch. The goal is for everything to seem effortless, that is the hallmark of a great event.
Example Of Organizational Skills In Action
Let’s dive into an example of how organizational skills can serve a company.
In this example, a small HVAC company wants to bring in a consultant to help them scale and grow. If Ed was asked to come in and help them build a system to scale and grow, then this is what he would do.
First, he would start out by gathering intelligence. It may take a few weeks to learn what the current state of the company is, take an inventory of team members and current resources.
It is really important to get a good understanding where things are at for you to able able to get where you want to go. It’s almost a no-brainer.
After getting a good sense of where the company is at, he would feel comfortable to start giving advice. He would cover three aspects of the business.
Lead Generation And Marketing
If you want to grow, then you need revenue streams to build that growth. Luckily, there are many levers to pull.
The easiest is to latch on to your current fan base. After tapping into your current fans, you’ll need to cast a wider net to attract a cold audience of people that have never heard of the company. This could be done through traditional media such as TV or radio.
Additionally, content marketing such as podcasts, blogs, and some degree of paid marketing could be used to fuel that growth.
Once you have built the demand, it is time to deliver. He would make recommendations to scale up operations to run smoothly.
For example, there would need to be staff to take customer calls and provide amazing customer service. Plus, many field staff to physically deliver the HVACs. In the field, these technicians would serve as ambassadors to the brand because they show up to an entire neighborhood.
The company would need to train these field technicians to put their best foot forward with no shabby dress, no food in the car, no smoking, and no illegal parking.
It goes without saying; do a good job and clean up after themselves.
Scaling The Business
If the goal is to grow, then the company will need to figure out how to maintain a bigger fleet and how to train new hires effectively. The company could also look into how to optimize their prices based on volume discounts.
Throughout all of this, the organizational consultant would be able to manage the company effectively. HVAC was picked randomly for an example but this is actionable for any kind of business, finances, and even your personal life. This kind of skill set will always be in demand and valuable.
With his amazing organizational capacity, Ed led a successful career that included the military, entrepreneurship, start-up culture, and Microsoft. By all standards, Ed has reached fat FI with his wife. However, he never wanted the RE part of that equation.
I’m here because I believe in FI, Financial Independence. The RE has never resonated with me…I’ll never retire.
In fact, his wife disagrees that he ever retired. Instead, Ed spends his time homeschooling his children and contributing to worthwhile projects. A few of these projects include his state’s disaster recovery program and his city’s firefighters’ benevolent fund.
The thing about volunteering and being engaged with your community… is that you start seeing more and more places where help is needed.
As he continued to expand his scope, he realized that many former service members are in distress. Some are living out of their cars and have difficulty getting an appointment with the VA. These people have given the best years of their life to the service of the nation but then fallen through the cracks. Ed started working with these service members to help them address their financial situation.
I felt that living in a car would just be a massive contributor to whatever other issues they have. It could be PTSD or depression. Just the mere fact that someone who served has to live in a car, something was wrong there. So I went about trying to figure out financially how do we bring them back a little bit from the precipice.
Ed helped a few on find jobs. He felt that this work was valuable, but not scalable. Ed wanted to help service members before it ever got to this point. When someone signs up to serves this country, they have everything they need for a soft landing afterward. With the right educational tools along the way, they could leave the service in a much better place.
Listen to Brad and Jonathan’s thoughts about this episode here.
Ed And ChooseFI
With that frame of mind, Ed approached Brad and Jonathan about working together. Ed realized that the message was resonating with people and it was a real opportunity to do some good.
The Universe has handed us an opportunity to make the world a better place. This message is resonating with people and it seems to break through where maybe just pure academics doesn’t seem to do that.
Ed asked it if would be possible for ChooseFI to start a nonprofit with the stated goals of bringing financial literacy to the people that needed it the most. The military and education system were the first places with that need.
ChooseFI International Foundation
From that idea, the ChooseFI International Foundation has been founded with the stated goal to spread financial literacy around the world. It is meant to serve as a way to reach people that really need this information.
The foundation has been developing over the last several months. One of the leading pieces is centered around bringing FI to the military by developing a curriculum to help people who serve get on the path to FI.
Listen: A Military Path To FI
Another key component is a curriculum for communities, an FI 101 course. The goal is for community members to take that information and share it with family and friends.
Partnerships are being formed with organizations that have similar goals. For example, Junior Achievement with over 100 years of advocacy for financial literacy in school is providing volunteer opportunities for our community.
Ed has helped to set up ChooseFI International Foundation to do some good in the world. This can only be possible with your help.
If you are interested in getting involved, then please let us know at ChooseFI.com/help.