EPISODE 015
Silicon Valley Startup To Magician
This is a conversation with Dan Chan, an early employee of PayPal before its IPO, and now a magician to the stars of Silicon Valley. He has an untraditional career, but a business background that has enabled him to create a profitable business doing what he loves.

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Host - Monique Mills:   

[00:00]          Entrepreneur or employee?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[00:03]    Entrepreneur.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[00:05]          Okay, MBA, or no MBA?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[00:08]    No MBA, but I have a BA, no Masters.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[00:11]          No Masters. Okay. I have seen your website, and I know the kind of work that you do. And so I'd love for you to explain what you do to the audience, and how you went from college into this particular entrepreneurial pursuit.

                      [00:34]       Welcome to the Unpolished MBA podcast. On this podcast, we have conversations with tech startup founders and entrepreneurs and traditional corporate MBAs. Many say that startups equal the unpolished MBA because those without the formal business education are scrappy and do many things untraditionally to achieve business success. But anyone who has built a business from an idea can attest to the fact that the experience is another level MBA, and there's nothing quite like it. The candid conversations shared here is helpful to both sides of the fence. One is not better than the other, just different. Let's jump in.


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                      [01:26]       Hi, I'm your host Monique Mills, and in my work, I get to have great conversations with a lot of smart and interesting people. Some are tech startup founders and entrepreneurs in various industries, and others are corporate employees. In this episode, I'm sharing a conversation I had with Dan Chan, an early employee of PayPal before its IPO, and now a magician to the stars of Silicon Valley. When he interviewed for PayPal, he actually spent 15 minutes just showing them tricks. Listen in as he shares how he's running his own business now on his own terms.


Guest - Dan Chan:  

[02:03]    I am a magician. I've done about 5000 plus shows. Now I've pivoted to Zoom, so if you have virtual team meetings, I've done events for Google, Netflix, LinkedIn all virtually since the pandemic started. I've also performed for Congressmen. I’ve performed for billionaires around the world - Shanghai, Germany, Japan four times. So that's pretty much a short story of where I'm at now.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[02:31]          So how did you get into magic?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[02:34]    There was a magic shop on Ninth and Irving in San Francisco called Misdirections Magic Shop. The owner was Joe Pon, and he set up a lecture series.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[02:43]          Wait a minute, so he was teaching how to become a magician and you got caught up with that?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[02:50]    Those who can't do, teach. So he was one of the guys who he knew this stuff, but he wasn't a performer. Performers quite often get paid big bucks. There's a lot of things with performers that you need to have like soft skills, and he didn't really have those soft skills, but he did definitely know his basic magic knowledge. He was actually one of the most brilliant guys out there.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[03:16]          Wow.


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[03:17]    I think he's sold some stuff, he worked at maybe a magic shop in San Francisco for someone else, and then once you see the business model, you copy. But some people who really get it, start performing because the bigger bucks are in performing because you don't have to set up a retail space, you don't pay high rents. There are quite a few advantages to my opinion that we'll have because I don't have to go into the same office every week. I wouldn't say he's a great teacher, but he knows where to lead you or tell you what book to buy or what DVD to buy. So having that knowledge, people come to you, but even that business model is being disrupted now with larger wholesalers or direct to consumer internet websites.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[04:03]          So tell me a little bit about your business model. So you just mentioned you perform over Zoom for some large companies. Do you do tricks? How do you engage the audience?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[04:12]    Yeah. I will show you something afterward since this is audio only. I read people's minds.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[04:20]          Oh, really?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[04:21]    Yes. I will show you afterward and you will be absolutely blown away with what I do. I do things that are very direct. Most mind readers are boring, or they're slow-paced and they’re old. I come from that juggling background and variety arts, and I came from a background where I'm street performing. So if you don't get to the point people are going to walk away.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[04:42]          So how did your parents feel about you going into magic?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[04:50]    This is the same thing with all entrepreneurs. When you don't ask your parents for money and they know you're doing well and they see that you're happy, it's fine. It's just when you're all stressed out, and you're projecting that on them, then they start kind of worrying and encouraging you to get a job because I just did the basic reverse engineering. If I can do shows at $250 a pop, four shows a week, that's 52,000 a year. So if I could do eight at that same rate, I'd be making 100,000 a year. So most people don't think about how they're going to get in there, how they're going to gain market share and pivot because you don't start off there, but you start off getting minimum wage. You start off working at restaurants doing magic, and then you level up each time.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[05:39]          That was really smart of you though to create your own business model behind what you enjoy doing. Actually, it's really not that common; people will find something they enjoy, but they don't know how to monetize it. How did you learn the business behind doing what you're doing right now so that you can earn enough to take care of yourself?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[06:00]    Following the people who have done it, looking at them online, studying their website, their copy, everything about your competitors. It’s competitor analysis and then SWOT analysis. The two things that I learned, I think I still remember pretty solidly was strength, weakness, opportunities, and threats in business school, and then also Porter's five forces.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[06:22]          Yep.


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[06:23]    And of course, monopoly power, and all these other things, oligopoly, everything about business. You still need to know accounting basics but if you understand how to pivot, and then modeling out-- I never formally wrote a business plan for this, although the next one I've written business plans for didn't even work as well, to be honest. So it's more about just getting out there and doing it. I have ideas of going to start a magic club. And I'm moving from a pop up to a virtual, physical venue as well.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[06:55]          When you went to college, did you know you wanted to do this?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[06:59]    No, I just was shooting pool all the time. And I find that it's okay not to know what you want to do, but it's important to have fun and when you start to commit to it, you really commit. It's like a lot of these Asians that I've seen, they studied something, and they didn't even end up using that degree because they realized that it wasn't a passion, they were living vicariously through the parents. It's like, you sometimes have to take that time off and say, “Hey, is this what I want, or is this what someone wanted for me?”


(music)


Host - Monique Mills:   

[07:35]          As you have heard, Dan has really made a way for himself, despite any cultural expectations placed on him. In this next part, he reflects on his previous clients and shares what success looks like for him moving forward with his business.


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[07:53]    A client appreciation, or an employee event on global. What used to happen where you'd have to pay my airfare, hotel, and travel, I'm willing to do a lot more. The volume has changed, although certain clients have asked for things like magic kits, or things shipped to them because they still have a big budget, so you have to be respectful of it. But now, the world is your oyster. Yesterday, I did five events. One was in the Philippines, one was in, I think, US and Canada. It was just insane where these people were coming from. Back in the day, I wouldn't be able to do that, so it's a lot more cost-effective for my clients as well.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[08:33]          But how do you get their attention? So I'm very active on LinkedIn. I get inboxes all the time, but I'm never really thinking, “Oh, yeah, I need to hire a magician.” How do you get them to even think in that mindset to consider?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[08:47]    Go to my LinkedIn and you'll see one of the last things I posted. I’m putting video content out there so that video content is powerful. So my son was in that last video. At age five, he was juggling three balls, at age eight, he was juggling three flaming torches, by age 10, he was picking pockets. He was just on ABC7 News, national television with Tiffany Haddish on Kids Say the Darndest Things and Access In with Penn and Teller. And I have a video of him doing some crazy stuff on LinkedIn. Now when you post a video and you say you do Zoom events, it's just kind of automatic that people just start clicking like.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[09:23]          So ultimately, what is your long-term goal for this? Is this something you plan to do for the rest of your life? Or do you have big plans to like, “One day I want to have a Netflix special” or “One day I want to be the next David Blaine and have my own show”? What is your ultimate goal with what you're doing right now?


Guest - Dan Chan:   

[09:42]    Yeah, I want to be as famous as Blaine on Zoom so I can sell these tickets. It's not about the fame, it's about ticket sales. So if you recognize the doors will open like for example right now I'm trying to pitch Netflix and you're getting rejected, but eventually, you start thinking, what are the things you want to say? So you're honing your elevator pitch, and then honing these sound bites. So if I could get a television special or a documentary on my son, it's a little bit more long-form because people buy in and they want to see your journey as an entrepreneur. Like, people want to see David Copperfield before he was famous. They want to know how you had this meteoric rise. So if you can capture more of those moments on video, and elsewhere, they feel more connected to your brand.


Host - Monique Mills:   

[10:37]          Well, that's it. Dan mentioned some great things that I think we all need to be reminded of. Most importantly, he mentioned that to be happy, you’ll need to do what you're interested in, not what other people may want you to do. The other thing is, I always say that once you have a product to sell, everything else is sales and marketing to really get your business going. And he explained how marketing is so extremely important. In addition, one of the things he touched on was the topic of rejection. Despite receiving no’s over and over again, you have to keep going, pitching, and focusing on where you're trying to go. Now remember, he mentioned he's been pitching Netflix over and over again and being rejected, but he's going to continue until he gets his own special. Now that is the true spirit of an entrepreneur.


The Unpolished MBA conversation continues, and you can be a part of it by going to unpolishedmba.com. Thank you for listening.

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