The tools & techniques I used to win against an entire sales department.

A lone freelancer competes against a professional sales team.
A lone freelancer competes against a professional sales team.
Thanks to my mentors, I won my first stable client by out-bidding a bigger firm.


In this story, I’ll explain how I got started as a freelance software developer.

Throughout, I’ll go over my first experience with freelance platforms, how I found my first client, and some of the accounting tools I looked at looked at for proposals, contracts, invoicing, and payments.

Here are the sections I’ll cover:

  1. How to find the best first contract (freelance platforms vs word-of-mouth)
  2. How to negotiate the deal (a step-by-step guide)
  3. Startup/Freelance tools: how to get paid (accounting software comparison)
  4. Key takeaways

Bonus: At the end…

How to coordinate several side hustles like playing a game of chess.

Photo by Jani Kaasinen on Unsplash


In this story, I’ll explain how I’ve structured 6 of my side hustles to work together in harmony towards the big picture.

Specifically, I’ll go over:

  1. Why many is (generally) better than one
  2. Dealing with criticism
  3. Side hustle coordination and the “big picture”
  4. Great side hustle combos
  5. Key Takeaways

Why many is (generally) better than one

If you’ve ever played chess, then you know that the queen is the most powerful piece — it can move in every direction to cover the entire board.

But if it’s the only piece in motion, it can get…

Deciding between taking a job, going to grad school, and starting a business is tough. Decision Analysis helps map tough choices out. author’s own image


In this blogpost, I’m going to introduce the basics of Decision Analysis.

What I’m about to show you has related topics to the fields of data science, systems engineering and artificial intelligence.

But for today, I’ll show you a simple way of using it to make better decisions in your life. Specifically, I’ll go over:

  1. Why we need Decision Analysis
  2. How it works
  3. Practical everyday use
  4. Key Takeaways

Why we need Decision Analysis

How do we make huge decisions in our lives?

What job offer should I take? Which car should I buy? Should I marry this girl? …

4 methods we tried to distribute startup shares among co-founders and why the jellybean method was the best.

Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash


Dilemma: How do we split equity fairly?

In this story, I’ll explain the different methods we tried to split up equity as fairly as we could in the early days of our startup, and how using jellybeans was the fairest way to do it.

Specifically, I’ll go over the pros & cons of a list of methods we tried:

  1. Equal partners method
  2. Dictator method
  3. Online equity calculators
  4. Jellybean method

The Equal Partners Method

In this model, equity is split equally among the partners.

Pros: immediately fair…

Using to-do lists can harm productivity. Here’s a better “to do” list to maximize effectiveness during a really volatile year.

A list of 3 things to do — the first of which is “own today”.
A list of 3 things to do — the first of which is “own today”.
Photo by Emma Matthews Digital Content Production on Unsplash


In this post, I’ll go over how the rollercoaster of 2020–2021 has forced me to develop a new personal to-do system, and how it’s allowed me to reach more of my goals in the past year than any other productivity method I’ve used in my entire life.

Specifically, I’ll talk about:

  1. Problems with To-Do Lists
  2. The Effective To-Do List
  3. The Four Quadrants of task categorization
  4. Kanban Rules
  5. Key Takeaways

I’ll also be taking a systems thinking spin on this —…

How I started DIY investing with Robinhood to train my risk tolerance muscles, overcome anxiety, and build my financial mindset.

Photo by Ishant Mishra on Unsplash

Disclaimer: I am not a finance expert in any way. This is just a story about my experience as a first time investor — it’s not meant to be professional advice. I cannot be held liable for the information in this blog or your use of it.


In this story, I’ll go over how I developed my tolerance for risk as I started DIY investing. Specifically, this story includes:

  1. Preface: Why DIY investing is so important to learn today
  2. Robinhood…

What’s taught in school about how to finance a startup is wrong. Here’s a better way.


In this story, I compare 3 different models startup financing that shaped my thinking as my startup matured over the past 3 years. These models were:

  1. The Entrepreneur’s Model
  2. The Engineer’s Model
  3. The Freelancer’s Model

I examine each of these models through the lens of my personal experiences as an engineer turning into an entrepreneur.

When I was in grad school, I was studying systems engineering which (according to Wikipedia) is:

Systems Engineering — an interdisciplinary field of engineering and engineering management that focuses…

The last story I’ve written was How to decide to startup back in 20 January 2019. That was 1 year and 4 months ago. Needless to say, a lot has changed with the startup and in my personal life since then. However thanks to my team, we stuck together and we kept working on the company whenever we could spare.

Abstract Assembly’s founders — Richard Tan (left), Kristen Alexander (middle) and Stephen Tan (right) — at Kristen’s favorite after-work pub.

Without them, I doubt I would’ve stuck with my decision to start up. …

Everyone has good ideas, but what if one was actually great? What if you were seriously considering starting a business with that idea? What happens to the rest of your life? Do you “throw it all away” to chase the dream? Or is there a practical, systematic approach based on logical decision-making?

Deciding to start up can take a long time, so it’s important to get started

As you may have guessed, this post is about how I made the decision to found Abstract Assembly. It’s my hope that sharing my thought process for how I made the leap will give some insight for those of you who are struggling to decide.

Tip #1: Determine…

In a startup, “Do or do not. There is no try”. Image source.

Recently, new people have joined Abstract Assembly. I’m not going to lie… I’m not sure how to handle this new influx of teammates.

Do they belong on the product or business sub-team, or both? Should we assign them to one or should we let them explore and choose for themselves? Would it be best to assign them to different projects based on their skills or on a joint project?

These are all questions I’ve decided to put aside for later. Perhaps they will answer themselves given enough time. The last thing I want to do is to micro-manage.

Instead, we…

Ricky Tan

Engineer turned entrepreneur & freelancer. Using systems thinking & software dev to navigate the business world.

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