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Earn vs. Make


The vivid memories come back to me of a winter night in the Alps when I was skiing with a group of friends in finance and banking a few years ago. At that time, I wanted to apply for a Master in Computer Science but could not afford the international tuition fees. I was about £5,000 short, after taking into account my existing savings. We were sitting in a cosy room in a chalet, enjoying the chatter about the skiing experience that day. The thought of this missing £5,000 could not leave my head and did not allow me to enjoy the vacation. Thus, I proposed a question to the group in that room. “How can we make £5,000 from scratch?”.

We discussed at length. We threw in ideas. We tried to figure out. Nothing works.

This was an awakening moment for me. All of the people in this room, with no less than £100,000 annual income each, and perhaps even more in bonus, do not know how to make even £5,000 from scratch.

A room of people with close to £1 million in cumulative earnings but cannot produce £5,000 from scratch.

If that corporate engine behind them is gone, they will not know how to generate revenue themselves. It is a perpetual dependency.

This realisation of the difference between people who earn money, and people who make money, suddenly hit me. The nerve wrecking idea that I can earn a lot in a salaried job for many years from now and will still have no idea on how to make £5,000. That perpetual dependency is even scarier because I will not be able to afford not to have any corporate engine behind me.

When we have the first members joining Cover Letter Library in 2016, I exclaimed to one of my friends at Blackrock proudly “Hey, I actually made £100 from Cover Letter Library this week! This is unreal!”. The idea that someone actually paid, even a small amount, to see the work, excites me. The idea that I managed to create value for someone to see it, and was recognised by the fact they actually paid for it, astonished me even further. However, he could not understand why I felt so amazed. After all, that is less than a day of the salary of a typical banker, perhaps even less than the cost of a corporate lunch.

The reason why I was so excited was that I have finally recognised the difference between earning money and making money. If I was able to make £100, I know I can make any other nominal amount. The next is £1,000, then £10,000, and more.

There is a  critical difference between making money and earning money. Making money is to utilise the limited resources you have to create values for other people, for which they are willing to pay at the price you want them to pay. Earning money is, in most cases, to trade your time, labour and intellectual resources in exchange for a fixed negotiated rate per-hour pay by the individuals and organisations who are willing to pay that negotiated per-hour rate.

I use the same recognition making Vietnam Inbound profitable. I recognised that if we were able to make £1,000, then we were able to make £10,000, and then £100,000, and more. When I was working in Investment Banking, I had such a bullet-proof brand and corporate engine behind me, which makes me doubted if the value I created, or why people came to me, was because of me, or because of the name of the company I worked for. Now, when I work on Vietnam Inbound, we started from zero, with nothing. Nothing backs me nor do people know about us until we speak to them and convince why we are worth what we are worth. Now I know that when people buy the products and services from me, it is because of me and my skills, and nothing else. This fact gives me the confidence that if I have ever to have to start from nothing again, I know how to create value from scratch and pick myself up again. No one can take that skill, mentality and confidence away from me.

We’re currently hiring a lot of new staff for Vietnam Inbound. Through this process, it becomes quite apparent to me of a clear distinction between people make money and people who earn money. There are so many good candidate profiles who know how to execute the tasks well and are used to receiving paychecks every month, but they do not know, or even fearful of, finding ways to make money, or bring in new clients. We always ask our candidates “If you have minimal resources to work with, what are the steps for you to figure out how you can bring in 10 bookings a month?” This is a surprisingly good filtering question. We filtered out so many talk-more-than-do, theoretical kinds of people and sometimes managed to find a hidden-gems hustler among all.

There is nothing wrong with being satisfied with just earning money and not making it. It’s simply just not for me. Perpetual dependency is something I avoid at all costs, and to negate from that, it costs me my effort hustling every day. However, I can guarantee, once you started making some money from scratch, this enjoyable excitement and unwavering confidence of knowing that nothing happens in life can fail you and that you can always pick yourself again, is very liberating.

So let’s end with a question: “How can you make £5,000 from scratch?” 

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Illustration by my friend Karl –

I am active on Quora – Please follow me on Quora at https://www.quora.com/profile/Le-Quynh-Mai  for more writing. 

Written by Mai Le

My name is Mai. I am originally from Vietnam. After my university years at LSE, I worked in investment banking at Goldman Sachs. After a wonderful time there, I started several of my own business as well as helping others on theirs. I've always been building communities and businesses for as long as I can remember, and absolutely thrilled to see others enjoy what I've built.



  1. Nchedo Chinwuba

    Hi Mai. Thanks for sharing this timely post. I’m also a professional who gets monthly paychecks but the thought of doing this for a while scares me because I have goals and dreams. Now to your question, hmmm…I love fashion, actually, ankara (african prints) and just recently i was thinking of ways to monetize it, still thinking. Hopefully I find out how. Thanks for sharing once again.

  2. Claire

    Hi Mai. I also used to work in Goldman and this post resonates with me more than ever. From university level I worked at numerous front office roles at multiple investment banks and finally landed a job at an asset management firm after graduation. 3 months later, I decided to quit after realizing not even the finest jobs in finance can be fulfilling, which I thought would get better when I work at buy-side (supposedly “creating value”).

    As soon as I left, I brainstormed some ideas, built my first prototype in 10 days, and received so many requests asking for official launch date ever since. The sense of accomplishment is just amazing. Incomparable to my archived stack of DCF models.


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