How a 17-year-old Immigrant
Won Lottery

“I won the lottery twice.”

On Dec 24th, 1999 I was with my 4 siblings before going to Tan Son Nhat airport for my first airplane trip. I flew from Ho Chi Minh City to Houston at the age of 17.

Our last photo together in 1999

My uncle had promised me that he would get me a US high school education if I came. So my mom and dad, who ran an import/export business, scraped their money together and bought me the plane ticket.

My first lottery win

That was a lottery ticket because I was almost certainly the only kid in that town who left Viet Nam to live in the USA that entire year.

Tan Son Nhat Airport, Vietnam 1999

For a kid from a communist country to look down on tiny little rivers and farms and cars and buildings (when I was used to riding on the back of my dad’s tiny motorcycle) was a mind-blowing experience.

Motorcycles were the primary transportation for 99% of population in Vietnam, 1999

The first thing I did was sign up for math and science classes at Butler Community College. I took physics and calculus, saving history and psychology for later, when hopefully my English would be better.

My 1st community college experience in the US

One night about two weeks after I arrived, I had no friends. In my class, I aced the pop quiz and finished way ahead of time. My classmates looked at me and asked, “How do you do that?”

“I learned all this stuff back in Viet Nam,” I replied.

There was an American named Bill who was struggling in calculus. I sat down and walked him through the whole thing and he aced the next quiz. From that day on, he liked me and since I didn’t have a car, he would drive me from one campus to the other. 

That’s how I used calculus to make my first American friend.

Later that year, Bill invited me to his family’s Thanksgiving Dinner. I sat down with them at the table and his mom served turkey and stuffing and ham and muffins. ALL of this was totally new to me.

Especially the pumpkin pie. I knew what “pumpkin” was, and I knew what “pie” was, but it would have never occurred to me in a million years to put the two together. Americans have some pretty strange customs 🤔

In Vietnam, everyone does meals “family style” which means that there are bowls in the middle of the table and everyone takes their chopsticks and digs in. And that’s great.

My Family style dinner

But in America, they pass the green beans from person to person. When Bill’s mom passed the green beans and I held the warm pot in my hands, I felt a sensation of the family for the first time in ten months.

Bill and I have been friends ever since.

I once heard that Fidel Castro lived in the US for a number of years. I bet if someone had invited him over for Thanksgiving Dinner, he might have fallen in love with Americans instead of becoming our sworn enemy.

My second lottery win

The second time I won the lottery was when I got my green card in 2008.

In 2008, I won another lottery –

I had gotten a computer programming job and because I was a single immigrant I was willing to work long hours to help them achieve their goals.

They were in a massive time crunch because if the project was delivered late, they would lose a client. So one night I stayed up all night, jacked myself up on caffeine and delivered the project the next day.

When I first joined them, my salary was $40,000 and after my all nighter they raised my pay to $50,000. They promoted me to Senior Programmer in one year. 

I saved up enough money to bring my brother to live with me in Dallas, in my one bedroom apartment. A year later, I brought my sister over. Our tiny apartment could only accommodate three people and I still had two more sisters living in Vietnam.

Even at $50,000/year salary in 2006, I bought my first house soon after that, so I could bring them over too.

American Dream fulfilled for an immigrant at the age of 24

I never experienced the “American Pie” party and dating scene. I never understood people who wanted to do that. I came here to study and work hard. I wanted to accomplish something. I wanted the American Dream.

Remember my story about helping Bill with Calculus? My math skills helped me again and again. When I started writing code, I began using math to optimize processes, reduce waste, improve efficiency, output and seize opportunities.

I’ve always used math to make friends.

Recently I made a discovery that directly pertains to all businesses regardless of sizes. It’s something I call the  Opportunity Factor. There is a little-known calculus formula, recently published in Harvard Business Review, which I have since adapted for my marketing agency Produce Results. 

I have discovered that 95% of businesses have large gaps in their revenue customer profile. We use this to determine which groups of customers are under-performing and could easily spend more money with you if they were properly identified and appropriately contacted.

Turns out, after all these years I’m STILL using my math genius to make new friends. 

PPS Here’s a picture of me & my wife, my parents, brother & sister-in-law and my three sisters at our wedding  in 2017.

The entire family reunion + extended family members