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Hello, and welcome to the Offshoring and Outsourcing Philippines podcast. I’m your host, Dianne Grace and gracing us in this episode is the co-founder of C9 Staff Agency, Mr. Phillip Lew. He’s joining us from Antipolo City in Rizal.
To get the ball rolling, I’ll let Phillip tell us more about himself and his involvement with C9 Staff Agency. Welcome to the show, Phillip.
Hey Dianne, thank you so much for inviting me in. It’s a pleasure to be here. And again, my name is Phillip Lew and I am the co-founder and CEO of a company called C9 Staff and that’s c9staff.com and what we do at C9 Staff is a mixture of really three core areas. The first is management consulting work, so we work with a lot of companies around the world who are interested in understanding either how to outsource or how to execute an outsourcing campaign. So we get a lot of clients who sometimes don’t really know how to start in the process and so they need to talk to a group of individuals that can really walk them through everything from figuring out what they even need as well as who the right partners and how to execute effectively on what they may be trying to accomplish with outsourcing. And the second thing that we do is digital marketing consulting, so we have teams here of web developers and digital marketing professionals.
In Antipolo, we have a famous co-working company called Startup Labs and that’s startuplabs.ph. And at Startup Labs, what we do is it’s an incubator and accelerator program for entrepreneurs and freelance professionals and so they have an opportunity to compete with their startup ideas and of course we provide a workplace shared office community for them as well. And so, we have a huge reservoir of talent from our co-working community and so we do a lot of digital marketing work. And then the last thing that we do is call center work – very traditional inbound type phone support, email support, live chat support – so we do a little bit of everything I think for those who are interested in digital marketing, outsourcing, call center type endeavors.
Thank you for that. So, you’ve covered all the types of services that your company offers, just curious, how was C9 Staff Agency started? What made you interested into building this company Phillip?
Yeah, it’s interesting. I remember growing up, my mom used to tell me that at the end of the day, life is one of those things where as much as we try to control it, we are subject to unexpected coincidences and unexpected circumstances and that’s the sort of fun and mystery of life. Because I never was thought in million years, I would be sitting here doing outsourcing and digital marketing and call center work had you spoken to me four or five years ago because my story was, I came originally to the Philippines about four years ago, I was living in Costa Rica. I just finished a company that I owned in Los Angeles. I was doing a lot of financial consulting work and I had actually helped a lot of high school students prepare for college so I do a lot of admission consulting and financial planning for families who are sending their kids to college in the United States and I had basically finished that business and I had moved to Costa Rica and I just wanted to take basically a year off and relax and I ended up meeting this guy who was a meditation and sort of a yoga expert who had made quite a bit of money in the call center industry.
At that time, I didn’t really understand what that meant but I was peaked and curious about what this whole outsourcing industry was and so about four years ago I moved from Costa Rica to Philippines. And I moved here not knowing anything about outsourcing or anything about the industry and I was blown away by just how big the outsourcing industry really is. And I think a lot of people they don’t quite realize that if you’re a man, woman or child, chances are, you have purchased a product or service that’s contributed to the growth of the outsourcing industry. When you pick up the phone or you’re doing email support, live chat support, there’s a very high probability that you’ve spoken to someone offshore or overseas or even onshore through a third-party company that was outsourced for their particular services.
So, when I came to the Philippines, I was blown away and I knew was something I wanted to do and so I started working for my friend’s company – the one that I met in Costa Rica – and that company was called Global Sky. And my first job was, I was doing sales and business development and I did it very well. I brought in a lot of new clients for Global Sky, we helped the company grow quite dramatically within the two-year time period and after having done that, that gave me a lot of deep industry experience. Because what I started to learn, when I was doing sales, was I was understanding why a lot of business executives and entrepreneurs were looking to outsource to the Philippines, what they were trying to accomplish, the mistakes they were making, areas they could improve in, I had the chance to meet a lot of call center owners. I got really a sort of in-depth knowledge of what was working, what wasn’t working, how to hire, how the train – so all these different moving pieces that are required to build a world-class organization.
One of my clients actually was a man by the name of Darren Matloff who is the CEO of a company called Propel which is the second largest makers of remote-controlled drone toys in the United States, basically reached out to me and offered me the opportunity to become their global head of customer service. And so about two and a half three years ago, I left Global Sky and I start working for Propel as their global head of customer service. And so, part of what I did there was I set up the in-house customer service operations for their company and they sent me to Europe, Australia, New Zealand.
I set up seven offices around the world, I hired sales teams, set up logistics and operation offices, I hired country managers, negotiated distributor agreements for their product. So I did a lot of things even outside the scope of customer service and that was a really great experience and after having done that for a while, I decided that this was the time where I had done sales and I’ve been an executive but it’s really time to be an entrepreneur because that was in my heart and my soul. So actually, last year, me and two of my friends got together and we started C9 Staff and the reason why we did C9 Staff is for two reasons. One is because we’ve seen the monstrous growth in digital marketing as an industry and the amount of professionals who need digital marketing services in order to promote their products and services on the Internet and we also started to see the need of companies who are looking to outsource their digital marketing. And of course, with my experience in Propel having ran their entire customer service organization, I was really passionate about working with clients who are looking to outsource their customer service whether that was consumer products or technology products, software products – the areas that we’re really passionate in.
So, we combine their forces and we started C9 Staff and it kind of took off from there and this has been a very exciting year for us because this is the first year that we’ve really been more aggressive with our marketing promotions, in our sales and going asking the clients and really building an organization that I think we can be really proud of long-term.
Interesting. I agree with you Phillip when you said that there’s a noticeable increase in digital marketing recently, so I agree with you on that. Did you look into other countries? There are other countries who also have a market for BPO companies, why the Philippines?
Yeah, it’s a great question. Because when we think about Outsourcing, to me what gives me so excited about the outsourcing industry is when you look at how outsourcing, I think it’s a story that was inside of a much larger story that’s taking place and I think that largest story is of course digitization of global workplaces. We’re seeing global economies starting to “turn on” as a result of cheaper phones and more widespread internet access. So in other words, ten years ago outsourcing was predominantly done in India, in the Philippines but now due to the advent of cheaper phones, cheaper mobile devices, faster Internet connectivity and of course software tools and IT technology – what we’re starting to see is a trend where you have countries that can now outsource their labor and their services and their creative talent in ways that they couldn’t have done 10-20 years ago. So, you’re correct, when you think about outsourcing, there’s countries all over the world now that provide great talent.
I’ve seen amazing outsourcing solutions in South Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia. Latin America is a fantastic area and of course Southeast Asia and India and of course even the North American markets like Canada, the United States and Western Europe also offer outsourcing but in areas that may be counter-intuitive. And I outsource all over the world, I have people in America that I work with and people in Europe that I use for particular tasks and then of course I have outsourcing in the Philippines and I’ve even used Indian outsourcing. So different countries are fantastic depending upon what your goals are, what you’re trying to do and what the objectives are of your outsourcing campaigns.
Now the reason why I chose the Philippines is I think there were two reasons. One was because when I first came to the Philippines from Costa Rica when I was sort of living in Costa Rica, it was that it was the country that my friend at that time already sort of knew and understood. He’d already have a call center, he’d already kind of understood how to do labor, so incorporations, so that kind of that that template was already there so it was fairly comfortable for me to sort of recreate what I had learned through observation. And the second reason is I think the Philippines is unique among all outsourcing nations which is one of the reasons why the Philippines has such a large outsourcing industry. They have over a million employees now and that number is growing and I think a lot of this because of how amazing Filipinos professionals are and not only English-speaking but also American and Western cultural norms. And so, everything from writing acumen to speaking, to just the underlying thinking, there’s so much synergy and so much alignment there. If you are looking to outsource, it’s very comfortable to outsource I think to the Philippines.
One of the things I think that people don’t realize about the Philippines, that people think of the Philippines, they think of phone support where you have people answering phones, but a lot of very high-level I call it sort of mid-level work – this is back office administrative work and even creative work – I think can be outsourced to the Philippines and it can be equal to or even superior to that of phone support, so the outsourcing industry is very broad and there’s a lot of opportunities available.
Excellent, thank you for that. So, from Los Angeles to Costa Rica and now to the Philippines. In our other interviews, I have interviewed people who have decided to stay in their home country such as America or Australia but manage their company here, but that’s different with you because you decided to stay here. Is there an advantage to staying here in the country?
Yeah, it’s one of those things where you’re right, a lot of entrepreneurs who either own or operate BPOs or call centers in the Philippines have actually never been to the Philippines or they’ll come to the Philippines for a little while and they set it up and then they’ll head back to their home country which is perfectly fine as well. What I found and I really learned this when I had that fortunate opportunity to work under the mentorship of Darren Matloff who was my boss and mentor at Propel, one of the things he used to teach me is that you should never underestimate the value of face-to-face and not just whether we’re talking about sales meetings or doing sales presentations, but in terms of hiring your teams, building your teams and creating a world-class organization. On that, face-to-face is so valuable. And when we set up our company, some of the most important things that we wanted to do was to create sort of a management team that was behind us that could really execute on a high level and that takes training, that takes coaching, that takes mentorship, it takes education, self-education and also worked really hard to teach our people new ways of thinking so that when they do talk to clients and our vendors and our partners, these people say to themselves like “Wow, these C9 guys they are next level.” And that’s really what we’re going for in order to differentiate us from the marketplace and so I spend a lot of time here in the Philippines working with my teams, training my teams.
The other piece to it as well as I think being in the Philippines as well is it really helps you understand where you can execute with outsourcing because sometimes I think a lot of people make the mistake like they might want to either run some type of whether it’s a sales campaign or anything, telemarketing and they’ll have an idea of what they want to do and one of the first questions that they should ask themselves is “Okay, is the Philippines the right place to execute on this idea?” And having spent a lot of time in the Philippines and working with a lot of Filipino colleagues and business partners, I’ve really come to understand where the Philippines can execute in a world-class way and what areas where it might make sense outsource to other global markets. So, I think that also is a result from spending a lot of time here.
Okay. For our audience’s knowledge, you have two office locations here in the Philippines, one in Eastwood, Quezon City and another in Antipolo City, Rizal. What made you decide to have these two offices in different locations?
Yeah. So originally when we first decided to open up our own business after Propel, my partners and I, we had this vision of doing this this really unique concept with co-working where we’re going to put a co-working space. So, this is similar to those who may not know co-working is, it’s sort of a shared office solution where you can pay a daily or monthly rate and you can use a shared office solution, or you can get permanent office space if you do that as well. So, we wanted to do something like this and we looked at the Metro Manila market and we had decided that there was already a lot of companies that were engaged in co-working and it was very competitive because a lot of these companies, like we had international investors and so they had very large budgets to help spend people on Facebook ads and Google ads and things of that sort. So, we didn’t really want to compete head-on dollar-for-dollar like that because we’re not a million-dollar company so what we decided to do was to pivot our strategy and we picked Antipolo, Rizal because for two reasons.
One is because a large percentage of people who actually work in Metro Manila actually live in Antipolo, so Antipolo is about a one-hour drive going up in altitude from the city and so a lot of a lot of call center agents, a lot of freelancers, a lot of professionals who work in the city actually live in Antipolo and so our bet was that we opened up a co-working space in Antipolo that it would help people who needed a place to work but didn’t want to drive and go through the traffic every day. Because here in the Philippines, especially in metro areas, the traffic can just be absolutely insane and so we opened up the co-working space and it was been an absolutely fantastic success. We’re blown away, we open up a meetup group and we just said “Hey, we have a startup community.” And within 72 hours, our meetup group us was at capacity and what we didn’t realize was there such a thirst in the Filipino community especially freelancers and entrepreneurs who are looking for resources and who are looking for advice and tips. And so, with Antipolo, we were able to build a start-up co-working company very inexpensively and very quickly and with zero competition.
So, we’re currently the only co-working company in Antipolo and that serves us well. And for Eastwood, the reason why we did Eastwood was because the co-working is great and that’s a big part of what makes us different with our BPO clients, is a lot of clients come to us because of our talent pools that we have access to through our co-working. But one of the reason why we like Eastwood is because of Eastwood’s location, so Antipolo does have a lot of professionals that live there and they work in the city, but what we found is for clients that need 50 to a hundred employees, call center staff, call center workers, Eastwood by far is just a much better area for talent of that sort. And of course the other reason why we like Eastwood as well is because we have a really great partnership with a company in Eastwood that provides our office space and they’ve been able to give us state-of-the-art equipment, computer terminals, internet speed, infrastructure, biometric scans and CCTVs and all the things that we need so that when we’re meeting with our clients, we can we control them a world-class infrastructure for their for their companies.
Well speaking on behalf of the people of Antipolo City, we thank you for starting the co-working space trend in their area.
Yeah. That’s actually a big thing that we’ve heard from a lot of government employees in Antipolo, is the desire for more PTO to come out there. So, we’re working with the government right now to help improve some of the infrastructure and requirements to make the community more attractive because you’re right, if more BPOs do go to Antipolo, it increases the success of that local economy.
I agree. On the client side I just wanted to ask, do you have experiences wherein your clients came in the Philippines to visit your office?
Yeah. It’s very common and that’s one of the other reasons why I am based in the Philippines at least for the time being because a lot, especially high-level campaigns, these are campaigns where they need to hire 100-200-300 agents to do customer service for a very large part of their business. Very often before those decisions are finalized, either the CEOs will fly into the Philippines or they’ll send someone to the Philippines to do a site visit so it’s really important to have that face-to-face. So yeah, it’s very common and I think it’s very I think it’s a very good idea. I really recommend anyone who is thinking about how sourcing to the Philippine because they have the time to do so to definitely come to the Philippines and even it’s a tour, just two or three days, I think the opportunity just sort of drive through the city, see what the BPO industry looks like, meet people in the BPO industry, it’s going to give you a whole new dimension to think about your business and think about what’s ultimately going to be in your best interest.
Based from all the things that I’ve heard from you today, I can sense the passion that you have for outsourcing. What is your main takeaway for our audience, especially those who are interested in maybe dipping their toes to outsourcing here in the country?
Yeah, my main advice is this is a very unique time I think in human history. This is the only time I guess, just to give you a comparison, anyone who has access to a smartphone today has access to better technology than the present United States had access to 50 years ago. Cellphones they are more powerful than the most powerful supercomputers 30-40 years ago and that trend is accelerating. Technology is progressing and so I think it presents two really unique forces, forces I think are shaping our world. The first one is what I call the democratization of labor on resources and what that basically means is that it’s not quite here yet but we’re getting to a point now where whether you’re in South Africa or the Philippines or India or Malaysia, United States, Canada or Costa Rica, you have the same opportunities as the person next door – you have the same access to information.
We’re at a point now where literally any skill that you may seek to acquire and knowledge that you may think you need is rapidly available to you for free and so the world is almost demonetizing in a sense. Things are becoming cheaper and more affordable. And so even the playing field, at the same time there’s more competition now than ever before, so my suggestion with this incredible opportunity that that is now available with outsourcing is the number one recognized that to me outsourcing is a trend that is not only growing, but it’s accelerating so when you think of things like robotic process, automation, when we think of things like machine learning and artificial intelligence, when you think of things like chatbots and virtual agents and how many customer service companies and outsourcing companies are augmenting their human resource, outsourcing with technology to either increase efficiency or improve their capabilities.
When you look at these kinds of things happening, it should give you an incredible wealth of ideas of how you can use tools and technologies and specializing and focusing on a niche offering services and solutions to help businesses and this is a trend that’s going to continue to grow and one of the most important things that I think is different now than I think how it was even 20-30 years ago is 20-30 years ago if you went to college and you’ve got a degree, you’re guaranteed a job, security and retirement. At least that was sort of the sense in the United States where I’m from.
Now, what we’re seeing I think is a world where industries are growing as quickly as other industries are collapsing. We’re seeing a world where literally someone can take 12 weeks and learn a digital marketing certification course or learn an artificial intelligence programming course and in 12 weeks, have acquired a set of skills that will allow them to earn more salary than eight years of college education that could cost a fortune. So, education is now democratized and demonetized so it’s fascinating. You can learn so many skills and equip yourself with the kinds of knowledge and skills that companies are hungry for and there’s a tremendous amount of opportunities that companies are looking for that they can find qualified people because the skills are so cutting edge.
So, it’s a really exciting time I think when you look at the world through those lenses, so again my advice is there is an infinite realm of opportunities available in outsourcing and it comes down to what is your passion, what is your mission in life, what are you trying to accomplish? And to do something that of course will give you joy and that will allow you make your mark on this world in whatever fashion that may be.
Phillip, as we move towards the end of the program, can you give our listeners your website and how interested folks can get in touch with you or with C9 Staff Agency?
Yeah. So, our website is c9staff.com and so again, we’re a creative design digital marketing agency and we also do call center outsourcing services for our clients. So, if you’re interested in our services, you can reach out to us on our website. If you are a digital marketing professional, call center professional looking for work opportunities, you can fill out our information online. We’re always hiring for new positions for our clients and you can also reach out to me directly. My email is email@example.com and I’d be happy to connect with anyone who’s interested.
Thank You Philip for joining us on the show. I know you’re a very busy person.
Well thank you as well and it was great talking with you.
Alright. Once again, I’m your host Dianne Grace for the Offshoring and Outsourcing Philippines podcast and we thank Phillip Lew from C9 Staff Agency for joining us today. This interview will be available on our website at www.offshoring.com.ph as well as on our social media accounts – YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Also, do check us out on SoundCloud, TuneIn and iTunes. Once again, the website for C9 Staff Agency is c9staff.com. This is Dianne Grace for the Offshoring and Outsourcing Philippines podcast.