Recently I received a LinkedIn message regarding my blog series about my 13 months living and setting up a business in the Philippines. The message contained some pretty good questions so I thought the best way to answer it would be to share the conversation with you.
Q: I’m always curious to hear why people have chosen the Philippines over other countries to start a business in?
A: From my perspective, the Philippines is a truly phenomenal place to be right now. I ask everyone is there any country today in a better position to make such significant and long lasting positive changes in the very fabric of the country? Being the home of some many overseas workers and their remittances, being the call center capital of the world, be positioned close to some of the biggest markets in the world and blessed with a unique connection to the United States are just some of the reasons. Its on the verge of something truly special. You can feel it where you are there. So for professional reasons that’s why I decided to move there and set up a business. There are even more personal reasons why I love the Philippines, but that’s a different question.
Q: Even given some of the press around about the difficulties with traffic, weather, corruption?
A: They are all significant challenges that can indeed hinder growth. However, I think the Philippines is being forced to evolve as a nation by some key demographics that make its growth unavoidable. The average being 23, the level of English taught and used, the culture of embracing work either coming from or going to the rest of the world. The traffic is a nightmare in Manila, but you are seeing a lot of growth in the provinces as a result. The weather is a problem, but the county is big enough and the important economic drivers are diverse enough to weather major calamities. Corruption is a huge problem, but its getting better. It is being addressed at all level of society and progress is being made. I survived getting stuck in traffic on EDSA, caught in flood waters up to my waste and forced to pay a fixer to get some things done faster and none these things lesson my confidence in the Philippines.
Q: From a business perspective, I see a growing trend in being able to provide customized types of products and services. Are niche businesses offering customized products and services viable?
A: When I compare the challenges of setting up a small business and taking your product/service to the market, its 10x easier than it is in the U.S. There challenges are very different. In the Philippines your success will depend on who you know and how your business identity is perceived. You have to but a lot more effort into making connections and making sure everyone is happy and engaged. There is a lot of bureaucracy that goes with setting up a business there so it’s key to have the right connections to smooth things out.
Q: I am looking to recruit some people to do some web design work. Is it better to look for established workers or go with college age students.
A: I tend to go with younger, less proven talent in most cases. This goes against conventional wisdom in the Philippines. I have noticed that in general Filipinos place a higher value on certifications and accomplishments than most. And the school systems push out a lot of graduates with similar training and skills sets. Conformity and coloring within the lines is expected for most white collar jobs. The more time spent in this rigid system the harder it is to find someone who thinks outside the box. So going with the whole I prefer to train a blank slate versus having to untrain someone who is already programmed. However, the flipside is they will probably need more supervision and direction then someone with experience.
Q: I would love to hear more about which things you would do differently second time around.
A: To quote one of the most quoted saying of all time… “I shall return!” And when I do I will make these three significant changes in my approach. (1) I will be more hands on with the people I hire. I will not micromanage like many do, but I will be more active in empowering and teaching successful work habits to the people on my team. (2) I will be more frugal in my expenses. I overspent a lot on things because I was charged foreigner prices. Having a Filipino negotiate things for you is key. (3) I will live more like a Filipino and less like a foreigner. By the time I left I took Jeepneys and Buses more often than taxis. I was eating more Filipino food from small vendors and avoiding high priced meals at chains in the mall. Things like that go a long way in both making you fit in a little more and saving you a lot of money.
I am always happy to share my insights and experiences. I hope that helps!