The High Costs of Trust

Trust

One of the main problems of company culture is the level of trust. Where do we draw the line when it comes to trust? And if we do draw the line somewhere, can we justify it?

A lot of business people here in the Philippines tell me that the workforce here is not yet ready for the level of trust that companies abroad give their employees. That Google’s culture will never work here. The local workforce is just too emotional. And too undisciplined.

While it’s true that I’ve seen my share of a significant lack of discipline in the workforce, I have not shut down the idea of trying to build such a culture. I believe it can happen – with the right people.

With the right team.

The question is: HOW?

How do you attract the right people? And how do you make sure that they ARE the right people?

This may be the goldmine of a question as an entrepreneur. As a leader.

I believe that a culture that will attract the right people will be centered around trust. You trust your people and your people trust you.

I’m not talking about leaving a whole lot of cash right at the office floor and believing that your team will simply return it to you or surrender it to the HR (although that may be a good scenario for measurement).

I’m talking about you trusting your team to do the work and to do it well. And when they have nothing else to do, to innovate and grow.

I’m talking about your team trusting you to keep moving the company forward – cashflow, innovation, legal, branding, etc. I’m talking about respect.

I’ve heard scenarios wherein the employee watches Youtube videos whenever the boss isn’t looking. I’ve heard stories about people in the office using Facebook for personal reasons in company hours. In fact, I’ve experienced it myself – in my own team.

You see, we allow access to all websites in the internet – something that most companies here in the Philippines don’t practice. Some people think it’s stupid because it makes way for employees to ‘steal’ company hours. I believe that it creates opportunity.

An opportunity specifically for people who will rise above what the average Filipino employee will opt to do – and say ‘no’ to time theft. An opportunity for personal discipline.

I believe that everything in our world today that is worth recognizing is done with significant amount of self-discipline. The discipline to say ‘no’ to distractions and to say ‘yes’ to productivity and efficiency.

Important vs Urgent Chart

It’s not easy to eliminate distractions. But it’s the right thing to do. Whenever you’re tempted to open Facebook ‘just because’. Whenever you’re tempted to watch that Youtube video because you’re ‘bored’ but you know you’ve got some things to do – and it’s company working hours.

I try my best to plan important goals, sprint critical activities, delegate or delay interruptions and eliminate distractions. That is what makes a good leader great. That’s what makes a good manager great. That’s what makes a normal team player great.

Is this something that’s prevalent in the Filipino workforce? I can only answer that question in a relative standpoint. And here’s my take: No.

I’m still seeing the gap and huge lack of efficiency and discipline in our workforce today. I believe that it will take a huge culture change – perhaps a positive cycle to break this. It’s not an easy task. However, it is achievable as I see the discipline in most Filipino entrepreneurs I come across.

I’ve been also seeing these things in my own team. There are people who work and who shut out distractions during working hours. They, by far, are the best performing people in the teams in our company. It doesn’t take so much brainpower to know that when you are efficient and disciplined in your own work, you will come out as one of the A players in your team.

It’s just the hard, solid truth of work that’s been known to man ever since.

That’s why Jack Welch eliminated the lower 10% of GE’s workforce every year. That’s why Steve Jobs fired off all the B players of Apple. That’s why Netflix believes that firing people is one of the ways to grow your company.

It is because there will be people in your team who will perform and who will be self-managed, self-disciplined, efficient and productive – and then there will be those who are not because they let distractions get the best of them. Because they don’t have the same vision. Because they don’t have the discipline to say ‘no’,

The thing is, life is full of distractions – and our company culture of the open web is no real help at all. This leaves me with three simple choices:

1) Block off all distractions – and leave social media access open only to those who really need it

2) Enforce a penalty – for those who are evidently slacking off or doing other things during company hours

3) Leave it to the A players to influence the team – which I believe is the best option. We have people who are disciplined, who work well and who eliminate distraction. Best of all, they have influence.

I know that betting on #3 is not really a management decision. It’s a decision bent towards trust and I do recognize its high costs. People may simply keep on with the distractions they love. People may keep on with slacking off during company hours. And yes it’s not alright.

However even if you are able to control the environment, you damage some intangible aspects of the team dynamics – trust. And that, for me, is the most important aspect of a winning team. Trust carries an extremely high cost – I’ve felt the consequences even to the point of losing a client or two.

But I can’t imagine moving the company forward without it being the driving factor.

I trust my team to do the right thing. To improve. To innovate. To meet their goals. To grow.

I’m paying the price to see those things come true someday.

And when that day comes, I know that we’ll be unstoppable.

Grinding on a Second Startup

Qeryz FB Headline

It’s been a little over 3 months since I started Qeryz. We started the first of May and we’ve been cracking heads in development and marketing ever since.

I’ve always imagined SEO Hacker to be an awesome company with an awesome culture. And by God’s grace it has turned out that way. The office is full of fun (sometimes too much fun), laughter and intelligent people. I’ve also always imagined SEO Hacker’s revenue capacity to be somewhat limited.

We can only do so much, hire so much people and get so much clients. It will soon come to a grinding halt. And right now, as some key people leave the company, it seems as if I will find myself oiling the cog once more. And all that plus pumping blood and juice to Qeryz.

We’ve done a ton of developments at Qeryz since we started. I keep pushing our development team to grow, innovate, learn and do things beyond their current potential and knowledge. Personally, I’m dealing with funding, business development, CRO and marketing. It’s a whole lot of fun – and a whole lot of work.

Here are some recent developments we’ve made over at Qeryz:
  • Export to CSV – You can export all text-based responses in CSV format sorted by date and time.
  • Data Purity Intelligence – whether a customer goes to other pages in your website or out of your website, they can continue where they left off in your survey.
  • Left or Right Placement - You can now set where you want Qeryz to pop-up if there’s something occupying the right side of your website
  • WordPress integration – We know that coding is not for everyone. So we made sure to develop a WordPress plugin just for you to be able to use Qeryz without code.
  • Email notifications - Responses can now be reported straight to your email. We know you’re busy so we made sure to give you the option to remind yourself of your survey results.

And just so you know, here’s what we’re busy about right now:

  • Qeryz analytics – Be able to see how your survey is performing so you can optimize your survey to gather more, better responses
  • Export entire surveys to CSV – We know that all of that data is important to you so we’re making sure that you will be able to export your entire responses data to CSV.
  • Joomla, Magento, Drupal integrations - No coding needed. You’ll just have to download the Qeryz plugin and your survey will be up and running in minutes.
  • Affiliate program – People who love Qeryz will share Qeryz. There’s a way to earn from sharing! We are giving away lifetime commissions for those who are able to refer new Qeryz users.

There’s a huge line of features waiting to be developed in our Pivotal Tracker. It’s amazing how many things one simple SaaS tool needs to have to make it work. We’re also gaining some ground. Check out our first customer tweet about Qeryz from Paul Shapiro:

He also verifies the existing demand for an alternative to Qualaroo for the individual.

I’ve burned some of my personal savings funding Qeryz thus far. Me and my development team have put heart, soul and some of our future at risk to make this work. There’s just too much at stake here for us to turn back now.

While it’s true that Qeryz has yet to see its real debut and it’s yet to earn its first real revenue, it is promising. However SEO Hacker is still my first love and is still the one that brings home the bacon. I’m grinding with a second start up but perhaps it’s time to pause and build up my first – at least until it gets back on its feet again.

Right now I’ve implemented an A/B test for Qeryz’ homepage. I’m seeing results but it’s not enough for me to declare a verdict. CRO has always been exciting – I think it’s the future demand of all websites after the SEO era has died down. That’s also one reason why Qeryz will be double awesome then – it’s as much a CRO tool as anything else.

We’re seeing much better usage rates from when we started. The marketing team has done a really good job trying users to get to use Qeryz in their website. We’re very excited about the deals we have in place for Qeryz to be used massively in some of the biggest websites here in the Philippines.

Things are cracking down – it’s just a matter of time when Qeryz will fly.

Try it out. It’s free. http://qeryz.com

What’s a Good Business?

Starting up SEO Hacker

“Pa, I want to quit my job. SEO Hacker is doing well and it doesn’t make sense for me to work in an 8am – 5pm shift in Hewlett Packard anymore. The travel time is almost 3 hours back and forth, the commute is tiresome, I pay for lunch and sometimes for dinner when I need to stay for overtime. It just doesn’t make sense.”

It’s been 4 years since I said those words. I was naive, young and too caught up with the growth of my new passion. If I could go back in time and say 5 short words to myself back then it would be this: “It’s not easy starting up.”

A lot of people are asking me the question “How do you start a business?” Ultimately, what they’re really asking me is “What’s a good, profitable business to be in?”

There’s a paradox between those lines. You see, if I could tell you which businesses will be good and profitable, that means that other entrepreneurs out there are thinking of the same. And good businesses to be in means that there are already tons of competition (or soon to be competition) around that industry – because it’s KNOWN to be GOOD.

We all know what happens to a GOOD business when competition starts building around it. Supply and demand.

There’s the inverted U curve that dictates, “There can only be so many competitors before the industry turns bad.” Then the business won’t be as good anymore. Probably ever.

Only those who are really passionate about that industry will survive. And only those with enough creative juices to rework its monetization, user experience, product development, and JIT delivery, among other things will make it to the top – and stay there.

This is the lifeblood of a start-up: Passion. Without it, you’ll bleed dry under the heavy yoke of economy fluctuation, product/market fit movement, government policy changes, increasing taxes, inflation, competition, etc.

The thing is, 90% of start-ups fail. But you may not realize it in words so I’ll try to amplify it for you a little bit.

90 FRIKKIN’ PERCENT OF START UPS FAIL.

Statistically speaking, that means out of 10 tries in starting up, risking your money, time, effort and connections, you are going to FAIL. Time is the building blocks of life. So ultimately, you’ll waste a lot of your life before you can make one start up work.

I’m not saying that passion will make that statistic better for you. Passion takes you through the dip – it does not affect all the external factors you’ll have to deal with.

But let’s say you do succeed in the first year of starting up. What then? It’s almost 3 years since I registered SEO Hacker as an official sole proprietor business. By God’s grace, we’re under the process of incorporating it. I can’t really say that I’ve been there and done that. But I can share with you some thoughts that popped in my head somewhere along the way.

It’s Not Easy Starting Up

Starting Up

Starting up a business deals with finding a passion and making it real. It’s building on that dream and nurturing it with your life. It’s involving others along the way to help you make it big. It’s risking your money, years and life on sleepless nights trying to “float the boat”.

And at the end of it all, you can look back and relish every step of the way – but chances are, no one will be able to share the same fulfillment, the same joys, the same regrets as you may have.

Somewhere along the way, you may even encounter questions like, “What if I bail or sell out?”, or “What if I close down?”

After all, some companies pay huge amounts to a skilled worker.

I remember starting SEO Hacker up as a blog. I have not even registered it as an official business yet when I got my first job offer as an SEO Manager in a well known business process outsourcing company.

They were hiring me for 50,000php monthly salary plus some benefits. I turned it down. I thought I could earn more than that someday and I would be happier growing my own company.

A few months after that, another job offer. This time it was somewhere 80,000php/mo. I thought about it for a while. Asked around. Then turned it down.

A year after, another job offer, then another, then another. Somewhere in my second year of practice as an SEO specialist, I was being hired in Australia for somewhere around 600,000php/mo. It was admittedly huge – much more than what I was getting during the time.

When this opportunity presented itself, this verse came to my mind:

“Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.”Proverbs 22:29

Questions we Ask

So I thought about it. Prayed about it. Asked around. Still, I turned it down. Why?

Because I looked at my team. And as I saw the faces of those people who stayed for me and who toiled and sweat and burned the night oil for me, I could not bear the thought of leaving them.

Plus, I knew I may earn that money here in the presence of my family, friends and my fiancee during that time. Perhaps.

So I stayed.

Almost 2 years have passed since that job offer. What I’m getting is still nowhere close to that. And that’s completely fine.

I realize that starting up is tough. It has ripped me apart more than once in my life.

It’s just that I know that it’s the same exact ‘dip‘ that will make my life worth looking back to someday. How I started up companies may well be one of the stories that I would proudly tell my children and my grand children. And, God willing, perhaps even the generation after that.

It’s not easy starting up. It’s a thousand times easier to just get a job.

And that, my friends is what makes it that much more exciting.

Project Watch and Learn – Wrap Up

Group Row 4 Planning

Group Row 4 Planning at the SEO Hacker Conference Room

So there we were – a group of 4 men brainstorming on what kind of project we’re going to undertake.

“Fund raising seems tricky. How are we going to make that much money for our project?”

“Hold on, we don’t even know what kind of project we’re going to do. We need to know what we’re going to do so we can project how much money we need and what kind of fund raising we’re going to do.”

It was a long night. We came up with crazy ideas but we got two things right:

  1. We help a poverty-stricken public school in Manila through giving scholarships to some of their students
  2. We needed a huge fund raising event that would enable us to do that

So we met up again to discuss about the fund raising.

“How about a golf tournament event?”

“Yeah we could do that! Mark’s already done that a number of times.”

“We could also do an SEO seminar.”

“Yeah but how much are we gonna earn from an SEO seminar?”

“Well we could potentially generate 875,000 in gross revenue.”

“Okay we’re going with an SEO seminar.”

We brainstormed on how we can make SEO Summit 2014 come to life. It was an idea that Sean had in mind for quite some time now – and he’s going to do it with or without the need to raise funds anyway. So we went ahead and decided to do the SEO Summit as a fundraiser for the project.

Presenting to the Board

Armed with our ideas, we marched in and presented to the JCI board on January 21, 2014. The first one was without Sean Si – who was our SEO guy. Consequently, we were not immediately approved. We needed Sean to present his ideas on the SEO Summit to convince the board that it would work.

We were also able to conclude that helping out a school in manila through giving scholarships may not be the best, sustainable approach to a project. So we needed to rethink that.

When we came back to present again on February 14, 2014, we had Sean with us and we rethought the project to simply give away television and audio sets. Consequently, this had to come with the content to help the kids learn more and learn better – and in a more intriguing fashion.

Making things Happen

Timoteo Paez Elementary School

So we kept the ball rolling. Chariman Lec Toribio went ahead and talked to the schools in manila to find out which school would be the best one to apply our project to. We ended up choosing Timoteo Paez elementary school – which ranked 69th out of 72 schools in manila.

Mike made the promotional videos happen by conceptualizing it with our video editor.

Mark talked with the venue – Alphaland Southgate mall in hopes of achieving the best price possible for the said date.

Scouting Alphaland

Sean and his team proceeded to create the website, write the content needed, set-up the payment gateway, and finally market it out to SEO Hacker fans and followers in Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.

SEO Summit 2014

SEO Summit 2014 FB Event

Sean also contacted his events manager, ms Macky Soriano and hired her in helping us gather sponsors and an emcee for the event. She also coordinated the event proper.

Organizing and Planning

We were able to sell a good number of tickets online. 102 in total. For a first ever SEO Summit event, this was already a good number. All the payments went to Sean’s account – he was the appointed treasurer for the funds.

SEO Summit 2014

SEO Summit 2014

The event had a little over 200 people in it. The event venue was packed! Sponsors, attendees, the SEO Hacker team, and the JCI Manila team all present and rockin’. The three speakers delivered their presentations quite well. The questions at the ‘Ask me anything’ section were interesting at least and mind-boggling at best.

Getting Benj Arriola as a speaker was a grand feat for the team. In fact, the main reason that the event date was at June 21 was that Benj was coming back to the Philippines and that was his only available day to speak at the Summit.

Benj is the godfather of the Philippine SEO community. He’s been working in the USA for a decade now – and SEO practitioners here in the Philippines are very eager for him to do a talk. SEO Summit 2014 provided just that. In all, Benj Arriola and Jason Acidre’s presence made SEO Summit 2014 a success.

Accounting

SEO Summit actual financial statement

So we calculated the funds raised and we had a gross revenue of 534,400.00php from the SEO Summit. After paying off the suppliers, we were left with a profit of 256,195.67php to boot! As it turns out, this amount is exactly what we needed to pull off the turnover event.

We were able to purchase 12 32″ LED TV sets with speakers, the License to use over 100gb worth of Knowledge channel content, fund the turnover event itself and all materials used and suppliers hired to make the event possible.

In the end, we were left with 4,263.17php – which is still with us to date.

Teacher’s Training

We were able to ask Knowledge channel to train over 40 teachers in Timoteo Paez Elementary school on how to use the Knowledge Channel content effectively. This is extremely important because we want our goals for Project Watch and Learn to be delivered by the teachers.

Turnover Event

JCI Manila Turnover

Endless smiles and thank-you’s were the highlight of the day as we entered Timoteo Paez elementary school. We proceeded to install the first 32″ LED TV, speakers and the decorations in classroom 101.

The JCI board came in time to see and participate in the turnover ceremony. JCI Manila president Steve Tycangco gave a speech after Mike Uy gave the opening remarks. It was a moment to celebrate.

Our hard work and planning finally paid off.

 Til’ Next Time

Group Row 4 Turnover

So here we are now – three of us inducted as JCI Manila members and one of us waiting to be inducted some time this year. We’ve learned a lot and we’ve grown in certain aspects of our lives. We’ve learned how to organize a seminar for 350 people, we’ve learned how to haggle prices from suppliers along the way, and we’ve learned that giving for a cause is one of the most fulfilling experiences in life – among other things.

More than just a project, Watch and Learn has been a journey for Group Row 4. A journey we’ll never forget. A journey we’ll probably relive someday.

Ultimately, it’s a journey that must go on.

Juggling Between Two Startups

Juggling Between Startups

Finally starting up Qeryz is one of the things in my life that has long been overdue. I’ve always wanted to get into SaaS and there were some stats that Moz published way back May of 2012 that validated that. Take a look at this chart:

Moz Consulting vs SaaS

Did you notice how much revenue their consulting business was doing on a monthly basis? That’s huge! However, their SaaS/product revenue took over – and took over big time. They had a product/market fit that did incredibly well in taking them from a SEO services company to a SaaS company.

Comparing the revenue is like comparing apples and oranges. It’s just not there. The revenue from SaaS is sky high. And so, by 2010, Moz decided to pivot the company 100% to a SaaS business and grew it from there.

I’m simply following a roadmap that’s been proven effective. However Qeryz is a very different product from Moz Analytics. Qeryz is not an SEO product at all. It’s more of a data-gathering tool that you can use for vastly different purposes. It can help improve your CRO, your marketing strategy, your website design, and so on and so forth.

Moz pretty much laid out what I need to do from a business perspective. Here’s an interesting chart telling us their product performance during 2011:

Moz 2011 Financials

Kind of makes it easy for me and my partner to be able to see where we’re going, where Qeryz will be someday, and whether we should keep on or not. I know the Moz numbers are colossal and we are probably not going to get to that – probably ever. But hey, not trying means we miss 100%. I’m not going to let myself miss  by that huge a margin.

Moz has a limited days for their free trial account. It doesn’t mean that we have to follow that model. We can go freemium and it could work. From this chart, we could see how much they are able to convert from those free subscribers on a monthly basis. Our freemium chart will look very different. This, however, gives us a good idea about the goals we could set for free user conversions to Pro.

Moz Free Trial vs Pro

As always, there are takeaways for each Moz post. Their vision for the future outlines what they should and should not do. Right now we haven’t outlined what we shouldn’t do or shouldn’t be. We’ll get there perhaps when a lot of user requests for more features to be built. As of now, we’re as lean as a lean SaaS startup can be.

Moz Vision for SaaS

Moz is a funded company so naturally they have funded revenue estimates. This isn’t really relevant to what we’re doing since we have no real funding. Again, we’re as lean as lean can be. Our start up funds came from my personal savings. This may be a diversification strategy or a pivotal strategy altogether depending on how Qeryz goes.

 

Moz 5 year Revenue Estimates

Some recent development with Qeryz:

We’re rolling out our freemium account with 200 responses per month. This will be in tune with launching our pro account which amounts to $15 a month for 1,000 responses. It’s an extremely cheap beta account but any account enrolled this time will be grandfathered to when we roll it out officially.

So people who are subscribing as a pro account will pay $15/mo forever even if we increase prices. That’s just the way it is.

We’ve also finally been able to preserve the quality and purity of data. Whenever a user visits other pages or goes out of your website and back in, he will still be able to continue off with the last question he was asked with your Qeryz survey. This is a huge development! Data will no longer be skewed in any way. Yes it can be paused but it will not be skewed.

We’ve also been able to make sure that when you minimize a Qeryz survey, it stays minimized. As a webmaster, I respect my user’s experience and hold it in high esteem. We assume our users will be the same. So we made sure that when users minimize a Qeryz survey, it stays that way even if they visit other pages in the website or even if they go out of the site and revisit it within the day.

We’ve also made sure that people will be able to track the clicks of every link our thank you message box delivers. This way, you’ll know whether your thank you message is effective in bringing your users to the page or action you want to bring them to.

These are just some developments. There are tons more in our Icebox that we’ll deliver and test in the coming months. I’ll keep you posted.

Image Source: http://moz.com/blog/mozs-18-million-venture-financing-our-story-metrics-and-future

An SEO Company that doesn’t know SEO?

Fake SEO Company - iconcept seo

There’s a specific SEO company here in the Philippines that is continuing to damage the Philippine SEO community as a whole. They’re ranking first page for the keyword ‘SEO Philippines’ but their website looks spammy as hell. You’ll figure out who it is for sure. All you need to do is click through all the websites.

The funniest thing that happened to me is that this company sent me a demand letter. Apparently my SEO Philippines article was ranking for their brand name – on the fourth place of the first page! They sent me a demand letter to take it down – so that’s that.

I assume that it turned off tons of potential clients already so they resorted to political means to get to put the article down. I don’t mind – I didn’t intend for the article to rank for their brand name anyway.

Which makes it all the funnier. The SEO company can’t even do their own ORM for their branding.

ORM is much like SEO – only done with more suave, tact and effort. It’s like SEO x 10. It’s a big bad joke that this company can’t even manage their own search engine brand rankings and they’re doing SEO for other people and companies. It’s everything that me and my company stands for.

Highly unethical, highly abusive, highly misdirecting. It’s all smokes and mirrors when you get them as your SEO company. Your company’s SEO campaign is standing on sand. A little shake and it’ll all tumble down.

I should know. Some of their clients came to SEO Hacker asking for help – and we had to clean their act up.

If you’d like to directly know the company’s brand name, it starts with “I” and ends with “SEO”.

Common sense will fill up the rest.

No Free Lunch

No-Free-Lunch

There are just people who don’t get it.

Day in and day out, they think they’re going to be on top of the world. They think that the world owes them. That they get a free lunch just because they’re young, they got talent and they can work.

It’s all smokes and mirrors. And they’ve bought in.

In fact, they’ve gulped down every last drop.

The fact is, the world is tough, it’s harsh and you have to deal with it in your own little way.

People tell me that some people in our office needs a new laptop, they need office supplies such as soap, tissue paper – and all such ‘necessities’ that they consume. And that’s fine – they do need that. The thing is, they’re looking at it in the wrong perspective.

Yeah, these are things provided in a corporate set-up. These are consumables that are given for free on top of the benefits and such in another, well-established and well-funded company. Not here.

Not at SEO Hacker.

And no I’m not about to go pity-partying here. That’s life – that’s what a zero capital, bootstrap company really is at its 2nd year of operation.

I know a company that requires its people to pay for their own drinking water because their people consume a lot of drinking water in a month.

Tough!

“Drinking water is a necessity and they have their people pay for it?!”

Newsflash: Drinking water in SEO Hacker is paid by the company. Is it a benefit?

Well, after I’ve seen the company that had its employees pay for their drinking water with my own eyes, I believe the answer is ‘Yes’.

Let’s take the word ‘BENEFIT’ and break it down:

  1. An advantage or profit gained from something.
  2. A payment or gift made by an employer, the state, or an insurance company.

I don’t see the word ‘deserve’ anywhere in the definition. And YET – people think that they deserve BENEFITS.

One hell of an irony, isn’t it?

As a start-up, you don’t want people who think this way in your team. They are people who are brought up with crab, employee and entitlement mentalities. Don’t keep them.

The best thing to do is encourage them to go where they are happiest – to the corporate, established and well-funded companies.

That’s where they’ll be truly happy. It’s a win-win. They get the benefits they want and you have more room for teammates who will truly be loyal, committed and hardworking for your vision and cause.

Whether or not you tell them of the upper and lower hands of a corporate setting, they will always choose the benefits, the higher salaries and the luxuries of working in a corporate world. I know – I’ve been there. It’s a waste of time, effort and brain juice to tell them otherwise.

They will not understand the risks you took to putting your own neck and financial future on the line. They will not understand the money you invested – your own sweat and blood, just to keep the business alive and provide a good working environment for them. They will not understand the effort and toil you put in – closing deals, slugging it out with clients, looking for leads. They won’t get it.

They just won’t.

And they wouldn’t understand that in the long run (if they’re the right A player with the right perspective and character) they’ll receive good work positions, fairly distributed equity, benefits, and surmountable salaries among other things. People who focus on these things are the right people – people with long-term vision and with faith in the company’s future.

There are people in your team who wants it fast, who wants it easy, and who wants it now. These people are parasites. You have to know who they are and put them where they want to be – as much as possible, outside of your team. Bad eggs affect the quality of the good ones.

For the bad eggs the slogan, “This world owes me” is true.

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Respecting the Final Decision

Final decision

I’ve decided to incorporate SEO Hacker – and give some equity away to my top-level managers in the team. Of course, ownership means taking hits on the good and bad ends of the company. However, getting equity without having to invest any money is still a huge win – especially if you’ll get it when the company’s already in a winning stance.

I guess I’m writing this entry because of the realizations of differing opinions and conflicting styles and perspectives. It happens.

Jim Collins often refer to the debates in the boardroom among directors and executive managers. It’s inevitable when you have all these smart, driven people who wants to make a company grow the best way they know how.

However, at the end of the day, whatever the final decision will be, however agreeable it is to one or two of the board members, it has to be respected. When you go out of that meeting, you will do nothing but support the decision. And when the decision fails, you will not say “I told you so” or “I knew it”, you will say “We failed and it’s a learning investment. Let’s get back up and try again.”

It’s much like how a husband and wife have differing backgrounds, opinions and perspectives in life, marriage and parenting. But it all boils down to whatever the leader of the family has decided on. Whether the others agree with it or not, it should be respected. It shouldn’t be slandered or brought down or blamed – especially in front of other people. It should be held up and respected.

Someday I know I’ll have management disputes and we’ll have debates in the boardroom. Decisions will have to be made whether or not everyone agrees.

Whatever happens, everyone has to respect the final decision and own it as if it was theirs to begin with.

Starting up my First SaaS Business

Qeryz Logo

I was using this other tool that I needed to gather data for the SEO Summit 2014. It was a tool that I’ve used before – perhaps a year ago. It’s a microsurvey that beautifully pops-up on the lower-right section of the screen. However, upon checking back, the tool was charging an insane amount for its functionality. This ticked me off.

I still signed up though because it was the only one of its kind. No competition. I thought signing up would soothe my thoughts on their pricing.

Sad to say, it did not.  I was extremely disappointed on how the owners were handling this great SaaS product.

So I scratched my own itch.

I figured that a tool like that shouldn’t be that expensive. After all, the functionality isn’t that complicated. We could create one of our own, make it extremely basic and sell it far cheaper.

A few weeks after that, Qeryz was born.

The Making

The phone was ringing. I was waiting for my good friend, Richmond “Mon” Ibasco to pick up.

“Hello?”

“Mon! I have an awesome idea for a product.”

“Yeah? What is it?”

“It’s an extremely simple information gathering tool that people can use. I’m sure you can do it in a month or two.”

“Really? Lemme see.”

“I’ll send you the link over Facebook.”

A minute went by. All I heard were mouse clicks at the other end of the line.

“Hmmmm… Looks simple enough to me.”

“I know right?! And you know what? They’re charging an insane amount for this!”

I continued to show Mon the pricing page of the tool.

“No way!”

“I know, right? Such a simple tool and they’re charging this much.”

“Yeah but you bought it.”

“That’s because there’s no other alternative. There’s no competition for them. Know what that means?”

“Not really.”

“It means that it’s time for us to enter into the SaaS business and this is our first concept.”

A few days later, I went to Mon’s house to meet up with them about the tool.

“Okay, here’s what will happen. I’ll be the investor, business development, marketing and front-end development. All you have to do is take care of the product development side of the tool.”

I continued to show them the charts, the revenue, the monetization model, the technology we need to use and scale to make this work smoothly, etc.

“Deal.”

We shook hands. No paper contracts, no legal work, not even incorporation papers. It’s just a good old your ‘word against mine’ kind of deal.

Three Months In

Well, it’s the third month now (we used April for research and officially started May 1, 2014) and after two rounds of funding, Qeryz has launched for open beta. There’s still a lot of bugs on our end and we’re assuming that a lot of other bugs will come rolling in once signups start to pour. But as far as the basic functionality is concerned, it’s working.

We’re still developing how we’re going to monetize this and how the marketing will go. We’re also projecting the computing power it will consume as well as the bandwidth, etc. But we’ve grown and learned a lot along the way.

We’ve actually unlocked the key to running an app from a remote server and that’s a huge thing. If you signed up for Qeryz and tried to run your first microsurvey, you’ll see that you could simply copy paste the Qeryz code and it will run in a matter of minutes in your website – much like how you could copy paste the Google analytics code in your site and it will start tracking for you.

The ability to run an app from a remote server gives off huge possibilities to develop other apps besides. Qeryz is simply our starting point.

Believe it or not, the entire Qeryz team consists of 1 project manager, 1 senior developer, 2 back-end developers, 1 front-end developer and 1 business development / marketing head. It’s crazy how we can start out small but have a huge array of possibilities lined up for us in the near future.

Why Qeryz?

Here’s the definition from Wikipedia:

1) In general, a query is a form of questioning, in a line of inquiry.

2) A precise request for information retrieval with database and information systems

And it’s exactly what our tool does! Plus, Qeryz.com, .net and .org is still available so… I went ahead and named it such.

Finding our Identity

It’s quite funny how we tried to play with logos. We wanted Qeryz to be out and running on the third month so we did everything agile – from the domain name, branding, even to the logo design!

Qeryz first logo studiesI know it’s not anywhere near what we have right now, but these are the ideas. It’s actually not half bad.

The First Design

We went ahead and downloaded a front-end and back-end theme. It was beautiful and modern. BUT it wasn’t how I envisioned it to be.

“Scrap it. Scrap everything!”

It made too much noise and the CTAs were too spread out. So we put that down the drain and I asked our lead developer/designer to do another study and showed him the wireframe.

We came up with this:

Qeryz.com

And we’re keeping it that way – for now.

It speaks exactly what Qeryz does and demos it to visitors live – which is how we want it to be. Direct, blunt, and extremely easy to understand.

I know that we’re not ‘there’ yet. As I mentioned earlier, we’re still squishing a lot of bugs on the back-end. But we’ll get there. Hopefully by the end of this month.

So this is our first shot at SaaS. I sure hope it’s a good one.

You can check out Qeryz here and try it for free here.

Never Forget the Start-up Season

SEO Hacker First Years

There was one time in SEO Hacker when employee benefits were highlighted. It was all thanks to this one person in the team who had what I’d like to call a closed “employee mindset“, which is very prevalent in the Filipino culture.

It’s something that I would very much like to change. However, as we all know, change comes with a price, comes slow and comes painfully.

To be honest, that was an extremely frustrating time of my life. I never thought, even in the far end of my dreams, that the SEO Hacker team would have an entitlement mentality. During that time, I’ve repeatedly stumbled upon this phrase from my very own team:

“Provide employee benefits.”

“Provide employee benefits.”

“Provide employee benefits.”

The thing is, I’m giving out salaries that are above market grade for their position level. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to give that. It’s my choice – because I think it makes more sense for me and the team to have that kind of a set-up first while I try to fix the employee benefits and project the financial implications.

Providing employee benefits to a team of 20 in-house individuals entails for me to cash out more than 40,000php per month. That’s a humongous amount! And on a monthly basis too!

So I’m left with a critical choice: Lay off some people, (mostly new hires and lower-performing individuals) and increase the burden on the regular team players so that the company would get its money’s worth on the employee benefits we need to shell out each month.

This left a bad taste for me. It’s inefficient, tiring and downright greedy for both ends. I know that this kind of a setup will be a growing cancer that will eat up all our growth. But does the team know this?

Nope. All they care about during the time is their benefits.

You see, only the people who really own the company and care about its growth will understand that there is a right time and scenario for such things as employee benefits to flourish. Most start-ups don’t have the luxury to give out employee benefits until they have truly stabilized – usually and realistically, it takes at least 5 years.

The sad thing about this is that the employee mindset dictates that you ‘deserve‘ the benefits. Hence, you go to a bigger corporation – where you think the greener pastures are. What you don’t know is that it was once a start-up too!

And the people who worked hard without benefits are now part of the board of directors, consultants or shareholders – because they stuck out the hard part. Naturally, you’re not gonna get any of that because you got in on the easy and good times.

The problem with the workforce today is they want it easy, they want it fast, and they want it now. What people don’t realize is that sticking through the hard part is where the real money, success, and fulfillment lies.

Always remember this one unchanging fact in our world: The riskier it is for you take, the more rewarding it will be in the end.

The employee who stirred up the benefits within my team is now working full-time for another company. Personally, I’m very happy for him because he got what he wanted. A safe, secure job (however, I honestly believe that ‘job security’ is a myth).

I’ll never forget what he told me before he left my team though. He said that SEO Hacker will fail in the next few months of him leaving and it won’t really last.

Today we are at least three times bigger than when he said that – in all aspects. What he doesn’t realize is that he’ll be stuck as an employee – paying off 30% of his entire life’s salary to the government plus more (in the form of “government benefits”) and living off his life slaving away for another company which, as chances may have it, would never allot him any real shares in his work tenure.

Because hey, he wasn’t there when the going was tough. He never took any real risk. He was there in the time when the company is in its prime, pomp, glory and all. He wanted it easy and green – and that’s just what he’ll get.

Nothing more, nothing less.

As for me and my team, we have a way bigger future ahead of us. And most of my team who will risk it with me and who will stay for the hard times will get real shares, real memories, and real fulfillment.

I’ve learned a lot during that time about how to handle the “employee mindset” and how to financially project the time to implement benefits. I’ve learned what changes we need to go through in order for it to push through. I’ve learned how to deal with office gossip, outright slander, and miscommunication in the team.

It’s tough, yes. But doesn’t every company go through that? Apple started in a garage. I believe that’s exactly where we are as a company.

I’ll never forget our start-up season.