Here’s what we all need to hear:
People will rant. People will hate. Sometimes it’s founded on good ground, often it’s not. Sometimes it’s people you don’t know, often it’s people you do. Keep moving forward. Keep looking up.
Because if you keep looking down at them, you will soon find yourself brought down to their level. And if you keep looking back at them, you will stop in your tracks, unable to move forward.
Know that you have so much more than they do. And the main reason why they hate you so much is because they know, deep in their hearts, consciously or subconsciously, they can never amount to that.
So keep your vision and passion running by knowing you are doing something great. Something unstoppable. Something worth spending your life on.
Rather than be affected by the negativity, know that they need help and you can’t give it to them because they despise you for what you have.
So keep moving forward. Keep looking up. Because being a CEO means that you will have to face these things.
Almost. All. The. Time.
Annual Evaluations are both nervous and exciting times in most companies. That’s because an employee is forced to face the relative truth about how the management perceives them and their work.
However, the management’s perception may not always be 100% accurate. So we’ve come up with a better way to preempt the annual evaluation of each employee in the team.
And it starts with the employee.
Here’s the process:
- Employee needs to compile what he/she has contributed to the company on top of his/her job description – be as objective as possible
- Review the Mechanisms with Teeth and see if he/she has accumulated at least 5 points
- Compose an email to be sent to the management about your 5 points and justify how each point has been achieved
- Put in a narrative of the things you contributed to the company that is outside of your job description
- Send the email with the subject line: “Reverse Annual Evaluation”
- The management will review the email and decide if it is approved or rejected
- If approved, we will move the annual evaluation to the management’s perspective – which is now an expedited process since the points in the reverse annual evaluation are valid
Do note that the annual evaluation in SEO Hacker is quite strictly a matter of salary increase since we already have our Fast Feedback Loops as a loose monthly evaluation of our work and character.
We believe that it should be the employee’s responsibility to be self-aware of where they are in their contribution to the company. If an employee desires their salary to increase, it is primarily their responsibility to know that they have done enough or more than enough to merit it.
This is a win-win in the sense that the transparency and self-awareness from the employee will make it faster for the management to make a decision and at the same time, the employee does not need to wait for the management’s time-frame on when to evaluate them.
It’s been 5 years since I registered SEO Hacker as a small business here in the Philippines. I believe it’s safe to say that SEO Hacker is in a scale-up phase. Our startup phase is over.
Here are some no-holds-barred lessons I’ve learned along the way to our scale-up phase:
- Legal is important – lots and lots of contracts for protection
- Employee benefits and regularization can be a huge pain in the ass
- Employee handbook and our mechanisms with teeth saved us lots of $$
- Core values can fail and it feels like a punch in the gut
- Office interior design is overrated. Purpose of the office interior should be the focus
- Employees, both good and bad, will leave and it’s okay
All of that is something that I’m now currently thankful for and proud of. During the time though, it seemed like a huge headache – much like how creatures struggle when shedding out their old skins. Here’s why:
Nobody likes to do the legal stuff
Here in the Philippines, legal is generally seen as dirty work. Corruption is rampant. Courts of law are a huge waste of money as they would drag the case along for years and years. The government always unfairly sides with the labor force as they get a boatload of cash from SMEs on cases won since SMEs are not beefed up with lawyers. The list goes on.
I realized this early on and I wanted to protect SEO Hacker as best as I can. So I set out to hire a lawfirm that specializes in labor law and litigation. All our employee and client contracts went through them and is notarized by them. Not only do I know that we will win any and all labor cases from hereon out because of our strict legal process in hiring, firing, and penalizing employees, I can also sleep better at night.
Not all employees want the tax that goes with the benefits
It’s the sad, hard truth that with government benefits comes tax. When I was starting up SEO Hacker and we did things in a very agile way, we did not make do with the government benefits and tax as it seemed to cumbersome for a startup. But as we grew, we realized that we had to make it happen.
As with anything related to the government, things moved extremely slow in getting our employee benefits ready. My previous secretary and my accountant also pointed fingers at each other which made it very difficult for me to close this one down.
On top of that, the previous generation of employees wanted the government benefits but didn’t want to get taxed. That can’t happen.
Employees will abuse loopholes
And why not? It’s a loophole. I was a fool to leave it at that and put my faith that all my employees will respect the company and work in good faith. In a perfect world, that may be the case. Unfortunately, our world is far from perfect.
Previous generations of employees would come in late at past 11am. Sometimes even at 1pm and leave at 6pm. And we were still paying them. The company bled money like crazy when we added up the hours that were stolen from us.
So we created the handbook, tied it up with our employee contracts and created our mechanisms with teeth. Rules and protocols that will bite if not followed. That closed the loopholes and now the operations are at its best thus far.
Core values do fail
It’s not written or preached as much. Core values that work are glorified and marketed that it made me feel really bad when our core values failed. It just didn’t work.
I knew I had to change it. So I reviewed Jim Collin’s book ‘Built to Last’ and read about core values again. I also reviewed our team and our current company culture and structured our new set of core values, ‘RIBEE’ to fit that.
I’m happy to say that it has been a lot more effective than our first set of values. I’m not sure how far this will go though. I’m bent to believe that core values change as the culture and people changes. I hope I’m wrong as I’d like to stick with our current set of core values.
Furniture and office interior is overrated
We work in a substantially big house in BF Paranaque. We don’t have a fancy office. We don’t have a janitor or office maintenance staff. We clean up the office ourselves. Admittedly, it’s not really squeaky clean most of the time as cleaning can be overlooked. The point is, our office isn’t the best looking and feeling office to work in.
So we did what we could and upgraded some of the furniture, added some paintings and decorations on the walls and did away with some of the older furniture in the office.
The result? Well, it cost the company a good deal of money.
Generally, the office looked a little bit better. I’d like to think that it’s the reason why we are able to hire more people and better people but we’re not really sure.
The office is still a house, after all.
You will have good and bad employees and they will leave you and it’s okay
I started up SEO Hacker when I was 22 years old. I had a lot to learn. I was too optimistic about having a ‘dream team’ that I thought each and every hire I make is a person that’s going to be part of that team.
I was dead wrong.
I hired people who were good. Who really worked for the company because they wanted to make the company better. I hired people who were okay. I hired people who were just there to learn the ropes and then left immediately. I hired people who were bad and who stole from the company by working undertime almost all the time. I hired people who were rotten to the core – gossiping about the management and slandering the company to the outside world – all the while making it seem like he/she is an angel when talking with me.
I’ve hired a lot. I can’t really say I’ve hired them all since I believe I have still yet to hire some all-star players. I also believe I have yet to hire the most rotten person – I surely hope I don’t.
People I’ve hired – both the good and the bad – left the company at some point. And you know what? That’s okay. They have their reasons (which they won’t tell you on your exit interview – you’ll have to hear it from their colleagues) and those reasons aren’t aligned with your company. That’s not really a bad thing. Perhaps they’re just not a good fit for your growing company.
I have almost 30 people working for SEO Hacker now and we’re still growing. A truly sustainable and strong business should have excellent process documents, employee onboarding, culture and training materials. The result of that means that everyone is dispensable.
Even me. The CEO and founder.
That’s what will make the business continue on even without the original employees..
We’ve shed some skin
It hurt during the time. From the passerby, it seemed like we were struggling to survive – but really, we were merely shedding skin. We’ve lost 3 generations of employees but it wasn’t really a loss. We’ve lost money and time because it was stolen from us – but that’s okay.
Since last year, we’ve grown our revenue by almost 100%. This is our best year so far.
All that time, we were growing new skin in beneath – tougher, slicker, and more beautiful in time.
There are two reasons why I finally decided that renting an office is the best way to go:
I personally held off against getting an office for over a year. I imagined paying for the rent, electricity, water, internet bills and so on – and it didn’t make sense to me. “I’d do it cheap and just run things home-based” I thought.
However when the work got a little too serious that continuity became extremely necessary, the decision got easier.
You see, operating SEO Hacker as a remote team consisting of outsourced individuals meant that it was hard to ensure continuity. Outsourced individuals naturally have a high turn-over rate.
Asking an outsourced individual to commit to your company is like asking a young, liberated individual with multiple relationships to commit to you as your girlfriend/boyfriend. It just doesn’t make sense.
And if commitment is low then turnover is high, and if turnover is high then continuity is low. SEO Hacker’s clients would feel uneasy that they were communicating with different individuals every quarter.
At the back of their minds they are most probably already thinking “SEO Hacker is in trouble – that’s why they have different people handling my account every so often.”
And I can’t have my clients thinking that. SEO is a long term partnership between us and our clients. If our clients are starting to believe that SEO Hacker operates on a short-term basis with our team, they might feel threatened that it’s also how we will operate with their business.
The other reason why I rented out an office is Legacy.
I did not want to have a team that’s just like “any other team”. I wanted SEO Hacker to have the best team it can possibly have. And that means building a culture like no other, a camaraderie that is unbelievably tight, and a leadership-driven upper management.
I don’t see myself being the CEO of SEO Hacker twenty years from now. By then, my vision is to be a venture capitalist and a public adviser and consultant to numerous start-ups and scale-ups. And if that vision were ever to come true, I would need to leave a very strong legacy – and the strongest legacy is the one carried out by the building blocks that make a company – the team.
Building the team meant having a place to cultivate the right culture that I wanted to have. What kind of culture? I didn’t know for sure. All I know is, I want it to be fun, hard working, client and success oriented, value-driven and highly relational.
How to direct the culture in that way, I have no real, hard blueprint to follow or to give.
What I did know is that the company culture starts with a DNA – and the DNA almost always starts with the founder. That’s me.
That DNA will be built based on how my core team perceives the:
1) Way I work
2) Way I handle stress during crunch time
3) Way I communicate with the team
4) Way I prioritize our clients
5) Way I hire, fire and train people
Each individual in my core team has to perceive this in a way that will influence the company culture positively. Therefore I need to give my best during these times because my team is watching me constantly.
So if I wanted to leave a strong legacy in SEO Hacker, it would be carried on by how I build, strengthen and lead my team. I didn’t see it happen any other way than to finally build an internal, full-time team working in one place at the same time.
So I set out to hunt for our first office.
There really wasn’t a lot of choices down at BF Paranaque so I went with an office that’s closest to my home back then.
It was a cozy 38sqm office with shiny red tiles and a private comfort room. It had a terrace where we subsequently placed the split-type air conditioner’s compressing unit.
There was also a very small room that connected the comfort room and the common area of the office. The small room was probably 8sqm in size – that’s where I placed my desk.
It’s not much but that office saw through the first 11 hires of the SEO Hacker team. We stayed there until we could no longer fit.
Things went on from there – since then, we relocated to a bigger, better office twice.
My heart was definitely pounding. I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline or if I was starting to contract high blood pressure. Maybe a bit of both.
Whatever it is, I knew that this day would be a milestone. Yup. Definitely a milestone in my speaking career.
You see, I’ve been speaking publicly as a motivational speaker and a digital marketing speaker since 6 years ago. It’s been a long way since then.
But this? The moment I stepped on stage, I knew that it’s going to take me to a whole new different level. I just knew.
I was contacted by the TEDx team last July 2015. To be honest I was quite surprised that I will be contacted by a huge, international brand. I didn’t think I was ready for this as I knew TED talks would up the ante by a whole lot.
The guidelines were quite strict and the follow-ups were quite thorough from the TEDx team’s side. They also made sure that the speakers would be educated of what a TED talk is supposed to be. We were strongly encouraged to watch TED talk videos from the website and from Youtube. We were also asked for our scripts and outlines early on.
I was able to send my first draft on August, 2015. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was quite early. I was able to finish the Powerpoint presentation with the designs from my designer and all by October 2015. By this time, I was already practicing a little bit. My talk was about 6 pages long and I knew that I may falter somewhere in the middle.
Of course, I made sure to stick to the TED commandments which are:
- Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick
- Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before
- Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion
- Thou Shalt Tell a Story
- Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Sake of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy
- Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
- Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desparate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
- Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
- Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
- Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee
We also did a lot of rehearsals. We rehearsed in Skype – twice. We rehearsed in Alabang in one of the organizer’s home. I also rehearsed a lot on my own. I think I did 12 – 14 ‘mock’ rehearsals with just myself and the mirror.
In any case, I look forward to when the video will finally be out. They told me that it should be out before April. I’ll be posting it here in this blog for sure. Maybe even in the home page.
I thank God for the opportunity, guidance and wisdom and the courage to help me pull through. I thank my family for being there to support me – especially my baby boy who actually clapped as I finished my talk. The beautiful pictures are taken by my brother.
Until next time TEDx!
I never felt more paced than at that talk. It was held in the University’s library – at the conference hall. The audience was comprised of about a hundred legal management students who were all eager to listen.
The room wasn’t so cold. In fact, the air conditioners were broken. I was sweating profusely. I didn’t mind. Not until they put a cool-looking household electric fan behind me.
It was a very fun talk for me. The photos are taken by a good friend of mine, Mikko Pena (look forward to his website) who is a rising star in public speaking photography.
“Things look bleak next year”
That’s what I told Kevin, my brother when our pipeline dried up and we lost 3 clients over 3 months. Not because of anything but because we’ve already done our job.
I’ve been doing sales and accounts management for SEO Hacker since we started. This is the first time that I had nothing in the pipeline. It was December 2015.
“What are we gonna do?”
I could almost hear despair in my brother’s voice.
“We trust God. He’s never let us down. He’s always been the one providing for us. I’m sure we’ll be okay.”
My faith in the Lord with regards to His provision for me and my family has been building up for this day. The day when my pipeline ran dry and there are no potential deals to close.
The year ended and the new year came. It’s almost mid-February now and I have already closed 6 contracts and the partnership with an international PR agency is bearing fruit – giving us 4 more contracts.
10 contracts closed in 1 and a half months.
It has to be God.
Now the problem is getting my team up to speed and getting great new teammates onboard.