What’s your story?
Four years ago I co-founded a digital marketing agency in Manila, Philippines. I had been living here for 2 years as a Management Consultant working with IBM in the banking and telco sector when my contract ended and I was forced to find a local job or move onto the next contract somewhere else. My girlfriend at the time was a budding entrepreneur so we decided to pool resources and start a business out of our tiny condominium.
After a few months over being over optimistic, we started to run out of cash so I decided to get a job that would allow us to continue the mission. During the job interview I found myself talking about the business, and the interviewer declined me for a job, but gave us the initial investment we needed and an office space to start in.
4 years later we have a rapidly growing business with 30 staff and are considered to be experts in digital marketing, social media listening and social customer service. We work with the largest brands around Asia and are an Authorized Reseller and Services Partner to Salesforce Marketing Cloud.
What excites you most about your industry?
I spent most of my professional life helping large companies embrace CRM. Because of this I became an expert in Marketing, Customer Services and Technology.
Now the rapidly evolving social internet has severely disrupted the customer experience. I find myself again helping organizations change their internal processes and leveraging the latest software to enable scaleable, consistent and excellent customer journeys.
This is what keeps me up at night and wakes me up in the morning. I saw the investment these companies made 10 years ago in developing their CRM capability and I knew sooner or later this would happen again for social. And it’s happening. This sunrise industry is about to blow up.
What’s your connection to Asia?
Initially I intended to live in London for a few years as most Kiwi’s do at some point in their lives. Unfortunately when I was almost about to leave the financial crisis had just hit and my friends already there couldn’t find work.
I decided to pivot my life plan and head to asia where there was growth and investment in infrastructure. Starting in Vietnam I spent almost a year helping a new Telco setup their CRM, then was offered a contract in the Philippines to implement Agile into a bank.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Manila is my favorite city for business because of the people. It has a rich culture that is hard to pin down due to a long history of colonization from the Spanish, Americans and Chinese. The GDP growth is one of the highest in the world with a rapidly emerging middle class, largely due to remittances and the outsourcing sector.
The average Filipino graduate speaks and writes excellent business english, and their family oriented culture results in a great level of emotional awareness, making them very easy to get along with regardless of what country you are from. I couldn’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be based.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“You need recurring revenues”. When we started we were doing a lot of odd jobs and being opportunistic. We have a high fixed cost from labor and our projects were up and down. Also because we were new we didn’t get much repeat business. This changed our entire business model from being a campaign based business to following a retainer model. As recurring revenues grew it became much easier to manage profitability and improve the regularity of staff utilization.
Who inspires you?
Honestly I know it sounds cliche but Steve Jobs is my major inspiration. I read his biography and he gave me the confidence to trust myself as a leader and a designer. When I first hired creatives I trusted them to know better than I did. Now I have confidence to give my creative teams strong direction in both art and copy. Turns out I was just a frustrated creative.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It seems small, but I just learned that Google are releasing a new algorithmic change in under a month that impacts search rankings based on the “mobile friendliness” of a site. This has a dramatic impact on all online businesses in that they will need to invest to ensure their sites are mobile optimized.. which is good business for me as that is one of the services we offer.
It is things like this that get me excited. Whenever change is implemented or technology is released it disrupts business and companies need agencies like us to exist so they can weather the storm with minimal business impact.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I definitely wouldn’t have hired so many staff before I had contracts in place. Starting again I would do as much as I can myself, then hire through ODesk for any skills I lack. Then as I bring on new clients I would scale on ODesk for at least a year before I even start to think about setting up an office and hiring full time employees. You can technically make profit on day one if you are starting a services business and are not stupid, like me.
How do you unwind?
Meditation has become a daily ritual. My first experience with meditation was 2008 in Goa, India, but then I forgot all about it. About 2 years ago I was living the condo life in Manila and another resident said she wanted to start meditating. We both did a lot of research and found scientific evidence that “mindful meditation” has huge health benefits from stress management to weight loss to sexual drive. 10 minutes of meditation per day makes a person 70% more productive. I bundled meditation into my daily exercise regime at the end of each work out and it became a habit.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Sagada, Philippines is a really beautiful place to get away from the bustling mega city Manila. It is an 11 hour very sketchy drive north. Frequently there are accidents due to rough winding mountain roads with sheer cliffs, falling rocks, and landslides. Once you get there however it is worth it. It has the best coffee shops and restaurants in the country and you can get a night’s accommodation for less than USD $10. There is also a huge amount of mountain wilderness, mountain tribe history and caves to explore while you are there.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Steve Jobs. The Authorized Biography. He was the tech-entrepreneur that started tech-entrepreneurship in true tech start-up fashion.
Shameless plug for your business:
We help companies build smarter customer journeys using disruptive technology. After 4 years of operation and over 30 staff, we have matured past your corner digital agency and become a highly tuned machine. We are the preferred partner of Salesforce Marketing Cloud across Asia, and we have experience in FMCG, Telco, Real Estate, Retail, Power and NGO.
How can people connect with you?
Reach out to me on LinkedIn: ph.linkedin.com/in/robinleonard1/en
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing invests and buys small businesses in a range of industries around Asia. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is the founder & owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 12 countries. He is a Director of, amongst others, Key Person of Influence. A 40 week training program for business owners and executives.
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