I arrived late into the night, after a long 10-hour flight. I jostled against throngs of other passengers and fought my way through the shabby customs counters. After collecting my suitcase from the mucky luggage belt, I pushed through the arrival hall crowds, strode through the sliding doors into the thick humid air, and jumped into a rickety old cab.
It was 2011 and the first time I had ever set foot in the Philippines. Just two years before, I hadn’t even heard of the country.
As my hastily matched cab driver drove us off into the heavy darkness, I contemplated our destination.
20 million people
I was in Manila, a city of almost 20 million people, where every inch of space was competed for by bustling crowds, indignant traffic, street-side stalls, pollution, smoke, and noise. We were driving towards a place called Eastwood, which I only knew by name, and nothing else.
My cab driver was wire-framed and ruddy with a grimy red taxi-issue t-shirt. It was so worn and blackened, that he looked more mechanic than driver. He was completely disinterested in me, but spoke good English, which was at least a little reassuring. We had little to talk about, though, as he negotiated his way through the dimly lit metropolis. As we zoomed away from the airport’s familiarity, towards the unknown,
My knowledge of the Philippines, its people, and culture, was almost zero.
I’d had an ‘outsourced’ employee working for me for the last year, from something called a ‘BPO,’ based in the country I now find myself in. She wasn’t strictly my employee, and I really didn’t know anything about her, but she did work for me. I had no idea what a BPO was. I was just about to get an education.
We drove down blackened streets and frenetic highways, with small convenience stores, karaoke bars, and tire repair shops tightly lining each side of the road like tracks on a pinball machine. I knew that I was an early adopter of outsourcing, but at that moment, I felt more like a dodgy drug dealer about to make a drop.
The whole experience gave me a wary unease. There was nothing explicitly menacing, but it was very different – this was no Kansas City, Toto. I was instinctively on edge and ready for fight or flight.
After many appeals from the driver for help from pedestrians, store owners, and tricycle drivers, we eventually found our way to Eastwood.
Manila is a huge city with numerous distributed centers across the metro. Eastwood is one of those recently built business districts quickly thrown up in a knee-jerk response to the early explosive years of BPO growth.
A kooky Hollywood set
Driving into Eastwood off the chaotic highway was like entering a kooky Hollywood movie set. It felt like a cross between an outdoor shopping mall, the Truman Show, and a Universal Studios theme park with a touch of Bollywood panache. High-density, intense, and upbeat.
The area, no bigger than a few football fields in size, had dozens of looming modern towers packed tightly together, shooting 50 stories up into the sky. It was late at night, but there were thousands of people busily doing their thing. Hundreds of offices, restaurants, bars and shops were crammed into a handful of indoor and outdoor malls and up into the high-rises above.
As we pulled up to the lobby of my hotel, I straightened up and prepared myself for the new dimension I was about to enter. What was I doing here? I might be a frontier businessman, but this seemed a little ridiculous…
If you had told me then that just three years later, the Philippines would become my adopted country – that I would settle here, fall in love with a Brazilian Fintech CFO, and eventually adopt a dog and get married here – I would have fallen off my chair or even out of the rickety cab.
But for now, I was here to learn about the world of outsourcing.
Unbeknownst to me then, I moved to Manila in 2014, started Outsource Accelerator in 2016, and remain here to this day.
The question for your business
Has your life, and business, taken any unexpected turns?