Chloe Franken-Ututalum – From Freelancing to Starting up Students Only in the Philippines (SOPHI)

Ep 107 Chloe Franken Ututalum

Today, Derek is joined by Chloe Franken, a Filipina and now the CEO and President of Sophi Inc. Sophi Inc. is an Outsourcing provider focused on startup companies, they support different back office functions.  Join Derek as they discuss Chloe’s background and how she became the CEO and President of Sophi Inc.

 

Summary

  • Chloe graduated with a Mass Communication degree at Silliman University.
  • She started out as a Copy Editor in one of the big publishing firms in the Philippines.
  • Chloe shares that she decided to end her employment with the publishing company after a year and decided to go into freelancing online. At that time Odesk was just starting.
  • Chloe gained a lot of experience working online and that experience made her realize that she didn’t want to stay at home and didn’t like the whole fact behind it.
  • As a starter, Chloe’s rate before was close to what she was earning in the office.
  • Chloe narrates how Sophi Inc. started.

 

Key Points

  • Odesk is now known as Upwork.
  • The online industry is now different because there are so many people looking for online jobs and the salary prices have dropped.

 

Resources

 

Transcript

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Derek: Hi.  Today, we are talking to Chloe Franken of Sophi.  So welcome to the podcast, this is the Outsource Accelerator podcast and this is episode number 107.  If you want any of the show notes or to get in touch with Chloe then go to outsourceaccelerator.com/107. So Chloe is a Filipina down in Dumaguete which is one of the sort of secondary or tertiary cities of the Philippines.  She is the CEO and President of Sophi which is an Outsourcing service provided specifically focused on the startup niche where they support the back office functions of typically US startups.  So it’s an interesting space and one that you’ll hear Chloe basically build with her bare hands in this episode we talk to Chloe about her background and how she became the CEO and President of Sophi.  So I enjoyed my chat with Chloe, I’m sure you’ll learn a lot too and get a lot of insight into her career and the foundations of outsourcing so, enjoy.

Derek: Okay, so today I’m joined by Chloe Franken, Hi Chloe, how are you?

Chloe: Hi Derek, I’m good, hope you’re well.

Derek: I am, I’m fabulous thank you. Chloe is joining us from Dumaguete which is a  town a little bit lower down in the Philippines and she is the, what are you now CEO and President of Sophi which is outsourcing made easy for startups so I’m super interested in talking about Sophi to Chloe and but first Chloe it’s fantastic to have you on board and would you mind giving a bit of background as to your I suppose education, your work and what brings you along this outsourcing journey.

Chloe: Well thanks for having me on the show, it’s an honor to be able to be on your show.  Well to start of I think my background has always been in Journalism, Communications, Marketing.  I started out as a copy editor right off college, I graduated with a Mass Communication degree at Silliman University and started my career was basically more into media and publishing and alike that’s why I started.

Derek: That’s more traditional media though that’s kind of newspapers and things like that?

Chloe: Yeah sort well magazine type of media and digital media.  That was what I was really looking at as a career and I started off as a Copy Editor one of the big publishing firms in the Philippines and after a year of that I think the corporate world kind of just shocked me coming out of college. The schedule was tough the workload was tough and I think I just wasn’t I didn’t feel fulfilled when I was a Copy Editor and at the same time I also doubled in my own little business I had a cafe that I shared with my partner then and that failed that was my first business attempt and that failed terribly which kind of scared me for a bit and when I decided to end my employment with that publishing company after a year, I decided to go in to freelancing online and at that time Odesk was just starting out now Odesk is Upwork but working online at home was pretty new in the Philippines than this was back in.

Derek: How long ago was this.

Chloe: 2006 I guess it was in 2006 and not a lot of people were doing home based jobs at that time so I was doing that for a little over a year with a printing company based in Australia so I did that I was the Executive Assistant of the owner and I did a bit of marketing and some writing for that company and also handled their customer service.

Derek:  How did you find this online world of work you know I assume you are using sort of Freelancers, Elance and Upwork, how did you stumble across it, you just heard like people are chatting about it?

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Chloe: Yeah, I think I’m not quite sure where I think it was on bestjobs, I’m not sure but I think I saw the add and applied for the position and I got it and afterwards I had that online position and then I was also doubling in other freelance writing positions so I had a bunch of things going on while I was working at home aside from the full-time job I was writing part time as well so, that for me was really a good experience because 1, I was able to kind of really look at different areas where I could be good at in terms of marketing, writing and customer service and all that stuff so I’ve got a lot of experience from that although that experience kind of made me realize that I didn’t want to stay at home, I missed being with people, I didn’t like the whole fact that I was just at home and in my pajamas.

Derek: Was it like stumbling on a little bit of gold mine finding this kind of river of online jobs that you can do and you can name your price and you can take jobs or leave jobs?

Chloe: Definitely, it was at that time it was, right now the industry the online industry is a little different right now because there are so many people looking for online jobs that it’s really more of a company’s market of the employers market because they can have a pick of their staff online and negotiate the price under terms.

Derek: Yeah I hear that like there’s now too many people online looking for jobs so the price is really dropping you know.

Chloe: The prices have dropped. In my time you can get about $10 per hour for a writing job, now I think it has gone below $5 per hour for something that a little more complex than it’s just more of an employers market right now online because there is just so many former people from big companies wanting to just have work life balance that staying at home being with their families, taking care of their kids is a lot more alluring for them than to have benefits and stay at a company

Derek: Yeah so back in 2007 when you found these freelancer websites, how did the income compare you know you were kind of first year graduate as a copy editor but in a sort of local filipino whatever publisher and were you able to earn the same? were you able to earn more? what was the kind of earning comparison when you went online?

Chloe: Well when I went for the other job that I left the corporate job I earned a little bit more however, you know you can’t really say that you’re earning a little bit more because when you’re working on an online job you tend to just kind of have a basic salary but there are no other benefits compared to a desk job in an office you get your salary and you also get your vacation leaves and sick leaves and you get your benefits and you get your hmo so come to think of it if you really like add up everything, what I was earning then what sort of similar to what I was earning at that company, so the only difference was my time was a little bit more flexible and the job wasn’t as stressful more or less my rate at that time was close to what I was earning in that office.

Derek: So it wasn’t exactly a gold mine but it was just a different opportunity and then you grew a little tired of that because they can be quite isolating and you were a young lady and you want to the social environment and probably a kind of common purpose, so what was the next step then?

Chloe:  Well the next step with that wasn’t really I was just in the middle of thinking whether I wanted to continue online or if I wanted to find another type of job and still be online because kind of want to also travel and have my flexibility which is a little hard if you’re working for an office so I was just kind of in a rot basically where there is this local forum Dumaguete forum it’s called Dumegueteinfo.com where there was a thread there about investments coming in Dumaguete because in that time dumaguete only had Teletech and SPI and not a lot of players in terms of the BPO industry so the thread was about investments in Dumaguete and I kind of chimed in that thread and just made a comment and said that you know, there’s a lot of talent in dumaguete but there’s not a lot of opportunities and I think it’s a great idea for more investors to come in Dumaguete and somehow that comment caught the attention of one of the companies in the US who was you know trying to outsource to the Philippines and their VP of Business Development contacted me through that forum and asked more info about Dumaguete and how they can start their office in Dumaguete and it kind of just went on from there where we were communicating online and I was giving him info and how to start a business and he shortly made a visit to Dumaguete, we met and I helped him out with recruitments so that he can see the pool of talent in Dumaguete and shortly after that he offered me the job and I guess the rest is history 9 years later I’m here at Sophi.

Derek: So that was the birth of Sophi and that is Spelled Sophi and just briefly just give us an outline of what Sophi is?

Chloe: Well it’s called Sophi now but the full of Sophi is Students only Philippines Incorporated we’re called students only because the company that kind of gave birth to Sophi in Dumaguete was a student rewards company based in Boston their primary Niche was giving discounts to students particularly in a travel industry so we ‘re called students only and sometime in 2012 we seperated from that company and our other company that was also in student rewards was bought out by a big group discount company in the US so basically in 2012 from starting of as a 7 person team just doing verifications for one company, we were left with basically no account to work on and the owners of the company were pretty much saying you know you have an office you have a facility in Dumaguete, it would be a waste to kind of give it up just because the primary purpose is now gone and not existent. You know basically the CEO said you have an office try to make it work for a year try to break even and then see.. I was given the challenge to make it work, find a client cause we’ve never had an external client before.

Derek: And we’re they still backing it we’re they still funding it or has that actually sold out of the company?

Chloe:  Part of the people from the original company 1 person was kind of assuming the company at Sophi so he was involved, so he funded as for awhile because obviously we didn’t have a client anymore and we needed to pay the bills and we needed to give the people’s salary.

Derek: So we see this very commonly in outsourcing a lot entrepreneur  has come to the Philippines and then they in some former another and this slightly different variation to the story but people get so inevident see such opportunity in outsourcing that they inevitably move over to outsourcing but very commonly people come over here to scratch their own itch and to create an infrastructure and a back end that supports their own operations and then they expand out and help other people.  So you’re sort of parent business was actually sold leaving the back end without a client and then so you were thrown and given the challenge of having to find the clients to match up with your staffing.

Chloe:  Precisely that’s what happened and I think my experience online was a big help because I kind of was exposed to looking for a job online and finding the resources to where I’m going to find that job so when we had this predicament I actually used my own online profile to find a job and when I would get a job from the company I would tell him that ‘hey I ran a call center and we can do this for you’ and we kind of did that for sometime.

Derek: Your bosses were lucky to have you so and then so you were like tapping into forums and chat rooms and things like that?

Chloe: No, I basically went on Upwork cause I had a profile there and I built that profile not specifically in customer service but more in writing and virtual assistance and all that stuff so I was looking for opportunity through my profile applying as an individual as myself and then later on when I would get an interview I tell them that i managed a center and we can do this for you and it worked so.

Derek: And what year was that when you were finding these customers?

Chloe: That was in 2012.

Derek: And then so five years later, how what Sophi look right now?

Chloe:  Well to give you and idea we started as a 7 person team and we’ve always hovering under 20 people and now we have 200, 200 agents in 5 years and our move to Cebu might bring us up to 500 with 1 of the startups that we worked it with, that’s now bought out with bigger conglomerate and their basically tying up with big travel companies and now they’re looking for a lot of travel agents to do their customer service so we could potentially hit 500 by next year.

Derek: So happy days and that’s huge.

Chloe: It’s huge there’s a lot of growing pains involved with it but it’s a good problem to have I guess

Derek: So you’re kind of fairly intimately involved in all of the outsourcing industry, how have you seen evolve in the last 9 years that you’ve been in it?

Chloe: Well just in terms of the people who are slowly getting in to it before outsourcing was more of healthcare, telecom companies, banking and now especially with our niche we work with startups and outsourcing has been I think a really good industry for the startup industry because the pricing is definitely a plus for a company that’s you know relying on funding, being able to cut cost on people who can do customer service and back end support that helps a lot when you are a young company and I just see a trend that’s moving towards smaller businesses who are trying outsourcing rather than the bigger companies who have the funding and who have the resources to outsource in the Philippines I just see a trend moving towards empowering smaller companies, just try outsourcing.

Derek: Yeah that’s exactly what we seeing in Outsource Accelerator, you know we’re involve in some of the bigger trade association, outsourcing associations and they’re seeing in generally a slow down in outsourcing or the growth of outsourcing and because they’re mainly dealing with the big multi nationalist and all those big boys that had been outsourcing for 20 years and I think almost all of the have done it and but there’s huge growth in the SME market and the small market and even newer focusing on the startup market, we’ve actually done the figures and there are about 35 million SMEs across the high-cost english speaking world and it still amazes me how few of them are actually aware of the potential of outsourcing.

Chloe:  And it’s nice because since you know especially the startup community in the Us when you work with one, they know so many other entrepreneurs who are looking for solutions and it’s nice to get referrals because of people who are now advocates of it because they see the potential.  Most of the time especially when I talk with more traditional companies they’re a little bit hesitant to get in to outsourcing for reason such as security and the quality of work, however, younger companies are more open to it and once they get feedback from a colleague or a friend that hey we know the solution, we know this company in the Philippines who primarily works with startups and you try them and I think it has been very helpful doing good work for this startups really multiplies and translate to more clients just because they’re just starting to realize that yes, there is outsourcing and it’s really helpful for their business.

Derek: So that’s an incredible kind of niche that you’ve carved out was that all organic that this kind of happened or you know did you guys steer it towards this niche or did it kind of almost evolved.

Chloe: Well it’s basically kind of just evolve naturally because like I said I was an Upwork and most of the people that I encountered on Upwork for smaller companies because of course, the bigger companies won’t wanna just have a freelancer right so most of the companies that were exposed to were the smaller ones as startups so it just kind of evolved that way that I saw that hey I think this is a market that is rarely tapped in terms of the call center industry and I think there’s space there for us to kind of position ourselves as the outsourcing center for that and yeah it just kind of just worked and even for us in terms of culture and just the environment in the office, we want to have that fresh startup feel and as an experience for employees working for Sophi we want them to come to work and have the same energy you know that’s how they feel about doing something that I love and working with these dynamic startups it adds to that vibe, that young energetic vibe in the office vs you know they come to work and when they put on their headsets someone’s yelling at them for their mobile phone it kinda ruins the environment in the office you know and the vibe it just kind of works, our office is pretty laid back we have a lot of agents who’ve come from bigger call centers and when they start working for Sophi they are like it’s really different the vibe is different, it’s more relaxed it’s more spontaneous,

Derek: Just like Silicon Valley.

Chloe: Yeah and it’s less stressful and that’s why it was just a natural evolution for us to kind of gear towards this specific market because it works for us when we recruit people and it works for the client who are attracted to Sophi because we share the same culture and we share the environment as them.

Derek: Thank you it’s an amazing journey and Chloe, I want to get you back so we can actually deep dive into what exactly what Sophi does and the service proposition for startup.  I look forward to you joining us again and thank you so much for your time, in the meantime if people want to get in touch with you how can they do that?

Chloe:  Well they can simply go to our website if there are client who wants to try out Sophi they can go the website, there’s a link there that says start your free trial and they just click on that link and send us their information and i’ll get back to them right away.

Derek: Fantastic and of course all of those details will be in the show notes, thank you Chloe.

Chloe:   Thank you so much, Derek.

Derek: Okay that was Chloe Franken of Sophi.  If you want to get in touch with Chloe or know anymore or get the show notes then go to outsourceaccelerator.com/107 and of course if you want to ask us anything then drop us an email at [email protected] See you next time.

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