Tom Graham – MAD Company Catering to the West
Last updated August 15, 2019
Derek is joined by Tom Graham in this episode. They are going to talk about Tom’s travel company which is Mad Travel. They will also briefly discuss about building a business in the Philippines which is effectively catering to the West.
- Tom Graham is an English guy brought up in London and is now based in the Philippines. They talked about Mad Travel which is a conscientious ethical travel company where people reach out to the poor and integrate with society’s less fortunate.
- Mad Travel, MAD stands for Make a Difference Travel. They are developing social tourism in the Philippines. They are also creating villages of Gawad Kalinga.
- Gawad Kalinga is one of the biggest NGOs in the Philippines. They’re creating immersion experiences.
- They have only about 12 staff here in the Philippines but they’re not all Filipino. The members of their team are from Taiwan, Australia, Germany, France and the U.K. and the rest are Filipinos. They also have some volunteers abroad people to help them out part-time.
- On the plus side, they have access to fantastic people. Tom has a very good team and they’ve been able to grow a lot faster because they are located in the Philippines. Salaries and other operational expenses are a lot cheaper in the Philippines than in the West.
- It also helps that Mad Travel has a bold vision and they’re focusing on social impact and that’s something which appeals to the millennials today. If they want to find meaning in their work and in what they do.
- The company’s mission and vision resonate equally with their staff. Since it’s particularly important here in the Philippines because unlike in the West where there is still inequality and there are social challenges but somehow it is not the same as here in the Philippines.
- Mad Travel has everything from customer service, to marketing, to finance a full range of positions that you’d find in a small company.
- People from the West can’t quite imagine running a company from the Philippines or staffing significant proportions of their companies to the Philippines.
- Tom mentioned that Manila is his home as of this moment. Of course, he would go back to London for holidays. For him, the Philippines is a good place and a fun place to be.
- The Philippines has an uneven growth economically. Metro Manila is one of the most densely populated cities in the Philippines and in the world. Some jobs opportunities, infrastructures are focused on this area so some rural areas lack jobs and enterprise.
- Mad Travel has grown last year and had quite a busy start of 2017. Tom’s looking into building more partnerships with corporations and schools and travel agencies all around the world.
- It’s much easier for Mad Travel to grow in the Philippines because of the highly skilled workers and cheaper salaries and operational cost.
- Mad Travel’s vision and mission are much easier to be realized here in the Philippines since Filipinos are more aware of the situation of the poor people because they are more exposed to it.
- The Philippines has an uneven growth economically, Metro Manila or the main cities experience more growth than in rural areas where there is a lack of jobs and enterprise.
Hi and welcome to another episode of Outsource Accelerator. My name is Derek Gallimore, and today this is episode 29. We are joined by Tom Graham. Okay, so Tom Graham’s been with us say a couple of times before and if you want to hear more about his introduction and how he got to be here in the Philippines go back and listen to Episode 9. Tom Graham is an English guy brought up in London and is now largely based here. Today, we are talking about his travel company which is a conscientious ethical travel company where people reach out to the poor and integrate with the society’s less fortunate. And it’s really a fantastic company. I talked to Tom about building a business in the Philippines which is effectively catering to the west. Okay, so it’s slightly the inverse of what most people do and what our listeners do. But basically, Tom is here he’s got 12 staff and he’s growing. He’s expanding and you know he’s utilizing a third world cost space to then take on the multi-billion or trillion-dollar travel industry. So, we discussed that and everything in between. So, enjoy this episode if you do want to get in touch with Tom Graham if you’re interested in Mad Travel. Tom is also an author of a book called The Genius of the Poor. If you want any information on this or the transcript please go to our website. It is outsourceaccelerator.com/podcast/episode29. Enjoy.
Derek: Tom Graham it’s so good to have you back. Thanks for your time.
Tom: Yeah, good to be here.
Derek: And today, we are looking at, now just as a bit of a recap, you have a book called The Genius of the Poor and you’ve worked with NGO charities specifically Gawad Kalinga. And you also have Mad Travel, which I’ll let you explain briefly. Today, I want to talk about what it’s like then essentially running a business here in the Philippines with staffing here that you’re effectively building something here and selling that product or service to the west. And that’s pretty much the inverse of what most of our listeners are doing. Certainly with the intentions of outsourcing staff here and I just want to get your perspective on that. So, first up do you want to introduce Mad Travel and exactly what you do.
Tom: Sure. So Mad Travel, MAD stands for Make a Difference Travel. And we are developing social tourism in the Philippines. That effectively means we’re creating experiences in villages of Gawad Kalinga. Gawad Kalinga is one of the biggest and NGOs in this country. We’re creating immersion experiences so opportunities to find fun and fulfillment and say.
Derek: How long are the breaks usually? Is it a one or two-week holiday?
Tom: It could be anywhere from a day. Say it could be if you’re a businessman and you’re in the Philippines for a conference and you have a one day break I would say come and visit us at this place called the Enchanted Farm which is a Silicon Valley for social entrepreneurs and it’s just a couple of hours away from Manila. So, it could be anything short as a day to two weeks, three weeks or even a month where you get to visit these communities of Gawad Kalinga all across the country. And of course, see the islands, see the beaches, the volcanoes. Whatever it is you want to see this country but have a more authentic experience at the same time by spending time in the communities. So that’s my business idea.
Derek: Fantastic. And so operationally then can you. I’m not sure how come we are delving into the business internals but you obviously have staffing. Do you have staffing both your, from the UK do you have staff in the UK and the Philippines?
Tom: No, we have only about 12 staff here in the Philippines but they’re not all Filipino. So, four members of our team are from Taiwan, Australia, Germany, France and the U.K. and the rest of Filipinos we have some volunteers abroad people to help us out part time. In terms of full time staff.
Derek: And so, I’m quite intrigued by the model of effectively creating a business here and then selling that product or service to the west. I think it can learn a lot in if you can build 90 percent of the business over here lower cost base using the human resources here. And there’s a huge opportunity not only I mean you’re creating a product that is very aligned to the Philippines but you could also create information products. You know there’s a lot of potential that I think could be explored. And how do you find the other I suppose from those pragmatic point of view. Are there any banking issues are there any logistical issues? How is it managing a team here?
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Tom: Yeah. Well first on the on the plus side it’s you really do have access to fantastic people. We’ve had a really, really good team and we’ve been able to grow a lot faster because we’re here I think in the Philippines as opposed to setting up my business.
Derek: Why is that, why you’re able to grow faster. Is it because it’s not such a big leap to take on another salary.
Tom: Yes. So that’s, that certainly helps. I mean you can get some really skilled people here. And obviously costs a lot less than it would, I mean it goes without saying in the West. It helps because we have quite a bold vision for our company and we’re focusing on social impact and that’s something which appeals a lot to the millennials today. If they really want to find meaning in their work. And so that’s helped us as well because I think some people have even been willing to take salary cuts to join us because they believe in the long-term potential and vision of what we’re doing.
Derek: That vision there, that mission and doing something with a purpose. Does that resonate equally with the Filipino staff as well?
Tom: Yeah it really does. I think it’s a, I think it’s particularly important here because unlike, unlike in the West where there is still inequality and you know there are social challenges but somehow, they don’t hit home quite. We don’t quite see them quite so much in your face as you do here in the Philippines where even you stop at traffic lights and some three kids will come up to your window and knock on your window and, and tap on and it for money or whatever. And so, it’s very much you see it every single day and you may become blind to it over time but it’s there and it’s often you’ll remember it stands. And so, I think particularly the younger generations today the millennials are really, they want to feel that they’re doing something which really is at least in one way or another helping to make that bad situation a little bit less bad and so it is very important I think in this country and I spent a lot of business leaders in other in other industries and you know CSR programs are generally really well attended and they’re really enthusiastic they attended as well. And they’re really important to doing business here.
Derek: It’s really quite significant because an outreach community project, isn’t it?
Tom: Yeah, yeah.
Derek: Okay. And just to give us a bit of insight like what are the roles that your staff are doing. Is it, is it the get the whole gamut, like marketing, web building operations?
Tom: Yeah, we have everything from customer service of course our staff speak English. Customer service to talk I think again people speak English there is no problem there to marketing to finance, a full range really of positions that you’d find in a small company like ours.
Derek: And there’s probably a lot of people sitting at home wherever they are, in the west and inverted commerce. And they can’t quite imagine running a company from the Philippines or staffing significant proportions of the Philippines. But maybe you in inverse, could you now imagine is it, does it feel quite alien to you if you have to then run your company from the UK. Would you have to really rethink how to do it?
Tom: Yeah, I guess it would. I mean our particular business model which you know we need to have majority of our staff here in the Philippines. I guess if I’m being honest beyond that beyond the fact that we are obviously a travel company bringing people here we will be expanding in the future and employ more people based abroad. And I don’t necessarily see a problem because we are a values based organization and I think as long as we can find those similar values wherever they may be they exist. So, find people who identify with those values. Then, I’m not going to hesitate to hire them as well. So yeah, I can’t imagine from a personal perspective I can’t really imagine going back to the UK now. I’ve got too used to and going back to the 9 to 5 job I find quite difficult.
Derek: So, Manila is home for the near future?
Tom: Yeah, I think so. I don’t have any immediate plans of being. I go back to London you know for holidays and stuff like that. Yeah this is it’s a good place to be. I mean it’s a fun place to be.
Derek: And you quite, economically in tune I suppose what is what do you see is the future you know as far as any of us can tell economically for the Philippines. Do you think it’s generally a good story?
Tom: Well, according to all of the indicators it is. It is one of the fastest growing economies in Asia.
Derek: So, you are actually I mean it is so visible in the cities isn’t it? Because literally you’re having new business parks sprout up all over the city. Are you seeing that as much in the provinces or more in the provinces. Is there any organization that you’re noticing? Is it…
Tom: No, no
Tom: So, it’s a very very uneven growth.
Tom: I mean the Philippines is. Metro Manila is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. So, 20 million people living here. And that’s one of the big challenges even of course the BPO is are focused around the big cities right. Maybe not only me and some other big cities. And that’s understandable I guess in terms of telecommunications infrastructure and stuff like that but it is a challenge to the Philippines. So, you know they want to sort of give too much of a rose-tinted view of this country. It’s a really big challenge as well and one of them is I think lack of jobs lack of enterprise and opportunities in the rural areas. Causing more and more people to come to cities like Manila. And you know the pressure on the BPO industry to continue to thrive is huge in this country because if BPOs were to decide to go somewhere else they would have a big impact on this country. So certainly, hope that doesn’t happen. So, it’s you know it’s there is uncertainty. But if you look at the broad fundamentals of a fast-growing economy, a very young workforce, very skilled in English, motivated. Then from that perspective the future is bright.
Derek: And for Mad Travel then are you. What are your immediate plans as you’re growing the company.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. So, we’re growing. I guess you grew quite a lot last year and we’ve also had quite a busy start to 2017 so that’s really exciting. Yeah, I’m just really looking to build more and more partnerships with corporations and schools and travel agencies all around the world. So, I guess my plan or my mission really is to help establish the Philippines is the number one destination for social tourism in Asia. And I really believe that can happen because social tourism is all about connecting to communities and understanding how they live and learning from them. And language is a key factor in that. Because if I try to do my business model in Indonesia then the challenge.
Derek: impenetrable, isn’t it?
Tom: Beyond that I haven’t even got to that point and it may well be. But the challenge is that the only person who would speak to me in English in Indonesia is going to be my Tour Guide or somebody who is very, very middle class and quite well-educated but not your average joe by any stretch of the imagination. And yet here in the Philippines I spent one-year living in these communities of Gawad Kalinga and I didn’t speak hardly any Filipino and yet I managed to get by. So, you know that language factor is a huge advantage to this country not only in terms of BPO but also in other industries like travel. So, I really hope we can establish the Philippines is the number one in Asia for social tourism with that being one for big reasons.
Derek: Social tourism, it actually should. I mean as Tony Meloto says there is no excuse for the Philippines to be poor. There is also no excuse for the tourism to be one of the most significant in Asia that the general tourism is. There’s seven thousand islands. Stunning untouched beauty as you say this is a huge English-speaking population and very culturally aligned so I think there’s huge potential and hopefully the government now are focused on encouraging that.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. And it has to happen and it’s just. Yeah let’s just have some another decade of stability and good decisions.
Derek: From an infrastructure and infrastructure is.
Tom: Crucial in tourism as well because it takes a while to get around everywhere. So, there’s this the slogan for the last two years in the Philippines was always it’s more fun in the Philippines. And the reason this is a genius slogan is because even if stuff goes wrong it’s still generally gonna be more colorful and more fun more joyful than in other countries. But of course, that’s not to mask the fact that there are huge challenges.
Derek: Wear a little bit thin if you’re waiting at the airport first.
Tom: Exactly. Exactly.
Derek: Now there’s huge potential but ails we need to get over. I think I think it’s about tenth the size of the Thailand tourism, is that right?
Derek: So, there’s huge
Tom: So, it’s not inferior to Thailand and in terms of the beaches or the islands.
Derek: So, it’s just not getting on the radar.
Tom: Yup, yup.
Derek: That’s great. Tom, I wish you the best of luck.
Tom: Thanks for having me.
Derek: Thank you.
I hope you enjoyed that chat with Tom. Again, I apologize about the environment with Tom. We were in a bar I confess and there’s a little bit of background noise there which I really apologize about. But I think there’s some good takeaways there if you do want any of these show notes if you want to get in touch with Tom Graham or are interested in Mad Travel please go to our show notes and you can find this episode at outsourceaccelerator.com/podcast/episode29. See you next time.