John Jonas – Onlinejobs.ph and virtual assistants in the Philippines
I’m super excited to be joined by John Jonas of Onlinejobs.ph. Founded over a decade ago, it has grown to be one of the major platforms that connect Philippine job seekers with prospective employers in the West. It has created over 200,000 jobs and is a major job portal in the Philippines. Find out how it started and what he’s currently doing with it. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this conversation.
Online recruitment market
Derek Gallimore: John Jonas, founder of Onlinejobs.ph, welcome to the Outsource Accelerator podcast. How are you?
John Jonas: I’m great. Thanks for having me.
Derek Gallmore: Absolute pleasure. And you’re really making quite a mark here in the Philippines. The Onlinejobs is now becoming a huge portal, and I think it’s like the go-to site for a lot of people looking for international employees. Can you give us a little bit of insight into how all of this got started?
John Jonas: I hired my first person out of the Philippines in 2005. Maybe January 2005, maybe December 2004, and it completely changed my life. Like, I think at the time, nobody had even thought like, oh, let’s try the Philippines as an outsourcing destination.
Everyone was going to India and it was the most liberating experience of my life where I had this dude who was intelligent. His full time job was do anything I asked him to do, and he could think through things and it wasn’t just like a robot. It wasn’t like he can only follow the exact instructions. He could think, he could write, he could do things that I was doing in my business. That was such a big deal for me.
I had friends that I told, and I just found people coming to me all day, every week, asking, how are you doing this? So, I started doing a little bit of teaching of it, because people were asking me and then a couple of people started asking me to teach their audiences was like, dang.
Derek Gallimore: You know, there’s good demand when it when it spreads naturally.
John Jonas: Yeah, so it kind of naturally evolved into me talking about it and teaching it. And at the time, there wasn’t a good way to find people.
I went through a service, I went through an agency and that was fine. You know, I was paying them 750 bucks a month, they were paying the worker 250 bucks a month, which was fine. But I just wanted to be able to recruit myself, like, I hated that when I said, Hey, I need a PHP programmer and they were like, Oh, here he is. And I wanted to say, let me interview him. Let me what skills does he have? What experience? Well, here he is. That was the only thing I was given.
I had this idea, like I want to create a marketplace like monster.com, like indeed.com, where I can recruit people myself, and I had hoped to get a couple hundred Filipino resumes in it so I could have a good recruiting pool for myself. And it just exploded, like, we had a couple hundred resumes in the first month.
Derek Gallimore: Crazy. So when did you launch? When did it go live?
John Jonas: I went live in 2009. We started building in 2008.
Derek Gallimore: Then fast forward, it’s 10 years now. Congratulations. And where is it now? Like, what sort of volumes are you seeing and how many people online and what’s the kind of engagement rates?
John Jonas: Yeah, so we’re seeing, like, we’re approaching a million resumes now. We have thousands of employers every month. We have thousands of jobs posted every month. We have thousands of people get hired every month.
Derek Gallimore: Right? It’s incredible. Do you know how many jobs you’ve created for the Philippines?
John Jonas: So, because of the way we set the platform up where like, we don’t take a cut of people salaries, we’re not involved in you paying workers, we’re not involved in you working with people, we just provide you the platform to find and hire people. I don’t have good data on that. But, based off of a bunch of numbers that we have my closest guess is like 200,000 jobs that we’ve created over the last 10 years.
Derek Gallimore: That’s incredible, isn’t it?
And how does it vary from the model, well, the UpWork. the Fiverr, and the Freelancer? Is Onlinejobs just dedicated full-time staffing or is there some variability in that?
John Jonas: So there’s totally variability in it. Like, you can do whatever you want.
I built it to be what I wanted. Like, if you if you’re recruiting, when I recruit, I wanted it to come to my email. Like I want someone to apply to my job posts, and I want their application to come to my personal email, so that I could reply to them because that’s what’s easiest for me. So that’s what we do for people, like, we have a messaging platform that you can use instead of Onlinejobs or they come straight to you.
We find that people will do all kinds of stuff with who they’re hiring, like freelance work, hourly work, full-time, part-time, or project based. Most of the people that are getting hired, though, are getting hired part-time or full-time. There’s very little project work done through Onlinejobs.ph, and there’s a good reason for that, which we can get into if you want but…
Hiring Filipino workers
Derek Gallimore: I’d love to, and it’s interesting.
Isn’t it that you, going down this path, do you feel any – because obviously, I’m based in London or in the Philippines, I see the incredible workforce here – do you feel a certain sense of responsibility to represent the Philippines and show people that it is an incredible workforce here, highly-skilled, highly-educated?
Now, of course, you know, in any employment, you’ve got to kiss a few frogs and things like that. But I kind of feel that platforms, like UpWork or Freelancer, when there’s a lot of small jobs, a lot of friction in terms of setting up the jobs and the project specifications, then it’s almost setting up the ecosystem to fail and there is a lot of friction.
There’s a lot of two steps forward, two steps backwards. How do you find the relationship between the client and the workforce, and so that people aren’t upset or disappointed in their search?
John Jonas: So like you said, you’re gonna kiss some frogs, right? But, you also said this like the Philippines is amazing. The workforce is amazing, especially for people in the US, Australia, Canada, the UK, like West, very Western countries – where the Philippines, as far as Asian countries go, is probably the most westernised. Like, aside from being a third-world country.
There’s so much common culture. And so what people find is that they have a very similar experience to what they would have hiring locally, but often they find better. Like, Oh, I just found a super talented programmer for $800 A month for full-time work. And he communicates just as well as any programmer locally.
Or sometimes you’ll find like, Oh, I just hired this person who speaks perfect English. You know, they’re $600 a month, seven, $800 a month, whatever, and their English is flawless. Like, they can do customer support perfectly, but maybe the way they wrote this article for me, this copy isn’t quite – there’s still a culture, right.
So we find that employers generally have a really good experience. There’s some culture to be aware of, but across the board, like I don’t feel like I need to convince people that the Philippines is amazing because people have that experience when they try it.
Derek Gallimore: And how much of the market do you feel are already aware of outsourcing, maybe participating in outsourcing, maybe read the four-hour workweek by Tim Ferris and are onboard already versus, you know, these are new people to outsourcing, they’re a little bit freaked out by it all, they’ve heard about people doing it and they want to give it a go. Do you have any insight into that?
John Jonas: I’ve never thought about percentages, we get a lot of both. I personally have one touch point with customers.
When they join Onlinejobs.ph, there’s a feedback form on the thank you page, and it says hey, what feedback do you have about what you’ve seen so far? And that comes directly to me. And so a couple times a day I get from people. I get both things like, hey, I’ve done this before. I’m just excited to be doing it again. Or, I get, I heard about this, and I’m excited to try and hire my first VA. Right? And I would say those two feedbacks are probably 50/50.
Derek Gallimore: And the reason why what I said lead into that is, where do you see all this going? I mean, I predict, you know, in 15 to 20 years from now, there’s just going to be one globalised workforce.
Are you still amazed that, you know, we live in a world I think wherever is on board with the globalised employment pool, knowing how to access that and harness it, but there’s still so many people so many successful thriving businesses that aren’t aware of this opportunity and outsourcing? And you’re sitting in the US, how do you see it in terms of the general awareness of outsourcing and this opportunity to source people globally?
John Jonas: I think across the board, everybody knows it’s going on. I think there’s definitely some knowledge and understanding growth that is going to happen in terms of like, what exists. I think especially in the US, there’s been a lot of taint towards outsourcing because of India, because of people’s experience with India.
For a lot of years, a lot of call centres were in India and people in the US do not communicate well on the phone with the call centre person in India. It was a disaster. And people woke up to that, companies woke up to that, and so I think that there’s a lot of education that’s going to go on.
It already is, with people saying, like, okay, here’s a person on the other side of the world. They’re not a robot. They’re a thinker. They can get stuff done for me. I don’t have to babysit. And over the, like you said, the next 20 years that I think it becomes very mainstream.
It’s not there yet, but every day I see it becoming more and more.
Derek Gallimore: And how do you see the – I mean, it’s difficult to get, I suppose the inside – but how do you see the relationships of outsourcing and the employees developing in terms of, is it seen as sort of a slightly different culture, when you outsource, you’re getting the grunt work done?
Are people starting to embrace their remote teams just as they would standard employees and they bring them on board in terms of the culture, the alignment, the process mapping, and things like that?
John Jonas: Yeah, there’s definitely both happening, but I do see more and more people doing what you described second. Like, Hey, we have a team. Like I had two people in the last month contact me and say, hey, I want to go to the Philippines and meet my team. Right? And that’s becoming a more normal occurrence.
In the beginning, when I started doing this 10 years ago, nobody was concerned about, like, what kind of culture can we have? Now I regularly get, like, hey, what kind of incentive programmes do we set up? What should we be buying laptops for our employees? They’re thinking of them more as employees or get people like, hey, I need to build a better relationship here.
So, the thinker model of someone overseas rather than the robot model is definitely becoming more common. And I think that a large part of that is because of the Philippines. Just because of the type of worker, because of their attitude towards Westerners, because of their willingness to think, once you’ve built a relationship with them.
Derek Gallimore: Absolutely. And over the last 10 years, or even 15 years since you began, have you seen the general interest go up the value chain? Now, at the beginning, you gave an example of hiring PHP with PHP, which is obviously, you know, a skilled role.
Generally, do you think people are – of course, there’s a blend of skilled and just assistant roles – but if people entrusting the Philippines with, you know, not just do this task, but can you manage the task? And can you also help us out with the strategy or leadership at these roles? Do you see, you know, the expectations and allowances for the Filipino roles climbing?
John Jonas: Yeah. I mean, I see it in my business, and I see the search volume for Project Manager, type things up. Again, I think the thinking worker versus the robot worker, where it’s the thinking worker, and people’s acceptance of that is definitely going up.
I think, in the beginning – and it’s probably going up because people are more experienced with this, like – almost every person in the beginning, when they start, they think I have to teach every single tiny detail. I have to have a standard operating procedure for every little thing. And as people get more experienced, and they have peope working for them for longer, which is one of the great things about the Philippines, which is how loyal they are. Like, the first person that I ever hired still worked for me, which was almost 15 years. It’s amazing, right? And especially in today’s world, where people keep a job, like an average of 19 months or something.
Derek Gallimore: There’s mutual benefit there for everyone, isn’t it? And I think this is where the Employers need to realise that if you just forge a long term partnership and you invest a little bit up front, then it can really pay back in spadefuls later on down the path.
John Jonas: Yeah, and that’s that’s becoming harder and harder locally in the US. And the Philippines provides a really great opportunity to do it, like you said, as long as you have to be willing to invest in them and in their future.
Derek Gallimore: And then, you said people are now seeking a little bit of guidance from you, and they’re interested in coming over to the Philippines. What are some of the main points you find that maybe needs a little bit of coaching in terms of how to optimise this process – not so much the hiring, but in terms of getting the best out of people once they’re on board? And what do you see as sort of, I suppose, the common missteps, and the best approaches for it?
John Jonas: So probably the biggest thing I see that needs to change, like, people’s mindset needs to change is, as an employer, you think I’m hiring this person on the other side of the world, I don’t know if I can trust them. And the Filipino worker is thinking the exact same thing just opposite. I don’t know if I can trust this employer. Right?
And as soon as people recognise that, and change their mind shift from, like, ‘I gotta protect my business from this worker’ to ‘how can I get the trust of this worker so they trust me,’ Everything changes in that relationship. Like, as soon as you figure out how you gain that worker’s trust, you have a rock star on your hands.
But it does require gaining their trust with the Philippines, because without that they’re very hesitant. They call it shy, you know, they’re scared to go out on a limb, scared that you’re going to be disappointed or mad or upset or whatever.
As soon as you attempt to gain that trust, and they know, Oh, if I mess up, he’s not going to fire me, if I mess up he’s not gonna be mad at me, then they go all in, in terms of being willing to help your business. So that’s like, the biggest management tip mistake thing that I see is change the way you look at this and gain their trust.
Evaluation for work performance
Derek Gallimore: Incredible, isn’t it? So simple yet so powerful, isn’t it? What is – in terms of processes and people setting the schedule of work and training and onboarding – do you generally see that, you know, that’s done well? Or, where’s the happy balance there in terms of planning things out?
John Jonas: That’s an interesting thing, and I find it’s very much personality-based with like, we don’t have a lot of big businesses using. I mean, we’ve found Google and Uber in Canada hiring in Onlinejobs, which is fine. But probably 98% of our customers are small business owners, or entrepreneurs.
What I find in terms of people setting schedules varies according to personality. So for me, I just hired a copywriter this week. And he said, What hours am I required to work? I said, I don’t really care when you work, just get work done. And I don’t use a time tracker, I gauge productivity based on what I see, like, I have a pretty good idea of the work you’re doing and how long it’s taking.
Other employers, though, and I think this is specifically with the Philippines, people take this too far. Like, No, I’m going to use time tracking. I expect you to show up at this time and leave at this time. I’m going to look at your screenshots of your desktop all day long.
We had one employer who required all their people to show up for roll call every day and to wave at a specific hour and when they didn’t, they were fired. And, like, this person lost weight. This worker lost weight, just worrying about getting fired until he finally missed roll call one day and got fired. You’re sort of extremes of what you what you require of people.
And I think with the Philippines, some structure is good, but like, maybe you could tell me different but, letting letting people do what they want to do works really well.
Derek Gallimore: I absolutely agree. I think, you know, people, especially if they’re new to outsourcing, they can sometimes cling on to whatever metrics they can gather. And a lot of this is like when you’re logging in, when you’re turning on, what can I get from the sort of time doctors of the world to monitor these things.
Actually, they’re just a distraction, they’re not actually the real metrics, aren’t they. And you know, sometimes then it can sort of leader productivity measured completely down the wrong path, and everyone’s just stress and it doesn’t actually contribute towards a better output.
John Jonas: That’s what I’ve seen with the Philippines, specifically, is it adds stress. It adds a situation where they’re worried about disappointing you and letting you down because you’re tracking them. And so it often I’ll see, it decreases productivity, rather than provides an incentive for them to say, Oh, yeah, I’m going to do better because you’re tracking my time.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah. And again, it comes down to trust and the confidence of both parties really, doesn’t it. Kind of just set poor foundations.
I completely agree that in the Philippines – and I think with really anyone to be honest, especially the millennials, and I don’t want to anger people here, but – people work better with a sort of framework and a foundation.
These are the baseline requirements. And then I think people can flourish on top of those and then they can show their own personality and their own output. But kind of locking, chaining people down to processes, to time management, to check in to, it kind of skews the importance of what they’re actually doing.
And the environment then, what is the typical environment that outsource people are working from? Are they typically home workers? And also if people do say to you, should I buy them a laptop? You know, what are the expectations that you set?
John Jonas: So with Onlinejobs.ph, almost everybody is working from home, and that varies so much. I know I have people that live in very small, self-built homes. I have people that live with their parents and like, reasonable nice, like bigger places. But they’re working from home and I mean, I guess in the Philippines, they don’t call it a third world country, they call it an emerging economy. But it’s not the same thing as in the US, right?
Derek Gallimore: And in terms of equipment and the environment does take anything to set them up to get them going?
John Jonas: That’s a good point. Through Onlinejobs.ph, basically anybody you find is going to have a computer or access to a computer or a laptop. What we always tell people is if someone tells you in the beginning that they need a laptop or their computer died and you need to buy them another one, that’s almost always a scam.
Don’t do it. Like, we’ll often see that in the first week. Oh, my computer died. Can you buy me one? Don’t do that. So, although I did just hire, like I said, a copywriter this week, he emailed me and said Urgent. My Computer died. They said they can fix it in two days. So he wasn’t asking me to buy him something.
So computers definitely die. And I think this is important for people to know, because of the environment of the Philippines, like the climate, it’s rougher on computers than the climate in the US generally. So people’s equipment does die. Usually they’re pretty dang proactive about getting it fixed because their livelihood depends on it. We do buy computers for our people, just not until we trust them.
Derek Gallimore: Absolutely. I think that’s kind of a natural progression. And again, you know, I kind of coach people and say, just as much as possible treat outsourcing like employment. You know, as you would employ someone in your hometown or if they’re sitting next to you. A lot of us sort of lessons and a lot of the interactions are very similar. It’s just build that trust and kind of ease into the relationship and invest up front.
John Jonas: And that’s something that I’ve always talked about, like, this is not a robot on the other side of the world. It’s a person with feelings and families and problems and needs. And if you treat them like that, you’ll have a great experience. If you treat them like a robot, you’re going to have a robot. And that’s it.
Managing remote teams
Derek Gallimore: So we concentrate primarily on, I suppose, the medium to large end of the SMB market where they’re building teams of two to five to 50 to 100 people. Do you see team building begin? You know, is it the sort of early stepping stone to try one person and then inevitably, you build a team of people? Do you have any insight into people’s progression with outsourcing?
John Jonas: Yeah, so like I said, most of our customers are small, right? And what I see, what I have seen over the years is those who come in and say, I want to build a team right away, usually really struggle with it.
Whereas, those who come in and hire one person to do one thing and then come back in two months and hire someone else to do something else, those people have a really good experience and succeed. So, I find that if people will use a progression, they’re a lot more likely to succeed at it rather than saying, Oh, I need a video editor and a designer and a programmer and a content writer and a social like, that doesn’t often work.
Derek Gallimore: Because again, a lot of it is training the employer as well, isn’t it, to set their processes get there, get their own internal functions straight so that they can then clearly delegate and build a team around it. None of this really is a sort of natural thing. It’s got to progress, isn’t it?
John Jonas: Right. I mean, I have a guy one time told me, man, I tried that. I hired 20 people over there in the Philippines and do SEO and nothing ever happened. I was like, well, would you hire 20 people in the US to do SEO and expect stuff to happen without you doing something? No. Well, why would you expect it to be different overseas? Like, just throwing manpower at something doesn’t often solve a problem, it often creates the worst problem. Right? Just throwing people at it.
Derek Gallimore: Absolutely. Do you have any requests and whether you manage this at all, in terms of commission-only sales-now, I see that as a bit of a blight. And to be honest, for all potential employees across the world, you know, I think commission-only is pretty rough on one side of the equation. Do you do you see much of that coming through the platform and how do you manage those requests?
John Jonas: We don’t allow it. We don’t allow commission-only positions, we delete the job posts, and we tell the employers This is not allowed and if they continue to do it, we ban them. So it’s not something we want to do. It’s too scam-prone to allow commission-only. And workers know that, like, they know they’re weary of a commission-only thing. It’s like that’s a scam. It’s not always a scam. But, you know.
Derek Gallimore: I was talking to an outsourcing facility the other day down in the southern province of the Philippines and they had 100 seats. I was congratulating the guy and they were full, they had 100 people in 100 seats.
They were full, but they weren’t making any money. And I’m like, why, you know, how can you not make money? You must be rich, you know? You said that it’s a commission-only, and they can’t cover their costs. Aside, you’ve got to get real work. And, you know, people can get into quite a bind, I think can they buy by sort of promising the earth in terms of sales, and sales are really difficult.
John Jonas: Yeah, I mean, that’s how I feel about commission-only. Puts the entire burden on the worker and puts nothing on the employer towards providing a place where they can succeed. Right? If they don’t succeed, the employer doesn’t care.
Derek Gallimore: And then if people do build out teams, do you ever see requirements for going into facilities? Do you ever see, you know, people then move towards decentralisation of staffing? Or do you do sort of see that the model is successful in terms of the distributed placement?
John Jonas: I don’t very often see people going towards the centralised model. I have seen it over the years and of those that I have seen it from, I know they decentralised like they got offices and had people work in the office and then they got rid of the offices, and I don’t have a good reason why. But we do see the work-from-home model work really well.
Global workforce of the future
Derek Gallimore: Do you see then, the world is one homogenised workplace and representation of that then is one modularized employment portal? Where do you see all this converging to?
John Jonas: I’ll tell you a story. This is probably eight years ago, I called Amazon because I had a problem with an order and I got someone in India. They couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them and I hung up. I immediately called back and this time I got someone in the Philippines.
I knew that because I recognise the slight accent. And that was kind of a lightbulb moment for me; this was when the Amazon was testing call centres, they sent me to their current call centre when someone hung up, they then routed it to the Philippines to see if that would solve the problem. And over the last five, six years in the US we’ve seen all call centres move out of India into the Philippines. Like a lot of years ago, People were testing Costa Rica or Mexico, and we don’t get people from those countries on the phone anymore. We get people from the Philippines on the phone.
In terms of do I see it as one homogenised workforce? Yes. But people will always gravitate towards the best. Right? And that’s why you hear so much about Eastern Europe with programmers because they’re really good at it. Like, they create really good programmers in Eastern Europe. And the Philippines just lends itself because of its westernised culture. Like, people don’t realise this that street signs in the Philippines are in English.
Derek Gallimore: And that can’t be understated. Yeah, I mean, it’s just 100% penetration of English here. Everything is in English.
John Jonas: You’re right, that can’t be understated. It’s not a second language. It is, but it’s a primary language. And that is such a big deal. So, over the next 20 years, do I see that happening more with more countries? Yeah, like it’s going to start to grow with more countries just because of the global economy.
But right now and for the next 10 years, the Philippines is such a step ahead of everywhere else that it’s going to continue to grow there. And I mean, right now, I think the number one export from the Philippines is people, like just sending people around the world and I see that changing to people staying home and working online and getting more and more home-based jobs versus go overseas and send money home because it’s hard on a family.
Derek Gallimore: Well, it’s you know, the overseas foreign workers, which is the sort of export of people is about 10% of GDP and the outsourcing sector now has reached about 11% of GDP. So it is now bigger.
The outsourcing sector doesn’t really cover the Onlinejobs.ph, it doesn’t really cover the UpWork. So I can only imagine that with your contribution and UpWork, it really is a huge economy now. And it’s fantastic. See, because it’s not just people doing grunt work. This is real, professional services. This is people doing real service for the people and businesses in the West. It’s super exciting and a huge opportunity for the Philippines and also the employees in the West.
John Jonas: Very much. So I mean, so much so that, like, I hired a sales copywriter this week. I have multiple programmers who manage like really complicated systems. Or, like our, social media presence is 100% built and driven by two people in the Philippines.
We’ve had hundreds of thousands of likes on Facebook and I’ve never made a single post. Like that concept of these are smart, talented people at a fifth the cost of local, and they want to be a part of your team and want to work for you for a long time, and they want to be stable.
I mean, it’s a really good situation and it’s changing the world. And, like you said, we’re not included in the Philippines official calculation of the outsourcing sector. But, the more we do, the more – like we have two different government branches now trying to partner with us on stuff. They’re very interested in what this brings to the Philippines.
Derek Gallimore: I know them well actually. I speak to a lot of the government departments and I’m actually going to see IBPAP today, which is the Outsourcing Association. And, you know, the Philippines is, of course, very proud of their professional workforce, and anything like Onlinejobs.ph, I think, is an incredible opportunity. And it really is in the Philippines. It’s a really strong beacon for, you know, professional jobs and access to the west, which I think is exactly what the Philippines needs. So, yeah, incredible job.
John Jonas, founder of Onlinejobs.ph, thank you so much for your time. And as I mentioned, incredible portal that you’ve built over the last 10 years and personally, I thank you for the 200,000 jobs that you’ve created in the Philippines. And if anyone wants to get in touch with you or learn more about Onlinejobs, how can we do that?
John Jonas: So, Onlinejobs.ph, you can learn more. If you want to get in touch with me use the Contact Us link and ask for me, obviously doesn’t come to me at first. But if you ask for me, they know to send it straight to me. I’m not on social media. I don’t really have a, I don’t want to give you a Facebook or whatever.
Derek Gallimore: Nice, simple. Thank you so much.
John Jonas: Yeah, thanks for having me. It’s been great.
Derek Gallimore: That was John Jonas of Onlinejobs.ph. If you want to get in touch with John or know any more about this episode, go to our show notes, which is at outsourceaccelerator.com/261. And as always, if you want to ask us anything, then just drop some email to [email protected] See you next time.