By Bryce Maddock and Jaspar Weir, EO Los Angeles members and co-founders of TaskUs.
Expanding your business overseas can bring with it a decent amount of battle wounds. We know, having experienced our fair share. Four years ago, we opened our first office in the Philippines. Since then, we’ve survived typhoons, shakedowns and being robbed by our own management team— twice. Here are some rules we live by when it comes to international business:
The More You Know, the More You Grow
There’s one piece of advice I wish we would’ve received at the start of our venture: Don’t do anything before securing a well-qualified accountant and lawyer. If your budget allows for it, I would secure several. It’s imperative that you understand the nuances of the labor and tax codes in the country you’re hoping to set up shop. We found out the hard way. In the Philippines, employees are paid an annual bonus equivalent to one month’s salary, called “13th month” pay. Imagine discovering this at the end of your first year in business. Goodbye to the profits we thought we made! Had we secured counsel in advance, we would have asked the following questions: Is government corruption a problem? What do we do if we get shaken down? What if an employee sues us? Using your imagination is crucial here, as is preparing a list of questions before any initial meetings.
Pack Your Bags and Your Brains
Under no circumstances should you ever start a business or even open an office in a foreign country without first visiting the location. That’s like putting your clothes on before you take a shower— it just doesn’t make sense. And don’t even think about taking the easy way out with technology. We’ve found alternative means like Skype to be insufficient. There is no substitution for first-hand experience. You will learn infinitely more about the people and culture within five minutes of face-to-face communication than a month’s worth of video chatting. Our initial trips to the Philippines were true adventures and provided the framework for what would eventually become our business.
Surround Yourself with Smart People
In all, it took us 18 months and three management teams to find a core group with whom we could work and trust. Our first two teams stole money from us, which is a risk you take when allowing a team abroad to manage their own budget (funded personally by you). Internal recruiting has since become our single greatest resource for developing dependable managers abroad. We recruited young, ambitious people within our organization and gave them greater responsibilities. Two years after adopting this strategy, we have quintupled in size and assembled a top-notch team in the Philippines.