By: Jahzeel Abihail G. Cruz
The recipe for running a successful enterprise doesn’t necessarily include membership in a related high school club or being voted “Most Likely to Succeed”. What it does include, though, is an expertise in something of personal interest and balance between risk-taking and business sense. And the earlier these factors converge in life, the better. Having enjoyed the perks of being their own bosses before the middle age of 40, these expat entrepreneurs would know.
Teaming with Talent
It may not been much for Gregory Kittelson looking back, but dreams of putting up his own Mexican restaurant and a nightclub in his native Rhode Island in the US now seem providential. Self-made at 37, and a foreign country to boot, Greg is co-founder of two Philippine-based companies: Kittelson & Carpo Consulting and the KMC MAG Group real estate brokerage firm.
“It’s really the people that make the Philippines attractive [for business],” he stresses. He found himself in the country seven years ago, assisting in managing a software outsourcing company, and had prior sales and business development work experience in San Francisco. With these and the burgeoning business process outsourcing (BPO) industry here, Greg found himself at the right place at the right time.
Finding the right people was the clincher, and for that, the Philippines were a gold mine. He first partnered with friend and seasoned corporate tax lawyer Amanda Carpo to put up Kittelson and Carpo Consulting three years ago. Today the consulting firm is a thriving team of lawyers, recruiters and accountants, which has provided business set-up services for some 200 foreign companies to date.
It was sister company KMC MAG Group that was more a child traditional business school principles. When Greg and his partner saw an evolution in their clients’ needs to include securing leased office space, they jumped at the opportunity to address the high demand and secure the niche.
It’s not all business for Greg, though. “Your overall focus has to be on your business, but it’s important to have social outlets,” says this health buff. How he has time for travelling, boxing, muay Thai, and dancing the salsa and meringue are bewildering, but he insists it’s a matter of balancing these with company concerns.
When called for, however, Greg puts his astute business mind to work by collaborating with people in his workplace. As if to reiterate the importance of skilled personnel, he doles out praise for the team s he has assembled here in the Philippines. “I have a very talented local team that can interface and execute for our clients, and that’s something we’re very proud of,” he says.
Self-Teaching through Experience
“According to a poll by the HR, I’m relaxed and easy to approach, and talk to,” says Michael McCullough, which may not come as surprise after finding out he hails from Southern California in the US. But don’t be fooled by his approach to management: At 28, he co-manages the KMC MAG Group, a company he launched with Kittelson and Carpo Consulting’s Greg.
Michael initially started out as an IT Consultant for Greg’s consulting firm, a position he held after stints in Silicon Valley and the Cambria Corporation, a custom software development firm. The latter brought him to the Philippines in 2007 to open a subsidiary company, and it’s felt like home here for him ever since.
That’s not to say that success came effortlessly for him. “We were never taken seriously by a lot of landlords at first, so establish a name is kind difficult here,” recalls Michael. But in its 13 months of operation, KMC MAG went from unsure to unperturbed, closing several significant accounts and establishing itself as a real estate player to stay.
The company prides itself in providing immediate solutions, usually for the brisk BPO industry, creating a niche in a country where red tape can be frustrating, Michael says. Triumphs such as providing large-scale serviced office for two clients on a floor of coveted Ayala Avenue building space (“I think we’re one of the first companies to do something like this on a large scale, specially at the price point,” he notes) have sincere created deserved buzz among industry higher ups.
Nonchalant about his achievements for his age, Michael looks at his business a continuing education. Incidentally, he chose entrepreneurship over graduate school, opting to experience learning rather that paying for it. “All of our clients are very seasoned CEO’s, so when they come to our office, I do nothing but listen and try to learn from them,” he says.
KMC MAG has since branched out to offer more solutions for its clients, from staff leasing to condominium brokerage. And Michael is living it up in the Philippines, unleashing the water lover in him on weekend getaways. “ I feel like is the 51st state of the US. I feel comfortable here.
Attuned to Business Weather
Browse the online materials of some of the most ubiquitous names in business here, and not a few will be the handiwork of NetBooster Asia. This online advertising and marketing agency’s successes were not without constant fine-tuning, however. For his part, company president Sebastien Caudron believes,” [Business] is evolving. You just follow trends and follow what’s working.
NetBooster Asia’s history owes a revisit to one of its predecessors: Yellowasp. Sebastien’s first venture in the Philippines in 2000, Yellowasp is a software services company offering offshore development services. Noticing that web services were increasingly becoming professionalized, Yellowasp eventually began re-branding as a web services provider.
Partnering with French web solutions group NetBooster around three years ago marked yet another shift, this time the creation of a full blown online agency offering creative services and online marketing solutions to companies across Asia. Sebastien shares, “Instead of trying to sell them a website or traffic, we went to very basic commercial talk to make them realize that internet has big potential for them.”
It helps that the Frenchman himself is young; at 36, he’s in touch with a generation that is internet-savvy. As for where he’d eventually set up business, Asia was always on his radar; a joint-venture project in the 1990’s in Manila sealed the deal, and he stayed ever since. The Philippines, with its large, young and English-literate population, provided both the ideal labor pool and target market for NetBooster Asia.
Sebastian started his first company here at the age of 25, and ten years into the business, he says he’s happy he started early. “If you’ve experienced the comfort and low stress of getting monthly salary, I think it’s difficult to accept the risk of not earning as much on regular basis,” he reasons. Still he notes some changes in perspective that come with experience: “You realize that the independence of an entrepreneur is also not real, because you have to report your clients.”
NetBooster Asia, with Sebastien at the helm, now looks to be the agency of choice for clients that aim to advertise regionally. “The idea is to be the first and largest digital agency network in Southeast Asia. We want to create value by offering a network,” so his forecast goes.
Taking the Leap
It helps for the enterprising hopeful to be well-educated: Greg studied in Mexico and Spain, Michael in Denmark and Sebastien in Scotland. But also like these three, the successful entrepreneur is ultimately the risk taker. Once the plunge is taken, however, there is so much to do to avoid a free fall. “Then it comes down to focus on your business,” Greg advices those setting up business on soil foreign to them.
“Trust your instinct, make sure you have enough investment, trust top people and include them in the business so they follow you and stick to you,” adds Sebastien. And if all goes well, dividends will not only be in the form of finances, but fulfillment as well. Michael would know: “I remember receiving my very first commission of Php 100,000, and it’s an indescribable feeling.