Phillip Lew is the founder and CEO of C9 Staff, a boutique remote staffing solutions company with deep talent penetration across 35 top international talent markets and a client base that includes top tier digital marketing agencies, software development firms, eCommerce sites, and contact centers located in the US, Canada, the UK, Europe, New Zealand, and Australia. He helps entrepreneurs, investors, business owners, executives, and agencies around the world leverage the power of overseas staffing in order to expand their capabilities while saving up to 70% in overhead costs.
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Table of Contents
Let’s learn a little about you and really get to experience what makes us tick – starting at our beginnings. Where did your story begin?
Phillip Lew: I have a degree in business from Boston University. I’m originally from Los Angeles but I have had the privilege of traveling around the world, working on various businesses and enterprises of some of my friends. And in the process, I have built my own company that has allowed me to move forward with this lifestyle and work setup.
It was when I moved to the Philippines several years ago to work on the thriving Business Process Outsourcing industry there that the idea for my current company was born.
I was invited by a friend of mine who was starting a call center there and asked me if I’d help him run it. I said yes and that was the start. I remembered arriving in the Philippines and thinking, “What if this venture doesn’t pan out? What if I fail here and I end up having to stay here for a long time figuring out how to make money and surviving on my own?” I have seen and heard of other Americans who had that exact experience and I felt this mixed sense of dread and excitement. I was embarking on a new adventure but deep inside, I knew I was well-prepared for most eventualities. So I said, “C’mon, Phillip. You got this!”
Fortunately, my friend’s venture became successful. Soon enough I got the idea of starting my own company and now I’m getting interviewed by Valiant CEO. So I guess, I did well.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Phillip Lew: I remember this clearly. In fact, I purposefully remember this event to remind myself, “Never again”.
It was when my first company out of college failed. At first, it did very well. It reached the point where I was making 6-figures a year. Looking back, my biggest mistake at that time was building my lifestyle around my business. I was overworked. I was eating unhealthily. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I was always stressed.
My bank account may have looked good but my personal wellness was telling an entirely different story. I kept thinking, maybe this was the price I have to pay in order to have a successful business. But it was all working counter-productively and as a result, my business failed and I became a mess.
It was an absolute disaster. The business went into business bankruptcy and even I had to go into personal bankruptcy. It screwed up my credit so bad it took me six years to get it right back on track. I was so devastated I was on the brink of giving up on entrepreneurship altogether.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Phillip Lew: One of my earlier mentors taught me to build my lifestyle around my business. I followed his advice. And I think that led me to ultimately fail in my first venture. It was good while it lasted but it wasn’t sustainable. There may be other entrepreneurs who can function at that level successfully, but it was working counter-productively for me.
Thinking about it now, I should have understood my personal proclivities first before committing to adapting advice that was not suited to my personality.
Instead of building my lifestyle around my business, I should have built my business around my lifestyle. That’s exactly what I did and as a result, I have found the perfect balance between business success and personal well-being. I’m relaxed and rarely stressed. More importantly, I have enough time to work on my business and still have plenty of time to do the things I want and enjoy.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Phillip Lew: I believe resilience is the result of you letting go of your personal attachments and being present in the moment. It is your ability to bounce back quickly after a failed attempt, as well as the corresponding ability to quickly reset and recalibrate for a new goal once the attempt succeeds.
I believe resilient people are detached from all notions of success and failure. They don’t dwell on the past but are engaged in the present. Resilient people can handle both good and bad circumstances with indifference. And most of all, resilient people understand and accept the value of self-awareness and self-denial.
In your opinion, what makes your company stand out from the competition?
Phillip Lew: What makes C9 Staff stand out from other similar organizations is our competence. We take pride in the systems we’ve developed that allow us to find and recruit only the best and most competent professionals in any given field and any given position.
I remember one of our very first clients (who’s now one of our biggest) used to only look at their partnership with C9 Staff in terms of providing them with remote staff. That was the extent of their expectation. But as soon as our remote teams started working for them, they were blown away. They were surprised at the quality of output and results that their remote staff were capable of delivering. But more than that, they were ecstatic about how we structured the relationship where it’s almost plug-and-play. They said it felt like they had a duplicate of their in-house team that’s capable of the same kind of results at less than half the cost.
Since then, they have scaled their business operations several times already with C9 Staff, and as of the latest reports I received, they experienced a 300% year-over-year growth and saving up to 70% in operational costs. So there you go.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?
Phillip Lew: I believe the three character traits that were most instrumental to my success are:
- Mindset – just like I learned from my mentor, Darren Matloff, success starts with your belief. If you truly believe you’re going to be successful, then all of your energy and all of your actions will be determined and directed by that belief. Your entire being will be shaped by that belief and it will serve as your motivation to keep working and keep striving until you turn that belief into a reality.
- Work Ethic – I am a firm believer that your diligence, determination, and hard work are directly proportional to your success. No one wakes up successful one day. I can tell you right now, that person who wakes up to find himself successful hasn’t gone to bed yet. He has spent the night (and probably several nights before that) working on his dream and his craft.
- A Good Moral Compass – I believe that the more successful you become, the greater your obligation to help others become successful as well. People tend to look up to successful people for inspiration and even hope. Therefore, if I am a successful entrepreneur, I have the moral obligation to be the inspiration they seek and be the example they can emulate.
What have you learned about personal branding that you wish you had known earlier in your career?
Phillip Lew: Personal branding is less about what you say, teach, or preach. It’s less about what you want people to learn and what they can take away from an interaction with you. Branding is more about who you are as a person. I remember that quote, “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.” What you do, what you feel, and what you think authentically as a person speaks more volume than whatever “nugget of wisdom” you strive to leave here and there. I believe being authentic and real is a more effective display of personal branding.
How would you define “leadership”?
Phillip Lew: A leader is someone who not only directs his team’s actions but inspires his team to act beyond instruction. A leader is someone who’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty alongside his ground men but is also always ready to straighten his tie and crush it in the conference room with the members of the C-suite. A leader looks beyond the company’s profits and also considers the welfare of the employees. A leader understands that if he leads his team properly, his team will take care of the company for him.
What advice would you give to our younger readers that want to become entrepreneurs?
Phillip Lew: Something I realized when I became an entrepreneur is that the quickest way to NOT make money is to do something because you want to make money. I know it sounds counter-intuitive but it’s actually not.
You have to figure out what you are passionate about first and how you can use that to be of service to the world – not to yourself. Envision yourself leading a lifestyle that serves this passion and higher purpose, and then build your business around that. Doing it this way, you’ll never run out of fuel, ideas, and motivation for your business because you’ve built it around something you love doing.
Now, this may not bring you the financial riches you’ve been dreaming of quickly, but I can assure you, you will never be in financial want and you’ll live a more fulfilled and meaningful life than the stressed-out billion-dollar entrepreneur who’s working 100 hours weekly, living unhealthily and miserably, and who has all the money in the world but none of the time and energy to enjoy it.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Phillip Lew: My favorite quote is one from Paramahansa Yogadanda, and he said, “He who can conquer his mind can conquer the world.” This is why I believe the most important frontier that we have to conquer is our own minds. I apply this to practically every aspect of my life. When I’m feeling lazy to go to the gym, I simply force myself to think of the consequences if I fall out of shape and become unhealthy. Whenever I’m unsure about a business decision, I simply take a step back and step inside my own mind to think things through.
Think about it; all great inventions, all great discoveries, all great feats of human achievement, all of those came from the mind. So if you want to accomplish great things, the first step is always to conceptualize what you need to do in your mind. And once you’re able to do that, you’re halfway there.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Phillip Lew for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Phillip Lew or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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