As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Gallimore. He has been involved in entrepreneurial pursuits from as early as 16, when he started working for himself as a personal trainer. Fast forward 20 years and he has built multiple million-dollar businesses across sectors as diverse as property development, hospitality and tech.
Derek has now set his sights on disrupting the outsourcing, remote and offshore staffing sector. Outsourcing presents one of the most powerful and transformative tools available to businesses. It is especially relevant during tough recessionary times like COVID as it allows businesses to leverage a huge pool of remote globalized employees at a fraction of the cost locally.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born in the UK, but raised in New Zealand. As soon as I turned 18, I moved to Australia for a couple of years, then moved on to South America for a year and then settled for about 6 years in London, UK.
I was always interfered in business from as early as i could remember. Startups, hackathons, entrepreneurial communities and VCs weren’t a thing back then, so I never really found my tribe. Regardless, business enthralled me. I tried a few small business ideas early on — like personal training — but none of them were a ‘success’. However, I learned an immense amount about the fundamentals of business: income, outgoings, marketing, and customer service.
When I arrived in London at about 21 years old, I saw the property rental and investment market booming. I wanted in on the action. But I was young, had zero credit rating and only an average job. The property market was red hot, but rental yields were so high (up to 10%), and bank interest rates were so low (as low as 3%). I managed to secure a near impossible mortgage from a lender, and started buying my first property, followed by another, and another until I built a property portfolio worth about $15m.
Fast forward to 2008, the world’s biggest financial crisis adversely affected the UK and basically shut down the banking sector. While I didn’t lose any properties and my portfolio remained secure, I could no longer do the property development thing because of the implosion and deleveraging of the entire banking sector. After that I looked for various businesses to get into and settled with ‘corporate housing’, which presented itself as the perfect opportunity.
I began ‘serviced apartments’ in London when it was a little-known sector, prior to Airbnb exploding onto the scene. This new venture was launched in 2009, and I spent nine years pouring my heart and soul into it — it was an incredible success. The company peaked at nearly $20m annual revenues, 70 staff, and 220 apartments in central London. I am so proud of the company, since I built it with no external funding (apart from a bank loan), and used old-fashioned lean start-up fundamentals.
My property portfolio was growing, and I had built a $20m business. I was on top of the world. Until it all collapsed.
The company started struggling due to an increasing competitive marketing, reducing prices, and higher commissions from Booking.com. I sold most of my own investment properties to try and rescue my serviced apartment business — without success. I spent 2016 trying to salvage my company, and I lost almost everything.
The collapse took its toll, but within the days, I was able to lick my wounds and start to rebuild. Within weeks, I was back on track and already launching new ventures. I remember my serviced apartments business is benefiting from a 24/7 customer service operation, and visiting Manila opened my eyes to the outsourcing industry, and the broad opportunity that comes with it. I was by then living in Manila, Philippines, which is the global epicenter of the world’s outsourcing industry.
I realized how powerful the outsourcing industry was, and that I am incredibly passionate about it.
I thus founded Outsource Accelerator (“OA”) in 2017 which is now the world’s leading outsourcing marketplace and advisory. Think of it like “TripAdvisor for outsourcing”. It offers independent unbiased information, education and advisory for people that want to know more about offshore staffing.
Fast forward to 2020, OA helps small and medium-enterprises save up to 70 per cent on employment costs — we have a directory of over 700 business process outsourcing (BPO) companies, we have posted almost 300 podcast episodes, and published more than 5,000 articles, guides and white papers.
We are happy with where the company is going. The world is going through health and economic crises, but since outsourcing is a countercyclical industry, we’re given the chance to help more companies save on employment costs without sacrificing the quality of their workforce.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I knew nothing about business when I started. Nothing. And there was no obvious community from which to learn and find support back then.
For my first personal training business, I remember spending days working on my new company name and logo. I was only a 17 year old kid back then. When I was done, I proudly presented my company’s new identity to the world, only to be told by everyone that I had named my company after a popular condom brand. So I scrapped all that and went back to the drawing board.
I also remember trying to get my first mortgage for my first investment property. I was only 21, I was a ‘foreigner’ in London with zero credit rating, zero money, and I have just returned from a 12-month backpacking trip around South America. I knew nothing about mortgages or property investment, but I knew I really wanted to buy a house. It took me weeks of embarrassing calls, meetings and applications, but eventually I learned what I needed to know, and each time I got a little bit closer to securing a mortgage. Finally I got that first mortgage, and away I went.
Lessons from that: You don’t need to know everything, and in many cases, when starting out, it is probably a helpful thing to have a little bit of naivety. But it is important to learn, and not stay ‘dumb’, and to read, talk and learn as much as you can from your environment.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
When I was 20, I read this book called Maverick! (it’s long title is actually Maverick!: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace), an autobiographical book by Ricardo Semler, a CEO of a Brazilian manufacturing company. Ricardo is very much a contrarian, and his way of running a business can be seen as ‘woo woo’ by many. It’s truly a game-changing book for me, it profoundly affected the way I thought about business — and what the concept of business can represent. I’ve read this book so many times since, yet it excites me more in every re-read. I try building my businesses with the philosophies I learned from this book. I still strongly recommend it to everyone.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I had zero purpose when I started. The ‘game’ was about getting good at the game itself. And to some degree I still believe that a lot of the beauty in a business, is not so much about the specifics of any one business, but about the amazing ‘game’ of getting ‘good at business’, and creating something from nothing.
However, as I have matured, I realized that in order to really build a long term, sustainable, and great business, it really does have to have a clear purpose and narrative. I thought that all this was a little ‘fluffy’ when I was younger, but now I realize that it is really one of the most powerful anchors of a business.
I now want to create and be part of a business that provides value, great customer service, and I guess something that creates a community of “screaming fans.” Outsourcing has a LOT of benefits, and believe it or not, it isn’t all about the money. Outsourcing is great for the country, for businesses, and for business owners, as it utilizes the most efficient resources as possible while minimizing costs. You know, I’m thinking why do we send aid or donations to developing countries when we can help provide something better? Why not create employment opportunities and let them utilize their educational backgrounds, skills, and degrees? It’s a win-win situation, and it’s something I’m really pushing for because I believe in the very beneficial effects of outsourcing to both parties.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I don’t think it’s that effective having only one principle to guide an entrepreneur when running a business. However, one thing I always keep in mind is to “lead by example.” It’s such a simple principle, but very valid. How can you expect your employees to do their best in what they do, and to strive to achieve the best versions of themselves if they’re not seeing that drive and passion in their leader? I don’t want to run a hypocritical management where I only expect the best when I’m not exerting any effort to push myself as well. I want my company and my team to be passionate and successful, but it starts with me.
Also, I found that “grit” and determination” is absolutely essential if you are in business. It can be a tough ride, and having enough grit to see it through is absolutely essential.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We never really expected that we’ll get to experience a global health crisis, a pandemic, and yet another recession in our lifetime, but here we are. One of the toughest challenges personally is being stuck inside the house for half a year now. I know I’m still lucky to be where I am, and I’m lucky to have the opportunities that I do, but sometimes you can’t help but think that maybe you’re wasting time? Thoughts and doubts like that. It’s also tough to be going through this in a place away from my family. I love Manila, it’s my home away from home, but homesickness can be tougher to deal with in this current climate.
It’s easy to get deflated by the challenges we find ourselves in, and easy to become overwhelmed. When I become overwhelmed (and there have been many times throughout my career), I find it super important to double down on what is good for me.
Common people might start to seek distraction. They might have a few more drinks, or eat a little more junk food for comfort. Instead, I am able to realize that I am weak(er) and more vulnerable, and so I double down on the things that are good for me. I might start going to bed earlier, being more religious about my exercise, eating cleaner than before, and eschewing social events so that I can concentrate on the main challenge facing me.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My company is based in the Philippines, and it imposed one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in the world. We have just over 100 employees, who we had to quickly transition from the office to home-based work, and distribute their desktops across the city.
We have undergone huge growth throughout the period — which of course is a huge blessing when so many people are faced with such hardship and strife. But it has been hard building a future, when the future’s ‘new norms’ are so uncertain.
It has been quite an adjustment for my team to work from home since we are so used to collaborating on our physical office. But with the help of technology, we’re able to regularly communicate and collaborate with each other virtually. I still prefer giving the team the office culture though, it’s a young workforce, and I think that they’ll get to learn more if they’re working face to face with their senior members and mentors. But so far, we’re managing. I’m proud of my team as they remain productive even in the middle of a pandemic.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I think in all circumstances, the foundational elements apply: communication, empathy and support. In some ways, in spite of the lockdown and the physical separation, people might have become closer. I have personally seen blossoming local and community based WhatsApp and Facebook groups pop up, and we have seen a lot of ‘for the community, by the community’ initiatives and micro-businesses pop up.
I am strengthened by the fact that people seem to be incredibly resilient and innovative. As soon as there is a setback (or even crisis), people start to innovate and evolve and within hours or days there are new chat groups, initiatives and new ‘ways of being’ coming to fruition. It really is amazing to witness.
Throughout the height of the crisis, we were staying in close contact, and deprioritizing prior objectives, and just focusing on ‘what is important right now’, and making sure we tackled those issues first.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
As mentioned above, I am extremely optimistic for the future. Out of adversity comes opportunity and growth. The world has experienced a one-in-a-lifetime event with COVID, and without doubt i believe that once we have overcome this, the world will be a much better place.
Many commentators are saying that COVID has accelerated many behaviors — such as ecommerce, online shopping and remote work.
Personally, I’m so excited for the potential of the remote work concept, and how that can open so many doors and incredible opportunities for businesses across the world. Remote work enables business to seek resources from across the globe. Previously businesses would typically search their local area for employment and the skills they need. Now, once companies embrace remote work, they can tap into the globalize employee pool of 8 billion people!!
As the world becomes increasingly connected and networked, there is exponential upside for everyone in that network. I really believe that the boost that remote work has received from COVID, has really accelerated globalized employment and all of the benefits that this entails.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I think there will be some hesitations about going back to an office setting. After all, corporations like Twitter have announced that they’re allowing their employees to work from home forever. But it’ll still happen, I think five months is such a short experimentation time for companies to declare that working remotely is a huge success. Going back to the office will be a different experience, there’s probably a demand for office space because co-working spaces just wouldn’t work. Meetings will also be at a minimum, and there’s a much noticeable presence of hand sanitizers and alcohol and disinfectants around the office, things like that. Maybe group lunches will be held at each employee’s workstations to be safer. Everyone’s going to be extra careful.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We are very fortunate to have a thriving business throughout COVID. In part, this is thanks to COVID, with businesses realizing that they can access incredible staffing solutions for 70% discount on their standard employment costs.
We are doubling down on what is working and continue to promote the benefits of offshore staffing to the world, and to businesses that stand to benefit. In tough times such as these, businesses need to slash costs, yet have the resources to adapt and rebuild. Offshore staffing can help them do this. Businesses across the world now need offshore staffing more than ever.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Every business is different, and as business owners we have this gut feeling combined with our own entrepreneurial mindset. Do what you think is best for your company to survive and thrive post-pandemic. Always keep an open mind, take risks, don’t be afraid to browse and look for other options and unconventional opportunities. They might surprise you.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Who would you be if you weren’t so afraid!!”
How can our readers further follow your work?
Please feel free to visit our website at www.outsourceaccelerator.com. If you’re interested in learning more about the outsourcing industry, you may listen to the Outsource Accelerator podcast on Spotify or Apple. The podcast is very sector-specific, and I have interviewed a wide range of guests including Government and industry representatives, head economist at World Bank, Bloomberg economics journalist, and a few dozen outsourcing / BPO CEOs and founders.