Robert Lemmens – An alternative solution to Upwork and Freelancer
Last updated August 28, 2019
Today we are talking to Robert Lemmens who is one of the founders of HOPLA online. HOPLA is one of the outsourcing suppliers here in the Philippines and they distinguish themselves because they are home-based, but this is not Upwork or Freelancer. These are professionalized home-based workers and they offer professionalized services and we deep dive into the origin of Hopla and also how they ensure quality for their clients.
Derek Gallimore: Welcome to the Outsource Accelerator podcast. This is a short format podcast where we explore business and outsourcing mastery. My name is Derek Gallimore and I am really excited to bring you the leading podcast in outsourcing.
Derek Gallimore: Hi and welcome to another episode of the Outsource Accelerator podcast. My name is Derek Gallimore and this is episode number 249. So today we are talking to Robert Lemmens who is one of the founders of Hopla online. Hopla is one of the outsourcing suppliers here in the Philippines and they distinguish themselves because they are home-based, but this is not a Upwork or a freelancer. These are professionalised home-based workers and they offer professionalised services and we deep dive into the origin of Hopla and also how they ensure quality for their clients. So I enjoyed this. If you want any of the show notes, go to of course outsourceaccelerator.com/249.
Derek Gallimore: Hi and welcome back everybody. Today we are talking to Robert Lemmens. Hi Robert, how are you?
Robert Lemmens: Hi Derek, how are you doing?
Derek Gallimore: Good. Fantastic, fantastic. And, you are the founder and CTO of Hopla online, which we’re gonna find more about, more out about today. but it’s effectively an outsourcing service right in the Philippines, specializing in Philippine home-based professionals with the emphasis on professionalised services, and ensuring better quality work, alongside the sort of outsourcing profession but there’s the increased efficiency of home-based employees. So I’m super keen to explore it with you. We have had your colleague, Ksenia also on the podcast, to discuss other aspects of Hopla. So it’s good to, to round off the square with you as well. I suppose Robert, initially, do you want to, introduce yourself and, and your role with Hopla?
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, so I’m Robert, I’m the founder and CTO of Hopla online. My background in outsourcing is that we are, I have been, involved with, with startups for last 10 years either help startups, set up or, or build my own projects. currently we are partnering with Google and with cloudflare to support startups and also to, to make startups more feasible. And the reason why we got into outsourcing as a business or as a service is really that we had, our own struggles with finding quality staff and employees. as a online entrepreneur. Like outsourcing has always been a first choice for me because I usually work without an office, for very obvious reasons. and I find a lot more people these days are doing the same. Like we, we have a lot of online entrepreneurs, a single entrepreneurs or also a small and medium businesses, that do or do not have an office and they’re looking for quality staff. And, finding the staff in their own region is either not possible or too expensive, or it, it forces them to expand their business, their office location, et cetera. and the alternatives they have are either outsourcing to freelance platforms or BPO companies. And having extensive experience in both these alternatives, basically made me decide to create a solution that combines the best of both and bridge the gap and the shortcomings of, of either of those not only for companies but also for employees.
Derek Gallimore: Sure. And so you’re a suddenly living by your principles, you are in a South Africa at the moment, is that right?
Robert Lemmens: Yeah, that’s correct. I’m taking this call from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape. I travel almost all year round, but I’m so to say a seasonal traveler. So I stay a couple months at a time, find a place where I can work stably, explore the area a little bit in my off time, and work from there.
Derek Gallimore: Right. Fantastic. So this whole, you know, remote work is, is really only possible now because of technology and the technology interfaces, the fast Internet that is pretty much almost globalized now. and with it, I think the whole face of employment is changing, before only the fortune 500 fortune 1000s could outsource because of the cost of infrastructure and technology. And now it’s available to everyone. And it seems that the next step, which you guys are, you know, taking best advantage of is the home-based professional workforce out there. and, you know, I see it so polarized because people that sort of work in an office, they have traditional companies, they’ve always done it like that their entire career. They can’t even sort of fathom how the, the remote, the digital nomad, the home-base thing kind of works. where do you see the, the, the upsides of home-based and the sort of globalized market workforce, for these businesses that, that you think should consider it?
Derek Gallimore: Well, like, like you said, Derek, working from home has been around, but, has been only employed by a bigger companies. And the reason is that the one, and it’s expensive, setting up the infrastructure, the communication tools, a virtual desktop infrastructure, HIPAA-compliant tools and all these things, they, like half a decade ago today, they were very, complex and expensive. And the other reason why these companies already worked from home is because the talent that they need to attract, demands it. So the, the talent is very scarce. It’s really hard to find good people, especially when you source them geographically in your city. and sourcing them globally as, as a, a huge advantage, not only a cost advantage, but also a talent advantage, because, if you look at the stack overflow index of programmers, for example, the majority of the salary of a New York based programmer is location because the cost of living, the same quality of programmer in Russia would cost you probably 30%.
Robert Lemmens: And it will be much easier to find. So that’s, that’s the reason why, why big companies already work remote with, with top talent. the BPO industry is more forced towards, administrative jobs and cheaper, cheaper staff. And basically for this kind of stuff, it was never really affordable to work remote. and then that’s why people still working from an office where where we want to go with Hopla is bridge that gap. So we have a set of communication tools that allow people to work from home. And we think about social media managers, customer support, back office assistants, virtual assistants. Basically everything that you do as a, as a business start taking up too much of your time can be outsourced. And I’ve acquired some experience working for BPOs in Manila. And the biggest problem for me with outsourcing in, in, in such an environment is that the people that work in these offices, they get paid like average salaries, but the work in, in the business centers of the city, basically their office seat is more expensive than their salary and they can’t afford to live nearby the office.
Robert Lemmens: So, these companies, they do advertise about the, conditions and about rice money and about everything that they think makes their employee life great. But what they don’t talk about is that these people have to sit four hours a day in the bus to get to the office. The other side for me, if you work remote is kind of a lot of control and, lots of monitoring productivity. And that’s the biggest focus we have with Hopla. Like where in a BPO, people fingerprint in at 9:00 AM and fingerprint out at 5:00 PM without any overview of what they really have done. we use tracking tools where, clients provide tasks in a system and they know exactly per task how much time was worked on them. so at the end of the week, or even at the end of the day, they have a very granular view on how they are performing, what they’re doing with their time, when are they working, how many tasks they complete and so, KPI, performance to calls are made very trivial.
Robert Lemmens: The other thing is offices in Manila, they work on, fiber optics like everybody, right now in Manila in the Philippines almost has fiber optics, offices do, but also people working from home. The main difference is that, business internet is very expensive and home Internet is not. So, I’ve seen BPO offices with a hundred employees sharing a 50 mbps line while some of our employees have such line dedicated to work from home. So you, you hire people working in an office and the other side of the world, you don’t really know what they do between 9 and 5, and then a hundred people, sharing a 50 mbps line, most of which are not your employees they work for other clients. While a people would work from home, they would save themselves four hours of travel day. They work on a dedicated fiber optics line and you know exactly what they’ve been doing all day. So, and not to speak about the geographical area, like we, we don’t source, in a radius of five kilometers from Manila center. We source in the entire Philippines. And if we can’t find the talent that you need in the Philippines, we can even go abroad and attract the talent that you’re looking for.
Derek Gallimore: Okay. And so, you know, a lot of people that I talked to in the West, they, they, they have the fears of how do you manage remote teams and I think that might be amplified when people are working from home. So you have a suite of tools and now again, this is maybe what separates you from a lot of other BPO suppliers. They supply the, the location, the office, the facilities, the hardware, but they don’t necessarily get involved in the operations, the processes of that worker or that company represented the worker yet. You don’t sort of provide the facilities, but you get more involved in the process, oversight management, and fulfilment, is that right?
Robert Lemmens: Yeah, so like, since we don’t have a real estate cost, we have, we have resources to allocate and we dedicate them mostly on infrastructure, online infrastructure, but also on a very thorough hiring process. So, when you work remote, or when you start outsourcing from experience the learning curve is very steep. It’s completely different than working with someone in your office. And that’s also usually the biggest fear for people with outsource like they want to be able to walk over, tap somebody on the shoulder and and get things done. While we find it much more productive to work remote because people no longer work over they just sent a chat message. So we have a set of tools and these tools are, are picked out to be HIPAA compliant to integrate with already existing workflows and to be asynchronous of nature.
Robert Lemmens: And I think with Ksenia, you have already talked about the hiring process. The biggest, I think the biggest difference between Hopla and other online alternatives is that we source people with a certain mindset. So it’s not only qualifications, but to work online, you need a lot of discipline. And you need to have a certain mindset. And this is something that you don’t get on other freelance platforms because you actually get freelancers, the job hoppers, people that basically leave if they get paid a couple pennies more. so in, in the hiring process, we look for people that, that are looking for dedicated job work from home that have stable work environment. At home I have a good Internet, and then we set up with the, then we set them up with the tools. So we, we have a couple of task systems, we have chat systems, they all integrate together and they also integrate with a tracking tool.
Robert Lemmens: So basically, the client supplies the tasks, which can be recurring tasks. And as soon as the employee logs in, which, employees usually work regular hours set with the client, they are also flexible in that. So they can work morning, evening, they have kind of a bigger lunch break. the reason they can do that is because they get paid for the time they track. So as soon as they walk away from the computer, the timer stops. And it only continues when they continue working on a tasks. So compare this with a BPO industry where people have long lunch breaks. [inaudible] et cetera. There’s all goes within, whenever they walk away from the computer, the tracker stops. this tracker gives you a lot of insight in what your employees do. So they, the tracker makes us screenshots.
Robert Lemmens: It monitors the activity on the keyboard and the mouse. you know, what kind of programs your, your employees are using, what websites they visit. And this is of course not something you would want to, monitor 24/7. But it does give you an eagle eye view of what’s going on. And if, if, one of your employees is not performing, it gives you all the insights you need to look back. It’s like, Hey, what’s going on? Why, why the output of this employee is less than this employee. And you can, you can actually track back and see what happened. And I think those set of tools will, together with all the modern, meeting rooms, the chat applications and, task management systems will, make people very quick, very comfortable working online and give them, give them their time back, and realize that the, the freedom it generates for them employees actually makes them more productive.
Derek Gallimore: When you are onboarding clients, which are the business owners in the west, often they feel that it’s a part of the, the employee that needs to upskill, that needs to, sort of absorb things. But very often we see that it’s actually the client that needs to learn how to outsource, learn how to manage remote staff, and also maybe be a little bit more clear in terms of mapping processes, in terms of explaining things in a more tangible way, when you help, when you onboard clients and their staff, do you, how do you distribute the attention in terms of a onboarding, the, you know, the, or upskilling, the clients and their, their team?
Robert Lemmens: Yeah. I understand what you mean. Like Derek when you hire somebody new, what are you doing within your office? Or what you do that in a BPO or what you do that on a freelance platform or what do you do with Hopla, as a client, you should always have very clear what, what this person has to do because this person can have all the qualifications of the world. If it doesn’t know what it has to do for you, then it will never be a successful engagement. we do understand that working remote to communication models different. So what we do during onboarding is we, already when you as a client specifies the asset that they need, we already go into like, okay, what do they have to do? What is the, the, the, the process of work. and setting up that expectation already during job interviews to find us, the quality asset.
Robert Lemmens: we, we also so make sure that during the onboarding, this is clear with the employee and because we have more extensive experiences that we can also always provoke, either inclined employee to supply more information or ask more questions before they start working on tasks. that, that’s part that we do as a, as a recruitment HR onboarding process. and also, with Hopla you will always have support. Like when, when something goes wrong or the performance is not as agreed or, or maybe people they like, sometimes it happens, they get sick. They don’t show up whether they don’t show up behind the computer at the office, that doesn’t really matter but yeah, we will, we will make sure that, during the first hire, we set up a proof of a statement of work so that the next hire, the replacement will be easy, would be an easy, falling for this asset.
Robert Lemmens: So that is really why you would hire a company like Hopla is because first of all, we, we know how to hire remote people. We skim out about 90% of applications of, that are coming through. so we find the right people. You basically liberate yourself from the sourcing, the screening, the hiring, the paperwork and the constant monitoring and besides that, yeah, we manage the infrastructure. We make sure that, if you need any different tools or different, features or automations, we are also able to, to provide that. additionally, so we’re, we’re readily looking into making your team more efficient. like I, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t hire 50 content managers if I would be able to do with 10 using some automation tools, like it’s all about being efficient and being able to help a small company grow big. and I think remote working really allows to, to support companies of any size.
Derek Gallimore: And that’s the value add, isn’t it? of Hopla but also the outsourcing industry generally. I get a lot of questions from prospective clients and prospects, about, you know, so the salary is whatever, $500, $700 a month. Why is there this extra cost on top for the outsourcing supplier? but you know, and, and I think it’s then valuable to talk to people such as yourselves and for people to see the executive management of these outsourcing suppliers, the strategies, the processes that go into this. And it’s the combination then of the staff member that is sitting on top of the shoulders of the processes, and procedures and really the people running these facilities that actually brings the whole thing together and makes it successful. And people that often then save the money. They go direct, they hire people direct, they hire, as you say, freelancers, part-time people, people working from home. And it very often falls off part because you know, people are only people at the end of the day and they often need a bit of structure, strategy and sort of professional oversight to make it really all click together. Yeah.
Robert Lemmens: Well I think the reason, the reason why you would always want to have a, an outsourcing partner is because you’re not a hiring expert. Like, if you’re a company would be hiring people, then you wouldn’t need an outsourcing partner. But if your company is anything else about hiring people you want somebody with, with, with experience to hire, especially if you’re hiring a country that’s not your own. So you have to do with a lot of cultural differences, language barriers, et cetera, rules, that you don’t know and whether you’re hiring in the Philippines or somewhere else. If you don’t have an experience hiring in the location that you’re, that you’re sourcing, I think having a local guy is always a good idea. And what you’re saying, the cost of, of an outsourcing partner with conventional BPOs that is, well, I think from my experience 60 plus percent is just real estate.
Robert Lemmens: The costs for Hopla to find you and manage you, people is basically because we are looking for the best people to suit your company, to suit your profiles and to expand your, expand your business. we have an ongoing team of, of HR recruitments and specialists that are, sourcing, screening, interviewing, people. And at the same time they also monitor, they make sure that everything goes according to the Hopla, rules and code of conduct. And, whenever you have a problem, we, we are, we are there to escalate it for you. from experience. I’ve, I’ve started a couple of startups, and, well I’ve I regret there was, there wasn’t a company like Hopla before because right now, like one of the main reasons I, I started applying and hired the whole recruitment team.
Robert Lemmens: It kind of evolved already at a point where it’s like, okay, I can’t spend my time anymore finding an interviewing people. I need people to do that for me because I’m spending half the week, whenever I need a new asset or when somebody just stops, appearing. so basically Hopla started not being called Hopla up to the point we said, okay, we’re now, we actually have three, four people in recruitment and hiring. We have a, we have a pipeline. We have a lot of people that we, we don’t use. Like, let’s, let’s make this available for, for other people. And started to like say like us. So, yeah, like I think the, the value of good people is you should never underestimate. And having a partner that can identify those people with the right mindsets and the right disciplines is very important.
Derek Gallimore: So if people, you know, again, the mystified but interested prospect in the west, if they want to get started, what is the general process? How do you walk someone through this new journey of outsourcing that they’re about to take and also ensure then that they get the early successes that they need to build that confidence so that they see outsourcing as successful?
Robert Lemmens: Well, the, the, there’s two kinds of outsourcing, Derek, one, well I always joke about it. I say there’s right-hand to outsourcing and left-hand outsourcing, right-hand outsourcing is really finding a certain kind of talent that you don’t possess. And that takes on a specific business process in your company. it fills a gap, for, for these kinds of roles. We usually seek a little bit more managerial roles like project managers, et cetera. And these people can actually be an extension of your company. That’s one kind of outsourcing the other side is about the left-hand outsourcing is basically the kind of work that overwhelms you whenever you hit like a little bit of success or even maybe before you get hit a little bit success, which are all administrative tasks. So customer support, back office, social media management, content moderation, like all these little things that just pile up.
Robert Lemmens: And, when you’re a company and you realize that you spend 80% of your time on doing stuff that if you can teach it someone in one day, it can just keep doing it every day. Like you should get rid those and, and get them off your plate and, and outsource those as well. So the, the first, the first thing when, when clients come to us, you should really have to identify what kind of outsourcing do they need. Is it a process that they understand that they are doing every day but it takes up too much time then we set up a statement of work and we find qualified people to train and do that repetitive work. If it’s something that they are basically they want to do, they heard about it, they think it’s awesome, but they have no idea how to do it.
Robert Lemmens: Then we have to find a specific person that fills that gap in their company and takes on a responsibility. And these are two completely different kinds of outsourcing and once that is identified, we, we usually we go to our talent pool, we see if something is already available and if not, we source and the way we source, like, like, like I said, there’s a lot of tests. First of all, we have to make sure that the working environment is good. The Internet is good, the qualifications are good, the commitment is good, the mindset is good. There’s a cultural fit, corporate fit. Like these are all tests that if you would go to a newer company, that costs you 10, $20,000 for, for a hire. This is all integrated in our internal hiring process. So all these tests we do, because if people don’t pass that they will not even end up in our talent pool in the first place.
Robert Lemmens: well then we have a couple of candidates. You have a final interview with them, whoever you liked the most because that’s basically where it all comes to. You have to work with this person on a day to day basis and then we start with the hire. So, after the hire, there’s onboarding process. Every, everything gets set up installed depending on whether you already have your own tools or you want to rely on ours. We set up the environment, we make sure that your new employee is comfortable working with these tools and you are too, and that’s basically where, where you start your engagement.
Derek Gallimore: Cool, fantastic. And again, then just reiterating that it’s this entire process not, you know, if you just counted the actual recruitment phase and onboarding phase, you know, quite often external recruiters can charge up to two months salary for people. So incredible sort of service value add. Plus they have your oversight, the tools, the operational experience, and then it’s all just within one cost. Yeah. How do you structure your pricing? Is it a combined cost and what if people sort of grow the team? Does anything complicate or is it all just one packaged cost?
Robert Lemmens: No. So yeah, like a, there’s a lot of complicated business models and pricing models out there. I like, I like to keep things very, very simple. So we use, we use an hourly markup, and we work based on part time or full time engagements. this markup includes basically all the costs that you could have. So instead of like, like I said, we don’t have real estate costs, but we do have a lot of costs of infrastructure tools, licensing, continuous development, and continue to support. That’s all included in our market fee. So you pay like, you know, upfront what you’re going to pay and that’s all you were paying if you like. I think the only thing that may be add on your cost, if, if your employee needs a specific license or a specific tool or something that’s, that’s unique to your business, then we would like, you would probably have to provide that. but anything else is, will be included in the Hopla fee.
Derek Gallimore: Okay. And you know, again, a common concern is what if the employee doesn’t work out? What if work is being missed then effectively they have you to reconcile that with and discuss that with? Yeah, it sort of comes back to the pyramid. Yeah.
Robert Lemmens: Absolutely like I said, we have two kinds of outsourcing both of the profiles. They always need a specific scope of work. If it doesn’t work out, we will review the work. We, we ask like we try to, find a solution for the problem. If the problem is the employee, we will replace the employee with a suitable a replacement.
Derek Gallimore: Cool. Fantastic. Thank you so much. It’s a yeah, it’s, it’s an amazing insight and you know, I just encourage everyone to give outsourcing and go in some form or other, just to really sort of start that journey. And I think as long as people don’t kind of go the freelancing, the upwork route, I’m on a bit of a soapbox to, to steer people away from that because I think there’s a lot of disappointment there. But all of these structures where there’s you, you know, and other significant professionals overseeing processes, then it’s just an incredible opportunity for, every business in the west and it’s really something that everyone should, should have.
Robert Lemmens: yeah, I think, I think everybody that tries upwork, I think everybody should try upwork, at least post a job and see this humongous amount of replies they get, the standard copy paste letters, under-qualified or unqualified people, people that don’t reply for three days. I think it’s, I actually think that upwork is a great promotional platform for, for the service that we offer in Hopla. Like we, it’s actually one of the main reasons. Like I’ve always been looking for quality people. It’s just they don’t come around every day. And that’s what we do with Hopla. We continuously look for people and we cherry pick the, the people that come around and that actually are, are solid, that would make solid employees. And I think posting a job at upwork or freelancer.com or like all these platforms is, is great because you really know, it makes you realize how hard it is and how much time you have to spend on, on, rooting out the, under an unqualified people from all the replies you get. And in Hopla, we do that for you.
Derek Gallimore: Yeah, absolutely. Huge advantage and scale, and again, getting professional services done by professionals. Yeah. So thank you so much, Robert, and we’re going to leave you to your remote lifestyle and the, and the coast there in South Africa. if anyone wants to learn more about Hopla or get in touch with you, how can they do that?
Robert Lemmens: They can get in touch on our website, hopla.online or they can send me a direct email, Robert@hopla.online
Derek Gallimore: Fantastic. Thanks Robert.
Derek Gallimore: That was Robert Lemmens of Hopla online. If you want to get any of the show notes, if you want to contact Robert or know more about Hopla, go to outsourceaccelerator.com/249. And of course, if you want to ask us anything, then just drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org