Presence — this means being in the moment. It stems from your sense of detachment. Once you have severed all your attachments to your limiting beliefs, what remains will be you in your present state. This will allow you to be aware of what you know, what you can do, what resources are available to you, and most importantly, what you should do to use these to achieve your destiny. Being in the present also gives you clarity with regards to your goals and what you can do to achieve them.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Phillip Anthony Lew.
Phillip Anthony Lew is the founder and CEO of C9 Staff. He helps investors, business owners, executives, and agencies all around the world leverage the power of overseas staffing in order to save up to 70% on their monthly payroll while expanding their operational capabilities.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?
My name is Phillip Lew and I am the founder and CEO of C9Staff.com. 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 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 a couple of years later, I’m getting interviewed by Authority Magazine. So I guess, I did well.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for C9 Staff came as I was having breakfast at a coffee shop back in the Philippines.
The coffee shop was packed with vibrant and talented young professionals who can hold their own when pitted against professionals from the US, Canada, or anywhere else. I should know because for the past several months, I have been working side by side with them and I have firsthand knowledge and experience of how competent they are.
I also realized 2 or 3 of these talented Filipino professionals can be paid the equivalent of the salary of a similarly capable professional from the US — and these guys will be extremely happy with it already. On the other hand, companies that decide to hire them will be able to make huge savings on operational costs while still getting high-quality work. Their expansion can be exponential while their spending can be relatively low.
So I thought, what if I can act as the bridge that connected companies in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand with talented and highly capable remote staff in the Philippines? And instead of simply acting as a sort of recruiter or headhunter, I’ll structure it as a “concierge service” where I’ll take care of the sourcing, recruitment, hiring, and management of these remote staff for a fixed monthly fee.
And just like that, C9 Staff was born.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Honestly, I used to think I was a natural-born entrepreneur. I was always drawn to business and making my own money even from a young age, and I have always dreamt of becoming a successful entrepreneur. But as I look back now, I started two businesses when I was in high school and both failed. I started another business right out of college and again, it failed — catastrophically. It took me six years after that to finally get my act together and create a business that I can truly consider successful. So to answer your question, I don’t think I am a natural-born entrepreneur. But I believe I’m a self-taught entrepreneur.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
I was inspired by my best mentor, Darren Matloff. He was the one who taught me all about how truly successful entrepreneurs carried themselves both physically and intellectually. I learned from him that actual success starts with your belief — belief in yourself, belief in what you can do, belief in what you can accomplish with the right team, belief that there’s no such thing as failures, only precious lessons.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
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? Can you please share a story or example for each?
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 is 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.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
One of my earlier mentors taught me to build my lifestyle around my business. I followed his advice, and because I was working hard on my business, I ended up eating unhealthily, I wasn’t getting enough sleep, I was always stressed, and I was always tired and burned out. 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.
Looking back now, I shouldn’t have followed that advice. Instead, I should have built my business around my lifestyle — which is what I’m doing right now. As a result, I’m relaxed, I have plenty of time to do the things I want and still have enough time to work on my business. I’m not stressed and business is booming as well.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Modesty aside, I’m a pretty good judge of character. As such, when I interview candidates for various positions in my company, I’m already on the lookout for personality clues from the way they speak, the way they answer questions, the way they react to scenarios, and all that. If I sense that an interviewee is only asking for a paycheck — meaning he’s only going to treat the company and his role as a job, no more no less, then I don’t hire them. I only hire people whom I feel are looking for growth and can see their relationship with the company beyond the paycheck. So far, this has been serving me well. So my first advice is for business owners to take an active role in the hiring process.
And inside my company, I only let my people do what they love. When I hire writers, I make sure they’re truly passionate about writing and they can do it tirelessly. If I hire programmers, I make sure they love what they do. This way, I reduce the possibility of employees getting burned out. How can they get burned out if they love what they’re doing? Yes, they’re allowed to take breaks and leaves, but I can be sure that as soon as they get back on the saddle, they’ll be performing like rockstars because they love what they’re doing. So that’s my next piece of advice: hire people who are passionate about what they do.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
One thing I can advise is for them to actively seek out partnership opportunities with other business owners and when it comes to upholding their end of the partnership deal, always over-deliver.
I’ll give this example of how I applied this in real life:
My company once partnered with a medium-sized SEO company. The deal was simple: they’ll help us with our SEO ranking, and in turn, we’ll help them build a remote SEO team. They made good with their end of the bargain. But from our end, we didn’t just help them put together a rockstar SEO team, we even got a dedicated account manager for them and even went as far as introducing them to a few other companies (who are current clients of ours) looking for SEO services. That company was so blown away by the value we provided, they decided to become long-term clients and also started sending businesses our way too.
You see, it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. If you’re able to create value where people in your industry will find it beneficial to associate with you, you’re creating trust, credibility, and authority all at the same time — and you’ll be getting plenty of business as well.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
One of the biggest challenges of entrepreneurship nowadays is that a lot of people are stuck in a WIIFM mindset — What’s in it for me? How can I get more clients? How can I increase my bottom line? How can I explode my business? Etcetera.
By creating value and focusing on what I can do for others instead of worrying about what people can do for me, I am not only making my business stand out, I’m also creating goodwill which can easily turn into business opportunity. And in fact, that’s exactly what’s happening to my company. More often than not, companies or business owners who find value in what we do for them are just so happy to drive business our way.
It’s like you’re rigging good karma to act in your favor.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
One of the most common mistakes starting CEOs and business owners make is doubting themselves. Granted that starting CEOs still don’t have enough real-life experiences and wisdom in running a successful business, but not believing in themselves already sets them up for failure.
As a CEO, you have to believe that you can do it. You have to believe that you have the capability to succeed. But along with this belief in success, you should also open yourself to the possibility that you may fail, you will commit mistakes, you will screw things up. But these realizations should keep you motivated to really give your 110% in what you’re doing. These will serve as fuel to your fire so you can keep believing and keep working.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
You know what, that is true. Regardless of how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you are still prone to dramatic highs and lows. In fact, the more successful you are, the more dramatic things can become.
You see, unlike a person with a “regular job”, an entrepreneur usually functions in a world where there’s uncertainty, lack of validation, and is full of unpredictability. When you look at things from an entrepreneur’s point of view, no one is immediately there to tell him he’s doing a good job. No one is immediately there to guide him on what he should do. No one is immediately there to provide direction. He must rely on himself for these things. And as if the odds aren’t already stacked against him, his people look to him for direction, guidance, and validation. He has to show his people that he has everything under control and that he knows what he is doing.
This is precisely the reason why an entrepreneur has to believe in himself. Because the moment his self-doubt gets the better of him, everything crashes down like a house of cards. The stakes are always high from an entrepreneur’s point of view. If he succeeds, the payoff is great. But if he fails, it’s nothing short of a disaster.
That being said, I think the most effective way to handle the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur is to practice detachment. It doesn’t matter if you’re building a multi-billion-dollar empire or a small Mom-and-Pop business. You have to learn to take the bad in the same way you take the good. You have to learn not to be affected by either success or failure. In the immortal words of Rudyard Kipling, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same.” If you master this, it doesn’t matter how great the disparity between your highs and lows are — you’ll be able to handle both with an even keel and with your feet firmly planted in the ground.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I can still remember it distinctly. It was the time my company landed its first big client. I was riding that high and really savoring each moment and just as I thought I’ve peaked; I saw the wire transfer for that client’s first payment — 75,000.00 dollars. At the time, that was the biggest amount I’ve ever seen in my bank account. And that brought me to an even higher high. It also opened my mind and solidified my belief that I can do it. It is possible. I can go for bigger. And that’s exactly what I did.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I also remember this clearly. In fact, I purposefully remember this event to remind myself, “Never again”. It was when my first company out or college failed. And it didn’t just die a natural death. It was an absolute disaster. The business went into business bankruptcy and even I had to go into personal bankruptcy. It was so bad it screwed up my credit and it took me six years to get right back on track. I was so devastated I was on the brink of giving up on entrepreneurship altogether.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
I know this will sound cliché on the verge of being corny, but I don’t care because it’s the truth — I went into solitude for a period. I got rid of my phone and computer and I just lived in silence, isolation, reflection, and meditation. I realized I needed a change in mindset. I needed to remember who I really am. I am not an entrepreneur. I’m neither good nor bad. I am nothing. I am nothingness. I am just pure silence. I am pure awareness. I am made up of energy just like the rest of the universe. And if I embrace that and focus on cultivating positive energy in my life, that’s what I will radiate and it’s also what I will attract. It was a journey of self-awareness and self-denial. And I was glad I took that journey and made it back. It empowered me and gave me a sense of control. And I actually found it ironic. Because as soon as I surrendered control and let go of all my pre-conceived notions of success, it was then that I felt I had more control of my destiny. I had more power over what I can become.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
For me, the Five Things You Need to Successfully Ride the Emotional Highs and Lows of Being an Entrepreneur are:
- Detachment — understand that you’re not the stories you make up in your head. You have to let go of your attachments, especially your attachment to ideas. Again, if I may quote Rudyard Kipling, “If you can make one heap of all your winnings, and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss; And lose, and start again at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss”. Once you’ve detached yourself from all notions of success or failure, you become free to pursue your destiny.
- Presence — this means being in the moment. It stems from your sense of detachment. Once you have severed all your attachments to your limiting beliefs, what remains will be you in your present state. This will allow you to be aware of what you know, what you can do, what resources are available to you, and most importantly, what you should do to use these to achieve your destiny. Being in the present also gives you clarity with regards to your goals and what you can do to achieve them.
- Resilience — once you’re detached and you’re fully aware of your present state, you can execute whatever plan you have and not be afraid of whether you fail or not. And you can do this over and over again making adjustments here and there until you achieve the results you are envisioning, thereby developing your resilience and strengthening your character. This is the key to your personal evolution.
- An Invincible Core — this is the result of your journey of self-discovery and self-awareness. Once you realize who you really are and what you are destined to do, this will form the core of your personality and your being — someone who’s not tied or attached to anything superficial and fleeting; someone who is present in the moment with an awareness of himself and his environment; someone with unparalleled resilience who can treat both success and failure with the same amount of indifference and appreciation.
- The Willingness to Act — this entire practice is anchored on this simple principle — are you willing to act? A good idea without execution is useless. A perfect plan without execution is worth nothing. You need to be willing to take action. Don’t let fear slow you down.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Like I mentioned previously, 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.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
My multiple failed business attempts, my experience going into both business and personal bankruptcy, my experience of having to repair my credit, and my experience having to go into a third world country to basically build a business from scratch by myself — all these experiences contributed to my resilience. Most recently, I even got infected with Covid-19 and I get to a point where I felt each breath I took was a hard-fought battle. But through it all, I have learned to simply step back, calm myself, remind myself of who I am, and work my way through. So far so good. I’m still alive and kicking, am I not? Plus, my business is doing good, so I guess I have these to show for it.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Again, that experience I had after I went bankrupt where I just dropped everything, fell off the grid, and just kept to myself in retrospection, reflection, and meditation has taught me to maintain a neutral emotion even in the midst of difficult situations. This neutral response allows me to easily turn towards being positive if I need to. Especially for the sake of my employees. But for the most part, I can just keep it neutral and detached.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Well, I believe that we are all made up of energy like the rest of the universe. Each cell in our body is made up of smaller particles, and those particles are made up of atoms, and those atoms are made up for energy. The kind of energy you fill yourself with, will be the kind that will radiate from you. And the kind of energy you radiate will be the same kind of energy that will be reflected back to you. And I have seen this numerous times in my dealings with my team. If I feel less energetic during a meeting, even if it’s only via zoom or skype, my team senses it and somehow productivity is impacted. But when I meet with them all vibrant, chipper, and full of enthusiasm, it rubs off on them and tasks seem to get completed quicker and work moves noticeably faster.
Yes, there are times when I feel sick and weak too. And during those times, being energetic is really hard. But somehow, based on experience, even if I just try to force enthusiasm, before the day is even halfway through, I’m already feeling better and invigorated. So, I guess it’s true — the energy you give will be the same energy you receive.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
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.
How can our readers further follow you online?
They can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn at https://www.facebook.com/phillipalew, https://twitter.com/phillipalew, and https://www.linkedin.com/in/phillipalew/ respectively. They can also follow my company Facebook and LinkedIn at https://www.facebook.com/C9Staff and https://www.linkedin.com/company/c9-staff/.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!