I wasn’t expecting the turn of events that happened to me. I had gone to the Philippines with a good amount of savings and a work-at-home position that I could do anywhere in the world. Was living in a very nice place costing 25,000PHP/month(~$600 at the time). Not too costly in the United States but an upper class dwelling in the Philippines. Life was good but my circumstances were about to change.
It started when the company I was working for, Support Space, went out of business without warning. There was about a 2 week period in which I knew something was up because the work that I was doing was being overly criticized. Support Space was a company in which work-at-home computer technicians could provide remote support to people in their homes. We were paid a commission depending on the type of work that was performed. All interactions from the phone call to the work done on the phone was recorded. Best Buy’s Geek Squad was our biggest contractor. Once they decided to go fully in-house for their remote support, Support Space could no longer keep their doors open.
At that point, I lost my income and my savings were dwindling after having been in the country for 18 months. I had just renewed my Visa by exiting to Hong Kong and purchased a new laptop. A week after this purchase is when I found out there would no longer be any work available through Support Space and to make matters worse, the work I had done for them was being declined as being payable due to ridiculous and unwarranted scrutiny attached to the contracts I had completed. Support Space went dark and there was no hope of challenging them and getting paid for the work I had performed – they were bankrupt.
Low on funds, I decided to work with a friend I had met in the Philippines, Daniel, who is from California. He offered me a small monthly salary in order to run his IT on a call center he was starting. This was something I had considered doing in the past and I enjoyed learning the skills required to operate. He offered to make me a business partner but rather than 50/50 or 60/40, I would receive a 25% share because he had already offered a business partnership with his colleague in California. He lives to regret this decision to make him a partner later as would I.
This 3rd guy in the partnership, Jeff, was very intolerable. He almost immediately began a relationship with one of the agents. This particular girl is the type of person that, well, only someone looking to be enslaved would ever date. Picture to the right is how they met each other.
This guy was obsessed with her, wanting to give her raises and recognition. She actually was the top performer on a sales account we had. We paid commission and Daniel & I tried to tell him that she was earning enough. It was never enough. Another issue he made in the office was by giving a long speech at the start of every day. Every day he would ramble on for a good 10-20 minutes, often saying inappropriate, demotivating things to the agents. The agents would all have to stand up and look at this jerk rambling on and on, putting them to sleep and aggravating them when all they wanted to do was start making their calls and make some sales.
We actually got some great agents. We paid the agents very well and they really liked Daniel and me. About once a month on the weekend, I would invite the agents to my condo and we would drink, have a good time. Jeff, Daniel, and my place were in the same place. No one wanted to invite Jeff or his slave master. This is 6 months into the business, we were growing really fast. I was confident in my skills and I had a nice opportunity lined up. Daniel and Jeff weren’t interested in trying it out and I met another foreigner who was interested. I had to get out of there, Jeff was driving me nuts. This was the beginning of what this article is really about…
I didn’t mention that I had a pregnant girlfriend. She was due to give birth in 4 months when I decided to split off from the other 2 partners and go into a 50/50 partnership with this new guy, Joseph. Joseph is from Chicago. He promised that after we split the payment for the first month expenses, he would float the expenses during the first few months. He also offered to help close sales. The account I had chosen required lead generation from Filipino call center agents and Americans to close the sale as it was slightly complicated. Joseph said, “No problem, I’ll close the sales until we find a dedicated salesperson in the US.”
We then split the expenses on the office with 10 computers and 10 agents. Problems started almost immediately and with hindsight, I should have just stayed with Jeff & Daniel for a while longer but I was foolhardy. The guy said he didn’t want to be around the agents. We had a launch party and he didn’t want to go. He also convinced me that we should switch from one supplier of equipment/services to another. This wasn’t that big of a deal to me at the time as the commission was slightly higher but all of my original instincts were correct. The supplier I had chosen was ideal as I’ll explain later.
Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.Steve Jobs
Joseph wasn’t going to be taking any calls and I’m not supposed to be the salesperson. My job was to run the center, manage the IT, hire the agents, train the agents and coach the agents. I began looking for a salesperson in the US but I had very limited means. I could only offer commission only and it’s very hard to find someone like that with short notice; had a good Filipino supervisor working for me that I’m still good friends with. He is actually working for a big company here as the head of their recruitment department. I’m Godfather to his son. My “business partner” decided to irritate him so much that he began looking for a new position, the aforementioned position. The supervisor I had had now resigned. So we’re a month in and the bills are coming due. It was time to pay the bills. Guess where Joseph was? That’s right, messing with random Filipinas and no money to pay the rent.
I was supposed to be the working partner and he was supposed to be the investing partner. He was able to come up with money to keep the phone server paid and the agents for this 2nd month but not the rent, electricity, or the payments on the computers I had agreed to make to the owner, Ruel. I couldn’t find a salesperson to close and the callbacks were climbing. I had found someone to work from home but he wasn’t yielding any fruit.
On my way home from work one day, I get a text from my girlfriend that her stomach was in incredible pain and that she was on the way to the hospital. She had a little less than 3 months until she was due. I rushed to meet her at the hospital. When I got there I found out that she was in surgery with an emergency c-section. I waited in the waiting room, imagining what the result would be as it was only a little more than 6 months developed as a fetus; imagining a baby that that would be put in an incubator with small chance of survival. I imagined the hospital bills. Bills that although in the Philippines would be lower, extremely costly.
The doctor asked if I was the partner of my girlfriend, Lornilie, and I confirmed. She then said that their were some congenital problems and they were trying to resuscitate the baby. I immediately began crying. The doctor told me to come with her and I watched as this small, pathetic newborn baby underwent hand-pumped resuscitation with chest compressions. Her aunt was there and we both were crying. The heart stopped. I watched them inject epinephrine and the heart started beating but at less than 20bpm. A newborn should have a heart rate of about 130bpm.
The heart stopped again. They injected the epi once again and the nurse handed me the hand pump. I mimicked the rhythm that the nurse was using. I looked at my poor son. His face was malformed with a jaw that was misshapen, more gums than lips were visible. He had 6 toes on each foot. I was thinking that if he lived, he would have a life of misery. They told me he also had an unexposed anus – no hole where there should be one. I imagined his life on the incubator. The nurse had asked me moments earlier if they should stop resuscitation, I didn’t respond. Now that I was pumping and imagining the life that would stay stuck in an incubator and how many more things could be wrong internally, I decided we had to stop trying. That’s how I lost my first child.
There’s a lot more to that story but the reason the baby was probably deformed, in my estimation, is because 4 years earlier my then-girlfriend had taken an herbal concoction they use to perform abortions in the Philippines. Abortions are illegal here, so sometimes women and girls will take drastic measures. I found out that this can affect the egg supply contained within the ovaries as well.
Needless to say, this caused a great depression in my life. I still was going to the office but things were quite morose. Joseph had stopped paying the agents and I was down to my last bit of money. I saved enough for 30 days of my own expenses and paid the agents their salaries. The salesperson I had decided to stop trying to make sales. Earlier, I had mentioned that my original instincts were correct. I contacted the original supplier and told him that we were generating leads but really needed a salesperson. I told him I would begin working with him if he could find me one. Within just a few days he had one for me. The guy sounded great, like John Madden, and was ready to start in just a few days.
I was at a make or break moment. The sales guy started taking transfers and got far on a lot of sales calls. At the end of the week I asked the supplier if he could help me by paying the agents salaries. Robert agreed. This was only $600.00 for a 2 week period as I salaried the agents at a minimum as I offered large commissions. Our sales guy had internet issues that couldn’t be solved without him changing providers and my agents’ morale was extremely low. We tried and came close but we couldn’t make a sale.. Out of money and too ashamed to try to convince Robert to pay another 2 weeks of salary, no more money to pay for the voice over IP service, no money to pay the electric, no money to pay the rent… I closed the office, my agents going unpaid. Then, I went to the office the next day and found out the power had been cut. I tried to get some computers out of the office but the guard said I couldn’t remove anything out of the office until the rent was paid.
I had no money, was in a foreign country and I was too shy to ask anyone back home for help. A friend let me stay with him for a couple months but he had problems of his own. He had his own failing call center. I helped him try to save it but his mother-in-law was his investor. She blamed me for some reason for his failed center and kicked me out. It was a very weird situation to be in. I’d talk more about this period of time but the article is getting long.
Joseph found out I had I nowhere to stay and told me I could sleep on his couch. His place was basically a big studio with a very small sleeping area separated by a sliding glass door. Imagine what it’s like sleeping on the couch of the guy who put you in the terrible position in life you were in? My choices put me there but my worst choice was to trust him. He had a girlfriend of 2 years that he was sleeping around on. I found a used condom when I was taking out the garbage when we had the office. He would bring women there and talk about his call center, impressing their panties off. His girlfriend found a used condom in their room and Joseph told her that it was mine. Her girlfriend found a picture of a girl under the sink and Joseph again said it was mine. I wouldn’t lie to the girl when she asked me, I just said it wasn’t mine.
I couldn’t stand to be in that studio apartment with him in there, so I’d go walking outside. Made lots of friends there. There was one who had a roof with a wooden bench on it. I asked if I could sleep there and he agreed. I had another friend store my things in their home and I began sleeping outside; would walk around, ask for money from my friends – “Na kay sinko, boss? Na kay diyes?” – ” Do you have 5 pesos?” They’d give it to me and I’d buy my cigarettes and eat my rice with pastel, etc. People would feed me and I’d take a bath by washing outside with a water pump.
My dad didn’t know what kind of position I was really in. He would send me money, about $50.00 every couple months. $50.00 actually goes pretty far but I was also helping my “girlfriend”. Ever since I had lost my business and we lost the baby, she never visited me anymore. I was a homeless sucker still sending money to my personal leech. I found out that she had a boyfriend she was living with. She loved doing her methamphetamine aka shabu with him. I found out from my dad that he was sending her money too! Way to go not asking me first dad!
Alright, so enough of the dreary. That went on for several months. I met another foreigner from Ireland. This guy too was having a tough time money-wise. He lived in a mansion with a nice woman but he was at the end of his ropes with his business he was trying to get off the ground. He gave me a place to work and I got a small room. My salary was ~$130/month with free food. Guy was very hard to work with. Never had such an irate boss before. He yelled at everyone that worked for him. He was pretty kind to me, as far as consideration went but you wouldn’t think he actually cared with the way he would speak to me – you can catch more flies with honey, Stephen. We bonded but eventually he couldn’t keep paying me and he borrowed what he could and went back to Ireland.
To close this out…
I eventually connected back up with Daniel from before and I’ve been working as his IT Director since. There’s a lot more in-between that and where I am now but things are good now. I have both work and have savings again. I can do things I missed doing before and I don’t have too much to worry about. There’s actually quite a bit that I left out and will probably include that in another article. This one was long enough. Supposed to be telling a short story, not write a book.
The moral of the story is:
Don’t rush into a business partnership unless you’ve known someone for a while. Their character matters and I had only known this person for a few months, only occasionally spending time with him. I took him at his word and that was a big mistake. Trust needs to be earned. I should have toughed out the original partnership for at least a while longer.