Working with Filipino Contractors: An Interview with Matt Cooper, oDesk VP for Marketplace Operations

oDesk.com visited the Philippines a second time this year to celebrate with the Filipino freelancing community the joys and benefits of online work.

Dubbed as “oDesk Contractor Appreciation Day,” more than a hundred Pinoy freelancers came together last November 6 to meet the oDesk team, learn more about the power of remote work and how to succeed, and to network with other fellow freelancers.

odesk matt cooper steffI was fortunate to sit down with Matt Cooper, oDesk’s very own VP for Marketplace Operations, to talk about his thoughts on working with Filipino contractors. As someone who has hired and worked with his team for a long time, Matt brings to the table actual experience and insights Filipino freelancers can take home and learn from.

Thank you, Matt!
 


 
Since this is oDesk Contractor Appreciation Day, I’d like to know what your first experience was like working with Filipino contractors.

Matt

When I started, our customer service team was almost entirely Filipino contractors. And it quite struck me that they’re very friendly, very warm, very agreeable. It’s easy to build a relationship online because they’re just so open and friendly. That was what caught me initially, because it doesn’t take long before you feel like you’ve worked with these people for a really long time. So, I was really impressed by that.

 
While working with them, has location, time zone, language—have these ever been a problem or a hindrance to you?

Matt

I think the time zone is always a challenge. They start work while our day’s wrapping up. But there are a surprising number who are willing to work whatever hours needed to get the job done. They’re very flexible, very accommodating. I mean, it’s hard to do that for an extended period of time, but at odd times when we need them to do a meeting that is 10AM San Francisco time and it’s the middle of the night here, they’re willing to do it. We got 24-hour shifts running for as long as I can remember, so somebody’s always willing to work those odd hours. It’s impressive.

 
But have there been any specific issues or problems that you’ve encountered while working with your team?

Matt

I would say it’s less of a problem, but I think there’s a cultural sensitivity towards pushing back, like giving constructive feedback. So, within the customer service team… one time I would ask, “What are we doing wrong? You guys know it, you see it everyday, you’re the front lines—give us feedback.” I think culturally, sometimes they’re more hesitant to say it how it is. Some contractors are very comfortable with it, others aren’t. But I think in general it’s part of being so agreeable and so easy to work with. Sometimes when there’s bad news, they don’t want to be the one to deliver it.

 
Let’s take it on a positive level. Do you have a memorable experience working with Filipino contractors, may it be a major project or getting a minor task done—can you recall one?

Matt

So there’s a contractor which I mentioned during the presentation—Czarina. She started out as a customer service rep and worked her way up. But it didn’t take long to figure out that she was really, really good. And literally she was working as a frontline customer service rep, and over the course of probably six to nine months, she ended up managing one of our most important programs for Google.

So, we would just hand it off. Like on Skype, we would talk to her about what we’re looking for: “Here’s what we need.” Boom! She’s on it. She came back, she did great work, she owned it, and she was comfortable pushing back. She was comfortable saying, “Ah, this isn’t quite right.” It’s just being able to hand it to her and knowing it was gonna get it done. Back then, I didn’t have a big team yet on our enterprise side, so we didn’t have a whole lot of people I can rely on. But knowing that when I need it to get done, I can give it to Czarina and she can get it done.

 
How long has she been working with you?

Matt

We’ve been working together pretty much since I started, so it’s almost three years.

 
So, based on your experience, what do you think are the top three (3) qualities that you admire in a Filipino contractor?

Matt

Communications are very good. The English skills are good, but what they say is good as well. When you’re working online, everybody’s working hard, they’re working at odd hours, you’ve got cultural barriers, you’ve got time zone differences, you’ve got language barriers, but the fact that the warmth and the personality comes through, it just makes it easier to build a relationship with someone online.

 
So it doesn’t become a barrier anymore?

Matt

Yeah, exactly. And well, it just makes everything easier. You’re trying to work with someone on the other side of the world who’s just not that friendly, it’s just… it becomes work; whereas you enjoy talking to ‘em and they’re easy to get to know—you know them, they know you, you can talk about your families… it just makes the whole experience better. I know people’s families, they know mine. We’re friends on Facebook. It’s interesting to build a relationship and really, most of these people who work on my team I’ve never seen them.

So communications, personality, and then just work ethic. They want to work, they want to get the job done, and I think that’s part of being eager to please. Like they’re willing to put in the time to get the job done.

 
And money doesn’t become an issue.

Matt

Yeah. Everybody wants to earn more, everybody wants to be successful, but they wanna do a good job. The money follows that.

 
What are the kinds of projects that you wouldn’t think twice of hiring a Filipino contractor for?

Matt

We’ve had great success in customer service. I think they’re naturally inclined to solve people’s problems, very comfortable in interacting with people, English skills are very good—cultural connections. I think a lot of pop culture overlaps between the US and the Philippines. If anything, we’ve had to work hard not to hire from other countries because it’s so easy to find great talent in the Philippines. We’ve wanted to diversify in different time zones and different locales—it’s been hard because it’s just easy… we know where to find great customer service reps. So I think customer service is the one that’s kind of a no-brainer.

 
I think one of the top jobs that most Filipino contractors go for is virtual assistance.

Matt

Within oDesk, in Filipino hours, the number one is admin work and customer service.

 
What parting advice would you give to Filipino contractors and those who are planning to find work on oDesk but are a little hesitant?

Matt

My advice for new contractors would be to start small. Get on small fixed price projects, hourly projects…You shouldn’t quit your job and go find work online. Most people we see, they start out doing it as a second job, a part-time job, working nights or weekends. They build up their client base, they build up their reputation, and they gradually move into more full-time work.

 
In some cases, a contractor goes on oDesk, and then it doesn’t seem to work out, and they start to feel they have to retract and go back to a 9-5 job?

Matt

I think you just gotta stick with it. It takes time. Like anything worthwhile, it takes time, it takes investment…you got lots of competition, lots of really good people out there, and it’s a global meritocracy. You’re competing with everybody else in the world, so you gotta take the time but when people put in the time, and they work at it, they are successful.

There you have it from one of the key figures of oDesk.com. I hope you enjoyed and learned a lot from Matt’s insights.

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  • Michael Cuenco

    Yes as I can see we Filipino contractor are really one of the best for customer service and admin Job. But I also wish we can be competitive on other stuff like in web developing and Programming.

  • http://www.odesk.com Matt Cooper

    Thanks Stephanie!

    Michael — the good news is that two of the fastest growing sub-categories last quarter for Filipinos were web development for e-commerce and gaming development. So while the non-tech roles are very popular, we’re hopefull that we’ll see more technical talent from the Philippines start working on oDesk.

    Matt

  • http://www.TravelingFreelancer.com Aleah | TravelingFreelancer.com

    Thanks for this Stef. We know Filipinos are good and clients the world over recognize that. It’s just so sad that most of them undervalue themselves.

    • http://stefgonzaga.com/ Stef G.

      True, all for that first project.

      Matt mentioned about starting small. “Small” can mean small in duration or work load. It was never only about price.

      • Grace Manalili

        I agree Stef! Unfortunately, a lot of Filipino freelancers still feel it’s about the price. I’ve seen some Filipino freelancers have heated exchanges about this on some forums and I felt so sad when I read some contractors’ reasons for maintaining low rates.
        Thank you for sharing this Stef and hopefully other freelancers who will read this will really think about how they should value their skills and their work.
        Great job as always Stef!

        • http://stefgonzaga.com/ Stef G.

          Thank you Grace! What we can do for the freelancing community is to set the best example—apply at our own terms, our own rates, and to never sell ourselves short.

          Keep up the great work Grace! You’re definitely one of the many oDesk contractors fellow Pinoy freelancers can look up to.

  • Grace Manalili

    Thanks Stef!

    You and Jayson are also excellent models for other Pinoy freelancers.

    Case in point: When I showed your previous post to my hubby, he got inspired. He promised me, as soon as he finishes his project with a client, he’ll really sit down and apply for jobs on oDesk. :)

  • http://thewiseliving.com Lianne @ The Wise Living

    Thanks for this interview with Matt, Stef! I really loved Matt’s advice about freelancing taking time. It does take time and it really is an investment that will pay endless dividends in the future, monetary and figuratively. But I guess some of us already experienced that. ;)