In the space of five years Enshored went from an idea discussed over a beer to one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. Here, its founder and CEO recalls the start-up journey.
The history of start-ups owes a lot to serendipitous meetings. Without chance encounters, the spark to ignite many of the best businesses would never happen. And in the case of Enshored, its genesis owes everything to a morning bike ride along one of the most scenic roads on the California coast.
“One of my hobbies is cycling and I regularly ride a 50km route with a group of people on the Pacific Coast Highway,” explains Ian Jackson. “It was late 2013 and I was looking for a new challenge. At the end of the ride, we stop for a drink and one of the riders said he must introduce me to a friend of his who was also very interested in outsourcing.”
That friend turned out to be Jeff Bauer, who would end up as Enshored’s co-founder.
“We lived half a mile apart from each other in Long Beach and we went for a beer and talked about setting up a company together,” Ian explains. “Jeff really wanted to go and build something and we had a lot in common. We both had a love of the Philippines from managing teams out there, and we knew we wanted disruptive tech companies as clients. So we came up with the name Enshored and set the business up at the beginning of 2014. Because we’d both worked in music, our first logo was inspired by the stamp you’d get on your hand when you went into a nightclub.”
From this first meeting of minds, they went on to secure an office in Manilla and begin the hard work of winning clients, recruiting staff and growing the business.
And then disaster struck.
In 2016, Jeff took a client call in the morning and told his family he didn’t feel well. Shortly afterward he had a brain aneurism and was rushed to hospital. He died at the age of 39.
“It was absolutely brutal; the worst time ever,” recalls Ian. “We were all in a state of shock. At that point, our business was tiny. We had grown it from nothing and had about 60 people. We’d spent the first few years working really hard together and feeding off each other. We were just hustling and trying to find our first clients.”
Suddenly, Ian was extremely isolated. He was not only trying to cope with grief but also the loss of business, as a large part of their sales pipeline went because of everything Jeff was working on. “It was hard,” he reflects. “I had to go out there and start tapping into other sales networks, but we had a good reputation and we were starting to win repeat work and get referrals. We lost a third of the business at the beginning of the year but we were back on track by the summer.”
They made operational improvements, improved the diversity of their leadership team and held their nerve.
“I had to sit down with the team and tell them we would be alright,” he says. “We’re a self-funded company and it was tough. You have to keep turning the flywheel and it eventually starts to get better. I didn’t take a salary for a long time and I was very lucky that my wife was there to support me and pay for everything. But I learned I was more resilient than I thought I was.”
By 2020, they were employing 1,000 people and had made it onto the annual Inc. 5,000 list of the fastest-growing companies in America. In the space of a few years, Enshored had been able to make good on the dream that Ian and Jeff had shared when they first toasted a beer together.
As with any start-up journey, though, there were plenty of bumps in the road and a lot of lessons learned along the way. One of the first lessons was never to rush into securing office space. “In the early days we got duped on the contract,” says Ian. “We ended up on the 44th floor of a residential building in Mandaluyong, with no air conditioning, that had been converted to office space without enough elevators. There were many times when Jeff and I would walk 44 flights of stairs to get to our office. It was a nightmare.”
Perhaps the biggest lesson he would pass onto to other start-ups, though, is that you reap what you sow. “I do believe in karma,” he says. “When you do good work for your clients it pays off. Forty percent of our clients come from referrals and that tells its own story.”
Another lesson he wishes to emphasize is the need to hold people accountable for performance and give staff a strong sense of ownership in the work they do. “We try to keep our structure very flat,” he says. “Most outsourcing companies are very hierarchical. They have tightly prescribed roles and anything outside these roles isn’t for them. So when we’re hiring, we’re always looking for people that are different than the normal. We want people who want to be more of a Swiss army knife. So we end up with more interesting people. That culture of learning and accountability is huge in the business.”
It’s a culture that’s proved to be a winning formula. Their work in solving the challenges relating to scaling disruptive, high growth businesses has helped acquire an impressive roster of clients in social media, eCommerce, FinTech, SaaS companies, online food ordering platforms, and consumer goods manufacturing.
Moving forward, Ian is bullish about the future of outsourcing and says that post-pandemic there’s a growing recognition that remote working is the ‘new normal’. “Everyone has got more used to the fact that people may be working remote from them and, if anything, Covid-19 is probably going to accelerate people’s acceptance of outsourcing,” he says.
Many business commentators predict that there will be strong demand for outsourced services in the longer term as part of accelerated digital transformation activities within organizations. The upheaval of the pandemic has shaken up many existing business models and disruptive technology is rapidly driving how businesses are evolving and how they will operate in the future.
For Ian, who left a career working with investment bankers to set up Enshored, this sector is not only the vanguard of change, but ultimately a better fit for him personally. “We like working with these clients,” he admits. “They’re a lot less adversarial and want you to succeed. These tech companies don’t have a finite view, they have an infinite mindset and always believe they can create more by working together. That’s been our guiding principle from day one.”