How The Founder of TaskUs Went From Zero to 1500 Employees in 5 Years
In 2009 and armed with only a couple grand, Bryce Maddock opened the first TaskUs office in an old building on the floor above an elementary school in the Philippines.
Since then, he’s grown TaskUs to more than 1,500 teammates providing customer care and back office support to 60 of the world’s most innovative companies.
His company is committed to invest at least $25 million in the Philippines over the next three years, so that he can fulfill their mission of bringing meaningful employment to as many people as possible. It’s their goal to employ 10,000 Filipino people by the end of 2017.
Bryce Maddock Interview – CEO of TaskUs
Why should any business owners in 2015 outsource?
Do you know that President Barack Obama only has two suits – a grey suit and blue suit? Think about that: why would the most powerful man in the world only have two suits? To quote him directly:
“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
The President acknowledges that focus is critical for effectiveness. If he is worried about what suit to wear, he will have less attention to give to the things that actually matter. Organizations are no different. Focus is critical. To build the best product, come up with the most creative marketing program or write the most efficient code – but whatever it is you do, your organization must be focused. This means eliminating the distractions of back office work like content moderation for social networks or photo retouching for ecommerce companies, and reducing your internal customer service team to focus on only the most business critical items. In order to do this successfully, you’ll need a partner you can trust to deliver on these repetitive but important functions.
Which is more important, price or quality? Are you able to achieve both when you outsource to someone you never meet?
The more time I spend in business the more I realize that you get what you pay for.
Outsourcing is not something you enter into blindly. I would never recommend outsourcing to someone you have never met face to face. At TaskUs we provide a U.S.-based Client Success Manager to guide our clients through the outsourcing process for precisely that reason.
Unfortunately, there are many companies who simply want to “do it cheaper,” and compromise on quality and process, but they quickly realize their mistake, as they are left to redo most of the work they outsource, while attempting to provide feedback to their outsourcing partner on how to improve. This often means the work takes longer than if the company just did the work themselves.
One of the reasons we are growing so quickly is because we believe it is possible to deliver great quality at a good price. We will never be as cheap as hiring someone working from home in India. So for us, the more important question is, “How do we deliver value?” We are really focused on being strategic partners to our clients. Our team challenges the status quo and looks for more efficient ways to do the same process, even if this means reducing the size of the team we have working for a client. On the customer service side, our team is fanatical about the brands we service. We work with a lot of fast growing, exciting startups that our teams in the Philippines know about and use in their daily lives. When hiring, we look for people who are passionate about the products we support.
That’s why we have such great loyalty. We function less like an outsourcing provider, and more like an extension of our clients’ team.
Most IncomeDiary’s readers won’t know this but we used TaskUs way back when they first started. We use to get you guys to do the research for our top list articles. Those articles have gone on to receive millions of visitors. What things can business owners outsource and get the best return on investment from?
Yeah, it is pretty incredible to think that you can outsource quality content with viral potential.
There are a lot of things that business owners can outsource. “Back office” outsourcing is worth considering for any repeatable process that consumes a lot of valuable internal resources. For some of our clients that can be photo editing, content moderation, lead generation or data management, for example.
These days we are also working with some of the world’s best brands to deliver high quality customer care for a fraction of the price of doing it in-house. We are increasingly the go-to partner for today’s fastest growing companies when it comes to customer support solutions, including phone, email and chat. We utilize that capability to help businesses find, retain and support their customers – so business owners can outsource a wide range of services, it really depends.
Each business has its own specific needs, areas of expertise and pain points. The best thing to do is to pick up the phone and talk to one of our Client Success Managers, in order to get the advice and support you need.
You have hired 1500 full time employees in the past 5 years. How do you work out who to hire? Are there any tests you use? For example, when we hired our last programmer, we asked that they use a subject line we mentioned in the job listing, if they didn’t use that headline, we knew they couldn’t follow instructions.
We take recruitment very, very seriously. Today we hire less than 8% of applicants. TaskUs teammates are responsible for our clients’ success and the continued success of TaskUs. We have a very structured and thorough recruiting process regardless of what role we are hiring for. We evaluate and test candidates for their ability to do the job they will be responsible for doing using specific skill tests. We also test for cultural fit and a range of other attributes including creativity, alignment with our core values, problem solving, communication skills, vision and leadership. Our interview process is multi-stage and very in-depth.
With all that said, because of our size, we have to screen hundreds of applicants every week. To do this efficiently we start with simple, quick screen mechanisms. The one you describe with the subject line is brilliant! We generally start everyone with a multiple-choice test that requires both Internet research and some creative thinking. This test eliminates more than 50% of our applicants, saving our recruitment team countless hours.
1500 employees sounds like a lot of experience delegating work. What’s your top tip for making sure an employee follows through on your instructions?
I love this phrase: spend 80% of your time hiring, so you only have to spend 20% of your time managing. If you hire the right people, management is so much easier. With that said, one of the biggest challenges in our business is the number of cultural differences between our U.S. and Philippines office. In the U.S. we are much more confrontational and in the Philippines, we are much more passive. To get around this I believe that face-to-face communication is essential, at least a few times a year. Get on a plane and go meet the people you are working with! Beyond that, I believe in clearly outlining a project, with objective milestones or metrics and deadlines. After you talk about it, document it in an email so that you can return later and say, “We agreed that this would be done by now – here is the email, what happened?”
How do you get customers to keep coming back time and time again? What systems do you have in place to encourage them to use you more and more?
We realized early on that the entire outsourcing industry was focused on the wrong thing. People started outsourcing to control costs, and I would be lying if I told you that this wasn’t the primary concern of most of our clients. But that doesn’t mean that cost is the only thing a customer cares about. In most cases, a very close second is the desire to maintain the same quality of service that they built their reputation on. Today, the entire outsourcing industry is in a race to the bottom, trying to beat one another by reducing costs. TaskUs is not the cheapest option and we never will be. But we are the world’s best outsourcing company for companies who care about quality, preserving their culture and brand voice.
We have a lot of younger readers who are struggling to decide between going/staying at university or working on a business. If you could go back in time, would you still choose to go to university or not and why?
I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. This is a deeply personal question. I graduated from New York University (NYU) and if I could do it again I would. Attending NYU gave me the leadership, critical thinking and business skills to accomplish what I have today. That said, attending college is usually incredibly expensive. I got a partial scholarship, packed in extra classes to graduate in three years (rather than the four it normally takes in the U.S.) and worked the whole time I was in school.
For some, a traditional college education is the wrong choice. But be honest with yourself. If you aren’t going to school and instead using that time to build a business or you’re taking online/alternative courses, then that’s great. But if you’re still sleeping in the bedroom you grew up in and spending most of your time on the couch watching TV, then a more structured education might not be a bad thing.
It’s so so so cool that you started your own charity called TaskUs Foundation that helps send kids in the Philippines to better schools. Tell us everything you can about this. Why are you doing it & what’s the long-term goal? What advice would you give to other companies that want to give more to the communities they work in?
When my business partner, Jaspar Weir, and I started TaskUs we had just graduated from college and were living with our parents. Our goal was to build a business that made us enough money so we could get our own apartments and maybe take a girl out on a date once in a while. It took us more than three years to make enough money to do that!
But once we did, we realized that there had to be something more. At that point we had 200 employees in the Philippines. These were people who depended on TaskUs to put a roof over their kids’ heads and put food on the table.
We thought long and hard about what we could do to further our investment in the communities that we were hiring people in. Education was the most obvious answer. To us, education represents the future. The goal of the TaskUs foundation is to empower the children of TaskUs teammates with the knowledge and access to build better lives than their parents have. Who knows, a few of them might even start businesses of their own someday.
You enjoy yoga, meditation and marathons. Do you think these things contribute to your success and how?
Absolutely. Meditation and yoga are a great way to stay grounded and develop the ability to focus as well as sit through uncomfortable situations in life. Both these practices keep me humble too.
As for triathlons and marathons: I believe in pushing my boundaries – but I am also very passionate about being efficient and effective. You definitely learn how to be both effective and efficient from endurance sports.
I should add that I’m not the only one who practices meditation. Our entire company has access to a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction meditation program and the amazing app Headspace, which we pay for as a company. We believe it’s really important to support our teams. We’re a dynamic company that is growing – fast – and our people put a lot of time and effort into their work and we support them in finding useful tools to distress and decompress. A growing body of evidence indicates that meditation not only does both those things, it also helps make employees more productive and engaged.
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You have given some great advice today, but what is the best advice you have ever been given?
Just yesterday I was talking to my dad. I was going over a long list of challenges that exist in our business today. Believe it or not, as your business grows, so too do the list of problems you have to deal with!
My dad looked at me and said, “Bryce, enjoy the challenges, you’ve earned them.”