Success and new beginnings

It’s been over 4 months since I posted on this blog! Thanks to my loyal readers for their undying patience. Life has been very full.

Initially what led me to stop posting was a rather negative experience of culture shock last Fall. I was driving from Tagaytay City to Manila. In the city of Bacoor I stopped at an intersection, and a traffic enforcer walked up from behind my car and knocked on my window. He said he was giving me a ticket, but could not explain clearly what I had done wrong. It turned out that he wrote on the ticket that I had disobeyed a traffic officer, something I had not done. I spent 2 days contesting this lie, to no avail. In the hearing he told many more lies, fabricating a story in which he had stopped my car, a story that never happened. The hearing officers believed him and I was required to pay 1500 pesos to get back my driver’s license, which he had confiscated.

This incident left me feeling very sad and disappointed, and seriously questioning the wisdom of my move to the Philippines. There are aspects of life here that are very depressing. And while it is possible over time to create positive changes in society here, there are things you just have to live with. I’ve been stopped by traffic enforcers about 5 times in 15 months, and usually they are attempting to engage in deception or corruption. The corruption is part of the design of the system. If you refuse to participate you sentence yourself to significant inconveniences.

However, there are also many positive aspects to life here in the Philippines.  In January we moved to a new house in Tagaytay, with a view of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano, and a separate billiards room that we’ve adapted to become the office of my new company, Saiff Solutions. We launched the company after New Year’s. In early February I was in the hospital for 2 days with a severe infection. I had a very high fever (103F) for several days, and a splitting headache. The diagnosis was upper respiratory tract infection, bacterial. It took me all of February and the better part of March to recover. I still have an occasional cough and congestion, but it isn’t slowing me down much now.

Right, I was going to talk about the POSITIVE parts of living here.

Those of you who’ve read some earlier posts know that I was writing a book about moving to the Philippines. This transformed about 9 months ago into writing a chapter for a larger book on Moving to SE Asia that a group of writers is publishing. Well, after about 8 months of off and on writing, I’ve finally submitted a complete draft of that chapter, about 90 pages. This frees me up to do all the other writing I now need to do for the business.

I’ve been planning this business for about three years. We launched it  in early January. At that point our site was up (http://www.saiffsolutions.com), and our Facebook and Linkedin pages, and our new Twitter account . We had completed our registration with the national government as a Filipino corporation back in November. Now we’ve completed our local registration. I knew the business was a viable idea and that it could work. The one thing I was a bit uncertain about was, would we get any customers? Well, as of the last 2 weeks we now have 4 customers who have verbally agreed to do business with Saiff Solutions. I am about to hire 2 people, and probably 2 more as soon as I identify them.

The business model for Saiff Solutions is based on doing business with companies overseas – companies in the USA, Europe, and other wealthy countries who need technical documentation or related consulting, in English. Most Filipino companies would not make good customers for us, because they’d be unwilling to pay the rates we charge. Our rates are approximately 1/3 of what companies pay technical writers in the USA, and competitive with what companies in the USA or Europe pay for writers in India. However, our rates are several times greater than the rates that Filipino companies pay local writers in the Philippines.

So, I’ve been surprised to learn that one of the most useful ways to spend my time is networking with people in Manila. Many local companies are involved with foreign companies. And despite the general truth of my thinking on Filipino companies, there are exceptions. In fact there seem to be enough exceptions, that is Filipino companies who for various reasons are willing to pay our rates, to keep us quite busy.

So, I am thrilled that this new company, which I’ve had such high hopes for but also great uncertainty about, is already becoming a success. There are many, many issues to address to make our success possible, and at times it seems overwhelming, but this is exactly the challenge that I wanted, and I am up for it.

Also, we have a new member of our family, and a new wing of the company. Most of you have seen pictures of our shi-tzu, Yeesta. Yeesta is now a 2.5 year-old male. We have wanted to get a companion for him, and Dindin has been researching the idea of becoming a dog breeder for some time. On Sunday we met Sydney, a 6 month-old beautiful female shi-tzu. Her personality seems to be the exact opposite of Yeesta. She is a bit shy and reserved, but she does wag her tail often. Our new house provides a perfect environment for breeding dogs. We don’t let them into the main house, but there are both indoor and outdoor areas for them to play and sleep, and a storage room out back where we plan to keep the puppies when they arrive.

Yes, I will post pictures soon. Sydney is a tri-color shi-tzu with a beautiful coat of soft, silky hair. In the last few days our office has been transformed. Most of the floor space is taken up by a full-size billiards table, which the landlord has required us to retain in the room. We had a carpenter build work surfaces on top of the pool table, with insulation underneath to protect it. He also made another workspace on the side. I selected some beautiful woods, and he did a great job.

Much of the success of Saiff Solutions so far I owe to our newest board member, my friend Leon. Leon has extensive experience in the call center business, and as a salesman. With his help we are creating a sales capacity and developing a pipeline that should keep us busy and growing with new customers every month. In so many ways, this business is being built upon friendship and family. I am grateful to all of our business associates, our whole team, all of whom I count as friends or family.

I will share with you the three elements of the Saiff Solutions corporate vision:

US$1 billion in annual revenue by 2025

To move the annual global budget of The Hunger Project (http://www.thp.org) from $12 million to $200 million, by 2020

To transform the culture of work in the Philippines.

Please like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SaiffSolutions

Follow us on Twitter: SaiffSolutions

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Comments

  • robinyates1  On March 27, 2012 at 10:55 am

    good luck with your new venture Barry. With regards to your brushes with the enforcers, why not give him a 500 peso note, saying ” this is for your merienda”. They only stopped you because you are a foreigner with money, accept this, as I do and life goes on,.I was stopped in Thailand, up north for not wearing a motorcycle helmet. I gave him the sweetener and went on my way. We are in their country where the rules are totally different.

  • Barry C. Saiff  On March 27, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Thank you, Robin. Yes, now that’s what I do. But I still find it depressing. Corruption robs the Philippines of something like $2 billion in foreign investment every year. Now when I am stopped I pay the bribe, and both the traffic enforcer and I become part of the problem. It is part of the culture here, just like female genital mutilation is a part of many cultures in Africa. It is not a healthy part of the culture. It is a part of the culture that we all need to somehow move beyond if we are to build a Philippines that is functional.

  • James  On April 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Interesting Barry; I am moving to Tagaytay next week, around the 11th. Maybe I will run into you after I arrive.

  • Daniel  On July 3, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    In traffic adjudication, it’s not a court, they don’t follow court standard, that was told by an adjudicator from Manila city traffic adjudication, they prefer to believe enforcer’s testify instead of yours if there is a conflict, but if u raise this to court, court will judge in favor of u for lacking evidence to support the charge. I had an experience with bacoor adjudicator and the court there, I won finally.

    • Barry C. Saiff  On December 30, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      This is very encouraging, Daniel. However, it’s been a very long time now, I don’t think I’ll pursue this particular issue more. Perhaps this will be handy in the future. Thanks!

  • Maria  On January 26, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Interesting blog. I used to live in the Philippines and learned to have a peso a peso bill in side my driver’s license. They just open the license, take the money and let you go. Or, I would name drop like I am the Governor’s niece or something like. You can’t really blame them, they can barely survive with their salary so I would consider just a tip for their services. The same thing with house help stealing; it’s sad, very sad.

  • John Sheehan  On April 24, 2013 at 11:43 pm

    HI: I live in Manila. I used to get stopped all the time. Since I’ve tinted my windows with a mirror finish (and a dark finish to my front window, so you can only see me close up) I haven’t been stopped once for being “puti” (white foreigner).

    Rules of engagement: If they have a gun and a motorcycle-stop. If they just wave you over with a ticket book, wave back and drive on. If they knock on your window, (no gun), crack the window but don’t hand over your license. (Sometimes, for the fun of it, I used to speak in a foreign language, Irish or Spanish).

    If they can’t give you a good explanation as to why they stopped you, drive on. (Again, the gun rule).

    I once gave a bribe of 20 pesos to 2 “enforcers” and that was after they chased me on a motorcycle for 4 kilometers. I told them to “take it or leave it”. Bribing 500 pesos is ridiculous. Give 200 if you are guilty. If you aren’t guilty demand an explanation. You should take control and put them on the defensive. Speak with authority, politely. You should talk down to them a bit. They are used to that and they will respect you for it. Shoot questions at them. Demand answers. If you aren’t guilty, don’t give your license.

    If you are guilty, act humble and apologize. I do this with real policemen. Ask to give 100 to 200 (if two enforcers) “merienda” (lunch money), If you can, give a 100 and two 50′s. The chief enforcer will keep 150 and give 50 to the subordinate.

    Definitely get the tinting for your car.

    I have a lot of entertaining “enforcer” stories. This sounds like your first time. Don’t get too upset. It is an acquired skill, like anything else.

    Also, in a crowd, put your wallet in your front pocket and put one hand on it at all times. I am right handed, so I use my front left hand pocket and my left hand.

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