Tag Archives: success

The Joy & Sorrow of Outsourcing

This morning, I read an article in the NY Times titled “To Understand Rising Inequality, Consider the Janitors at Two Top Companies, Then and Now“. The article compares the story of Gail Evans, who worked as a janitor at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY in the 1980’s and Marta Ramos, who currently works as a janitor at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino. Ms. Evans was an employee of Kodak and received full benefits, including help with college tuition, and she took classes at night. Upon graduating, she was promoted to a professional-track job in information technology and now has an executive position at Mercer.

Ms. Ramos works for the company that was hired to clean Apple’s offices. She makes a little over $16 an hour with no vacation pay and no help with college tuition. She may get small raises every year, but the likelihood of her moving from an outsourced janitor position to a professional-track job at Apple is pretty much nonexistent.

Ms. Evan’s experience at Eastman Kodak reads like the classic American story where you, by working hard, can rise through the ranks into middle class – and beyond. Part of that story that is often left out is that you need an employer to support you on that journey. With companies outsourcing so much of their labor, essentially anything deemed nonessential, the support system is lost.

It’s easy to sympathize with Ms. Ramos’ situation and it helps me understand the desire to “Make America Great Again”. Working hard and still struggling to make ends meet is a hard existence, but easier to withstand if you know you’re on a path that will eventually lead out of it. Yet, I am also sympathetic to the companies who decide to outsource so much of their labor because I have done that myself.

First let me say that I think that there is far too much emphasis on short term results to please stockholders.

Second let me say that I think CEO’s, venture capitalists, many people in tech, etc make way more money than they need. Yes, it’s a way to lure talent but seriously? This guy pays over $20,000 in rent per month for his apartment. It appears to just instill a superiority complex in people who aren’t superior.

pantos_logistics_-_warehouse_picture

Back to my outsourcing story. I used to have employees but I let them go in 2015 to give me the space to focus on what was working for the company, and what wasn’t. Going from a 3-person company to a 1-person company meant that I had to eliminate, automate, or outsource a lot of things. Currently, this is what I have outsourced:

  • Manufacturing of my product
  • Overseeing the manufacturing of my product, including sourcing materials and finding new vendors
  • Warehousing and order fulfillment
  • Customer service
  • Product photography

Some of these things I didn’t know how to do. Some things I thought someone else could do better. Some things I thought someone else could do for less money. Once I started outsourcing, I became kind of addicted to it. It just seemed to make life so much easier.

I no longer had to “mind the shop” and could travel as much as a I pleased. I could take a weekday off and make it up on the weekend because I didn’t feel the pressure to set an example for anyone. The biweekly stress of having to make payroll was gone. I had less rent, and fewer expenses related to it. Besides the freedom of not having employees, I was free to focus on making Po Campo grow. In theory.

Common business wisdom tells us that companies grow when they can focus on what they’re best at, and do more of that. Yet, for me, my company has not really grown since outsourcing. Either I am doing outsourcing wrong and it has not liberated me to focus on growing the company. Or, my employees were contributing more to the company’s growth than I was accounting for.

I expect the answer is a mix of the two. While it is nice to feel liberated from a lot of the humdrum of running a business, and a lot of the stress of managing human resources, I also find myself obsessed with optimizing the outsourcing rather than moving onto to other things. Also, before, when I had employees, I had a team.

Which makes me wonder: do Apple and its employees lose out on something intangible by having its lower-end jobs outsourced to another company? Or is it true that in this world, the lowest price always wins? I hope it’s the former, but it sure feels like the latter a lot of the time. One of my mottos is “Beware of the high cost of saving money” and I feel like that could ring true with outsourcing too.

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Is “Taking the Plunge” Worth It?

A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me to lunch, saying she was weighing an important decision and wanted my input. The important decision turned out to be whether she should quit her high paying job that was fine enough but not fulfilling for a very low paying job working for a nonprofit that she really believed in. She knew I had quit a high paying job to work on Po Campo, which pays me very little, and did I think it was worth it?

Of course I gave her the enthusiastic “yes!” that I give to everyone who asks me this question. I offered up the usual reasons of why quitting a good paying job or leaving a career is actually not as scary as it may seem: you can always go back to the old career later, you have savings to help you transition to a lower pay, you don’t actually need that much money anyway, and what’s the worst thing that could happen anyway? It’s not like it will kill you.

She ended up turning down the new job and staying put, saying that it just “made more sense”. I don’t blame her for that. It did make more sense. Yet, I had to admit to myself that I was disappointed to hear her decision. Why?

At first I thought it was because misery loves company. We romanticize the thrill of “taking the plunge” but in all actuality, it sucks most of the time. Well, starting a bootstrapped business does, anyway. It’s stressful. It’s tiring. It’s thankless. It apparently never gets easier. I treasure my relationships with my fellow bootstrapped entrepreneurs because they are the only ones who can sympathize with my struggles and whose encouragement to keep going matters most.

But why would I want my friend to share my misery? And am I really miserable?

No, of course I’m not miserable. I would even describe myself as happy.

When I started Po Campo, I made a pitch to a colleague to join me in my venture. The first slide had the Gandhi quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. Despite all the hardships I’ve faced since quitting my good job and taking the plunge, overcoming the challenges with starting and growing a business have definitely made me stronger and more confident. I know the future will be similarly tough, but I feel ready for it. I feel more in control of my destiny and I believe in my ability to change the world, at least my little corner of it. Before Po Campo, I had hoped that I could be a positive influence on the world someday. Now I know that I can. And therein lies my happiness.

So, maybe I was disappointed with my friend’s decision because I thought she was going to miss out on experiencing this source of happiness. But honestly I don’t think so. I think I was disappointed simply because I thought it would be another thing we could share, just like our love of recycling and our love of foreign travel. I’m glad she chose what was right for her.

I’ll close this post with a quote from Henry David Thoreau from Walden:

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”


The inspiration for this post came from a lovely interview with designer/artist Elle Luna on The Great Discontent. I recommend reading it.

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