HOSU 12 | Virtual Teams

The Benefits Of Outsourcing And Leveraging Virtual Teams With Robert Nickell

Every great business starts with a great team. With the operational changes that have come along the pandemic, most find having a strong and high-functioning virtual team is not only possible but ultimately advantageous. Robert Nickell is the founder and CEO of Rocket Station, the leading business process outsourcing provider for innovative companies. He joins host Matthew Sullivan to elaborate on how virtual teams are keeping businesses afloat during this volatile period. Robert shares that it’s all about having structure and clarity before getting that first employee on board. They talk about misconceptions people have about outsourcing and the benefits you can reap in acquiring the service. Get tips on how to optimize your team and your processes in this episode of Hooked On StartUps!

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We’re living dangerously in COVID.

I listened to several of your episodes.

What would you want to do something like that for? That’s time you’re never going to get back.

It’s to prepare and get ready for the interview. One thing I found is your voice makes things significantly more meaningful, profound and impactful.

Let me disavow you of that misapprehension as quickly as possible. It’s a burden you understand because people say, “It sounds so intelligent.” Very soon afterward, they find out the reality. These words that I utter was empty and meaningless.

I don’t think anybody will notice. It took me several episodes and they figured it out. I was like, “Is he really saying it?” It’s working. That’s what I would say.

I’m not wasting my time. Robert Nickell, it’s our pleasure to have you on the show. I want you to tell me all about Rocket Station starting now.

Thanks a lot for having me on your show. Like I mentioned to you, I’ve watched a bunch of the videos. I know how much work you put into it and you have some great guests. I wanted to say I appreciate you. Thanks for your time and to our readers for taking the time to read.

I’m humbled and touched. I can feel a tear beginning to well up in my left. I’ll push it back in here.

In Rocket Station, we do a couple of things. We document systems and processes because most companies we work with are Fortune 500 companies down to single-member LLCs and pretty much everybody in between. Our bread and butter for our client base are small to mid-sized businesses. Not many businesses have documented systems and processes, training materials or scopes of work. That’s the first thing that we do. The second thing is its dedicated hiring. It functions like a W-2 but we take all the HR liability. It’s a service agreement for our client partners. Those are the two non-sexy but helpful and useful things that we do at Rocket Station.

Have you ever come across the expression that HR stands for Human Remains? You are dealing with possibly the most difficult, unpredictable, uncharted, heavily regulated and nightmarish part of anyone’s business.

Whether you have existing employees or you’re starting to figure that out, it’s overwhelming for everyone. We’re well over 1,000 now, and it’s still one of those things that we think about all the time. It’s protecting ourselves and our clients, and making sure that we’ve got all our ducks in a row if I can be cliché about it.

Cliché is fine. In fact, we live and breathe clichés here. Have you ever heard someone say, “Let’s run it up the flag pole and see who salutes it?” Is that just a myth? When you’re hiring people, do you come across The Office stereotypes? Have you been watching the entire series of The Office before you spoke? Do you come across those people?

I was that way. I used to be the guy that felt sick driving into work every day because I knew I was going to have to tell team members what to do and manage people. Basically, I walk into an office with other human beings in there. I didn’t feel like they were productive, very efficient or good at what they were supposed to be doing. My day was managing them all day and not getting anything new done.

It’s not just our clients but we hear the same things over and over again. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a software company, service provider and private equity. Everybody has the same issues when it comes to operations day-to-day and all the things that it takes to make a business run. That’s where most of us struggle. We’re good at our core competencies but everything else that it takes to fulfill, manage and create wonderful experiences from all those expectations that you’ve said, that’s the hard part for everybody.

Manage outcomes instead of micro-managing tasks.

You mentioned that you deal with all sorts of businesses from Fortune 500 companies down to smaller companies. What is the average-sized company that would approach you?

Somewhere between 10 to 100 employees is the core of our client base. That includes the team members that are with us. On average, people hire 3 to 4 of our team members from us full-time.

Do you find that you’re dealing primarily with entrepreneurs, or are these established businesses that are finding it difficult to grow?

It’s a little bit of both. You talked about things that have changed. One of the big things that happened was people were forced to adjust to what has now been termed the new normal. Everybody is tired of hearing that. Most people are still working from home and in virtual environments. Before the pandemic, it was something that people knew about, but they thought it was just Bank of America, Best Buy or massive companies. When you think of outsourcing or virtual staffing, that’s what you think of this terrible experience that you’ve had with some giant company.

People have figured out that you can have virtual remote teams that can be every bit as productive if not more so, working remotely. It doesn’t matter whether that’s in the same city, same state or across the globe. We are proud of our clients and you’re talking about size. We had almost no reduction in our client base. We like to think a big part of that success comes down to there are no disruptions in the day-to-day for their business.

People’s personal lives, having kids, not being in school and maybe not having home offices set up right away, those types of things were disruptive but for the vast majority of our clients, they were already a remote, virtual, slim down employees and W-2 workforce. Most of their day-to-day tasks and remote teams outsourced through companies like ours. The big change is you don’t feel like you have to be sitting in a big office building like I’m in the one now to have efficiency or productivity. Technology is pretty amazing now.

The key change that we’ve seen is the acceptability now of having a business that comprises remote workers. If you wind the clock back a couple of years, one of the questions that anyone would ask is, “How many people have you got? Where are your offices?” Your success or ability to compete was defined by how much marble you have in your reception area and the fact that you have hundreds of people. Do you think this change that has been created by COVID is a permanent change, or is it something that we will go back to where we were pre-COVID?

My opinion is there will be a hybrid of what we saw before COVID and what we’re seeing now. You’ll always see some people in the office and then some people being able to work from home because, in some of the jobs, you don’t need to be in the office that much. If you need less square footage and less electricity running the building, it’s some of these massive companies with huge buildings. It doesn’t make sense for them to have that amount of square footage unless you’re Facebook, Google, or these are more shrines than they are office buildings.

You’ve talked about going back a few years. I’m talking about perception management. We had tax attorneys. We’re here in Dallas. I would have to fly to Atlanta to have meetings with our tax attorneys because they only did in-person meetings. Lots of businesses thought that the only way to be professional was to have the square footage and these teams. A lot of our clients still had prior to the pandemic people in business attire, walking around offices. It was a very normal thing.

What I think is the most amazing thing is now we can start to manage to outcomes instead of micro-managing tasks in the job description on what people are doing day-to-day. Now, good leaders, great companies and managers will be able to lead teams based on productivity and output, which hopefully will be a more meritocratic environment. A lot of the changes are here to stay. It’s in everyone’s and the employee’s best interest, and the companies will reap the rewards from that as well.

Also, the perception of your business has probably changed as far as your customers are concerned, where previously you are seen as a solution to a problem. Whereas now, potentially, you could position yourself as an agent of growth.

To be totally candid, people viewed virtual staffing and virtual teams like ours as more low-level. It was the assumption. It was just more remedial tasks, which is not true at all. For logistics companies, we’re doing all the emergency calls, product walkthroughs and demos. It’s the same for SaaS and software companies, we’re managing Zendesk accounts, CRMs and all the backend. All the $40,000 to $70,000 a year jobs, for the most part, that’s the core of what we do, inside sales, customer support and bookkeeping for finance teams.

People viewed virtual teams like this term virtual assistant. It’s the one that a lot of people are familiar with, and that sounded low-level or remedial. Now, most companies understand that teams and companies like ours can provide as good, if not, better quality for a much lower price. Our teams tend to outperform US-based staff on a one-to-one basis within most job descriptions. Sometimes, it’s not even close. It has changed the perception of our business of not only the types of tasks that our teams can do but also the quality and output that should be expected from companies like ours.

Do you find that the people that work with you as your virtual teams are much more motivated than people that work within an office? Do they feel that they want to perform and they don’t suffer from that same issue? When you’ve been with the company for a long time, you get comfortable. Is that one of the benefits do you think of working with an outsourced? I don’t like the term virtual either because it does have connotations of repetitive menial tasks, where we’re looking at non-specific, location-based, C-level-style qualities.

HOSU 12 | Virtual Teams

Virtual Teams: If we can provide a lot of structure and clarity on systems and processes, and then the expectations and accountability, then team members really thrive.

Can you summarize your question again specifically to make sure I don’t just ramble?

The question is, are people much more motivated when they’re working on outsource? Effectively, they’re working for themselves within or underneath your umbrella. Do they remain more effective, motivated and capable than someone who works within an office environment who over time gets a little too comfortable perhaps?

For the most part, teams do well whatever the employment status is. Whether it’s a contractor, W-2 or service provider, all should be structured the same. That is with clarity, alignment and clear expectations set on not only what’s expected from them in the day-to-day but also what success looks like, what the different paths are, and how they’re allowed to get there. Most of the time, these companies struggled because there’s no clarity and alignment. I mentioned systems and processes. A lot of the structural foundational stuff that it takes to provide employees a great environment for them to be successful, companies are missing a lot of the foundational things.

One of the things that the pandemic has provided its companies is this opportunity to take a step back, look at their companies and take a much broader approach. I mentioned managing to outcomes. Many times, we think about our employees and what they are doing all day. The much more important questions are, “What are they producing? What is the output? What is the value-add of that role?” If we’re doing a good job managing them, then a large part of that management means protecting their day, time and tasks from anything that’s not worth their time or not the reason we hired those team members.

If we can provide a lot of structure and clarity on systems, processes, expectations and accountability, then team members thrive, whether that’s an office or virtual, that is the foundation to success. Anybody wants to be treated with respect. If you create this opportunity to have virtual or remote team members and it’s something that works for both parties, then you’re showing a big sign of respect and trust there that goes a long way. That’s a very long-winded way to say yes.

There’s a number of important points that you’ve made there. The key phrase is managing outcomes. I know that this is important. With any business that grows, what tends to happen in my experiences, the founders and owners of the business are protective of their business. They reach a certain threshold where they run out of talent. In other words, they’re good up to a certain point but when they bring people in, what they tend to do is they tend to restrict the performance of those people because of their personalities.

You often see founders, initial early-stage shareholders or members hovering over the new staff, wondering what they’re going to do, which is the opposite or the antithesis of managing outcomes. You’re micromanaging the people. The combination of working remotely and also the structures that you bring in mean that the people that you bring on can be far more effective at doing what they want to do, which at the same time gives them much more job satisfaction. It’s truly a virtual circle.

It exposes your management leadership team. You talked about the response people have to new employees. Usually, that’s a fear-based response that comes from a couple of things. I was there too. I totally understand this idea of if the phone is ringing, that every call matters too. For our real estate clients, every single phone call could be a prospective client on two sides of the different sides of a transaction. For our maintenance-providing companies, those emergency calls can be an emergency for these homeowners. Every single call for a small business is so important, and every single email that comes through has to be answered. There are all these things that have to get done.

As the business owner, you’re talking about them restricting. It’s this fear of things not being done appropriately or correctly, or being done not the right way or somebody answering the phone and not representing you or your company the correct way. That is your business that you put your blood, sweat and tears. Sometimes you don’t spend weekends and miss the games with kids, the wife is mad at you or the spouse is upset because of how much work you put into the business. The idea of bringing in new team members is very overwhelming because what if they screw it up?

Most of that fear comes from the second part that you mentioned, which is there’s no structure. That’s one of the things when I talk about exposing leadership and management. Whenever you’ve got an office, in my opinion, what happens a lot, and we see this over and over again with our clients and we’ve done this over 2,200 times, it’s this osmosis training where you absorb from being in the office. It’s like, “How do I know how to do my job?” I sat down next to somebody for a couple of months. After enough time, I learned enough and then I could ask questions periodically when I needed to. That’s how I learned my job.

That’s very inefficient. There’s not a whole lot of alignment, structure and clarity. As a result, you get lower output. You’ve got a management that has to micromanage the task all day because we don’t know what everybody is doing. If you can put systems and processes and create the clarity upfront before you ever hire somebody, you have that roadmap to success. Once we bring in plays and team members, now we don’t have to stress and strangle them the whole time because we’ve got a clear path and a communication channel set up. We’ve set clear expectations.

When we go through that process with our clients, that’s when they understand that we’re partners with them because we’re there to support them long-term in this process. It’s easy to talk about these things but most entrepreneurs, to your point, stranglehold their business and team members. That comes from a lack of structure and previous success without systems and processes for most of the time when we see that happening.

Tell me a bit more about your background of how you came because obviously, there’s an enormous amount of expertise you have within the whole environment of managing, recruiting and training people. As I said jokingly at the beginning, one of the hardest things is to manage or get the performance out. How did you find yourself where you are now? What was your journey as it were?

If you would have asked me in college when I was a Business major, if I would have been managing well over 1,000 people and helping companies build and lead teams, I would have said, “No way. That’s not at all.” I thought I was going to be in real estate, flipping houses and building a real estate empire. That’s what I thought I was going to do. The truth is, I sucked at running a business and managing people. I was good at marketing, getting my phone to ring and talking on the phone, whether it’s the potential sellers or people who wanted to buy houses, or meeting with people at the kitchen table to negotiate a contract to buy their house whenever I was doing real estate.

Good leaders and great companies will be able to lead teams based on productivity and output, which will be more of a meritocracy.

I was good at the front-end process of real estate and the relationship management piece. I enjoyed the networking, but when it came to the day-to-day back office stuff, keeping the CRM clean, following up, sending out contracts and invoices that I said I was going to and talking to title companies, and my email going off all day long. The truth is, I went to bed every night feeling anxious and guilty because I cherry-picked the things that I wanted to do or the highest priority each day.

My to-do list had a bunch of things left on the list every single day. I woke up each morning feeling anxious and doing it all over again. I had a little bit of success early on, so I thought it was going to be easy. I then started hiring, building and managing teams. It was terrible. I was awful at it and I dreaded it every single day. I had a sick feeling in my stomach all the time, walking around my office. I was not good at managing teams, and I was lucky.

That is something that is important because I’m sure that anyone that is reading this who has hired people feels that same sense of apprehension when they go into the office. They feel that they need to make sure that the staff that they’ve hired are doing something. It’s like, “That guy is not busy. It’s my fault. I’ve got to find something for him to do.”

It’s not cheap and you’re paying for them. They get paid time off, holidays and all the things that come with it. It’s hard to not have that sense. You want people grinding all day long the way that you are and it has the same meaning and importance to them as it does to you. That’s a hard thing.

That’s the problem as a company founder and entrepreneur. The lens that you look through is not a clear lens. It’s more like a kaleidoscope where all of the reality is fragmented and shaken up. That’s important because I’m sure that many people have that same feeling that, “There has to be a better way of getting the work done that I need to be done without having to try and re-engineer these people at a conscious level.” You were talking about that sick feeling, so how did you find that solution?

I was lucky in that. I had some great business leaders that were even better dads, spouses and leaders in their communities, which to me was super important to have both sides of that because I was struggling in my business. I couldn’t keep my business together, much less have a personal life as well. There are some people I’ve respected, big businesses, managing teams.

I wish I could say that I had some sexy story but it was getting beaten over the head by some older and more successful people that were showing me that we all have the same number of hours in the day, one. Two, the big turning point for me was I got asked, “Do I think that my teams want to do a good job when I hired them?”

I said, “Of course. I think people want to do a good job.” They said, “If they’re not producing and doing well for you, then you haven’t provided enough structure, clarity or set the expectations in a way where they can ultimately be successful.” Instead of being the guy who was walking around saying, “Finding good people is hard and managing teams sucks,” which is the way I was.

I had to turn the finger around and point it right in my face and be like, “I am the source of the problems.” It started with I would have problems. There would be fires. There are things going on. I would hire people to solve solutions but there was no real structure. I’m sure I sound like a broken record at this point and I’m talking about systems.

Every day, it’s being reactive. It’s a bit like where you drive your business based on the emails that you get in that morning.

It’s a constant reprioritization of all the fires that are happening all day long. The squeakiest wheel ends up getting the attention. That’s definitely where I was. What I did was I first went and documented everything that needed to get done in my business. I tried to build a scope of work and training manual for it and then tried to hire some people to do it. My documentation of all of it was so terrible. It wasn’t usable and something that people could execute on. I ended up hiring a company to do that for me and to document all of my stuff. From there, I could write good job descriptions.

At what point did you move from thinking, “This is a pain in the neck. I’m only doing this because the people I respect saying I should do it. I don’t see the value of this. It’s time-wasted money?” Was there a point where you suddenly looked at this and thought, ” This is actually going to be useful. I’ve been banging my head against the wall for my entire life and now I see what these people are talking about?” Was there a moment where you suddenly realized that?

Yes. I went to one of my friend’s offices. I drove up to his office. I was expecting this big, giant office but I pulled up, it was a small brick. It was a previous house that had been redone. It was a small property that had been turned into some offices. I walked in expecting because I know of several employees that he has and I’ve talked to a whole bunch of them, “Where is everybody?” That’s when the a-ha went off for me because it was so tiny.

Everybody that does phone work for him was in the Philippines. If you do any back-office support, you’re in the Philippines. If you do technology work, you’re in Russia or Belarus. If you actually had clients to interface with face-to-face and now he has none of that anymore but prior to COVID, he did. Those were the only people in the office.

HOSU 12 | Virtual Teams

Virtual Teams: If people are not producing or if they’re not doing well for you, then you haven’t provided enough structure, clarity, or set the expectations in a way where they can ultimately be successful.

It didn’t matter that he was in a different industry and business. It was still the same concept to process. When the phone rings, somebody needs to answer. When the email comes through, somebody needs to competently respond and Zendesk needs to stay updated. That for me was the most like, “This is totally doable.” It wasn’t just him but several other businesses that I thought had. Lots of W-2 offices here in North Texas didn’t. They were just outsourcing pretty much everything and that’s how they were able to grow and scale. Ultimately, I cared more about the business being successful than my ego being pumped by me, being responsible for everything happening in the day-to-day.

To be honest with you, that was in 2011 when I started grinding and pounding to try to figure this out. After a couple of years of grinding, I did. I figured it out. From 2013 to 2015 around then, I had helped over 100 people do what I was doing just because it was such an awesome thing that helped my business so much. I was in that evangelist mode of getting everybody on board to this amazing process of outsourcing.

Every single time, people wanted a done-for-you option. It’s over and over again, the process that we perfected and the steps that we pushed everybody through in creating the success rate that we have. Ultimately, the company, Rocket Station, now started from all my failures as a manager, leader and business owner trying to figure it out and passing that on.

The people that have been through that journey themselves are the best. You’ve got the most experience and the most ability to say how this applies to reality because you’ve walked in those shoes.

There’s not a problem you’re facing that we haven’t seen. My family is very well-educated and has lots of educators, big titles, and PhDs. The joke is always like, “Are you actually doing anything with the information? Is there any application or are we just talking all the time?”

This is the typical Thanksgiving conversation. It ends up with everyone being silenced at the end of the evening as everyone is staring at each other.

I’m not interested in that. I’m more interested in the application. Part of what’s fun about what we get to do is apply all these principles every single day. Most companies, business owners and entrepreneurs feel like it’s them against the world, that nobody understands what they’re going through, their problems or they’re unique because they’re working on this unique concept, business, startup, or whatever it may be. The truth is, at the end of the day, business is business.

Even if your product is unique or the service is a little bit unique, how you’re going to implement and run that business is going to come down to a few core principles. It doesn’t matter what your pain is that you’re feeling or what you’re going through. We’ve probably seen it. If anybody has got any questions, we don’t care whether you hire our teams or not, but we’re happy to help answer some questions and put people in a good place if people want to learn more.

How are you growing your business? Are you eating your own dog food? It’s a horrible expression. Are you still coming up against challenges that you’re saying, “I’m now better experienced and the things I’m telling my customers, I’m now using those same principles. I’m now able to grow at a rate that’s faster and more secure than I thought would be possible?”

Every single day. There are still times where we have to make decisions on resources. One of the cool things about what we do is we apply people to solutions where most people are afraid to hire teams hire people because it’s such a big expense or there’s so much unknown around that. You’re asking me how we’re growing.

We’re going back where everybody now is using so much automation and there’s so much electronic communication. We’re going caveman. We’re putting real touches and real people on LinkedIn, connecting, starting conversations, engaging in groups and trying to add value in any community that we can be a part of, business-to-business communities for the most part.

We’re being as caveman as we can in that. When I say caveman, I mean personal. We’re actually making phone calls. The dialer systems that exist and all the technology make things so much easier. It’s amazing. Our sales teams have big teams that do organic outreach, community management and connection.

We’re always trying to add value, put on webinars and do as much real application value-add as we can wherever we can. It’s our primary thing. We do some podcasts and other things, but we don’t do a ton of traditional marketing. It’s probably the weakest thing that we do as a company but we’ve seen amazing growth. It’s strictly between referrals for the most part and then the community.

What you’re saying is that you’re using technology in its best way, which is facilitating communication. There is nothing worse than automated calls, spam emails or where there is no effort on the part of the other party to try and deliver the message or make contact.

Identifying the right person comes down to what task they’re going to fulfill.

If you’re reaching out to me, I want to know that you know something about me that you’re not going to be figuring out at that moment. If you can call me and offer me a solution or send me an email with the real solution because you actually know something about me, I’m willing to listen, but if you’re going to spam me, then that drives me insane.

The difficulty is trying to find those innovative ways of rising above the noise. What are your most challenging positions? What do you find the most difficult to fill in terms of positions or skillsets?

As far as the roles that we fill?

In particular, is it impossible to get good salespeople?

This is both within our own company and then also with our clients. It parallels. It’s the same. We do well with inside sales and sales support. Even to get on this show, the coordination, scheduling and management of that take it back. There’s so much that has to happen in the sales process that having competent and amazing inside sales teams is insanely valuable, in my opinion.

We’re good at sales, back-office support, customer service, level one IT support for IT departments, product walkthroughs, all of the customer support, community management like Zendesk or CRM management, and bookkeeping. What we’re not good at is a couple of things. IT and development, we don’t source for those jobs. We don’t do creative-type roles, editing graphics, videos or those types of things. We like to think that all the people who go and execute the task in the day-to-day fill all of those roles.

Those two are typically outsourced anyway because they’re job-driven.

We’re an outsource company and we outsource those.

They’re not permanent staff. Those are things that one can be forgiven for. Your major area of growth, your strongest area, where you think you are head and shoulders above the competition, where’s the real sweet spot for Rocket Station?

It’s two things. It’s the inside sales piece we were talking about and then the service fulfillment. All the backend support that it takes to run software companies, logistics companies, dental offices, chiropractors or financial advisors, it’s all the day-to-day tasks. I’m not even talking low-level. I’m just talking about all the back-office support. That is where we thrive. You mentioned automation, technology has taken over the world, but people still need the personal touch. They need human beings to create this personalized and customized solution that feels good at the end of the day. All of those back-office roles are where we do best.

That’s important as well because the people that you bring in bring with them those skillsets. What you’re doing, you’re not just delivering a person, but that person brings structured experience and the ability to deploy far more efficient systems to the business. That’s the thing that’s important because if you’ve got the right person, they don’t just sit there and say, “What do I do now?” They bring in so you can re-engineer your sales if you have the right head of sales.

We look at it like there are two sides here. They’re separate but totally intertwined. Most people are backward with the steps. Most people hire first and then try to figure out what to do with people next. We think that you start with structure, clarity, systems, processes and training. That’s the roadmap. You talked about having the right person. Identifying the right person comes down to, “What task are they going to be fulfilling?”

Somebody that’s going to be an inside sales or customer support on the phone, those are different than bookkeeping, CRM management, working on social media campaigns, pulling reports and data collating. Those are very different roles. To have the right person in the right seat, we first need to have a lot of clarity and structure on what they’re going to be doing all day.

Step one is creating that roadmap for what tasks are actually going to be completed, putting the system, process and scope together so they know what they’re going to be doing or what their expectations are. We can go higher and get the right person. Now we’ve got so much lower turnover, employees are happier, productivity goes up and it’s so much easier to manage. The culture is amazing. Those two sides of it are so important. It doesn’t matter whether you have thousands of employees or you’re hiring your first one. We force everybody to go through the same process because we believe that there is a formula for success, and it’s matching those two things.

We do a lot of personality profiling. They train with us for 6 to 8 weeks before they ever get on interviews. We understand who they are, but it wouldn’t matter how well we understood our teams and employees. If we didn’t have a real clear path of success, accountability and roadmap for them to go execute, everybody would be a disaster for everybody. Getting the right person is all about having the right plan and then attacking those two things together.

HOSU 12 | Virtual Teams

Virtual Teams: At the end of the day, a business is a business. Even if you’re product or service is unique, how you’re going to implement and run that business is going to come down to a few core principles.

Do you turn people away, clients? Not employees.

All the time, employees and clients. We’re screening over 4,000 applicants a month and hiring less than 2% of those people.

These are the people, the employers.

When I very first started, I would be lying to you if it was a whole lot harder for me to say no early on because we needed the money for it. People kept telling me, “Don’t take on the right,” but now we truly only want to create win-win and long-term value propositions. Part of our entire onboarding process before we ever take anybody from you is a discovery and alignment phase because we want to make sure that the expectations are set and clear, and everybody knows exactly what success looks like. We turned down a lot of clients because we’re not computers or machines that you just turn on and pump out dollar bills. I know that sounds stupid, but a lot of times, that’s the way people look at things.

From the client’s perspective, I want to know that I run the risk of not being accepted into the Rocket Station program as it were because it has to be, “I have to provide the right environment. I have to be able to provide the structure and the training because, otherwise, the person that’s working for me is doomed to failure from the outset.” The flip side to that is, is it getting harder to find good people as the outsourced or the non-location-based employment world expands? Is there a growing, willing, skilled salesforce that’s filling that demand gap?

It’s interesting because we’re doing it from both sides. More than 1,000 employees, most of those are in the Philippines. We’re headquartered here in Dallas as well. We’re hiring constantly on both sides. W-2s here in Dallas and throughout the US, but then also internationally as well. Every restaurant that you go to has a sign saying that they’re looking for help and learn to be patient. Through the media, there’s this national dialogue about how there are not enough people for employment.

That’s the case for certain sectors, businesses and job roles. On the US side of things, there are still great and talented people looking for work. Not only that, now without having to be geography restrained, it’s easier. There are more opportunities. The only thing that makes it harder now is that there are more applicants. You have to put a little bit more work on the front-end to screen people and go through a robust process because you’re scanning more applicants. Anytime there are more applicants, it’s always going to be better. You have an opportunity to hire better people.

One of the amazing things that have happened for us on the Philippine side is we’ve been remote since 2013 since we were over there. Whenever the pandemic hit a lot of these big companies and a lot of the companies that existed, they had a hard time shifting, transitioning and making the adjustments. Recruiting for us has gotten better because our reputation internationally is so strong. When other companies were having a hard time, we’re cherry-picking and being able to recruit from these other big brands and companies because our company has been around for a while. Our brand is pretty strong.

It’s a virtual circle because what you’re doing is you’re forcing your clients, which is the employer, to up their game. In other words, you’re saying, “We can help you grow. We can provide you with access to all these resources that have that track record and we can deliver but you’ve got to up your game. You’ve got to have better processes in place.” What you’re doing is you’re raising the bar generally, which is the opposite of most people’s perception of the virtual world. What you’re doing is you’re making the employers better employers.

A lot of times, when people first start with us, one of the first steps is we force everybody to go through this process, it doesn’t matter where you are, is to spend time with us one-on-one to go through everything that’s happening. Screen-share and show us exactly what’s happening with everything so that we can document and build roadmaps. A lot of times, people are like, “I’m too busy. I’ve got too much going on.”

They don’t want to go through that process. That’s exactly why it’s not going to work if you’re not willing to go through that process. You asked about clients that we won’t take on, that is pretty much the differentiator. It’s the ones who get and understand that if we go through that process on the front end and we invest that time, then it’s going to reap massive rewards for us long-term going forward. It will be totally worth the investment and everything will be great.

That’s not well understood within your target market from my experience, which is the sample of one. This type of value that you bring is probably unexpected. In other words, people have this perception but to understand that you bring so much more structure, value and training, to me as an employer first, that must be very eye-opening and attractive to someone. Once they realize that this is something that you bring, it must be seen as a real value-add because you’re setting them up for success. You’re training them for something that has longevity. It does not just click once. You’re teaching them how to employ and recruit people professionally and properly. All that’s going to do is improve their business.

This is only to make them better. You talked about being in a long-term relationship. That’s what we’re interested in is that long-term success. If we take a few minutes on the front-end to get everything correct the first time the right way, that’s why our retention numbers are what they are. Most people come to us because they have an initial pain point or problem.

There’s something that’s poking them. There’s a reason at the beginning. Their emails are overwhelming. They have too many phone calls. The customers are complaining. They want to grow or do a marketing campaign and their sales guys can’t. That’s not why they view us as a partner, and that’s not why companies and clients stick around forever.

To have the right person in the right seat, we first need to have a lot of clarity and structure on what they’re going to be doing.

We do those things and solve those pain points, but it’s the emotional capital you get back as a result of us restructuring your business. You’re still driving the bus and making all the decisions. It’s still your business. We’re just taking any opportunity that exists to make your business more efficient, run a little bit smoother and be a little bit easier on you on the day-to-day. If at all possible, heaven forbid, we make things a little bit easier. Once we do that, now we’ve got a long-term path for success. That’s what it’s all about is exactly what you said. It’s pretty awesome that you said it much better than I ever could.

That’s the real value and exciting thing. It’s that holistic approach. It’s not the, “Stack them high and sell them cheap.” It’s the opposite. You’re providing growth, structure, education and marketability to businesses that are tired and world-weary possibly within recruitment. It’s absolutely fascinating. I’m going to switch gears now. I’m going to ask you my ten Hooked On Startups quick-fire questions.

Question number one, what is your favorite word? They get easier, by the way.

I say the F-word too much when I’m at the golf course or wherever I’m with my friends hanging out. I tend to use that word too much. My favorite word is actually progress.

Number two, what is your least favorite word? Why are you looking down? Did you write these down somewhere?

No, I need to be careful. I didn’t write these down. I need to make sure that the first thing that comes to my head doesn’t get me in trouble. My least favorite word is I can’t.

Number three, what are you most excited about now?

With our teams in the Philippines, we have community engagement projects that are totally voluntary. The teams come up with the ideas called Rocket Station CARES, whether it’s supporting schools and communities that are sending kids back to schools or different healthcare initiatives. The teams get to pick on what we’re going to do each quarter and then the teams support that. It’s backed by Rocket Station. That grows as the company grows. We dedicate a percentage of our resources back into Rocket Station CARES. That is what I’m most excited about going forward are the opportunities within Rocket Station CARES.

Question number four, what turns you off now?

I don’t listen to the news at all, either side. Anytime I turn the news on, it totally turns me off. It makes me sad, depressed and question pretty much everything. My mom called me. This is a true story because I guess the UN or whoever released some climate change report. I have two very smart brothers who called my mom, freaking out about the information in there. She called me and I hadn’t even heard that. That’s how I prefer when it comes to news and current events as I have no idea what’s happening. The news turns me off.

You can spend your life trying to sort one truth from another, but it’s a whole different subject. Question number five, what sound or noise do you love?

The sales team has this thing where they yell, “Boom,” every time there’s a new sale. That comes through on the Zoom Chat. Now, it has permeated across the company where it’s not just sales where people yell boom anytime there’s a win. That’s my favorite word now.

Number six, what sound or noise do you hate?

I live in a condo building downtown. At night, there have been people doing street racing or something going on down there. It’s 2:00 AM on a weeknight and they’re down there. I can’t quite figure out what’s going on there, which is not interesting to anybody reading at all.

Question number seven, what’s your favorite curse word? We have two back to the beginning here. I have a rough idea of what it is.

HOSU 12 | Virtual Teams

Virtual Teams: If we go through that process on the front-end and we invest that time, it’s just going to reap massive rewards long term and going forward.

I like that one. I say, “Let’s freaking go,” a lot, LFG like Tom Brady. It has to be that one. My mom says I need to be a little more creative but it’s my favorite.

It’s a noun, adjective, and verb. It is possibly the greatest invention that the English language has ever produced.

It’s so usable. I can be excited and use it. I can be upset and use it. It seems to fit.

People who don’t use it, I feel those people are missing out. We have to have a moment of silence for them. Question number eight, what profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt?

It would be cool to be an attorney and defend underserved populations. Find cases where you think people have been wrongfully charged or accused of crimes for whatever reason. To be able to serve people, be a public defender or something like that would be super cool.

Question nine, what profession would you not like to attempt? Be careful here because if you’re in the recruitment business how do you answer that because otherwise, you might alienate an entire sector.

My dad is a dentist, and that doesn’t look like a lot of fun. We had a great childhood and upbringing, but having your hands in somebody else’s mouth all the time.

They only come and see you when they’re in pain.

Everyone hates the dentist. My dad is this amazing guy. He is super happy but everybody hates going to see the dentist. I can’t imagine that being fun.

My final question, if heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

I’m proud of you.

Robert, it has been such a pleasure. It was fantastic. I could talk to you for hours and hours. You rightfully would hang up instantly. How do people find out more about you and Rocket Station? How do they engage? That’s exactly what they should do now.

Thank you so much for having me on. This was a lot of fun. I can’t always say an hour goes by fast but it did. I don’t know about anybody who is reading but for me, it was great. Our website is RocketStation.com. There is some great information there. There’s a yellow button that says Schedule Time Now. That goes to our development team and would love to spend 30 to 45 minutes answering questions for anybody that’s interested, has questions or wants to learn more. Go to the website and you can find us there.

It has been an absolute pleasure. I can’t wait to dig deeper. I’m sure that you’ll find a new client knocking on your door very soon that may seem slightly familiar. I’m looking forward to that. Thank you once again.

Thank you.

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About Robert Nickell

HOSU 12 | Virtual TeamsRobert Nickell is an accomplished real estate investor and serial entrepreneur in the business process outsourcing industry. He is CEO of Dallas-based Rocket Station, which he founded in 2018. Rocket Station recruits and trains college-educated Filipino professionals to fulfill a variety of remote roles at small to midsized American companies. Under Nickell’s leadership, Rocket Station has become a multimillion-dollar company with 10% month-over-month growth since early 2020 and more than 700 Filipino team members.

Rocket Station is the second BPO company Nickell has founded. For four years, he co-owned Dallas-based Investor Virtual Assistant Services, which provided outsourcing services specifically to the real estate vertical. Previously, he owned Dallas realty investment firm Greenro Homes.

Nickell earned his BA in business and communications from the Austin College in 2009.