This is the tale of one team that didn’t let the US immigration system get between them and a great Colombian hire.
I’m the co-founder and CEO of Bunny Inc., the creators of VoiceBunny. We sell professional voice over recordings. To deliver on our promise of quality, speed, and affordable pricing, we rely heavily on technology to automate most of the workflow. Given the human element that encompasses our service, we also need a great team of humans that gets involved whenever our automated processes fail. This team needs to be composed by people who can provide excellent customer service, project management, and account management.
As a consumer, my best “remote” (not in-person) customer service experiences in the US have been delivered by US-based teams from companies like Zappos, Rackspace, United Airlines and Stripe. So when I began building VoiceBunny, I decided to build our client services team here, at our San Francisco office. I had the awesome luck of recruiting a great professional and former entrepreneur to lead the effort: Santiago Jaramillo. Santiago is Colombian and when I made him the offer, he was living in Bogotá. The plan was for him to move to San Francisco and start building his team. Right away, we hired a law firm to process his H1-B visa. A couple of weeks and $6,000 in legal fees later, Santiago’s application was submitted.
Unfortunately, the US Immigration Department didn’t even take the time to look at the application. A few months after our submission, the US returned all the paperwork with the explanation that so many people had requested H1-B visas, they did a raffle to determine which applications they would look at. As you can guess, Santiago was not a “winner.” We were sad. I couldn’t think of a better person to lead the effort, not to mention, Santiago was really looking forward to joining our team and moving to San Francisco. The US just wasn’t allowing us to execute our plans.
After some thought, Santiago began trying to convince me to allow him to build the client services team in Bogotá. I gave him several arguments against the idea. For one, years before and for another business, I tried to build a customer service team in Colombia. It didn’t work because we couldn’t find experienced managers and the cultural differences heavily affected customer satisfaction. Additionally, Colombian salaries aren’t that much lower than US salaries. Back in the day they were, but now the cost of hiring business people in Colombia and in the US is about the same. Santiago counter-argued on all fronts. I didn’t believe his arguments, but he was so passionate about the idea that I gave him the green light.
That conversation happened one year ago and I’m happy that Santiago convinced me. He kicked ass! Today, our client services team is ten-strong and growing fast (we have six job openings right now!). Our clients love us. Our surveys show that every month, 99-100% of our customers are very happy after their interaction with our client services team. Thanks to the hard work and provocativeness of our team, word-of-mouth has become our second largest user acquisition channel. We have created a customer service culture comparable to the one that Zappos built in their office in Las Vegas. Today, many graduates from business and social sciences schools in Colombia are applying to join our client services team. We are a great choice for those wanting international exposure. More importantly, our team is very happy and motivated!
What’s the lesson here?
I learned that the new generation of Colombians has a more global mentality and culture. They communicate well and very comfortably with Americans and other cultures. I also learned that hiring former entrepreneurs brings more passion, drive, and persistence than other hires.
The US should also learn a lesson here. Because of the current, non-sensical immigration laws, Americans lost sixteen jobs. This number may easily double within the next year. And then it may double gain. This is just jobs lost from my company; I can’t imagine the number if you include companies worldwide. Hopefully, Congress can get their act together and pass immigration reform soon.
Not long ago, the dream for many of us, tech-driven people, was to move to Silicon Valley to innovate. We were grateful to have the opportunity to move here. Today, though, it’s in the best interest of a nation not only to welcome, but to attract the best talent proactively. People with great talent used to move to where great companies were located. Today, companies are going to where great talent is located. It’s a global arena and Colombia is here to compete.
P.S. You can join the Hacker News conversation about this article here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7853094
P.P.S. Thanks to Santiago Jaramillo and Tara Tyler for reading and commenting on drafts of this article.
This post was originally published on Bunny Inc.‘s blog.