Hugo Messer - The CEO of Ekipa

I continually ask myself ‘what’s the most important thing I ought to do right now that has the biggest impact on achieving my life goals’

As I recall, Ayn Rand in her famous novel Ayn Rand said, “it is proper for a creator to have an unlimited confidence in himself and his ability, to feel certain that he can get anything he wishes out of life, that he can accomplish anything he decides to accomplish and that it’s up to him to do it. So I believe in ‘stop talking, start acting’.

Hugo Messer, the CEO of Ekipa is a Global IT Staffing Expert. Hugo has been building and managing teams around the world for over 10 years. His passion is to empower people spread across cultures, geography and time zones to collaborate. Be it offshoring or nearshoring, he knows what it takes to make a global cooperation work. To know more about Hugo and his global team building programs visit www.hugomesser.com.

Where did the idea for Ekipa.co come from?

I have a service company, Bridge Global, that offers offshore and nearshore software development services. I started this in 2005 and have always worked hard to grow the company. The past couple of years, as an entrepreneur, I started looking for a more scalable idea (traditional service companies are hard to scale). I saw the success of Odesk and Elance and wondered ‘why isn’t there anything for bigger projects’? And that’s what we created.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I am obsessed with productivity, so I do a lot. I plan my day the previous evening, by defining the most important thing I need to get done the next day + planning my actions in blocks of 30 minutes. Those actions come from my weekly plan (I set the 3-5 top priorities for each week), which I make Monday morning. During the day, I have some rules (that I try to stick to, but I fail often): no meetings in the morning; get your most important priority done before lunch; take a break each 90 minutes. 1-hour lunch break. The typical day:
06.30 Get up
06.30 – 07.45 showers, fruit juice, meditation (15 min), breakfast with kids
07.45 – 09.00 gym
09.00 – 09.20 read
09.20 – 09.40 daily meetings (the only meetings ‘allowed’ in the morning)
09.40 – 12.00 get top priority done
12.00 – 13.00 lunch break
13.00 – 17.00 work on other priorities (Starting with the most important)

How do you bring ideas to life?

I write most ideas down in Evernote. The ones that stick (most don’t), I share with my colleagues either through Slack or in our daily/weekly Skype meeting. The ones that we believe will help us achieve our goals, we implement directly. Others go to our idea board (trello) and we prioritise them during our quarterly planning session.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The globalisation of work. Technology enables people to work together from any place on earth. I think the traditional office is slowly dying. Who truly loves to go to work in a queue of other human beings to work in a small place all day long? I really prefer to spend time at home, so I can see my kids and dictate my own schedule. One movement I find truly inspiring is the ‘digital nomads’ > people who travel the world while they work from any place. Those guys even go on cruise ships and African safari’s, while they produce stuff together and earn money while travelling.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I continually ask myself ‘what’s the most important thing I ought to do right now that has the biggest impact on achieving my life goals’. And I hate wasting time, I always want to produce something (it’s also a pitfall:)).

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

It takes time for me to come up with an answer, I didn’t really have many jobs (I don’t consider my entrepreneurial adventure a ‘job’). Before I started Bridge, I worked for a publisher in Amsterdam. I had to work my ass off, had to manage many people and I had to both work ‘in’ and ‘on’ the company. I learned that I don’t ever want to work for a boss again. And that you need to pick your projects carefully; as an entrepreneur, you’ll be thinking day and night about your project for years, so you don’t want to waste time on projects you don’t care about.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

– Build way less functionality > follow lean startup to the word and build an MVP, not more
– Pick a product that is highly scalable, not a service
– Start by picking 1-2 cofounders, then decide on what to build
– Get funding earlier
– Select an industry that is more simple than the IT service industry

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Keep going and never give up. You’ll get a lot of shit, but don’t give in, keep trying to find things that will work, that will bring you closer to your dream.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Go out and sell. When I started Bridge Global, I went outside from day 1; instead of thinking about the ideal client and the ideal service, I just started calling people to figure out if they would buy what I wanted to sell them. I actually thought of outsourcing design works, but ended up in the IT industry. Your ideas change when you talk to prospective buyers and they are the ones who should decide what you offer. With Ekipa, I have set out to create a productized version of my service business. My goal is to go without ‘cold sales’ and generate demand online. I have now learned that this is a tough path (in our industry). It’s easier to just pick up the phone and convince some people to sign a contract with you.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

My first venture out of university was I-Clip, some 10 years back. I had two cofounders and we spent almost 2 years pursuing a ‘dream’. We had submitted our business plan to an idea competition, organized by some big corporates. We won that competition and got 200.000 in consulting hours plus some cash. Somehow we didn’t manage to build a company with that. After that experience (and I see 2 years of my life without clear result as a failure), I concluded that I would start my next company on my own. I did that and it worked. The Funny thing is that after 10 years as a solopreneur in Bridge, I have concluded that I don’t want to do my new company Ekipa.co alone. Doing it alone makes it easier to get off to a good start, because you can just go out and sell. But you can’t scale beyond a certain point and you live inside your own brain a lot.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I actually had an idea to start a virtual interview site, but you guys already did that :). Another idea I got 2 weeks back is to have a restaurant ordering app. I sat at a restaurant and they had a paper sign saying ‘scan this qr code and you’ll be able to place your order. then we’ll bring it to you’. Although I am sure this has been made by someone on the planet, I haven’t seen an app that does that. I imagine some icon (not a QR code), maybe a butler, that you can point your mobile cam on and it will generate the menu inside your restaurant order app. You place your order, the waiter gets a note and can bring your food and drinks. Efficient and it will save the restaurant a lot of money.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Last week I ordered a couple of gigs on Fiverr to place guest posts and press releases on their blogs. I wanted to spend $100, but I didn’t even spend that I guess. I got 7 publications within 2 days for less than $50, which usually takes me way more time.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Google apps for business > I love that google offers everything Microsoft once did and all very well integrated at $4-5 per month. And the possiblity to integrate other tools from the google marketplace is fantastic.
Slack > I get 50% less email nowadays, which I love
Skype > without Skype I wouldn’t be able to run my business
Evernote > my personal bible, I write down everything from ideas to event notes and planning
TuneIn > I can listen to my favorite internet radio channels on all my devices wherever I am
Linkedin > I can’t imagine we once did business without linkedin

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Scaling up (formerly the Rockefeller Habits) by Verne Harnish. Verne developed a system/framework which gives your whole company focus. It’s the best system I found so far to get your whole team on the same page and to organize priorities from your long term plans (mission, bhag, values) up to daily action plans.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

Verne Harnish: https://scalingup.com/
Pieter van Osch: http://sparkeducation.nl/spreker-pieter-van-osch/
Stephen Covey: https://www.stephencovey.com/
Ayn Rand: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand
Marcus Buckingham: https://www.tmbc.com/
Ken Blanchard: http://www.kenblanchard.com/
Michael Roach: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Roach

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