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Sean Si on Starting a SEO Company the Right Way [INTERVIEW]

Last June 21, SEJ was privileged to attend SEO Summit 2014. In relation to this, we had the opportunity to interview CEO and Founder Sean Si.

Starting an SEO Company and Doing it Right: An Interview with Sean Si of SEO Hacker

On June 21, Search Engine Journal’s Philippine team had the privilege of attending a one day marketing conference called SEO Summit 2014. I interviewed one of the hosts, Sean Si, about his company SEO Hacker and its humble beginnings.

You mentioned at SEO Summit that your company, SEO Hacker, started out as a one-man team before becoming one of the leading SEO companies in the Philippines. Can you share a brief history of your company’s journey?

Yeah, sure! I started providing SEO services as a side job in January of 2010–one month before I graduated from college. I studied IT but I was a really bad student because I didn’t like the course to start with. It was fun for me because I love writing and I got to work from home.

By March of 2010, I started working at HP. I stayed there just five short months because my SEO side job was turning into a good business. I created the SEO Hacker blog in April of 2010 and wrote everything I’ve been learning about SEO in that blog. It was just so much fun seeing people share my stuff over social media, commenting on the blog entries, and thanking me via email on the things I wrote.

Things started to roll November of that year. Clients grew and I was looking to register SEO Hacker as a legal business, which I did April 2011. I met some people along the way, such as Jason Acidre, who I hired to work remotely for me. He did some link building during that time for my clients. I also hired an editor who worked remotely to manage my outsourced writers.Sean Si of SEO Hacker

I worked solo until I figured I couldn’t do it alone anymore. Clients were growing, I couldn’t see myself working with remote people because I didn’t know better during the time.

So I hired my first two in-house guys November 2011 to help me out and rented a small 30 sqm. office where we could stay, brainstorm, train and work. It was a very exciting time for me. I’ve always imagined handling my own team.

Today we’ve grown to an in-house team of more than 20 people and counting. Some of us work remotely (including myself) because we have systems in place that allow us to be efficient and productive even when we’re working from home or anywhere else.

What tips could you share about hiring an SEO team, especially for start-up businesses?

To make my answer more complete, I want to take an excerpt about hiring from my book (to be published in hard and soft copy this August) since I wrote it out there anyway.

“Hiring people is perhaps one of the most difficult and critical things in starting up a company. You don’t simply hire people to relieve your team of pressure. That would be stupid. No, you hire the right people. Why?

Because the right people are self-motivated, driven, and love working with the same kind of people. The right people hate working with the wrong people. You don’t want to dilute your team with the wrong people. This is perhaps one of the most perplexing questions I’ve ever asked myself when I was starting out: “How do I know if I’m hiring the right people?”

As our clients grew, so did our need for people to help us do the job. My hiring strategy started out as posts in Facebook. I had more than 2,500 friends there and they would refer people they knew to SEO Hacker. Which is completely fine–at least it came from a connection somewhere–until we’ve exhausted that strategy. And we didn’t exhaust just my Facebook, we exhausted all my current team’s Facebook connections.

So we got all the people we could from Facebook connections and referrals. There were some who I had to lay off. There were some who just suddenly up and left and never came back. There were some who politely said their goodbye. In all, we’ve had some people come and go in our early years.

Of course, as the founder of the company and the main leader, it breaks my heart to see good people leave–in whichever way. We spent time together, had fun, learned a lot, but now had to part ways. That’s just how it is in business. You can’t really stop people from leaving. But you don’t have to wait until people tell you they’re leaving to do something.

So we finally consented to getting job ad packages from job websites like Jobstreet in hopes of getting the right people. We have hiring processes and strategies in place. But how do you know if the person is the right fit?

Three things: Character, Commitment and Skill.

  • Character is something you can never trade nor largely develop. It is something that has been mostly intact within a person since the day they became conscious of their personality and environment. It’s heavily difficult to affect character in terms of work ethics, camaraderie, integrity, and overall values. I place a heavy weight on a person’s character. Someone who I think does not have the right character for the job will not make it to the team. That person may well just affect the team chemistry negatively.
  • Commitment deals with a person’s drive and loyalty to the company. How far do you think this person will run for you when push comes to shove? How long will he or she stay and help build your company’s dream and vision? Yes, long-term commitment is rewarded but it is first sought in the hiring process. I continually ask applicants “How do you see yourself with SEO Hacker five years from now?” I’ll have a good idea of their level of commitment from their answer right there.
  • Skill is one of the last attributes of a person I weigh in the hiring process. That’s because skill can be taught much easier than character. It can be affected and improved by processes, environment, and tools. However, a person with little to no skill to start with has no place in SEO Hacker. We are a team that is looking to help us build a great, lasting company, not someone who will slow us down. We don’t spoon feed anything in our team. In fact, we make sure that every new hire hits the ground running–with shoes, of course.

One of the most effective ways to ensure low churn rate in your team is to sell them a dream. A vision. Something that you know you’re honestly headed to. Something that you’re trying to attain, even now, with little goals every day. I sell my people a dream. And not just any dream. A dream that will come true–and I myself will die trying to reach it.

One of the things I love to tell my people is that we’re going to have our own campus someday. A place where we’ll have our own sports complex, our own dormitory, research and development lab, support center, and so on and so forth. This is something that may be quite far from where we are today–but it is something that I’m definitely shooting for as the owner and founder. And since we’re growing, it’s looking truer and truer each day.

One step at a time.”

The year 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the Philippines’ first connection to the Internet. In your opinion, how much has the local SEO scene changed over the past years?

Internet usage has definitely changed in the Philippines. A whole lot of people are using the Internet. Mobile data has also changed the way we live our lives. We can now use the web even when we’re away from home, and it just makes more sense for us to use SEO to make our local search results better.

However, I think local SEO has changed not so much because of the internet connection but more because of how Google is shaping its algorithm. Google is trying its best to clean spam from the SERPs. Of course, it’s a busines and will always put its interests first–and that’s one reason why they took away the author’s picture from valid Google+ authors in the SERPs. Their ads were losing click-throughs and they needed that..

I noticed on your website that you’re writing your first book. Can you share something about it?

Sure! It’s a book about how I started up SEO Hacker–all the risks, challenges, failures, and successes I’ve been through. It’s a book that’s meant to talk to people who are trying to start things up no matter where they are in life. The book deals with all things startup; from hiring, managing people, leading from the front, dealing with risk and the ‘lows’ of business, and so on and so forth. I found I really enjoyed writing about how to start-up a business when I started my “secret” personal blog.

The votes on my Qeryz microsurvey tool tell me that people prefer the title “CEO at 22: The Risks, Challenges, Failures, and Success of Starting Up Young.” I prefer that title, too so it’s probably what my book’s title going to be.

Hopefully it’ll be published this August. I’m finishing the secondary editing, I’ll bounce it to another editor and then I’ll be the final editor. The layout and cover design will be done next week. After that, it’s just a matter of costing and paper picking with the printer and we’re good to go. Soft copies will be out sooner though and will be colored, so I think it’s better to get the soft copy. It’ll be on my website’s sidebar when it’s available for purchase.

Being part of the SEO industry for years now, what would you consider as your biggest accomplishment to date?

I would consider my biggest accomplishment to be providing jobs for my team. I think that being an entrepreneur, it’s one of the best things we do to give people jobs. And not just any job, but a job that they love.

All other accomplishments pale in comparison to that. Whenever I see my team happy and enjoying their work and their environment, it makes me really glad.

Bonus Question: I see on your Google+ account that you have a sweet tooth. What is, by far, the best dessert you’ve ever tried?

I’ll give the Belgian chocolate cheesecake at Afters Cafe along Tomas Morato the crown on that one. It’s really the best dessert I’ve tasted thus far.


Featured Image: docstockmedia via Shutterstock

Category Careers
Aki Libo-on

Aki is a content strategist, marketing consultant, and former assistant editor of SEJ. When not at work, she is busy ...

Sean Si on Starting a SEO Company the Right Way [INTERVIEW]

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