I published this article on another website a few years back. The information is still very relevant, although no longer current. Since the time that I wrote this article, Justin has left the Philippines. He is now leading a location independent lifestyle and travels around wherever he wishes to “live” at the time. I still follow Justin and it is interesting to see where he goes next and how he does business in all of these locations. Read about his Philippine experiences in the interview below.
Today on LiP, we’ll be talking with Justin Cooke. Justin is an Internet Entrepreneur, much like me, although we concentrate on different niches from each other. I have known of Justin (and his business partner) for a few years now, but only got the chance to meet Justin a couple of times this year. Firstly, a few months back we were both on the panel for a discussion about working online, then a few months ago when he invited me to lunch. We had a nice conversation and a good lunch, and I hope we will have the chance to get together again in the near future. I know, though, that Justin is quite busy, just like I am, so it’s more a matter of finding the right time that works for both of us. By the way, thanks for the lunch, Justin, next time it’s my treat! 🙂
What is your name, and can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure, Bob! My name is Justin Cooke and my business partner and I run Empire Flippers, an outsourcing and publishing company here in the Philippines. I’m 35 years old and originally from California. While I spend a fair amount of time in Davao City and the Philippines, I also try to do a bit of traveling in and around SE Asia.
You and your business partner have had a lot of success in the time you have been here, based on the outside looking in. Congratulations for that.
How long have you lived in the Philippines?
I originally moved to Davao City, Philippines in January, 2010, but had been doing business here since 2006. I used to run a mortgage company in California and we had a need for a Virtual Assistant to help us with some of the tasks we needed completed. We put a job offer out on Craigslist to quite a few different cities and were overwhelmed with the response.
We ended up hiring a girl that applied out of Davao City. A couple of years later our mortgage business wasn’t doing so well (we ultimately had to shut the company down), but I was struck with the amazing value we had with our VA in the Philippines. Later, I found myself working for another company that desperately needed to hire more staff and I again looked to the Philippines to scale our business. This ultimately led to me “outsourcing myself” and us setting up our own shop here where my previous employer became our first client.
What do you like or dislike about living in the Philippines?
One of the major benefits to living in the Philippines is that a slightly above-average Western income allows you to live like a king. You can hire maids, nutritionists, drivers, nannies…all at completely reasonable prices. As an entrepreneur, this allows you to completely “outsource” some of the day to day responsibilities and distractions you might have back home so that you can really focus on your business.
Another thing I’d add is that the people are phenomenally friendly and fun-loving. They have the slogan, “It’s more fun in the Philippines” and while I think the slogan’s a little silly, the truth behind it rings true for the most part.
I’ve written more about the good, bad, and ugly in the Philippines here, but some of the cultural differences can make doing business here a bit more challenging. I’m not a fan of the OFW (Overseas Foreign Workers) and the fact that so many smart, talented Filipinos go overseas to work. I think it would be better for the country if they were able to build businesses out from here. I understand that they’re looking to make some cash for their family, but I wish there were more opportunities for them to do that here in the Philippines.
What made you decide to move to the Philippines?
We’d expanded our team of people here in Davao significantly and had just setup an office. My business partner had moved here four months prior and I joined him once we had wrapped up the rest of our interests in the US.
I’d done quite a bit of international travel before, but this was my first time actually living outside the country for an extended period of time. It was a bit nerve-wracking to be honest, but now that I’ve made the move I can’t imagine having not done it. The lens through which I look at the world has been altered significantly after having lived here a while and I don’t think I could ever go back to “normal” life.
Hey, Justin, the lives you and I are living are our “new normal” – there ain’t no goin’ back, my friend!
Did you encounter anything unexpected when you moved here? What was your biggest surprise?
I think that after living here a while, you start to feel like it’s not that much different than the US. English is widely spoken (this is especially true for those under the age of 35), contracts are in English, and US culture is widely accepted and adopted in the Philippines. These similarities can be deceiving. You start to think that everything’s pretty much the same until something wild happens and you’re reminded you’re NOT at home!
A quick story – I’d just finished working with the crew in our office. It was right around noon (We worked nights) and I was on my way to the casino for a bite to eat and to gamble a bit before I went home to rest.
I was riding in a taxi and we were behind a guy that was on a tricycle and had dozens of chickens tied up to the trike that he was transporting. The trike must have hit a bump in the road, because one of the chickens fell off the back of the trike and onto the middle of the road.
Rather than just swerving to avoid the dead chicken in the road, my taxi driver slowed down, opened his car door (without stopping), snatched up the dead chicken off the road and threw it in the taxi with us.
I was only partially aware of what was happening until I saw the dead chicken in the taxi. The craziest part is that it didn’t seem that crazy to me! Just a nice taxi driver that was looking to return a chicken to the poor guy lost one off the back of the trike.
So, did you have chicken soup that night, or you didn’t get a share from the driver? 😉
Where do you live in the Philippines?
I live with my girlfriend in a rented, 4-bedroom house in an upper-class subdivision here in Davao City. My rent on the house is $1K/month which may seem high for the Philippines, but the equivalent place would probably cost $3K – $3.5K per month in a suburb in California. It’s a really nice neighborhood with a lap pool, clubhouse, great restaurant, etc. It’s almost like living at a resort without the nice beach a few meters away!
Are you happy there?
Well that’s an existential question, eh? I’m definitely happy living in the Philippines overall. When I first arrived I went around every day with a sense of wide-eyed wonder, but that’s worn off over the last couple of years and is my new “normal”. There are still times where I pinch myself and can’t believe how well my life has turned out being here, but it’s not all that much different in other areas.
I would say, though, that hoping you’ll “escape” your life by moving to the Philippines isn’t the best strategy. Whatever baggage you’ve had in your home country you’re likely to bring here as well. Instead, I think it might be a good idea to make some changes to yourself and your life with the move that will help you break out of those bad or unwanted habits you might have had at home. Without those personal development changes, not much is likely to change other than your geography.
Yes, with time your perspective changes, no doubt. I’ve been here 13+ years now, so this life that used to feel so different is my normal now.
Do you have any regrets that you can share with us?
Our first year here in the Philippines we could have done a much better job at networking and promoting our business online. We were “on an island” both literally and figuratively and didn’t really reach out and connect with like-minded expats that were here. This changed in late 2011 as we found out about communities of online expat-entrepreneurs we could connect with that has significantly changed or altered our social circle. If I could do it over, I would have done that much earlier.
We all make mistakes when we make major changes in our lives. Those mistakes, though, teach us things that we otherwise would not have learned. It doesn’t sound like you have any real major regrets, though.
Is there anything else you want to tell us about your move to the Philippines?
One of the best things about the Philippines is that it really is the Wild West out here. Many things aren’t as efficient or clean as you might be used to in your home country. That doesn’t mean it’s unsafe, but it is important to know that you’ll be living in a new frontier. (Any place outside of metro Manila that is!) It’s not for everyone, but it’s one of the reasons I much prefer the Philippines to a country at the opposite end of the spectrum like Singapore.
Aside from business interests and retirement, many of the men that move to the Philippines are initially attracted to the country because of a particular girl they’ve fallen for. That’s great, but it probably makes sense to get out here and on the ground before making any long-term commitments. Many hearts have been broken based on false expectations or dashed hopes and it’s probably in both of your interests to do a trial run here for an extended period of time before taking things to the next level.
If you’re planning on moving to the Philippines I’m excited for you and wish you well on your new adventure! If you make it down to Davao City do look me up and drop me a line…I’ll have a cold San Miguel Light waiting for you!
Thank you Justin, for taking the time to do the Interview! I appreciate it very much, and enjoyed hearing your perspective on life in the Philippines!