First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Lauri Lahi : Fortunately, everybody in my close circles has been healthy.
The biggest challenge obviously has been adapting to a new way of living and working – how do you get things done when you don’t have an office or you can’t see your co-workers. Since Emerhub has four offices in three countries and hires employees in a few more locations it was a bit easier as we are already used to doing most of the things online.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Emerhub
Lauri Lahi : I’m originally from Estonia but in 2010, shortly after graduating from university, I moved to Southeast Asia. Soon after I realized that many of the countries in the region, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, are so much bigger than I had thought.
Unfortunately starting a business in those countries was very confusing. I was used to Estonia where you can set up a company online in a few hours. Suddenly there were all these institutions and regulations and everybody seemed to give me conflicting information.
That’s when I and my partner decided that there must be a better way to expand to Southeast Asia and started a professional services firm that is now called Emerhub.
How does Emerhub innovate?
Lauri Lahi : Unlike most professional services firms, we don’t strictly label our people as lawyers, accountants, auditors, business consultants, etc. While our people do have the degrees and often years of professional experience in the field, true innovation comes when you put those people into one (virtual) room and let them figure out better ways to serve our clients.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Lauri Lahi : As an international business, we are definitely affected. Our clients cannot travel and many investments are put on hold. We have a lot of empathy towards our clients and try to find the best solutions in those difficult times.
However, the crisis is also an opportunity. If companies invest less it also means less competition. If you put it in a 10-15 year context, a 6-12 month slowdown is not as dramatic. Economies will bounce back, consumers will start spending again and market shares get redistributed.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Lauri Lahi : We immediately went through all of our expenses and found ways to cut some costs. Nobody knew how bad the situation was going to be so we wanted to make sure we have a financial runway.
One thing I’m proud of is that nobody at Emerhub has lost their job due to the Coronavirus. Some people had to adapt to new roles but it was very important for the management to show that in tough times we have our people’s backs.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Emerhub in the future ?
Lauri Lahi : We found the company in 2011 and the economies we operate in had had essentially non-stop growth until now. Some corrections were bound to happen and that’s how I try to rationalize it for myself.
I would be lying if I said the situation didn’t give me some level of anxiety. It still does. I also believe that if you don’t get any stress from the situation you probably don’t care enough about what you do. Which in my mind is worse than decreasing revenues.
I try to keep a good routine. I wake up at 6am just like when I was going to an office. I make sure I take breaks during the day. I train five times a week just like before, even if I wasn’t able to go to gym for a while.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Lauri Lahi : We compete with the global professional service firms and local law and accounting firms in each of our markets. It’s an interesting position to be in as on one hand there is a lot of competition but we are also unique in terms of our reach.
I keep reminding myself how I and my co-founder started Emerhub when we were in our mid-twenties and had about 600$ of savings. If we could take a big chunk of the market back then, what’s going to stop another young and ambitious team to do the same with us? That’s something that keeps me nimble and although we are soon celebrating our 10th anniversary I feel like those are still very early days for us.
Your final thoughts
Lauri Lahi : COVID19 can change the world in many ways. It can either divide us or bring us closer together. I hope it’s going to be the latter.
I already see how companies that used to hire only within the cities they have offices in are suddenly hiring employees from countries like Pakistan, Ukraine, or Vietnam. Not just because it saves costs but because the best person for the job could be anywhere. A world where your ability to get a good job depends on your skills and attitude rather than where you live is a better world.
As the chairman of Emerub, this is what excites me. We are building tools for companies to help manage their remote operations and continue pushing toward a more egalitarian world.