Entrepreneurship, Founders, Philippines, Startups, Uncategorized

Top 10 People to Meet in the Philippines Startup Scene in 2014

On a Sunday morning in early January, I got a text from Manila Angels‘ Christian Besler. Nope, it wasn’t a drunk message sent at 3am. It was about grabbing coffee at the Pen with two Bay Area executives vacationing in Manila. Both got a hold of Christian via Twitter.

"Dirty Kitty" is a fixture at the parking lot of the Peninsula Hotel, a centrally-located meeting spot for intros and deals

“Dirty Kitty” is a fixture at the parking lot of the Peninsula Hotel, a centrally-located meeting spot for intros and deals

Despite the booming local scene, there’ still a lot information asymmetry between what’s going on-the-ground, and what entrepreneurs and investors from Silicon Valley know. After all, the Philippines really isn’t a mainstay on Techcrunch or Mashable. When I met a partner from Kleiner Perkins, her first question was “What’s going on out there? I’ve never visited, but all the social networking and digital media startups we’ve looked at always gets a ton of traffic from the Philippines.”

The country’s startup scene has generous servings of good news: 7.2% GDP growth, double digit internet + mobile user growth, investment grade ratings, and growing cohort of tech entrepreneurs.

So how do we bridge the gap? In a lunch forum hosted by the Harvard Business School Club, Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the Filipino founder of recently IPOed Care.com (which popped 43% on its first day), mentioned that the key is always through PEOPLE.

The goal is to make Manila a social hub for tech startups in the region – an alternative launchpad into Southeast Asia vs expensive, big brother, and tiny Singapore.

So…. for investors and founders who are likely to first discover the Philippines as a.) tourists, and b.) as relatives (a Filipino spouse or in-law), we’d like you to stay a few days, fall in love with the country, and in the process, also discover the vast potential of its nascent innovation economy.

The goal of this post is to make it easy for you to get seamlessly plugged-in into the local scene. So, on this Sunday afternoon, I sat down for 20 minutes and scribbled the top 10 people you should meet based on:

  • Execution: A track record of getting things done. No talking heads on this list!
  • Immersed in the local community: Understands local dynamics and gives back through their time and resources
  • Well-connected: Has a quality network across different stacks.
  • Accessible: Responsive, and generous with their time

There are players, of course, like ICCP Ventures, but none of them have demonstrated serious interest in high-risk, early-stage startups and preferred to stick with more mature plays. There are a ton of successful entrepreneurs, of course, more than this list can handle, but 99% of them are either focused on brick-and-mortar or may not be as accessible.

So if you’re new to the scene, these are the top 10 people to meet in the Philippines tech scene, in alphabetical order:

1. Amazon Web Services: The ASEAN team led by Anne Salada-Chauffaille and Franco Eisma has been quite active in evangelizing across the technology spectrum, providing not just cloud computing infrastructure but educational events for local conglomerates and seed-funded startups. Check out the next AWSome Day this February.

2. Ayannah: Mikko Perez and Dicky Alikpala. Ayannah is a digital platform play focusing on the unbanked in emerging markets. Mikko and Dicky are the funniest couple-preneur in the country. They’ll probably kill me for saying that. But I’m sure they secretly enjoy it. Times with these guys are never boring. Lose the serious face and prepare for a one-hour meeting to turn into a four-hour laugh fest.

3. Hatchd: Manny Ayala & Nix Nolledo. Hatchd is a startup studio that builds companies “from ideation to operation.” Its portfolio includes Rappler, the leading social news network in the country, and Purple Click, a digital advertising firm. (Disclosure: Hatchd is an investor in my company). Manny is an experienced media and tech executive, while Nix founded Xurpas, a leading mobile content provider. Both are pretty active in Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

4. Ideaspace: Earl Valencia. The incubator of the Metro-Pacific / PLDT Group is led by former Silicon Valley executive Earl Valencia and has invested in a number of small, mostly pre-revenue ventures. Shucks, you just missed the application for the 2014 cohort so stay tuned for the next one.

5. Kickstart Ventures: Minette Navarrete. Structured as a 100% subsidiary of Globe Telecom, Kickstart is a seed capital fund that “enables startups to achieve a faster launch and a better business trajectory through a combination of funding, infrastructure and facilities, mentoring, and market access.” Though launched less than two years ago, Kickstart now has the biggest portfolio (close to 20?) among local startup investors.  Minette and her team are experienced investors, operators and community builders, and are plugged in to the broader Singtel Regional Seed Network. (Disclosure: Kickstart is the lead investor in my company)

6. Manila Angels: Christian Besler & Paul Rivera. Launched just this January, the country’s first angel network now boasts of close to 50 angels and is currently screening its first cohort of 25 pitches. If you’re popping by Kickstart, make sure to check in with Christian (who is also VP Community at Kickstart) and Paul (Co-founder of Y-Combinator backed Kalibrr), whose company is co-located at Kickstart HQ. .

7. New Leaf Ventures: David Bonifacio. NLV regularly hosts Better Business Brunches in the Bonifacio Global City and is positioning itself as a hub for B2B investments and technologies. David is an energetic entrepreneur and storyteller who handles multiple roles for CBTL Holdings – the local franchise owner of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. And no, BGC wasn’t named after him.

8. PhilDev:  Phildev is a foundation of US-based Filipinos who are passionate about creating linkages between local entrepreneurs and the world. Chaired by Tallwood’s Dado Banatao, some of its trustees include Eric Manlunas of Siemer Ventures (who has invested in a few local companies) and Sheila Lirio Marcelo.

9. SGV: Winston Chan. Winnie runs the advisory group for SGV, the country’s largest professional services firm. Winnie’s been key to helping several multinational clients establish BPO operations in the country. There are valuable synergies between tech startups in the BPO space – from US-based companies setting up outsourced operations (TripAdvisor, Amazon, etc) to well-funded startups staffed with local, talented engineers (Bright.com, Lenddo, etc) to startups focusing on BPO clients (Kalibrr).

10. Sulit.com.ph: RJ & Ariane David. The biggest classifieds player is run by the friendly husband+wife team of RJ and Ariane. RJ’s a wonderful supporter and mentor to younger founders throughout the country, and maintains a regular presence in local entrepreneurship and tech conferences. Make sure you’re updated with your gadgets and gaming news for a fun chat.

The good news with these groups? Eight are mainly present in the Makati-Fort Innovation Strip. Ayannah and Sulit.com.ph are pretty close by in the Ortigas district – a quick twenty minute drive from Makati.

Who else should be on this list? Which events should visiting founders look out for? Let me know below.

Advertisements
Standard
Entrepreneurship, Philippines, Startups

Can the Philippines be the Silicon Valley of Social Enterprise?

Browse through Vogue and you might notice these colorful clutches.

Thoughtfully-designed and beautifully-handcrafted, they marry form and function. The brand itself has grown a loyal following the past several years. It’s worked with some of the most established designers. And its story has garnered wide appeal across different segments – adored by celebrities, supported by moms, trusted by twenty-somethings, and studied by policymakers. That’s an incredibly hard thing to do in the finicky world of fashion.

This might sound like a label straight out of the fashion houses of Milan or Paris, but these clutches come from a humble social enterprise based out of San Juan in the Philippines.

Rags2Riches-2-MaineManalansan-Vogue-10Jul13-PR_b

 (Photo credit:  R2R and Maine Manalansan)

Rags2Riches is just one of the many social enterprises scaling up all over the country. It’s a great example of what the Philippines can offer the world. The Maia clutch, designed by Rajo Laurel, has been a consistent bestseller and it’s now making waves abroad, thanks to a partnership with the retail chain Anthropologie. Co-founded by Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, R2R works with artisans from poor communities to produce wonderfully designed products and improve their livelihood.

Fashion presents a fascinating opportunity for local social enterprises to reach a global market – we have lots of talented designers, a cluster of manufacturing zones in Manila and Cebu, underserved artisan communities, amazing brand managers, and a growing cohort of e-commerce entrepreneurs. There are thousands of social entrepreneurs like Reese, and now is their time.

Business for the Next Billion

The bigger story is that the Philippines has been incubating social enterprises long before the word became fashionable.

CARD is a pioneer in micro finance. Hapinoy has been creating innovative supply chain solutions to the quintessential feature of Filipino retail – the sari-sari store. Sari has been developing interesting point-of-sale technology for this space too. Gawad Kalinga, a leader in the space, launched the GK Enchanted Farm with an interesting go-to-market model that links producers and consumers of agricultural products. A seminal moment came last year when Jim Ayala became the first social entrepreneur to win the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for his work to deliver solar powered products to marginalized communities.

These are ventures with the dual objective of addressing a social problem and becoming financial sustainable – not tasteless propaganda-in-the-guise-of-charity we’ve come to expect from most big corporations and local politicians. And the space has now reached a tipping point.

If this generation of entrepreneurs sees social enterprise as a rewarding career path, impact investing scales locally, linkages with international institutions increase, and enlightened leaders get into government,  then there’s no reason the Philippines can’t be known as the Silicon Valley of social enterprise.

We have the raw ingredients: hard-to-solve social problems that require the convergence of skills from the private and public sector, a passionate post-Marcos generation of founders tired of institutional corruption and rent-seeking capitalists, and early pioneers who have proven the model in various sectors, and supporters in government.

What defines Silicon Valley is a hard-to-replicate mix of universities, companies, government support, and maybe even good weather. But what ties the eco-system together is the incredible willingness of people to come together and collaborate. I believe we can create that mix for social enterprises in the Philippines today, and in 10-15 years, see a vibrant industry of social enterprises making as large an impact as huge infrastructure projects to the economy. We need more PEOPLE, diving into well-defined PROBLEMS, and sensible POLICIES from universities and the public sector. And this kind of PPP can arguably make a bigger impact than this administration’s long delayed programs of the same acronym.

There’s value in being recognized as a mecca for social enterprises. It allows the country to attract even more talent from around the world, not only because the Philippines has immense social problems, but because this can be a testing ground for solutions that scale across the developing world. It helps attract the much needed capital to scale up these enterprises. It increases overall career satisfaction and fulfillment, something we’re starting to see becoming a real problem in the high-turnover BPO industry. And as people have seen in the growth of innovation clusters, these effects are self-reinforcing and create a virtuous cycle.

So how can we the scale social enterprise sector? I have four suggestions, most of which will be admittedly hard to pull off:

Teach Business History. It’s a shameful tragedy that our business and economic history is not a widely shared narrative among students. I took up business in university, and not a single class tackled in detail how the Coco Levy Fund single-handedly raped a whole industry, how the Binondo Central Bank prospered, or how government-protected concessions given to cronies and relatives suppressed competition in the guise of economic nationalism (allow Walmart and Amazon to compete in the Philippines, and I can guarantee SM will be obliterated). After World War 2, there were generally only two ways to create vast amounts of wealth for one’s self: collude with the government or avoid it. Collude in order to get a government-protected extractive monopoly, or go underground to avoid taxes and state appropriation.

If the story of Philippine business is widely told, what won’t be remembered are stories of entrepreneurship-against-all-odds (though there are many), but how the wealth of a few was generated from monopolistic rent-seeking companies that extracted from the many.  Business history affect us until today – and the numbers show it. The top 40 families control up to 76% of GDP.  When I read the about the story of Philippine capitalism, I can’t help but feel anger and a profound sense of social injustice. And I guarantee that when more people read about these stories, the less attractive that nice-sounding job in Large Company Inc. will sound and the more compelling social entrepreneurship will be.

English: Manuel V. Pangilinan Center at the At...

Wanted: An Ambeth Ocampo for Philippine Business History. Enemies from Local Elite Guaranteed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Include Social Enterprises in the Investment Priorities Plan. The DTI each year lists priority sectors that can qualify for a cocktail of government benefits in order to boost investments. Though traditional industries such as housing and agriculture are included, it’s perhaps time to recognize the social enterprise sector by explicitly extending benefits such as tax breaks and investment grants. Of course, any business can stake a claim to be working for the social good, so a measurement & verification mechanism will be needed in the same way impact investors use various metrics to measure the impact of a social enterprise.

Redo our Social Contract. Has there been a single Filipino tycoon who’s signed the Giving Pledge, the effort led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet that encourages the world’s billionaires to commit half their wealth to charity? I honestly can’t think of any. So correct me if I’m wrong. I really wish I’m wrong. Because if I’m not, it would be really sad.

The country’s top richest 50 families have a combined wealth of $66 billion. That’s more than a fourth of GDP. Imagine half of this wealth donated to various charitable trusts, endowments, social venture funds, and the like. That’s $33 billion in resources. If you assume that 3% can be drawn down each year, that’s close to $1 billion that can be reinvested back into the economy. For this happen, we need to celebrate real giving and not the superficial ones. The local press seems to joyfully celebrate the donation of $7 million for a school building, but that really is a drop in the bucket and will barely make a dent in the pocket. It also means making it comfortable for tycoons to spread their wealth without fear of appropriation. Most importantly, it takes believing Warren Buffett’s philosophy of rejecting intergenerational wealth – a truly hard thing to do in this country.

Make it Less Risky to Be a Social Entrepreneur. If we can design programs that help social entrepreneurs forget about the downside so they can focus on the upside, then we’ve come a long way.  For instance, policymakers can offer state-sponsored schemes that provide healthcare and education plans to social entrepreneurs. Companies can create secondment programs for executives who want to try out a social enterprise for a year. Education helps aspiring founders to be prepared. The good news is that there is a wealth of accessible knowledge on social enterprises from all over the world.  And I hate to rant about Ateneo again, but if it can channel as much resources to a large-scale fund similar to the University of Michigan’s Social Venture Fund, then we won’t be just winning basketball games, but also the war against poverty.

Today on the Stanford Social Innovation Review...

Stanford is a pioneer in social innovation. How much did we spend on the Blue Eagles again? (Photo credit: techsoupglobal)

Our ASEAN neighbors have come a long way in establishing great brand names for themselves. Singapore is the region’s finance and entertainment hub. Thailand is known for its tourism. Vietnam and Indonesia are fast-growing manufacturing countries. If our generation of entrepreneurs can build this country as the Silicon Valley of social enterprise, then we would have made a great leap forward from the sordid past of Philippine business.

What else can we do? I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts.

Standard
AVA, Entrepreneurship, Founders

Considering a Start-Up? Think Again.

This post was originally published in the Harvard Business Review blog on April 30, 2012. You can find that article here. 

It’s been a banner year for start-ups. With the JOBS Act, the rise of international accelerators, the upcoming Facebook IPO, and the mind-blowing $1 billion Instagram acquisition, you can be sure that droves of young, ambitious founders will be jumping on the start-up bandwagon.

The refrain is all too familiar: If you want to change the world and get rich in the process, then just go for it. In fact, in our book Passion & Purpose, several stories from young leaders involved start-ups. The problem isn’t what the message says, but what it doesn’t. What it fails to say is that the start-up life isn’t for everyone.

In The Lean Start-Up, Eric Ries talked about vanity metrics — numbers that create the illusion of success, rather than validate actual progress. In the same way, vanity entrepreneurs have deeply held illusions and misconceptions about the realities of start-up life.

Vanity entrepreneurs start new ventures for the wrong reasons. They start companies because it’s the cool thing to do. They’re hypnotized by the enormous myth-making apparatus of modern mainstream media, the coveted slot on Techcrunch, and the likes on their Facebook updates. They overestimate the glamour and underestimate the grind. And as ubiquitous stories of success spread in social media, these illusions become powerful self-delusions. All founders have this vanity within them, in varying degrees. In a way, it’s what drives them to succeed. What matters is the extent it takes hold of their judgment.

As founders can attest, what you encounter deep in the start-up trenches will be far from your mental projection and expectations of the future. The harsh reality is that being a founder is more an exercise in psychological readiness. In the intense ups and downs you’ll be going through, your emotional maturity will matter more than your skill set. It requires having the social intelligence to pick the right cofounder. It’s learning to live with lower pay and higher sacrifices in exchange for a very uncertain future benefit. It’s being responsible for the people in your team, taking the blame when they screw up, but sharing the credit when they succeed. It’s juggling to manage your team, customers, investors, and strategic partners all at once. It’s learning to balance the freedom creativity required to prosper with the operational discipline to hit the next milestone. Layer this on top of the usual personal and family pressures, and it’s hard to see how any sane person would choose this path.

So how do you know if you have a vanity entrepreneur in you?

You are attracted to titles. If you were always concerned about being “Managing Director,” you’re probably not ready to dive into a path that requires you to worry about everything from closing that deal to taking out the trash. A simple way to verify: See if that internship you had freshman year had an over-the-top title.

You need constant affirmation. As my coauthor Daniel Gulati pointed out, the typical corporate job is filled with variable rewards in the form of promotions, praise from peers, and publicity. In start-ups, you lose the vast majority of these positive reinforcement mechanisms. Validations of progress aren’t as clear cut. You need to be ready to endure the complexity when some pieces of data tell you that you’re wrong, while others say you’re doing a great job.

You believe a start-up is “good on the resume.” In a recent Techcrunch article, Geoff Lewis talked about the MBA who felt a start-up stint would be good for his growing list of achievements. “Even if the startup ends up going nowhere, graduating from Y Combinator would be such a great credential,” the MBA supposedly said. Think twice if your resume gets more share-of-mind than building great products.

Your lifestyle is keeping you from diving in. If the major stumbling block keeping you from founding a start-up is the need for financial security to buy that latest designer bag or go on that trip to New Zealand, then you’re probably not in the right mind-set yet. Not only will you need to take a pay cut and spend less, you’ll have to push your employees to do the same by thinking of creative solutions to conserve cash in order to stretch your runway. Bootstrapping is an art form, and your lifestyle choices will get in the way of that. Don’t force it.

We’re all susceptible to myths. The new zeitgeist is that entrepreneurship is the be-all and end-all path. But the first step in deciding whether to be a founder is to manage the vanity that’s in all of us, and not be blinded by the herd.

Key Takeaways

The first step in deciding whether to be a founder is to manage the vanity that’s in all of us. Tweet

Vanity entrepreneurs start new ventures for the wrong reasons. Tweet

The harsh reality is that being a founder is more an exercise in psychological readiness. Tweet

Standard
Entrepreneurship

To Find Happiness, Forget About Passion

This post first appeared in the Harvard Business Review blog on January 13, 2012. You can find the original post – along with the interesting conversations in the comments section – here

Several years ago, a friend decided she wanted to follow her passion. She loved the liberal arts and academe. She was a talented graphic designer, a great writer, and was the president of a student club. But the prospect of working a nine-to-five job was never interesting. I can’t blame her. After all, ours is a millennial generation proselytized to pursue our dreams. So she spent seven years getting a PhD, writing an award-winning dissertation in the process. It was a wonderful ride while it lasted, and she was among the happiest people I knew.

Then the recession hit. The value of university endowments crashed. Teaching and research positions were cut. She moved back in with her family, stopped paying off her student loans, and waited two years before getting a minor teaching role in a small research center. Throughout this time, she suffered the anguish of an uncertain future, became socially withdrawn, and felt a sense of betrayal.

It’s a poster tale for our times. Was following her passion worth it?

Like myself, today’s twentysomethings were raised to find our dreams and follow them. But it’s a different world. And as the jobless generation grows up, we realize the grand betrayal of the false idols of passion. This philosophy no longer works for us, or at most, feels incomplete. So what do we do? I propose a different frame of reference: Forget about finding your passion. Instead, focus on finding big problems.

Putting problems at the center of our decision-making changes everything. It’s not about the self anymore. It’s about what you can do and how you can be a valuable contributor. People working on the biggest problems are compensated in the biggest ways. I don’t mean this in a strict financial sense, but in a deeply human sense. For one, it shifts your attention from you to others and the wider world. You stop dwelling. You become less self-absorbed. Ironically, we become happier if we worry less about what makes us happy.

The good thing is that there are a lot of big problems to go by: climate change, sustainability, poverty, education, health care, technology, and urbanization in emerging markets. What big problem serves as your compass? If you’re a young leader and you haven’t articulated this yet, here are some things you can do.

Develop situational awareness. There’s too much focus on knowing the self. Balance this with knowing the world. Stay in touch. Be sensitive to the problems faced by the unfortunate and marginalized. Get out of the office and volunteer. If you’re in school, get out of the classroom. It’s been a long time coming, but business schools are finally instituting changes that put the real world at the center of their programs.

Look into problems that affect you in a very personal way. We’re more likely to be motivated by problems we can relate to on a personal level. In Passion & Purpose, Umaimah Mendhro recounts her story fleeing a war-torn Pakistan with her family and how the experience of dodging bullets to escape helped her summon the wherewithal to found thedreamfly.org, an initiative that helps create connections across communities in conflict.

Connect with people working on big problems. In a world where problems are by their very nature interdisciplinary, just getting to know people who are passionate about one problem leads to discussions on how other problems can be solved. When Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala helped reinvent Manila Water to better provide for the Philippines’ capital, he had to deal not only with the typical issues a public utility had to face, but also with problems related to climate change, technology, and community development.

Take time off and travel. Forget about traveling as a tourist. Instead, structure a trip that takes you off the beaten path. Go to an unconventional place. Backpack and get lost. The broader and richer experience pays dividends down the line. Steve Jobs described his time living in India as one of the most enriching and mind-opening phases of his life, and this undoubtedly helped him develop the intuition to solve the big problem of making lives simpler through technology.

We don’t find happiness by looking within. We go outside and immerse in the world. We are called to a higher purpose by the inescapable circumstances that are laid out on our path. It’s our daily struggles that define us and bring out the best in us, and this lays down the foundation to continuously find fulfillment in what we do even when times get tough.

Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. We’ve been told time and again to keep finding the first. Our schools helped developed the second. It’s time we put more thought on the third.

Key Takeaways

Forget about finding your passion. Instead, focus on finding big problems. Tweet

Happiness comes from the intersection of what you love, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. Tweet.

Standard