[Executive Edge] The 14 people who Filipino entrepreneurs must meet
As entrepreneurs, I’m sure you’ve heard the saying many times before: It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.
This cliché exists for a reason – there’s some truth to it, particularly in the Philippines. Like it or not, the people you choose to surround yourself with play a huge role in how far you will go in business.
Lucky for us, the startup ecosystem in the country is small enough, that instead of giving you broad networking principles (“Always try to provide value first.”), we can instead name specific people every entrepreneur ought to meet.
I asked 13 Philippine business leaders for their personal recommendations on who to meet. Of course, in addition to the people they name, I would suggest you try to meet the recommenders as well: They are the people changing the very landscape of Philippine business.
Paul Rivera, Co-founder and CEO of Kalibrr
Rivera said, “Aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those interested in e-commerce startups, should meet Nix Nolledo, one of the most successful technology entrepreneurs in the Philippines and active angel investor in the country and region. Every meeting with him is filled with insight about the market opportunities he sees, stories about his own entrepreneurial journey, and advice on how to build a lasting organization.”
He continued, “One of the hallmarks of a great angel investor is someone who has been an entrepreneur because they’ve lived in your shoes. Because he’s been on both sides of the table, he has a nuanced perspective on every problem I throw at him and it’s great to be able to call or email someone like that whenever you need help.”
No one knows investors better than Rivera: To date, Kalibrr has raised over US$2 million.
Kathleen Largo, Brand Cultivator of Homegrown
“I recommend meeting Danella Yujuico Yaptinchay of Full Suite,” Largo said. “She’s a meaningful connector and proactive collaborator. She has helped a good number of entrepreneurs connect with other businesses and service providers, which I think every starting entrepreneur needs in terms of getting work done and getting support from the community.”
Largo continued, “Her vision about the Filipino startup ecosystem has shaped my opinion about entrepreneurship in general. She never fails to offer her network to help with my projects that need partners and sponsors, and she is also very insightful in spotting opportunities to collaborate.”
Gian Javelona, Co-Founder and CEO of OrangeApps
Javelona said, “I’d recommend Earl Valencia. He actually helped me build my own startup from scratch, showing me the real world of entrepreneurship and how to turn my idea to a reality.”
“I think Sir Earl is a person that you can talk to or pitch your business idea easily. He will listen to you and will give you feedback on how can you improve your product or what are the next steps you should do as an entrepreneur.”
Javelona was mentored by Valencia through Ideaspace Foundation, which incubated OrangeApps and helped it build its lastest product in Khawna.
Dustin Masancay, Manila Director for Startup Grind and Associate Director for Ideaspace
“Jojy Azurin is definitely one of the key local entrepreneurs to meet,” Masancay said. “He is the Regional Director for Continental Asia at Freelancer.com, the world's largest marketplace for online outsourcing.”
Masancay explained, “He is not only known in the startup community for having successfully exited from multiple businesses prior to joining Freelancer but also for being a generous mentor to a number of fast rising startup founders. What’s also remarkable about him is his humility, authenticity to just help out and pay-it-forward mindset!”
Stephen Jagger, Co-founder of PayrollHero
Jagger recommended Walden Chu, the CEO of The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Philippines. He said, “Walden is a man of action. He is constantly on the move, working to build bigger and better businesses. His forethought and willingness to try new things has been extremely helpful for PayrollHero. The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf Philippines was PayrollHero's first customer and it was that relationship with Walden that helped us shape the platform into what it is today.”
Vince Golangco, Co-founder and publisher of WhenInManila.com
Golangco said, “I’d recommend Anton Diaz of OurAwesomePlanet.com – he's like the godfather of blogging and online marketing. He's been there and done it! Anton was able to succeed online and even take his business ventures offline through the food markets like Mercato. Moreover, he's a natural mentor and leader who is always ready to share and provide insights if you can be fortunate enough to catch him.”
Diaz helped Golangco with the inaugural Blogapalooza last year, which aimed to connect businesses with bloggers. Diaz brought in more vendors, bloggers, and media, all of which contributed to making the event a resounding success.
Clayton Wood, Managing Director of TrueLogic Online Solutions
Wood said, “One 'can't miss' person to meet and spend time with is Itamar Gero, one of the most influential people in the tech scene today. Every interaction with him is full of insight, and he feeds on idea generation. It's not often you get ideas on micro level items as well as big picture thinking.”
Wood has successfully collaborated with Gero many times in the past, including through their current venture, TrueLogic, of which Gero serves as CEO. Wood said, “He and I have started a few brands in the Digital Marketing & IT space. He's helped in a major way with the technology platform development that serves customers. This platform will be available for Filipino brands soon.”
Valenice Balace, Co-founder and CEO of Peekawoo
Balace recommended Mitch Padua, “one of the best product managers and leaders I’ve worked with so far.” Padua taught Balace many lessons relevant to her company, Peekawoo, which she eagerly recounted.
Balace said, ““Fail fast, fail cheap” is what I hear from Mitch all the time. Launch something to try now and learn while using as minimal resource as possible. If it goes well, then go full blast. If it doesn’t at least the company didn’t spend millions of pesos in it. Balace applied this to Peekawoo.
She explained, “We launched a month after getting funding. It was a very Alpha looking site but we manage to get 14,000 users in 4 months since launch. We’ve proven we have a market and traction. 8 months in, we’ve been featured many times including BBC and investors lined up and ready to take Peekawoo forward.
Francis Simisim, Co-founder and CEO of Social Light
Simisim said, “I would recommend Jeffrey Sy of Galleon.ph. He has been a big help to me with starting Social Light Inc. He was able to help me out in the beginning when we struggled by simplifying certain processes and by providing a different perspective which helped me steer our company in the right direction.”
Simisim continued with his endorsement: “He's really keen on sharing his insights and perspective. And he's an awesome guy who would take that extra step to help you out. And to add to that, he gives you straight no-nonsense advices which really helps.”
Sy’s advice has clearly paid off – ZionWIFI, which aims to make WIFI social, is gaining a lot of traction from businesses.
John Dang, Co-founder and CEO of ZipMatch
Like Paul Rivera, Dang also recommended that entrepreneurs meet Nix Nolledo. Dang said, “When I first met Nix, he understood the value of what we are trying to do and he can see the future the way I was looking as well as other opportunities this can lead to. When I gave him ideas on how we can grow our business, he gave me introductions to people who can help accelerate us.”
“He's even sat down with me in one of these meeting where afterwards he gave me advice,” Dang said. “He told me your story and proposal is compelling and it can make all the sense in the world from a business perspective, but it's important you show ‘empathy’ if you're going to succeed in the Philippines. It makes the deals so much easier when people feel you care about them. It’s these little things that a mentor can tell you that will make all the difference to your success. I think mentors like Nix who are so willing to help are rare in the Philippines and in this country you need all the help you can get to make a difference.”
John Bailon, Co-founder and CEO of Baicapture
Bailon said, “I would say Jardine Gerodias. Jardine's experience in running multiple successful companies comes in very handy. Seeing him working first-hand has given me great insight as to how one person achieves as much he has at such a young age. His work ethic is comparable to none. His knack for completing the small details taught me that those small details come together and ultimately become big successes.”
Walter Wong, Co-founder of Action Stack
Wong said, “I’d recommend meeting Dush Cheng and Terence Lok of ZAP, which is their third venture together. They sold their second company, Deal Dozen, at the start of the year, after running it profitably for 3 years. At one point they were the fourth largest deal site in the country in terms of revenue, giving close competitors a run for their money. What’s even more amazing was at that time, Deal Dozen was a team of 6, including the two of them, while one of their closest competitors had about 60 people on its payroll.”
“They hustle a lot, are very resourceful, and are very hands-on,” Wong praised. “I like that they do a lot of the dirty work themselves, even as they’re pretty good at strategy and big picture. They’re only 27, but I think they’ve experienced and accomplished quite a bit, so they’ve given me lots of good advice. Often it’s pretty solid because it comes from first-hand experience.”
Francis Plaza, Co-founder and CTO of Muber
Plaza, who is already a CTO at just 20 years of age, had a very heartfelt endorsement for his co-founder and friend, Leo Lope Lofranco. Plaza said, “There's no one better I can credit the success of Muber than to my co-founder, Leo Lope Lofranco. While we were both in Cambridge (me a senior at MIT, he was at Harvard), I was more interested in doing Muber (then Project Balik Bayan) as a school project while Leo took this side project into a fledgling startup.”
“Working together with Leo, we have developed a full-scale application in a span of few months while he independently taught himself web technologies. As a self-taught hacker, Leo has given me fresh insights into my development strategies. As a leader, he showcased our ideas to as far places as San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, and Jacksonville. As a friend, we have traveled together across different continents, gaining a lot insights that turned out to be very valuable in realizing the full potential of our startup.”
Plaza continued, “There's definitely a lot of things to learn from Leo, from topics in Biology to a very riveting talk in law. A very talented person that everyone, not just aspiring entrepreneurs must meet. He'd be seen hanging out around Ateneo, so that's probably where you'd most likely catch him.” – Rappler.com