I remember texting Peter right after my interview with Joey Gurango, which was just days before Startups Unplugged. In my text, I asked Peter about what he thought about posting an uncut version of Joey’s interview on JGL. The reason for my suggestion was that after my interview with Joey, I was completely taken aback by the incredible knowledge that he was sharing with me; even though I wasn’t a techie, Joey’s stories resonated with me and schooled the heck out of me. Everything Joey shared with me just seemed so important, so I wanted to post everything that he said. While I must admit, I’ve omitted some parts of the conversation to be practical, this is still a very raw version of what Joey shared with me. I hope this piece will allow Joey’s stories and insights to speak for itself. The other portions of his story will be coming soon! In the meantime, sit tight and allow the sublime to take its course.
When did you start and why?
Joey: My first business was in 1981. I was at the University of Washington and I did a pizza delivery business. Out of necessity, I figured that most college kids living in dorms were too lazy to go down to the pizza place to get their own pizza, so I just setup a phone and gave out fliers. Then, I waited for people to call me and ask for an order. I had Dominos, Godfather’s, and Pizza Hut menus and they [the customers] would call and tell me what they wanted. I’d put a 15% surcharge on whatever they ordered, but I would get their money first (Joey chuckles). The pizza delivery business was actually my first real business. My first real tech business was in 1984. I had worked for apple computer for a little over 2 years. The Macintosh just launched, and I got this idea to make something called desktop furniture for the Macintosh. So with that I started a company with some money because back then it was really expensive to build injection mold products by the mold. Everything was going great…and then in 18 months we went bankrupt, so that was my first experience.
Why’d you guys go bankrupt?
Joey: ‘Cos we spent more than we made. Real simple. We were making a lot of money. I think the first 6 months, we had over $1 million in revenue. But then the next 6 months, it didn’t quite reach a million dollars. Then after that, I decided that I didn’t want to be in hardware anymore. I started my first software company… that was 1987…Match Data Systems. I started that doing excel custom programming. In 1991, I decided to move the company back here [Philippines]. By then Windows had come out, so we moved from Macintosh to Windows. We were one of the first, as far as I know in Asia, that were doing Windows development work. One thing led to another. In 1999, by then we kind of branched out into ERP software, a company called Great Plains software acquired us, so we become Great Plains Philippines. Two years later, Microsoft acquired Great Plains, so I become a Microsoft employee. Then, I stayed with Microsoft for two years in 2001. I’ve basically had three jobs in my life. My first job was with Apple computer. My second job was with a training company for less than year. My third job was with Microsoft. Then I started my first software company and haven’t really worked for anybody else, until my company was acquired, so technically I was working for a multinational company, but it never really felt that way, which is why I left.
Why did you move back to the Philippines?
Joey: My first company did custom software development. First for the Macintosh. We did a lot of excel work…a lot of data base programming for the mac. The problem was, since we were doing a lot of excel work, I would train these fresh grads on developing for the graphic leisure interface, and then because Microsoft was really heavy into doing Windows development back then, they kept hiring them away from me. Microsoft would give them double the pay. I was getting frustrated because we were losing programmers in the US. Our office was literally a 5 minute drive away from Microsoft headquarters. At the time, my brother was visiting the States from the Philippines. He says, “You know we have programmers in the Philippines?” “Really? Do you even have PCs there [in the Philippines]?” I said. He replied, “Oh yeah! We have dBase programmers.” So that’s when the idea struck me that I could have the company in the Philippines and continue servicing my US customers. And it would be cheaper, and I wouldn’t have to worry about losing these guys because nobody else would hire them because we were doing stuff that nobody else was doing. That’s why I came back. We were doing offshore outsourcing before it was even a term.
What experiences or skills from abroad did you find most valuable for starting up in the Philippines?
Joey: The one thing I’d say it’s not really a skill or experience, but more of an attitude. Through the years I’ve realized that the only difference, in general, between people in the countries like the US and here, when it comes to things like business and startups, is not knowledge, skills, IQ or EQ, but the big different shader is the willingness to risk and face failure. In the US, it’s not a big deal if you’ve started a company or even failed for that matter. My first real company went bankrupt after 18 months. We raised $250,000 in investor funds to start that company and in 18 months it was all gone. We never gave the investors back a single cent. Nobody was coming after to me trying to have me assassinated. There’s no shame in it. There’s no social stigma with that type of failure in the US. If I were to say what was the most helpful thing was to bring that mentality over here. Compared to most of the local technical guys, I was pretty fearless. I was willing to buy stuff that nobody else would consider. However, I’ve come to learn that taking the entrepreneurial path is not that risky. If you do it in the right way –like all the things I’ve learned just in the last five years- if you know how to do business modeling, practice lean startup and customer discovery, test and validate assumptions, it can be quite low-risk. It’s still not as low-risk as getting a job and a consistent paycheck, but it can get pretty close. I think if I knew what I knew today, it [the business] wouldn’t have gone bankrupt, but I would have shut it down a lot sooner. Now I can say that it’s not really that risky to be an entrepreneur, if you know how to do it right.