On Sexy Vs. Urgent, Not Playing the Field Enough, and Why You Mustn’t Roll Like Rick

choiceWe’ve heard it from so many pundits and experts already (including me): there is SO MUCH opportunity now, the time to do a startup is now, blah blah blah.

I do agree with this, obviously. Wholeheartedly. Just compared to this same time last year, I’ve seen so many  entrants, foreign and local, angel and VC, wanting to splurge their investment money on new ideas.

This is why I squirm around a lot. I see a lot of opportunity lost – good people pitching blah ideas. (Incredibly, I’m starting to see blah ideas get some funding, but that’s another topic)

I know that perhaps this is part of the learning process, but c’mon ANOTHER e-commerce site with no defensible niche? A whole startup banking on the success of ONE app on the appstore? (a dangerous proposition) Another ad-based web/mobile site? (a successful investor recently told me most shrewd investors now shy away from anything ad-based) Another nice-to-have?

I think we need to improve what we choose to focus on.

Startups should be all about solving problems, right? I think there is a great need for us to DIVE DEEPER within these problems.

Sexy vs. Urgent

Is your idea solving an URGENT problem? This is one thing I think a lot of ideas suffer from. They endeavor to solve problems which aren’t urgent. If they aren’t urgent, then people won’t open their wallets NOW to find a solution.

Look, I’m not saying doing another e-commerce site is a bad idea, but you know, if you are open, there just might be some other idea which just might be more interesting to focus on.


Not Playing the Field

Sometimes I think a lot of people just pick the first idea they get excited about. Perhaps we can ally with another person who’s also excited about the idea. Then we go all in already! One Great Leap! Game! Game!

Stop. Take a breather. Just try to see if there are other alternatives to focus on.

I think the big gap here is research. Let me simplify the term if it sounds too intimidating. I think the big gap here is talking to people. 

Last week I talked to a friend who owns a startup-FMCG which manufactures and distributes powdered goods mainly to sari-sari stores across the country. In the sari-sari store, his brands compete with the big boys, like Nestle and Kopiko, etc….

Ever-curious, I asked him, “So dude, what’s your biggest prob… no wait, what’s the biggest problem of your industry?”

He quickly shares: “Collection. Since sari-sari stores do not have credit cards and pay our collectors in cash, we experience a lot of stuff like collector theft, owners disappearing, and so on.”

“How much are we talking about”

“As much as 3%-5% of total sales.”


(To have an idea how big “total sales” of ONE national brand is, ask your friends in FMCG’s. Go on, text them now)

“And EVERYONE experiences this?”

“Yep. Everyone. Big player, small player. Everyone.”

So immediately after my chat, I make a call to another friend who owns a national distribution company.

“Is this true bro, up to five freaking percent?”


FMCG’s apparently lose BILLIONS because of this problem.

It’s a big problem. It’s an urgent problem. It’s a problem that’s probably seen in other countries like ours.

How do you solve collection at the sari-sari store level?

Isn’t a problem like this so much more real/interesting/rewarding to lean on and solve than say, “what app hasn’t been done yet and would go extremely viral?”

If you come up with a solution to this collection problem, won’t investors line up at your doorstep?

(you got an idea on how to solve this? hit me up 🙂

Well, guess what? If you look hard enough, talk to enough people, you will find that there are literally, HUNDREDS of opportunities like this. (coffee talks rule)

This fact makes a lot of serial entrepreneurs/investors giddy. They know how true this is and realize how we are all like kids in a candy store – but only if we open our eyes. 

Talk to experts. Know what the MOST PAINFUL PAIN-POINTS are. Ensure the market will pay loads for a solution. And then, ONLY THEN, should you unleash your entrepreneurial problem-solving awesomeness on it.

Falling in Love With Your Initial Idea

A very promising young entrepreneur pitched an idea in Open Coffee awhile back. It was an e-commerce platform. As usual, people gave some suggestions. Then one person said, hey you know, maybe you could pivot it this way…

Then, the crowd just buzzed. Hands went up. “Hey, THAT could work!” Several people excitedly agreed.

Armed with this validating experience, what happened? Nothing. Last time I checked, the idea promising young entrepreneur was working on was exactly the same. No further research, no checking things out.

Two years

I know other people who’ve been pitching the same idea to investors for two years now. Hey, you know, there just  might be a reason why no one’s picking it up.

Perhaps this is one weakness of our Filipino culture. Westerners will just tell you “it sucks.” We, however, are much kinder and supportive here. We will say, “Hey perhaps with a little tweaking this would work.”


“I think you have a great thing on your hands just keep at it.”


“This is super! It’s just not for me, but I’m sure other people will love it!”

Perhaps he’s just not that into you. 

DON’T fall too much in love with your product or idea. This is the whole point of Lean Methodology – dropping things when they don’t work.

Don’t Roll Like Rick!

Look, I know it’s tough. It’s YOUR baby. It’s painful to hear. You’ve spent countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears working on this. Your friends and your mom say it’s cool and everything.

If you are to be successful though, a VITAL factor will be your ability to DROP stuff.

Research. Listen and learn from people who’ve been there. Select wisely. Lean in.

2 thoughts on “On Sexy Vs. Urgent, Not Playing the Field Enough, and Why You Mustn’t Roll Like Rick

  • Great articles and some key truths in here. As a westerner making a home in Manila, and supportive of the local start-up scene, I see many of the same mistakes all entrepreneurs can make (my idea is awesome even if no-one else agrees), compounded by a cultural willingness to support a bad idea or (even less constructive) accept a bad idea as good enough. I’m not suggesting a cultural shift (I adore the empathy in everyday life), just that entrepreneurs should find the tools to demand criticism and then do something about it.

    At the same time, investors could go a long way here to accept some risk, after all, do we really need another franchise?

    • I think local investors are really evolving – pretty fast actually versus, say how they were 4-5 years ago (as recently as 3 years ago I knew some investors were like,”i want 80% of your firm since will carry 100% of the risk).

      Hmmmm. I guess the stubborn entrepreneur will just have to learn the hard way, eh? Not a pretty bad way to learn, either.

      Hey, I’m really glad and thankful for your love of the country, dude. Thank you for investing and believing in us.

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