Ambition + Innovation = Startup

If I buy a Jollibee franchise, would that be a startup? If I open a sideline internet cafe while I’m handling my day job – is this a startup?

There are several definitions thrown around now about what a startup is and isn’t. Here’s mine:

Ambition + Innovation = Startup

First, a startup is all about ambition. It doesn’t want to be another player in the market. It aims to be the BEST player in the market, or better yet, it aims to find entirely new blue ocean markets.

When I was still in Chikka Asia, one phrase thrown around a lot was “global domination.” This is a startup. Morphlabs, a local cloud computing firm recently  was granted 5 million dollars in funding ( to do cloud computing for the international market. This is a startup.

What about that internet cafe you opened or that solitary coffee shop you founded and named after your daughter? (tipong Julie’s) Unless its a real goal for you to topple Netopia or Starbucks – nope, not a startup.  These are more lifestyle businesses.

So wait, wait, wait, what if i buy…20 Jollibee  and 20 Labandera franchises? Is that ambitious enough for you, Peter? Huh?! 

This brings me to the next criteria – innovation. A startup wants to create a dent in the universe. Nowadays, in order for you to do that, you need to innovate. Are you really making a dent, are you really changing things up, if you buy 20 Jollibee franchises? A true startup tries to destroy the status quo, not to preserve it. Your 20 Jollibee franchises helps Jollibee make a dent, not you. You know what a true startup entrepreneur in the food business would use that money for? He would use it to create a NEW Jollibee – which was precisely what happened when Edgar Sia II recently changed the landscape with Mang Inasal, forcing Jollibee to buy it for 3 billion. Mang Inasal – now that’s a startup story. And lest we forget, Jollibee, which forked over the 3 billion, and is now busy trying to take over the world, is another great startup story.

Actually, ambition and innovation now go hand-in-hand, very tightly. You want to rule a market? You have no choice but to innovate. Google stole Yahoo’s thunder by creating a better algorithm. Facebook killed MySpace and Friendster by delivering an entirely new and unique user experience. I remember eating in a Mang Inasal for the first time a few years ago, it was at the Starmall branch. The chicken wasn’t as good as some of the standard inasal shops around, but it wasn’t a huge drop, and I didn’t need to wait long for it. That was an industry first, fast-food chicken inasal.  But there was more. There was someone going around with unlimited rice strapped on. The furniture was different. There were these videos playing as well, not your typical music videos or an NBA game, but there was some guy having fun explaining the Mang Inasal concept. I remember thinking (in tagalog, but translated here), “someone put a lot of thought into how this would go together.”  And it did come together, and the experience was just different. Innovative.

Ambition + Innovation = Freaking Difficult

Of course. No one said it would be easy. People who put up startups are not after comfort. It deliberately tackles the biggest mountains head-on, armed with ingenuity, passion, tenacity, and by the sheer force of their will. Making dents in the universe isn’t easy. It’s not for everyone. But if you find yourself nodding as you read this, you are precisely the person I want to reach out to. Go for it. We need you.

Don’t get me wrong. Lifestyle and small business entrepreneurs are very much needed by our society and economy. I am all for them.

But if you are going to dream anyway, why not dream big?

Small steps ARE the giant leaps

It doesn’t need to be a giant leap. Perhaps you don’t need to quit your day job just yet. But start something. Enough of the Starbucks dreaming with your friends on that idea you wanted to do. Start doing it.

Small steps.

The small steps are the great ones. They allow you to digest the grand adventure you are undertaking into bite-sized pieces. They also allow you to generate much-needed momentum to take the bigger leaps.

 In 2004, I had my big idea. It was to create a benefits-based HR technology firm. I do remember multiple times when I decided to put these thoughts aside thinking, “ME?! Start a firm?”

However, it would gnaw at me periodically. I would have near-sleepless nights imagining and think to myself, “hey, this could work.”

I finally put my ideas on Powerpoint. In retrospect, this was crucial. Creating those slides was my first small step. I then proceeded to think about people whom I think could help me build the firm. I made a list of people whom I thought would be interested in the idea AND would complement my skill set – this was my next small step. I spent a number of weeknights having coffee-talks with each of these people, openly sharing about my idea, and asking for their opinions. In other words, I was recruiting.

Momentum was created, and soon, we were having brainstorming sessions in my house. Soon, I was signing SEC incorporation papers. Soon, we had a STORM email address. Soon, we started operations. Soon, we landed our first client. 3 years after, I took a deep breath and took the plunge – forever turning my back on the corporate career I had built. Soon, I was thinking about more startups.

Small steps leading to bigger steps.

What small steps could you take?