From Startup to Scale in 3 Escalating Leaps

Years ago when I graduated, I had no special commendations. My grades were slightly above-average. Flunked one or two, if I remember right. I have no MBA. No special connections. I was raised in a middle-income family, where I contributed a portion of my earnings as a breadwinner along with my brother. I never got the chance to work abroad. I started my professional career out as a high school English teacher, and then entered corporate life as an HR Officer.

I remember slowly going up the corporate ladder. The frustration of it. The ups and downs. The multiple crises, quarter-life and otherwise. You know.

I remember refusing to have my dreams slowly snuffed out by reality though. I remember taking some leaps. Some small, some big.

Fast forward. STORM is now Philippines’ largest flexible benefits provider. It has since developed multiple enterprise products and will hit 100,000 employees on its platforms in 2017. It managed to raise P190 million in 2015. It is now starting to expand to other countries.

It is a Blessing. A literal dream come true.

I wanted to tell you the story of the three definitive leaps I took to take STORM from a startup founded in my living room to where it is now. It is my hope that you get see what I see: that if I managed to take these leaps, you can too.

First Leap: May 2005

My very first inspiration in doing a startup was boredom.

After some years in the HR track as a manager, I quickly got familiar with the cadence of the function. In typical companies, first quarter was when recruitment happened, it was when I visited the different campuses for job fairs and also the time when more veteran professionals looked for work (after bonus season). Second quarter was arranging the summer outing and midyear evaluations. Fourth quarter was the busiest with planning, final performance evaluations, and promotions. In between, I handled a whole bunch of people problems.

Year after year, it was like this.

I could forecast what EXACTLY what I’d be doing months ahead. Even after I’d get promoted or transfer companies, this cadence would soon catch up with me and I’d get bored out of my wits. There was also an underlying desperation that I tried to avoid confronting: was I TRAPPED in this career I had chosen?

Fortunately, I had this business idea I was excited about to keep me sane and professionally excited about something.

In the first (consulting) company I worked for, I was lucky to have been the project manager for one of the first flexible benefit systems implemented in the country. I tried to pitch it internally as a possible business line for the firm I worked with, but it was quickly rejected (“we won’t spend for a product with no clear market”).

This rejection galvanized me into thinking — hey, maybe I could do it myself!

I rationalized that for my idea to really be palatable to companies, I needed it to be a software product (as opposed to me being an implementations consultant).

Therefore, I needed a technical co-founder.

When I think about it now, the VERY FIRST leap I did was a small and innocuous one: a created a pitch deck using Powerpoint.

Then, I worked my ass off.

In 2005, the local Philippine startup ecosystem was nonexistent. There were no events to look for co-founders in. No Linkedin or Facebook. (as far as I recall, no one used Friendster then as a networking tool) I instead networked old-school (I asked my friends out for coffee and asked them if they knew anyone else interested) and used all my weekend mornings to talk to different people. Must’ve talked to over 50 people.

I lucked out and found the perfect partner, Paolo.

With an investment P30,000 each, we founded STORM and set up shop in my living room. Paolo went in fulltime immediately. Since I was breadwinner, I couldn’t afford the risk and contributed to STORM part-time. To save money, we set up the first office right inside my 1-bedroom condominium. We also begged for used furniture from our friends:

Again, I worked my ass off. I worked a fulltime job as an HR Director and spent nearly all of my spare time working on STORM.

Second Leap: July 2008

The company would grow SLOWLY over the next 2 years.

Then, during the summer of 2008, Paolo approached me and asked, “Dude, can I talk to you?”

“Can I talk to you” — never good news 🙂

After 3 years of STORM, Pao wanted to do something else.

In my mind, I thought STORM was done. After all, at that time we had just lost our biggest client (via fax!), and if Pao left, no one would run the show fulltime.

Wait, what if I go fulltime?

I would quickly block out and relegate thoughts like this as sheer folly.

After all, it was ALSO right smack in the middle of the global financial crisis. What’s the first budget that goes out the window for companies during a crunch? Yep, the HR budget.

But in my prayer time, taking this preposterous leap became a very powerful theme I couldn’t shake off.

I started to look at the numbers. They weren’t so encouraging.

Resigning and going full-time for STORM meant swallowing an 80–90% paycut during a year when my eldest, Joaquin was born.

During this particular time, the savings in my bank account was wiped clean when the person I loaned the amount in good faith disappeared.

I asked some of my wisest friends for advice. ALL of them said to wait it out. They understood my passion for STORM, but that I needed to wait this out. Perhaps I can let STORM die first, and then start again.

All logic told me to wait.

Instead, I followed this not-so-Small Voice in my heart.

With my wife’s support, I tendered my resignation and bid adieu to my HR Career.

It was the most traumatic and emotional career decision of my life.

It was also the absolute best one I ever made. (Thank God!)

January 2013: Third Leap

Sometime in 2009, Pao came back to STORM and together we began to organically grow the firm. This time was such a learning experience for me as an entrepreneur. It was all bootstrapped. In order for our families to have food on our tables, we needed to be a profitable business.

For the next 5 years, we would grow the company at a very steady pace.

Then, we hit a wall.

Up to this point, we were doing Flexible Benefits like our competitors did: as a software-as-a-service product. We would charge our clients a static monthly fee for use of our system. Employees on the platform would then use our system as a flexible reimbursement system: they would exchange their current benefits into basically, credit. They would then spend on the benefits of their choice using money from their own pocket, and then reimburse it thru our system.

This was a very useful model for us when we started because it gave us a very forecastable fiscal model.

However, this reimbursement-software-as-service model had many limitations: a) a lot of companies don’t have budgets for this sort of innovation on benefits b) the companies that did have budget had a lot of difficulty increasing this budget (we had difficulty negotiating rate increases even just to accommodate inflation) c) the reimbursement system created a whole lot of process problems (human error, reimbursement cheating, etc) d) you have to be financially liquid to use the system.

We then thought of a risky innovation: instead of using a reimbursement system, why can’t we create an internal BENEFITS MARKETPLACE? When people convert their current benefits, they can use the resulting wallet on a marketplace which STORM can offer.

Not only does this completely solve the process problems and the need for the employee to be liquid, but VERY IMPORTANTLY, this will allow us to change the business model. Instead of earning from the client company through monthly fees, we can instead earn from the benefit merchants through margins off of every benefit bought on the marketplace.

This allowed us to separate ourselves from competition by not only offering a superior, more relevant product, but also give us the ability to offer a fantastic value proposition: FREE.

The risks however, were very real: 1) we would have to raise money from the outside because we didn’t have enough money in the bank to execute a massive pivot like that, 2) we would be shifting from a business model that has kept us alive for many years, 3) there were no pegs ANYWHERE for us to learn if this could be done.

In the end, we decided to take a giant leap.

We raised an angel round and executed a successful pivot in 6 months. We then would proceed to quadruple revenue that year, laying the foundation for our bigger fundraise with Xurpas come 2015.

Leaps as a Way of Life

As an entrepreneur, one of the biggest realizations I’ve had in recent years is that in this Innovation Economy we live in, companies need to continually innovate (or die).

This is why STORM continues to invest in new and newer things. It’s why we decided not to rest on our laurels in 2013 and change the entire way we did business.

Very recently, we launched our newest product, Squares, which is something that’s VERY different from the other platforms we’ve been offering.

I think this approach needs to be inculcated individually, as well.

We live in an incredible time when technological revolutions happen on a blindingly fast pace. In order for any individual to capitalize and thrive in this environment, one has to be willing to risk and take leaps.

And if my experience is any indication, ANYONE can.

YOU can.

You just need to…

Take That First, Small Leap

I was never immediately someone who took large leaps.

My very first leap was to spend a few minutes crafting a pitch deck. Then this set me up for the next leap: pitching to potential co-founders on weekends. This allowed me enough momentum and courage for my next leap: parting with P30,000 and starting. Eventually, this paved the way for me quitting my HR career, and so on.

I am still VERY much in this pattern, eager to see the crossroads and opportunities which lie ahead.

Don’t let the world fool you into thinking your dreams are impractical exercises.

What’s your next leap?

What Is Your Fearlessness Quotient?


At work, when we talk about hiring (which we talk about A LOT nowadays), I usually tell my co-managers that I am very interested in hiring “entrepreneurial-minded” people.

Then I’d get often asked:

What does that mean?

That’s a question I’ve been mulling about for ages. What exactly is it? How do you evaluate if someone has it? How do you know if someone has the potential to have it?

There are so many theories on what entrepreneurship is.

Here’s one of mine.

I think, when you distill it, when you boil entrepreneurship down to its basest levels, entrepreneurship is all about fearlessness.

Entrepreneurs just conquer fear.

Innovation, a word long synonymous with entrepreneurship, is all about not being happy with the status quo and doing something better.

How many times have we let the status quo remain because no one had the guts to call it out? Just to even identify that you want to  merely explore changing the status quo can be scary, much more actually trying to change it. Imagine the threats and pressure Elon Musk is facing now from the gigantic industries (petroleum, automobile) Tesla is trying to disrupt. Guts.

Persistence, another word we associate with entrepreneurship, also involves fearlessness. When we fail, it takes a lot of guts to DO THE SAME THING again, knowing the results will likely end in yet another failure. Entrepreneurship involves repeated failure. Legendary Amazon entrepreneur Jeff Bezos recently declared that his failures are worth billions already.  Ballsy.

Entrepreneurs also are known as builders. In STORM, we find this important enough to include in one of our value statements, which says that “we like to build versus maintaining.” To build something also takes guts – because you are putting something out into the world and opening yourself up to criticism.

In his recent, wondrous book which every entrepreneur needs to read, Peter Thiel says that a great entrepreneur is essentially a contrarian at heart. The entrepreneur believes and works on something the rest of the world doesn’t think is true. (For example, Larry and Sergey thought web linkages produce much better search results) It takes A LOT OF GUTS to run counter to what the rest of the world thinks.


So I’ve now included a set of questions on fearlessness which I ask would-be employees.

What’s the ballsiest thing you’ve done?

Tell me about a time when you stuck your neck out for an idea.

Tell me about a time you were criticized for something you created or suggested.

When was the last time you tried something out for the first time? 

As you read this, try to answer them. It’s a good exercise that can give us clues as to what our fearlessness quotient is.

It’s a good indicator on your readiness to make that entrepreneurial leap.

The good news?

Even if you found yourself frustratingly giving crappy answers to these questions, I think fearlessness CAN BE LEARNED.

You need to exercise your fearlessness muscles. How do you build muscle? Reps.

Start with low weights.

When your boss asks your group for questions or suggestions, be sure you do a Hermione and give an answer, even if ESPECIALLY when you think your answer feels a bit stupid.

Suggest ideas. In STORM, one of our best employees, Ethel, suggests things to me very very often (she just emailed another one as I write this). Big ideas or small ones, in her scope of work or beyond it, she would just go for it and suggest. She knows that sometimes, her idea won’t go well with me. Sometimes, it does. But she just puts it out there and learns either way. That’s awesome.

Practice makes perfect.

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Just Touch the Water


It still amazes me how so many of the largest companies in world started out as some crazy idea in someone’s head.

Then, these individuals began talking about it with another person. Perhaps Larry invited Sergey over for a coffee chat, perhaps Steve started an argument with Woz, Hewlett started brainstorming with Packard, Procter meets with Gamble for the first time, and so on.

As the idea is shared, it separates itself from one individual and takes on a life of its own.

Now, two or more people get excited about it.

More talks are scheduled. More energy is generated. Perhaps more people involved.

Then things get actually tried out.

Soon, papers get signed and boom, a company is borne!

This is a very, very familiar process for me…an idea surfaces between 2 or 3 people, excitement is generated, more meetings are arranged, research is done, things get moving, and soon, papers are signed.

Most startups are borne out of momentum. (sustaining it is an entirely different art)

But that first step is something I know is a barrier for some people.

You have to release your idea into the wild.

I know for a lot of people this is a very natural thing, but I also know that for a lot of people, this can be a very unnatural thing, like the shy kid getting ready to be called for orals.

It’s your idea after all, and to share it is to open yourself up to all sorts of imagined criticism and scorn.

If you have an idea though, an idea which you feel very strongly about, (the one which keeps you up at night) you CANNOT just let it remain stagnant in your head. You’re not doing anyone any favors, certainly not yourself.

You have to overcome.

TALK to people about it. What do your friends think? What do experts think? Heck, what do strangers think?

Go to startup events and talk about it. Talk to entrepreneurs in your field about it (entreps are mostly a helpful bunch)

I’d like to suggest JGL’s monthly open coffee 🙂

If you want to make any sort of ripple, you can’t be afraid of touching the water.

How you can use FEAR as a REVERSE Spider Sense


Fear has been my constant companion all throughout my startup career.

I remember feeling I might be laughed at as I was about to present my idea to potential partners or investors.

I remember that crippling feeling. That extreme doubt I felt when I was about to resign from my fulltime job.

I remember hearing all the “no’s” in this journey, the disheartening voices and fearing they actually might be right.

I remember delaying the first-ever post of Juan Great Leap (JGL) for weeks for fear other people might judge me.

After developing several startups (both successes and utter failures), and the unexpected growth of the JGL audience, you’d think I finally would be free from fear’s clutches.

It’s still there.

I’m still scared things might not work. I’m scared people will laugh. I’m afraid of what other people might think. I’m afraid a new startup idea might flop.

The difference now is, not only have I learned to live it, but I have learned how important it is to EMBRACE IT, especially in today’s business climate.

Let me explain.

relayContinuous Innovation Is Now a REQUIREMENT

The industrial age is dead and dying, along with all its guarantees (being an employee of one firm for life, worry-free retirement, etc…).

Innovation is the new currency.

Innovate or DIE. (RIP: Kodak, the big-label music industry, the dodo, etc…)

Companies know this.

Witness how ALMOST ALL companies have “innovation” as a company value, or how billions are poured into R&D.

This is true for both companies and of people.

For example, programmers now cannot invest too heavily in being an expert in one platform. HR people are finding out that job descriptions are getting obsolete (or at best, very high maintenance) because they change all the time. The best corporate managers are those who are able to maintain excellence despite getting deployed to handle very different things and cope with a diverse set of problems.

So how does one cope in this new dynamic?

Becoming flexible.

How does one THRIVE in this new dynamic?

You HAVE to take risks.

Risks automatically comes with a possible downside. That downside is something we fear. (no fear? then it might not be that much of a risk for you)

You want to THRIVE in this environment? Then you have got to face your fears.

Embracing Fear

Quick story. After our first, well-attended Juan Great Leap conference in Ayala-TBI, we were brainstorming as to what to do next. The safe route would have been to do another keynote / panel discussion affair. But then an idea came to mind: what about a group speed dating activity which involves 20+ entrepreneurs?

We all saw the positive possibilities, BUT…

It had never been done before. It would be a logistics nightmare. There were so many questions. Would people hear one another? What if nobody came – this was something very different, so people might not immediately see its value.

It was either going to be work splendidly, or it would crash and burn. There was little in between.

While we were talking about this. A familiar feeling made itself known to me.


This was the precise point when I knew we HAD to do this group speed dating thing.

spideysenseReverse Spider Sense

Spidey’s spider-sense tells him if he is in any immediate danger (spider sense tingling!). Fear has become something of a reverse spider-sense for me. If it tingles – there is opportunity!

Now, when evaluating opportunities, I LOOK for that fear.

Is the fear in me?

If there is no fear, then it could mean either of 2 things:

1) I am not interested in the opportunity.

Subconsciously, I already know I don’t find (or at that moment I am not finding) the opportunity presented interesting. Perhaps because its not within my realm of expertise, or perhaps I just think it isn’t feasible for me.

Possible scenarios like this would include: someone inviting me to invest in a startup in a field I don’t really understand that much, or listening to a salesperson pitch a product I have no use for.

2) There isn’t a great deal of risk

If there isn’t a risk, then I am not too worried about it. Chances are great the possible returns won’t be so hot, either. I can say yes to the opportunity, but it won’t really keep me up at night imagining the possibilities.

Possible scenarios like this would include: someone wanting to give me a 1% share for a startup in return for monthly advice, or doing maintenance work in the office, or choosing what tiles would suit the office bathroom.

But if there IS fear?

Then I probably would be asking a LOT of questions about it. I would be nodding or shaking my head vigorously. I would be up – a lot of times all night – thinking of the pros and cons.

If there is fear, then I know that my subconscious is HIGHLY considering this course of action. It ALREADY knows if the opportunity in question is internally feasible for me or not. I wouldn’t even feel the fear if it were OUTSIDE my capabilities. (see #1 above) Fear tells me there is a possibility I can pull it off.

I ALSO know that this would be something WELL WORTH doing, or at the very least, worth a much longer consideration time. Fear is a sign that the returns would be awesome.

This could involve pursuing a huge pivot for our firm, or pondering the high cost of a GREAT hire, or asking someone to be key member of the founding team or the board, or doing a sales presentation to the CEO or the MANCOM of a potential huge client (not really a decision, but an opportunity nevertheless), proposing to my wife, saying goodbye to my decade-long HR career, or even me in my room, musing about a potential strategy.

Fear has ceased to become crippling. It has become my friend. It can be your friend too.

Hoooh! My friend, Your Friend…Whatever Peter! I’m miles away from that! I’m afraid to even tell my friends I’m thinking about starting something!

It’s a process (like EVERYTHING worth its while), will NOT come overnight, and there are no shortcuts.

Here are some tips that may help:

1) Surround yourself with healthy risk-takers (don’t know anyone? go to startup events, go to open coffee – LOOK for healthy risk-takers)

2) Fail

In some ways, this might be like swimming. The only way for you to learn is to dive in.

There is one HUGE thing that happens when you fail – YOU REALIZE ITS NOT THAT BAD.

Because of our primitive survival instincts, we pre-programmed to assume the WORST. (OHNO, I will be out on the streets if I fail! I will be the laughingstock of the barkada, nay, the whole country! Woe is me! WOE IS ME!)

It’s not that bad.

Of course, I’m not saying you should DELIBERATELY fail – but try doing things out of your comfort zone. Perhaps you can try starting the thing you’ve always wanted to do but always feared, but do so by…

stairs3. Starting with smaller risks

Start with low-risk items, and gradually proceed with bigger ticket risks.

Got an idea?

Level 1: Do a powerpoint (not so risky)

Level 2: Invite close friends and present your idea (a tad risky)

Level 3: Invite not-so-close friends you think would be an expert on your idea and present (riskier)

At this point, you’re BOUND to get some negative comments / rejection already (this ALREADY could be felt as a huge failure for some people)

Level 4: Recruit a Co-founder. Among the people you’ve talked to, do a formal proposal saying that you are DOING the idea and you NEED their help as a partner (risky)

Hey guess what – you’ve started a startup!

(Know anyone who would appreciate this post? Hit the buttons and share below and share!)

Juan Great Leap Calls on 5 More Student Leaders!

I’ll be meeting around 5 student leaders next Wednesday, 4pm, at the STORM conference room, at Unit 602, Centerpoint Building, along Julia Vargas. The main agenda will be: 1) How to push entrepreneurship and the startup movement in universities 2) How to help student entrepreneurs   (Map here) Our conference room seats around 10 people, so there are 5 seats still free. I wanted to open it up to interested parties.

Do you want to join this conversation?

If you are an incoming undergraduate student, interested in entrepreneurship, and you’re the type of person who gets things done, then you might want to join us.

This is the actual room to be used 🙂

If you are interested, please do send me an email at, along with an explanation on why you’d be a good choice.

(know anyone who might be interested in this? forward and share!)

Just Start.

just start

I think sometimes we overestimate what it takes to “start” – especially for those of us who are first-time entreps and don’t exactly know what were doing.

(welcome thought: I suspect most first-time startup founders fall into this category – everyone starts out feeling stupid)

Perhaps we’re thinking:

“Oh gosh, I need to raise a million bucks.”


“I need a technical co-founder who has a 3.8 GPA in computer science.”


“To do this I need to resign from my job and risk everything! Need to prepare.”


“I need to win one of those startup contests!”

You know, if we always think this way, we might never come to the point when we think we’re ready to start. It will end up as just some lofty dream we scarcely scratch. Soon, we may begin to tell ourselves it’s exactly that – just some crazy dream.

I remember when I first realized I wanted to share my experiences as a startup founder and entrepreneur, I wanted to write a book. It was my lofty dream, and it was so hard to start – I felt I had to have the whole book concept crystalized in my mind before starting. The sobering moment came when, after 3 months, I realized there was no progress with what I was trying to do.

So I decided to just start. 

I got a free wordpress account, read a bit about blogging, and just wrote my first post. Then the name just came to me – Juan Giant Leap. But then I realized precisely what I am writing about now – the leap doesn’t need to be GIANT to be GREAT.

I thought that precise nuance was important. So, even if I thought Juan GIANT Leap had the better recall, I went with GREAT.

And so Juan Great Leap was born.

Instead of worrying about starting, just start. 

No need to put distracting pressure on ourselves.

Some practical ways to start simple:

  • Talk about your idea with someone whose opinion you respect, or an industry leader in the idea you are thinking of. 
  • Get some real customer feedback – hold chats with potential customers of the idea you’re thinking of.
  • Attend Open Coffee and pitch your idea (for free, without pressure, with people who want to help)
  • Have dinner with potential co-founders. No need to hard-sell (“Would you want to be my partner?!”), instead coyly just ask for advice. (“I value your opinion, what do you think of this idea?”) If the person is truly interested – and would be a fit – the person would actually volunteer and ask if you need help.
  • Think of a name, and invest a bit in buying a URL. You’ll be amazed at how empowering this is – because in some way, your startup is truly “alive.”
  • Get off your butt. Your startup will never happen if it never leaves the realms of your imagination. Get out and talk about it. Create it. Slowly is surely.

5 Things I’ve Learned from Startups Unplugged

I’ve been trying to push myself to blog Post Startups Unplugged, and share all the instances of serendipity that truly made this miracle happen. However, I thought that it would be more effective if I were to cut to the chase about what I actually learned from it all. Here it goes! These are the 5 things that I’ve learned from Startups Unplugged:

Ask and you shall receive.

I had no shame in asking sponsors to join Startups Unplugged. This is how I usually got in contact with a sponsor:

A kind individual would give me a business card of XYZ individual from XYZ organization, and I’d literally call that person on the spot, even it if was the direct line of the CEO. It might sound too crazy or too bold, but it was a highly effective approach; about 80% of the sponsors that I talked to agreed to sponsoring the event.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that I had a sweet pitch for sponsors because of the incredibly awesome line-up of entrepreneurs that graced us with their presence for Startups Unplugged. The point I’m trying to convey in sharing this experience is to highlight that the simple act of asking makes all the difference in whatever you do. Making that conscious effort to ask is the catalyst to making deals happen.

Set your mind to work with purpose.

As with all startup journeys that start without any capital, it has been a rough and bumpy road. Moreover, as an inexperienced junior entrepreneur, I felt like there were things that I just didn’t think of or understand. I told myself if all else failed in my move to the Philippines, the one thing that I was determined to do was make this event happen. Because I had this mindset, I was able to do things outside of my usual self.

Facebook Ads Work.

On average we would get about 200 views for posts on our FB page. When Peter paid for promotion on FB, the views shot up to as high as 10,000 views. While it’s a big bummer that non-paid posts spark limited visibility, paying a little extra to promote does make a huge difference.

Evenbrite is an awesome tool for event registration! 

I recall getting into a heated discussion with Peter after his recommendation to use Evenbrite for JGL’s Open Coffee. Using a type of registration, in which participants would print-out tickets to attend a coffee chat, just didn’t make sense to me. Eventually, I realized I was wrong about it (Sorry Peter 🙂 )

Eventbrite makes it really easy for event organizers to keep track of attendees. In addition, it allows them to easily communicate with attendees and send attendees updates about the event and post-event activities. Eventbrite is truly a dynamic tool that makes event registration clean, simple, and easy.

Don’t Do it Alone! 

As tempting as it is to play the role of superman, don’t do it!  When there is a strong purpose or cause to what you are doing, people will gravitate towards you. Be open to people’s help and goodwill, and build together!


Justice League by DC Comics
Justice League by DC Comics


Tech Portal, UP-AyalaLand Technohub, Venue for Startups Unplugged
Tech Portal, UP-AyalaLand Technohub, Venue for Startups Unplugged

One of my favorite things about blogging on Juan Great Leap is that I get to document my entrepreneurial journey without much apprehension. The cathartic experience that comes from sharing, as a crazy individual who is just starting in the Philippines, enables me to embrace the fear monster.

From my first Open Coffee to witnessing the art of sharing at living hope, I’m starting to realize why Peter calls Juan Great Leap his gift; there is great reward in giving and sharing for all.

With Startups Unplugged coming up next week, I’d like to share what this event means to me and what I hope to give back to it.

What does Startups Unplugged mean to me? 

Three months ago, I was blurting out ideas to my office mate, Suzie of Searchlight, like a mad scientist at work. I was throwing so many random ideas at her in hopes of finding the right name for this event that would feature an array of entrepreneurs from different fields, and various stages in their personal startup journey. I had to get the name just right to embody what was being communicated to me for its vision.

The idea for the Juan Great Leap event was described to me as a moment that would be much more personal than the typical conference setting. This big event would create a space for attendees to approach entrepreneurs in a more intimate setting, in which they would be encouraged to ask questions to entrepreneurs, and get up, close, and personal with them.

The simplicity of the idea and the intimate space that was being articulated to me triggered imagery from MTV’s Unplugged Sessions, in which artists would get a little more personal with their fans by sharing their music to smaller groups. While the artists still engaged in a performance, they went unplugged- acoustic. The spectacle of the performance was somewhat removed from the presentation of their work to create a moment more raw.

MTV Unplugged 2.0 Episode on November 18, 2001
MTV Unplugged 2.0 Episode on November 18, 2001,
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Now that you know where the inspiration for Startups Unplugged comes from, I’d like to share my own “unplugged” moment in opening up to you about Startups Unplugged.

The metaphor of unplugged tugs at my inner core. As a would-be entrepreneur trying to start up, I know that there’s a lot of pressure for entrepreneurs to present to their audiences in a superhuman fashion.

One personal fear that I am confronted with when I open up to people is knowing that the vulnerabilities that I expose to them may evoke feelings of disbelief and doubt. In contrast, the most vulnerable moments shared can also be the most moving. The movement of the spirit that captures your heart and moves your soul can lead to action, if you allow it to do so.

These are such romantic ideas, I know, and I’m not saying that every moment shared in Startups Unplugged is going to be this deep personal sharing, but think about the possibility of just starting a simple, yet real conversation with leaders and feeders in the startup community.

It’s precisely what I’m attempting to do with you, the reader, in this blog entry. I seek to share a real moment by opening up to you, as so many strangers that I have met -in my strong attempt to get this event off the ground- have done for me. The interactions I have with them keep me moving, in the midst of all the doubt and stumbling blocks that I continue to face.

I’m trying to move you to see Startups Unplugged for what it is to me and what it is for you.

What can Startups Unplugged do for the community?

With the immense support of gracious partners and sponsors, we’re throwing this event for free, as passionate volunteers. I guess that’s why I’m writing in such an airy tone because doing something for free somewhat forces you to realize why you’re being moved as part of  a larger community with a shared goal.

As you witness Startups Unplugged, open your mind to the possibility of where the conversation can take you and the community.

JGL Open Coffee
JGL Open Coffee

For the leaders, the entrepreneurs, in the startup scene, realize the potential in working together, as a startup community, in which you share your gifts and passions. Collaboration will only strengthen you and your enterprise.

For the feeders, everyone else, understand your role in nurturing entrepreneurship for the Philippines and the significance of it to the larger development of this country, for yourself and for Juan.

If you’re unsure of where you fall in the startup community, do not despair. I invite you to participate. It’s a great network to be exposed to. I encourage you to share and be open to receiving. In the end, I’m sure you’ll end up giving too in your own way and own time.

Startups Unplugged means a lot to me. In a way, I see it as my first real contribution in starting up, as an aspiring entrepreneur.

I choose to go unplugged from the start because whether I succeed or fail in this startup journey, I hope that you will learn from my mistakes and successes for every Juan.

Secrets to Change: Write Down Your Ideas

Actions speak louder than words. We can all agree on that, right? Words can simply be thrown around like this “Hello…how…are you? Good. Great.”

Am I giving you any value with those fillers? No, I don’t believe so.

Let me get straight to the point.

Words lose their value if they don’t spark action. Even if you’re literate and you treat them as signifiers, words are worthless if you don’t act upon what you say.

Perhaps, if you have even read some of my blog entries you may have questioned my authenticity,

“Is this guy for real?”

“What planet did this emo, Am-Boy kid come from?”

I question myself too. Will my dreams, hopes, and aspirations actually turn into anything real? I know I have good intentions, but will the world prove me wrong about everything that I believe in?

It seems as if my views on the world are constantly changing. Sometimes days are disappointing. Sometimes days are full of pleasant surprises. In the end, if I give up again that says a lot about me.

No excuses. Actions will always speak louder than words, but those words still move you.

So what’s my point again?

Secrets to Change: Write Down Your Ideas. That’s right.

Ideas are incredibly important. Ideas are the catalyst to change, but what use is an idea, if it just stays in your head. The process of you thinking about something and physically writing it down is not only a crucial step to action, but it also enables other people to learn from your mistakes and successes.

This is partly why I am not bothered by openly sharing my deepest thoughts and opinions on Juan Great Leap.

In the end, if I’m known for being a crazy dreamer who wished well for his country and couldn’t make anything happen, then hopefully people learn that fervent Fil-Am English majors who move to the Philippines to help the country develop don’t really become change-makers.

My plea is simple: let’s be bold in what we think.

Let’s put it in on paper to hold ourselves accountable as honest folks that are not simply throwing words around.

Come on leaders, doers, and achievers. Write it down! Commit! DO!

Photo Credits: Lisha Angeles
Photo Credits: Lisha Angeles

Startup Sacred Time for 2012

For all those HAVE to use the planner!

From 1:00pm to 6:00 pm every Friday afternoon, all Storm employees are required to work on a pet project of their choice.

We call this “Innovation Friday.”

The endeavor isn’t exactly original. I know Google employees need to devote 20% of their time on a personal project of their own.

The difference here is the forced schedule. At 1pm every Friday, you have to drop what you are doing to work on your thing. No official project timelines are moved or extended – so you have to be able to keep your usual work commitments with half of a weekday removed.

People love it though, and adjust accordingly.

What strikes me is how different the projects are – from each other and from the “official” work which they are doing. We have a QA analyst doing office beautification and ergonomics. We have a programmer doing SEO work. We have our HR guy doing a podcast project.

The early returns have been great – people are engaged and productive. I’m excited to see the results.

The big difference here is the commitment to the cadence: every Friday afternoon people are required to drop everything and work on their personal project. If we made the rule an ambiguous: “devote 4 hours of your week to a project of your own,” I doubt if it would have been as effective.

Commitment oftentimes needs structure.

You want to lose weight this 2012? Spend more time with your family?

You can surely see how creating a “sacred” time for exercise or time for the family can work.

Why not do the same for launching your startup?

You can do something like spending 800pm-900pm working on your startup – and making this time sacred. You just drop everything. You can use this time to evaluate your startup ideas, research, talking to potential partners, talking to potential clients, and just honing your business model. For those who are married with kids, I’d recommend early in the morning before working.

(I’d advice against using the time from your day job to do this work though. Not only does this comprise an integrity compromise, but if you get caught, you can get fired. )

It’s difficult, yes. But similar to any worthwhile habit you want to develop, you tough it out the first month or so, and then it becomes easier.

Happy 2012 everyone!