Covid-19’s Cannonball Call

How the Pandemic is Inducing a Mass Midlife Crisis and What to Do About It

One of the few positives I’ve observed living through now almost 4 months with Covid-19 is the massive amount of people reconnecting with old hobbies. 

People started getting back to their writing, their dancing, their guitar playing, their singing, their teaching, their baking, their photography, theirthing

I think somewhere around month 2 of quarantine, people’s need to express these gifts grew larger than their sense of shyness or reservation – so we started to see more and more people post about finding their lost passions again on social media. 

While a lot of us have been experiencing massive career changes involuntarily, there are some people I know are choosing this uncertain time to execute rather drastic career pivots – a tech lifer-turned distributor, a career corporate executive-turned education entrepreneur, a doctor-turned teacher, career HR practitioner-turned salon owner.

They’re far from being the only ones, too

There must be something deeper afoot. 

My theory is that the current acute conditions have created such an unparalleled mass disruption, forcing us to face some existential life questions we may have been avoiding. 

What is this dissatisfaction I feel? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? 

Cannonball Moments

One spring day in 1917, teenager Walt Disney was coming home from delivering newspapers. Noticing a block of ice on the road, he couldn’t resist the urge to playfully kick it. What Walt didn’t notice was a large horseshoe nail embedded in the ice. The nail went through Walt’s big toe and as a result, Walt was bedridden for two weeks – his only vacation from his newspaper route job in 6 years. 

According to biographer Bob Thomas, in those two weeks Walt did a lot of thinking about his future. He LOVED to draw, but can he really build a career there? His dad highly disapproved of it, as it was a distraction from schoolwork. Perhaps he was thinking about his really poor grades, and how couldn’t concentrate in school. There goes college. He liked performing, but probably concluded he didn’t have enough talent to make a living with it. 

During those isolated two weeks though, Walt found himself doodling a lot. At the end of those two weeks, it became crystal clear to him – he wanted to be a cartoonist. That newfound resolve would propel him to plunge headlong into an animation career and establish Walt Disney Studios just five years after. 

That nail proved to be just the right disruption for Disney to momentarily escape his routine and face his soul’s questions. 

The Jesuits call these Cannonball Moments,unexpected situations in life which lead us to reconsider our identities and change trajectories. This is aptly named of course, for the literal cannonball which shattered the right leg of proud military man Ignatius de Loyola, forcing him to get sidelined for months in bed, which eventually changes his life’s direction as well. 

How many of us are experiencing the same sort of cannonball conditions now? 

We suddenly have a lot more of time on our hands, a lot more quiet time on our hands, we are isolated, suddenly taken from our routines, and yeah, getting powerfully reminded of our mortality everyday not only through this once-in-a-lifetime virus but the daily heartbreak we see on the news as well. 

Shall we heed the quiet call now stirring louder in our hearts? 

The Quest for Alignment

A lot of us push it back most of our lives. It isn’t practical. Not realistic. Especially nowadays. 

A good number of us try to scratch it a bit. Then, facing a bit of adversity, we put it quickly back in the box, and rationalize, I really should grow up and forget about this already.

But this call is part of our DNA, mapped into our souls from the moment we were born. It will continue to knock gently until answered fully.

It’s a bit timely as well, I am convinced. 

What is quite clear to me is that when people tap into their purpose, it isn’t just themselves who benefit. Everyone else does, too. Profoundly so. 

The singer who decides to sing can bring tears to those who listen.

The organizer who decides to organize can bring life-changing projects to life. 

The teacher who decides to teach can change lives. 

The consoler who decides to console can bring peace to many. 

The programmer who decides to program can create groundbreaking technology.

It’s easy to see that people who find and choose this alignment between true self and chosen role can affect far more dramatic change than people who experience misalignment – the artist who manages money, the teacher who sells, the consoler who crunches numbers, and so on. 

Don’t we need more and more people creating dramatic, positive change in these particular times?

This pandemic has affected how we work tremendously. If you’re lucky, perhaps migrating to a work-from-home setup and zoom fatigue are how the disruption is most felt. It might be good to consider how you are using your reclaimed travel time. Perhaps that could be put into better use. 

There are a lot of us who are hit in a worse way, suffering pay cuts, being laid off, dwindling bank accounts. Having gone through both the painful experience of getting laid off and the equally traumatising ordeal of laying people off, I have deep empathy for those going through this experience. 

I know how important it is to find silver linings. Perhaps viewing this situation as a cannonball moment can be a crucial silver lining – one leading to a fuller, happier, aligned life.

The Upside of the Midlife Crisis

“Seriously, Peter, I will take a massive paycut right now for the opportunity to get to do work that is meaningful”

“I’ve been dragging myself to work for years. I feel hopeless and trapped”

The other week I was having lunch with yet another person sharing with me his dissatisfaction with work. And it’s not just your typical had-a-bad-day-at-work chat. This was deeper. Teary-eyed-grown-men deep.

The funny thing is, ever since the start of this year, I’ve easily had more than 25 chats with people experiencing some deep existential angst.

There are clear common threads:

  • Almost everyone is at 40 or near 40
  • There is a clear dissatisfaction (and being stuck) not only with work, but with their careers
  • Everyone mentions the longing to do something meaningful
  • A lot of people mention the willingness to sacrifice: getting “massive” paycuts
  • A good number of them are externally successful in what they do: a couple are CEO’s and a lot of high level executives, a couple are successful entrepreneurs

Mind you, this isn’t a norm for me. I don’t go around looking to talk to mid-lifers. It usually just starts with a catch-up over coffee, and then it goes deeper, and deeper.

I told my wife Pauline I think God is telling me something. I also figured, perhaps my friends and natural network know me as the guy who quit corporate work to on a startup very early on (mid 2000’s), and perhaps they want to explore what that’s like.

For whatever reason, logical or otherwise, I’ve had the privilege and honor of hearing the stories of a lot of people undergoing midlife crises. I find myself arriving at one conclusion:

All midlife crises are spiritual.

Hear me out.

In all my chats, I’ve asked the person to “go back” and recall their entire careers with me, asking them to look for clues with me as to where this dissatisfaction could’ve come from.

In ALL cases, there are compromises involved:

  • A practical decision to stay in a situation they knew sucked their souls.
  • Conforming to the expectations of someone who influences them greatly. Very typically parents.
  • The feeling of giving up trying to change a situation because they feel it’s too late now, they’ve invested so much in one path.

My own spiritual-influenced definition of the midlife crisis is this:

It’s when there’s a growing gap between who we are and who God wants us to be, and our souls are crying out that we need to do something about it.

I guess this also applies to the quarter-life variety, the midlife version just cuts deeper – because the dissatisfaction has been there longer, and because we already can feel a bit of our mortality.

The type of job does not matter.

I tell the people I talk to that as an entrepreneur who’s basically designed his job, I’ve felt this dissatisfaction too. And it’s because I’ve also made haphazard choices without the benefit of deeper discernment.

It’s very obvious the money doesn’t matter as well. I’ve heard enough “I’ll take a paycut to do something meaningful.” to reach this conclusion.

What matters then?

That term: meaning, is an often-used term in my conversations. The problem starts methinks when this is ignored.

There was one person I talked to who was shocked by the question, “what activity or work gives you meaning?”

He muttered the question several times, and couldn’t give a ready answer. It appeared to me that he had a hard time even processing the question, because all his life, work has been “just work.”

But work is never just work. For a lot of us it occupies most of our waking hours. We typically define ourselves first by our jobs. I’m a doctor. A lawyer. A brand manager. An entrepreneur.

Okay, so what’s the upside?

I always tell the person I’m talking to: you know, it feels sucky, but this is actually a very Blessed time.

That gnawing feeling? That restlessness of the soul? You know what that is?

God is calling you to act, He is trying to lead and nudge you into what can truly make you joyful.

Don’t waste it. Listen to it. Use it.

What to do?

Do not ignore it. The very LAST thing you should do it to ignore the crisis you’re feeling. Believe me, it’s a GOOD thing. Face and process it.

I remember talking to someone a couple of years ago. She wanted to leave her longtime career in HR to pursue something that would tap into her creative side. At one point, she said, “I think I’m good. Let me stay where I am for another year or two and see if this feeling is still there.”

Recently we met and yes, it’s the same old feelings back. With a vengeance.

Again, I think it’s an opportunity. Don’t spend the rest of your life ignoring it. It is disturbing to think of how many people are in their graves now who spent their entire lives not fulfilling the promise of who they were meant to be.

Talk to someone about it. I think


Stop compromising.

For Your Soul’s Sake, Slay Your Dragon!

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We all have a lurking dragon to slay.

There’s always THAT project we’re imagining – for some of us it’s in the constant forefront of our thinking, or for some of us, its a concept that we only visit whenever we allow ourselves to daydream a bit.

We can’t seem to let go of this project because it tugs at our souls, it captures our imagination. It’s a project which we envision would involve our unique giftedness – we KNOW we have a shot at making it work.

It could be starting a new line of work, putting up a startup, trying out some freelancing, pursuing a new hobby, organising a charity,  letting people know more about a cause, or going back to teaching. It looks different for each of us.

It’s easy to see ourselves as the hero of this story. The thought of this challenge fills us with a sense of adventure, meaning, and excitement. The possibility of success makes us just giddy.

But make no mistake. This is a dragon.

We are FILLED with fear facing it. Anxiety. We get paralysed. We push it back. To tomorrow. Next week. Next year. When we’re ready.

There is a price we pay for though when we keep on pushing it back.

My dragon is writing.

The last time I wrote in this blog was on January of 2017 – I did 3 posts that January. Prior to that 3-post streak, my last post was in 2015.

From my very first post in November of 2011 to December of 2014, I managed to publish nearly 300 posts.

I remember vividly how I felt writing those posts. Time would just WHIZ by. I would love solving the puzzle of how to make the posts feel more balanced, or finding just the right word to use, or the joy of just finding the exact metaphor to use. I was alive.

Then I just….stopped.

You know all the reasons. I had to work. I had to spend more time with my family. There were a zillion other things to do.

I tried a few times to revive it, but ultimately, I just stopped altogether.

Then something weird happened…I avoided writing.

When someone would ask, “Hey Peter when would you start writing again,” I’d get all flustered and irritated, and would try to change the subject entirely. At some point, I became allergic to ANY writing task. When someone would ask me if I wanted to write some copy for work, I’d suggest someone else.

In retrospect, I guess I didn’t want ANYTHING to remind me that I was doing my soul quite a disservice. I didn’t want to feel that lack, that gap between doing what I KNEW was soul-filling and my current state. I didn’t want anyone waving it in front of my face.

Then, self-doubt started to creep in. Old fears. Could I still write? Will I still be relevant? Will I have enough to say to sustain a writing cadence? Will people care?

This pushback went on. And on. And on.

I knew I had to face my dragon sooner or later though. I didn’t want to regret never coming back to it.

So I threw out all my self-delay tactics: the need to have a reserve number of posts already written before relaunching, the need to have a “grand launch” of sorts, the need to redesign and perfect the site, the need to have a foolproof plan on how to do this on top of all the other things I have to do. Just do it.

So here we are.

I don’t know how it will go this time round. I don’t know how this adventure ends, nor where it will take me. I don’t know if I’ll be relevant. I don’t know if people will care.

I just know I NEED to do this.

So here we are. I’m dancing with my dragon again. I feel alive and terrified at the same time.

There isn’t a better time for dragon-slaying as now

Yep, I can still remember the pre-internet world. To reach an audience, you needed exclusive and/or expensive access to print, TV, or radio. To find the best jobs, you needed to rub elbows with industry hotshots, or go through a good headhunter. I remember going to the photobooth to buy dozens of 2 x 2 pictures to staple them on the dozens of paper resumes I printed out. To find a job OUTSIDE the country was basically unheard of.

Now, literally everything is within fingertip reach. Job platforms have THOUSANDS of available jobs, both here in abroad. You can work for a Silicon Valley firm while working in the comforts of your Manila home through a platform like Upwork. You can learn virtually anything in Youtube. If you create something unique and interesting later and post it in social media, it can go viral and you can reach millions in a few hours. We can SEE people who have taken advantage of this digital revolution and followed their dreams.

Yet, our dragon battle remains unfought.  Accessibility isn’t the problem. I think it actually just serves as a medium which makes our dragons seem bigger and our frustrations more profound. I can choose do this anytime. Yet I choose not to.

It’s time for us to rise up from this stupor. God gave us those desires and longings for a reason. It’s part of our purpose. The world will be better if we scratch the itch. We can run from it, hide from it, pretend it doesn’t exist, but it will ultimately bubble up to the surface and leave us feeling restless and in crises (scheduled sometimes either mid or quarterly!).

Throw out those excuses. Carve out that time. Do that NEXT thing. You can do it!

Rise and slay.

To Dream is Human, After All

Most of us have two lives, the one we live and the unlived life within us. — Steven Pressfield

I had the skeleton ready for a more technical post on startup growth. I was going to spend some time this weekend giving it more flesh.

Then I saw La La Land late Saturday night.

It’s THE perfect movie for dreamers, entrepreneurs, and heck, any professional. It’s a story about your fidelity to your calling, about how we need to nourish our dreams, and the fragility of it all. Yes, there is a romance between the lead characters, but I think the more important romance to consider in the movie is the romance between the lead characters and their own individual dreams. The movie struck chord after chord after chord with me and my own entrepreneurial journey.

Watching the movie was especially timely considering I have read and heard a WHOLE LOT of people write and talk about how stupid it is to follow passion.

To wit:

There are thousands of people saying this. (Do a google search, begin typing in “following your passion…” and see how google finishes the query.)

Look, I get it. Most of these guys are saying it isn’t practical to pursue your passion. They’re saying it just probably isn’t the thing which will lead you to success.

The problem I have with it is the definition of success most of these guys have — a financial definition. The expectation is that you make money with it, that it can pay your bills, that it can facilitate a financial windfall.

But I think there’s so much more to it than just that.

One of my favorite writers, Steven Pressfield, says:

Most of us have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us.

Isn’t this so true?

I remember feeling this way when I was doing HR work in corporate. I was fulfilling my financial obligations, had a substantial salary, yes. But I was miserable in the weekly monotony of dreading Mondays and celebrating Fridays. Miserable of me trying to convince myself everyday that I was happy. Miserable of me thinking it was too late to do anything about it.

Have you felt this unlived life?

For me, it wasn’t that it was HR or corporate per se. It was because it just wasn’t me. It didn’t line up with what my heart wanted.

We HAVE to keep that dream alive. That recurring dream. The one which sometimes keeps us awake at night. The one that we might have chosen to forget a bit because the world reminds us continually of how impractical it all is.

A funny thing happens when we follow our dreams.

We do our art.

Art is what happens when the work of our hands aligns with our soul’s desire. It’s when time zooms by as we do our work. It’s work which reflects the uniqueness of the artist, her truest self. (Seth Godin has a great definition)

In La-la Land, the director executes a striking visual cue when a character engages in her art: everything in the periphery blacks out: the viewing audience, the background, the set. And then the only thing visible is just the artist, doing her craft, doing her art.

It reminds me as well of a scene in the Kevin Costner movie For Love of the Game, where Costner’s pitcher enters a zone and blocks everything out. The entire coliseum fades away. Then its just the pitcher, the batter, and the target. The pitcher’s canvass.

This is where and when the artist creates her art, when and where she is her fullest self.

In the picture above, you can see that I’m writing this at 2:18 am on a Sunday. My wife is beside me sleeping. I’m waking up in few hours for Sunday duties. I’ve a business trip very early Monday morning which I need to prepare for.

Yet I’m typing away. I’m in a zone. And I feel happy, alive. I feel…human.

This is my art.

For those of you who’ve followed Juan Great Leap, you know I stopped writing posts around 2 years ago. Things got really busy, everywhere. But there was an incompleteness I felt.

No, I don’t profit from this. It takes up valuable time. (and in this post’s case, SLEEP)

But it engages my soul.

Something in me just clicks when I write. It’s the same zest I feel when I begin thinking of a product or a business idea, and I begin piecing the fragments together in my head, on a piece of paper, or on Keynote. It’s also the same electricity I feel when I get up in front of people and share ideas I believe in.

What is your art?

For a good number of people, the pundits can be right: our passions may not allow us to pay for our bills. There is a great chance we may make a mess of things. Following our dreams can and will break our hearts, make us feel stupid. It can cause other people to criticize and laugh at us.

No, it might not be such a good idea to quit that full-time job of yours right now and be a musician.

But don’t you let that dream go.

Find a way to still do your art. Find a way to do work which engages your soul. LIVE, don’t just exist.

Don’t let that dream go. Find a way to plant it, water it, and care for it. Find an hour a day. An hour a week, even. Treat it like the fragile thing it is, because in the world we live in, dreams can often be fragile. Sometimes we just blink a little, conform to certain choices here and there, only to find ourselves waking up to a life where we feel hopelessly stuck. I think this is precisely the state writer Henry Thoreau writes about when he says “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Avoid the masses.

So find a way. It’s not too late.

We all will be better for it.

So let’s ignore the naysayers, shall we?

Let’s uncover the romantic in each and every one of us and follow our dreams, do our art. Yes, we can engage our souls much more, but who knows? Perhaps we can also change the world in the process.

Lyrics for Audition (The Fools Who Dream) by Emma Stone from the movie La-la Land

My aunt used to live in Paris

I remember, she used to come home and tell us

stories about being abroad and

I remember that she told us she jumped in the river once,


She smiled,

Leapt, without looking

And She tumbled into the Seine!

The water was freezing

she spent a month sneezing

but said she would do it, again

Here’s to the ones

who dream

Foolish, as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts

that ache

Here’s to the mess

we make

She captured a feeling

Sky with no ceiling

Sunset inside a frame

She lives in her liquor

and died with a flicker

I’ll always remember the flame

Here’s to the ones

who dream

Foolish, as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts

that ache

Here’s to the mess

we make

She told me:

A bit of madness is key

to give us to color to see

Who knows where it will lead us?

And that’s why they need us,

So bring on the rebels

The ripples from pebbles

The painters, and poets, and plays

And here’s to the fools

who dream

Crazy, as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts that break

Here’s to the mess we make

I trace it all back,

to that

Her, and the snow, and the sand

Smiling through it

She said

She’d do it, Again

The Unlikely Journey of Our Newly-Minted COO


We’ve all been through those moments in life when everything seems to be falling apart.

That was where Kellda was when I first met her two years ago.

You wouldn’t know it through my interview process with her. A former Unilever achiever and fastfood startup founder, she was introduced by a mutual entrepreneur friend. She was in-between jobs.

Kellda dazzled us in the recruitment process with her intelligence, strong will and demeanor. Even if she had no prior exposure to tech, she was obviously eager to learn more about our industry. I wanted to woo her into joining our company as one of our product heads.

Soon, I gave her an offer. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. She had bigger brands pursuing her. Fingers crossed.

After some waiting, we arranged a meeting. I had a good feeling.

We met in our office and I started giving her the offer.

It then evolved into one of the most bizarre job offers I’ve ever been involved in.

Right there and then, she said yes to my offer…but then she started to tear up! And these weren’t exactly tears of joy. (this was VERY hard to mentally process when it started happening!)

With emotions still very fresh from her very recent personal challenges, she started to emotionally narrate the difficult things she was going through.

I then asked her if she would want to take some days off first before starting immediately as we had planned.

I think the work will do me good,” she replied

I asked if what she was experiencing right now would affect her work.

She told me that she was at “80% of her usual capacity, but that that would be enough.”

After chatting some more, she was effectively telling me that she was accepting this job because it was an immediate offer and that she badly needed the distraction.

Uhm, not really what you want to hear in a job acceptance meeting.

I was trying to be supportive, but I remember that it was at this point that I mentally stepped out of our conversation and thought this job offer might not be such a good thing. I was already thinking of ways on how to stop this train from leaving.

But then, I remember thinking to myself that all of us go through bad days. I was thinking of the very worst days I had and how I would sound like if someone talked to me at that precise point. So…

Fingers crossed.

We started to get to know Kellda in the next few weeks.

Brilliant. Very operational. Great with detail. Dots her I’s and crosses her T’s. Short temper. Explodes.

Soon, there was a nickname going around.


A month or so after she started working with us, I invited her to this retreat the community I belonged, Living Hope, was organizing for young professionals. I thought attending might be good for her. It’s good that she said yes.

Long story short, it was in this retreat that she realized that this God whom she felt so distant from, this God whose existence she started to doubt, was in fact, very real. And did, in fact, love her with such immensity.

It was from this point on that I noticed a difference.

We would talk about her legendary temper, but she now struggled with it. And month after month, I would see improvements in this area.

She had also more bounce in her step. She was just happier.

It showed in the work she was producing, too.

Our company eventually assigned her to handle E-commerce operations, where she just flat-out killed her performance metrics. She transformed her function: our customer service teams did MORE with less people, our fulfillment teams shaved weeks off of their delivery times, our merchant teams added a record number of merchants. Her people, while still being a bit afraid by her, grew to respect and love her. They began to appreciate all that she brought to the table. All this, while learning about tech and how tech platforms work.

I was so excited with her development in the company. But I was also so excited about the person she was becoming month after month.

Then, of course, one day she asks me, “Peter, can I talk to you?” (nothing good ever comes out of this question, nothing)

We met at Figaro in Taipan Place in front of our office. She had a job offer from another company which doubled her pay. (like being in so many startup moments like this before, I struggled to maintain a calm expression while the blood drew from my face)

My mind…raced.

My gut instinct was to just launch into a whole argument why that was such a bad decision and why staying would be best for her.

But I realized that this was her journey we were talking about, not STORM’s, not mine.

I told her, “Pray and discern. Seek out what God wants for you. I will be at peace and will be happy with whatever direction He says you should take.”

Well, I don’t know about happy, but I meant every other word in that statement.

A few days later, she said she was staying. (hoorah!)

(She would also just BAFFLE her headhunter by explaining that she was declining the lucrative job offer because God had told her so. Her headhunter couldn’t properly explain this to her boss, so she asked her boss to call Kellda directly)

Fast forward to the very end of 2016, where I really felt a powerful need for someone to take on the COO role in STORM. While I could do the job, I felt I could do a lot more for the firm by focusing on some of its more strategic, future direction, and let someone else operationally focused handle the day-to-day.

It was an easy decision, not only to me, but to everyone I asked in STORM.

During the second workday of 2017 (yes, first day would have been MUCH more dramatic, but I got sick and I couldn’t make it), we announced that Kellda Centeno would be promoted as the company’s new Chief Operating Officer.

You know, in that picture above when she took the stage I’m usually in…I couldn’t be prouder of someone.

I am incredibly excited. I CANNOT WAIT to see the great impact she will inevitably bring.

What’s the best thing about your job, Peter?

I would always answer that question by saying it’s the sheer learning.

I’m beginning to think something else is better.

There is just tremendous fulfillment I feel when people adopt and share my startup dream, make it their own, open up their lives, and start journeyingwith me.

Are you a manager of people? Are you putting up a startup? Are you scaling and hiring more people?

I think it’s important to remember just what a privilege it is when someone decides to work for or with you.

They are making you, your company, your idea, part of their journey.

It’s important to remember that each person is a blessing God has given us the duty to take care of and nurture — not merely as professionals, but more importantly, as people.

The sooner we realize this, the sooner we see people doing just amazing things.

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?

Advent Thoughts On a Hospital Couch

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My wife has been in labor in the delivery room for the past 8 hours. We are eagerly expecting our fourth child. I can hear Typhoon Ruby’s din just outside the window almost seamlessly combine with the whir of the air-conditioning unit.

I write this helplessly alone on a leather couch at St. Luke’s hospital, waiting for the signal to come in and hold my wife’s hand as she goes through the final birth stages.

But not yet.

I sit here, sleep-deprived, waiting and praying. It is Advent after all, I muse.

Yesterday, here in the hospital, I had a call with my business partner Paolo regarding my startup baby, STORM. As big as 2014 has been for us, the call greatly suggests that 2015 will be much bigger. Exponentially so.

As a startup founder, all my entrepreneurial dreams are starting to come into fruition. I should be giddily jumping up and down.

It’s interesting timing that this call happened in this particular context: in a hospital, with my wife in labor, seeing the victims of the typhoon on TV, during Advent season, during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

I am really happy with the call, but the context forces me to see it in what I feel is the right perspective. Because of this, I take the news almost in stride.

Because of the context, I am reminded to be humble. I am reminded not get carried away. I am reminded that Jesus was born intentionally in a manger, bereft of all human comforts.  I am reminded that I cannot let myself be too attached to these comforts – my Savior never was.

I am reminded of the priorities I had committed to.

As much passion as I have for entrepreneurship and startups, I want to be MORE passionate about God. More passionate about my role as a father and husband.

I thank God for all His blessings. I humbly pray I may use them always for His Greater Glory.

Meanwhile, I wait here in my room for my son, with the joy of the Son in my heart.

It is Advent after all.

Release Your Inner Kraken: The Folly of Hidden Talents

kraken release

For as far as I can remember, I’ve always loved writing.

I enjoyed paragraph writing in grade school. There was always a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I felt a paragraph was complete, when I felt every word I used was the right one. It was simultaneously art and science for me.

This love for word construction continued throughout my high school and college stints. Writing assignments wouldn’t feel like homework. I would volunteer for writing tasks across my different subjects, projects, and the clubs I belonged to.

In my first year after graduation, I taught english for a year in my alma mater and loved every minute of it.

Then I went corporate. Suddenly, my love for writing had no outlet.

I would get chances to write – typically copy for recruitment materials or job descriptions or disciplinary memos. I would get to write a lot of academic reports, too. But this wasn’t really writing for me. It was…work. There was no soul nor creativity involved.

From 1998 to 2011, I buried my writing. It became a hidden talent.

In my mind, it wasn’t really a big deal. It wasn’t practical in a sense that it didn’t put food on the table.

But I would feel a thorn on my side when I met with writers. I would feel all existential when I would read something that would resonate with me.

After my great leap and the euphoria which followed when things started to fall into place, there was a strong feeling that I should give something back.

The first medium I automatically thought of was, you guessed it…writing.

And so I wrote my first Juan Great Leap post.

It has been amazing ever since. I had reconnected with my lost love.

This reacquaintance has led to such amazing things.

This blog has been such a blessing for me. It has introduced and re-introduced me to people that are now significant parts of my life. It has broadened my horizons. It has blessed me by letting me into the entrepreneurial journeys of some extraordinary people. Though I have not made a centavo off of the blog, I have been introduced to investors and business partners by the blog. And I just cannot explain the joy I feel when someone emails to say that a particular piece has helped them. I don’t think there’s any greater joy for a writer  – or any type of worker, for that matter – than when their work is appreciated.

Let me tell you about my friend Mela.

Multiple people were telling me: “Have you seen her dance? Maiiyak ka!”

I found that statement peculiar. To the point of tears? Really?

Finally, I had my chance to see her in action.  In one Living Hope concert, she did a beautiful interpretative dance. Now mind you, I have no special appreciation nor eye for dancing, but there it went.

My tears.

But I guess that’s what we feel when we observe someone tap into her God-given gifts and isn’t afraid of showing it to the world.

We feel awe. We feel alive. We feel inspired. 

My theory? We feel God.

I feel all of us are blessed this way. We each have been blessed a “super power” of sorts, which, if we aren’t afraid of using and developing, can just MOVE people. Even to tears.

Alas, society, “practicality”, and fear can prevent us from exercising it.

I remember writing about Ope.

She was a Psychology graduate looking for  “HR” work. So we hired her as an HR practitioner. Soon though, we saw that she was volunteering for all the design work that was available (and doing it for no extra pay) – brochures, websites, posters…

Quoting from my previous post:

While she would do good work with her HR-related responsibilities, her design work would always elicit oohs and ahs from everyone in the workplace. It was plain to see what her passion was.

She’s now the young CEO of Rocket Concepts – a design company.

And readers – please don’t let your college course dictate what you do in life because you need to “exercise what you learned.” We selected our courses in our teens – a time when most of us were still confused as to who we are. Follow your heart. Pray and discern.

Tapping into our hidden talents always lead to great things.

Can you paint? Act? Build things with your hands? Do you speak well? Can you counsel well? Design well? Can you cook? Design cakes? Carve wood? Write plays? Play an instrument? Speak different languages well? Teach well?

More importantly, when engaged in this hidden art of yours, does the time just pass by like the wind? Do you feel an inner joy?

In each of us, God has instilled incredibly moving, tremendous, awe-inspiring gifts.

Don’t let them be hidden under the water, away from plain sight. This not only robs you of opportunities, it also robs others from being beneficiaries.

Release the Kraken.

The opportunity cost of not doing so is incalculable.



Why You Should Consider Staying The Course

The following is a guest post from Dino Alcoseba, newly-minted head honcho at the HR startup I’ve known Dino for five years now and I’ve seen him develop since coming in as a fresh graduate working for STORM in 2008. Here, he shares about staying the course. I can remember the events Dino describes below (that YM Conversation!), and its a bit jarring to hear what exactly he felt. 

Considering the state of young employee turnover not only in startups, but for the entire industry, I think what Dino writes here is pretty important to consider.  – Peter 

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Despite his Miami Heat losing both the Championship AND Lebron, Dino is still all smiles nowadays 🙂

5 years ago, I was stuck with a dilemma…

I just finished packing 8,000 letters to employees for one of Storm’s clients. It was an implementation of an organizational climate survey, which, a few months earlier, seemed alien to me. I knew absolutely nothing about the consulting environment. I didn’t know how things were supposed to be done. All I knew was, it was my birthday, I was supposed to have a party at my house, and I spent almost 36 hours packing letters to unknown people, asking them to log into an online survey – a letter a large number of them ignored. To make matters worse, the delivery of the letters didn’t even need to be done by that day, as evidenced by the lengthy time it took to reach the intended participants, as I found out a few days after.

That experience made me want to quit.

Up to that time, I didn’t know if I actually was enjoying my work. I didn’t consider myself a creative person (I didn’t know I’d have to create report templates from scratch, someone I never did before). I didn’t like the idea of presenting the same things over and over again (something I did for 2 straight months, presenting the same old results to a different set of people and asking them to validate results, covering around 30 FGD’s and 200 people to meet). I just didn’t see myself as staying here for long. The thing is though, I realized up to that point that I didn’t actually have a career plan for myself. I had ideas about my interests, I knew that enrolling in graduate school would be an option, but that was basically it.

I had made up my mind right then and there to talk to our CEO (Peter), and explain the reasons for my resignation. What followed was a lengthy conversation over instant messenger (Y! Messenger, no less) and culminated in…. me staying.

I am thankful up to this day that I made this decision.

Up to now, I do not know why I decided to stay. Maybe it was the promise of better and brighter things to come. Maybe it was just naiveté on my part. But regardless of what those reasons were, it was my first experience that taught me to stay the course.  

I know it’s not easy looking at the bigger picture when you’re fresh out of college, all brimming with credentials and aching to make a difference. Sometimes, work doesn’t paint that kind of picture, and it’s something we want to feel everyday. If we don’t feel that we’re doing something that matters, we tend to focus on the little things that annoy us, and distract us from the bigger picture. This culminates in unsatisfactory feelings in work, and ultimately, in tendering our 30 day notice and looking for greener pastures. I am not saying this is wrong. There really are companies that make it hard for us to stay, especially if there were inconsistencies between the job that was explained, and the actual job. But sometimes, staying the course, sticking it out for a little more, matters.

This has been especially true for me.

Making a Difference

Fast forward to 2013-2014, where I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of Strata, one of Storm’s sister companies, and just recently in May, been tasked with leading it.

It’s been all a haze, and the months have come and gone so fast. It’s hard to believe that it’s been months, but it’s been equally hard to believe that it’s only been months. The work that we’ve been blessed with has been nothing short of amazing. I cannot believe how and why large corporations and big government agencies continue to trust us with their projects. It must mean that I, along with my amazing team, must be doing something right. This is exciting for Strata because it allows us to 1) use our HR knowledge and expertise (something the team LOVES discussing), and 2) make a huge difference in people’s lives. It allows for transformational change in organisations, but recently more with the government sector, partners we’ve recently begun to start working with (and is a personal preference of mine, and I’ve been an avid listener of AM radio since my 1st day of work). It allows us to see directly how our work contributes to society, and how we can make the Philippines a much better place. This is completely unprecedented, and I am completely dumbfounded that we find ourselves in such a good position.

Never Ending Fears

Being part of a startup is hard. That’s just the truth. Leading it is even harder. The amount of decisions that have to be made on a daily basis range from petty (no more ink! where to buy ink?!), to complicated (how to present certain HR methodologies to the right audience), to downright insane (how, as a 27 year old, to tell much older and more experienced people that they have the wrong methodology). I sometimes feel like I’m in over my head, honestly. There are days when my feelings back in 2009 come haunting me back. . There are still days when I don’t feel like meeting some people. There are days when I just want to put earphones on and listen to my Jesuit-inclined playlist (The Song of Rupert Mayer has become a personal favourite). There are days when I wish for a simpler life, maybe one where I just have a role in a company, and I just have to do the same thing over and over again.

But at the end of every single day, I catch myself. I always find something good to smile about. And that, I find, is what gets me through most days.

Work is hard, but so is everything that is significant and life changing.

I find that with my never-ending fears, there are always reasons to stay the course make a difference in this world, and that’s all that matters.


I Forgot I Was On Vocation!


The past few months have been some of the most rewarding for me as an entrepreneur. At the start of 2013, we made a crucial decision to split STORM Consulting, my startup baby, into two, distinct, laser-focused firms: STORM Rewards was going to focus on flexible benefits. I was going to lead the efforts as its CEO. STRATA was going to focus on HR competency frameworks. The big difference here was that I really wanted to source an independent management team to lead Strata – I didn’t want to be involved in the day-to-day operations.

In hindsight, it proved to be a very pivotal decision. (yep, focus is everything)

Armed with a new business model which allowed it to offer Flexible Benefits for FREE to large firms, STORM more than doubled its client base and became the country’s flexible benefits leader in 12 short months. A learning junkie, I got to learn how to do two things: a) running an e-commerce firm (something STORM pivoted into with our new model), and b) truly scaling a firm. I am 3/4 into hiring a complete management team using internal revenue. Last week, I was in Cebu setting up operations to expand there. We’re also in the midst of a major fundraiser to fuel our efforts to expand into the region. There isn’t a shortage of interested parties. We will be in another country in a few months. That’s a statement I never thought I’d utter this soon.

Struggling out of the gate in 2013, Strata started 2014 with a risky decision. We decided to let 26-year old Dino Alcoseba, who started in STORM immediately after his graduation, to run EVERYTHING. It was risky because the usual service providers to the HR market are typically led by people decades older than Dino. With STRATA more consulting-heavy than STORM, and with management consultants usually being a lot more seasoned, the risk was real. However, with Dino’s proven record with us of being ultra-dependable, a leader, extremely coachable, entrepreneurial, and someone with a high degree of integrity, I heavily endorsed his appointment.

Dino started the year off landing no less than three 7-figure projects and one 8-figure project for STRATA (with significant help from COO Orvin Hilomen and HR wonder-boy Mico Subosa). In one quarter. He also has raised his game, showing a strategic side of him I’ve never seen, and most importantly, showing a genuine care and interest in the members of the team he was building.

As an entrepreneur, I should be on cloud-nine. But there was something missing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely happy and feel extremely blessed for all of this. Some part of me WANTS me to be satisfied with this.

However, I felt like Tom Cruise near the end of Jerry Maguire when triumphant Cuba Gooding was surrounded by reporters. I was supposed to feel awesome. It WAS awesome. Still, I felt terribly incomplete.

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It was shocking not to remember after years of mindlessly logging in

“When are you posting again?”

I had been avoiding any talk of Juan Great Leap for months now. It took me 5 tries to remember the right username-password combination to access this WordPress account. I would brush off queries as to when the next blogpost would be, or when the next Open Coffee would be. I would indefinitely postpone requests for a coffee-chat or a Skype session with dozens of people. I would ignore internal moments of inspiration for a new blogpost. I’d ignore all of these, rationalizing it with thoughts like:

“I had done my part”

“It’s now time to concentrate on my own firms.”

“I’ll do it next month.”

“I’m busy with more important things.”

“Why do I need to spend several hours writing a post when it doesn’t make me a centavo?”

But that gnawing feeling would come to haunt me every so often, accentuated by the occasional “when’s JGL coming back?” comment.

That made me think.

What is my purpose for JGL anyway?

Is it a medium to share my thoughts? To network? To better my brand? To help? A medium for a frustrated writer?

I then got around reading this and this, which, reading now, I almost feel comes from a different person.

Juan Great Leap was is the central medium for my vocation.

The reason I felt incomplete as an entrepreneur was precisely because my vocation wasn’t to be just an entrepreneur. It was to help others find their own vocations in this brave, new, fascinating world, where one has a lot more choices than to be a corporate cog.

I felt incomplete because I wasn’t following His plan. The Strata experience exacerbated this incompleteness even more, because seeing Dino finding himself and develop into his own brought such an intense feeling of satisfaction in me.

I think this incompleteness comes to us in many different forms, called by many different names:

“quarter-life crisis”

“mid-life crisis”

“existential angst”

“something is missing”

“why the heck am I not happy?!”

“I feel detached”

I believe God has a plan for all of us. It is a beautiful plan – one where all our talent and faculties are used to the fullest. Where we feel whole.

God tries to give us clues as to what it is. We see glimpses of it in our innermost desires, in our unique gifts and talents. We feel a bit of it when we find ourselves in situations where we can clearly help others with our gifts, where we cease noticing time and find ourselves in the “zone.” It is when we feel not merely happiness, but true, inexplicable joy.

It is when we are doing what God BUILT us to do. So naturally, there is a FELT alignment when we are on the right path, and a FELT misalignment when we are off the path.

Steven Pressfield and Seth Godin call this doing your “art” (as opposed to doing a job). I call it pursuing your vocation.

And I almost let it get away.


Do allow me to start over.

There’s so much I’ve learned in the last 6 months which I absolutely need to share with you. New insights. New paradigms. New strategies.

But let’s start small and simple. Starting small and simple has worked tremendously for me.

First, you can now expect regular updates from hereon. Let me ease into this again.

Second, I want to organize a quick, intimate get-together – largely because I want to meet some people who have recently reached out to me wanting to do a coffee-chat. There are around 5 of them. I’m opening 5 more slots. I just want to meet 10 people in an intimate setting. Criteria: you need to be someone who has a clear startup idea and needs a bit of advice or you need to be a current startup entrepreneur with less than 1 year experience who needs a bit of advice. It also needs to be okay with you to share your idea with the rest of the people invited.

Email me your idea and your background. If things check out, you have the slot. First 5 people to email (and fits the criteria) gets in. Coffee will be on me. I’m thinking of scheduling it next Thursday night, July 24. We can meet at the STORM offices along Julia Vargas.

Let’s do this.