Everyday I’m Side-Hustlin’: Harness the Power of the Side Project

(Click below for the audio version of the post)


What is a side hustle? Basically, it’s a part-time job beyond your full-time one. And yes, you can use it to basically change your life.

It certainly did mine.

Years ago, I remember feeling stuck in my career in Human Resources. I accepted my first corporate job as an HR Officer in an IT firm, and I sorta just followed that ladder. Eight years after, I was in the midst of a full-blown quarter-life crisis. I felt the industry wasn’t for me, but I had already devoted 8 years of my career working hard, and it was difficult for me to fathom shifting gears and starting in another industry from the ground-up again.

That year, I had a startup idea. I offered it at a possible product to the company I was working with, but it was quickly rejected. That made my resolve in pursuing this idea stronger.

However I faced a big hurdle: I was supporting my family as a breadwinner. I couldn’t just quit what paid the bills.

I decided to pursue this passion of mine during my off-hours. During the weekend. After work. Lunchtime.

This became my side-hustle. Through this effort (and over 50 weekend interviews), I found my cofounder, who was willing to go full-time. THAT got the ball rolling. We founded the first STORM company in my living room a little after that. For the next 2-3 years, STORM continued to be my side-hustle, up until I waved good-bye to my corporate career to pursue entrepreneurship full-time.

STORM wasn’t a “garage company,” we were a “sala company”

That was a life-changing leap for me – as my experience in STORM would dramatically alter my career from line HR Management to a career as an entrepreneur.

It all started with my side-hustle.

And then, in 2011, while working on STORM full-time, this blog, Juan Great Leap, became my side-hustle. And in a very different way, this too, would change my life.

So many times, I encounter people who are quite serious in taking a leap, who DO want to try something different.

But a lot of us face different obstacles – financial, security, fear, responsibilities – which prevent us from taking a dramatic leap.

This is where the side-hustle can come in beautifully.

It allows us to take a smaller leap. It allows us to dip our feet in the water to get a bit of a feel. In time, like it did for me, perhaps it can facilitate a bolder leap in the near future.

But there can also be a deeper role the side-hustle can play for you.  A much deeper, even spiritual one.

The side hustle can engage your soul

Are you a frustrated writer who took on a BPO job to make ends meet?

Are you a dancer? Perhaps some time ago,  you were in the college dance troupe and from time to time you dream of “those days” when you were performing and time just stood still.

Perhaps circumstances won’t let us make the leaps we want to. But that’s not an excuse to let our gifts and passions stale away


Yes, the side-hustle can let you earn a bit more, but I feel the far more crucial role it can serve us is the engagement of our souls – which can only happen when we exercise and use our God-given gifts.

When I watched A Star Is Born a few months ago, I found myself tearing up just listening to Lady Gaga sing, not because of any particular

plot drama, but just hearing her, witnessing her gift. In just watching her, I KNOW she’s exercising her God-given gift – that she’s incredibly passionate about singing and perfecting her craft. True enough, when you visit her wikipedia page, you’d see she began performing in open mic competitions as a teenager and dropped out of college to pursue music.

Writing this, right now, is HEAVEN for me. I love the process of finding just the RIGHT word, making sentences and paragraphs feel complete. I’m not able to scratch this itch in my full-time job.

I realize, I NEED to find a medium with which to write. And here it is. Yes, I’m filling a need to let my insights and thoughts be heard, but that is secondary to my need to just…write. My true audience is one.

The side hustle can allow you to explore what you really want to do

So let’s say you know your gift is…talking. You can’t just quit your full-time finance job. You can use your side-hustle as your own personal laboratory.

Join a toastmaster group for a month. Not really comfortable? Sell insurance part-time the next month. Not for you? Work as a barista for a bit and get a feel of face to face customer service.

With the internet and all its different job platforms and networks out there, the possibilities are literally endless. There is now very little risk in trying different things out to see whats best for us.

Just pause and think about the ramifications.

We can spend YEARS, or even decades, hopping from one job to the next, one industry to the next in trying to the find the job or function which fills us, and most probably enduring a lot of unnecessary pain, doubt, restlessness and confusion along the way.

We don’t need to go through that anymore.

The side-hustle (and the way the internet has just souped it up) can help us cut that time dramatically. 

Go find your side-hustle.


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?

What Happened When We Killed Timekeeping and Attendance


One of the great perks of being an entrepreneur is having complete control over time.

From the time we founded STORM, Pao and I have always worked with a completely flexible schedule.

Actual sms messages:

Dude, coffee shop muna ako this morning.


Had a late night, will work from home today


Won’t be in the office this afternoon

We never had to be worried that the other person is slacking off. We’ll even tell one another if we need a break to slack off. This is because we trust one another. In the end, I know Pao cares about the firm and will work his tail off for its objectives. I know that goes both ways.

This never became a rule for our employees though.

We followed a semi-flexible work schedule: people came in anytime between 8am to 10am and could leave 9 hours after. You were really only late if you came in after 1oam. Like most firms, we had punctuality and attendance rules: 3 lates merits a written reprimand, 5 lates merits a suspension…something like that.

I never considered anything more flexible. After all, we did have teams like Customer Service and Supply Chain which needed people present in very specific time slots.

How could we do anything more flexible?

As owners, Pao and I still pretty much enjoyed the freedom to go in and out at our discretion. Functional managers also had this level of freedom, but everyone else kept to the semi-flexible rules, with disciplinary actions for violations.


One fateful day though, I was asked to sign a Written Reprimand for someone whom I thought was performing reasonably well.

That disturbed me. The punctuality issues had little to do with the performance.

Why couldn’t we give all our people the same freedom we enjoyed?

And at the heart of it: can we trust our employees first?

True to our form as a company which decides fast and then measures outcomes, I met with Pao and our People Operations team that afternoon.  We created the following rules:

  • From 15 SL’s and 15 VL’s, we created a policy where an individual could use unlimited leaves. Actually, there would be no more “leaves.” We just didn’t count.
  • We totally separated salary and timekeeping. There is now no need to log-in and out of the office. Salary would be given wholly every 15th and 30th. Deductions per timekeeping are now extinct.
  • The 15  SL’s, which was converted to Flexible Benefit Points when unused, are automatically given as Flexible Benefit Points at the person’s daily rate. The person cannot convert this to cash and can only use it on her Benefits Marketplace. We believe in the power of benefits given in kind.
  • For those eligible for OT, the person will now file OT herself, no questions asked. If you think you deserve to be paid OT on a particular day, you just file it, and it will be given to you.
  • Teams with definitive service hours, like customer service and supply chain, were given the directive to create their own rules, to be managed and policed within the team.
  • Leaders were then asked to step up: the company will be monitoring metrics and individual performance much more closely – the leaders have to lead.

We did an impromptu general assembly and instituted the new rules. I told everyone we’ll be doing this for a month and see what happens.

Apparently, the market already had a name for this: ROWE (Results Only Work Environment), I didn’t like the name because I felt it ignored one very powerful factor our firm valued – culture. Alas, the name “Rowe” stuck internally.

Our people loved it. They began posting on social media how great they felt being trusted and being “treated like an adult.”

But of course, the proof would be in the pudding. We locked in on our metrics and let the weeks pass.

The first thing I noticed was how Fridays would be much leaner than every other day. As a lifelong HR practitioner, I felt this was a bad sign.

A month after, our numbers were in, and it confirmed my suspicions. Our metrics were evidently down from a month ago.

I talked worriedly with my management team – did this mean we recruited poorly? After all, shouldn’t the RIGHT people fare well in this sort of environment?

We did another assembly and I told everyone about our results.  I told everyone I was tempted to just pull the program – the results more than justified that move.

But I said we’ll give it another few weeks. I reminded them that things have to change drastically for ROWE to continue. Like most worthwhile things, they would have to fight for it. I told them I WANT the program to succeed, but it would be up to everyone.

Soon, a lot of people in the our Yammer group began sporting this profile picture.


Weeks went by, and I didn’t really see anything different. Fridays were still extra-lean, attendance-wise. People came in much later than 10am.

I was going to chalk this up to a “Well, we tried” and wreak personal havoc on our recruitment process.

As another month crept in, I asked for the metrics. I was shocked to see the results.

They were up.

At first I couldn’t believe it. But there they were.

Assembly again. I told everyone about the metrics. ROWE was on the resuscitator, but it was alive!

I told everyone I was extending the program to see if the figures were just a fluke.

A month after, the numbers held.

This brings us to today. We’re still very much studying the program. There weren’t a lot of things changed with the original rules we drafted. But before declaring the program as a permanent part of the company, I  still want to generate more data.

Some notable observations and key realizations:

  • With absolute freedom comes…absolute transparency. If there’s one thing about this program, it’s that a person’s true colors will shine. A performer who really makes the firm her own will excel even more because of the flexibility, while people who have discipline and/or commitment issues will have their problems exacerbated.  We had to release a couple of employees whose lack of discipline really negatively impacted the teams they were in.
  • So…Fridays are STILL lean days. But with our metrics being met, I think this is more MY problem. As a lifelong HR practitioner, I think I still very much equated SEEING people with ACTUAL productivity. This is a paradigm shift I have had to swallow.
  • The employee satisfaction that comes from being able to take leaves whenever you want and being trusted for your work IS the biggie. We will trust you first. Will you be worthy of this trust? Most people we see will respond very well to this.
  • For this to work, a company’s metrics and numbers obviously have to be managed well. This is something we continuously work on.
  • Leaders HAVE to step up in this sort of framework. With less structure, more leadership and influence have to be exerted so people will consistently use the flexibility effectively and not abuse it.
  • I don’t believe in purely working from home though. I’m still old-fashioned when it comes to this. I think part of the fun being in a startup is that feeling of being in the trenches with a close group of people. Tough to do that if you aren’t in the same work area. I think our culture and our sense of fun as a company encourage everyone in the firm go to the office even if its strictly not a requirement – a welcome development for me.

The program for us has taken very interesting twists and turns. Promising though.

Let’s see what happens from hereon.


The LEGO Theory of Job Fulfillment



Who doesn’t love Lego?

When I was a kid, Lego was my ultimate, favorite toy. After I would unbox a set, I would first try to build it as designed. But this wasn’t the fun part yet! This is sort of the boring requirement.

After some time, these new pieces would gradually fall into my BIG PAIL of Lego blocks. Playtime commenced when I would pour the pieces on the floor – one big mess.

Then, I would just…create.

Cars, knights on steeds, robots with several points of articulation, you name it, I built it. Fun!

Decades after, Lego is bigger than ever.

People buy the stuff in droves (even if it hurts the pocket) – fuelled especially by licensing everything cool. (Marvel AND DC, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc…) There are Lego amusement parks, TV shows, movies (Lego Batman movie FTW!), Lego copycats, corporate training programs (!) and typically, a whole section of your nearest toy store devoted to all things Lego.

When you think about it, the timeless appeal of Lego is easily explainable.

People want to build. 

I remember just getting LOST in building stuff. Like when I created my own Mazinger Z (complete with attachable Head-spaceship), and then letting it last a few days (savoring what I built?) before destroying everything and starting anew with another idea. It was Play-doh on steroids.

You can imagine millions of kids letting their imagination run wild in creating something that was truly theirs.

What are you passionate about?

When I get asked this question, sometimes, I get flummoxed. Am I super passionate about flexible benefits? About HR?

When I really think about it, the answer is no. I don’t think about it in all my spare time, nor do I devour books on it as pleasure reading (unlike say, some business books). I AM highly interested in it.  But I’m not prepared to say it’s a passion.

So that does that mean I’m not passionate about building my HR Benefits firm?

Of course not. That’s a passion that runs very, very deep.

Pondering on it, I then realize that what I am passionate about is building.

Building things, building the firm.

I’ve almost complete control of my blocks – who I hire, what direction I choose, what color scheme, what market, what tools, what culture.

And when I take a step back and see what I’ve helped built, it is something that gives me immense satisfaction and joy.

Isn’t this true with everything else we build?

The scripts and blogposts we write? The architecture we’ve drafted? The recipe we masterfully whipped up? The clothes we design? The app we coded? The training program we drew up?

You can almost hear the pride and joy a person has when they can point at something and say, I did that! or I contributed to that! 

That’s my Mazinger Z!

A lot of the people I know in jobs and careers where they CREATE are happy. Sure, they may find themselves in a crummy job or two once in awhile, but they love what they do and this ultimately leads to a fulfilling career.

The problem occurs happens when we choose jobs and work which REMOVE the opportunity to build something. When we’re just maintaining something. A cog in the machine.

I find that there is also a radical difference in learning when you’re building something, as opposed to merely maintaining. There is more engagement. There is more purpose.

Just ask any programmer you know: what’s more exciting – developing something new, or maintaining something that’s already running? The difference will be a chasm.

This is what worries me.

I’ve a son now in a traditional big grade school. The coursework has barely changed (since my own time there). Letter grades in 5-6 classic subject matters.

Most of our schools are still stuck in Industrial Age-type of teaching and thinking. Standardized tests. A single path to success. And, while there are notable exceptions, most of the coursework is still geared towards maintenance. Just take a look at how we NAME our courses…

Human Resources Management

Business Management

Management of Financial Institutions

Management Information Systems

Business Administration

Legal Management

Why merely manage, administer, or maintain, when you can create, improve, and build?

A New Paradigm

While this is something we have to institutionally change, especially with the Digital Age having a whole new set of rules (a heated topic for another day). Still, there are a lot of things we can do if we find ourselves in a situation where are not able to create and express.

1. Find the part of your job where you can build

What I find is that even if you’re in a blatantly “maintenance” type of job, like let’s say, accounting – there are still many ways to  try to exercise your creativity. You can for example volunteer to improve processes, or offer to do a cost-benefit analysis on an area which it has never been done. The caveat here of course is that your current work is done at a level where your boss is comfortable letting you tackle other things. If you pour your heart at this new task, though – you will probably do great work, which your boss will appreciate.

2. If there isn’t, leave

Of course, not all bosses and cultures will tolerate this. Some people will simply think you’re over-stepping boundaries. Some people will want you to really just fulfill your job description, nothing more, nothing less.

If this is the case, prepare your resume already. Don’t let your soul get slowly crushed maintaining and being a cog. I guarantee, a few years of this WILL result in you being effectively turned into a zombie afraid of change, just looking for the highest paycheck.


3. Engage your childhood hobbies

When I do recruitment, I try to see beyond the resume and the credentials in placing the person in a role. A critical question I ask is: what were your hobbies growing up?

I’d get different answers: acting, drawing, painting, singing, designing, writing, and so on.

The sad thing is, for a LOT of people – they let go of these hobbies when they “grow up” and start working.

I would normally ask them, “Hey, have you ever thought about a career in __________? (writing, design, whatever the hobby is…).

The most common answer is no, and the most common reason is a lack of practicality.

Very typically during the interview, I would normally try to convince them to try it out, and the applicant, sensing that I might not be interested in hiring her because I’m suggesting another course of action, would then underline even more how impractical that would be. Sigh.

Don’t kill the Lego Builder in you. Keep these hobbies alive. Use what God has blessed you with. I’m convinced these can offer also you clues as to what your Purpose really is.

4. Consider being an entrepreneur

Of COURSE I’m biased. This IS a startup-themed blog, after all.

For the Lego-Builder in you though, this is the ultimate choice  – to bring something out into the world with your unique DNA draped all over it. Your very own Mazinger Z.

There’s no better time in history to be an entrepreneur. Everything you need is a Google search away. Start small.

So, what are you building now? What are you up to?

If you’re not building anything, it’s never too late to start.

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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Big Picture? No, Look at the BIGGER Picture

big pictureThese past few months have been crazy in STORM. We started the 2014 with about 16 employees. We’re ending the year with around 50 employees and 60 more job openings.

After 5-6 years hovering at around 10-15 employees, we’re now scaling at an unprecedented level.

It’s been all sorts of crazy, but its been fun. It’s a riveting challenge to see just how far we can push this.

This sudden shift in scale started when we realized two years ago that, “Hey, we can be more than a niche player in the industry – we could help EVERYONE out with flexible benefits.”

We widened the aperture.

Stepping Back for a Wider View

Every once in awhile I would talk to an entrepreneur about ideas or actual products they would share with me to get advice.

In a lot of these ideas, I could imagine a LARGER opportunity NOT being pursued.

For example, there was one app idea which targeted Churches. As it was being explained to me, I thought: hey, this might work for ANY type of community. 

I could see why he would think this way – he was an avid Church-goer who wanted to solve a specific problem.

That is awesome. Focus is good.

In doing this though, we might be missing a larger, still unserved market which would benefit from the same solution.

It is to our best interests then, to see what happens if we take a step back and try to see a larger opportunity we can capture.

This might be easier said than done. A number of us see the world with some filters which prevent us from seeing the possibilities.

Overcoming Our Narrow Filters

I realize that growing up in school and working in corporate taught me to have a very narrow paradigm.

Good grades will make great companies want you.

You have to go up the corporate ladder.

There is no shortcut. You have to pay your dues.

There is a salary scale.

Your expertise is limited to the Department you are in. (Finance guys know only Finance, HR guys know only HR, etc…)

It takes a special type of experience or exposure (an Ivy-leaguer, maybe someone who came from Apple or Google, someone extremely well-connected, etc…) to build a big firm.

I can never learn anything quickly enough to be an expert in it and compete. So might as well stick to what I’ve been exposed to.

These are all illusions.

Feel free to dream bigger. Once you get blinders like these off, you will begin to see how MUCH opportunity there is – to make a difference, to build something special, to help a larger number of people.


If there’s one person I know who exemplifies big-ger thinking, it’s Nix Nolledo.

I realize I’ve never talked about Nix in JGL (except when he was in Startups Unplugged). This is because I respected his approach to be low-key. But hey, I don’t think this is pretty low-key anymore:

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 11.40.41 PM


Nix invested in STORM in 2013 and has been instrumental in helping us scale and grow.

What I’ve learned from Nix is looking at not only the big picture, but seeing if there’s an even bigger one hiding behind it. After every conversation with him, I’m always inspired to widen my horizons.

Of course, it helps that he lives this out. He dreams big and just goes after it. (That Inquirer story does a good job of documenting his path)

That Xurpas IPO is a huge, ballsy move. For me, it’s not only because of all the money they raised. It’s also because now, they are expected to grow much more than what they raised. They’re taking this challenge head-on, in a very public arena.

So Don’t Sell Yourself Short

This applies to everyone in the entrepreneurial path. Widen your aperture.

Yes, you can resign from your job and build something special.

Yes, you can find GREAT people to build your startup with.

Yes, you can scale and go to other countries.

Yes, you can go after a larger market.

Yes, you can build an awesome, world-class product.

Yes, you can pursue your dream and be practical at the same time.

Yes, you can.

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5 Reasons Why You Should Quit Your Job Now and Work for a Startup (With Traction)


So, you want to put up a startup.

You want to take the leap.

But it’s sooooo hard to let go of the cushy job you’ve spent numerous years cultivating…

You worry about the sudden disruption of that bi-monthly cashflow you’re now so accustomed to and built your life around.

So what now?

Here’s a solution – work for a startup. But don’t just work for ANY startup – work for a startup with traction.

What’s traction? I like Naval Ravikant’s (Angelist founder) efficient definition of traction: “Quantitative evidence of market demand.”

A startup has traction when it has increasing numbers – revenue, users, profitability, engagement, traffic, etc…

These are evident signs that the startup is WORKING, that the business idea has merit and potential.

I’ve been mulling about my own leap into entrepreneurship, and I think one of aspects of my own leap that I underrate the most was my stint in Chikka back in the mid-2000’s.

I underrate it because I started forming STORM before my stint in Chikka. But I think my 5-year stint in the startup (it was 3 years old when I joined) helped solidify my readiness in taking my full leap into entrepreneurship in 2008.

Recalling my stint in Chikka, and my own experiences in running startups, here are 7 reasons why you should quit your job now and pursue a job in a startup with traction.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 1.11.54 PM

1. It’s Inspiring

After 5 years in a very “corporate” environment (IT consulting), I had a very different experience on my first day, when our CEO sent me an email welcoming me to the team, and on the last line saying: “Let’s kick ass and rule the world!” I don’t think I’ve ever seen the word “ass” in formal company channels.

But after that, I was sucked in. I loved the informality and culture they were trying to create. I loved that everyone was in t-shirts. (my previous firm made me wear a tie)

More than this, however, I loved experiencing the growth.

In seasoned corporations, you’d expect conservative growth figures of perhaps 12% or 15%. In startups with traction, we’ve experience numbers like 700%, or even 3000% growth. This is undeniably exciting for everyone in the firm. When a startup CEO makes announcements about growth figures – everyone feels giddy (because everyone feels he/she contributed).

I remember reading that in Amazon’s early years, they made a bell ring whenever a customer would purchase from Amazon. This made the culture electric, they created a real buzz (pun intended) in the air. (obviously they stopped this after there came a point when the bell just rang incessantly.

Traction makes things ultra-exciting for a startup.


2. You Can Get Paid (!)

Here is where the big difference I think lies. At STORM, I tell people who come in: “You probably won’t get the same salary as you would command in a multinational – but present salary isn’t why you would join a company like us.”

But you know what? We would come close.

And combined with everything else we offer (culture, learning, excitement, contribution, input, upward mobility, etc…), this makes it a sweet deal.

You get to work in a startup without sacrificing that big a monetary sacrifice.

“But I won’t get equity.”

No, probably not the big 20%-30% ownership that you would get when you join a pure from-scratch startup with no traction, but….


3. You Have A Shot at Significant Shares

Noah Kagan was one of Facebook’s first 40 employees. He was there when Facebook was still in that rented house we saw in The Social Network. He was fired in his first year (so he didn’t get his shares, because it was vested). He basically lost $100,000,000. Of course, not every startup will be Facebook, but what I want you to look at here is the shares given to Noah. No, as the 40th employee, he won’t have the same % as Zuckerberg or Sean Parker, but got a much, much larger percentage than current employees get. (and he doesn’t need to buy them at $100,000,000 if he bought the same shares now).

Let me break it gently to you: you have NO chance of gaining significant shares in a seasoned corporation, especially if its public.

On the other hand, a number of startups offer equity shares to strategic/loyal employees.  I know some young startups who give all their starting set of employees shares in the firm. In some startups, you need to prove yourself (if you do, most entrepreneurs I know would be happy to give you shares). Dino Alcoseba now owns a portion of the startup he leads, Strata.

If your goal in becoming an entrepreneur is equity (which makes a ton of sense, as this is how most billionaires acquire their wealth), then you might actually find it by working for a startup with traction.

You’re going to have to prove yourself, though. Bottom-line, you have a shot.


4. Learning From Success

You now have so many stories on entrepreneurs learning from their mistakes. We hear a lot of quotes like:

That company I started failed, but the learning I garnered from it was why I now succeed…yada, yada..

This is true, of course (in fact I write about it here).

But you know what? You can also learn from successes! Yes!

By joining a startup with traction, you can see what it takes.

You can work for a dozen failed startups, amass a TON of experience, and STILL have no clue about how a startup can succeed.

In working for a startup with traction, you can see and observe best practices. Want to be a successful startup CEO? Then learn from a successful one.

5. Upward AND Horizontal Mobility

Dino is my poster boy for upward mobility in a startup. 5 years from “Junior HR Consultant” to CEO. (We have numerous examples of less dramatic upward movements as well 🙂 I think this is a clear advantage of working for startups – you get to grow with the firm.

But horizontal mobility is extremely important as well. Increased horizontal mobility allows you to find your own traction within a firm, and contribute where you can do your BEST work (a tremendous difference)

In a large corporation, it is often very difficult to change departments. Let’s say you start a career in Sales. You go up the ranks. If, suddenly, after some discernment, you decide, “I want to transfer to supply chain,” don’t be surprised if it takes time for your request to happen, or more likely, it doesn’t happen.

With a startup with traction, you can be flexible. With traction comes growth. With growth comes the need for new positions. Hence comes the opportunity to not only contribute in different areas – and try them out!

Longtime JGL advocates would be familiar with AR, who originally worked as a recruiter in (the now defunct) Searchlight, then she was hired by STORM. She then became STORM’s HR Officer, then HR Manager, then transferred into Consulting, then became our Content Management Head, before occupying the position she holds now in STORM, which is Customer Service Head. All in 2-3 years!

For startups, traction is king. Once a startup experiences traction, the possibilities are endless.

Make your possibilities endless as well and join one.

(Part 2 coming up soon!)




Thursdays Unplugged Postscript (July 31 Edition)



See that bottle of Pepsi in the picture?

I started this Thursdays Unplugged session by accidentally dropping the closed bottle, and then proceeding to absent-mindedly open it.

The result was an explosion of cola and pride, mostly on my shirt (which, incredibly, looks the same in the picture).

It was all uphill from there though!

With the third participant calling that he couldn’t make it the last minute, this became a 3-person session. Of course, I loved the result, as Jode, Gerome, and I not only got into the technicalities of the their startup ideas, but more importantly, we got to talk about their journey, and the softer parts of the startup life.

The thing I love about these sessions is that they’re discussions. Even if Gerome and Jode had very different concepts (one design, and one more IT-logistics) and were in very different stages of the startup journey, the exchange proved to be quite open, honest, and everyone was more than helpful to one another.

Can’t wait for the 14th. Seeya Mike, JC, and Michelle!

Slots still open for the 21st (1 more slot) and the 28th (2 slots free), so if you wan’t to secure a seat, do email me.