My Year in the Philippines: Reflections On Starting Up and Development

Miarayon, Bukidnon, Philippines
Miarayon, Bukidnon, Philippines

I’ve been in the Philippines for almost exactly a year now.

Oh, what an incredible ride it has been so far. Within the year, I’ve had so many different experiences from starting things up with JGL to a brief stint at co.lab to being part of the launch of Ashoka Philippines.  Life has been unpredictable. I’ve been exposed to so many new and different ideas. So many different people. I’ve gained a sense of belonging in a country that has opened my eyes to the world.

The year has really been such a gift and a strong driving force of change for me.

I remember the days when I only had one peso in my pocket. I remember the days when I was so desperate for blog content that I would write about playing board games with my nephew. I remember the days when I’d use the term social enterprise at least once a day. I remember the days when everything seemed so new and fresh…when every opportunity that presented itself seemed like a great one. I remember the days, as if it were a distant past and as if I were a different person.

Why do I feel like I’ve changed so much within the last year?

I guess it’s the feeling of being challenged because of people. For example, a two-hour conversation with a passionate and well-informed changemaker would turn my world upside down. From learning about problems in our healthcare system to peace conflicts to education reform, I felt as if I were learning something new everyday from individuals who were really immersed in the world.

I don’t know which direction these reflections are taking me…but I guess that’s how development works. One starts something, learns from it in an ever-changing environment, and works towards progress.

I am developing in my work and my thoughts, as a young person and would-be entrepreneur. I urge young people to soak in everything that the world is willing to teach them.

Never be afraid to speak your mind in hopes of understanding your life and the world that you live in. It is a helpful exercise that will help you get to that aha moment.

Thanks JGL for giving me a platform to start and grow. Cheers to a full year in the Philippines!

The Software Guru tells the Real Story: On Startups, Bankruptcy, and Attitude (Part 1 of the Joey Gurango Series)

I remember texting Peter right after my interview with Joey Gurango, which was just days before Startups Unplugged. In my text, I asked Peter about what he thought about posting an uncut version of Joey’s interview on JGL. The reason for my suggestion was that after my interview with Joey, I was completely taken aback by the incredible knowledge that he was sharing with me; even though I wasn’t a techie, Joey’s stories resonated with me and schooled the heck out of me. Everything Joey shared with me just seemed so important, so I wanted to post everything that he said. While I must admit, I’ve omitted some parts of the conversation to be practical, this is still a very raw version of what Joey shared with me. I hope this piece will allow Joey’s stories and insights to speak for itself. The other portions of his story will be coming soon! In the meantime, sit tight and allow the sublime to take its course.

Joey Gurango of Gurango Software
Joey Gurango of Gurango Software

When did you start and why? 

Joey: My first business was in 1981. I was at the University of Washington and I did a pizza delivery business. Out of necessity, I figured that most college kids living in dorms were too lazy to go down to the pizza place to get their own pizza, so I just setup a phone and gave out fliers. Then, I waited for people to call me and ask for an order. I had Dominos, Godfather’s, and Pizza Hut menus and they [the customers] would call and tell me what they wanted. I’d put a 15% surcharge on whatever they ordered, but I would get their money first (Joey chuckles). The pizza delivery business was actually my first real business. My first real tech business was in 1984. I had worked for apple computer for a little over 2 years. The Macintosh just launched, and I got this idea to make something called desktop furniture for the Macintosh. So with that I started a company with some money because back then it was really expensive to build injection mold products by the mold. Everything was going great…and then in 18 months we went bankrupt, so that was my first experience.

Why’d you guys go bankrupt?

Joey: ‘Cos we spent more than we made. Real simple. We were making a lot of money. I think the first 6 months, we had over $1 million in revenue. But then the next 6 months, it didn’t quite reach a million dollars. Then after that, I decided that I didn’t want to be in hardware anymore. I started my first software company… that was 1987…Match Data Systems. I started that doing excel custom programming. In 1991, I decided to move the company back here [Philippines]. By then Windows had come out, so we moved from Macintosh to Windows. We were one of the first, as far as I know in Asia, that were doing Windows development work. One thing led to another. In 1999, by then we kind of branched out into ERP software, a company called Great Plains software acquired us, so we become Great Plains Philippines. Two years later, Microsoft acquired Great Plains, so I become a Microsoft employee. Then, I stayed with Microsoft for two years in 2001. I’ve basically had three jobs in my life. My first job was with Apple computer. My second job was with a training company for less than year. My third job was with Microsoft. Then I started my first software company and haven’t really worked for anybody else, until my company was acquired, so technically I was working for a multinational company, but it never really felt that way, which is why I left.

Why did you move back to the Philippines?

Joey: My first company did custom software development. First for the Macintosh. We did a lot of excel work…a lot of data base programming for the mac. The problem was, since we were doing a lot of excel work, I would train these fresh grads on developing for the graphic leisure interface, and then because Microsoft was really heavy into doing Windows development back then, they kept hiring them away from me. Microsoft would give them double the pay. I was getting frustrated because we were losing programmers in the US. Our office was literally a 5 minute drive away from Microsoft headquarters. At the time, my brother was visiting the States from the Philippines. He says, “You know we have programmers in the Philippines?” “Really? Do you even have PCs there [in the Philippines]?” I said. He replied, “Oh yeah! We have dBase programmers.” So that’s when the idea struck me that I could have the company in the Philippines and continue servicing my US customers. And it would be cheaper, and I wouldn’t have to worry about losing these guys because nobody else would hire them because we were doing stuff that nobody else was doing. That’s why I came back. We were doing offshore outsourcing before it was even a term.

What experiences or skills from abroad did you find most valuable for starting up in the Philippines? 

Joey: The one thing I’d say it’s not really a skill or experience, but more of an attitude. Through the years I’ve realized that the only difference, in general, between people in the countries like the US and here, when it comes to things like business and startups, is not knowledge, skills, IQ or EQ, but the big different shader is the willingness to risk and face failure. In the US, it’s not a big deal if you’ve started a company or even failed for that matter. My first real company went bankrupt after 18 months. We raised $250,000 in investor funds to start that company and in 18 months it was all gone. We never gave the investors back a single cent. Nobody was coming after to me trying to have me assassinated. There’s no shame in it. There’s no social stigma with that type of failure in the US. If I were to say what was the most helpful thing was to bring that mentality over here. Compared to most of the local technical guys, I was pretty fearless. I was willing to buy stuff that nobody else would consider. However, I’ve come to learn that taking the entrepreneurial path is not that risky. If you do it in the right way –like all the things I’ve learned just in the last five years- if you know how to do business modeling, practice lean startup and customer discovery, test and validate assumptions, it can be quite low-risk. It’s still not as low-risk as getting a job and a consistent paycheck, but it can get pretty close. I think if I knew what I knew today, it [the business] wouldn’t have gone bankrupt, but I would have shut it down a lot sooner. Now I can say that it’s not really that risky to be an entrepreneur, if you know how to do it right.

5 Things I’ve Learned from Startups Unplugged

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

Ask and you shall receive.

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

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

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

Set your mind to work with purpose.

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

Facebook Ads Work.

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

Evenbrite is an awesome tool for event registration! 

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

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

Don’t Do it Alone! 

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


Justice League by DC Comics
Justice League by DC Comics

Scaling Your Caring: How You Can and Why You Need to

A few weeks ago, my wife posted “what’s a good ramen place?” on her Facebook account. We love ramen and wanted to find out if anything new was out there.

She was besieged with a score of answers. She got the usual suspects – like Ramen Bar and Ajisen Ramen.  Then we noticed an answer which was met with near-universal approval from her friends – Tamagoya Noodle House. Apparently, it was a small, obscure ramen place in Antipolo which gets crowded fast.

Best value-for-money ramen experience ever!

(How can we say no to that?! Resistance = futile)

And you know what? We went and just loved it. We’re now frequent customers.

More than ever, we have been consulting Google less and less and our friends on our social networks more and more. We are now doing social searches. Social media has transformed everything. Armed with networked mobile phones with high resolution cameras, experiences can be shared automatically and spread out like wildfire across multiple social networks. (this is a large reason why being an entrep now is so enticing – we do a good job and people spread it around)

I can attest to this in a very personal way. STORM has never had a marketing executive. How do we get leads? Word of mouth. These last two years have been record-breaking for STORM. Why? Social media-powered word of mouth.

On the other end of the spectrum, most brands are now on the social networks as well. Did you just have a sucky customer service experience? You can now post them on brand pages and broadcast it to the world. You can write an open letter to the President and post on Facebook. If it was an especially nasty experience, it WILL get spread and force a company to react.

The power has come back all the way to the consumer. Every person is now a powerful voice.

In this 2.0 era, there is now NO CHOICE but to treat every customer like royalty. We have no choice but to deliver truly authentic customer experiences. We cannot put parrots on our customer service teams anymore. We have to deliver on every promise and empower frontliners to truly HELP, not merely to placate. Just check this out for an example of how NOT to do things. How to properly do things? Check Zappos out. They are amazing.

I have a million customers! How can I help every single one?

Social media plus hustling. Answer every inquiry like a human being. You know, when I think of it, when I call to complain about a service, I usually just want to be heard and have the assurance someone is actively helping me out. What I hate most? Scripts.

(Oh, and if you have a million customers you can afford to hire a good team to take care of customer service.)

If we make mistakes, we have to live with the fact that they will be public – but we can show the world we can rise to the challenge of getting better (and the world WILL love you for it – they can relate).

Guess what? This forces us to be better firms. Forces us to create better products and services. Forces us to step up.

Big Brother is there not merely for the Carabuenas of this world, but customer experiences as well.

But defending our brand is just the tip of the iceberg!

Stop for a second and imagine…you can talk directly to ALL your customers!

That is an amazing thought. Think of the dialogue you could create. Brand loyalty. Are you the CEO of a startup? Think of what your consumers would feel like if you made friends with some of them over social media. Think of the free market research you can do. Think of the cross product marketing you can achieve.

It’s a brave new world just dripping with opportunity.

Assemble Your Avengers! An interview with the best startup recruiter there is, Nick Fury

A JUAN GREAT LEAP EXCLUSIVE: An interview with General Nick Fury himself, credited with starting two very successful startups: SHIELD, where he now serves as Director, and more recently, The Avengers.

Peter Cauton: Uhm, thank you very much, Director for allowing us an audience. The Juan Great Leap community is ecstatic for this opportunity to learn from you.

General Nick Fury: Good for you this is part of the community service sentence they gave me, you know, when it was found I had something to do with the destruction of New York. Let’s get on with it, son.  Nice hairstyle.

PC: Uhm, thanks. Anyway, sir! All our startup enthusiasts want to know, sir, how exactly did you pull off this recruitment coup with the Avengers?! I mean, what an amazing, kick-ass haul of founders!

GNF: Thank you.

GNF: Well, to be honest with you Cauton, the first thing I thought of was the problem I chose to tackle. I told myself, Nicky, if you wanted to protect the whole g__amned world, who would you enlist? This was what created SHIELD decades ago. I got the best agents from the CIA, the FBI. Got a lot of applicants as well. And you know what, we were fine. We kept the peace.

GNF: Until all these different E.T.’s decided, let’s phone their freaking homes! Then suddenly you had Aliens of Mass Destruction, throwing around my SHIELD guys like ragdolls. I became desperate. Very desperate. So this was my new problem: how do I protect the whole freakin’ earth from freakin’ alien invasions? With an emphasis son, on the S.

GNF: In. Vhay. Shon. SSSS.

GNF: This was the scope of my problem, son, and I knew I had to create a new startup to tackle it. I had to assemble a team of highly talented people. The creme de la creme.

PC: Any insights or recruitment tips for our readers on how to find highly talented people like these?

GNF:  Well, for starters, it’s mighty hard to find them. You gotta do the heavy research. We found one guy frozen at the bottom of the ocean. I recruited one girl from the competition. One was hiding in India. One just sort of fell from the sky. Tough to find them.

GNF: Then you have to evaluate them. We passed on a lot of other potentials before selecting this group. You can’t settle. Selection is everything! For example, we almost hired this brilliant guy who was dressed like a bat, and was a cross between Stark, Hawkeye, and Widow. But I felt, you know, that he wouldn’t have been much of a team player. So we dropped his ass. Here’s his application form. He’s a bit more impressive in person.

GNF: Anyway, once I zeroed in on who I wanted, I switched on the Fury-charm and tried like hell to get them on board. I followed them around, one by one. Flat-out stalked them. Had one on one talks with them, coffee with them. Me. General Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD. In Starbucks. But you gotta swallow some pride when you are interested in getting the best of the best.

 PC: Any suggestions on founder composition?

GNF: Balance. If you notice, I got people whose talents complemented one another. When Thor said yes, for example, I quickly called Hercules to say, “Look kid. I don’t have time. To wait. For you. To ask. Your father! You’re out. Fury out. “

GNF: We didn’t have expertise redundancy.

PC: Uhm, but what about Hawkeye and Black Wido…

GNF: Can Hawkeye seduce male dictators to get information?

PC: Well, no bu…

GNF: There you go. Let’s move on. As I was saying earlier, balance. Another thing I did was to ensure we had technical founders who had different specializations. In this time and age, getting on the tech bandwagon can be crucial, whatever your chosen startup field is.

GNF: I also got someone whom I knew would have the potential to lead someone from the ground, since I got general stuff to do. Wait, but not general as in standard stuff, mind you, but general as in GENERAL Nick Fury stuff.  I needed a COO to my CEO, a Sandberg to my Zuckerberg. Is my point clear?

PC: Crystal. Did you have trouble making them get along?

GNF: Did I have trouble making them get along? DID I HAVE TROUBLE MAKING THEM GET ALONG?! YOU CAN BET YOUR ASS I DID!

PC: …

GNF: Sorry, it’s a bad habit.

GNF: Anyway, you should have seen what happened when all them met in a room. They were at each other’s throats. Being the master psychologist that I am, I KNEW this was what would happen if you brought great people in one room. One very important role I have is ego-management. There should be enough room for all the egos.

PC: So what did you do?

GNF: I did some uh…motivational tactics designed to show them that the vision was so much more important than their individual goals. That they had to put their differences aside to work on the common goal. I also ensured they had bonding time outside work so they could get to know each other a bit better.

PC: Did it work?

GNF: Do I have one eye?

PC: Uh…yup.

GNF: Case closed. Fury out. (disappears into basement)

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The Crucial Art Of Momentum Management, part deux

In the previous post, we talked about managing YOUR momentum in the startup process, about how we have to strike when the iron is hot and take advantage of our energy.

But what happens now when you’re now working with a team of either founders or employees?

Things become a bit trickier because now the startup exists outside of you. It now exists in your co-founders/employees, as well as the product you are now presumably working on.

Identifying Momentum Shifts

First of all, you have to be able to learn to READ how your momentum is. Is there an impasse in activity? Is output slower?

Sometimes the signs are subtler: has a co-founder’s energy dwindled? How does undergoing your first bad break affect the team?

The more you get to know your team, the better you would be at reading the signs.

Then, as startup founder and dreamer, it is up to YOU to ensure energy is sustained, up to you to pick guys up.  I have yet to meet a startup founder who can be described as “low batt.” They can’t afford to. When momentum slows and the difficult times come, people look to the founder for motivation and energy.

Challenge: Doing It Part-Time

For practicality purposes, a lot of startups are founded by people with fulltime day-jobs working on the startup part-time, very typically with other part-time co-founders.

This is a challenge because it becomes easy for people to miss meetings, or miss updates, or miss deadlines. String together a few of these and sometimes before you know it your startup is dead – and people are just too distracted/disheartened to pick up the pieces and start anew.

Keeping momentum in this sort of situation requires one thing: that you become relentless. You have to be relentless in finding time to work on your startup. You have to be relentless in keeping your team accountable to deadlines. You have to be relentless in managing and sustaining momentum.

Creating Cadence

There has to be some structure that your team can adhere to and bank on. Introduce these and make sure the team sticks to them. It could be in the form of start-of the week Skype teleconference meetings between the founders, or Googledoc files people fill in with weekly updates, or perhaps 2x a month Saturday lunch meeting. Monitoring progress helps a lot in achieving more of it.

Just Care

In the end, perhaps the most important thing to remember here is that you just have to care enough and do something if you see slippage. Sure, it can be awkward as hell to call out a slow-performing co-founder. Yep, you don’t want to be the bad guy who called that meeting when it’s 5:30 pm on a Friday, and everyone is tired from their day jobs. Someone’s gotta do it though. And yes, that means you.

Hey, no one said it would be easy.

The Crucial Art of Momentum Management

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” 

– Brutus (in the play Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare)

This is a line from my favorite Shakespeare play, where Brutus urges his comrades to seize a fleeting opportunity in an armed conflict.

Ships tend to leave ports during high tide, so as to go along with the flow. Brutus is basically telling his mates to seize the day while the tide is high, because that opportunity will come and go.

Of course, seizing the day is basically the mantra of any entrepreneur – I’m not here to expound on that. What I want to expand on is the notion that entrepreneurs have to seize the day when    momentum is at its highest. Because like the tide, momentum comes and goes – and like voyaging ships, its tough to leave the port when the tide is low.

Startup founders know – it’s all about managing that momentum.

When you begin, your startup is a delicate, fragile baby – perhaps existing only in your mind as a concept or an idea. It grows slowly, as you talk about your idea with other people. It grows slowly, as you begin forming your team. Within your team, it will grow as you sign papers and begin working on fleshing out your business model. Along this process, you will feel an energy – an excitement, almost palpable. With each step taken, you will feel this energy grow, and this energy allows you to hurdle the next step a bit more easily. This is startup momentum. It is very critical that you manage it well, as it could mean the life and death of your startup.

Your momentum will suffer blows: I remember being rejected by potential partners and investors or people telling me that the idea sucked. These were a bummer, but I had to keep my momentum afloat, so I didn’t let them burst my momentum.

Important realization: I never stopped. And come to think of it, this is what works for me. From idea to coffee talks to forming teams to creating the product to creating the company to running it- there were no long breaks in between, I just kept chugging along, riding my momentum till the “next step,” until either a company is founded or the idea fails.

I think this is important because once you stop and “take a break” for whatever reason, momentum stops and it’s just really so hard to get going again.

Do you feel charged up and inspired?  Take advantage of this tide and do something. Call an entrepreneurial friend up NOW and ask her if she wants to have coffee tonight or tomorrow. You will be amazed at how things can quickly go from there.

Now what happen when you’ve assembled a group of people already? How do you keep momentum?

Next post!

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