Avoid the Joneses, They Will Anchor You to Mediocrity

joneses

Aside from my work in STORM and Juan Great Leap, I “incubate” firms.

It’s really just a passion of mine to look for the right ideas, find the right people to pursue them, and then try to build something from nothing. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn’t.

So, if you can imagine, a big part of this hobby of mine is constant “founder-hunting.”

There are a great many challenges to “founder-hunting.” (I’ve covered quite a bit of this in this blog.)

Illustrated here is another fairly typical one:

Peter: “So…everything sounds good! This is the % equity you’ll be entitled to as Founding CEO. As for salary, obviously the startup can’t afford your current salary, but we can still squeeze out what I think is a substantial amount, ______.”

Founder: “Uhm…can the salary still be increased?”

Peter: “Dude, we went through the figures. You know this is the safest amount we can muster. Wait, what are you going to pay for? You didn’t get married and suddenly have kids last night, right?”

Founder: “Well, no, but I am paying for a car for the next two years.”

Peter: “Uh…don’t you live like 3 kilometers from your current office?”

Founder: “Yeah, but…doesn’t everyone get a car plan? It was a good deal.”

Peter: And you got a brand new one? (sighs defeatedly)

Founder: “Uh. Yes. I, uhm…also got a studio unit…”

Ah….The car-condo yuppie dream.

Most people I know who take advantage of these “good deals” CANNOT afford them – hence they do a loan. In effect, they give up a large amount of their monthly salary over the next 3-4 years not only to pay for the car, but also to pay for the huge interest expense (bank margin) generated in spreading the loan over 3-4 years.

(You know what, you could have used that money to bankroll a startup that could pay for 5 cars for you in the same amount of years)

People justify this expenditure with the very confident “I will increase my salary by this so and so amount every year, so this amount won’t look so big in a few years.”

Bad, bad move. (salary increases aren’t by any means guaranteed, emergency expenditures ALWAYS happen)

Even if you get buyer’s remorse, say, A DAY AFTER YOU RECEIVE THE CAR, you’re already done for. You will never ever make the same amount of money you just spent because a car’s value plummets disproportionately as a used vehicle.

Then the critical question comes in: okay, why a NEW car? Why a higher model? Why didn’t you stop with the car? Why get a home loan for a condo as well?

Eventually, if you keep asking why, the reasoning for a lot of people  (whether they admit it or not) becomes apparent: it’s to keep up with the Joneses.

New car makes you more popular. The new car is “appropriate for your level.” (that’s what I thought)

Stop.

The Joneses will anchor you. There is no need to keep up with them.

Retain your fiscal flexibility. Fiscal maturity and flexibility are so important to a young entrepreneur. Most  startups cannot survive with immediate high salaries (some cannot with ANY salary), necessitated by unnecessary financial anchors.  Don’t ever destroy your long term dreams by chasing shiny, short-term objects.

Ignore the Joneses.

How you can use FEAR as a REVERSE Spider Sense

tarantula

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s still there.

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

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

Let me explain.

relayContinuous Innovation Is Now a REQUIREMENT

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

Innovation is the new currency.

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

Companies know this.

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

This is true for both companies and of people.

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

So how does one cope in this new dynamic?

Becoming flexible.

How does one THRIVE in this new dynamic?

You HAVE to take risks.

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

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

Embracing Fear

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

We all saw the positive possibilities, BUT…

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

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

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

Fear.

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

spideysenseReverse Spider Sense

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

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

Is the fear in me?

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

1) I am not interested in the opportunity.

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

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

2) There isn’t a great deal of risk

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

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

But if there IS fear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some tips that may help:

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

2) Fail

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

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

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

It’s not that bad.

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

stairs3. Starting with smaller risks

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

Got an idea?

Level 1: Do a powerpoint (not so risky)

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

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

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

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

Hey guess what – you’ve started a startup!

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

Open Coffee Postscript

open coffee april

I had another awesome time last Saturday morning at the April Edition of Open Coffee. Here are some of my thoughts and observations on now holding four of these formatted mixers.

1)  The Sharing Continues to Amaze Me

My colleague AR told me that she plans to write a thesis about how the growing Filipino entrepreneurial community is debunking the notion of Filipino crab mentality. You can see this is in action in Open Coffee. In the pitches, you will see people will share business plans, ideas, and plans to people they do not know. (and unlike in “formal” pitching venues, there is no “prize” save for the learning. What’s magical is that the audience reciprocates – sharing their own insight, personal experience, and contacts to the one pitching. (You gotta see it if you haven’t yet.)

2) Get Ready for Sheer Variety

pitch

I think this is what makes the Juan Great Leap audience a bit different from other startup communities. Just on this version of Open Coffee alone, we had pitches for: a customer service consulting firm for front-liners, an essential oil which increases productivity, a crowdfunding site for volunteers, a published book targeting young entrepreneurs, a lactation consulting play on social media, a do-it-yourself online explainer video maker, a bazaar a unique social interaction app, and a consulting firm for boutique hotels.  For someone with my need for different stimulus, this is like a kid in a Toys R’ Us.

Long story short, it’s also tremendous learning.

3) For the Most Part, the Pitching Needs Work

The 2-minute limit presents a nice quandary for presenters:

How do I get my point across effectively in two minutes?

Theoretically, pitchers are then forced to be ultra-EFFICIENT, cutting less-important details for the MOST important details.

I’m not so sure this is what happens though, as most people prematurely wrap up their pitch when the two minutes are up.

I think there can be VAST improvement over how most of us present their pitches. Pitching is a crucial part of the startup life. Entrepreneurs need to be effective pitchmen for so many different, crucial things – recruitment, raising money, sales, marketing, partnerships,etc…

This is something we need to improve. (more on this soon)

4) The Platform Needs To Be a “Safe Place”

In the March 47 East Open Coffee, student Christian Go hitched with me going home. He told me he almost didn’t pitch, because he thought the first pitcher was sort of attacked. (basically people said the idea wasn’t too good)

Remembering what Christian shared, I started this Open Coffee by underlining two things. I told people that: a) they have to be extra-conscious of HOW they give their comments, and b) that ALL comments have to have some semblance of being CONSTRUCTIVE.

The resulting pitch rounds and feedback-giving were super. I think people took the two things to heart.

I do realize that there are some people who prefer the Western-style “tell it as it is in my face” method. But this is the Philippines after all, a reminder makes all the difference.

5) Bigger and Bigger

open coffee full house

I commented on the JGL FB page that OPEN COFFEE getting too big for the venue. The March Open Coffee had 40+ participants. This April version had 50+.

From an idea I wasn’t sure would pan out,

(would people share? what if no one wants to be the first to pitch? would people give useful feedback)

I think it’s safe to call Open Coffee a success after 4 iterations.

Onwards to bigger and better versions. Thank you so much to everyone who keep on making it so!

matt lapid profile pic
Naks! Matt Lapid profile pic!

More pics here! 

(For those who are new to Open Coffee, it happens MONTHLY, with the next one coming out mid-to-late May. Stay tuned!)

How to Use Consulting as a Bridge Between Corporate and Startup

stepping

I had a great lunch meeting today with a very talented friend who’s been working in corporate for nearly two decades already. During that span, he’s built impressive credentials and has worked on different projects in his chosen corporate function.

“I’m at that point Peter where I’m at a crossroads in my corporate career. If I leave my company now, I can apply for department head in another firm, but then what? I’ll be looking at a future of just jumping as department head from one company to the other?”

(I was at that same crossroads before, so I could really relate to what he was saying.)

A common friend of ours who was managing her own lucrative consulting practice was asking him if he wanted to pursue the same. It was something my talented friend could establish easily. He then thought of talking to me to get more feedback on making the leap.

I said:

 “Ah. I think one point to consider is the decision to go into consulting or pursue a startup. They are different things.”

Consulting vs Startups

Having been involved in both consulting and startups, I know first-hand how different they are.

A consulting practice centers around the skills and reputation of the Consultant. The ensuing organization is built to extend the reach of the consultant.

For example, from time to time, I still agree to HR Consulting engagements with some firms. They pay me for my HR expertise. If I were to build an organization around this “service,” it would involve creating a support structure around me so I can maximize my contribution – admin people to ensure I don’t get bogged down, a junior consultant to help on the ground with projects, etc…

This is of course, a GREAT thing. I know numerous people who have created either solo consulting practices or consulting firms who have employed 2-3 people, even more. These people are immensely satisfied and do not worry about money anymore.

If you wish to scale though, and make a splashy startup, it probably would not be through a consulting practice, as a consulting practice does not scale. The consulting practice organization is built around the consultant’s particular skill. Since there are only 24 hours in a day, there is only so much that you can do to extend your reach.

While a consulting practice is built around the consultant, a startup’s goal, on the other hand,  is usually create a repeatable, sustainable business – or in other words, to make itself operationally independent of the founder.

If you take me out of the equation in STORM, for example, STORM would still exist. It would still make operate. Of course, a lengthy separation would have ramifications on long-term strategy and growth (I hope), but unlike in a consulting practice, taking the founder from a working startup doesn’t mean it tumbles like a house of cards. (independence is the goal, obviously – taking a founder out of an early-stage startup is a wholly different matter).

In a startup, the product or service offered is SEPARATE from the founder, the founder BUILD the product. In a consulting practice, the product IS the consultant.

So, for those who are interested in doing a startup, and have garnered a signifiant amount of skills and experience in a particular corporate field – here’s one strategy you can do:

Do the Karen Yao

Use the financial stream and flexible hours of your consulting practice to build your scaleable startup idea on the side. Then, as your startup makes revenue, you can spend less and less time on your practice and more and more time on your startup.

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 10.57.41 AMTake my good friend Karen Yao, who was one of the entrepreneurs in Startups Unplugged. Like me, she built for herself a corporate career in HR. Then she jumped into a consulting career. During this time, she built Congruent Partnerships – first as a vehicle to extend her consulting practice, but then recently pivoting towards a more scaleable startup idea: HR outsourcing services for SME’s.

The thing is, the jump from corporate to consulting isn’t such a HUGE leap as jumping headlong into a startup. For one thing, you will be using the same expertise you were using in corporate – so work-wise, it will be a very comfortable shift.  The only difference is that the payment just isn’t through salary anymore, it shall be though project-based contracts. Moreover, it’s a good transition – you are already getting exposed to some of the elements of managing a startup: client work, accountability, finances, managing your own time, etc.

Since you manage your own time, you CAN NOW allot some time during the week to work on your startup without giving the startup the whole burden of paying for your expenses. This is crucial. One of the big challenges of doing a startup is running out of money. Running out of money basically means you run out of time to work on your startup.

Leaning on your consulting practice is a way fund your startup product development. You can extend your startup runway significantly.

Have your cake and eat it, too

If you choose to work on a startup which is RELATED to your consulting practice, then that’s a HUGE win-win scenario. Your consulting meetings are not only monetary opportunities, but now also double as pertinent data-gathering and validation activities for your would-be startup.

If your consulting clients are your target customers for your eventual startup? That will be super! You can ask them crucial questions like, “What do you think of this product?” or “Would you buy this product?”

Execute the consulting leap within the same entity

If you make a quick visit to Karen’s site, you’d find that congruent has three product lines: consulting, outsourcing, and solutions. I remember when Karen first started Congruent – most, if not all of her clients were in the consulting business. Gradually though, as the consulting line paid the bills, she began building her outsourcing and solutions lines. Nowadays, she is less dependent on her consulting line. Pretty soon, I’m wagering she will have to make a decision: do I let go of the consulting line? 

We started STORM  pretty the same way. When we started back in 2005, we had no actual product and an undeveloped market. We only had a product idea – flexible benefits.

For us to buy time to both develop the product and educate the market, we made money by going into consulting – we started offering organizational diagnosis to corporate clients. This actually became a profitable business line, which kept us afloat for a few years while we were developing our scaleable product. After some time, our flexible benefits line started making money. Soon, it made more money than our consulting line. Recently, we changed our name from STORM Consulting to STORM Rewards, fully making the transition by dropping our consulting business and offering a pure product.

This is one strategy you can do – you can create a consulting company immediately and course your consulting revenues through this entity. Then when you’ve developed your product, you can easily do a quick pivot.

Your financial books will look better, too.

Do Prepare For Your Consulting Leap as Well

If you are planning this sort of stepping-stone strategy, one mistake is to focus too much on the startup leap, forgetting that the consulting leap needs to be taken very seriously.

It is far from automatic that you can transition from corporate to consulting. You have to have led a great career in your function. You have to be REALLY GOOD at what you do. If not, then no one will pay you. You have to have distinguishable expertise in your craft and you have to have the knack of selling yourself well. You have to consciously develop yourself as a consultant.

Also, plan it out. 

If you already know, for example, that it will be your last year in corporate before you take the consulting leap, THEN BY ALL MEANS USE THE YEAR TO TRY TO FIND A MARKET ALREADY. Send feelers to other consultants in the same field if they have extra work you can do. Do free projects on the side to build a credible portfolio. Network and announce your plans to possible clients. Hustle.

So, if you find the startup leap daunting, perhaps you can do an easier leap onto consulting first, before taking on your ultimate startup leap. It’s a very very viable stepping-stone option. I’ve seen HR practitioners build HR firms, brand managers create marketing consulting startups, finance guys doing finance firms, and so on.

Might as well as be you.

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

Start, UNPLUGGED!

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

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

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

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

What does Startups Unplugged mean to me? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can Startups Unplugged do for the community?

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

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

JGL Open Coffee
JGL Open Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

“The Original Game of Perfection”

Perfection

The Original Game of Perfection is a board game in which you have 60 seconds to fit all 25 shapes into their proper place. If the player does not complete the puzzle within the time allotted, the board pops up in the player’s face and all the pieces scatter.

I played Perfection for the first time last night, after seeing my 5 year-old nephew play the game. The simple concept of fitting shapes into their proper place seemed really easy. My nephew completed 15 pieces the first round. I completed 9 pieces.

I had a harder time than expected.

Me having a little trouble getting started
Me having a little trouble getting started

A concept that seemed so easy wasn’t in reality. The lurking variable?

Time.

Being timed made all the difference. The idea of time ticking…having 60 seconds to complete the puzzle got me flustered. My anxiety threw off my focus. I completed the task with a failing grade, 36%. Yet I strove for “perfection.” I never once questioned whether I could complete the task, but I did question whether I could make it in time.

Time is a key player in my journey of entrepreneurship. I know that I’m running against the clock and that eventually my resources will run out, if something doesn’t happen now.

I learned a lot about time, life, and work by playing the game of Perfection:

1. I learned while being a perfectionist has its benefits, I can’t act like a perfectionist, if I’m trying to urgently and sustainably build a business. If I play the role of perfectionist in this game, time will run out and the pieces will surely blowup in my face, just as it did in The Original Game of Perfection.

2. When you have a clear goal in entrepeneurship, you just have to get it done ASAP because if you don’t someone will beat you to the finish line.

3. As much as passion and inspiration are amazing catalysts for change and real action, the competitive spirit is a crucial ingredient to being an entrepreneur. I need to tap into that competitive side much more.

As The Original Game of Perfection has taught me. The 60-sec timer won’t stop ticking when you’re playing the game. I’ve learned from my mistakes and I’m playing the game much smarter from my first experience. This morning I played the game and I completed  19 pieces. Game on 5 year-old nephew!

Flipping the Script: My Inspiring Interview with Peter

Peter Cauton, Founder of Juan Great Leap, sharing a father-son moment with his son, Wakeen
Peter Cauton, Founder of Juan Great Leap, sharing a moment with his son, Joaquin

This past Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, I sat down with Peter to experience Startup Saturdays first-hand. Initially, my initial vision for the interview was to ask as many thought-provoking questions as I could to get the insider’s scoop on the person behind Juan Great Leap. I sought to reveal a different side of Peter that showcased him as not just the inspiring founder behind Juan Great Leap, but also as an ordinary fellow.

However, as I was playing back the interview and transcribing his words something really clicked (it sometimes takes me a while to process things), I realized that Peter isn’t ordinary, and that we already know him. He’s already poured out his heart and soul to those that follow Juan Great Leap, and it shows in his honest and compelling answers.

Peter is many things: an entrepreneur, boss, teacher, mentor, husband, father, friend. This interview didn’t reveal any “different” side to Peter. It was simply inspiring. This is the Founder of Juan Great Leap, Peter Paul Cauton.

Juan Great Leap is known for the coffee talks you have with entrepreneurs on Startup Saturdays. What are the most interesting observations from your talks with entrepreneurs?

Peter: Well, there are several things. First, no two entrepreneurs are alike. Each entrepreneur has a compelling a story, with an emphasis on the word compelling. It’s not just that each person has a story, but every entrepreneur’s journey is a compelling one because there’s always a leap that’s involved.

When I get to talk to people, I always make it a point to ask them,

“How did you end up doing this?”

And there’s always a very real story behind it.

Secondly, and this is related to the first, I’ve experienced people really opening up about their stories, and you see how personal it becomes. It’s not just a job. There’s something of themselves that they pour into their venture. It’s a reflection of who they are as a real person and what they’re going through in life. For example, I met with someone who came to me about a problem he’s been having with his dad about inheriting the family business. It was a problem that’s always hung over his head and has been bogging him down in doing things.

Or a person who’s completely torn between his passions and what’s practical – which might sound pretty common.   But this time, I get to hear what his wife is like, and see a picture of his son. I get to hear what his startup idea is. I get to feel his passion directly.  Suddenly, his story is completely personal, unique, and I daresay, beautiful.

What is your opinion on taking the leap based on passion?

Peter: When you’re passionate about something everything else follows much easier. For example, if you have a hobby…let’s say you love following the NBA, you spend time on it, research about it, you know the players…it’s not work for you. You actually create competence from the sheer time and devotion you pour into it. In a sense, you get to learn the business side of it- the intricacies and details- because you spend more time on it…because you love it and it’s not work for you. If you’re passionate about the business and you’re pouring your heart into it, everything flows much faster.

Passion begets time, which begets competence. Without passion, it’s drudgery.

A few months back you met with a group about social enterprise. What interests you most about social enterprise?

Peter: A few weeks ago we were driving along Katipunan we saw a poor family literally living on the island in the middle of the road. Joaquin, my five-year old son, said,

“Dada, they’re having a picnic!”

When you’re exposed to seeing that and you really feel the gap between what you have and what they don’t, you can’t help but feel like something has to be done.

I see a very clear role between entrepreneurship and nation building and poverty alleviation.

When I talk to entrepreneurs, like earlier with Rex, even if it’s a more technical talk, I see a very clear link between entrepreneurship and the development of the country. Social or not, I think all entrepreneurs are crucial to building this country. If we can get more of our people – our very gifted people –  to take those leaps and build great startups, we could dramatically improve the economy and make a positive impact on lives.

What are some of your favorite things about JGL?

Peter: Definitely the diversity. I get to meet and hear the stories of people I wouldn’t otherwise have bumped into working in my other startups. In the community, you have people like Raquel who is doing a startup focused on teaching.  You have people who want to do tech and you who have those who are setting up service-based startups like a yaya academy.

How do you see Juan Great Leap as a Filipino Startup Movement?

Peter: There is a ton of value in letting people know about the tools and resources about doing a great startup. More than that though, I’d like to think that in JGL, there are heavy doses of passion and a certain spirituality mixed in. I’d like to think you can feel this a bit going through some of the posts in the blog. I want to help people find their mojo and place, and usually, finding one means finding the other. The usual result is that you get create something beautiful. Something that’s yours, too.

So it’s not only the technical part, the tools, but also the spirit of starting something that you love and the journey to make a living out of it.

What are you most excited about for 2013?

Peter: Lahat. Meeting more people. Getting to hear more ideas. Helping people out. Doing bigger and more events that touch more people. Setting up some sort of a school because I love teaching. Trying to bridge and connect people.

I love it when I see startups get the right mix of people with the right idea. It’s extremely fulfilling.

What are your top 5 books?

Peter: Very tough question.

1. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling– this book got me into reading. Prior to reading Harry Potter, I didn’t read many books. Instead of appreciating books in school, the system of teaching made me hate reading. Rowling started my love affair with reading.

2. Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki- the first “business” book I bought. The book is very irreverent, unlike the business books I read in the past, which were pretty dry and scientific.

3. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries –

4. Tribes by Seth Godin  – Actually, any Godin book post All Marketers Are Liars. I’m a fanboy, and it’s not just the hair style.

5. Bible– It’s a cliché, but I read this book the most, this is the book I often go back to.

If you had the choice to live in the life of any NBA player, who would it be and why? 

Steve Nash because I like the assist. He scores, too, but helps other people on and off the court. This is different from my current favorite player, Kobe.

What inspires you to take the leap everyday?

God.

My own leap was such a profound experience for me. It changed me. I learned not to rely on myself too much. I’ve learned that the best way to make decisions is to truly discern – asking God what He wants for you.

I’m 100% sure that if it were just based on my own desire, I would still be in corporate. I allowed God to lead me to the decisions that have brought me to this place in my life and really, there is no place else I’d rather be.

Hope Is the Common Entrepreneurial Thread

I have interacted and talked to a multitude of startup entrepreneurs over the course of these last few years.

You can bet I have tried to figure them out.

What is the common thread?

What makes an entrepreneur?

There are a number of things which stand out: tenacity, hard work, execution, with good doses of people skills and creative problem solving.

You’d probably find these characteristic in a number of entrepreneurial books and blogs.

What I realize now though is that perhaps the most common thread is a bit more rudimentary. It isn’t a skill in as much as it is a paradigm, a state of mind, a way of looking at things.

It’s hope.

sunrise

All startup founders I’ve met are hopeful people.

It sort of comes with the territory.

Lean Startup author Eric Ries describes a startup as:

A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

If you take this level of uncertainty and couple it with the sobering thought that up to 70%-80% of startups fail?

Well, you sort of NEED to be a hopeful person, right?

But there’s more.

Perhaps the best illustration of hope in the entrepreneur is the way she conquers Hope’s polar opposite – Fear.

“This will never work!”

“This is going to be B-I-G!”

“I will be out in the streets begging for food if I fail!”

“If this doesn’t work, I can just go back to corporate. No problem.”

“I will be laughed at!”

“I will be the next Zuckerberg!”

“It’s a recession. This is a very bad time to startup a company!”

“It’s a recession! There’ll be hundreds of opportunities to start a company!”

How we see what the future holds largely dictates what sort of risks we take.

A hopeful person will take many leaps. Even if some of those leaps fail, they’ll think well enough of the future that they’ll take even more leaps.

A fearful person might not take a single significant leap at all. (not realizing that stagnancy in this new, ultra-dynamic economy is the worst risk of all)

In fact, the very interesting thing is that a hopeful person doesn’t see risk at all. She sees opportunity.

opps

When you attend meetings of entrepreneurs, want-to-preneurs and startup owners, there is a certain energy that fills the room. It is palpable. Get these people together, and almost immediately, discussions about a better future happen – a new business concept, possible partnerships, new ways of working together.

This energy, this hope, is what I love about the startup scene and talking to entrepreneurs. I seldom saw this in my corporate stints. Hope is engrossing, uplifting, and contagious.

Want to put up your own startup someday? Perhaps one stumbling block is your mindset.

You just have to get rid of your dark glasses and look at the world with rosier lens. And you know what?

You CAN change a mindset.

Like love, hope is very much a decision.