Machine Failure!

So sorry for the lack of posts last week.

I poured water over my laptop. Of course, I did something phenomenally short-sighted when I tried turning it on to see if it still worked. It did.

For around 2 minutes. Until it permanently died.

I tried writing on my tablet, something less comfortable than writing on a real keyboard, but still palatable.

There was just something seriously demotivating typing on something which had major cracks on the screen.

You see, a friend of mine accidentally dropped it a few days ago.

I found it amusing that after years and years of surviving multiple crazy toddlers at home, one perfectly-angled drop would finally shatter its honorable, long-standing resisitance.

I can still hear the sound it made when it hit the marble floor.

So I was left with my phone.

No way. (using it now, but no way will I use it for a longer post)

Hopefully, I’ll have access to a working, suitable machine and get to writing soon.

Have a good week people!

Is Your Price FRAMED Right?

price frame


Before we did a change in business model, our prices in STORM for flexible benefits looked something like this:

0-500 Employees:                   P75,000/month

500-750 Employees:               P120,000/month

750-1000 Employees:             P150,000/month

Then we changed business models in 2013. We started making revenue from our vendors instead. We became an online shop for benefits. Since we did this, we reduced our reliance on the monthly retainer fee. We became a volume-driven company.

More employees, more people buying benefits our store – more revenue.

At a certain threshold, we could give our services for free.

Our pricing then became something like this:

0-250 employees:                  P37,500

250-500 employees:             P27,500

500 and upwards:                  FREE!

I figured, EVERYONE would be ecstatic, right? The big companies would get a chance to radically improve their benefits system for free. The smaller-to-medium sized firms would get a great, great discount! Everyone happy right?

Not exactly.

When I started selling this with the new pricing scheme, I would notice the executives in the smaller-to-midsize firms would wince a bit at their price range.

Wincing?! To prices this much cheaper?! Why?! 

Then they started questions like: “If we increase to 400, do we get to become free as well?”

Boom. That was it.

They framed the lower pricing with the FREE price offered to larger firms.

So no matter how gargantuan my discount was, it would still pale in comparison to FREE.

So the next time I presented to a sub-500 man firm, I just REMOVED the FREE pricing detail offered to larger firms (it wouldn’t apply to them anyway). Instead, I put the new prices side by side with the old prices, all on one side.

No wincing this time.

Same discount, vastly different reaction. The discount was MUCH more appreciated.

HOW you frame your price when you sell your wares will be VASTLY important.

It’s good to note – how are you framing your price right now? Pay attention to the details with which you show your prices.

The right price, seen with the wrong frame, just isn’t right.

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The Behemoths, Boutiques, and the Breakthroughs

Looking at the Philippine landscape, in a few years I think there will be two major types of firms here in the our country:


The Behemoth

They are already here, and they will grow even bigger.

I’ve recently pitched to a couple of BPO firms who project to number in the 50,000’s by next year. That is a mind-boggling number of people to manage.

Already, I feel for the would-be HR Heads of these firms.

I think this trend would just continue on the next few years.


Well, first of all I think the first world will continue to push even more work our way. We have seen this trend happen as more and more processes APART from voice support are gradually entrusted to BPO’s here. We are seeing analysis work done here. We are seeing processes further up the value chain get outsourced here.

In the Daniel Pink’s wondrous book: A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule The Future, this trend is explained further. It’s a fascinating read.

Also, with the behemoths enjoying great economies of scale in an industry where margins can be thin, I think some contraction will happen where the bigger firms eat up the smaller ones.

The result? We shall typically see companies which number in the thousands (something which was pretty rare just a decade ago, now its commonplace), in the tens of thousands, and perhaps even in the hundreds of thousands – all in one country.

But BPO’s aren’t the only behemoths. Manufacturing firms, semiconductors, banks – these industries also have behemoths. You can see rather large, GROWING firms in these industries as well.

These companies will earn billions, pay employees pretty well, and pump a lot of dollars into our economy.

They will also be marked with very specific job descriptions, repetitive work, and politics.

Nope, contrary to common perception, it doesn't take much to start
Nope, contrary to common perception, it doesn’t take much to start

The Boutique

The other end of the spectrum is growing as well.

Freelance sites such as Elance and Freelancer are reporting record numbers of Filipino freelancers signing up for these sites.

Hundreds of thousands of Filipino freelancers.

Nowadays, a fresh graduate, skilled say, in programming or design can opt NOT to work for any firm and instead strike out on her own.

The number of startups are also growing, with the amount of venture capital available for investment now more available than ever before.

More and more people, wishing an alternative to corporate life and valuing the freedom, will take leaps.

Boutiques, employing any number of people between 1 person to say, around 50 people will continue to sprout.

These will earn around P500,000 – P50 million pesos per annum, fulfilling a specific niche, providing suitable livelihood for its owners.

Do you want to be a behemoth?

A good number of boutiques have dreams of becoming behemoths. It’s the typical startup dream right? You do a Google or a Facebook and employ thousands of people around the globe.

As a former HR guy who managed the workforce of companies ranging from 200-500 people, I DO NOT WANT the headache of managing thousands – especially if I want to manage them well. (A CEO friend of mine once told me once you reach 100 employees, it’s time to split the firm)

I once asked a friend of mine who has owned and operated a boutique ad agency, why don’t you expand?

He told me, “I’m making more than enough. Why complicate things?”

Some boutiques don’t want to be behemoths.

But there is an alternative.

Can you make a breakthrough?

Profit is equal to revenue minus cost.

The trick that so many people try to solve is: how do you increase revenue at an exponentially greater rate than the growth of your costs?

This is tougher than it sounds. If you sell a single product and create a profit margin, the best way for you to multiply your margin is to also manufacture MORE products – this is tantamount to more costs, more people, more complication.

This new information age is making this different though. There are now technology and outsourcing solutions which can help a firm be uber lean and mean. This is what I call the breakthrough company.

Take 37 Signals for example, global provider of enterprise/SME software. In 2012, they had THIRTY TWO employees (down from their 2011 count, at 34 employees). These guys make millions of dollars.

It applies not only to tech. For example, last week in a learning session,  I had the privilege of listening to Raymond Rufino, EVP of The Net Group, a real estate firm which builds and manages several buildings in the Fort Bonifacio area. Their operations involve eye-popping long numbers with a lot of zeroes. Raymond asked the small group, how many employees do you think we have?




Raymond then replied, we have 24 people. (!)

Raymond then goes on to explain they do it by employing great people who multi-task and utilizing a good number of outsourced help.

I think this is the dream – to create behemoth results using boutique structure.

The tools are obvious: technology, a GREAT business model, awesome people, outsourcing.

Let’s buckle down and figure it out, eh?

On Sexy Vs. Urgent, Not Playing the Field Enough, and Why You Mustn’t Roll Like Rick

choiceWe’ve heard it from so many pundits and experts already (including me): there is SO MUCH opportunity now, the time to do a startup is now, blah blah blah.

I do agree with this, obviously. Wholeheartedly. Just compared to this same time last year, I’ve seen so many  entrants, foreign and local, angel and VC, wanting to splurge their investment money on new ideas.

This is why I squirm around a lot. I see a lot of opportunity lost – good people pitching blah ideas. (Incredibly, I’m starting to see blah ideas get some funding, but that’s another topic)

I know that perhaps this is part of the learning process, but c’mon ANOTHER e-commerce site with no defensible niche? A whole startup banking on the success of ONE app on the appstore? (a dangerous proposition) Another ad-based web/mobile site? (a successful investor recently told me most shrewd investors now shy away from anything ad-based) Another nice-to-have?

I think we need to improve what we choose to focus on.

Startups should be all about solving problems, right? I think there is a great need for us to DIVE DEEPER within these problems.

Sexy vs. Urgent

Is your idea solving an URGENT problem? This is one thing I think a lot of ideas suffer from. They endeavor to solve problems which aren’t urgent. If they aren’t urgent, then people won’t open their wallets NOW to find a solution.

Look, I’m not saying doing another e-commerce site is a bad idea, but you know, if you are open, there just might be some other idea which just might be more interesting to focus on.


Not Playing the Field

Sometimes I think a lot of people just pick the first idea they get excited about. Perhaps we can ally with another person who’s also excited about the idea. Then we go all in already! One Great Leap! Game! Game!

Stop. Take a breather. Just try to see if there are other alternatives to focus on.

I think the big gap here is research. Let me simplify the term if it sounds too intimidating. I think the big gap here is talking to people. 

Last week I talked to a friend who owns a startup-FMCG which manufactures and distributes powdered goods mainly to sari-sari stores across the country. In the sari-sari store, his brands compete with the big boys, like Nestle and Kopiko, etc….

Ever-curious, I asked him, “So dude, what’s your biggest prob… no wait, what’s the biggest problem of your industry?”

He quickly shares: “Collection. Since sari-sari stores do not have credit cards and pay our collectors in cash, we experience a lot of stuff like collector theft, owners disappearing, and so on.”

“How much are we talking about”

“As much as 3%-5% of total sales.”


(To have an idea how big “total sales” of ONE national brand is, ask your friends in FMCG’s. Go on, text them now)

“And EVERYONE experiences this?”

“Yep. Everyone. Big player, small player. Everyone.”

So immediately after my chat, I make a call to another friend who owns a national distribution company.

“Is this true bro, up to five freaking percent?”


FMCG’s apparently lose BILLIONS because of this problem.

It’s a big problem. It’s an urgent problem. It’s a problem that’s probably seen in other countries like ours.

How do you solve collection at the sari-sari store level?

Isn’t a problem like this so much more real/interesting/rewarding to lean on and solve than say, “what app hasn’t been done yet and would go extremely viral?”

If you come up with a solution to this collection problem, won’t investors line up at your doorstep?

(you got an idea on how to solve this? hit me up 🙂

Well, guess what? If you look hard enough, talk to enough people, you will find that there are literally, HUNDREDS of opportunities like this. (coffee talks rule)

This fact makes a lot of serial entrepreneurs/investors giddy. They know how true this is and realize how we are all like kids in a candy store – but only if we open our eyes. 

Talk to experts. Know what the MOST PAINFUL PAIN-POINTS are. Ensure the market will pay loads for a solution. And then, ONLY THEN, should you unleash your entrepreneurial problem-solving awesomeness on it.

Falling in Love With Your Initial Idea

A very promising young entrepreneur pitched an idea in Open Coffee awhile back. It was an e-commerce platform. As usual, people gave some suggestions. Then one person said, hey you know, maybe you could pivot it this way…

Then, the crowd just buzzed. Hands went up. “Hey, THAT could work!” Several people excitedly agreed.

Armed with this validating experience, what happened? Nothing. Last time I checked, the idea promising young entrepreneur was working on was exactly the same. No further research, no checking things out.

Two years

I know other people who’ve been pitching the same idea to investors for two years now. Hey, you know, there just  might be a reason why no one’s picking it up.

Perhaps this is one weakness of our Filipino culture. Westerners will just tell you “it sucks.” We, however, are much kinder and supportive here. We will say, “Hey perhaps with a little tweaking this would work.”


“I think you have a great thing on your hands just keep at it.”


“This is super! It’s just not for me, but I’m sure other people will love it!”

Perhaps he’s just not that into you. 

DON’T fall too much in love with your product or idea. This is the whole point of Lean Methodology – dropping things when they don’t work.

Don’t Roll Like Rick!

Look, I know it’s tough. It’s YOUR baby. It’s painful to hear. You’ve spent countless hours of blood, sweat, and tears working on this. Your friends and your mom say it’s cool and everything.

If you are to be successful though, a VITAL factor will be your ability to DROP stuff.

Research. Listen and learn from people who’ve been there. Select wisely. Lean in.

4 Startup Questions From Ken Answered


I’ve been getting a quite a few emails asking startup questions.

Here’s one of them I was just about to answer, then my brilliant wife suggested, “Why don’t you answer it through a post so more people can benefit?”

I love my wife.

Reader Ken asks:

1) What are the principles behind a successful start-up entrepreneur? 

One can write whole books just talking about this topic. But if I were to offer a distilled, admittedly shoot-from-the-hip answers, they would be:

a) Find a good great partner. Don’t go for more than 3 people in your founding team. 2 is zen: maker/seller.

b) Business model > product.

Obviously, the product is crucial. But how will you generate a scalable business from your product? You need to look at your business model. How do you build your business model? Check out Steve Blank’s FREE startup lecture at

c) You have to embrace failure. It’s a prerequisite to success. You have to develop thick skin.

d) Learning > Money now

e) Find good great employees

f) Go fulltime. This is one of the huge learning points I’ve absorbed over the last 2 years. If at least one of the FOUNDERS (not employees) isn’t fulltime, then it would take an honest-to-goodness miracle for your startup to succeed. The most important element your startup needs isn’t money. It’s time.

2) What are the best practices in internet marketing? 

I can’t claim to be any expert here. You can go ask my good buddy Ben Francia.  Ben? Any 3-4 key principles to remember?

3) How difficult (or easy) is it to get a business loan? 

Very easy if you have collateral. Extremely difficult if you are a startup with no collateral.

Funding from angels/VC’s/incubators? There are a number of these now. Getting a bit easier if you have the right product and the right team. The price to pay? Equity.

If I were you, try your best to bootstrap everything first. Seek money from family/friends. Find a way to do the business by yourself and generate traction/revenue.

Traction makes EVERYTHING easier and give you a lot of flexibility.

4) If you were to start all over again, what could you have done differently?

The truthful answer: none. Its corny, but I think everything happened to me at exactly the right time.

One thing that I think maybe could’ve helped? Starting earlier. Starting earlier would have meant I would have learned FASTER, plus I wouldn’t have had risked as much as I did.

Hope this helps Ken!

70 More Tickets Added to the Fully-Booked Startups Unplugged Event on Saturday

Event Poster (Facebook)

Last night, we hit 250 people registering at the event. We’ve now got around 20-30 people in the waitlist as well.

Considering we’ve got a bigger space we can work with than the last conference, some people who got tickets and reached to say they cannot make it (thank you so much!) and how it just would be a shame if we limit the number of people who can participate, we’re releasing 70 more tickets for the event. 

For those who already got tickets, I do implore you – since the tickets are free AND limited, you WILL be screwing over someone who might truly want to go if you reserve a ticket and flake. If you do find that you cannot make it on Saturday for some reason, do email me at or matt at so we can free up slots.

This will be the final time we’ll be releasing more tickets, so I advise clicking the link below NOW if you haven’t yet.

Eventbrite - Juan Great Leap's Startups Unplugged: Get Personal with 20 Startup Founders

How To Shut Your Way Up To Sales Success

zip itBack around 2007, I remember being thoroughly underwhelmed by the CEO of a multinational company our startup competed with. Our companies were summoned by a client in a joint meeting to compete for a bid.

I distinctly remember telling Pao: “The guy didn’t say anything and just wrote down notes. He was so unimpressive.”

Little did I know that not saying anything and taking down notes were quite strategic in one on one sales, so much so in B2B sales. Stubborn that I was, it took me a year or two to incorporate the same strategies in my own sales meetings.

Back then, whenever we did sales pitches, people would always react at how young we were – and this always felt like a hurdle in the selling process. (as the years went by, losing hair and gaining pounds remedied this – ah, the perks of baldness!) This, plus our being rookies in the industry, made me feel a gap in credibility.

So in the back of my mind, whenever I’d go to pitches, I thought – “I have to prove to this person how capable I am.”

So my pitches early on became exercises in hearing all about how great we and our products were.

One BIG problem: clients don’t care about how great you are. They only care about how you can help them out.

I remember seeing this in their faces before: they WANT to say something but I was so busy wanting to blurt out my “piece” that sometimes I didn’t let them get a chance to.

HUGE mistake.

The whole pitch has to be about the client. How can the product help them out? What’s in it for them? It only becomes a great product if they can see how it helps THEM to be great.

Listening and writing down notes are great visual indicators that the client’s needs are precisely what you are prioritizing. I’m not talking about putting on a show though – you really have to listen. Authenticity is pretty easy to sniff out. The client’s needs HAS to be first.

A client who is excited, talking, and feeling good about herself and her company is a much more likely sale than the one who is repressing herself to listen to someone saying how great they are.

Putting themselves first is a great temptation especially for new entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs precisely because they have a lot of confidence in themselves. They also usually have a chip on their shoulder – a great need to prove something to the world. Inviting them to talk about their passions could easily turn into a couple of hours of monologue.

Overall, this is a good thing. Entrepreneurs need this to go through the roughest cycles of the job.

Just remember to rein it in sales meetings: just give a concise, well-thought pitch…

And then shut the hey up.

August 8 Startup Event Now 50% Booked

If you’re planning to attend the August 8 Startup Event at the UP Technohub in Quezon City:

Ayala Foundation Presents: Juan Great Leap – Transforming Your Idea Into Startup Success, 

then you better register here now, as the 100 slots are now half-filled after we released the announcement just a couple of days ago.

I’m really excited to get to meet all of you on the 8th – I’m sure we’ll all learn from the panel and from each other!

See you then!

STARTUP SALES TIP: Generic is geriatric, make it human instead

Everyday, we experience getting bombarded with “above the line” sales pitches: from TV, print and radio. This is mass market/media advertising: a singular ad which hopes to reach millions and convince thousands to buy. Large corporations spend billions on advertising to convince a small percentage of the reached audience to make a purchase.

Of course, startups typically have a limited advertising budget, so they have to be sneakier, employing “below-the-line” techniques such email, direct marketing materials, and social networks. Here, the thinking is that we can be more “targeted” with our sales correspondence, because we can go more “direct” to the consumer.

You know what, from what I’ve seen, a lot of SME’s and startups, and sadly, even larger corporations, shoot themselves in the foot doing “direct” sales correspondence – the material and strategy used is still for mass consumption.

Aren’t we all tired of all the loan offers, the generic training course emails, the same condo brochures, the same scripted credit card “you have been selected” calls – these get old quite fast, don’t they?

Again, with the amount of information we are fed, from literally everywhere we look, mass strategy/one-ring fits all material is getting less and less effective.

Generic is geriatric.  

Let’s take email blasts for example. Isn’t this just a better way to name spam?

We tell ourselves it isn’t spamming, because there’s a way to “customize” it, right? For example, you can add the person’s first name in every other paragraph (so it sounds more personal), have different templates per market segmentation, or making the first two lines “personal.” Sadly, it isn’t. Each time you send what is largely the same material to a large number of people, that is spam.

You can spam through social networks as well. For example, salespeople even go through the process of “friending” me through the social networks, and then (to my dismay), proceeding to send me a generic sales letter inviting me to a generic training course.

My least favorite spam invite is the headhunter who asks me in Linkedin if I were interested in an HR Manager job.  Uhm…so you didn’t have time to look at my profile a bit to see that “job inquiries” and “career opportunities” are not ticked, and that I haven’t handled HR for nearly 5 years?

Perhaps I’d pause in immediately deleting your email and finish reading your correspondence if you start with something like…

“Hi Peter, I found your profile through a common friend, Mark Reyes. Based on a brief look at your profile, it’s obvious that you haven’t worked in corporate HR for a few years now. So I might be reaching a bit, but would you happen to be currently thinking of a career shift, coz’ I’ve a great opportunity you might want to explore….”

Then, I’d see you invested a bit of time getting to know me a bit through my profile. This counts.

It’s amazing how so many sales processes from so many companies can be improved only if the salesperson just realized she was conversing with a fellow human being.

No one wants to be treated in generic fashion. No one wants to deal with automated responses. Take a look at your literal and email trash bin. They are littered with spam. 

In Linkedin, I reject almost all invitations to connect made by A COMPANY. I want to talk and  engage with PEOPLE, I will not be friends with a firm. I want to know who I am conversing with, at the very least.

Forget spamming.

What’s the success rate anyway? 3%? 1%?

Sure, you will reach that small amount, but: a) your time could have been used for activities with higher yields, and b) you are basically telling the 97% majority that “we treat our clients in a generic fashion.”

How can you ensure more human sales correspondences?

Here are some suggestions for startups:

1) Never “templetize” sales correspondence.

People can smell generic letters a mile a way and will delete/shred them faster than you can say “spam.” Sure it would be much slower to TRULY customize correspondence (yep, this means a whole letter created just for the person you are sending it to), but your success rate would be much higher per client mailed.

Let’s say I have a marketing mobile application I want to sell. So I found a way to get the email addresses of 1000 marketing manager here in the Philippines. There are actually some people who would do an email blast with one generic letter to be used for all 1000 people. Way to send a message of how special each client is, right? What would be the outcome? You get 50 people interested? 30? Out of this, how many would meet you? Ultimately purchase?

Anyway, more “strategic people” would probably  segment it, say, by industry. Then i’d create an industry-specific letter. I’d sent one letter to 150, a different letter to 200, and so on.

Here’s an idea. What if you study the profiles and pick out 100 managers in companies which you’d think would most likely find your product useful. Then, why don’t you CREATE ONE LETTER EACH for each of the 100 selected people. If I were writing the marketing manager of Coke, then I’d make a letter imagining she’s the only one I’m trying to land. It would be completely different from my letter to the marketing manager of Avis, and so on.

Sure, this is undoubtedly hard work, but which among these strategies do you think would produce the highest yield?

(oh, and while you’re at it, stop sending generic Christmas gifts to clients and send a thoughtful gift on their birthdays instead – if you we’re the recipient, wouldn’t you remember that better?)

2) Google people. (yep, stalk em)

It pays to know who you are talking to. (Literally pays.)  What is her background? interests? Career progression? It is here you can find things which you can use to customize your correspondence with.

This also applies when you manage to secure a sales meeting with someone you’ve never met before. Google her. Do your research.

You’d google someone if you were going on a blind date right? A sales meeting has the same basic objective: the need to create a mutually beneficial relationship.

This personal knowledge of the person will make small talk and rapport-building much easier and will make you more likeable.

What is the primary characteristic firms look for in salespeople? Likeability. All things equal, people buy from people they like. How can you be likeable? Show an interest in the person, for starters.

3) Think of and treat ALL your business correspondences as your close friends.

Meeting a client tomorrow? Imagine your client as an old friend whom you haven’t spent time with in a long while. Then greet your client (seriously, try this).

How do you talk with close friends? You are yourself, right? You are less formal, you make jokes, you ask them how their family is, you ask them how they are doing with their current project. You care.

Human beings tend to like this.

4) Get to know your clients.

There’s no other way around it. You have to invest the time and energy to get to know your clients, what makes them tick, their birthdays, what motivates them, what they like, what irks them. That is, if you want repeat business with them.

Just know that as you are doing all these that you have to absolutely…

5) Be authentic.

We just KNOW when someone’s faking it right? To be successful in sales, you have to be TRULY be interested in people. Your authentic need for a long-term partnership has to be conveyed. Talking with clients and getting to know them mustn’t feel like a chore.

If it is, or if what you’ve read so far seems really tedious and time-consuming?

Get another person to do sales.