The Unlikely Journey of Our Newly-Minted COO


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fingers crossed.

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

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

Soon, there was a nickname going around.


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

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

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

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

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

It showed in the work she was producing, too.

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

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

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

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

My mind…raced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m beginning to think something else is better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fathers and Sons

father son

Exactly 6 years ago, I was in Cardinal Santos hospital feeling an overwhelming mixture of happiness, fear, and  excitement.

You see, for the first time, I was holding my son in my arms.

And there was something else I was feeling.

As I beheld my son, I felt an unmistakable tug of the heart.

It was the first time we met face-to-face, but never did I feel such an intense feeling of love for another person.

He was mine. 

Then I had a quick realization.

I quickly looked for my dad.

Finding him, I gave him a hug and said, “happy birthday!”

It was also his birthday after all.

I then extended the hug a bit.

You see, it was also the first time in my life I realized and felt exactly how he loves me – as only a father can love his eldest, firstborn son.

It’s an amazing, surreal gift that has God designed for me – having both my son and my dad share the same birthdate. Every time July 26 happens, I get swathed with existential nostalgia.

Happy birthday Papa! Thank you for your expressive love, vulnerability, and your playfulness. I realize the way I love my children now stems closely to how you loved me growing up. Thank you for showing me how to treat others like myself. (won’t ever forget the time when I was a kid when you went down and helped that man)

Happy birthday to my son! My ultimate wish for you is that you get to know God and love Him. Well, perhaps I can also wish that you get out of your angry birds phase. It has been three years.

To my Father in Heaven, thank you for loving me so uniquely and intensely through these two people. Through them, I get a glimpse of just how much You love me. I love You more than anything.

He Gives and Takes Away


Around three months ago, I got a call from my wife Pauline. She was frantic. She was crying.

“I don’t know what to do.”

She was pregnant with what would be our fourth child.

She was pregnant only after a few months of giving birth to our third child.

With all the strength I could muster, I talked to her as calmly as I could, saying I would be home soon and we could sort it out.

On the way back home though, it hit me. Hard.

I thought and worried about escalating tuition fees multiplied by a larger factor, an ever-expanding household, how we won’t be fitting in our current family car anymore, and my ability to be a loving father to four children. I was worried also for my wife, and how she would go through yet another pregnancy just on the heels of another. I also knew she was worried about the ramifications it had on her career (she talks about it here).

I was filled with fear and doubt.

In my prayer time, I was asking God “Why?” all the time. Why now? What will we do?

It took a bit of time, but soon enough, Pauline and I were embracing this Plan for us. We realized – in mind AND heart – that children are always blessings. We tucked our doubts behind us and looked at the future with hope and faith.

We talked to our kids about how we were going to be blessed with another member of the family. We imagined how each of them might interact with the new baby. We wondered as a couple as to what the gender might be, and as usual, playfully squabbled with names.

I began mulling what car would be suitable, and toyed with the idea of expanding the house to create an extra room or two.

Last week, this all came tumbling down.

I was awakened by Pauline in the middle of the night.

She was bleeding profusely.

I asked if she thought we lost the baby. She nodded her head and cried softly on my shoulder.

On the way to the hospital, all I could do was to pray furiously it wasn’t so. It can’t. 

We reached the hospital and I was asked to go to the waiting room while they did some tests to check if the baby was alright.

It was agonizing wait. Around 30 minutes later, they confirmed what I had feared – they couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat.

Further tests revealed that we were supposed to have twins.

A gamut of feelings rushed into me as I waited some more in the hospital – guilt for my earlier feelings about the baby, concern for Pauline, confusion as to why this happened, and just a profound sense of grief.

I spent the next day with Pauline and the kids. When I gazed at my kids, I felt the pang of loss even more – I could never look at them again and feel like a complete family.  There was that what-if.


And so I bombarded God with my confused and angry why’s. Why give and then take away? Why was this part of the journey necessary? Why?

This would dominate my prayer time for the next few days, until I just veered off from praying altogether.

Last night I had Sharedmeal with my small group from community. It was a venue where we all broke bread together and shared God’s Word.

It was last night when I realized something about myself – that I was always attached to the answer.

It began to make sense.

I realized that I have very low EQ as far as waiting for the answer is concerned.

I would read wikipedia to check how a popular TV series would unravel. I would fight myself from doing the same thing with fiction. I absolutely hate and would have no patience on what I call “irrational traffic” – traffic jams which just had no explanation.

It was also precisely why I always asked “why.”

I would always recount the difficult things which have happened in my life and then quickly identify the bigger reason why God allowed those difficult things. This gave me a strong sense of closure and satisfaction.

I concluded that my faith was heavily tied onto the answer. When a difficult thing would happen to me, I would remain faithful because I know that soon, God will provide an answer.

I realize now though, that in some instances, no answer would be given. Sometimes, I just would never understand why.

For my faith to grow, I would have to let go of this attachment. I would have to accept that this Great God of ours has every right to give and to take away, that there is nothing that is truly mine, that in greater scheme of things, nothing else truly matters except for loving and following Him.

Even if it hurts. Even if it doesn’t make any sense.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this here, in a startup blog, of all places.

Perhaps it is to release. Perhaps a part of it is. (thank you then for listening)

But the bigger reason really is to just to express that life is so much more than startups and innovation and the bottom line. (and I think you know how passionate I am about those topics)

Life is about your parents and your relationship with them. It is about your kids and how much time you have for them. It is about being true to yourself. It is about the simple joys. It is about seeing the beauty of the world despite frustration and problems. It is about being there for a friend. It is about not merely IF you are making money but HOW you are doing it. It is about how you treat the people around you, especially those below you. It is about pain and how you grow from it (which is why you should always be dubious with “abundance” mongers) It is about getting up.

Most of all, life is all about filling that gaping emptiness we feel in our chests. We try filling it with money, romance, friends, booze, and even work. Sooner or later though, the hole proves too big to fill, doesn’t it?

We need to fill it with God. Only then would things be complete.

The biggest leap isn’t the great startup leap.

It’s still the leap of Faith.

On Power, Spiritual Leaders, Achieving the Impossible, and Other Random Motivational Thoughts

This is my third attempt at writing a blogpost today.

Currently, I’m experiencing that same feeling that I get when I’m being moved to write. The experience in which the spirit takes over and I am provoked to let go of inhibition because I’m being called to send a message.


I’m not sure what I’m being called to say, but here it goes:

  • Money will not give you power. Respect and humility in your work will go a long way
  • Leaders are spiritual. Something greater than their idea of self is at work. If we accept the call, then we must lead unafraid of what the world thinks
  • If we are trying to change things in the world, something in it apparently isn’t working
  • Never let the world define you
  • If you are truly passionate about a cause, people will join you
  • Don’t ever be afraid to take help from someone that you trust
  • Don’t ever be afraid to lend a hand when you are called to do
  • Logic and sense will only take you so far, but the spirit will carry you through
  • Trust in the Lord
  • The impossible can be accomplished if you fully open your mind and surrender your self
  • A courageous heart will move you to do things only ever dreamed of
  • Stay grounded

How to Avoid The Marshmallow Career


In a landmark study done in 1972 by Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, hundreds of children were offered a marshmallow. However, each child was told that if they could resist eating the marshmallow for 15 minutes, they would receive a second marshmallow.

Decades after, it was found that the children who delayed gratification (around a third of the 600 students who participated), were described as more competent, had higher SAT scores, and went on to have better careers.

A few days ago an entrepreneurial friend of mine posted a quick “Pera o Passion?” poll on his Facebook page. The last I checked, “pera” was leading.  It was understandable, but I have to admit, I felt a bit disheartened.

Quick money is almost always un-strategic.

Let’s talk about this overused word for a minute. For me, to be “strategic” means that decisions are always made to support a much bigger picture. To be truly strategic almost always means to defer gratification. Think Amazon delaying becoming profitable for so many years (CEO Jeff Bezos was barbecued in the media in those days). They were burning hundreds of millions to acquire customers year after year because they were after the bigger picture (a much larger community). This long-term plan paid off. Amazon is now one of the world’s most admired and successful companies.

I think very few of us  really think about our careers strategically.

Instead, most people eat the marshmallow.

A friend of mine recently reached out to me about career advice. He was explaining that he wanted out of the industry he was in, that he would never go back to it. A few weeks later, a high paying job became available in a company he really admired. I noticed it was in the same industry he was in. In a recent email, he was asking me for tips on how to get into the that firm.


He’s eating the marshmallow.

We fall for it early. After years of not earning anything, we finally attend job fairs and get dazzled by the offers we get. Sadly, most people still decide to go to the highest bidder, where the assembly line starts and is built to keep you in.

As we get older, we then feel it:

This money thing isn’t as cool as I thought it would be. 

I’m earning, but I’m not living. 

What field/job can I be truly happy?

or even

Hindi ko natutugunan ang aking pagmemeron.

Quarter life, or even mid-life crisis, at its full hurricane force.

If we ask the people who voted for “pera” in that earlier casual survey 20 years from now, I’m guessing the pendulum would shift to the other side.*

So what am I getting at?

Young people. I’m talking to you. Don’t fall into this trap. Take it from us (slightly) older folks. Think about your careers strategically.

Repeat after me. Big picture. Big picture. Big picture.

Here are some tips on how to avoid the marshmallow career:

1) Take Time to Understand YOUR Big Picture

I think this is where a big chunk of the problem lies. We lack self-awareness. We don’t invest enough time understanding who we are, what we like doing, what our natural gifts are, and what we want to be when we “grow up.”

As some great military people once said “knowing is half the battle.”

Take time to assess. Ask friends about what your strengths and weaknesses are. Take personality tests. Ask people about other careers.

Granted, this won’t be automatic, as “finding out who we are” can take a long process. But I think part of that problem is, we don’t really put enough investment in consciously trying.

Try. Perhaps asking this simple question can help start the process: who am I?

Also, think about YOUR big picture. Not your parent’s. Not anyone else’s.

2) Work Backwards

Once you have a reasonable idea of your Big Picture, do a Covey and try to Begin With The End In Mind.


What career move can you do NOW that will inch you closer to your Big Picture?

Since this is an Startup Blog, here’s my quick tip on what next career steps you can do if you want to own a business someday:

A) Go fulltime and take the leap! Startups are all about learning through doing. Anything else is a bit of a  compromise. Try naming a great startup which was done part-time.

B) Work for a startup. Next best thing.

C) If A & B are too unpalatable, you could: 1) get into sales – it might not be that sexy to some, but selling is an extremely valuable skill to develop in any startup, 2) get into the industry you plan to develop your startup in, the smaller the firm, the better, 3) get into anything which expands your personal network in a hurry.

3) Just Say No

Okay, you’ve got your Big Picture. You’ve got some semblance of a plan on how to get there.

What are you going to do when Company X offers you a big package from out of the blue because your friend gave a good recommendation?

Think Amazon. Think strategic.

If something tempting comes and shows you all the shiny things you can have now if you break your plan, well, just think of all the SHINIER things you could accomplish sticking to the plan.

This is easier said than done, of course. But possible.

4) Pray

By far, my best career advisor has been God. My best career decision-making process has been Discernment. I’ve always maintained that it was He who really pushed me into an entrepreneurial path.

Here’s an interesting thing.

I belong to a Community  which really encourages its constituents to pray, talk to God, and surrender to His will. This group has a disproportionate amount of people who have taken leaps from their long-standing careers into what they truly want to do. A longtime banker who has become a pre-school teacher. An longtime FMCG executive who now works for a foundation. Another longtime marketer who put up her consulting practice. A longtime IT employee who’s put up multiple small businesses. There are more. All of which would tell you they had the courage to take the leap because of prayer.

You should see their faces when they explain how happy they are in their chosen fields. Passion is always evident.

As is the lack of it.

(know anyone who will benefit and resonate from this post? be a blessing and share!)


*The big assumption of course, is that we are earning enough to cover our basic needs. Maslow’s hierarchy in full effect. 

How God Founded Our Startup

When a new employee starts in STORM, or any of the startups I’m associated with (we’re all in one building), they are treated to something different (especially if they’ve previously worked in corporations before) which happens every three o’clock. We invite the newbie to our conference room, where we read the Gospel for the day, and then everyone gets her turn to say a prayer.

When we celebrate a victory, we quickly remind ourselves that ultimately, it was God who enabled the victory. Yes, we have very talented and intelligent people on our team – but where do all these gifts come from anyway? We cannot and will not take full credit.

On the lower-right corner of our website, you will see Whom we dedicate this company to.

Why am I so obsessed with creating a workplace where culture is defined by faith?

During the company newbie orientation process, I give the talk on our history. A history of a startup is pretty much the history of its founders. When I give this talk, I get quite emotional because it is my life I am sharing. I tell new employees about how truly blessed we were in those early years – about how timing would always be so eerily perfect. The right client when we need it. A founder who backed out, only to become our first (needed) client. The right employee when we need it. Never missing payroll even in those times when we didn’t know where we could get the cash – I consider this nothing short of a miracle.

Soon, I reach the point where I talk about making my great leap in 2008 – from part-time to full-time, from corporate lifer to full-blown entrepreneur.

I made that leap at the MOST inopportune time ever – a full-blown recession, STORM having all sorts of problems, a person borrowing a huge chunk of money from me disappearing (and in doing so, wiping out my funds), a newborn son and a wife to support, our then-largest client alerting us through fax that they were letting go of us in two weeks, an impending 80% salary cut if I went full-time in STORM.

It was a completely idiotic decision.

So why, why, why, did I choose to make that leap when I did?

Discernment – I knew God wanted me to do so.

That’s it.

There was no secret client I was wooing, nor did I have a cash stash somewhere. No ace in the sleeve. Nor did I possess any irrational confidence that I could turn things around. I was wracked with doubt. Logic screamed at me to reconsider. I was not at peace.

(side note: I find that having “peace” with a decision is an overrated discernment element. I find that a lot of times, God talks to us by disturbing us. Oftentimes, when God asks us to grow and expand our horizons, it isn’t peace that is felt. It is disturbance. It is disturbance because when we expand our horizons, we always step out of our comfort zones)

But God was my rock.

So I leapt when He said so. It was truly a leap of Faith.

And ever since that leap, God has remained so faithful.

Not only has STORM been doubling revenues every year since ’08, but I have found what I want to do for the rest of my life: building startups and helping people build startups. I can talk about this topic nonstop for weeks. For the first time in my life, I have voluntarily devoured tons of (non-fiction)books on a topic. You could ask my wife – I have given up radio and I now instead listen to audiobooks and podcasts while driving. I would do this for free – I love this stuff.

I sometimes think of what I do now: the thrill of starting things, the experience of learning something by making decisions and truly being accountable for the ramifications, growing my startup family, work becoming my hobby and vice-versa, being involved in radically different but interesting things, writing and talking to people about something I am truly passionate about, I think of all these and I shudder. I shudder at the thought of how quickly and easily I might have decided to ignore that call to leap. Then I thank God again and again for the inspiration I was given.

I am utterly convinced with my entire being that if God had not intervened, if I had not been sufficiently guided, if I just followed what the world would have had me do, I would not have taken that leap. I would still be in a corporation now – completely uninspired, working for just my salary, totally waiting for Friday just like everyone else. No startups for me. No juangreatleap.

Instead, I had been redeemed.

This month, I met up with two blog readers I haven’t previously been acquainted with who invited me for coffee. Both asked me why I was doing this. Both noticed there weren’t any ads on this site. Both noticed I wasn’t asking for money during the meeting.

This is my answer, guys 🙂 There will never be ads on this site, nor will I be asking for money for “consulting” when I meet people. This part of my life has been Gift. And so, for my part, I will share what I can with those who trust me enough to ask.

In all the ways I can think of, I try to make God the center of my work.

Just simply to give credit where it is due.

(Join the Juangreatleap movement and learn more about startups! Subscribe to the blog now to get the newsletter and join the forum)

The ONE TRUE RISK I faced in taking the startup leap

One of these days, I’ll post the full-blown story of what exactly happened when I took the leap and kissed my corporate career goodbye. It was truly a Faith-Leap for me.

Till then, kindly make do with this super abridged version:

I was a 33-year old corporate lifer with a wife and a newborn son I was supporting. It was the middle of the 2008 recession. The startup firm I was working part-time putting up was struggling mightily, partly because I wasn’t giving it the time it deserved.

I had two paths to take.

One was to continue on my 12-year corporate career as a line HR director, continue receiving my comfortable salary, continue with the peace of mind that my family would be ok. I would also continue working in a career I had since realized wasn’t for me, and didn’t stoke my passions anymore. It would also mean the sure-death of STORM, my startup baby.

The other path was unthinkable: to go full-time in the startup, in an effort to right the ship. In doing so, I would be swallowing an 80% salary cut during a recession year and I would be leaving behind a career which took a decade to build. It would mean my startup would have a chance of surviving.

Easy choice right? Bye-bye STORM. After all, what idiot would risk his family? The more I thought of it however, the more I saw the real risk.

It then became clear: I could always go back to my corporate career. There would ALWAYS be someone in need of a good HR guy. If my experiment with STORM didn’t work out, I could always go back. Malamang may increase pa. 

On the other hand, I realized I could never go back to STORM. Had I let go of it, it would have died and that would’ve been it. I would never find out what could’ve happened if I took the leap. I knew it would be hard to live with that what-if. The real risk was to grow old one day and never find out.  

And so, with confidence and faith amidst a trying time, I took my great leap.

My wife Pauline supported me that time through and through. We tightened our belts and made small sacrifices to make ends meet. It never became desperate though. In a few months, we were Blessed with a big client, and revenues started growing.

The benefits of making the leap are fantastic: I am able to pursue what I am passionate about everyday. I wake up in the morning actually excited to go to work. I am learning tremendously. I am able to decide and do what I feel is relevant and important, like this blog, in the context of my work. I feel God more in the workplace, and feel surer that I am where He wants me to be – pursuing my God-given passions.

These are things which I feel everyday, which I seldom felt in my corporate career. I believe everyone should be given the freedom to pursue these, work is such an integral part of our lives. We can’t and mustn’t settle.

Think about it. Is the risk even that big?

Young people. They say “startups are for the young” because of two things: first is that it takes a lot of energy to pursue a startup. You will work HARDER than you did in corporate. Hopefully it’s not only because of your intense will to make it, but also because you’ve chosen a product you love. The other reason startups are for the young? You have nothing to lose. You don’t have mouths to feed yet, nor a house loan to pay. You can always go back climbing the corporate ladder. It will always be there for you.  The ONLY thing you might be sacrificing is lifestyle (the one your corporate salary allows you to afford), which really if you think about it, isn’t worth it. At all. If you have that itch, there is no sense stalling. Take that leap now.

Slightly older folks. You probably have something to lose. It’s the large, 2x-a-month cash that comes in like clockwork. You use it to feed your dependents. If you think about it, your career is NOT really at risk – you can always go back to it.  By now though, you probably have an idea if that career of yours really is something you really love, or its something you are stuck with. If it is the latter, you owe it to yourself to take a leap – don’t settle. Not necessarily a giant, hairy leap, but perhaps smaller, more calculated leaps that build momentum. (I talk about that here) Create a definitive plan. Partner with young people who can take the big leaps. You are the one they will look for needed domain knowledge. Small, low-risk steps.

Look, startups are not for everyone. They require a high tolerance for ambiguity and failure, as well as high intestinal fortitude. I remember the early years when my partner Pao and I would face not knowing where the money would come from WHILE losing a huge client WHILE losing a key employee WHILE having to clean the office. Grabe. However, if you have that fire in your belly, there is NOTHING as exhilarating as being the captain of your own ship, I tell you.

There is only one way to find out though. Take a chance.