A Ride in the Pedicab: Thoughts on Startups and Juan

I arrived at Rockwell. Got dropped off at Estrella Street. Was going to walk to the Power Plant, but this elderly gentleman asked me if I wanted a ride on his bicycle car. I was happy to hop into the contraption, as it saved me from the walk. It was an interesting experience to ride in the bicycle car, while this pleasant fellow peddled along the street.

While he was treading along, a car nearly hit us at an intersection. The man’s bicycle couldn’t keep up with the flow of traffic, but he didn’t fret. He brushed the incident off his shoulders like a true boss. After the 5 min bike ride, I get out of his cart and asked him,

“Kuya, anong tawag ulit sa bike mo?”

He replied with a smile, “Pedicab!”

I said, “Ah tama! Pedicab.”

I forgot about the pedicab. I couldn’t recognize the vehicle when I was riding in it, even though I saw so many pedicabs when I was last here. During the ride on Estrella, I was so preoccupied with thoughts that the term, pedicab, completely slipped my mind.

I couldn’t stop thinking about how the pedicab driver was being left behind with his use of old technology. While I definitely benefited from the pedicab, I feared that it would be phased out and the jolly man, who was so eager to give me a ride, would eventually be out of a job as development in the country continued.

Where would the man end up? What would he be doing, if he weren’t a pedicab driver? Would anyone even give him a chance to work?

That short ride in the pedicab really got me thinking…the experience resonated with something I was reading.

Startup and Change the World

Earlier in the day, I was reading a passage from Startup and Change the World: Guide for Young Social Entrepreneurs by S. Dev Appanah and Sunit Shrestha.

In the section about Social Technopreneurship, Appanah highlights Professor Michael Porter’s words on innovation:

“Professor Michael Porter from the Harvard Business School argues that, ‘Innovation is the central issue in economic prosperity,’ innovation and technology can help the poor as much as the rich” (Appanah, 7).

Innovation will continue to change the world, and technology is driving that change.

I’m not a techie. I’m probably the polar opposite of a techie, but I do see the vast potential that technology can have on the poor and the development of this country.

While it’s only been a month since I’ve been exposed to tech startups in the Philippines, I can proclaim that the innovation of the Pinoy is outstanding. Pinoys can do so much with scarce resources, and many times, even better than those who have more resources available to them. The talent here is incredible. Countries like the US and Australia can attest to this statement, as big international firms are outsourcing the services of top Philippine talent.

Similarly, there is immense talent and innovation coming from the masses. Their creativity and resourcefulness in daily activities that may seem mundane is a demonstration of innovation at its finest. (You can check out this article I did for juice.ph last year, if you want to get an understanding of where I’m coming from.)

To all you game-changers, I’d like to make this plea: let’s NOT leave Juan behind in the process of innovation. We are a country of more than 90 million. Our greatest resource is our people. Together, we will build our nation.

As Professor Michael Porter points out, “Innovation and technology can help the poor as much as the rich.”

In order to move forward with every Juan, let’s be conscious of where that niche can be filled in a bright and developing Philippines.

Where do you fit?

Ambition + Innovation = Startup

If I buy a Jollibee franchise, would that be a startup? If I open a sideline internet cafe while I’m handling my day job – is this a startup?

There are several definitions thrown around now about what a startup is and isn’t. Here’s mine:

Ambition + Innovation = Startup

First, a startup is all about ambition. It doesn’t want to be another player in the market. It aims to be the BEST player in the market, or better yet, it aims to find entirely new blue ocean markets.

When I was still in Chikka Asia, one phrase thrown around a lot was “global domination.” This is a startup. Morphlabs, a local cloud computing firm recently  was granted 5 million dollars in funding (http://venturebeat.com/2011/09/06/morphlabs-5m-funding/) to do cloud computing for the international market. This is a startup.

What about that internet cafe you opened or that solitary coffee shop you founded and named after your daughter? (tipong Julie’s) Unless its a real goal for you to topple Netopia or Starbucks – nope, not a startup.  These are more lifestyle businesses.

So wait, wait, wait, what if i buy…20 Jollibee  and 20 Labandera franchises? Is that ambitious enough for you, Peter? Huh?! 

This brings me to the next criteria – innovation. A startup wants to create a dent in the universe. Nowadays, in order for you to do that, you need to innovate. Are you really making a dent, are you really changing things up, if you buy 20 Jollibee franchises? A true startup tries to destroy the status quo, not to preserve it. Your 20 Jollibee franchises helps Jollibee make a dent, not you. You know what a true startup entrepreneur in the food business would use that money for? He would use it to create a NEW Jollibee – which was precisely what happened when Edgar Sia II recently changed the landscape with Mang Inasal, forcing Jollibee to buy it for 3 billion. Mang Inasal – now that’s a startup story. And lest we forget, Jollibee, which forked over the 3 billion, and is now busy trying to take over the world, is another great startup story.

Actually, ambition and innovation now go hand-in-hand, very tightly. You want to rule a market? You have no choice but to innovate. Google stole Yahoo’s thunder by creating a better algorithm. Facebook killed MySpace and Friendster by delivering an entirely new and unique user experience. I remember eating in a Mang Inasal for the first time a few years ago, it was at the Starmall branch. The chicken wasn’t as good as some of the standard inasal shops around, but it wasn’t a huge drop, and I didn’t need to wait long for it. That was an industry first, fast-food chicken inasal.  But there was more. There was someone going around with unlimited rice strapped on. The furniture was different. There were these videos playing as well, not your typical music videos or an NBA game, but there was some guy having fun explaining the Mang Inasal concept. I remember thinking (in tagalog, but translated here), “someone put a lot of thought into how this would go together.”  And it did come together, and the experience was just different. Innovative.

Ambition + Innovation = Freaking Difficult

Of course. No one said it would be easy. People who put up startups are not after comfort. It deliberately tackles the biggest mountains head-on, armed with ingenuity, passion, tenacity, and by the sheer force of their will. Making dents in the universe isn’t easy. It’s not for everyone. But if you find yourself nodding as you read this, you are precisely the person I want to reach out to. Go for it. We need you.

Don’t get me wrong. Lifestyle and small business entrepreneurs are very much needed by our society and economy. I am all for them.

But if you are going to dream anyway, why not dream big?