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?


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.

STEP 1: Pick a Product and a Market

This is the 2nd of a series of 7 posts about the steps to launching a product. You can find the introductory post here. Step 2 is here

So you want to launch a startup.

First thing to do is to pick out an idea. Its sounds simple, but I do know that for a lot of us, this can be pretty challenging – its either we have too many ideas or none at all. The secret is to choose to commit. If you have too many ideas, and its already bogging you down, force yourself to commit to a few ideas and eliminate those you feel lukewarm about. For those who feel “none of my ideas are exciting,” I find that this is usually a confidence thing. You have to take a deep breathe, box out all the negative thoughts from your head, and choose. I don’t think you would be reading this blog if you didn’t have some ideas in mind.

The 3 circles exercise, detailed here, can be quite useful in helping you finalize a pool of ideas you can seriously consider. Remember, it is extremely important that you select a field which 1) you are passionate about, 2) which people will pay you for, and 3) something which you are genetically great at. Using the 3 circles, you might end up with something like this:

“great web design”


“baking marvelous cookies”


“finance auditing”

These are actually still pretty broad categories to consider building a startup around.

So focus on researching on your field of choice, with the intention of narrowing down your idea further. Why do you need to narrow down your idea?

Let’s say you are an artist who wants to start a web design firm. Go research. You’d find out that there are different subgroups and services categorize under web design, such as html programming, flash design, logo design, CMS set-up, site optimization, social media design and management, “clean” site engineering, etc…. They also service different markets: corporate, the government, small businesses, individuals, etc…

Understand all of this. Research. Use these services yourself. It’s important to understand the entire industry. It is only when you understand things – and the gaps between things – that you can truly innovate. It’s tough to innovate with the wrong assumptions.

Then, niche.

Unless you are a gazillionaire, it would be difficult for you to just go after the broad market and take on every single one of these services. Since you have limited resources, the wise thing to do is to divide and conquer. You have to go after a more specific subgroup. Besides, its way easier creating a name for yourself as the best in _______, rather than a generic supplier. The more focused you are, the more likely you can create something worth noticing. You have to niche and niche some more.

This was the process when we were cooking up Streamengine. We could have gone broad and created a “one-stop shop” of web services. But this was expensive, and not so strategic. So we focused on videos, then we focused some more and decided to do online videos, and then focused some more on motion graphics videos. This is what we want to be best in – online motion graphic videos for businesses.  I think this is a much better strategy than targeting everything.

Whats important to remember is to get out into the world when you do your research. It’s tough to “just rely on your gut” that there is a huge market. Talk to people. Talk to veterans in the industry.

If, after your research, you realize that your idea of choice wasn’t as hot as you’d thought, then congratulations, you can cross it out of your list and move on to the next idea in your pool.

Remember that ideas are cheap, so don’t spend more time than is necessary in this step. Step 2 (co-founders) is far more important than this step. That’s up next!

(Know someone who might appreciate the content of Juangreatleap? Be a blessing, don’t hesitate to share now with just a few clicks!) 

Pick your startup idea using the 3 circles

A long time ago, I read the bestselling book by Jim Collins, a book which a lot of you are probably familiar with, Good to Great.

I have forgotten everything about the book except his 3 circles framework. Jim illustrates that for good companies to become great, they have to exist in the “sweet spot” of 3 overlapping circles. While the book was really made for large corporations, and used data mainly from large corporations, I realized how applicable the “3-circle” framework is for startups. I use this framework extensively in startup product development.

My simplified version of the framework looks like this:

So let’s say you’re deliberating on what startup idea you’d like to pursue, and you have a few ideas you’re evaluating. This framework then becomes extremely useful. Each of the elements are crucial.

Some scenarios:

1) You have an idea you are passionate about, and can do it brilliantly, but people probably won’t pay you to do it.

Then this is simply a hobby, not a business. I could be the very best in the world in naming every G.I. Joe character who ever existed and recite their complete profiles, but the likelihood of me getting compensated for this skill might not be so hot.

Here’s the interesting thing here though: because of the internet, you can now easily find people with similar passions as you have. If you can build a related skill-set to world-class levels – the internet makes it so much easier to find a market. So say you’re the world’s best in restoring action figures, there’s a better chance of finding a market now than there was pre-internet.

2) You can pursue something you are passionate about and people will pay you to do, but you aren’t so good at it.

Then at some point your startup will fail, because consumers don’t like settling. This is still a pretty good spot to be in though, because your objective becomes clear – you have to build competence.

3) You can also choose to work on something which you are really good at, and people will pay you for it.

If you leave your corporate job and form your startup under these circumstances, then this is really jumping from the fire into the frying pan. This is really the corporate assembly line all over again. It’s actually a bit worse, because it will be harder to extricate yourself from the situation. So while this is tempting, it’s a recipe for frustration and zombification. Don’t.

One important thing to consider is that startups are typically composed of more than one founder. So it becomes more interesting (and fun) to tackle these questions.

What are we passionate about? What will people pay us to do? What are we collectively awesome at?

Time for that coffee meeting.

The only shoe that will fit perfectly is yours

Each individual is unique.

From our fingerprints, our view of the world, our biases, our histories – we are each truly unique.

Our uniqueness extends to what exactly satisfies us at work.

Some of us prefer sales, some research, some human resources, some supply chain management, some finance, some technology.

Some of us prefer to work at night, some mid-afternoon, some are morning folk.

Some of us prefer working with people, while some prefer to work alone, for some “it depends.”

Some of crave simplicity, while others desire sophistication.

Some of us get a thrill out of talking to someone new everyday, while some of us want to a correspond with more an intimate set of people.

Some of us want structure, while some of us would want none of that.

Some of us like synthesizing, some facilitating, some writing, some performing, some speaking to large groups.

We all have a unique fulfillment menu. We are each fulfilled by a combination of different things.

This is why job-hunting is so tricky. We ALWAYS end up compromising something.  Isn’t it funny that there’s always something missing?

How many times have you said or have you heard others say, “The salary is good, my boss is cool, the work is okay, but, I don’t know, I’m just not happy.”

A corporation is someone else’s dream. It is someone else’s menu. Someone else’s shoe.

In the end, the only shoe that will fit perfectly is yours.

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.


Ok, while ideas ARE overrated, they are still important. Let’s talk about the process of evaluating, and ultimately choosing, which startup idea to commit to. This will be a long one, so I will cut it up into 2-3 posts. Remember, the criteria I will be using here will be for startups, not necessarily for lifestyle or small businesses. For a small business, sometimes all it takes is a good franchise and a good location. It’s a little more complicated for a startup with big dreams.

Let’s start with some career advice cliche.

1.Go after a passion

It’s cliche for a reason: its extremely important. A lot of entrepreneurs get into the game motivated by money, and that is fine. But it is only a deeper passion for the craft that will make your product truly remarkable. It is also passion that will help you stay in the game when the lean times come.

I immediately gobbled up Isaacsons’s Steve Jobs biography the minute it came out. What you get immediately is that Jobs wasn’t in it for just the money. I remember the part of the book where engineers were puzzled at Jobs’ insistence on getting the colors and design right for parts deep inside the computer they were building – parts the consumer would never even see. The whole book – and the whole history of Apple – is really about Steve’s overwhelming passion for the product, passion you could feel when you use Apple products.

What product can you talk about all day? What topic can you read dozens and dozens of books on?

What doesn’t feel like work?

(quick add: if you have a partner or 3, then consider common passions)

2. Consider Tech

Year after year, I get to interview fresh graduates coming out of the Universities. One thing I love asking business majors is what happens in their school’s usual “business simulation activity.” I ask the interviewee to try to remember ALL the concepts generated. I get the same sad company concept list year after year (this year not an exception) – almost 100% of groups do a retail concept, where a “new” food type or a new bag or a new snack is generated. Worse, schools usually hold a tiangge or ask students to put up a stall in Greenhills, thereby virtually guaranteeing that only retail concepts are created. The last 15 years, how many of these retail concepts have actually become household names? One? None?

If you want to make it big in retail, you need gobbles of money. Its a huge risk. With inventory. Oh, and your competitors are named Procter and Gamble, Unilever, and Universal Robina.

Didn’t people get the memo? That the Google algorithm was done in a garage? Didn’t people watch The Social Network? Tech is the one area where the playing field has been leveled, where innovation has become a commodity. Before, creating a tech product meant spending millions buying huge expensive servers and software licenses. Now you can talk to your programmer buddy and essentially create one basically for free. It’s an arena where tiny Chikka in the Philippines can build the world’s first mobile instant messenger and make a difference. There is NO reason why the next great tech company can’t come from the Philippines.

Consider tech.

If you are passionate with something else, you can think about how you can use tech to augment your product towards our new Star Trek era. Passionate about T-shirts? Maybe you can do something like this. How about food? Maybe you can build a local Yelp.

So what are you waiting for? Run and get your tech partner! That’s what I did back in ’06.

(Oh, and if there any school administrators/teachers around there who can influence curriculum – why not combine people from different majors when you do your business simulation activity? Think of what can happen if the business guys team up with the computer guys and the design guys. It will be amazing AND will simulate real life in a much better way.)  

3. Solve a Domain Problem

I was lucky enough to get a press pass and witness the first night of Startup Weekend when it was held in Fort a few weeks back. Great event. There were dozens of ideas, usually revolving around trends such as  location technology, new social networks, and online event aggregators. My problem with these ideas is this: how many people around the world are working on these ideas? Hundreds? Thousands?

My other problem is this: a lot of these ideas are features, not products. If Facebook, which everyone uses, decides to make your company idea in to a feature, then say goodbye to your firm. This problem is now what Foursquare is now facing.

My suggestion is you go zig when everyone else is zagging.

One practical way to do this is to tackle domain problems. If everyone else is busy building another Facebook (good luck with that),  why don’t you talk to 10-year veterans of certain domains. Talk to a great doctor. Ask him about the problems in that industry. Talk to a supply chain director. Talk to a high school principal. Heck, you might be one of these people. These are the people who have the needed experience to define problems very well – and the intuition to craft great potential solutions.

Talk to them about the sticky problems they face. Can creating a particular service help? Can technology help?

I tell you, you will be amazed at how much opportunity is actually available. Before doubt sets in, let me tell you now, you can make a difference.

More to come.

PS: If you are a “business” guy like me, you can form a great team already by partnering with a tech guy and a domain guy. Can’t wait to tackle forming teams!

Part II here!