An Open Letter to Philippine University Deans and Leaders

(My friend, please read through this. If you agree with its content and find it important, stop being passive – don’t hesitate and SPREAD where you feel is necessary. Post it on your Facebook account, Tweet it, comment on it – agreeing or disagreeing, email it to directly to University Leaders in your network, or print it out and send it to their office, then perhaps tell them what you think about it. Let’s not wait for other people to do it, nor think that “this isn’t my problem,” because in some way, it is  –  peter)

Dear University Deans, Leaders, and Administrators,

If a young, impressionable Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg were studying in your institution right now, would he be in an environment that would allow him to fulfill his potentials?

Leaders, there is an urgent need for you to help in spurring startup activity in the country

Let me explain.

Fueled by the internet economy and inspired by the likes of startups Google and Facebook, there has been a global upsurge in the formation and development of startups.

In fact, startup incubators have sprouted left and right. Incubators such as Techstars, Startup Weekend, and Y-combinator have created successful company after successful company. Young people, fresh grads – the best of the best – now see startups as a real, exciting alternative to the corporate grind. Startups are being formed at a rate unseen in human history. It’s already cliché to say “now is the best time to be an entrepreneur versus any other time in the history of the world.”

And it isn’t just happening in the US.

Google “India Startups” or “Indonesia Startups” or “Singapore Startups.” Exciting isn’t it? Lots of activity. Lots of firms.

Now, Google “Philippine Startups.”

As a country, we are missing out. Badly.

For the last 7 years I’ve been busy recruiting hundreds of young people, both as employees and/or partners to some of the startups I’ve been associated with.

I thought it would be easy for me to convince them to take a leap by offering good pay, equity, the chance to be the captain of their ships, and the chance to work on something meaningful.

It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. Automatically, most young people would explain to me their perceived  singular path to success: a few years climbing the corporate ladder, then an MBA, hopefully abroad, then back to that ladder again.

And they toil away in corporations, working for just their paychecks, a good number devoid of any passion for what they do. Worse, they think it’s as good as it gets. They end up wasting talent – Filipino talent being highly lauded as some of the best in the world – doing cookie cutter work that is beneath them. There are a lot of these people.

This is a perception tragedy of the highest magnitude.

The world has become flat. There is no reason anymore why a few bright kids in your school can’t create the next Google, or Facebook, or Zoho.com (a huge global Indian startup).

There are a number of valiant entrepreneurs out there who are making a difference, like ProudCloud’s Jay Fajardo or Brain Gain’s Paco Sandejas, but they are few and far in-between. There needs to be a grassroots-level effort in spurring interest in startup development.

Leaders, this HAS to begin in our schools.

We have to ingrain in our students that creating startups is not only possible, but it is the highest form of work, because it involves creating a company around what they are passionate about. We all know what happens when we work on our passions – GREAT WORK happens. GREAT IDEAS ARE ENFLESHED and become real. Startup work is hard, yes, but it is also extremely fulfilling, liberating, and a big part of nation building. Startups spur economies.

It is already too late to target people when they graduate. Observe what your graduates do upon getting their diploma. They create cookie-cutter resumes and send them en masse, hoping to get calls from whoever firm  finds their resumes attractive. A good number of your graduates even go for the “first company to call,” blatantly ignoring their natural God-given inclinations and talent.

They only would need to look around a bit to see that some of the best startups in the world were founded by young, inexperienced people. In fact, these startups work precisely because they were founded by young, inexperienced people.

Why not young, inexperienced Filipino professionals? There is no reason. None. In fact, with the sheer talent and ingenuity of Filipinos, we should be natural startup founders. Sadly, most young people do not realize this. Most of them have never even heard of Filipino startups.

This is a serious problem you can do something about.

Leaders, you have to do your part in making them fall in love with this idea. It is in your hands. Convince them that they CAN go after what they love to do. They do not have to compromise. We have to target them on the undergraduate level because this where dreams are created. This is where they fall in love.

I do have some humble practical suggestions, which I hope you can consider:

1) Emphasize Technology Startups

This is where the world is headed. This is how our country can be recognized – if we create a great tech startup. Or two. Or three. This is where costs have fallen so dramatically that geography is almost negligible. We can compete.

When I talk annually to management graduates who go through business simulations, I always get disappointed because 99% of the ideas pursued would be retail. It is SO hard to get noticed in retail. So hard to go against P&G, URC, or Unilever. It also costs a ton of money to produce inventory. Huge risk. On the other hand, the original code used for Google and Facebook were essentially created with no cost of goods sold – by students. There is now even a science emerging behind creating web startups which you can include in your curriculum: The Lean Startup Methodology.

Next suggestion is related.

2) Multidisciplinary Projects

This is how I basically build startups: I get a business domain guy, a programmer, and sometimes a design guy together and sell all of them on an idea. Then I let them work.

Actually, this is how most startups are built – complementary pieces. During the last Startup Weekend in Fort, people were grouped exactly this way.

Why can’t we do this in the University? Get a computer science student, a management student, a psychology student, and a design student together – then ask them to build something. These people all end up working for corporations anyway – so it doesn’t make sense that only business students are required to participate in simulations.

Can you imagine a business simulation activity where your best tech people are coupled with your best business people and your best design people?  Isn’t this exciting? Wouldn’t they produce great ideas and great work?

Under this lens, it’s a bit easier to envision to imagine lasting startups coming from your incubator programs.

3) Hire entrepreneurs

At some point, there needs to be a limit as to getting corporate people to teach business classes. Get people whom you would normally NOT get: the misfits, the square pegs, the heretics. These are the best entrepreneurs. Give the misfit, the square-peg, and heretic students in your school a hero they can learn from and relate to. They will be the best entrepreneurs. Under no circumstances can you allow your part-time teachers from corporations brainwash them into thinking that the only way is the corporate way.

And, since these entrepreneurs are few and far in between, you may have to go after them, instead of waiting for them to come to you.

4) Give startups a chance in your job fairs

If you think about it, the whole system is stacked for the big corporations, who are the biggest advertisers, and therefore are treated like superstars during the whole senior recruitment process. You can do something about this. Hold a “startup day.” Invite Philippine startups to recruitment events and don’t charge them large fees. At the very least, you can level the playing field. The big corporations may complain, but you can chalk it up to “supporting the national movement for entrepreneurship.”

These are but some ways you can spur your student population to fall in love with startups and entrepreneurship. I am sure you have even better ideas which are brewing right now.

Bottom-line is, something needs to change. The status quo isn’t cutting it. We are being left behind.

Leaders, I have faith in your ability to really listen, make the needed changes, and commit. We need you to. The country needs you to.

That great potential entrepreneur studying in your school right now needs you to.