Letting Yolanda Permanently Change You

taclobanWhen I arrived home Sunday night to watch news on what happened with the super typhoon, I was in shock. The first few aerial pictures of Tacloban were coming in. It was utter devastation. Worse, there was a blackout on how people actually were on the affected islands as all communication lines were down.

It was getting ominous.

News over the next few days confirmed our very worst fears. Thousands dead. Cities, literally wiped out. Lives destroyed. The next day, Inquirer hailed it as the worst Philippine disaster. Ever.

As media started descending on the island, the footage veered from bird’s-eye onto man-on-the-street.

I’m not so sure if anyone watching could hold tears back as you listen to the stories. People wailing as they tell gut-wrenching stories of their last moments with their beloved. Parents burying children. Children burying parents. Families watching each other slowly starve to death and beg for food on the air.

It’s almost too painful to watch.

I think we have to continue on watching though. We have to continue letting ourselves tear up while listening to the stories. We have to let ourselves be incredulous as to why the goods aren’t getting where they should go. We have to feel.

These are our people, after all.

This IS actually happening. Thousands HAVE died and hundreds more are sick, hungry, and desperate, all fighting for their very lives as the relief efforts unbelievably are having a hard time reaching them.

These are our people.

We have to keep watching.

We have to keep feeling.

The coverage has elicited an unprecedented response from people watching.

We all know about how much international and local aid is pouring in. By now, I know a number of you reading have already volunteered your time in packing and sorting relief goods. I know a great number of companies doing their own drives. Individuals have become quite entrepreneurial and creative in their efforts to raise money. Children in other countries have set up lemonade stands to raise their own funds to give.


The response has been heartwarming.

The thing is, we all know this fervor WILL die down in perhaps a couple of months. The lemonade stands will close shop. The company programs will cease. There will be considerably less social media attention devoted to the victims.

This is where the wheat shall be separated from the chaff.

Post-fervor, will you be one of those people still helping in your own way? 

If you were watching footage, reading the stories, staring at the expressions on the unforgettable images – then you must have felt your heart get tugged.

Here’s my challenge: why not respond in a permanent manner?

The last few days, I’ve largely been a bit quieter than usual. I’ve been on some kind of existential self-questioning.

OK, if I know that I DO want to lead a life where I am involved in nation building and helping out, then is this the line of work I really want to do? Is what I am doing ultimately helping out my less privileged countrymen?  Can I do more?

Perhaps we need to let Yolanda disturb us to our core. Perhaps we need to let it float serious questions within us about our current lifestyle and career trajectory.

We all want something good to come out of all this, perhaps we should start with our own hearts.

Let Yolanda change you.

(If you think people would resonate and appreciate this article, be a blessing and share 🙂 


Tech Portal, UP-AyalaLand Technohub, Venue for Startups Unplugged
Tech Portal, UP-AyalaLand Technohub, Venue for Startups Unplugged

One of my favorite things about blogging on Juan Great Leap is that I get to document my entrepreneurial journey without much apprehension. The cathartic experience that comes from sharing, as a crazy individual who is just starting in the Philippines, enables me to embrace the fear monster.

From my first Open Coffee to witnessing the art of sharing at living hope, I’m starting to realize why Peter calls Juan Great Leap his gift; there is great reward in giving and sharing for all.

With Startups Unplugged coming up next week, I’d like to share what this event means to me and what I hope to give back to it.

What does Startups Unplugged mean to me? 

Three months ago, I was blurting out ideas to my office mate, Suzie of Searchlight, like a mad scientist at work. I was throwing so many random ideas at her in hopes of finding the right name for this event that would feature an array of entrepreneurs from different fields, and various stages in their personal startup journey. I had to get the name just right to embody what was being communicated to me for its vision.

The idea for the Juan Great Leap event was described to me as a moment that would be much more personal than the typical conference setting. This big event would create a space for attendees to approach entrepreneurs in a more intimate setting, in which they would be encouraged to ask questions to entrepreneurs, and get up, close, and personal with them.

The simplicity of the idea and the intimate space that was being articulated to me triggered imagery from MTV’s Unplugged Sessions, in which artists would get a little more personal with their fans by sharing their music to smaller groups. While the artists still engaged in a performance, they went unplugged- acoustic. The spectacle of the performance was somewhat removed from the presentation of their work to create a moment more raw.

MTV Unplugged 2.0 Episode on November 18, 2001
MTV Unplugged 2.0 Episode on November 18, 2001,
Courtesy of Wikipedia

Now that you know where the inspiration for Startups Unplugged comes from, I’d like to share my own “unplugged” moment in opening up to you about Startups Unplugged.

The metaphor of unplugged tugs at my inner core. As a would-be entrepreneur trying to start up, I know that there’s a lot of pressure for entrepreneurs to present to their audiences in a superhuman fashion.

One personal fear that I am confronted with when I open up to people is knowing that the vulnerabilities that I expose to them may evoke feelings of disbelief and doubt. In contrast, the most vulnerable moments shared can also be the most moving. The movement of the spirit that captures your heart and moves your soul can lead to action, if you allow it to do so.

These are such romantic ideas, I know, and I’m not saying that every moment shared in Startups Unplugged is going to be this deep personal sharing, but think about the possibility of just starting a simple, yet real conversation with leaders and feeders in the startup community.

It’s precisely what I’m attempting to do with you, the reader, in this blog entry. I seek to share a real moment by opening up to you, as so many strangers that I have met -in my strong attempt to get this event off the ground- have done for me. The interactions I have with them keep me moving, in the midst of all the doubt and stumbling blocks that I continue to face.

I’m trying to move you to see Startups Unplugged for what it is to me and what it is for you.

What can Startups Unplugged do for the community?

With the immense support of gracious partners and sponsors, we’re throwing this event for free, as passionate volunteers. I guess that’s why I’m writing in such an airy tone because doing something for free somewhat forces you to realize why you’re being moved as part of  a larger community with a shared goal.

As you witness Startups Unplugged, open your mind to the possibility of where the conversation can take you and the community.

JGL Open Coffee
JGL Open Coffee

For the leaders, the entrepreneurs, in the startup scene, realize the potential in working together, as a startup community, in which you share your gifts and passions. Collaboration will only strengthen you and your enterprise.

For the feeders, everyone else, understand your role in nurturing entrepreneurship for the Philippines and the significance of it to the larger development of this country, for yourself and for Juan.

If you’re unsure of where you fall in the startup community, do not despair. I invite you to participate. It’s a great network to be exposed to. I encourage you to share and be open to receiving. In the end, I’m sure you’ll end up giving too in your own way and own time.

Startups Unplugged means a lot to me. In a way, I see it as my first real contribution in starting up, as an aspiring entrepreneur.

I choose to go unplugged from the start because whether I succeed or fail in this startup journey, I hope that you will learn from my mistakes and successes for every Juan.

To Be or Not To be: 5 Reasons Why I think I need an MBA

In the summer of 2010, I took a visit to Columbia University during a family trip to NYC after college graduation
In the summer of 2010, I took a visit to Columbia University during a family trip to NYC after college graduation. I didn’t graduate from there 🙂

I loved college. I loved going to lecture and being inspired by the professors. I loved studying at the library, and I even loved taking naps at the library in between classes. I loved attending professor’s office hours to gain new knowledge and perspective. And most of all, I loved being engaged in a vibrant community of like-minded folks composed of young individuals who were hoping to do something in their own special way. I loved the idea of college so much that I aspired to be a professor. That’s what brought to me to the Philippines in the summer of 2010.

The plan was that after graduation, I would go to the Philippines to take a one-month Tagalog class to “enhance” my knowledge of the language that I supposedly “spoke,” spend a couple of months in Manila – to better understand the culture that I supposedly already “knew”- and then go back to the States to apply for doctorate programs in Comparative Literature with a focus on Philippine Literature and Culture. We all know how that story went. Obviously, it didn’t happen the way that I had planned.

I speak in broken Tagalog. I can barely read Filipino, and I’m not pursuing my doctorate.

In fact, I was admittedly against higher education when I returned to the States. I had trouble finding a job, and the job that I ended up finding had nothing to do with what I learned in school. I had this misconception that a college degree would fully prepare me for life after college. Why couldn’t I understand that a degree in English Literature wouldn’t prepare me for the “real world?”

Beats me. However, this stage of angst and indignation definitely passed.

So here I am: three jobs later and two trips to Manila within the past two years, and it looks like education is creeping into my life again.

College Graduation from UCI, June 2010
College Graduation from UCI, June 2010. I’m an Anteater for life! ZOT ZOT! ZOT!

I feel like the culture of education is all around me. In the past two months that I’ve been working with Juan Great Leap, I’ve been learning about startups and entrepreneurship in the Philippines on the ground. Business meetings are like professors’ office hours for me. Coffee chats with fellow entrepreneurs give me that intellectual peer interaction, in which we get to bounce off ideas. The academic grades given are based on a pass or fail system:

Pass– the business makes enough money for you to live.

Fail– the business doesn’t.

The key difference in my life now is that I’m not in school. This is real life. Unexpected stuff happens. There’s no formula to success.

Yet, I’m still thinking about getting that MBA. While I’ve learned that no formal education can prepare you for the spontaneity and challenges of business, I still think that completing an MBA program would benefit me because of the following reasons:

  1. I’m not a genius. Some of the most successful people don’t even finish college let alone pursue an MBA, but I’m not as good as them.
  2. An MBA provides the training and education from some of the brightest and experienced teachers in the world.
  3. It provides its students with an incredible network, much needed in today’s globalized society.
  4. An MBA opens the doors for even more opportunities.
  5. It gives aspiring business leaders a deeper knowledge of business from a bird’s-eye view.

After listing these reasons, I’m not really sure that an MBA is the way for me to go. I haven’t completely convinced myself.

I’ve been learning on the ground and it’s a very effective way to learn, but the pace of learning and the vast knowledge that I will acquire from an MBA is what I feel is necessary for me to take a business to the next level.

I know that there are many different perspectives on the MBA, and I’d really love to hear people’s insights. I think this is a much needed discussion for juniors like me.

Whatever your position on this topic may be, I say CHEERS to aspirations and life goals!

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.