Pride: 50 Years and Beyond

What started as a relationship immediately after a 15-min hookup 13 years ago ended up in a solemn ceremony in Sofitel where John and Mark* exchanged rings and vowed to love each other for the rest of their lives. Call it what you want, but I find it impossibly romantic.

“So after you came, you just knew that you loved him?” I asked last night. “Yeah. We became a couple first then started dating.” What’s even more surprising to me was when they moved in to John’s family house, Mark had to pretend to be a bedspacer in John’s room. Both of their families don’t know, but I’m betting my pinky finger that they suspect but just can’t accept.

Pride is a celebration for those fighting for acceptance and equality. We fight for those who cannot speak – the basketball varsity boy who’s majorly infatuated with his classmate in an exclusive high school, the deeply religious young executive who fear that revealing his true self will turn his family against him, even that single mom who’s starting to fall in love with Anne, her fellow Yoga partner.


These stories have existed in every generation, race and gender. Its influence is arguably more expansive than the civil rights and women’s rights movement.

“On June 28 1969, New York’s LGBT community rebelled against the repression and violence they faced at the hands of the police and state. A peaceful, non-confrontational approach had left much to be desired, and thus a fiery response in a period of protest and civil rights movements marked the beginning of a new phase of LGBT activism. One year later, the first Pride marches were held to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots.”

Next year, Pride will celebrate its golden anniversary! The West has started to adapt same sex unions, while at this part of the globe, we’re still fighting to be accepted by our families and the law. Those in the middle east and some African states are more severe – life in exchange for freedom of expression.

Technology has created pockets of avenues where people who hide can express themselves – through dating apps like Tinder and Grindr, to alternative personalities in Twitter, and user generated media in Blued. Media has always been an ally of the LGBTQ + fam community, but it’s comforting to see that we’re getting more shows that speak of acceptance like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Queer Eye.

In the next 50 years, I hope that we’ll see families and religious people join Pride. I think Filipinos can learn a lot by going to these celebration-protests because people seldom value the things we were born with – democracy, acceptance, etc, – and here, you can really see people rejoice that they are free to choose whom they want to love, even if society thinks otherwise.

*not their real names


Maintaining Relevant in the 21st Century

I was the outlier in a program designed for STEAM graduates. I fought for my slot because I believe that this is where the world is going and I want to remain relevant in a world that will be shaped by AI, blockchain, CRISPR, etc.

AIM’s Master of Science in Innovation and Business transforms students from STEAM professionals into value-creating innovators by building on their technical knowledge. By the end of the program, students will have the business acumen they need to market their products, solve real-world problems, and make sound business decisions. Apply now and be part of MSIB Class of 2019.


Finance, Innovation

KayaCredit – The First AI-Powered Credit Scoring Service for the Unbanked

“Raise a glass for (financial) freedom”

On Philippine Independence Day, we formally launch KayaCredit (, the first AI-powered credit scoring service for the vast majority of Filipinos who remain unbanked but are economically active.

Together with Bayad Center and our other partners, we have access to the alternative data of 32 million Filipinos who perform regular transactions like paying their bills, loading their phones, sending and accepting remittance, and performing other financial transactions that can tell us about their credit worthiness. Using machine learning, we generate a credit score that is indicative of the borrower’s repayment behavior.

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With this, hard working Filipinos who do not have credit history can access cheaper credit and can choose the best offer from our trusted partner lenders through our loans marketplace.Our team is working with some of the biggest lenders locally and abroad to spur financial inclusion. We will reach 1 million users and lend out 15 billion pesos by the end of the year.

And we are just getting started. We have other projects in the pipeline which we’ll launch in “VIP” — Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines – home to 500 million people with median age below 30 and fast rising incomes. Through finance and technology, we aim to meet the needs and aspirations of the world’s emerging middle class.


Eat-Pray-Love Chronicles

A friend from Vietnam visited me here in Manila last weekend. I met her during my volunteer stint 5-years ago in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand where I taught English in orphanages. We exchanged stories and our conversation reminded me of how passion didn’t use to be an overrated word. And that it didn’t matter if I was not able to find what I was looking for in that 2-month eat-pray-love trip, because it kept me hungry for life.


I miss relieving those stories because she’s the first person from that trip whom I met again after so many years. For two months, my only focus then was to explore and live. There were times when I even got teary eyed because of the overwhelming gratitude to be alive. So let me recount some stories. (Photos here are from my trip)


Story 1: I lived with a Vietnamese host in a condominium when I was in Ho Chi Minh City. In the building beside ours was a Filipino family whom I frequently visited, and they were running a very risky operation. If the police knew what my Filipino neighbours were doing,  they’ll be dragged out of their house together with their three young kinds and be imprisoned.


I became part of a Christian missionary group disguised as an English club when I was in that communist country. I’m not really religious, but I got inspired by the bravery of that family who defied the law and used gospel passages as examples in their English lessons. There would even be gospel song singing, which can’t get too loud else the other neighbours might become suspicious. I admire the dedication and faith of the couple.


Story 2: During my last day as an English teacher in Ho Chi Minh, the class was so chaotic that I spent half of the time shouting to keep the students quiet. Finally, my class time ended so I stepped out of the room without saying much of a goodbye.


As I was a few meters away from the orphanage, I saw my students running after me. They still can’t speak straight English so we just hugged in the middle of the road. It was sunset and it looked like the perfect finale of a cheesy student-teacher movie. That gesture really touched me even if they were so unruly inside the classroom.


Story 3: Three people plus a chicken shared 2 seats inside a bus heading to Siem Reap. I was on my way there to celebrate my birthday alone. I’m usually very confident that I won’t get mugged whenever I travel because I’m Asian with brow skin, but I felt scammed cause I paid good money to supposedly get good seats.


Got myself a bike to tour around Angkor Wat, but had to retreat back because the heat was so unbearable. Also, it turned out that my hotel didn’t accept credit cards and I left bulk of my cash in HCMC, so for my birthday dinner, I only had two cans of beer, some energy bars and a pack of Boy Bawang. Yes, they had some in the grocery. The cashier even mistook me for a local Cambodia, which I don’t know what to make of.


Story 4: My last stop for the trip was in Bangkok. I spent the last 7 weeks in pretty chill cities so I was a bit culture shocked when I landed. That afternoon, I was scheduled to meet my Thai cousin in Siam Square. I guess he was surprised to see me cause I looked like a hobo – darker skin than usual, longer unkept hair and was a bit skinny because of all that traveling.


He’s a film student and was about to premier their thesis film in Paragon that night. They’ll even have a part after, but guess who’s not invited – maybe because of how I looked that day. So I just roamed around Bangkok while I was there and I was so fond of the city that I did not feel the need to go to Chiang Mai or Ayutthaya anymore.


I want to go volunteering again, but somewhere more foreign. If I were to create another eat-pray-love experience, it would probably in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Recalling those stories ignite my wanderlust to explore more places. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it soon.


Dr. Strange, Thanos and Disruptive Innovation

During a meeting with a partner earlier, I felt like Dr. Strange when he had no choice but to give up the time stone to Thanos. When the news was dropped, it felt like the air is being sucked out of me and chain smoking a pack of cigarettes was the only way to survive. Signed a non-disclosure agreement so I can’t speak any of it, but all I can say is that a critical “time stone” that gave us advantage over our behemoth of a competitor – Thanos – has been shared to them. It was originally exclusive to us.

On my way home, I was trying to think of a way to manoeuvre our product and outsmart our competitor. “Thanos” has more money, bigger team, has been ahead of us for 3 years, and has built enough traction to claim billions in their portfolio. A normal hero would easily back down, but not Dr. Strange. After eight seconds of meditation to foresee the million ways of how this battle will end, with only one scenario of us rising as the winner (kidding), I realized that we were exactly built for moments like this. This is where my MSc in Innovation and Business will come in handy. Had to put on another face of a superhero. Dr. Strange is out, and Captain Marvel is in.


I remembered some lessons that we had from our Disruptive Innovation class by Prof Toby Canto. He gave us a reading from Harvard Business Review where Clayton Christensen, the original guy who coined disruptive innovation, explained why it is important to define what kind of innovation you are pursuing, where you are now and how to combat incumbent behemoths like “Thanos.”

“Disruption” describes a process whereby a smaller company with fewer resources is able to successfully challenge established incumbent businesses. Specifically, as incumbents focus on improving their products and services for their most demanding (and usually most profitable) customers, they exceed the needs of some segments and ignore the needs of others. Entrants that prove disruptive begin by successfully targeting those overlooked segments, gaining a foothold by delivering more-suitable functionality—frequently at a lower price. Incumbents, chasing higher profitability in more-demanding segments, tend not to respond vigorously. Entrants then move upmarket, delivering the performance that incumbents’ mainstream customers require, while preserving the advantages that drove their early success. When mainstream customers start adopting the entrants’ offerings in volume, disruption has occurred. [Click here for the full article at HBR]

When you hear disruptive innovation, you may think of Airbnb, Spotify or Netflix, but innovation does not always involve the technologies that we are familiar today. You can also include community colleges, retail medical clinics and discount retailers as entrants that disrupted the education, hospital and department store industries.

Right now, we are that small entrant to a market dominated by “Thanos”. Disruption is inevitable, like the rise of Captain Marvel in Avengers 4. I guess for the weekend, I need to get back to the drawing board and restrategize to find a way to knock the gloves out of Thanos. I only wish we had more superheroes in the team. That meeting lit the fire under my ass and work just got more exciting.


Easier to Apologize Than Ask For Permission

One of the first things that we learned in grad school was that it is easier to apologize than ask for permission. Before you raise your eyebrows, you have to understand the context.  This idea was shared to us during our design thinking class, sparked by a video from Ideo – a design and innovation company.

Are Ideo employees allowed to bring bicycles inside the office and hang it at the ceiling? There were no rules against it so someone just did it, and the rest started following. Were we allowed to drink alcohol inside class? Well, one professor didn’t mind cause it gets our creative juice flowing. Just do it.


Our class has always been encourage to think of wild ideas, and that sometimes entails going outside of the usual conventions to create something novel. Having stringent rules will just stifle innovation.

I remembered this idea because during my talk for Shirtly, someone asked if we are allowed to make designs inspired by foreign series or movies like Infinity War. Half of the crowd were graphic designers, so this is a sensitive topic for them. I have my own store where the designs are inspired by Stranger Things, and I didn’t ask any permission from anyone. I gave the usual answer in business school – it depends.


It depends on the risk that you are willing to take. And yes, it is easier to apologize than ask for permission. If Stranger Things asks us to shut our store down, then I would gladly do it. I remember one Shirtly store that was threatened with a law suit by a university because they violated copyright laws. The owner shut down his store, and no one was brought to court. At the end of the day, that guy earned because he took a risk.

Then someone asked if we’re allowed to use the lyrics of local bands in our shirts? Now I think that will be more risky since it is easier for them to sue you, but on the other hand, you might doing the band a favor by promoting their song. Maybe they can get a cut from every shirt sold? It depends.

Last week, I started wearing shorts in the office because it is summer and the weather can be unbearable. I asked permission from our CEO and he’s cool with it, but I’m not so sure if my outfit will pass the stringent building policy. Well, I am on the edge of getting a heat stroke so you just have to do it and apologize if needed.


Hard Lessons from Not Prototyping

Despite several exercises and reminders in grad school about the need to prototype, I somehow went ahead with a project and allowed our engineers to develop it without validating the workflow to our institutional clients.

The development team worked on the website for months. I was confident to go ahead with it because the concept was received warmly by our clients during initial meetings.  I thought to myself that prototyping might be a waste of type because they want our product. I was dead wrong. When we showed the full website, there were a lot of issues that they want to be rectified if they want to sign up as a partner.


We could have saved a lot of time, effort and money if we first created a prototype that clearly shows how the website will flow. From that prototype, we receive feedbacks, iterate, show it again, iterate, until it fits the needs of the market. Then you develop.

I was blindsided because of the excitement that we got from the clients when we pitched the idea. They were lining up to use the website, until they saw how it flowed. Clearly, words are not enough to convey an idea.

So earlier, I worked from home to finish our prototype via the Marvel App. It’s very easy to use. My classmates used this often for our projects, so I was somehow familiar with it. You just need to layout the pages, for me I did ours in Photoshop, then through the app, you create the links.


If you’re not good with rendering the layout on your computer, you can use the app Prototyping on Paper. Draw out how the pages will look like, take pictures of it, then create the links with the pictures you took.

Aside from validating the product with your customers, you can also use the prototype as a guide for the engineers and QA when they are developing the site. The communication process will certainly be faster because your team gets to experience the instructions.

I take full responsibility of delay. We have another upcoming project related to what we’re building, and a mobile app for both projects are also somewhere in the roadmap. I’m definitely making a Marvel version first before we go head with the development to save tremendous amount of time and effort. It’s a good learning experience though.