Road to Being a Unicorn

I would always say that I’m year of the unicorn when asked about my Chinese zodiac. I’m a horse, but I just don’t want to be similar with those of my age. I guess that answer has brought out a consciousness in me of an animal that symbolizes a billion dollar valuation in the startup industry. It’s every startup’s dram to hit that unicorn status, and I was really happy to be part of a group that share the same aspirations for the last few days.


The conversations with them were filed with passions and aspirations. You can see the spark in their eyes and excitement in their voices whenever they talk about the problem close to their heart and how they’re addressing it. It reminded me of a time when we had untempered idealism and we think we could really change the world. Back at that time, we didn’t know how, but we just know we will in one way or another.

I think joining a fintech company might actually make that possible. To be a unicorn, they say you need traction and a sexy market. We’ll be expanding to VIP – Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines – home of half a billion people, to address a need where 70% – 80% of the population so that might just do the trick.


Everyone was very supportive of each other. As we were saying our goodbyes, we wished each other the best of luck and hope to meet in another event like this in another part of the world. I hope we would meet again and by that time, we would be unicorns in the startup scene.


A Page from the Habal Habal Diaries

Currently writing this as we are several thousands of feet above the Bay of Bengal. When we were lining up at the check in counter earlier, I was asked by my boss if I ever tried to backpack around the Philippines. Well, sort of but it’s more for work than for leisure. We were being paid to do it, which makes it more fun – from training board members of a cooperative in Compostela Valley to doing research in the wet markets of Tacloban, visiting the houses of farmers in Guiuan for interviews and habal-habaling around the countryside.


The most memorable local fieldwork that I had was when Mel and I were assigned in Romblon for a several days to train this group on social entrepreneurship. From Batangas port, we had to take the ferry to Romblon. The trip was comfortable because we had our own beds and I got to go around the ship.


Didn’t get the brief so I packed my long sleeves polo for the training. From our hotel, Mel and I rode at the back of a red pick up truck for about 45 minutes to reach this small barrio near the coast. Turns out that we have to do the training inside the house of the brgy captain with some farmers and vendors. I was too overdressed and I think had difficulty getting the message across. The people were really nice and I even taught them a secret handshake.

What made the trip memorable was when our partner organization, the Department of Agrarian Reform, asked us to wake up at 4am the next day – Saturday – for something special. I remember going out of our hotel room, it was still dark and was quite cold. There were two motorbikes waiting for us downstairs. We weren’t sure where they were taking us but we played along.


As we sped through unlit streets, we could make out the first signs of the morning as rice fields near the foot of the mountain were illuminated by pink and purple light. It looked more spectacular because the fields were bathed in fog. The rays of the sun were crawling their way through the trees in the mountain that gave us an ethereal view of Romblon. It was so worth it to wake up at such an ungodly hour.


After an hour and a half, we finally arrived in a deserted, crescent-shaped cove. We were told that you can have a clear view of the moon setting from there. Didn’t know that there was such a thing. So we watched for the moon to set (and it did gracefully) while we were standing over crystal clear life-filled shores of Romblon. We can even see schools of fish from where we stood.


There weren’t any people except for us so it feels like you’re transported to another place. We walked around the shores for some more time until it was time to get some breakfast. There was a nearby joint where we could eat so we settled there. After that, we had to go back to the hotel because we were set to go back to Manila that afternoon.


The only thing I remember after that was the ship speeding away from Romblon, then the purple orange sky when we were about to dock in Batangas. It really was a fieldwork to remember because of the uniqueness of the experience and the pure beauty of mother nature.


I guess I’m writing about it again now to preserve the memory. It’s always good to look back the on the things that really made you feel alive, the moments that took your breath away.


We were supposed to create a group that chronicles the life of development workers, starting with the contributions from our officemates. We wanted to call it Habal Habal Diaries because it was the common mode of transportation used to reach far flung areas – butt numbing 2 hour rides. We weren’t able to continue it, but if I were to contribute, this would be it.

Innovation, Personal

Of Camels and Space Travels

I’m excited for the next few days! We’ll be in Doha for about a week and I’m crossing my fingers, hoping that I can ride a camel in the desert. I might even watch Sex and the City 2 just to get myself in the mood. Cause it was shot in Dubai and they were riding camels and having picnics in the desert.

We’re going to Qatar because of their annual research conference. I’m looking forward to meeting some of the companies that are trailblazers in their respective industries – especially those who deal with space travel! One of which is Gilmour Space whose goal is to provide low-cost access to space, and to enable human spaceflight and exploration. Decades from now, your company outing might actually on the moon!

Infostellar is a company that also supports space travel by creating a deep space internet for a spacefaring humankind. Makes sense. How else will you Instagram back to Earth your selfies with Saturn’s rings if you don’t have internet, right?

Since we’re in the topic of space, it might be worth mentioning a quote that I really like from Stephen Hawking. “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.”

Westerlund 2 — Hubble’s 25th anniversary image

The Hubble telescope reveals that there are at least 100 billions of galaxies in the universe, maybe even double that as tech for telescopes progress.In a galaxy, there might be 100 thousand million stars. I can’t even fathom the number, much more the intricacies of each of those galaxies. One cannot help but think that there may be other lifeforms out there and I would want to live long enough to not just understand, but experience the universe itself.

Since I’m so pumped up for this trip, I even bought a new camera, also as an advanced birthday gift for myself. I’ve been shooting before using a DSLR so handling this entry level Fujifilm mirrorless camera won’t be a problem.


So there, I’m quite excited to ride camels and pick the brains of the startups who deal with space travel. The next days might be gruelling, but will still try to update this blog as often as I can.


Sucking Out All the Marrow of Life

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…” – Thoreau

I stumbled upon a Ted Talk earlier given by this adventurer who’s a year younger than me. He talks about the pursuit of life and describes it as an alternative, at the same time an intersection of our usual pursuits, such as career, success and happiness. It gave me a subtle nudge to evaluate the recent life choices I made, especially that I’m turning another year older next month.


Back when I was 21, just fresh out of college, I started this online magazine – ManilaKid.com – that became a portal for stories of Filipinos 25 years old and below who excel in their own fields, and can inspire people to act on their passions. We even got interviewed on TV and radio! Looking back, I guess even at that age, I don’t want passion to escape me. I was afraid that since I was working in a bank, I would be swallowed by the “system” so I should do something different. I want to collect stories as much as I can because through them, our readers (hitting 4,000 in a day at its peak) and our team would be challenged to move and just do what we love.

Several years after, I launched another online magazine – Dare.PH – which served the same purpose as ManilaKid, only that it is more mature now. I would always say that we publish chismis that inspires. Cause like gossip, I want the good news to spread like wildfire. Having those stories dared me to get the most out of life.

I guess that fear of dying inside came from my experience with my dad. He passed away because of depression. All the money and technology in the world cannot save you if you lose the will to live. I guess his death serves as a reminder that for those of us who choose life, we should make each of those 24 hours in a day count.

We work usually 8 hours in a day, travel for 2, eat for another 2. You sleep probably for 7 to 8 hours, so that means you still have another 4 or 5 hours to do something productive. Can’t see the value in that? Multiply that into months or years, and it will change the way you spend time.

Lately, I have been able to get into the flow of writing. I’m learning how to play the flute and might even go back to painting. I need to climb more mountains, watch more sunsets, visit more islands, spend more time with quality people and just keep on sucking out all the marrow in the 24 hours that we are given in a day. As I turn 28 in a few days, I only wish that I would have the same curiosity and desire for life in the years to come.

Finance, Innovation

Making a Dent Through Fintech

We were invited by the Qatar government itself to exhibit our fintech innovation in Doha for their annual research conference! I’m quite excited because it will be my first time in the Middle East, and there will be other tech companies who are “making a dent in the universe” with what they do – health, energy, robotics, space and humanity. We will also meet with a Filipino community there to explore opportunities for expansion.

I will be going my boss who dared to envision something crazy more than a decade ago. We will be there because of that vision and hopefully, it will pave the way for the unbanked to get more access to financial products to uplift their lives.

Steve Jobs famously said that “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”

I was reflecting a few days back and I guess my experiences in commercial banking and development financing were pivotal in the role that I’m taking now. Include that my grad school course which focused on innovation. If you tell me back in college that in a decade, I will be involved in the fintech industry, I would have laughed at you because I got a C in our finance class despite a brilliant tutor and I was a laggard in adopting technology.

I feel the pressure to deliver a system that will make loans, investments and insurances more convenient and targeted even if one has no previous formal transaction history. It’s sort of a breakthrough because we’ll be using machine learning and companies have been lining up to use the product, even willing to be guinea pigs, even if we have yet to fully launch it.

I have always wanted to make an impact. I was able to do it in the lives of the thousands of people who benefited from the loans we released to rural banks and cooperatives, and to the people we trained financial literacy. You can only amplify that through tech.

We’ll be there from March 18 to 22. Drop me a message if you happen to be there!


Shirtpreneurship 101

In a certain month, our sales for one shirt brand was more than what I earned for a full year as a management trainee in BDO.

I’m currently a one man team managing 6 online clothing brands, and I think you can be one too even while keeping your day job. I was able to do it through Shirt.ly because they provided the platform to produce, accept payments and distribute the merchandise (shirts, jackets, caps) to anywhere in the country.

Will be sharing my journey and some tips on how to be a successful shirtpreneur on April 18 and 25. Register at https://shirtpreneur.com/

March • 25 • 2019N.U. Auditorium • 11am

Through this event, I wish we can replicate the successes that other “7-digit shirtpreneurs” had. See you everyone!


Design Thinking for Healthcare

I was invited to give a talk on innovation and a designing thinking workshop to students of a state university last Saturday. Their background was healthcare so in a way, I was in a position to talk to them about innovation because during grad school, my partner and I immersed ourselves in hospitals operations, observing the behaviour of doctors and patients.

Have you ever fallen in line in front of a doctor’s clinic for more than 2 hours, only to be seen for around 10 minutes? You are already feverish with a mind-splitting headache, and even had to take a leave for a whole day. It’s a common paint point for a lot of people especially in emerging economies. We designed a system to reduce the patient waiting time from 180 minutes to just 15 minutes. To bring it to life, we even partnered with a Singaporean based company to use their engine.

Going back to my talk, I presented to them innovations in mental health diagnosis and therapy, in using big data to predict the borrowing patterns of patients so they can maximise credit, uses of virtual reality and artificial intelligence in medicine, and the latest updates on gene editing through CRISPR.

I guess the students were interested because they don’t teach those lessons inside the classroom. Or perhaps the curriculum has yet to be updated. I ended my 2-hour talk with a design thinking exercise – from empathy to ideation point only. The problem that I want them to solve was the increasing rate of HIV. I encouraged them to generate really wild ideas, to let their mind fly to Mars and return to Earth with something novel.

From artificial (rotating) vaginas, to condoms that light up when the virus is detected, to portable condom dispensers, nano bots who aid our immune system, mobile clinics to diagnose and treat people with HIV, and to that one suggestion of just sending everyone who has one to Mars – very Kingsman Golden Circle if you ask me. A person would say his idea, and someone can build on it.  It started from an enhanced sex doll, then evolved into a 3D printed doll of your crush, then to using virtual reality or 3D printing in case you tire with the face over and over again.

In the ideation part of design thinking, one shouldn’t be constrained by anything – time, money, ethics, practicality, etc. You do that in the next phase. When we’re done with this 30 minute exercise, I left the room with smiles and cheers on everyone’s faces. I guess it’s rare for students to stretch their imagination to something as wild as what we did. We need more people who can imagine the future because in the advent of artificial intelligence and machine domination, imagination may be one of the last frontiers that humans can still champion.

Together with my classmates from AIM under our innovation and strategy firm, Why Not, we can provide trainings on design thinking and other consulting services related to bringing your tech ideas into life from prototypes to designing a business model and validating with your customers. https://www.whynotinnovate.asia/