When an old friend calls

Ring... Ring...

I didn’t expect to end up in tears—happy, joyful tears—from a 2-minute phone call.

Last night at 9:30 p.m., my phone rang. It was one of my close college friends, someone I hadn't spoken to much over the past four years. Life had taken us on different paths—he was deep into the rigors of law school at Ateneo Law School, while I was busy pursuing my career in tech.

But that night... the years melted away.

He called to share the incredible news: not only was he graduating, but he was also at the top of his batch. Hearing this, my heart swelled with pride and happiness. It felt like a moment frozen in time, a time capsule we had opened together, marveling at how life had unfolded.

Four years ago, he was on the waitlist for law school, his dream seemingly slipping through his fingers. His grandfather was his inspiration, and he was determined to become a lawyer. During those uncertain months, I was his sounding board, his cheerleader, his confidant. 

We spent countless hours on the phone... me listening to his worries, encouraging him, and praying with him. I helped him focus on what he could control and let go of what he couldn’t.

At the same time, I was facing my own crossroads. I was contemplating leaving a stable corporate job to chase my dream of working in tech and becoming an entrepreneur. We were both on the brink of major life changes, supporting each other through our respective journeys.

Fast forward to now... he has achieved his dream, and I have immersed myself in the tech industry, building businesses across different sectors. That two-minute phone call where he shared his triumph was a profound reminder of our deep connection.

We laughed... we cried... we celebrated together, even though we were miles apart.

This blog is dedicated to him and his beloved grandmother, who recently passed away. She would be incredibly proud of him for his perseverance and dedication. I was a witness to his journey, and I know she was too. Even though she isn't here to see it come to fruition, her influence and love have been a guiding force for him.

In this moment, I am filled with gratitude. Gratitude for the friendship that has withstood the test of time and distance. Gratitude for the ability to share in his joy. And gratitude for the reminder that these connections, though they may not be part of our daily lives, remain deeply significant.

We should celebrate these friendships—the ones that don’t require daily conversations to remain strong. The ones that, when reconnected, feel like no time has passed at all. Last night, I wasn't the one who graduated, but my heart felt the same joy and pride as if I had. And that is the true essence of friendship.

To my dear friend, congratulations on your incredible achievement. Your journey has been nothing short of inspiring. To your grandmother, I know you are watching over him with pride. And to everyone reading this, cherish your friendships, celebrate their milestones, and remember that true connections are timeless.

Gen Z's are from TikTok, Boomers are from Facebook

You know that feeling

When you're talking to someone close to you, maybe family, and you just can't see eye to eye?

Yeah. That's been my life lately.

Especially when it comes to stuff like what's happening in Gaza
Or why it feels like I'll never be able to buy a house.

It's like we're living in different worlds, you know?

The other day, I was trying to explain to my older relative about Palestine
All this stuff I've learned from the news, social media
But it was like we were speaking different languages.

Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it.

Here I am, thinking I've got all this information
Hoping to connect
And instead? I feel more isolated than ever.

And don't even get me started on the housing market...

Ever tried explaining to someone from an older generation why you can't afford a house?
It's like
They grew up thinking hard work = house with a white picket fence.
For us? It's not that simple.

Prices are insane. It feels like a game we can't win.

And it's not just that

I'm constantly bombarded with all this other stuff:
Wars with China
Criminal syndicates in our neighborhoods
Content telling me I need to build muscles
Take care of my gut health
Improve my communication
Watch dragons fight on TV
Go for financial freedom!!

It's exhausting.

All I want is to connect.
To understand.
To be understood.

But these conversations... this information overload
It leaves me feeling so disconnected.

I started questioning everything
Does any of this even matter?

Nihilism started looking pretty good, you know?
Just a way to cope with all this chaos

But that didn't feel right either.
It felt like giving up.

So... what do we do?
How do we find meaning in all this mess?

I've been digging into some ideas
Viktor Frankl... Jacques Derrida

Don't worry, I'm not going full philosophy nerd on you.

But Frankl... he believed we can find meaning even in the worst situations.
It's not about what happens to us
It's how we respond.

And Derrida? He talks about how meaning is always shifting.
Never fixed.

At first, that frustrated me.
Now? I find it freeing.

Life doesn't have to be a rigid script.
It's more like a conversation.
Always evolving.

When I put these ideas together
I start to see a way forward.

It's not about finding one big, unchanging meaning
It's about creating it.
Through our actions.
Our attitudes.

We're not powerless.
We can shape our lives, even in small ways.

And that... that gives me a sense of purpose.

Maybe it's about finding those little pockets of meaning
In our daily lives.
The connections we make.
The goals we set.
How we choose to respond to challenges.

It's not about having all the answers
It's about being open to the journey.

You ever feel that way?
Like you're searching for something more
Even when everything seems uncertain?

And here's the thing about those older relatives
As much as they talk like they've got it all figured out
They don't.

They're navigating life just like we are.
Just with different tools.
Different experiences.

We're all trying to find our way.
And that's okay.

Maybe accepting that no one has it all figured out
Maybe that's what can bring us together.

Our differences don't have to divide us.
They can connect us.

So next time you're in one of those impossible conversations
Remember: We're all just trying to figure this out.

Maybe we won't solve everything today
But we can take a step.
Towards understanding.
Towards connection.
Towards a life that feels a little more meaningful.

We don't need all the answers.
We just need to keep moving forward

What do you think?
How do you find meaning in all this chaos?

Islander Slippers Business Update

Been running this for over 20 months now. Hasn't turned out to be the cash flow machine I dreamed of. Could point out reasons beyond my control, but I'll be honest.

I wanted it to earn me $5k/month cash flow, with minimal operational headache. The problem? I didn't have the maturity back then to run the business properly - especially with expectations on effort and rewards. Had limited views on how to grow it and compete on Amazon.

Tried Amazon FBA, hoping it would be smooth sailing. Learned a lot, but also messed up and got anxious several times. Once, I thought I was gonna get screwed because the barcodes I used were illegitimate. Worried the Amazon warehouse would reject the delivery, and I'd pay huge sums for nothing.

The idea was to bring well-known Filipino slippers to the bigger US market, increase margins, sell to more people instead of competing locally. It would also mean increasing PH exports - a noble idea!

Back then, I had minimal ideas on projecting financials. Knew the theory, but not as detailed as now where I really think about personal cash flow.

When we launched, I had significant financial safety net - some savings as a runway. Now, I don't have the same safety net, way less money than before. But I guess that's why I run the business smarter now, more maturely, a little wiser.

While Amazon FBA didn't yield the major financial outcomes I hoped for in terms of cash flow, it opened up more doors. Felt like my first year of a practical MBA.

Now in my 2nd year, I'm not "onboarding" anymore but really focused on creating value. Because I successfully launched a brand in the US, I got connected to another local brand I loved - Ube Cream Liqueur - and did the same for them. More complicated, but had significantly more confidence going into it because of my previous experience.

Not that I already did the same in the US, but because I knew I could FIGURE IT OUT. That I had the confidence to learn ANYTHING.

Yesterday, signed a partnership contract with a US Distributor Partner who'll help me expand Islander Slippers through a Shopify website. We're aligned on principles and goals of bringing Filipino brands to the global stage.

Been looking for a partner as passionate about the brand as I am, with complementary skills. My partner Ricky brings expertise in digital marketing and access to the Filipino community there. Can't wait to see how Islander Slippers unfolds in the US market!

Our values are towards not playing a price war, but a value game. Don't want to limit Islander Slippers as a commodity but present it as truly valuable.

Last night synced up with Ezekiel, our Canadian distributor partner. He's already had his second batch of inventory order, showing he can actually sell out the product within his network. Validates the demand among Filipino communities abroad.

Spent an hour discussing the marketing strategy in Canada. Realized it was so valuable that we dove into the customer profiles until we aligned on our avatar. The agreed persona wasn't what you'd imagine, but I'm confident because we used observations and data rather than theory and assumptions.

Overall, I feel like I'm in day 1 again of this venture. Optimized Amazon so it's passively generating cash flow and steadily growing. Onboarded 2 distributor partners across North America successfully. And we're on to the next exciting part - really nailing the marketing there! Stay tuned for more updates!

Failing forward into entrepreneurship

Another morning, another chance to do my routine without the 9-5 rush. I appreciate having this alone time - to get some sun, play the piano, and just vibe before work. It's a luxury not everyone gets.

It's been almost 4 years since I left my corporate job, and over 2 years since I stopped working for PayMongo. Leaving that stable income was a big risk, but I'm glad I took it. This entrepreneur journey has been one hell of a ride.

The road hasn't been straight at all. I've had failed businesses, partners who screwed me over, and tons of self-doubt along the way. But going through all that made me stronger and wiser about what it really takes to make it as an entrepreneur.

Money-wise, I haven't hit it big yet based on my own high standards. But the experiences gave me priceless lessons you can't put a price tag on. I know what it feels like to have a business going nowhere, to get blindsided by people you trusted, to face the harsh realities head-on.

This is the kind of MBA that I decided to take.

Moving forward, I'm focused on really nurturing the ideas and passions I deeply believe in, one thing at a time. No more spreading myself thin. I want to create something amazing that gets me a seat at the table with other successful entrepreneurs who can learn from my journey.

The imposter syndrome creeps in sometimes, making me doubt if I have what it really takes. But I have to shut that voice up. With relentless hard work and belief in myself, I know I can make it.

So here's to embracing the ups and downs, twists and turns of life as an entrepreneur. It's one crazy ride, but I'm grateful to be on it. This bumpy road is shaping me into who I'm meant to become.

Do you even know what you're talking about?

So, I've been thinking a lot about AI lately. It's kinda wild, isn't it? We've got these super smart programs like ChatGPT that can talk about almost anything. But have you ever wondered what's going on inside their digital brains? It's all just fancy math, really. No feelings, no personal stories – just a bunch of numbers and calculations.

Think about this for a sec. There's this guy, Jacques Derrida, a big name in philosophy. I learned about him after watching this YouTube video. He had some cool ideas about how words and meanings are always playing tag with each other. Now, imagine tossing AI into this game. We've got a machine that's trying its best to keep up, throwing words around, trying to make sense of them. But it's kinda like a robot reading a script – it says the words, but doesn't really get what they mean.

It's as if AI is just scratching the surface of our huge world of words. We humans, we don't just say things; we feel them, we live them. That's a big difference between us and AI. We're swimming, floating and diving in a deep sea of words and meanings, while AI is just paddling in the kiddie pool.

So, how should we hang out with AI? It's kind of like diving into a good book or some deep, thoughtful story. You don't just skim through it; you dig in, you ask questions, you let it make you think. With AI, we can do that too. We can poke around, see how it comes up with its answers. It's kinda fun to see what makes it tick.

But I noticed something funny. When you chat with AI, it usually just agrees with you. It's like talking to a super agreeable friend. Comforting? Sure, but it can also be a bit of a bubble. You end up just hearing what you want to hear, not getting pushed or challenged.

That's where we come in. It's on us to mix it up, to embrace the weird, wonderful world of ideas and thoughts. AI can help us see things in a new way, but it's just one piece of the puzzle. The real adventure is in the conversations we have, the stuff we share, the laughs and the "aha" moments.

This whole tech thing, it's giving us a chance to step into other people's shoes, to check out the world through their eyes. And that's pretty awesome. It's not about giving up what we believe; it's about holding on to it while learning about all the other cool ways people see things.

Alright, so we've had a bit of a dive into the world of AI and how it's like this super cool, yet kinda emotionless, word juggling machine. We've also chatted about how important it is for us to not just take what it says at face value, but to really think about it, poke it a bit, and see what's underneath.

But here’s the really cool part. This whole journey with AI? It's like a big, bright invitation to explore. It's not just about AI and what it can do. It's about us, you and me, and how we see the world. It's a chance to open our eyes to all sorts of different views and ideas. 

Imagine this: every time we chat with AI, or read something new, or talk to someone with a different take on life, we're stepping into a whole new world. It's like having a magic ticket to travel to places we've never been, see things from angles we've never considered. 

And you know what? I find that pretty exciting. It's not about changing who we are or what we believe in. It's about adding more colors to our picture of the world. It's about understanding each other better and finding joy in all these new perspectives.

What do you think? How do you see AI changing the way we talk and understand each other? Let's chat about it. I'm always up for a good heart-to-heart, especially one that makes me see things a little differently.

0.01 Things I Learned from Missing Cum Laude

One lazy Saturday afternoon, Chewy and I were lying on the couch, just looking up at the ceiling. The house was quiet except for the usual weekend sounds. It was the kind of quiet you get when you're with a good friend who's been there through all your ups and downs.

Out of the blue, Chewy asked, "Isn't it crazy, the kind of choices we've made after college?"

As the sunlight crept across the ceiling, I thought about how much things had changed. "Totally," I said. "Back then, the idea of taking risks or starting my own thing seemed like a joke—or just plain terrifying."

We laughed, a little surprised at ourselves. Life has this funny way of tearing up your plans and handing you a new script when you least expect it.

"I was obsessed with getting straight A's," I told him. The stress of it all felt like a distant memory now. "Like getting an A was some magic key to everything."

Chewy nodded. "We were all caught up in that chase for grades, thinking it was everything."

As the day turned into evening and the room grew darker, I felt thankful for all those tough times. Missing out on cum laude, not making valedictorian in high school because of that one math test—it all taught me that success isn't just about what you achieve on paper.

"What made you change your thinking?" Chewy asked, looking right at me.

I knew the answer well—it was time to tell my story. How I figured out that success isn't about awards or titles. It's about the real stuff you go through and what you learn along the way, especially when things don't go as planned.

High Hopes and Hard Truths

Every night, before I closed my eyes, I saw 'Summa Cum Laude' written on a piece of paper stuck behind my bed. It was a goal I had set for myself, hoping to stand out at Ateneo de Manila University, much like my hero Steve Jobs. I thought getting the top grades would be my ticket to making it big.

But university life had other plans. It threw me curveballs in the form of tough math problems—the kind I used to solve in my sleep. Suddenly, math was a mountain I couldn't climb, and my grades were the proof. Striving for the perfect report card became like chasing a shadow—it was always just out of reach.

The turning point came after one particularly bad math test. The red marks on it felt like a loud "no" to my dreams. That night, in the quiet of my room, the goal I'd been aiming for felt more like a burden. So, I decided to let it go. I didn't want to chase a perfect score anymore. I wanted to really live my college life, to learn more than what was on the tests.

This change wasn't about giving up. It was about waking up to what's really important. Instead of worrying about grades, I got involved in everything else college had to offer. It was a blast, and I grew so much as a person.

Then, in my last year, my friend Jonats gave me a new challenge. He suggested I try for cum laude again. At first, it seemed out of the blue, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt right. It was a chance to finish what I started, not just for the honor, but to show myself and others that it's never too late to do something amazing.

Jonats' Encouragement

My college days taught me a lot, like studying to understand things, not just to get good marks. But everything changed when Jonats, a good friend who could see things in a different light, hit me with a wild idea that took me back to my freshman dreams.

We were sitting on the university’s cold floor when he opened Microsoft Excel on his laptop and showed me a plan. "You're closer to getting honors than you think," he said, full of confidence. "All you need is a perfect run—straight A's, nothing less."

He laid it out clearly: I had to nail every class. No room for mistakes, because even one B+ would ruin the whole thing—I'd miss cum laude by the tiniest amount, just 0.01 points. It reminded me of high school when I almost topped the class but didn't, all because of one test. That old letdown haunted me, a sharp reminder of dreams that are almost reached but slip away.

Jonats was convinced I could do it, though. He wasn't just after getting me a shiny title; he wanted me to show what I was capable of—not just to myself but to everyone watching.

His belief was like a spark. The goal was huge, almost crazy, but it made me want to chase it. So, I took the bet. I decided to go for that flawless semester, not just for the honor, but to push my limits and see what I was really capable of.

That decision led to one of the busiest semesters I ever had. I dove into my studies, determined to ace every class. And I got into some pretty unexpected situations, too. Like the time I said yes to hosting a big festival, the Moriones in Marinduque, just so I could get out of a final exam that was freaking me out. It was a wild ride, but it was one of those things that made the chase fun and memorable.

It turned out to be more than just chasing grades. It was a real test of my determination and a chance to grow in ways I hadn't imagined. And it taught me a valuable lesson—that the real win is in the effort you give and the growth you experience, not just the finish line you cross.

Battling for Every Point

That last semester at university felt like a marathon with every class pushing me towards one goal: graduating with honors. But Philosophy was the hurdle I couldn't quite clear. It was all about thinking clearly and expressing your thoughts just right, which wasn't my strongest suit. My essays would come back dotted with the professor's notes, each one steering me away from the A I was aiming for. No matter how hard I tried, those B pluses stuck around like unwelcome guests, blocking my path.

Other classes went well, my grades climbing up where I wanted them to be, but Philosophy just wouldn't budge. I realized that even nailing the final wouldn't get me that A. When I found out I was right, that even my best shot wasn't enough, it hit me hard. I needed that A like a key to unlock my cum laude dream, but it kept slipping away.

So, I went to my professor, hoping for a bit of wiggle room. I talked through every bit of my work, from class discussions to essays, to the final exam. But he wouldn't budge, standing by his grades as firmly as he stood by his philosophical arguments. "You can always file a formal complaint," he said, not mean, but final.

Filing for a grade change was a long shot, and deep down, I knew it. It felt like a last desperate move, not really expecting much, but still holding on to a sliver of hope. So, I didn't get a clear 'no', but I wasn’t holding my breath either. That B plus seemed like it was there to stay, drawing a line I couldn't cross.

In those moments after, I was a mix of feelings. There was disappointment for sure, but also a sense of letting go. The chase for that perfect GPA was out of my hands now, and what was left was what I knew about myself and what I valued most.

I took that mix of hope and acceptance with me to the grad ball. It was a night to remember, a celebration of our time at university, and I wasn't going to let one grade ruin it. I focused on the positive—how much work I'd put in, how much I'd learned, and how much I'd grown. That night, I celebrated all of that, not just the wins, but the whole journey.

Rolling with the Punches

The grad ball was all about celebrating the end of our time at school. Everyone was dressed up, laughing, and dancing under bright lights, excited about what was coming next. I was too, but I also had this knot in my stomach, waiting to see my final grades. Would they be enough to get me that cum laude?

The room was buzzing, full of life, and everyone was looking forward to starting something new. But I was also a bit on edge, wondering if all my hard work had paid off.

Our org's advisor, who'd seen us all grow up over the years, was there too. In a quiet moment, he offered to let me sneak a peek at my grades on his phone. It felt like that phone held my future.

Taking a deep breath, I scrolled through the grades on his screen. And there it was: a B+ in Philosophy right alongside all the A's I had worked so hard for. My GPA was just a tiny bit away from where it needed to be for cum laude—3.49 when I needed a 3.50. It was exactly what Jonats and I had worried might happen.

For a minute, everything went quiet for me, even with the party in full swing around me. My friends were all happy about their grades, but I was stuck on that one little point I didn't get. I felt so many things at once—proud of how far I'd come, but also let down that I didn't make it all the way.

I didn't let that disappointment take over, though. Missing that honor by just a little bit stung, but I wasn't going to let it ruin the whole night. As the shock wore off, I decided to just enjoy the moment. I got out there on the dance floor and danced like nobody was watching. It was my way of saying that one grade wasn't going to get me down.

Laughing and dancing with my friends, who had no idea about the storm inside me, I understood something important. In the big picture of life, those almosts and what-ifs don't matter as much. What really sticks out is being able to get past the tough times, to make your own way, and to enjoy where you are right now—no matter what.

What Success Really Means

After the grad ball, I spent a lot of time just thinking. Sure, I was bummed out about not getting cum laude, but that feeling didn't last long. Soon enough, I started to think about the bigger picture—what does being successful really mean, anyway?

Back when I started college, I thought success was all about getting the best grades and the most praise. But standing there with my diploma, ready to start my real adult life, I saw things differently. Success isn't just about what you can show on paper.

Jonats got me to shoot for top grades again, but what really changed me wasn't just trying to get A's—it was the whole experience. I worked harder than I ever thought I could, I bounced back from tough times, and I found out how much I actually like learning. And even though I was trying to be a role model for the younger students, I ended up learning a lot about myself, too.

What I learned is that success isn't about one big win. It's about always moving forward, setting goals, and sticking with them, even when things get rough. And it's about being okay with whatever results you get after you've done your best.

Understanding this didn't make the disappointment of missing cum laude disappear completely, but it helped me see it in a new light. That one grade didn't define me or what I could do. I showed myself that I could take on tough challenges and enjoy the hard work they required.

As I moved on from university, this new way of looking at things helped me face all kinds of challenges, from working at a huge company like P&G to diving into the unpredictable world of startups. I knew my worth wasn't about what other people thought of me, but about the effort I put in and the person I was becoming—someone who's always curious, ready to adapt, and never gives up on growing.

Taking Chances and Learning on the Go

When I finished college, I stepped into a world full of chances that would've scared the old me. But the tough times at school had made me stronger and more sure of myself. This new confidence pushed me to dive into the business world, especially the exciting startup scene where taking risks isn't just part of the game—it's the whole point.

Startups are wild and unpredictable. They're not like regular jobs; there's no set path to follow or guaranteed paycheck. But they're thrilling because everything you do makes a real difference. I learned that starting a business isn't just about the money—it's about making your ideas happen, solving real problems, and really making a mark.

One of my big adventures has been getting Islander Slippers out there in the US. This job isn't just about selling flip-flops; it's about sharing what they stand for—a slice of Filipino life—with the world. Sure, it's a big job, but everything I learned at university about facing challenges and believing in myself has helped me take it on.

At the same time, I've been helping other startups grow, using what I know about sales and marketing to help them find their feet. Every win and every bump in the road reminds me that I'm still learning and growing, and that being successful means keeping on trying, no matter what.

Looking back, all those hours I spent chasing good grades taught me more than I realized. They got me ready for bigger dreams—like turning the Philippines into a hub for great businesses, building its very own "Silicon Valley". I know now that success isn't about getting to a certain point and stopping; it's about living in a way that aligns with your values, making choices that match what you care about, and never stopping chasing what excites you.

Success on My Own Terms

Sitting here today and looking back, I see how life never really goes as planned. The road is full of twists and turns, and where we end up isn't always where we thought we'd be. But that's okay because it's all about growing and finding out who we really are.

I used to be that student who wanted a top honor to prove myself. Now, I'm an entrepreneur who's learned that real success isn't something others can give you—it's about feeling good about the work you do, loving the challenges, and living true to yourself.

I've come to see that having goals, like the cum laude I once chased, is a big part of what keeps us moving forward. But those goals don't tell the whole story of who we are. We're really the collection of all our experiences, the things we've learned, and the connections we've made with others.

For anyone just getting out of college, don't let the fear of not meeting other people's expectations hold you back. Make your own rules, aim for what feels like excellence to you, and enjoy the ride. Dream big, take bold steps, and always be kind—both to other people and to yourself.

So, with my dreams in my heart and a mindset free from narrow ideas of success, I'm ready for whatever comes next. I'm not just following a set path—I'm making my own, one step at a time, with purpose, passion, and a firm belief in taking the road less traveled.

From Steve Jobs to Soaps and to Startups

Imagine leaving a company that gave financial security and a rising career then suddenly deciding to pursue the unpredictable world of startups - in the middle of a global pandemic no less. 

It started with the iPhone

This was my reality almost three years ago.

My family was pretty much okay financially, until I was a born. So I was raised in a modest family with my father, a man approaching his senior years as a single parent. Because of that I didn't grow the desire for luxury items because I never grew up with it. There was a time when my school asked for donations for a charity cause. Upon submitting the printed reply slip, the response was “No due to financial difficulties.” My father never showed me his financial struggles, but it instilled in me a goal to establish financial stability and protect my loved ones from such hardships. This experience, in part, shaped me to be both frugal and risk-averse.

I never bought new books for school so I asked for hand-me-down books from upperclassmen. In high school, I only bought two pairs of casual shoes that cost Php 250 each from the SM Department store. When studying at coffee shops became a thing, I asked for a cup of hot water to look like I ordered overpriced coffee and deserved a seat, table, and a cold room.

Only when I saw my nephew holding the first iPhone that I started to take a look at Steve Jobs. I perceived Steve Jobs as an embodiment of an alluring blend of success: a storyteller launching products people loved while enjoying significant financial stability. The expensive iPhone seemed to be a testament to this success. From then on, I looked up to both my Dad and Steve Jobs and aspired to emulate their paths. This dream led me towards taking up the Management Engineering program in Ateneo, as recommended by a close friend, who believed it was the best path to follow in Steve Jobs' footsteps.

I fell in love with formulas

Thankfully, I secured a financial-aid scholarship in Ateneo and I was able to take up BS in Management Engineering (ME). However, I realized that there were only a few models for the path I wanted - which was to work in tech. Many graduates from this program gravitated towards management consulting, banking, or FMCG, steadily climbing the corporate ladder.

Our alumni are proudly introduced as accomplished senior executives across different industries, from ABS-CBN to Accenture, Globe Telecom, Deutsche Regis Partners, Inc., P&G, and Lazada. Each of them surely struggled to navigate their unique path, but from an outsider's perspective, it seemed like they simply followed a formula: excel in the initial college years, get promoted, pursue an MBA abroad, and return home for an accelerated executive career trajectory.

The ME program was loaded with some crazy maths paired with business subjects. Here are some random concepts I can recall that would give me war flashbacks and should make you feel confused: Discs and Washers, Markov Chains, Cash Flow Statements, Linear Programming, Game Theory, ANOVA, and Optimization. 

I didn’t get to exactly use any of these in my work, yet, I took away one of the greatest abilities I have from the program - systems thinking. It’s the ability to step back and consider the often invisible moving parts of any situation. This invaluable skill has helped me become a fast-learner, allowing me to jump into different areas of interest and become a generalist, a unifier connecting dots and making something new or valuable from it. And the program was undoubtedly helpful in my career, as it led me to secure an internship with P&G and subsequently a full-time job offer, a year before I even graduated.

The formula provided a comforting sense of control over my career, and it felt like I was already a step in the right direction. Math taught me to have an exacting mindset.

If x + 1 = 2, then x must be 1.

Every problem had a calculated solution, every goal a path ripe for optimization. I naively believed that if I could discern a pattern from the paths of those who preceded me, I just needed to map out the shortest course.

Applying the formula for myself

I always thought that I literally CAN’T AFFORD to take any risks in life. So even if I dreamed of one day delivering the Apple Keynote, I worked backwards and identified the steps to achieve my goal while securely providing for our family’s financial needs.

I imagined working for decades at Apple, which means that I need an entry point into the US tech industry and, ideally, an MBA from Stanford - my dream school being close to to Silicon Valley. But first, I needed to gather experience and secure funding for my journey. I bet my hopes for success by honing my Sales skills at P&G, viewing it as the best training ground for negotiating and communicating effectively with customers. This path seemed so straightforward that I could confidently explain it to anyone who ask me about my life's ambitions.

And so I did. My initial two years at P&G were a whirlwind immersion into the world of business and sales. I was assigned to the company's largest customer and undertook projects that allowed ample room for innovation, trial and error, and learning. The first six months were perhaps the most memorable, shared sentiment among many P&G sales managers. I was assigned in a sketchy part of Caloocan, tasked with selling soap, shampoo, and diapers to local sari-sari store owners.

My workdays began at 5 a.m., finishing around 8-9 p.m. After ensuring that the truck worked, we'd head off to Caloocan and start my daily routine, spanning 30-35 stores until I hit the day's sales quota. Back at the base, we'd count our inventory, return our payment collections, and prep the truck for the next day. It was really sketchy — my selling partner shared that he'd nearly been stabbed when returning collected money to the truck. Yet, I would never trade this experience for anything else. The intense amount of pressure, the targets, and the need for resilience strengthened me and honed my selling skills and pambobola. Picture this: Talking to 180 sari-sari stores per week for 12 weeks, that’s 2,160 conversations where I would get screamed at, ridiculed, teased, appreciated, thanked, welcomed and ignored. What an emotional rollercoaster.

Months later, I found myself in the same room with the billionaire owner of a top supermarket chain in the Philippines. The conversations became increasingly complicated, the stakes are much higher, and we’re talking about million-dollar deals hoping to gain sales growth for both sides. Fortunately, my performance did not go unnoticed. Both years, my manager generously rewarded my efforts with the highest possible raises and began preparing me for promotion as soon as possible.

And then I stopped following the formula

The pandemic allowed me to carve out time for deep introspection about my life's goals. A combination of daily journaling and MBA applications pushed me to seriously examine my purpose and what I truly desired from the MBA program. While my aspiration to become Apple's next CEO was quite ambitious, it wasn't the legacy I really wanted for my life. To give you an idea how I got to this thought, I started to picture what people would say about me on my funeral.

I was sure, though, of my natural interest in the tech/startup world, but without a background in software engineering, I believed I needed an MBA as my stepping stone into the industry. And yes, I operated under the assumption that tech career opportunities were scarce in the Philippines.

Then, my true lifelong ambition became clear.

At that time, the notion of building a tech career in the Philippines seemed almost unattainable for several reasons - reasons I may delve into in future articles. However, I ultimately decided to focus on not just constructing a career for myself but imagined a future where aspiring tech professionals, like my children, wouldn't have to think about leaving the Philippines in pursuit of their dreams. What if we could establish our own "Silicon Valley" right here?

Through a sequence of events, I found myself resigning from my position at P&G, dropping all my MBA applications and my plans to work abroad, and started on a journey as a Salesperson at PayMongo, a local fintech startup backed by Y Combinator and a selection of prominent Silicon Valley investors. Now, my work was aligned with my grand vision, and I believed that helping PayMongo succeed was my best route towards this goal.

Surprise, there’s no formula

As a newbie to this sector, I was careful not to present myself with a messianic complex, acting like a know-it-all and instructing everyone how things should be done. Instead, I devoted countless hours to learning the intricacies of startups - from absorbing insights from online talks, building relationships with teammates within PayMongo and other startups, to connecting with dozens of startup founders. For months, I enrolled myself into a coding bootcamp in order to hone my ability to communicate with software engineers. I dedicated my services to a small angel investing fund for nearly a year without expecting any compensation. On top of my day job, I took on part-time roles with other startups, again, free of charge. The so-called "dirty work" was something I truly embraced and enjoyed, whether handling company registration documents, providing customer support, managing PPC ad campaigns, analyzing data on Google Sheets, or setting up process automation between teams.

Now, I've come to understand that PayMongo is just the first of many Philippine startups with which I will have the privilege to work with. I have assisted some in securing investment from angel investors and venture capital funds, helped others acquire their first set of customers, and for some, I've recruited top-tier talent. As I encounter more allies and uncover fellow dreamers, my energy and passion for pursuing my mission continue to flourish.

Instead, it’s a bunch of puzzle pieces

Reflecting on my journey, the experience of graduating from the ME program and serving in Sales at P&G gave me a unique perspective that remains rare in the tech industry. I continually challenged myself to not be limited by the confines of my role, striving to understand the broader impacts on other teams and the business as a whole. In addition, I developed the growing desire to transform complex topics into simple stories that anyone can understand. So when I tried to explain my work to my Dad, I forced him to watch the KDrama, "Start-Up" and told him that my dream was to be like "Good Boy" but for the Philippines.

Along the way, I discovered countless career opportunities in the tech industry for professionals who might not have a "technical" or software engineering background. I began in a sales role but gradually expanded my skillset to include strategies for customer acquisition, which was just as valuable as learning to code in a startup context.

It's encouraging to witness a growing number of talented individuals realizing their potential contributions to the startup ecosystem. Just last Christmas, I had a conversation with two younger alumni friends from Ateneo. They said that there's a growing interest among their peers in participating in the startup world, either by working at a startup, launching one, or facilitating funding through venture capital firms – an interesting shift compared to previous batches. Currently employed at different venture capital firms investing in the Philippines, they thanked me for "leading the way", sharing that my leap into the startup world encouraged them to pursue the same.

After PayMongo, I had the opportunity to collaborate with various startups across a diverse range of industries: gaming, web3, e-commerce, edtech, and logistics. At the same time, I continued to work with numerous investors, looking for promising startups for investment. I've also ventured into creating an NFT project based on the Wordle game and start an international exporting business for Islander Slippers. At present, I'm working on a project for people who already know how to create a website but struggle with grasping the concept of NFTs, to utilize the potential of NFTs easily. These are exciting times, I can't wait to share these stories in the future.

It's 1AM and I started writing this blog during my stay here in Canada in the cold weather, wearing socks and a sweater. I had just attended the wedding of my nephew, who owned the first iPhone that started it all. This blog is not to show that I've arrived or figured it all out, but because I desperately need people to join in my journey. Whatever I've accomplished in the past three years is only a small puzzle piece in the bigger picture. We've only just begun. Now that you're here, I ask you to follow along -- work with me, dream with me, pray for me, or cheer for me. Because one day, when your kid decides to build the next Facebook, Google or Amazon, you'd be thankful that he can do it from your home's garage.