A decade ago, the idea of shopping online for clothes or even hailing a cab in one click on a phone may sound like a far-fetched dream in the Philippines. But with the onslaught of the “digital storm,” more technological startups are booming in the country with the sole purpose of making people’s lives better.
Manuel Ayala, co-founder of Hatchd Digital, an accelerator for tech-related startups, was one of the first in the industry to witness the country’s digital adaption, as the firm has supported a list of young companies themselves, from online pawnshop Pawn Hero to digital news website, Rappler.
“I want to be an entrepreneur who helps other entrepreneurs become more successful in business,” Ayala said in the May issue of Forbes Philippines.
So how did he tread the digital realm even before it boomed?
When he joined (IRG ) as a chief operating officer, luck was not on his side. Only a month in to his job, stock prices dropped forcing the company to cut the workforce at half and reinvent itself as a boutique advisory group from its accelerator role.
“One of the greatest lessons I learned is that timing is everything. Timing is the difference between success and failure,” Ayala added.
In the next years, he had successfully closed deals between established enterprises and emerging startups, knowing what each would need for the two to integrate successfully. IRG played a hand at the acquisition of online buy and sell website Sulit by OLX and the buyout of Level Up, an online gaming company by South African firm Naspers.
Take the lead
Even when he has the capacity to start his own startup himself, Ayala would rather stay as an investor, as these kind of deals are sometimes the only lifeline of startups to remain afloat, making his role critical in the young startup scene.
The investor believes the Philippines still has a lot of potential, and remains at the early days of digital boom, especially with the youth’s noticeable confidence. Moreover, the predominance of tech-savvy entrepreneurs and surging number of Internet users in the country makes it a more alluring market for the digital startups to conquer.
But infrastructure and the Filipino culture remain hindrances for this growth. Internet connection in the country is one of the slowest in the world, coupled with skyrocketing fees especially with the duopoly of telecommunication companies.
The workforce has a lot of catching up to do with the needed skills of these highly advanced firms. What’s more, majority of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) still do not have access to basic digital solutions.
But for Ayala, the cultural factor impedes one of the most important things in entrepreneurship: the courage to start. “If you tell the average Filipino parent that you would pursue building a startup instead of going to college, they will probably get a heart attack,” Ayala said.
For him, this mindset can only be offset with the proliferation of success stories in the startup scene, especially with the growth of Xurpas.
“What you need to break that cycle is a few success stories. The more we celebrate these entrepreneurs, the more there are that you can point to, the more you can break that stranglehold of the old culture.”
Elyssa Christine Lopez is Entrepreneur.com.ph's editorial assistant / staff writer. Follow her on Twitter@elyssalopz.