How to build a business in an age where everything’s mobile

Cover Art Erka Inciong

Words by

Multimedia Editor

With today’s most successful digital companies being borne out of garages, Launchgarage CEO Jay Fajardo, considered one of the thought leaders of the Philippine startup community, swears by an exercise he calls “The Ten Things Test.” The goal: to predict the future from a chair.

The test is simple: “Sit down, spot any ten things lying around you, then imagine those things ten years from now,” he says.

From that vantage point, a monotone concrete skyline can transform into crystalline, rectilinear protrusions against a clear, pollution-free sky. Jeepneys and buses, aged by smoke and density, become aerodynamic, driverless vehicles that cruise with finesse.

The question then becomes: What can you do to build this kind of future?

IDEATE CREATIVELY

Fajardo, who has launched some of the most dynamic tech startups in Manila, sees this as an exercise in ideation.

While most innovators launch products in order to solve a problem, there is another way to create something: anticipate the needs of the future. While this typically is a red flag for investors like him, there are few who succeed because of their foresight. He calls these people visionaries. “You’ve seen into the future and you’ve created a market that will need the product.” he said during the Spark Series event at the College of Saint Benilde.

“Steve Jobs—he didn’t care about what the market needed,” he said. “He had an assumption about what the market will need. He created a need, he created a demand, he created a desire.”

The traditional ideation process, which has worked in the past industrial revolution, has been trumped by technology, demanding a more creative ideation process. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum coined the term “The Fourth Industrial revolution,” described as “a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another.”

That includes the ways businesses are built.

BOOTSTRAP

“My suggestion is you start small—small steps to learn the medium, master it, and play around with it,” said Arthur Policarpio, CEO of Mobext Philippines, the Philippines’ leading mobile-first creative digital agency which operates in 55 markets worldwide. He emphasized: “You also have to learn the craft, and if you fail, you will increase your crafting expertise, then you can soon graduate to the more investment-heavy risks.”

When he jumped into his first venture, he got a partner, an investor who was also a long-time friend. “If you’re starting out, it helps to present it to people that you know. Especially if you don’t have personal equity, personal reputation for a successful business,” he said. “That will come later on when you work on gain a reputation.”

Nowadays in the digital world, however, people don’t even need an investor to get started. “You can do things on your own, he said. You can bootstrap your own business with minimal investment.”

With e-commerce booming in the Philippines and raking in billions in revenue, mobile commerce entrepreneurs, generate millions in sales, according to Policarpio. “[Millennials now] have the benefit of being able to sell something online on a global basis,” he said, mentioning platforms like Shopify, an e-commerce company headquartered in Ontario that develops software for merchants to sell their products on a customizable online store.

He also added that global freelancing platforms like the US-based Upwork and Fiverr benefit both businesses and independent professionals to either make or save money. The sites allow freelancers to purvey their services to any company in the world, while at the same time, also lets businesses save on fixed overhead costs.

LOAN LIKE A MILLENNIAL

“In the beginning, you have a hunch. You have a gut,” said Mark Ruiz, President of Hapinoy, a social enterprise that empowers women microentrepreneurs through training, access to capital, and mobile-based technologies. He is also the founding partner and board member of Rags2Riches, a fashion and design house for urban poor artisans, and co-founder and chief strategy officer for AwesomeLab, a startup building Internet of Things technologies.

“Once you begin to see there is a seed of an idea, either you find partners or put in money,” he added.

But money doesn’t always need to be handed by a bank teller.

Mr. Ruiz said there are already companies like Lenddo, which uses “nontraditional data” to provide credit scoring and verification to empower the emerging middle class around the world. What type of nontraditional data exactly? Digital footprints.

According to an animated video on the site, Lenddo analyzes a potential borrower’s digital footprints from social media activity, geolocation, and smartphone data into insights on consumer’s behavior, network and strength of their relationships—information that could be highly predictive of their credit worthiness. Lenddo then works with banks and microfinancers to offer borrowers the opportunity to share their individual data in order to be assessed.

To give out loans for entrepreneurs with at least a year-old business, Fuse Lending uses a combination of people plus gamified technology. Kim Seng, the product manager for small and medium enterprises (SME) lending, calls the tool “psychometric,” which is built in tablets of about 60 Fuse partners who go around the country.

This tool has built-in questionnaires, a lot psychological, which gives Fuse a clue on how potential borrowers will be able to manage their money. It is thus unlike the typical bank transactions involving tons of paperwork and seemingly never-ending forms. “Aside from the usual capacity check, it is also important to have a scalable way to look at the character,” Seng said.

Coupled with photos that are sent to the homebase, Fuse’s tool can assess and approve loans as early as the following day.

GROW THROUGH CROWDSOURCING

Sometimes however, money begets more money. “Small and medium business couldn’t grow because they need access to capital,” said Asim Haneef, a former TV producer who covered social entrepreneurship in emerging economies.

He then built PaidUp, an app that enables these businesses to bypass banks and crowdfund investment directly from their customers.

“It’s not like crowdfunding enough for expanding from one to five stores,” Haneef explained in an interview through a messaging app. “But for example, if 50 customers a month all decide to prepay P1000 at a coffee shop, the owner has P50,000 working capital—to buy a new coffee machine or hire a new member of staff,” he said.

“So it’s really crowdfunding working capital,” he concluded.

The community that uses PaidUp includes restaurants, coffee shops, cafés, nail salons, and massage establishments, but apart from small and medium enterprises, bigger establishments like Jamba Juice and Infinitea, who, as he says, “like the transaction and convenience offered by the app.”

With businesses increasingly depending on digital technologies however, there is the challenge of keeping up.

“I think one of the hassles is that it’s technology, and that has all kinds of issues especially where the internet doesn’t work well in some areas,” Haneef said. “The concept is very new, so it’s almost an educational challenge.”

“We are at the beginning of the fintech revolution here in Philippines,” he added. “In China about 40% of orders for drinks and food at certain places are done through prepaid mobile wallet apps like WeChat, and it’s just a matter of time before ordering food and services like this online becomes the norm.”

“Soon,” he said, “everything will be cashless and convenient.” Whether he said this while sitting on a chair doing The Ten Things Test is irrelevant. The question remains: What can you do to build this kind of future?