Taking the leapBy Kathleen Yu
A few months ago, I decided to set up my own startup company. I had no business experience, no tech experience, and until that point I had been, for all intents and purposes, just another third-year student at the University of the Philippines. In other words, I was a nobody.
Looking back, I’ve never really thought of myself as a risk-taker. I was always happy when things were planned out in advance and I knew exactly what was going to happen a month or two down the road. My startup journey changed all that.
Before I took the leap, I was a 20-year-old with sizable savings, as secure as any 20-year-old kid could be. I had my academics and my competitions, and I heartily believed that I was going to graduate, get a good job, and maybe even buy myself a house and lot once I had managed to save up. I thought of it as a sort of “ideal path,” and I couldn’t wait to get started.
“This is what I was meant to do,” I told myself, somewhat smoothening the doubts that had started to surface in my mind. “I’m going to graduate with honors and get a good job. Then I’ll buy a house, a car, everything I’ve always wanted.”
But life had other plans for me.
Last August, I joined a business plan competition in India and found myself consumed by this crazy idea. As a student freelancer, I often found myself with too many, or too little, sidelines. It was a struggle to organize them all, especially when it came to deadlines. I usually ended up getting confused and forgetting about everything altogether.
I thought, What if there was a platform that could provide sidelines, especially for students? And organize everything, deadlines and all, without compromising on flexibility? I would totally use that platform, I thought.
I imagined it as a sort of student network, where students from different universities could put up their profiles and portfolios, and get hired for sideline work. I called the first iteration of my idea, SkillsCV.com. This was the version that I submitted to the competition in India, and I lost. Despite that, the idea stayed with me—something that I played around with in my spare time, and slowly started developing into a full-blown business plan.
Then one day I thought, Why don’t I turn this into an actual business? After all, there was nothing really stopping me from turning this idea into a reality. It would be a big risk, sure, but I felt more than ready to take it on. I’d rather have tried and failed than spent my whole life wondering what could have happened if I had done things differently.
My uncle, one of the more accomplished entrepreneurs in the family, was very supportive. Both he and my mom gave me a lot of good advice for setting up. My uncle also opened up this really useful network, the Philippine Venture Capitalist Investment Group, for me—and encouraged me to pitch my idea to this group of businessmen and investors. I was afraid (and more than a little intimidated), but my mom told me to go for it. She has always been one of the biggest positive forces in my life, and this time was no different.
On a cold morning last February, I pitched my idea for the first time to a room full of investors and business leaders. I called it SkillsCV: the student network. It was definitely a nerve-wracking experience, but I was determined to finish the pitch. I had never been a good public speaker, and I was sure that it showed. It took me all of five minutes to stutter through my presentation, after which I quietly collapsed on my chair.
Surprisingly, a lot of people thought it was a good pitch. From there, I was able to establish contacts with a lot of good business people—many of whom were incredibly supportive—and slowly develop traction for my business. But I was like a fish out of water. I didn’t have the technical expertise to build a prototype. What I really needed was a good technical cofounder.
Less than a month later, I was blessed with another windfall. Albert Mercado is an 18-year-old business administration student at the Mapua Institute of Technology. A regular on the Philippine startup circuit, he had already developed several platforms and flipped them for profit. His latest project, Froilo, was an educational platform that shared functional similarities with the prototype that I was planning. It took some convincing, but when I finally did, I knew almost right away that I had found the perfect match.
He was as eager as I was to get the project off the ground, even going so far as to outsource the code he had used on Froilo to develop the prototype. By then we had stopped calling the project SkillsCV, and started calling it the “Rumaracket” project—a name that my brother Matt coined after I told him about the concept.
We launched the prototype during Startup Weekend Manila, with some success—and from there built a team of five very excellent people. Harrell Wong, who had followed the idea from the first, was an excellent operations guy who specialized in data organization and management. He came in as our third cofounder and chief operating officer. Jerome Kang and Patrick Ang are two of the very best web developers I have ever met. Both of them were key to the development of our beta site, which was to be launched on May 25. With Albert, Jerome and Patrick working together, we were able to iron out some of the problems that we had encountered in the initial code—and improve on our user experience.
At this writing, we’re on the verge of signing seed investors for our company, not to mention exploring new opportunities in Singapore and Silicon Valley. We’ve come a long way from the idea I pitched last February, and in the process learned a thing or two about business and technology. We’re a young team, but all of us are crazy about this idea. We have regular 12 midnight-2:30 a.m. meetings on Facebook just to discuss and brainstorm on business developments, and before that we’d meet regularly at McDonald’s to talk about things like market validation and equity, things that I had absolutely no idea about just a few months ago. Even Patrick spends his evenings after work at Starbucks, finishing the code for our beta site.
I look back on the last few months, and I’m still astonished at the amount of progress I have achieved since my first pitch in February. It’s as if everything came together, as if fate told me that this was the path that I was supposed to take and I’d better get to it.
I’m still young, and I have a long way to go and a whole lot to learn. But I’m glad that I started on this path.
I’m glad that I took that leap of faith.
Kathleen Yu, 21, is a fourth-year student at the University of the Philippines Diliman and the cofounder and CEO of Rumaracket/WorkOsom.com.
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