Young Blood

Taking the leap


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, 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/

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  • tra6Gpeche

    You are only 20 years old and already have a sizable savings? It is almost impossible, if not possible, for anyone to even have a savings at that age. Nevertheless, I am impressed with your courage and confidence to start your own business. Again, it is almost impossible for anyone to even think of creating or owning his/her own business at that age. Who knows. You might become someone like Mark Zuckerberg and help the Philippines to be known as the Silicon Valley of Asia. Good luck and congratulation!

    • Ren-ren

      I know people na bata pa marami ng savings kasi parents nila naghuhulog sa account nila. They save up, too. Pero majority bigay ng parents.D ako sure sa case ni Miss Yu though.

      • tra6Gpeche

        You are probably right. At the age of 20, children in the Philippines are not working yet or perhaps just starting to look for a job. When I was at that age, I could not even buy a Custombuilt rubber shoes which cost 12 pesos then.

    • Keith

      It’s possible! :) I am just a 21-year old graduate student but was able to have this sizable savings during my teenage years because i save a lot from my allowance. Not because of my parents but because of my own ways of saving money.

      • tra6Gpeche

        I will not question how much is sizable. If you did that, then that means you were given big allowance by your parents and you had the discipline not to spend it. When I was a teenage, my parents had never given me any money for allowance. We were very poor. So there is really nothing to save. Some children are lucky and most are not that fortunate.

      • Keith

        Im am blessed, i guess. no matter how much your allowance is, we will be able to achieve what we’re really dreaming of.

      • tra6Gpeche

        Definitely, you are blessed and lucky. I am happy for you, anyway. As I have been saying, at least, some people are lucky and blessed.

      • Keith

        Yes :) Nice to share my experiences with you, tra6Gpeche. God bless you on your endeavors! :)

      • tra6Gpeche

        Thanks. Likewise, Keith!

  • Fulpol

    i once attended PhilVenCap meeting in Asian Institute of Management.. I just sit, listen and watch the presenters..

    the ideas are very traditional, common.. not revolutionary.. so I never attended again.. perhaps, I will present my ideas too in the near future for funding and marketing.. something about “electricity of ocean wave current”..

    you idea is not new.. perhaps, you might presented it in different way.. very well, you can earn by renting your space for ads..

    your “work is awesome” … workosom..

  • John Reyes

    I’m 23 now and I also took the proverbial leap of faith four years ago albeit on the investing side of the business spectrum. It’s good that you took the leap of faith, twenty-somethings rarely step out of their financial comfort zones. From my meager experience with start-ups, the odds of making it big as Facebook is probably 25:1. The odds of you failing is bigger than succeeding but in my opinion, it’s what makes start-ups a lucrative investment because they give the most bang for the buck. Case in point is Xerox, IBM, Apple, Microsoft and some others that have come and gone like Polaroid and Eastman Kodak. The good thing is that you can always try again if ever this does not materialize, don’t take it personally though, don’t attach yourself too much emotionally.

    Trust logic and sound reasoning, if you have the vision, follow it through thick and thin. Because sometimes, start-ups even though they have the potential, they get dealt with a bad hand and in a start-up with no proven track record or name, one mistake is all it takes for share holders, banks even loan sharks to pull the plug and cut their losses. But as a famous bard once said, there is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood leads on to fortune, and he was right because if things came out differently and the odds are in your favor then you will certainly be flooded by fortune. The companies I mentioned all had a tough time in their formative years but if you as an investor stuck with them the returns would be ginormous. So good luck to you and your start-up, I hope I can see that name listed on a stock exchange somewhere. God bless!

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