Weekender



By Jasmine T. Cruz, Reporter


Mother of e-commerce




Posted on January 17, 2014


JANETTE TORAL is considered the “mother” of e-commerce in the Philippines, earning the title for her role in lobbying for an e-commerce law in the Philippines. The result was The Philippines E-Commerce Law -- Republic Act No. 8792, which was signed in 2000 by then President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

Janette Toral has made a living online and teaches others how to do it
In the intervening 13 years, as e-commerce has grown in the country, she became an e-commerce educator, entrepreneur, and advocate.

She estimates that e-commerce contributes 21% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the Philippines. Even so, Ms. Toral said that there is still so much more potential to unleash.

LAWS FOR ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT
Ms. Toral began as a blogger, and she directed her strong interest in the internet toward lobbying for laws that recognized and supported the economic potential of this digital platform. Formalizing her network of friends who were active online, she founded the Philippine Internet Commerce Society in 1997.

With their support, she lobbied for the Y2K Law (which made industries prepare for the year 2000 and guard themselves from the so-called “Y2K Bug” which was expected to compromise databases stored in computers) and the E-Commerce Law which allowed transactions online to be binding valid contracts, and mandated the government to increase its capability to deal with e-commerce, among others.

Lobbying for laws is a big commitment, said Ms. Toral during an interview with BusinessWorld last November. She went to congressional hearings, meetings, and courtesy calls. “You have to build a relationship (with the politicians),” she said. “Ang trabaho, sabi nila (it takes so much work, they say), but that’s the beauty of due process.”

Today, she continues empowering the public to learn more about e-commerce by writing Philippine-specific books on e-commerce such as the DigitalFilipino: An E-Commerce Guide for the eFilipino and DigitalFilipino E-Commerce Workshop E-book (published by McGraw-Hill Education Asia). She also publishes research material, creates video tutorials and podcasts, which she promulgates through her site http://digitalfilipino.com.

Thanks to her active role in the Philippine internet scene, she has been honored with numerous awards such as the 2011 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Women Innovator, the 2010 Champion of Philippine Internet and E-Commerce Hall of Fame Award (awarded by the Asian Institute of E-Commerce), and E-Services Awards 2008-Policy and Legal Category (recognized by the Department of Trade and Industry).



Ms. Toral
is busy with
her Start-Up 100 Project, where she aims to help 100 e-commerce start-ups go online by 2019.



FROM SKILL TO KNOWLEDGE
With a knack for writing, Ms. Toral was not content to remain a writer able to hack out well-written articles -- she wanted to build herself into an expert whom people turned to for advice.

Although she continues to write a weekly business column for the newspaper Sun.Star Cebu, she is also valued as a resource speaker and as an educator.

“I knew I had to build a tighter identity,” she said, and that identity was an e-commerce expert, but Ms. Toral prefers to be called an e-commerce advocate. She said that even if she generates profit from her efforts, money is not her primary motivation.

It was on this identity as an e-commerce advocate that she built her educational programs on e-commerce, social media, digital marketing, and blogging.

She began in 2003 with an e-learning service she conducted through e-mail. After collating what she knew and writing educational articles, she would send them to clients via e-mail. She also used her first client base to gather testimonials about her educational program.

Now she has an E-Commerce Boot Camp which teaches users to make a web site, market products and services, accept payments online, and create loyal customers; a Digital Marketing Boot Camp where users learn online marketing techniques, online identity, and establish oneself as a digital influencer; and a Certified Blog and Social Media Entrepreneur Program where they learn professional blogging, in partnership with Ateneo de Manila.

BLOGGING NETWORK
Besides teaching about e-commerce, Ms. Toral also serves as a sort of agent for bloggers, working with companies who want to contract bloggers who can write about their events. For example, if a client says, “we need food bloggers,” Ms. Toral will tap into her network and ask the bloggers if they are interested. She vouches for the bloggers’ writing skills, their blog’s popularity, and their professionalism. Before she gives them an assignment, she lays down the rules. The blogger must submit the article in 24 to 48 hours, the article must be promoted by the blogger through social media, and the article must attract comments.

Asked about the feud between traditional media and bloggers, she said that on one hand she understands why some people from the traditional media are angry at some bloggers. Some bloggers are invited to events, but instead of writing about the event, they just copy and paste the press release. During the event, these bloggers take pictures but they won’t ask questions.

On the other hand, there are those bloggers who write better than people from traditional media. Their work is also read by more people because it is circulated online. This can also ruffle the feathers of traditional media if they see these bloggers as their competition.

Commenting on horror stories about bad bloggers like those who supposedly blackmail restaurants with bad reviews, Ms. Toral said that she has investigated such claims but could not trace who these bloggers were. Though these rumors revolve around a handful of bloggers, in the end the whole blogging community is tarnished, and are thus not trusted.

“Until we have proof, don’t believe it,” she said.

HER BUSINESS MODEL
When creating a model to commoditize expertise and offer it online, Ms. Toral advises the use of a membership model as she does. This means that in order for members to get information, they must pay a subscription fee. Upon paying, they have free access to all the events that Ms. Toral organizes and have one-on-one consultations with her.

This is the model that she uses for the Digital Filipino Club, which she established in 1999.

“You only need 100 people,” she said. Having that loyal 100 makes sure that there will always be people attending her events because these people would want to maximize the benefits from their subscription fee and because they don’t need to pay more each time they go to her events.

It is also easier to get sponsors because she can guarantee that she will have at least 100 people at an event.

The membership model removes the need for marketing the event because she already has a strong base of followers. She is not bound by the revenue from the event itself because the event is pre-supported by the follower’s subscription and the event sponsors.

With a steady number of followers, Ms. Toral is able to focus on them and assist them in terms of the online businesses that they want to set up, their advocacies, and their events.

Right now Ms. Toral is busy with her Start-Up 100 Project, where she aims to help 100 e-commerce start-ups go online by 2019. Her first start-up is I-metrics Asia Pacific Corp., which aims to help businesses with data on e-commerce that will guide their investments and other business decisions.

The mother of e-commerce is really a nurturer at heart as she doesn’t just help her followers learn, but she also wants to bring them closer toward their goals.

“I encourage them to become leaders,” she said, and through her help, the e-commerce industry in the country can be more diverse and vibrant.