Learning from the founders

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TIMES are hard — the pandemic is not yet over, the entire world has been upended and has entered what the World Bank called the worst recession since the Second World War as it forecast the global economy to shrink by 5.2% this year — but there is still hope for recovery. The recently launched book Asian Founders at Work seeks to encourage recovery through stories of Asian businesses that weathered storms and found success in their industries.

Written by Ezra Ferraz and Gracy Fernandez and published by Apress, Asian Founders at Work features one-on-one interviews with the founders of 20 Asian tech companies on the challenges they faced and what they did right.

Among the companies featured in the book were second-hand online marketplace Carousell, on-demand delivery service Lalamove, streaming platform iflix, and digital wallet system Coins.ph.

“[T]his book is not solely aimed at tech leaders. Whether your business is corporate, small business, or social enterprise, there is always something to be picked up from how the largest tech companies managed to make it big. Growth during the recession may be challenging, but it is achievable with the right knowledge,” said Mr. Ferraz in a press release.

Mr. Ferraz is the managing partner of digital marketing agency Ambidextr while Ms. Fernandez is a contributing writer for Entrepreneur (Asia Pacific) magazine and the digital publication on financial literacy KitaMo.

“Innovation is crucial at a time like this. With the recession drawing near, these stories need to be heard and studied perhaps more than ever before,” said Ms. Fernandez in the release.

In an excerpt sent to BusinessWorld, the authors interviewed Ron Hose, who co-founded Coins.ph with Runar Petursson. The chapter covers the company’s beginnings in 2014 and its subsequent acquisition by Jakarta-based ride-hailing platform GoJek in 2019 in a deal valued at $95 million.

Done in a question-and-answer format, Mr. Hose said they chose the Philippines as the site of Coins.ph because “it has a large market domestically… and a fast-growing economy,” but admitted they faced challenges like low internet penetration which is crucial for a digital payment system.

“For me, this irregular lack of infrastructure is a sign of opportunity… [and] people here are tech-savvy, but at the same time, there are a lot of improvements that can be made for everyday life with technology,” Mr. Hose explained.

The chapter on Mr. Hose and Coins.ph covers 11 pages and it discusses everything from Mr. Hose’s thoughts on the cryptocurrency Bitcoin (“in 2013, a lot of people were really looking at it as a speculative instrument… I was not excited by that because I was looking to create long-term value through the business”) and why Coins.ph was started (“this came about because we saw that 80% of Filipinos don’t have access to financial services… [and] traditional banking models just do not work well for emerging markets”).

Mr. Hose also noted that his previous company, live video platform TokBox, which he started in 2007 taught him about the “economic cycles of markets” as the company was able to raise funds just before the stock market crash of 2008.

“With this, I learned the importance of being conservative when everyone is bullish, and to know how to keep things in check when things go up and down,” he said.

Asian Founders at Work is available on Amazon at $17.42 for the Kindle version and $18.64 for paperback. — ZBC