Founder’s Guide: Five pieces of advice from Ignite PH 2019


Words by

The path of running a startup is an endless series of steep learning curves. And while this has always been part of the entrepreneurial journey, it’s always better to be equipped than to proceed empty-handed.

Those seeking guidance got their fill during Ignite PH held last June 24 to 25 at the Makati Shangri-La. During the innovation conference, global startup experts shared valuable insights for entrepreneurs operating across various industries. Here are five key points that every startup founder should keep in mind.

1. Always put the customer first…

“Innovation is about solving customer pain points,” said Jeremy Rolleston, founder of Active8me. “So it starts with their problems and your response to their problems.”

This becomes even more relevant when you start expanding to different markets. “[Startups] drive for scalability because of investor interest and because [they’re] trying to capture financial value, but [they should] not leave the customer-centricity behind,” said Gilberto Gaeta, Director for Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Emerging Markets at Google Customer Solutions. “Find the right problem in time… to answer what you can and cannot replicate.”

2. … and reach out to them where they are.

Part of customer focus is knowing where and how you can reach them. In the Philippines, for example, consumers are true digital natives. Samuel Jeanblanc, market lead at Google, cited a study saying Filipinos spend up to 70 hours a week on the internet, the highest in the world.

This change in touchpoint is followed by a change in behavior. Since consumers now automatically search online for answers, inbound marketing not only wins over potential customers with helpful content but also reinforces your brand presence. “You’re adding value to people before they possibly engage with you,” said James Gilbert, Marketing Director for APAC at Hubspot.

3. Try mixing it up with your team.

Getting different perspectives is important in helping startups grow, but that’s only possible if you have different kinds of people.

Vijay Tirathrai, managing director at Techstars, stressed the value of cultural and gender diversity. “When you think about how diverse the markets in Southeast Asia are, I think it’s absolutely critical that every founder thinks about putting together a very diverse team… The power of a team with a multidisciplinary approach is extremely important.”

And that diversity takes many shapes and forms. Christian Besler, chief digital officer at AC Health, gives the example of onboarding an employee with corporate experience.

“If I have somebody from the other side, who has worked for 15 years in a corporation, he knows exactly what forms to prepare, what buttons to push,” Besler said. “It’s a lot about language… if you don’t speak that language, you get stuck in step one.”

4. Forget ‘faking it til you make it.’

Speaking of partnerships, it’s often very tempting to exaggerate facts and inflate figures when you’re trying to secure a big deal. And while that could work in the short term, it could lead to stretching yourself thin over unrealistic workload expectations or worse, breaking off that relationship with a betrayed partner.

“There’s something every startup is told: Fake it ‘til you make it. Corporations cannot deal with faking it. They cannot deal with surprises,” said Minette Navarette, vice chairman and president of Kickstart Ventures.

“Instead, my advice is to always come clean, and come clean early,” she said. There’s no need to inflate expectations, Navarette said. “Corporations want to work with startups… They want the creativity and excitement, so they want to make it work.”

5. And don’t forget to have fun with it.

With so many ambitious startups popping up locally and all over the world, it may sometimes seem like you’re at war to come up on top. This can cause a lot of stress and suck the joy out of your work. If this is how you’re currently feeling, it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate.

“I think we’re mainly losing sight of the fact that it’s not really a war. If you start a company… it really should be a lot of fun,” said Neel Chowdhury, editor-in-chief at Inc ASEAN. “It may feel like you’re in combat, but if you stop having fun, then you shouldn’t do it.”