Digital Reporter

Filipino Silicon Valley investor Jojo Flores, who holds over 30 years of combined experience in running and investing in companies, began his stellar career with water.

His first major success in the business world was growing a bottled water brand to what is now known as Wilkins with a valuation of over $10 million. The successful run of the brand led him to establish an international water business with California-based entrepreneur Saeed Amidi. Today, Flores owns up to 90% market share of the brand in different countries including the U.S., Spain, and Austria, to name a few.

In 2005, which according to him was the time when “the bubble has just burst in Silicon Valley,” Flores saw an opportunity to establish a real estate business that would involve startup companies in the area. 

Flores and Amidi bought a building along Silicon Valley with an initial plan to divide it into different spaces and lease to startups. 

“But we felt that there were more opportunities to do than just real estate,” he said in a forum organized by QBO Philippines on May 22 in Makati City.

From a mere establishment offering affordable office spaces, the building turned into an innovation hub called Plug and Play the following year, helping tech startups raise funds and build connections with large corporations.

“[The building] gave us the chance to really see and experience startups and in some instances invest in them,” he said, adding that the new venture prompted the idea of scaling their previous investment in startups to a larger operation. 

“We didn’t invent anything new, we just created a platform that is a microcosm of what is already happening in Silicon Valley. We just created a platform, where we can accelerate things to happen for all parties whether you are a startup, a corporation, a venture capitalist, or any other player in the ecosystem.”

Plug and Play supports a community of over 400 tech startups in three campuses in Silicon Valley. To date, it has raised in excess $.5 billion for its startups. It is also a seed and angel investor with more than 700 companies in its portfolio, including unicorns such as PayPal, Dropbox, Soundhound, Lending Club, and Zoosk, among others.

Last year, it was named by Business Journal as the “most active investor” in Silicon Valley.

“It’s been fun. We’ve probably helped around 3,000 to 4,000 startups, but a slap to my face was none of them are Filipinos,” he said.

So in 2012, Flores initiated the expansion of Plug and Play in Asia, where it now holds offices in key cities such as Singapore, Tokyo, Jakarta, and Beijing.

To further involve Filipino startups in its lineup of investees, Flores tapped his high school classmate and technopreneur Jay Fajardo and established Launchgarage in 2016, with the goal to “find really good startups and scale them globally.”

Patterned after Plug and Play, Launchgarage is an incubator, accelerator, and investor supporting tech startups in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. 

In choosing startups to invest in, Flores said they look for three T’s: the team, which he said is the most important component of a startup; technology that requires validation from established corporations; and traction to prove marketability.

“At the end of the day, innovation has to be used by actual customers because if not, it’s just an invention,” he said.

While local startups have the potential to form a community similar to Silicon Valley, Flores said Filipino entrepreneurs should focus more on bringing their companies to the global market.

“We have been talking with over 20 governments around the world and they always tell me, ‘Oh we wanna create our own Silicon Valley.’ And in a very gentle way, we tell them that it’s not possible,” he said. “[They] should just create [their] own ecosystem that is local, but what’s more important is to bridge the startups that they have locally to the global scene.”