Gian Javelona: The Pinoy ‘Steve Jobs’

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Gian Javelona is the kind of person who would reach for the stars. In a recent interview with Rappler’s Ezra Ferraz, he confided, “When I was a student, I always dreamed of having a company. I wanted to build something that any person could use and a product that could change people’s lives. I remember my classmates were laughing at me when I told them that one day I would have a company that will beat Apple, and that I will name it OrangeApps.” We can imagine who is laughing now, but Gian is modest about his success.

Gian Javelona is only 20 years old, and he is now the CEO of of his own company, OrangeApps. How that happened is based on several factors. In the first place, Gian has never given up on his dream of becoming an entrepreneur. He has always dreamed of having his own company even when he was still a student. One plan has remained on his mind: To build something that any person could use and change people’s lives.

To be a successful entrepreneur, Gian knows that you have to surround yourself with other people driven to succeed. A person can learn from them by absorbing their knowledge and ideas. The young CEO also has an attitude of confidence and resourcefulness. He has never allowed other people’s suspicions to get him down. This outlook helped him find the right people for his company. People have asked, “How can a 20-year old CEO successfully run a company?” He knows this is how many people think but he chose to ignore naysayers.

Building the company from scratch can be overwhelming. Javelona knows that there are issues he has to deal with. He confesses that building his OrangeApps team was the most difficult experience he has ever had. It’s not just because people looking down on his age, but there are other matters at hand. For one, it is hard to get people to join a very young company. It is another challenge to convince them when he can’t even assure them of a regular salary. For so many people, it is too risky to join a company that nobody has heard of.

Despite these circumstances, Javelona found inspiration in the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Gian claims to have watched the biopic ‘The Social Network’ ten times, and he identifies with what Zuckerberg went through during the early days of  Facebook. Coincidentally, both Gian and his idol Zuckerberg started out by breaking rules. Zuckerberg built Facemash, precursor to Facebook, by taking the photos from Harvard’s website without permission. Gian created and released his first mobile app, a PUP-based mobile portal that accesses public information on the university’s website, without notifying PUP.

The school authorities told him to shut it down because security issues started cropping up. This did not discourage Gian. It just made him more determined as he fixed the app in one month. He tried once more by doing a relaunch. The app was an instant hit with  PUP students in just three days. The users grew to around 2,000 active users out of a school population of 70,000 from over 20 campuses. He shares, “The President of PUP called and asked me to present the platform. Sometimes, you need to break some rules to make big things happen.”

In spite of this success, some people still question his capability to run a company at a young age. He responded by building the company “like someone would build a family – you have to make sure there is chemistry.” He picked people whose way of thinking is out of the box, like he is. He also chose those he knows he could work well with.

When asked how a person can unlock his or her true potential, Gian thinks it has something to do with the Philippine educational system. The country’s institutions of learning still have a long way to go to match its global counterparts. What it is doing now, according to Javelona, is to force students towards a job marketplace where being employed relies on skills that constantly change every year.

This is why Gian’s biggest advocacy is youth entrepreneurship. He is constantly invited to speak to young people in symposiums and seminars. Javelona believes young people should consider becoming entrepreneurs. On this, he thinks that education is the main problem. Our educational system molds students to be employees and not employers. He emphasizes, “If you ask a student today, what they want to do after graduation, most will say that they want to work for a big, local company or go abroad and earn big money.”

Last year, Gian was accepted to Ideaspace Foundation’s incubation program for young entrepreneurs. He remembers a funny moment when he is presenting his ideas to Coach Chot Reyes and Manny V. Pangilinan, and he was just wearing a regular shirt. He admits not knowing that he needs to have financial projections and a business model. “I didn’t even understand what those words meant back then,” he says good-humoredly. Even so, Javelona’s time at Ideaspace was life-changing. He actually recommends the incubation route for those who want to build a startup, but have no idea how, for as long as they are determined to see their business ideas come to life.

The people at Ideaspace assisted the young entrepreneur in terms of incorporation, financial projections, valuations, and marketing. Gian says, “Through them, you will meet the best people in the industry, including entrepreneurs, technologists, social innovators, and other aspiring startup founders.”

OrangeApps recently launched the app Khawna. The name comes from the Tagalog phrase ‘ikaw na’ (that’s you), a teasing way to praise a person who has done anything remarkable or impressive. It coincides with the company’s slogan: “It starts with you.” Gian believes that all of us can make a difference in the world.

According to him, Khawna is a learning platform where you could learn skills currently required by the industry. He believes that the app bridges the gap of industry learning and makes education available to everyone around the world. The learning platform offers online classes that emphasize hard skills, such as science and technology, engineering, mathematics, and entrepreneurship.

Gian says, “Imagine a kid in a rural area attending a class on entrepreneurship from his mobile phone, one taught by industry experts. What will happen to the Philippines? There are 7.93 million underemployed Filipinos and 6.24 million out of school, young Filipinos. With Khawna, we can make every Filipino employable.”

He hopes that this would result in more students aspiring to become entrepreneurs and create their own startup companies. In this, Javelona is very optimistic. He shares, “I’m really happy to see successful startups operating in this country, such as Kalibrr, Guestlist.ph, and TimeFree Innovations. They inspire young startup founders to keep pushing forward – They help us realize that disrupting industries here in the Philippines will lead the country to a better future.”

Every time Gian talks to students, he reminds them of how many huge tech companies started out as small ventures. He emphasizes that all of these tech companies like Microsoft and IBM started the way he and other young entrepreneurs started. “They were built by human beings like us. So it’s not impossible for Filipinos to also build a billion dollar company in the future,” he says.

For a lot of students and fresh graduates, it will be their first time to be told through Gian’s talks, that they can do something other than compete for entry-level jobs. He shares, “For the first time they see a Filipino company who wants to build something that can definitely change lives. I always tell them that ‘the sooner you start, the faster you will learn.’ I hope that inspires them.”

Many young Filipinos are so impressed and inspired by Javelona’s story. Many of them want to work for OrangeApps, and some feel encouraged to start their own company. Some of these young people started out as Khawna’s earliest users. They see the app as a launching pad to learn the skills they need to survive and succeed in the job market. Gian hopes that most of them can become future innovators, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders who will help uplift the country’s economy.

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    […] Gian Javelona: The Pinoy ‘Steve Jobs’ […]

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