Game Changer

Peter Cauton: Pinoy Startup Mastermind

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Peter Cauton considers himself a career HR Practitioner turned serial entrepreneur. But he is more than that. Technopreneurs and aspiring startups all over the country know him more as an inspirational speaker and a founder of several startup companies. He is an expert on how to get someone’s dream tech business started, and how to sustain it.

He started his first company, STORM Consulting back in 2006. The company has since grown by leaps and bounds and is now called STORM Rewards.

Peter Cauton is considered a leader of the Filipino Startup Movement via his site Juan Great Leap (juangreatleap.com). His mission in life is to inspire others to take the great leap into entrepreneurship. In his interview with Tech In Asia’s Raya Edquilang, he was asked: What was that defining moment when you made a conscious decision that helping others is what you want to do?

He answered, “In 2008, I made the biggest career decision of my life – I took the leap, kissed my corporate career goodbye and went full-time to help my struggling startup. Considering it was in the middle of the recession and I had a newborn son, it was an idiotic decision. By God’s grace, it worked out. In 2011, not only was I making a good living running my own firm, I also founded more startups. I just felt incredibly blessed.”

Peter felt the need to pay it forward. He also wanted to write a book. He shares, “It would consist of some of the lessons I learned in leaving corporate and developing my startup. But after some months, I found that it was just a huge step to develop material from scratch into a book. So I thought of something I had never thought I do – write a blog. I remember writing my first post. I dilly-dallied a lot, postponing pushing the ‘publish’ button for as long as I can. In many ways, starting a blog was scarier than writing a book. The exposure was instant. What if people hated what I wrote? Or thought ‘this guy is a hack’? But I thought, like my startup leap, nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without some risk. And so I clicked publish. The blog has almost taken a life of its own now. I totally did not forecast how much it would resonate with people. Its been an amazing blessing for me.”

His idea for Juan Great Leap is to do advocacy work to promote startups. One of their plans is to popularize Juan Great Leap conferences. “In the last one, sponsored by Ayala, we attracted over 200 people to a learning session/panel discussion. We are planning another one on March 2nd: a mass ‘speed dating’ event with 20 awesome startup founders. These bigger events are geared towards creating a mass learning opportunity for participants.”

Juan Great Leap also organizes smaller meetups, called Open Coffee. Every month, around 40 to 50 people participate. The meetup is geared towards collaboration and helping other aspiring techpreneurs. Peter says that the meetup is open to people from any part of the startup process from ‘I have an idea’ to ‘I have just sold my startup.’

The main attraction in Juan Great Leap events, according to him, is the open floor where people have two minutes to pitch anything to the group – an idea, a problem to solve, a need, a survey. The idea is to learn, share and have fun.

“Aside from these, I meet two to three entrepreneurs for coffee every Saturday morning. We talk about everything and anything – from startup ideas, outlining opportunities, and even the spiritual side to startups. A couple of people I’ve met at Startup Saturdays have become dear friends of mine, some also who I’ve had the privilege to mentor,” he adds.

Asked about the greatest challenge for Filipino tech startups, Peter remarks, “There aren’t enough entrepreneurs to take on the multitude of great ideas which are available. Right now, you see the same people in startup events – this is very good of course, as we are creating a strong community, but we need more people to join in. The biggest challenge is to inspire even more Filipinos to take that great leap!”

In the midst of his success, Peter admits that he has made mistakes anyone could possibly imagine. But he did not allow mistakes to stop him from pursuing his goal. “By sheer perseverance, passion, and prayer, STORM is still standing after nearly 7 years, and has been growing steadily,” he says.

Peter knows that being a technopreneur is also a process of learning things about yourself. He muses, “What I’ve learned about myself in recent years is that I really love the startup process – I absolutely love getting the right ideas and the right people together in solving great problems. I guess the HR person in me never left – I want to help other people find their passions. With this end in mind, can it get any better than rallying people to build startups, new entities that are supposed to center around the entrepreneur’s passions?
Looking around what has been happening in the startup scene around the world, I feel the Philippines has been left out a bit. I look at the Techcrunch-type sites around and I notice more and more extremely passionate, talented people taking huge leaps in pursuing their dreams, almost on an everyday basis.”

Peter has some words of wisdom for fresh college graduates and young aspiring entrepreneurs:

“Our graduates by and large think of one path: to make a resume, get hired by a corporation, and work their way up the corporate ladder. Then maybe get an MBA in 3-4 years, ideally abroad, and then resume going up that ladder. Talk to any business graduate of any school and this is what you’ll hear. This is the mind-numbingly singular plan.”

“Ever think about starting a business? What if you took that leap 2 years ago?
It is shuddering to think how many dreams have been quashed, how many creative impulses wasted, how many spirits have been broken, in these corporate jobs where positions matter more than people.”

Peter continues, “No way in hell is this because of a lack of talent. Filipinos are world-renowned talents. No way is it because of a lack of ambition. It is because of a lack of perception. A perception that, yes, someone in her twenties can put up a great, world-class startup. That, yes, you can make a dent in the universe.”

His final piece of advice for those who want to become entrepreneurs?
“Take that leap, Juan.”

Gregory And Vanessa Misaghi: Afortiva’s Tech Power Couple

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Advances in information technology changed not only the way we think of businesses, but also of the way we run them. With the rise of companies run by minimal office staff, there is a need for assistance in doing the nitty-gritty aspects of the business. The challenge is to do it without garnering additional costs and manpower. This is where Afortiva Virtual Solutions comes in.

Virtual Assistants

Afortiva supplies ‘virtual assistants’, people who can do the kind of work that office secretaries and personal assistants used to do. The only difference is that you can access your VA anytime and anywhere there is an Internet connection. Founded by Gregory and Vanessa Misaghi, the company uses a very simple but highly beneficial concept.

While Gregory handles CEO duties, Vanessa, as Operations Director, oversees the daily operations and manages their working teams. Their VA teams provide administrative support and other specialized services to businesses, entrepreneurs, executives, business professionals, and others who have more work to do than the time to do it.

Vanessa explains, “Many clients realize that they are spending too much time taking care of busy-work that they can’t bill clients for, but still needs to be done, such as scheduling trips, planning meetings, researching the Internet for information, tracking expenses, paying bills and taxes, balancing the books, maintaining files, screening calls, and answering e-mails. A virtual assistant can save you time because you’ll be spending less time doing that work and more time growing your business, having quality time with the family, or just plain relaxing.”

Afortiva’s service is all about helping their clients, mostly business owners and managers, to concentrate on what they do best. Their clients have realized the importance of having someone outside the office handle all routine office tasks.

Gregory, or Greg as he’d like to be called, acknowledges that the VA concept is not that new. What makes their services different is that they have created their unique spin on the what a VA can do for their clients. He emphasizes that it is all about knowing what your clients need on a personal level.

He shares, “Afortiva is more of a ‘Mom and Pop’ shop. A small business for small businesses. In this model, we don’t want you to keep ‘returning products to the store’ if unhappy. We don’t want you to waste the time. Time that we have promised to give you. Have a business problem and need consulting? You need a service that you don’t see on our list? Let us solve that for you by finding solutions for your problems as if it were ours. We will constantly update you and call you instead of sending a generic email. Unlike big firms, we won’t let bureaucratic or arbitrary procedures limit us from helping you. You won’t have to talk to five people to solve one simple task. You don’t have to take two steps forward and one step back. These value added services are free and are included with the rate we charge you.”

Humble Beginnings

In a Facebook conversation with Vanessa, she shares that just like a lot of businesses, they went through several transitions before becoming successful.

“I was into business development for six years. Greg was into training for three years. We met at a call center. When we became a couple, we realized our tandem is a good combo to start something out. I was contacted by one of my former clients from the US, and he asked if I can do projects for him. I took the job as a part-time thing. Greg became interested in it. And we both agreed, why not do this for good?”, she said.

At first, Vanessamade contact with all of the people she networked with from the US and found a way to secure clients. Most of the jobs theyreceived weretelemarketing-oriented.

She recalls, “We have only had two computers at home then. We did it ourselves. Andwe were able to hire oneyoung person to help us out. All of a sudden the number of clients increased instantly. They mostly came from referrals by my other contacts and current clients. Soon we had to move operations to Bacolod to accommodate those clients. Greg’s dad has an office there with six desktop computers. We borrowed their office at night.”

Sadly, the Bacolod move didnot work out well for the couple’s first venture together. Vanessa admits that labor costs are cheaper there but they had a hard time finding competent people to work for them. The telemarketing accounts also demanded too much from them and became too difficult to work with.

The couple flew back to Manila and resolved to reshape their business model and we discarded their telemarketing accounts. They eventually decided to focus more on the ‘virtual assistant’ market. This decision positively shaped Afortiva into what it is now.

One thing they learned from their previous work experiences is to identify what made both of them leave in the first place. “When we put up Afortiva, we made sure to recall whatever things we didn’t like from our previous companies, and ensure that we won’t do those things in our own company. We now operate in a culture and work atmosphere that our employees enjoy. They havethe freedom to be creative. They have discipline, and most importantly, they can learn alot from the online marketing industry, ” remarks Vanessa.