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.”
Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, the co-founder of fashion line Rags2Riches, used to have a clear-cut idea for an ideal career: graduate with the highest honors, get a high-paying job, do “amazing” things at work, get a master’s degree in business administration, retire, create a business, and when she became rich enough, give to charity. Although there is nothing wrong with following this path, Reese felt that it was not what she really wanted to do. Her calling actually started with a pet peeve. Reese is bothered by social inequality. She hates seeing people work hard their whole lives, only to end up at a dead end because they did not have the same opportunities that more privileged people have. Such “irritations”, according toher, can help people find their calling. Whether they are against involuntary hunger, racism, and other injustices, fighting for social justice can become a life profession. It was on a volunteering trip in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija that made Reece decide what she will choose as a life profession. She met some of people there who have stayed hopeful despite crippling poverty and lack of opportunities. Reece spent Sundays helping build homes for landslide survivors, which resulted to an entire village of 100 new houses for several affected families. After college graduation, she would visitthe depressed areas in Payatas with some young professionals. That is where she met ‘Ate Ning’, a trash collector for 14 years and a mother of five children. The woman collected scraps of cloth and weave the scraps of cloth she found into foot rugs. She would sell them everyday butshe earned less than Php20 a day despite her hard work. “When I saw this, I got really mad,” Reece remembers. Scrap cloth handwoven by women from indigent communities were normally used for ordinary rugsfor doorways and bathroom floors of Filipino homes. Rags2Richesthought that these very same materials can be used in making luxury bags, which can be marketed to the high fashionmarket. The company has elevated the status of these textiles. They have also uplifted the lives of the people who had previously been selling these items at Php1 to Php2 a piece, earning a miserable Php10 to Php16 a day. Reecethought that there is something wrong with the fact that poor people who work hard earn so very little from their efforts, while there are people who easily get money through corrupt means. Believing that she has to correct this wrong, she formed Rags2Riches with several business partners. Their business model is simple but meaningful: ‘people, profit, planet, and positive influence’.
The company was put together in 2007, and it partners with artisans from all over the country, from the “mountains” of Payatas to the mountains of southern Philippines, giving them not just skills-training, but lessons in health, finances, and well-being, so they can help themselves out of poverty. The families involved were not just able to support their families, they also take pride in their work.TV personalities Bianca Gonzalez, Ces Drilon, and Liz Uy are seen wearing and using their products. Rajo Laurel, Amina Aranaz-Aluna, Oliver Tolentino, Olivia d’Aboville, and other designers are some of those who collaborated with Reese and her business partners in Rags2Riches. The company’s designer bags are a combination of fabric, leather, and metal. The designs are also reminders of the amazing stories about the people that the brand wanted to empower.
Reece says that it was a simple solution to a social problem, and an effectiveway to lift Filipinos out of poverty. The business has enabled the artisans to access the fashion bags market. In six years, they were able to uplift the lives of 900 artisans, distributing the latter’s work through 70 retail outlets in the country and in the international market. The mother of five,‘Ate Ning’, is now an empowered community member who trains others to weave scrap cloth and make fashion bags from them. Reese, as the company’s CEO,shares gladly that she wakes up every Monday morning happy to work in the company that she helped build. Not all people can say the same for themselves.Which a shame, according to the young social entrepreneur, as working days take up the majority of the week. Reece wanted not to be just successful, but to become significant in changing people’s lives for the better. As a young girl, she remembers going around different churches with her mother, a Catholic missionary worker. She encountered street children in the parishes, who became her friends. They played together and shared their dreams with oneanother. Many of them wanted to become doctors, lawyers, and teachers when they grow up.That one little girl eventually became a social entrepreneur, while the world lost potential doctors, lawyers, and teachers.
Reece doesn’t think she was better than them, but only that she had better opportunities. She has her own amazing story to share: a group of anonymous people, probably involved in the parishes her mother was working in, gave her a scholarship so that she could attend the prestigious Ateneo de Manila University. To this day, she has no idea who they are, but she is thankful nonetheless. Now, it’s her turn to do the same thing to those less fortunate. “No matter what we do, our decisions will affect someone in a positive or negative way,” she says. Asked what advice she would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs, she says, “First of all, it is good to know that it is possible to be profitable and socially relevant at the same time. I would like to share to future social entrepreneurs that yes, it is possible. It is a viable life and career option for those who want to have a business and help others at the same time. If you do decide to take it on, the result could be world-changing! It may be daunting to start though so let me share with you some simple steps and tips. First, try to find your passion, then get together with a few like-minded friends, commit to some milestones (do not just have a vision, have a plan), and never, ever give up. It is not easy, but it is so worth it!”