The COVID-19 pandemic has become a major roadblock for all businesses. However, during this difficult time, entrepreneurs must stand by one thing: innovation. Opportunity will always present itself when people step out of their comfort zones. Instead of waiting for innovation to happen, why not start it now?
These stories of three top tech entrepreneurs share how they were able to succeed in innovating their business during times of difficulty.
Neil Dagondon was only 22 years old when he founded Anino Games in 2001. After graduating in De La Salle University with a degree in computer science, he decided to create video games for a living based in the Philippines. At the time, console and computer games were thriving in the market. People loved to play video games with their PlayStation, Xbox, and Gameboys—all of which have evolved over the years as well. The Sims collection became a bestseller in personal computer games, prompting the game creators to consistently expand their features over the years too.
However, even with these devices and games, the Philippines did not have the resources, or ecosystem, to support this type of business. The video game industry was non-existent in the country and no university taught video game development. If a Filipino had serious interest in being a video game developer, they would go abroad to the hubs in Tokyo or Los Angeles.
Since there were no development studios, Dagondon decided to create his own post-production house. He initially catered to students who needed help with their films for their thesis and he also occasionally produced videos for debuts or weddings. When demand grew, he handed his business over to his brother-in-law and pursued his passion in video games.
Dagondon formed a team with five fresh Filipino graduates and created a video game called Anito: Defend a Land Enraged. Like all businesses, he and his team encountered many problems while creating Anito such as re-creating content due to problems caused by system bugs, which delayed the development process of the game. Despite that, Filipinos were still in favor of Anito and started to gain more traction. With that, The Independent Games Festival (IGF) recognized the video game with an Excellence in Audio award in 2004.
The company’s success allowed new opportunities for both Dagondon and the company to further grow. They opened doors to outsourcing work in the video game industry. A developer from their side would design a number of guns and cars, and send it to their subcontractors from halfway across the world. However, after some time, Dagondon thought that this type of method will not help them gain the kind of recognition they sought, nor would they get high value work as a third-party developer.
“I wanted to compete on the creative side, not on production or technical,” Dagondon said.
Therefore, Anino changed their business model, began working directly with publishers, and continued to hone their skills in video game design—leading them to gain the recognition they’ve been seeking as a development studio. Soon, Dagondon responded to more proposals and built an impressive portfolio, which included Anito.
Dagondon’s story is a classic example on how creatives and other talents can monetize their passion. Anino Games’ works are rooted in Filipino heritage, culture, and reflect their vision to make the Philippines a hub for game development worldwide.
Dominick Danao was an information technology journalist when he learned about Hotmail being sold to Microsoft for millions of dollars. Danao, who was driven by patriotism, wanted to create a brand that embraced the Filipino social identity of cyberspace. Hence, PinoyMail.com.
Creating a webmail in the 1990s was not as easy as it seems. At the time, only two million Filipinos had access to the internet. In order to get people to sign up, he entered an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) to announce that he is giving away free webmail accounts. All users needed to do was send him a personal message and he will activate it. Even after 2,000 user requests, there were not enough users for PinoyMail.com to be viral.
Danao looked into Hotmail for more inspiration and found out about the network signature. When PinoyMail.com had a signature of its own, every user became an ambassador for the company and user growth and geographic reach accelerated.
The amount of PinoyMail.com users was enough to grab the attention of other companies. Orlando “Doy” Vea, the founder of Smart Communications, arranged a meeting with the company to discuss a possible acquisition. Part of Vea’s offer was that the founders would keep 10% stake and remain with the other leaders.
Danao agreed to the deal, leading to PinoyMail.com gaining recognition nationwide and abroad. Danao and his co-founders carried on with their success even after selling PinoyMail.com.
In 2002, Jay Fajardo created his first true-blue tech startup, Airborne Access. During that time, the Philippine startup industry was almost non-existent—no one wanted to invest in his idea no matter how brilliant it may be. The only way to invite people to try the internet service provider was to put up a sign saying, “Airborne Access WiFi available here”. To access it, people will need to stay in that area and pay for a fee.
Jay went through technical challenges to make this work. If anyone wanted to access the internet, they had to connect to a modem. He wanted to make wireless internet connection accessible for all but most laptops still did not have built-in WiFi capabilities. The other challenge he went through was the culture of work in the Philippines at the time. No one was a “mobile worker” and people only worked in the premises of their workplace. No establishment wanted to cater to the consumer’s need for internet connection. His idea was absurd but if he didn’t create it then no one would ever be on board with it.
To solve this, Jay created an access controller from scratch and monetized it via subscription and monthly fees. To keep track of payments, he thought of selling prepaid scratch cards to people who want to have access—each have different time allowances for internet usage: 1 hour, 2 hours, etc.
With this, Jay had to advertise the idea of being a “mobile worker” and invite people to work comfortably away from their offices or homes. The first company that agreed to deploy Airborne Access Wifi hotspots was Seattle’s Best. Soon enough, more people started working in the coffee shop and Seattle’s Best saw a spike in sales.
Things were going well until Jay heard that Globe was about to launch their own Wifi hotspot provider. In 2008, Jay made a deal with ePLDT, a subsidiary of television communications service provider Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT). PLDT invested for a 20% stake of Airborne Access and later announced their partnership in the newspapers. By that time, Airborne Access became accessible everywhere and turned into one of the leading companies competing in the tech industry.
These tech leaders responded to the needs of the Filipinos during the time when technology and the internet were starting to progress in the country. Their journey to success was extremely difficult but became rewarding when they saw how their innovation helped their consumers. Through their hard work, they became some of the top tech leaders in the Philippines.
These are just a few stories of the top tech entrepreneurs in the Philippines. The Finishers, written by Ezra Ferraz, features other successful local founders of tech startups companies in the country. If you are interested in learning more about them, you can buy the book by clicking this link.
Visual by: Chloe Gaw