Monday, February 5, 2018

Tide turning

By the grace of God, after about a year and a half, the fog is lifting.

I am regaining my balance, and I am quite myself again.

Contrary to what I believed, hope has not died. It simply changed. I stopped hoping for what I used to hope for. Now my prayer is quite another outcome altogether, and every day I get closer to it. 

Time really is our friend. This time last year I was weepy, distraught, distracted, and a roller coaster of emotions.

Today I'm just me -- calm, forgiving, steady, deliberate... and free.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Class Numbers 13, 14 and 15 of IV-Wisdom
My daughters spent a recent evening at their old house in Valenzuela, where their grandfather still lives. They came back with a couple of priceless finds, one of which was my high school yearbook.

On Facebook, I just posted the page where my graduation picture was. On the page with me are Jennie and Berna, who remain close friends to the day. I predict numerous likes.

Jennie is now Mrs. Hamilton, lives in Hamilton, Ontario and works at the Ontario Public Library. Her being in another continent is immaterial. She is ever present in the group chats and is updated in the details, big and small, of my life. She is godmother only to my eldest daughter Bea but everybody calls her Ninang Jennie. When I am particularly quiet in our collective conversations, she sends me a private message to ask how I really am. And then I spill.

She, now as then, is still the go-to person for movies and shows. Truth to tell I feel just a bit victorious when I talk about a show she hasn't heard, seen, or finished.

BC, as predicted in the yearbook, indeed pursued industrial pharmacy and now works for Big Pharma at posh BGC. All of that, however, is incidental. She is as childlike and trusting and conservative as we were a generation ago.

And then, there is me.  The Pulitzer still has to come (I have to be writing consistently for that, haha!) but it is true that I try to keep a calm exterior amid all kinds of blows.  I am also still almost always miles away from what I am actually doing, although as I said in my previous post, I will try to keep that to a minimum.

Funny how a single page can remind you how things have changed, but most importantly, how they have stayed the same.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

In pursuit of nothing

8am, January 2, my room

"Full" is perhaps the best way to describe the year just past.

I always believed living a full life was ideal, and infinitely better than an idle one. Alas, I learned last year that too much fullness can sap your energy and will away. If you don't know how to manage fullness, you will end up with nothing for the more important things.

And that's a tragedy.

It was of course necessity that prompted me to be as busy as I was. Adding to the first full-time engagement that I already had for the past 11 years, I took yet another full-time gig in September. Just how one person can handle two full-time jobs now seems beyond me, unless that person has two clocks, two lives, two heads.

But I had to, and so I did.

These were still not enough. Aside from these engagements I had three part-time gigs that served the same purpose.

As a result, my performance in all of those engagements slid. I found myself fighting for some "me" time but never quite succeeding. I was distracted, preoccupied, constantly stressed. I stopped writing my column.  I stopped writing stuff I didn't HAVE to write. Now this was bad, because stuff I did not have to write, just wanted to, was perhaps the best stuff I wrote. I found my ego slighted as new acquaintances gave me "writing tips" and "how tos" and e-lectured me about style and format. I let deadlines lapse and left phone calls unanswered.

I also stressed about getting to Makati at a certain time, every day, at a reasonable cost.

I lost sight of all the lofty things I set out to do in the beginning. I became driven by quotas and deadlines and Uber surges. 

Today it's the "first" working day of the year. (I used quotation marks because I never really stopped working for the main job over the holidays -- it's just that it has become so much a part of me I do not think of it as work anymore. It's the job that I wish were my only job, because I love both the purpose and my colleagues -- but that's impossible.)

This year, the idea is to be less full. Weed out the essentials from the non-essentials.  Discard, or at least minimize, the things that give me stress and distraction. Make time for nothing, because nothing is something. It's idle time that allows one to think, and fix things, and allow inspiration to come.

Boy I could use some inspiration these days.And then perhaps I will do better in all of my engagements.

It will be tough, given my immense responsibilities to the kids and given all the distractions available, online and offline, these days.

But if there were such a thing as a New year's resolution, I will try to be just in one place at one time instead of being all over the place -- in reality, being nowhere at all.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


It's my third day without Facebook and I am fine.
So fine, actually, even I am amazed.
Deactivation was a spur-of-the-moment decision, one I will talk about in a subsequent blog entry. And now I would be so bold as to say I think I can quit, cold turkey.
Congratulations, Me. I hope this translates to mindful time online and more of the writing that I want to do.

Saturday, September 23, 2017


with Sophia at La Carnita, before I brought her to her ACET

I brought Sophia to Ateneo today to take her college entrance test. Traffic was predictably horrible, but that's not even the story.

I remember the day I took my test 25 years ago. It was the middle of November 1992 and I had just buried my mom a month earlier. I felt the vastness of my future ahead of me, although I did not know what it was going to be like, exactly. One thing I was certain of -- I would have to work damn hard. I could not study in any university without a scholarship. I did not have the means.

I remember walking toward the gate of the campus after the exam. The math was tough, and I was sure I would fail. By then it was half-dark and I was amazed at the contrast between busy, chaotic Katipunan Avenue and beautiful, quiet Ateneo that always occasioned introspection.  I commuted back to Valenzuela.

Plenty happened in the quarter of a century, between that day and today. An entire lifetime, perhaps more. I did pass the test, ending up in the top 15% (I did well in math, after all)and snagging a 100% financial scholarship besides. I got pregnant and got married at 17. By the time I graduated in 97 I was a mom of 2. Had 2 more kids, endured a spouse until I was 31, bolted and established a life of my own. Got a career, went back to Ateneo for my MA, and started teaching there.

Among others.

I remembered all these while I was walking to the gate after dropping Sophie at her exam venue at the HS building. We must have walked 20, 30 minutes going in, and I was exhausted.

But happy. I had the opportunity to provide for her a place nearby so she did not have to travel so far like I did. A comfortable ride so she did not have to move from jeep to bus to jeep, like I did. We also had brunch at a Mexican place at Regis Center -- eating out was a luxury during my time. Finally we had a good, however long, walk at the exam venue. At least she had a mom who could be around, walk with her and wish her good luck.

No, I did not fetch her. She went ahead to meet her friends and watch a play. I am enjoying what remains of my dayoff, here in my room, with the comforts I now enjoy because yes, I did work damn hard. Still do.

Mom would have been proud.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Master wrapper

Is there a way to make a career out of this manual preoccupation?

There was a time when, as a mother to school children, I had a mountain of books and notebooks to cover every year.

In those days I wrapped while watching TV or listening to music or talking to the kids. Sometimes I did nothing else besides -- talk about mindfulness. 

It was fun. I liked cutting plastic and fitting it into the books. I enjoyed using scotch tape to hold the folds in place.  I got a kick out of flattening the surfaces and making sure there is no room for unnecessary air.

Most of all I liked how the newly-wrapped books looked: Sharp and shiny and invincible.

Alas, the kids are grown and I have no books or notebooks to wrap. Except my own. Since classes are starting tomorrow and I am teaching a new course, I wrapped the two main texts I will use as reference for Com 149.11: Special Topics -- Editorial and Opinion Writing.

I wish there were more. Not a mountain, perhaps, but more.

Postscript to "Near Death"

My friend got wind of Ofdelle's sorry state and gave me a replacement plant of the same variety.

I promise not to fall asleep like an idiot and spill the soil. I will still hope I can bring the old one back to life, but at least now there is more than death to contemplate.

Don't they look cute together?

Both healthy, now

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Near death

Someone cheer Ofdelle up. :(

Ofdelle with her buddy Ofxxxx, who is visibly healthy and thriving

Ofdelle is dying.
I got her several Saturdays ago, from a plant store near my house. A friend gave her to me. I named her the way the women are named in The Handmaid’s Tale, but the plant’s being Of(Me) is a sign of affection, not subjugation, certainly not slavery.
Unfortunately I still went to a dinner in BGC the day I got her, and when I fell asleep (no surprise) in my Uber ride the pot tipped over and the soil spilled.
Ofdelle has never been the same.
I am new to plants, and theoretically I know that this particular variety does not need a lot of attention: just a bit of sunshine and a sprinkling of water once a week. I must be so dumb as to bungle this one, right?
I tried putting the soil back but to no avail.
Today I look at her and try to make sense of the loss and her impending death. It’s a hit and miss. On this one I missed, but next time I will know better.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A redemption yet to come

Screenshot of my favorite column of all time

My favorite column is called "Modern Love." It is not in the op-ed section; it is filed under Fashion and Style at The New York Times. It was made even more endearing by its podcast version, an app for which I have in my iPad. The opening lines say it all -- they are "stories of love, loss and redemption."

Most of these are about romantic relationships in different stages. Endings, beginnings, anywhere in between. Sometimes they are about parents and children. Brothers and sisters. Friends.

I get caught up in the great writing (on print) and in the moving reading (on podcast) that I've churned out some Modern Love attempts on my own. Some of them are here in this blog. Some are in my computer, with the details too much of a giveaway to publish online.

My latest one is called "Running away from Mr (name of man) by sitting beside him." Only Jennie, my friend and critic who is halfway around the world, has read it so far. Writing it was a cathartic experience. I meant every word.

However when I sent it to her and read it from my outbox, as another person would, I was seized with certainty that my piece would be rejected even if I did muster enough courage to send it in.

Not for bad writing, of course, but for something more atrocious -- stupidity.  It falls pitifully below the requirements. Love, sure. Loss, sure. Redemption...ugh, next question.

Oh well. Nobody became smart in a day.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

This exact spot

You only live once. We always, always, always have a choice.

Exactly ten years ago today, I left a toxic marriage and carved out a life of my own.

It can sound heroic now, talking about it in hindsight and looking at it from the other side of the fence, but at that time I was just uncertain, uncomfortable and plain scared. I just had a vague sense that it was not anymore where I was supposed to be. The question: Would I have the guts to be where I am supposed to?

The one thing I am thankful for is the knowledge that I had a choice. Some women -- no, some people -- live and die and do not realize they have the power to take charge of their life. Actually, I had many choices, and each carried with it consequences. If I stayed, this would happen. If I left, this would. If I bided for more time,  these are the possibilities.

The consequences were in no way pleasant. Each road I could take had advantages and disadvantages, and I wore myself out thinking about them, weighing them, balancing what ifs with what ares and what should bes. There were physical, economic and psychological outcomes. What made the decision so hard was the fact that it was also was not just about me. There were four impressionable children -- then aged 13, 11, 7 and 5 -- to think about, whose lives would be affected irreversibly by what I was contemplating on doing.

What to do, how to do it, and when.

It was not instant. The plan was at least two years in the making, involving starts and stops and relapses and sudden bouts of cowardice and resignation. Indeed it is terrifying to go out of what has been familiar for years, no matter how miserable it made us. There is a perverse satisfaction, even pride or a sense of valor, at sticking it out in a difficult situation.

How I stuck it out. Nobody could fault me for opting out too soon.

Soon was relative, of course. I snapped when I no longer marvelled at the "me I worked so hard at being in awe of. In my mind I said enough when I no longer believed something good, even great, was in store for me. I knew I had to leave -- it was just a matter of time -- when I looked up at the sky and sighed, audibly, is this all I was born for?

July 25, 2007 came and everything fell into place. There was an apartment waiting, some stipend I had stashed away from a study grant, friends helping me out, an unusual surge of courage.

Grace. It was pure grace.


July 25, 2017. I still believe we are exactly where we are meant to be at any given time. Ten years hence, I am living in another city, juggling four jobs, and those four children are no longer children. I feel so much younger than I used to be -- operative word being "feel." I have a teddy bear on my bed again.

Oh it's not a party. Far from it. I have to deal with simultaneous crises and heartbreaks. I still make unsound decisions, and my friends, now married women, sometimes feel they have to put up with my silly dilemmas. But boy had I grown up, and grown up fast. I feel I can run the world!

The first instinct would be to regret our not-so-good experiences, if possible excise them from memory. I say this not only about my ill-fated marriage but of all the succeeding misadventures I have encountered and I am still dealing with.  But we shouldn't, really. They have made us who we are, and have shaped us into this exact person at this exact spot.

What can I say? Bring out the champagne!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Breaking bread

Pantry people

This is it, pancit!

I like cooking for my officemates.  They are an awfully appreciative bunch.  I did it again this afternoon when we cobbled ingredients for pancit bihon. 

It's good practice, cooking for many.  I don't usually get to cook for that number of people. Sometimes I miss, and the end-product is bland, but I like to think that most times my creations are a hit. 

Mostly it's noodles, and corned beef, and once an egg salad spread.  Next week I want to make them afternoon pancakes.

The Pantry Gang is more than two years old now (since we moved to Makati) but we have not been having snacks (and taking pictures of ourselves doing so) as often. It does not mean we are less cohesive. On the contrary, the ups and downs of staying in this organization have brought us closer.  

I can honestly say I have never met a more resilient, committed bunch in one setting. It's always a joy to break bread with them.

Friday, July 21, 2017

4 Inspiring Movies Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs Must Watch

published 16 September 2016

Daily routines and the stress of running a business take their toll on entrepreneurs. Like everybody else, they need the occasional escape. Movies are one.
We polled some entrepreneurs and professionals about movies that they feel speak powerfully about the entrepreneurial spirit. Here are the top answers:

1. The Pursuit of Happyness

Chris Gardner, played by Will Smith, invests his entire life savings in portable scanners, which he has difficulty selling. Through a chance meeting with an investment professional, whom he impresses, Chris gets an opportunity to become an intern stockbroker and earn a more stable living.
Meanwhile, his mounting financial troubles drive a wedge between him and his wife, prompting her to leave him and their young son. Chris has to deal with a host of misfortunes: eviction from his apartment, arrest for numerous traffic violations, and garnishment of his bank account for unpaid taxes. At one point, he has no more than $22 dollars in his pocket, and he and his son are forced to stay in a restroom.
All these do not daunt Chris who finds ways to get clients to sign up and invest through him. He goes on to prosper and establish his own brokerage firm.
“Motivation truly plays a key role in achieving your goals,” according to Julius Estoesta, a development worker.

2. Joy

Joy Mangano, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is a divorced young mother who works as an airline clerk. She has to deal with her family members and her ex-husband who are in constant conflict with each other. One day she cuts her hand while wringing the mop she was using to clean some wine spilt on the floor -- and proceeds to design a self-wringing mop, which she later produces in large quantities.
Joy has difficulty selling her mop even though it works. She is duped by her suppliers and has trouble generating revenues. She files for bankruptcy. Later, she confronts her supplier and, under threat, makes him pay her back. The movie ends with Joy as a wealthy, successful businesswoman helping others develop their ideas.
“It captures what it is like to be a new entrepreneur in this world that is already full of seasoned businessmen. It shows the struggles and challenges one has to face, ties that need to be cut, and the sacrifices,” says Sonia Astudillo, yoga instructor and raw food advocate with her own line of raw cookies which she markets online.

3. Jerry Maguire

This 1997 classic stars Tom Cruise as Jerry, a sports agent who leaves his big firm after an epiphany about dishonesty in the business. He strikes out on his own, thinking that it would be easy to get clients from his old network.
But the clients do not come, except for Rod Tidwell. With no choice but devote his attention to his lone client, Jerry develops a deeper relationship not only with Rod but with Rod’s family. He begins to really take a stake in Rod’s development as an athlete -- and as an individual.

4. The Intern

A 70-year-old widower, Ben Whittaker, played by Robert De Niro, joins an internship program for senior citizens with an e-commerce startup. He strikes up a friendship with the CEO Jules, played by Anne Hathaway, who would eventually face pressure to resign her post after the start-up she began in her kitchen grew to have more than 200 employees. Her investors believe she could no longer cope with the workload despite her passion for the company she has built.
“It exhibits how the young should learn from the old and vice versa,” says Alexis Bobis, a language teacher.
“It also shows how the entrepreneur does everything from answering customer calls to wrapping and packaging her merchandise,” says Tonette Bautista Rosal, the woman behind the cupcake shop Sophie’s Mom.
Other picks include Wall Street with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen -- “because greed is good!” says banking executive Gary Olivar, and Steve Jobs, biopic of the Apple co-founder. “It isn’t just the money,” says lawyer and food blogger Connie Veneracion. “It’s about excellence!”

5 Qualities SEA VCs look for in a start-up

published 15 September 2016

Start-up and venture capitalist, asking for money and dispensing it, Nikhil Kapur has worked on both sides of the street. In his younger days in India, he established a start-up that served as a marketplace for musicians and those who needed their services. Then he moved to Singapore to get his MBA and became a VC.
An investment manager for Gree Ventures, a VC firm that has invested roughly $120 million in 22 businesses in Japan, two in the Philippines, three in Singapore and five in India, Kapur knows the drill well. Very well.
Over the last six months, Kapur has looked at 1,080 start-ups. At a recent lunch in Manila, he talked to Inc. Southeast Asia about the factors his team considers when deciding on an investment:

1. A potentially big, but realistic, market

Kapur says that a start-up has to have a potentially huge market that it can realistically capture. The business must know: What problem is it solving and how much does that solution cost? Are people taking notice of its product? Are they reading its blog?
“What percentage of this market can you corner?” is a primary question. Then again, Kapur is also wary of answers that are too good to be true like “the global marketplace.” Aim high, but do not misrepresent yourself.

2. A winning team

“It’s really a qualitative thing. There has to be some chemistry between us and the team,” says Kapur. “We gauge it on the first meeting.”
Without the right people to set the plan in motion, the great market potential and the best business models will all go to waste. Entrepreneurs have to make sure that the people in their team is the best possible group they can have.
Kapur says they tend to invest in the businesses of acquaintances whose competence and work ethic they are familiar with. As for friends, Kapur says, “We generally stay away from them, even though we help them find the right people.”

3. A clearly defined business model

At the heart of the start-up is the plan on how to generate revenue. “Do the entrepreneurs have a clear idea of how they are going to make money?” he asks.
According to Kapur, they go by “unit-economics” -- how much money a start-up has to spend in order to acquire customers. After all, this is the ultimate goal of any business: Attract customers first and then figure out how to make money.

4. A workable equity structure

Venture capitalists earn a seat on the board of the start-ups they invest in. As such, they have a direct say in how the business is run. Investors have to look into whether they are the only ones with a stake in the company, or if there are many others with similar exposure.

5. Potential for a good exit

“There are only two ways for VCs to exit: through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) or an initial public offering (IPO),” according to Kapur. In all other cases, the start-up just fails.
As an investment manager, Kapur says he adopts a hands-on approach with their investments. After funding them to a certain stage, they also provide consulting services on how the business is run and then put the company in touch with potential investors at a latter stage as well as those who are looking for companies to acquire.
Kapur’s advice to entrepreneurs, like the younger version of himself: Don’t seek out investors too early in the game. “Ask yourself this question: Do I really need external funds at this point?” Doing so prematurely will only dilute your business. “Just take whatever you actually need for the next 12-18 months, nothing more.”

Will Unconferences Catch On In Southeast Asia?

published 13 September 2016

We’re not sure if it’s an accepted word in the English dictionary, but in science, business, technology, and other circles, the unconference -- short for unconventional conference -- is becoming increasingly popular.
It’s the anti-thesis of your usual conference, which is usually done in a hotel ballroom, with a fixed schedule of speakers and lecturers, venues and time constraints, and where the attendees go to “learn something from the experts.”
The unconference is what all these...are not. Unconferences are about conversations, not presentations, says entrepreneur and unconference facilitator Joshua Kauffman, according to Forbes.
And if a certain session does not inspire attendees enough to contribute to the conversation, they should get up and find -- even start -- a different one. This is Kauffman’s Law of Two Feet.
Unconferences are not so new. As early as 1985, events with unconference formats have been held in the U.S. In 2006, blogger Scott Berkun wrote about how to run a good unconference even as he warned that these may have their bad moments, too -- for instance, dud topics and guys who talk about themselves or their products all the time.
Here are five ways to run an “unconference” of your own:

1. Choose the right format

There are various kinds of meetings depending on the objectives of the participants. In “birds of a feather,” participants organize themselves to discuss topics without a pre-planned agenda. Here, participants rewrite or overwrite the program even as it accompanies traditional conferences.
“Hackathons” are common for tech topics and those which include project development. Usually, small teams work together in addressing specific parts of a project. In the “curated unconference,” potential topics and structures are gathered by participants prior to the event. The “world cafe” style allows participants to tackle several topics in a limited and pre-set amount of time. Other formats are the “fishbowl,” “Ignite” and “Pecha Kucha” -- all having to do with time limits so that as many participants speak up as possible.

2. Have a clear mission

People normally attend unconferences to interact with others who share their interests and to learn useful information or skills related to their business. Know exactly why your participants signed up and use this to create the environment in which the unconference is held.

3. Involve participants in the planning and structuring

The participants -- not the speakers, not the organizers -- are the main actors in the unconference. Empower the participants by letting them know they can influence the content and have a say in the structure of the meeting. If they are aware of this at all times, then they would be more invested in the success and outcome of the unconference.

4. Provide an open, relaxed atmosphere

A good atmosphere defines the success -- or failure -- of any gathering. It should be relaxed, open, friendly, and fun. No participant should be made to feel as though he or she were less worthy to be in the event, or that any idea is more important than the others.

5. Remember: the journey is as important as the destination

There is no perfect unconference. Sometimes the participants do not mix well or do not bring out the best ideas in each other. One or two may try to dominate the conversation. In these cases, it never pays to be frustrated. Focus on the process and see why things did not yield as much results -- and do better the next time.
While there is no single right way to organize an unconference, one key advice is to think in terms of “we” rather than “me.”

How Southeast Asian Founders Answer the Most Annoying Question

published 02 Sept 2016

It’s one thing to describe your business to potential investors. They will most likely already have an idea what you’re talking about. Because it’s their money you’re asking them to part with, chances are they already know as much about the business as you do.
It’s another thing to describe your start-up to friends, family and acquaintances during social events such as birthdays or cocktail hour.
Imagine, for instance, being in a family reunion, with everybody from your baby nieces and nephews to your adorable grandmother in attendance. Imagine them asking: “So what do you do?”
In your mind, the details of your business make perfect sense. You know the ins and outs of your own start-up. You can talk about what you do, what you want to achieve, what your day-to-day operations look like. You can talk a mile a minute about the problems you are facing and the trends you are anticipating.
But that’s you. Remember you have a more challenging task than your cousins who are doctors, lawyers, chefs or journalists. Your first hurdle from your favorite aunt may even be: “What is a start-up, anyway?”
In an article in Forbes Magazine, Diana Kaunder of Kauffman Foundation, an organization of start-ups based in Missouri gives a few tips on how to explain your start-up to others:

1. Keep it short

Actually, they’re just being nice. Your relatives or high school classmates really just want to know that you are doing something productive, and that you’re not bumming around or living off your parents’ retirement benefits.
“I run a business that allows people to order groceries online and have them delivered to their houses” would suffice.

2. Identify the problem you are solving

All professions exist to make the world a slightly better, or more bearable place. Doctors cure sick people. Lawyers defend the helpless. Chefs whip up dishes that fill us up and delight our senses. Talk about the inconveniences that your business is helping address.
“We provide solar power to communities without electricity,” would be acceptable.

3. Explain your solution in one sentence

Again, the person asking about your job is likely just making conversation, finding a way to connect with you. Don’t make that connection elusive. Say “Our diet programs and healthy recipes are published on our Web site. Customers can choose what they think fits them” and you will probably get a follow-up question -- maybe an order or a referral, if you’re lucky.

4. Personalize it

Make your explanation relate to the one asking about your business. If you run a restaurant review or booking site, you can get him to talk about his favorite cuisine, or an inconvenient experience he might have had -- which could have been prevented had he known about your business before hand.

5. Stay away from big words

Members of the Young Entrepreneurs Council, an invitation-only group for the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs, published a list of words you should NOT mention while talking about your business. Among the words: “disruptive,” “revolutionary,” “awesome,” among others. Remember, these are people you’ve known a long time: You don’t need to drown them in superlatives and hype.
Remember, these are people you’ve known all your life. There is no need to blow them away. They’re just genuinely curious about what you do.

How One Indonesian Entrepreneur Fought Back After Failure

These days Danny Taniwan is in the process of setting up a new private marketplace, Afforia, that he is cautiously excited about.
But it wasn’t always so. In 2014 the then 33-year-old Indonesian had to make the most painful decision any entrepreneur faces: Closing his start-up venture, Alikolo – a consumer-to-consumer market platform in the new but busy e-commerce industry in Indonesia.
Taniwan is refreshingly candid about the five lessons he learned from his unsuccessful venture. A real optimist, he sees his failure as a valuable experience that would eventually be his springboard to success.

1. Take your time

Taniwan is a software engineer by education and has had a previous business remodeling cars in his hometown of Medan. He decided to go into e-commerce because it seemed like the hottest thing in Indonesia at that time. He knew so little about the business -- “At first I thought it was just about finding sellers and selling things.”
Now, Taniwan is taking his sweet time fine tuning Afforia. “It’s still under development. I will launch slowly.”

2. Be different

As Taniwan learned the hard way, the e-commerce scene in Indonesia was so crowded that it was difficult to make one organization distinct from the rest. He realized he needed to position himself uniquely. But the one question he found he could not answer was this: “If you sell the same product also carried by Lazada or some other big player and you offer it for the same price, why should I buy from you?”
Afforia will not be as common. It will serve as a private marketplace where only the serious buyers and sellers can meet.

3. Remember: Two heads are better than one

Taniwan set up Alikolo by himself. He relied on his own readings and on the help of angel investors who were his friends. For Afforia, he teamed up with a friend running his own IT infrastructure company in Singapore. This friend takes care of the technology aspect while “I am more the product guy,” Taniwan says. The complementary relationship between the founders allows them to understand the start-up more completely.

4. Know when to stop the bleeding

Entrepreneurs may be known for defying the odds, but they also have to recognize what their limitations are -- and when they must stop. When Taniwan realized that the business was bleeding, he put up a brave front and told his investors: “Don’t waste more money, because we are not going anywhere.”

5. Be on the lookout for challenges, trends and opportunities

Taniwan has since joined an association of e-commerce entrepreneurs in Indonesia. He has learned a lot about the business from his peers. He knows that ecommerce needs to be accompanied by an improved infrastructure for logistics. He also knows that education and trust are crucial to the success of this type of commerce.

Are Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs Mindful Enough?

published 25 August 2016

Mindfulness is defined by experts as non-judgmental, present-moment awareness. It usually begins with sitting quietly and then focusing on one's breathing for a few minutes.
According to an article by Jeanne Meister in Forbes Magazine, mindfulness was one of the hottest topics in the World Economic Forum this year. She says that in the past decade, mindfulness has been used by companies to lower health costs, improve employee productivity and help employees stay on task. Many believe it can lead to innovative thinking and improved communication skills -- good for business leaders and their team members alike.
But what is it exactly about mindfulness that has the power to make good entrepreneurs great?
Surprisingly, the answer does not lie behind some mystic belief. A study by the Harvard Business Review says that the claim is backed by hard science.
The HBR research team observed participants during an eight-week mindfulness program. They also pooled data from more than 20 other studies to determine which areas of the brain are consistently affected by practicing mindfulness. Out of these, they concluded that:

Mindfulness allows entrepreneurs to self-regulate

One of the two most affected parts of the brain is the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC, deep inside the forehead, behind the brain’s frontal lobe.) Those who practice meditation are shown to resist distractions and make correct answers more often, and learn from past experience to support optimal decision making. According to scientists, the ACC may be important in coping with uncertain and fast-changing decisions.
Entrepreneurs are no strangers to change. It is the essence of start-ups to exist in a constantly shifting and uncertain environment. These conditions may be terrifying to some, but entrepreneurs know it is precisely this that makes the start-up business so exciting and full of opportunities. While they may have failed ventures and missteps, they learn their lessons and are able to apply it to present challenges.

Mindfulness helps deal with stress

The other region of the brain most affected by practicing mindfulness is the hippocampus. It is covered in receptors for the stress hormone cortisol, and studies have shown that it can be damaged by chronic stress, contributing to a harmful spiral in the body.
For entrepreneurs, everything is a potential cause of stress. There are the day-to-day issues -- customers, employees, cash flow -- in running the start-up. Strategically, they also have to think about the business’ viability, sustainability, investors and direction. They know that many will be affected by the repercussions of every decision they make.
The members of the research team in Harvard say that practicing mindfulness is not only a “nice to have” thing. It is a must-have.

Start-up Stereotypes Common in Southeast Asia

published 23 August 2016

Stereotyping and being stereotyped in return is a natural human impulse. We do it at home, in school, at the workplace. It is the way we make sense of the unfamiliar around us even as we have little or no information at all about a person's background and personality.
In the closely-knit environment of small businesses, stereotypes also apply. Yet instead of allowing these prior notions to limit opportunities or bring down morale, entrepreneurs can actually use them to draw out the best qualities of each team member, make others aware of each other's strengths, weaknesses and tendencies, and make the group more cohesive and collaborative.
Here are 4 of the most common stereotypes in startup teams – and how to use them to your advantage.

1. The driver

The driver is the leader of the organization, usually its founder. He knows how the business began and where he wants it to go. He feels the startup is his baby and is protective of it. For him, it is not a 9-5 job – and expects the same level of commitment from everyone in the team.

2. The contrarian

The contrarian has most likely known the driver a long time, even before the startup began. He knows how the driver thinks, having seen his ups and downs. Their longtime association allows him to temper the traits of the driver: when one is exuberant, he brings him back to earth. When one is too optimistic, he offers precious advice on what could possibly go wrong. When the driver is too trusting, the contrarian reminds him to be cautious. This dynamic has likely been the factor for their long-standing partnership.

3. The silent worker

The “serious one.” The silent worker usually comes to work, sits in front of the computer all day and, when it's time to go, goes. Never underestimate him or her, though. The silent worker knows exactly what he is doing and gives precious input to the other players in the team. For the most part, he does not talk, but when he does – listen up. There's bound to be a gem in what he says.

4. The jester

The jester is an extroverted character, gregarious and never runs out of jokes. But don't be fooled by the bubbly exterior: The jester is deadly serious about the business, can speak at great length about any topic pertaining to it, and has a million possibilities in mind.

Learning from the guru: Five things The Property Guru is doing right

published 11 May 2016

Necessity is the mother of invention. In the case of PropertyGuru, necessity came in the form of an eviction notice, served on co-founder Steve Melhuish over a decade ago in Singapore. The apartment unit his family was then renting was being sold, and he and his family had to move out – fast. Frustrated that even in the typically efficient city-state, information on property was still largely confined to newspapers, Melhuish began a decade-long transformation from a comic-book entrepreneur into an online-property mogul whose network now includes,,, and
Today, PropertyGuru enjoys 104 million views and 14 million customers a month, 1.3 million listed properties and real-estate transactions valued at between US$8.8 billion to US$10.37 billion a year, equivalent to about 10 percent of all property transactions in the regions.
And it’s growing, too. In 2015, PropertyGuru received fresh capital infusions from investors amounting to S$175 million, and it has invested in a regional media organization, Property Report, that promises to expand its reach through various media platforms.
Here are the five lessons Melhuish learned along the way:

1. Take a leap of faith into the unknown

A decade ago, Melhuish knew nothing about the property market in Singapore. He had relocated his family there just 18 months before. And while he was into start-ups, he was working with comic books – hardly a preparation for the real-estate industry.
All this did not deter him from establishing PropertyGuru. Being a property-seeker himself, Melhuish knew exactly the needs of potential customers and the gaps his site should fill.
In 2011, after two profitable years, PropertyGuru felt it was time to go into the rest of Southeast Asia, first to Malaysia (Fullhouse), then Thailand (DD Property) and Indonesia (Rumah). At that time, the start-up had 70 staff members, all stretched with the Singapore operations. Looking back, Melhuish said it might have been a mistake to tackle multiple markets suddenly. But the team learned, coped, and has sustained its operations in these four markets through subsequent partnerships with other organizations.

2. Find out what you don’t do well and bring in partners

Melhuish knew what he was good at: Front-end sales, marketing, business development, and financing. At the outset, he acknowledged that his co-founder, Jani Rautiainen, knew more about the platform and product of PropertyGuru. Rautiainen, however, was shuttling between India and Singapore during the week. The two found a way to work together despite this constraint.
Almost a decade later, in 2015, PropertyGuru bought into Ensign Media, which is based in Singapore but operating in Thailand. Ensign has Property Report, a luxury-property magazine with 70,000 readers, and publishes 100 online and offline feature stories a month. Ensign also hands out the prestigious Asia Property Awards.
PropertyGuru and Ensign will merge into a single corporate group under the $129-million deal, with the former to absorb all Ensign’s existing staff. The deal creates a partnership that supports regional branding across multiple platforms.
To ensure the new venture is shepherded in the right direction, Ensign CEO and founder Terry Blackburn stays, lending his expertise to the consolidated media entity.

3. Stay paranoid

A dose of paranoia has allowed PropertyGuru to keep its competitors in check. For example, even before the site was launched, three other competitors – ST701, Mocca and iProperty – also launched. Melhuish and Rautiainen monitored these sites even as they were working on their own.
A decade later, the competition is stiffer. The playing field itself has expanded into the region. Competitors are huge, including NewsCorp and Numerous other rivals have emerged and disappeared in the past ten years. Keen awareness of competitors’ movements “keeps us on our toes,” Melhuish said.

4. Be flexible

To raise cash, PropertyGuru had earlier announced its plans for an initial public offering in 2016. In 2015, however, some S$175 million in fresh investments came from three groups: TPG, Emtek, and Square Peg Capital. TPG has similar investments in giants Airbnb and Uber. Emtek has interests in media, content, and technology, and is run by brothers Eddy and Fofo Sariaatmadja of Indonesia, advocates of “consumer-centric innovation.” Square Peg is a venture-capital firm with investments in Israel, Australia, the U.S., and Germany.
With plenty of cash, PropertyGuru has deferred its listing plans.

5. Be open to emerging trends

Recent years have given rise to new economic, media and tech trends and PropertyGuru is poised to ride them all.
The Asean Economic Community, for instance, has the potential to be the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030. There will be increased cross-border movements of labor and capital, foreign investments, and thus, a greater-than-ever cross-border demand for property. PropertyGuru is seeking to bolster its brand across Southeast Asia, not just as an information broker but as a thought-influencer. Having a media arm helps it do that.
Finally, mobile technology has emerged, and more customers are actually accessing property information from mobile devices than from desktops. This is not lost on PropertyGuru, which has developed 15 applications, in three languages, for the four countries in which it operates. In fact, as traffic for PropertyGuru surged 28 percent in the past year, visits from mobile devices contributed to 52 percent of the total traffic.

Surfing Cambodia's property boom

published 22 April 2016

If Southeast Asia’s internet economy were a tree, property sites would be the lowest-hanging fruit. Going online to find a flat or house, instead of laboriously poring through the weekend classified sections of a newspaper, is standard practice in cities like Singapore, where today’s leading portal Property Guru was founded in 2007. In Phnom Penh, however, what software developer Matt Howlett discovered on a 2014 business trip was that even the lowest-hanging fruit can still take a while to fall.
Looking for an apartment to buy and frustrated over roaming the streets of the Cambodian capital looking for sale signs, Howlett ended up launching, a property-listing website. “Pteah” is the Khmer word for “home.”
In Cambodia, Howlett didn’t even have a proper classified section to plunder for listings. Howlett had to gather a small team to go out, look for sale and lease signs, and call the numbers indicated to obtain more information about the properties. is now abandoned and Howlett is into other pursuits, but a vibrant property industry in Cambodia has fueled the growth of similar local and global property sites such as,, and global consultants and Appealing to the country’s 14 million local and expatriate internet users, prospective tenants or buyers only have to specify the type of property, price range, and number of beds or rooms needed, or look at the advertised sites as though flipping through a catalog. The sites also offer an assessment of property and help in securing loans and mortgages.
Surfing the Internet was how development worker Aimeelyn Velicaria-Gabriel found a home for herself, her husband, and their two sons in the Cambodian capital when she was first assigned there in 2013 by the NGO she worked for. She went online, found a listing site, and obtained the contact details of an agent with whose help she found the place where she and her family continue to reside.
The recent boom in Cambodian property originated in economic misfortune. Like many other countries, Cambodia was hit hard by the global economic slump of 2008. The recession caused land prices to plummet as much as 40 percent, according to the travelers’ blog
In response, the government passed a law in 2010 that allowed expatriates to own apartments and condominiums, even as they still were not allowed to own land (and properties on the ground floor) because this was prohibited by the country's constitution. Work-arounds for the prohibition include long-term, renewable leases and ownership of property through local companies as long as the majority of the company's shares is owned by Cambodian citizens. The result was a threefold increase in the volume of property transactions, driving the property market up and up.
In recent years, the luxury segment of real estate has soared. estimates that the ownership share of foreigners in the high-end sector is as high as 70 percent, with mostly Chinese and South Korean investors, in addition to a growing group of Europeans and North Americans. Travel blogger Andrew Henderson, who styles himself The Nomad Capitalist, also says the boom in Cambodia, which is now spawning high-end restaurants, villa-style boutiques and clone coffee shops “hinges on Chinese buyers.”
Property consultant Knight Frank Asia-Pacific research head Nicholas Holt says easing construction costs and rising residential prices and office prices have caused the Cambodia property market to exceed the performance of real-estate markets in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta, and Guangzhou, China.
“Sometimes I think it’s insane,” said Gabriel.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Jargon Alert! 5 words Asian entrepreneurs should use more carefully

published 18 August 2016
Every industry has its special language. There is a shared vocabulary amongst doctors, lawyers, journalists, stock market traders—even horseracing aficionados – that help colleagues communicate with each other quickly and efficiently. The problem is a shared language between insiders can also be thoroughly baffling to outsiders.
Start-ups are a case in point. Here are five of the most commonly used terms in the start-up world, contrasted with what they are usually perceived to mean.

1. Incubator

What it usually means: An incubator is usually an apparatus where prematurely born infants are kept in controlled conditions for protection and care.
What it means for start-ups: Incubators are institutions that provide a centralized program for startups. The objective is to draw in talent, draw numerous talented individuals to a single location, and to educate/mentor these first-time entrepreneurs to help them find their way into the market.

2. Deck

What it usually means: A deck is a platform-like structure, typically made of lumber, unroofed and attached to a house or building. Or a pack of cards.
What it means for start-ups: A deck, or a pitch deck, is a presentation (usually no more than 10 PowerPoint slides) covering all the aspects of a business. When you describe your venture to potential investors, the deck should be compact and concise while aiming for maximum impact.

3. Ecosystem

What it usually means: An ecosystem is a group of interconnected elements, formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment. It is usually viewed in the context of nature or science.
What it means for start-ups: An ecosystem is the entire environment of start-ups and all related players, a network of interconnecting and interacting parts. Entrepreneurs, their friends and families who help them, schools and institutions, incubators, investors and mentors—all these comprise an ecosystem in the start-up context.

4. SaaS

What it usually means: Just another acronym.
What it means for start-ups: Some start-ups provide Software as a Service, which is in contrast to providing software as a product that can be bought and installed into a system. With SaaS, customers gain access to a software and its functions remotely as a Web-based service, and pay for it as a monthly subscription instead of as a big capital outlay.

5. Angels

What it usually means: Creatures from heaven who guide mortals in their daily activities.
What it means for start-ups: Angel investors are similar to venture capitalists in that they fund start-up ventures. They usually provide smaller capital that are most likely their own, whereas VCs provide an average minimum amount that is a managed fund. Angels may come in the form of friends and family, as well as anonymous individuals or angel investor networks. Do-gooders, indeed.

Southeast Asia' Growing Online Bridal Fair

published 15 August 2016
Getting married involves more than just saying “I do.” Unfortunately, there’s catering, flowers, invitations, photography, videography, shoes, cakes, a honeymoon and a wedding singer to worry about too. Bridestory, a startup that likes to call itself an online bridal fair and has offices across Southeast Asia, in fact lists 28 wedding categories.
Here’s how it works. Bridal vendors such as caterers and florists pay a subscription fee (variable according to their service) to Bridestory. On the other side are couples, often brides-to-be who want the perfect wedding. They are likely a ball of emotions -- excited, yet fretting about the details of their big day. Much like a fair, Bridestory provides the platform for vendors and clients to meet. It’s efficient and hassle-free, and they get a fair grasp of the choices they actually have.
Xandra Santamaria, one of the business managers for the Philippine office, says that across different cultures, weddings are always something special. “We at Bridestory are happy to make the planning process easier for couples.”
To date, the Bridestory sites have had 1.2 million visits by engaged couples, 160,000 business inquiries, and 1 million wedding inspirations. The Philippine office, which started operations in October 2015, now lists 1,000 wedding suppliers under all categories. Photographers and videographers make up most of these suppliers.
Here are five reasons Bridestory deserves more than a cursory look from vendors and engaged couples alike:

1. Do everything online

If you’re a bride planning your dream wedding, you only need to go to the Bridestory web site and it will land you straight to the page where vendors offer services right where you are. Choose a category, browse, and connect to the vendors without leaving the original site.

2. Online means visual

All the vendors in Bridestory use photos that showcase what they offer. A potential client may get a name, a number, an email address or a social media handle. More than that, the pictures offer a glimpse of the vendor’s portfolio. The client is thus able to set her imagination in motion.

3. It fits weddings of all sizes

Bridestory is a site for those who know exactly what they want in their wedding -- and also for those who just have a vague idea and are still open to suggestions. The mobile app allows potential clients to design their wedding based on themes and moods of their liking.

4. It is a learning tool for vendors

Vendors get more out of subscribing to Bridestory than just the opportunity to showcase their brand on the site. They get statistics and contacts: How many visits, inquiries, profile views, and reviews did they get during a certain period, and from whom? These numbers are important for entrepreneurs who want to track their business and design strategies for their growth and expansion.

5. It springs from a deeply personal yet universal experience

The founder of Bridestory, Kevin Mintaraga, had established other digital start-ups in the past. He was a computer science student in Australia and an avid gamer who had to stop schooling and return to Indonesia when his father fell ill. When his own wedding experience came around, he realized how chaotic the wedding industry could be -- and how great its potential was.

4 Reasons Southeast Asian Startups Attract Introverts

published 11 August 2016

In her bestselling book, “Quiet: The Hidden Power of Introverts,” Susan Cain talks about the extrovert ideal and how the world seems to be attracted to outgoing charmers with a commanding presence. Extroverts are never at a loss for words and have no difficulty walking into a room and engaging strangers in conversation.
Meanwhile, their more introverted counterparts are often told: “Get out of your shell!”, “Say something!” and “Why are you so shy?”
Shyness, however, is not the same as introversion. While there are some introverts who are shy, many simply like to deliberate over their words and actions. They are fine interacting with others, but always need to recharge—only through solitude—after a considerable time. They can do small talk if they have to, but relish long, deep, meaningful conversations. They dislike—even shun—the spotlight, preferring to be low-key and letting their work speak for them.
 Cain says that introverts have the power to make an even bigger difference in the world because of their reserved, contemplative, deliberate nature. These same traits make for good startup stories.

1. Introverts are steadfast, persevering, hardworking

Ashay Padwal, co-founder and chief technology officer of Vserv, narrates that she conducted two or three meetings each with more than 30 venture capitalists before they finally got to start their company. Vserv is a platform for mobile marketing and commerce.

2. Introverts follow their instincts

Izak Jenie, co-founder at Jatis Group of Indonesia, highlights the importance of trusting one’s instincts when choosing partners. Before entering into agreements, know if there is potential for trouble because once you get in, it is difficult to get out.

3. They listen to understand others

 Linna Kanoknitanan, chief operating officer of Builk, a construction startup, says that understanding others does not just apply to customers but to the team as well. “Understanding people around me is the key to success.”

4. They are humble

According to Firdhaus Akber of Streetdirectory—a startup engaged in online marketing and advertising—entrepreneurs need to understand that they may not be successful on the first try. “One needs to learn to pick oneself up and try again after they fail.” 
Joseph Edi Lumban Gaol, founder of M-Stars Group, a mobile content provider, narrates how he used to borrow money from family and friends when he was just starting his business. “I had to pledge my credibility to them and spend sleepless nights ensuring I did not default on those loans.”
Introverts have been enjoying a great run in Southeast Asia’s start-up world. Now we know why.

A playlist to make you work better

published 10 Aug 2016

Businessmen, managers, professionals and even students listen to music while they work for various reasons: Their surroundings may be too noisy, or too quiet. Perhaps they want to focus on a challenging task. Draw inspiration for creative ideas. Keep themselves awake. Sustain interest in whatever it is they are doing.

But beware: Scientists say while music can enhance performance and productivity, it can also have the opposite effect: Impair them. Here’s how to make music work for you:

First of all, determine what kind of task is supposed to be completed. Is it repetitive? Does it require processing of words or numbers, analyzing information? Is it creative? What kind of attention is demanded from your mind?

And then look at the music you want to listen to. Are these popular tunes with lyrics that occasion feelings and memories? Are these noisy enough to keep you awake and pumped up? Are they languid ones to sooth your nerves? Will listening compete with the task you have to do, in some way?

We may know this from experience, but experts say that for repetitive tasks that require focus but not much cognitive processing, upbeat music can boost energy and attentiveness.

Food entrepreneur Malou Delgado, for instance, likes singing along to pop tunes and love songs while working in her stall. Rose Salagan, who works from home and needs the extra dose of adrenaline, listens to alternative rock. Mel Panabi goes for techno or house when rushing to meet a tight deadline for his creative design outfit. Rex Sardinia lets his favorite reggae tunes see him through his layout work.

For writing reports, drafting plans, analyzing financials, classical music seems to be the preference of many. Lawyer BG Causing says the music must NOT be something to which she can sing along. High school teacher Tim Francisco listens to Gregorian chants.

Of course, other people have other preferences. Retail executive Cristina Angan listens to rhythm and blues while preparing her reports. Development worker Randee Cabaces prefers blues for serious writing, and scientist Juanito Del Socorro likes revival tunes when filing his technical documents. Joyce Panares prefers rock OPM – Original Pilipino Music – when she has to turn in brief but numerous reports within a short amount of time.

Meanwhile, monotonous, Zen-like background music may promote better performance on creative tasks. Writer Jenny Ortuoste prefers ambient music while finishing her newspaper column; another writer, Nickie Wang, likes new age tunes.

Experts also warn against listening to popular tunes with lyrics when dealing with problem solving, analytical, complex or highly cognitive tasks. Food blogger Connie Veneracion says she resorts to singing and dancing along instead concentrating on her writing. Another writer, Erika Alcasid, says she does not like anything with words when dealing with words, herself.

Still, there are some who say nothing beats silence when it comes to staying focused on what they have to do. makes the job easier for its subscribers by providing ready-made playlists to suit moods and genres. These playlists contain dozens of pre-chosen songs that fall under any of the categories. Under mood, one can go “sappy or senti,” or “get psyched.” There is music for malling, to celebrate being young and free, and generate positive vibes. There are songs to sing in the shower, boost confidence, occasion good times, feel good, move on, chill out or calm down. For best results, there are playlists called deep focus, Zen focus, peace – anything, really, just take your pick.

Working hard does not have to be such a drag. Music, when thought out and planned for best results, has the potential to make everything better.

Spoken word

Getting into the story. I don't know if the link to the video below works.

“Performer” is not a word I would pick out to describe myself.  I would much rather stay in the background and let myself heard some other way. I did not think my voice would be particularly engaging.

And yet I willingly took on the task when I agreed, last May, to read out portions of a short story during the launch of my friend’s book of short stories.

Perhaps it is because I have a lot of things in common with this friend: Childhood experiences, romantic misadventures, lofty goals and a way of seeing the world. I am privy to how many of her real-life experiences morphed into stories, how some of the real people in her life, and the actual words they uttered, became characters in them.  It is her voice, all right, her heart, even though it was fiction.

She let me choose which story to pick an excerpt from and I chose a story I knew in particular to be based on a real conversation on their relationship, a true dilemma she has fortunately since resolved.

I practiced well.  Thank God for handy recording devices.  When the time came, I took a seat at a table in front,  opened the file and took the mic. Fortunately it was an intimate gathering. I tried to forget the terror that came with this first-time performance and concentrated on giving life, as best I could, to the words I already knew so well. I tried to vary my voice for the man, the woman, and the narrator.

As soon as I started reading, the audience disappeared. I became engrossed in telling the story, conveying the desperation and regret and the love behind the simple words. The last word was met with applause -- whether the audience was appreciative or plain polite I can never tell.

In the end I realized it was never about me. It was about the words I gave life to, the story I tried to do justice to.

I’ve been writing for decades, but the utterance of words made me accord them a new reverence. Now when I come across things on the Internet, or in books, I read them aloud and discover how rich they are -- certainly more than letters strung together.