2016 AGSB Commencement Speech by Mr. Nico Jose S. Nolledo
November 11, 2016
Congratulations Graduate Class of Ateneo 2016!
I stand before you deeply honored to be your commencement speaker. Eighteen years ago, I graduated from the Ateneo. An excited university student ready to face the world. Unfortunately, the word that welcomed me at that time was in financial turmoil. The Asian financial crisis had just reared its ugly head and thousands of corporations in the Philippines had closed down. I have a difficult time finding a job.
In search for some work, I walked the entire stretch of Ayala Avenue, going from building to building, office to office, dropping off my resume in every office lobby and HR department that would take it. Most major corporations were in freeze hire, unfortunately, and I have to endure multiple rejections from several HR departments. After a long search, I finally landed a post as a management trainee at the SM North branch of KFC. At KFC, I would spend a total of fourteen hours each work day going to North EDSA from my house in Paranaque, worked one to two shifts then head back. It wasn’t an easy life and certainly wasn’t the career start I had envisioned but for me it was a stepping stone for my entrepreneurial career.
In KFC, I learned many facets how to run a corporation. I learned marketing each time I need to think of ways getting customers to enter my store. I learned finance by making sure that the money we collected had reflected the actual chicken sales we have made during the day. I learned customer service first hand by making sure our customers enjoyed their dining experience. I learned human resources by hiring and nurturing the crew who worked tirelessly. I attribute a lot of my management acumen today to my experience working in a fast-food chain.
I was extremely humbled by the crew who worked with me at my store and I saw how it was difficult for them to make ends meet but they work hard diligently and most importantly, they had such an infectiously happy demeanor each and every day. In private conversation with me, they shared how difficult their lives were, how they struggle to make ends meet yet they find a reason to always smile.
Every time I encounter difficult trials in my life, I remember my crew at KFC. How they smile through every moment even the not so happy ones.
Recognizing the power of the Internet, I soon started my first technology business, PinoyExchange. With an investment of P10, 000.00, my partners and I took an off-the-shelf software solution and turned it into the largest Filipino online community at that time. I still remember the feeling of pride I had when I saw someone that I didn’t know surfing the website I had created across me at an Internet café. If camera phones only existed at that time, I would have taken a picture.
When PinoyExchange hit 20,000 unique visitors for the first time, I was instantly hooked. In my mind, I could see an Araneta Center full of people using a product I had created. I remembered sleeping on my desk for 1-2 hours, get up, check my website’s audience traffic then doze off again. It was then that I realized that the new communities would not be built in physical land; it would be built on the Internet where everyone in the world would come to visit something you have created if it was interesting enough.
PinoyExchange was soon purchased by iAyala, then the Ayala Group’s internet arm, and I became part of a much larger organization. In Ayala, I learned that there were six million cell phone users and only two million PC users. Given that the cost per unit of a cell phone was cheaper than a laptop, I concluded that the future of the internet was going to be the mobile phone.
With P62, 500.00 in investment money, my partners and I decided to start our mobile content company Xurpas. Leaving the safe confines of the Ayala Group to become entrepreneurs seemed like a crazy move for most of our peers, but honestly at that time, despite the odds, we felt we could not fail.
Our largest competitor at the time raised several hundred million of Pesos in capital and admittedly, my partners and I were intimidated, having only less than a hundred thousand pesos to deploy. But what we lacked in financial resources, we made up with grit and tenacity. We stuck to the basics, kept our expenses low and we focused on growing our revenues. We built an innovation process to keep on testing and launching products with a limited amount of committed capital. In a small company you learn to do everything. In order to save capital, we refrained from hiring and taking additional overhead as much as possible.
I was writing content whilst selling our products to our brand and telecom partners. My partner Raymond was designing mobile images, managing our website and also writing content. Andy, my third partner, our head of technology was managing our platform while also doing our accounting and finances. We had our hands full doing multiple tasks.
Since we were not paying ourselves salaries, we made sure to manage our personal expenses very well. To save money, we brought canned goods from home so we didn’t have to spend on lunch meals during work days. We also brought our computers and a printer from home so that we didn’t need to purchase office equipment. We saved every possible penny we could to make ends meet.
Looking back, I can honestly say that even during those most trying moments, my partners and I never once regretted our decision to leave the comforts of working in a big corporation. The conversations we had, huddled around a small corner table in the office while eating canned tuna for lunch, are priceless moments I remember with great fondness.
In 2014, Xurpas became the first mobile consumer technology company to list in the Philippine stock exchange. By ringing the stock exchange’s bell, my partners and I not only achieved our dreams, we opened the door for the next generation of dreamers.
Fifteen years ago, we started our business with less capital, experience, and resources than any of our competitors. Today we are larger than all of them put together.
Today, the world looks very different from the time when I graduated the University. We have the fourth fastest growing economy in the world, a stock exchange that has been performing strongly versus its peers and many large corporations recording record profits. The Internet spaces exploded as well. Today, we have 55 million online users. That is 55 times more than the number of Filipinos online when I started PinoyExchange back in 1999. We also have 50 million mobile smart phone consumers. That means that 50 million people with computers in their pockets would access everything known to man, the Internet. That number will be close to 60 million by year end.
With that much reach locally, a number of start-ups have emerged. Armed with ventured capital, funding technology-savvy teams and founders who have an indomitable belief that like David they took and slay Goliath who are today’s business incumbents.
Companies like Rappler have taken on other traditional media outlets with much success. Reaching tens of millions of unique online users now and several million more on social media. This purely online new startup has now expanded into Indonesia where it now generates millions of pages of online traffic and is the largest source of its traffic growth.
Startups like Pawn Hero has turned every mobile phone into a pawn shop at half the interest rates versus the traditional pawnshops and product appraisals that are much higher. It’s about to make its pawning services available to nearly a thousand physical stores via partnerships with retail outlets. So imagine, Pawn Hero has 50 million mobile stores called smart phones, a thousand physical stores with no rent, no store capex, offering loans that half of the interest rate and soon an international presence. How will incumbents compete?
We now live in a world where a mobile messenger, WhatsApp, sends over 50 billion messages every 24 hours. That’s more than double the number of text messages delivered by all the telecom companies in the world combined. The telecom company of yesterday has now turned into an app in your phone. WeChat has even taken it a step further, turning their messenger into a platform for shopping, banking, transportation management, appliance control, and so much more in China.
In this age of the Internet, we have an e-Commerce company Alibaba that sold over 14 billion dollars’ worth of merchandise in one day, in November 11, 2015. In Jack Ma’s speech at the APEC Summit here in Manila, he said that they had to slow down the sales of their site because China’s logistics system would break with a sheer volume of orders they have to process. That’s 600 million transactions processed by one company in one day.
Today, this global technology power houses are defining the way we live in a way that no traditional company has ever done before. Already the five most valuable companies in the world are tech companies with a combined net worth of two trillion dollars. That’s Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook. In ten years’ time, I believe that 90% of fortune five hundred companies will be a technology company ushering in an age of disruption that would be unprecedented scope and scale.
Dear graduates, you stand here today with an opportunity to build the next growth economy for our country. Ateneo has armed you with the skills to take on this massive challenge. You simply have to believe in yourself that you have what it takes to lead our country forward. What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Find in your heart the answer to this question and pursue the answer with all your heart.
Do not be afraid to fail. Failure simply means that you have the courage to try. When things don’t go the way you wanted to, know that you have tomorrow to try it again and again and again. Life is ultimately about its attempt. When you have doubts that you have what it takes to be all that you can be, remember my story. If a former KFC store trainee who doesn’t know to program a single line of code, who only have $500 in his pocket, can build the largest internet company in the Philippines then surely everyone can, especially you.
Congratulations once again Ateneo Graduate Class of 2016! Build a global business. Make us all proud.