Building a Start Up? Go Against The Herd

HK_Landed

We zig when they zag.

Last October, Victoria T. Vizcarra of Entrepreneur Magazine, invited me for a little chit chat to share some business insights about BeamAndGo and how we, as a startup, are attempting to “break the mold” in our industry.

Below is a rundown of what had transpired:

Victoria T. Vizcarra (VV): How well is BeamAndGo doing? Has the business reached any new milestones or made any significant changes recently?

Jonathan E. Chua (JEC): We have reached our 1 year mark since we raised our first round of funding. And it has been a wild year …

1. We signed up almost 20 new merchants, with more being added soon;
2. In addition to supermarkets, our merchant network now includes pharmacies, health care, hospitalization cards, OFW protection insurance, eye care, household essentials, affordable electronics, and bill payments;
3. We partnered with offline and online sales channels in Asia, Middle East, Europe and Canada;
4. We participated in OFW outreach events in the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo;
5. We conducted a financial literacy seminar and workshop for OFW families;
6. We started an employee benefits program for companies in the Philippines; and,
7. Our revenues have gone up.

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The BeamAndGo Team at the TGFI Global Summit in Singapore

VV: Has there ever been a time when you trusted your gut to make a big business decision instead of confirming to the norm by which things were normally done? Could you tell us more about this? How did this risk pan out?

JEC: Being a new company in a mature industry, we make a conscious effort to do things out of the norm (we zig, when others zag). However, we are not blindly contrarian: our decisions are based on our core values and made with careful analysis with a view on the long term.

When we first started out, other companies who targeted OFW remittances focused on gifting. Their products included gifts and their advertising leaned heavily on Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s day, and birthdays.

For us, we curated our merchant network with a focu on the essentials – groceries, supplies, health, insurance, bills. No teddy bears. No bouquet of flowers. Our marketing and outreach concentrated on essential everyday giving and we advocated responsible spending and financial prudence.

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We always aim to be a trusted partner in our customers’ lives.

Furthermore, our efforts were not limited to eCommerce and our web store. We held financial literacy seminars for OFWs AND their families. While other companies targeted just OFWs, we included OFW families in our outreach; we believe that uplifting the financial welfare of a family is not the sole responsibility of the provider but requires the involvement from the whole family.

Right now it’s too early to see if our approach works; however, this past year, we have gained the support of many merchants, sales channels, LGUs, and NGOs. And more importantly, our customers have made us a trusted partner in their lives.

VV: Follow-up question-If you go against convention, the chances of rejection are much higher. So what made you decide to take that risk?

JEC: “going against convention” was a result of our company beliefs, not solely a decision made from a commercial perspective. So we didn’t perceive it as a risk but as something we needed to do to stay true to the values of the company.

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Staying true to the values of the company translates to how we build relationships with consumers.

VV: Are there any unspoken social niceties that happens when founders are hustling for their business? Have you ever had to be not-so-polite when dealing with others, for the good of the company? Could you give us an anecdote?

JEC: I have noticed that having the title of “CEO” helps to get things moving faster. As for social niceties, we have been treated well by everyone we have met.

Be not-so-polite? Never. We are always polite and respectful.

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Politeness goes a long way.

VV: Have you ever dealt with a lack of support from other people? Could you tell us a story about it? What did you do when faced with skepticism from friends/family, mentors, or even potential clients, when you pitched your business?

JEC: when starting a new company, you need an unwavering and irrational belief in what you are doing. The obstacles and roadblocks are many. The whole process will test your creativity and problem solving skills; but mostly, it will test your will. A highly rational person will give up.

As for skepticism, unless the criticism is constructive, I let it slide. If it’s constructive, I love it and learn from it.

Here’s a story …

When we first started, I informed my family members and close friends. They were all polite enough to say they liked the idea, but when it was time to invest, none of them did. Over the past year, I sent out an email to them every Saturday called “#BeamAndGoStaturday”: the content was lighthearted and contained snippets of what we were doing. 50 weeks later, some the same family members and friends invested in our current funding raising round. Skepticism can turn around with time and positive results.

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Skepticism turned into support for our advocacy to bring something new and meaningful to people’s lives.

VV: Are things like name-dropping, or aggressively pursuing investors, or slightly exaggerating a business’ size/scale things that actually happen within local startup circles? In what ways do you think these can help or hurt one’s business?

JEC: Yes, yes, yes. Every business in the world does this. Doesn’t matter if the company is a startup or a Fortune 500 company.

This might sound Machiavellian, but the business world is tough stuff and as a business owner you have to be ruthless in all facets of your company if the company is to survive and thrive.

Since we started, we have witnessed some borderline un-ethical stuff and the general consensus in our company was “hey, that’s unfair!” But that’s life. How we combat it is to be smarter, work harder, and remember. (I have a good memory)

VV: What advice would you give a fledgling startup founder about treading the line between following the rules and taking bold risks for their startup?

JEC: I am still a fledgling company CEO!

Ok, this is my advice: as a startup, you are inherently at a disadvantage against the incumbent big company: you don’t have a lot of money, you don’t know the market, and you don’t have a large experienced staff. So “the rules” are THEIR RULES and these rules are slanted in their favor. If you think you can beat them at their own rules, by all means go for it. I prefer to zig, when they zag.

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If you wanna read the full published story, grab the November 2015 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine and check out the feature story entitled “The Rule Breakers”, written by Joe Robinson and Victoria Vizcarra.

 

Experiencing Filipino Warmth in Cold Canada

I was in chilly Toronto last October when I had the absolute pleasure of interacting with our counterparts at I-Remit Canada, namely: Belinda Lim-Herrera, Canada Country Manager and Simeon Sarte, Toronto Branch Head. Almost immediately, I was blown away (not by the cold weather) by the hospitality and warmth of the I-Remit team. I was treated to a scrumptious Italian feast at Frankie Tomatto’s in Markham, where we had a ridiculously filling spread consisting of salads, pasta, pizza, meatballs, and of course, dessert.

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It was also over lunch when I learned about I-Remit’s beginnings in Canada as International Remittance (former name), rumors of a Jollibee branch opening in Toronto and stories about Filipino-Canadians—from the lola selling Filipino delicacies to support her sister’s grandchildren and remitting the proceeds back to the Philippines at the end of the day at I-Remit to engineers in Alberta who work and live in the plant and shuttled off to town on Sundays to do their errands.

There are over IMG_5287720,000 Filipinos (Commission on Overseas Filipinos) in the country today. When I asked Simon where most of our “kababayans” reside in Toronto, he said, “While the Chinese are in Markham or Richmond Hill, the Jewish are in Bathurst, Filipinos are everywhere.” It’s certainly astonishing how Filipinos can easily adapt to any environment and build a life anywhere. True enough, everywhere I went, I would meet Filipinos who would give service with a big smile.

I also visited the I-Remit branch at 3776 Bathurst St. corner Wilson St., Toronto, where Filipino bakeries, restaurants and groceries have begun to sprout since I-Remit opened its doors in the early 2000’s. Indeed it has become a mini gathering point for Filipinos, but still not quite as huge as Lucky Plaza in Singapore and World Wide Plaza in Hong Kong.

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It was so gratifying to hear from the team and customers how BeamAndGo has helped OFWs apportion a specific budget from their remittances to their families’ monthly grocery spending. The company was built precisely for the purpose of helping Filipinos abroad by providing an alternative means for them to provide the basic needs for their families in the Philippines. It warms my heart to hear that the service we built is being used by the people it was intended for.

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With the humble beginnings of our partner I-Remit and their story on how they grew the business, we are confident that more Filipinos in Canada will entrust their “alternative remittances” to BeamAndGo.

For more information about BeamAndGo and its services, Filipinos in Canada may visit our website at http://www.BeamAndGo.com or drop by at any of I-Remit’s Canada branches listed at http://www.myiremit.com/canada.php