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How one startup raised money on a beach and how you can, too

As far as business conferences go, Geeks on a Beach has to have one of the cooler premises: If the Philippines has 7,107 islands, why not invite members of the local and international tech scene to a different one of its beaches every year?

The ZipMatch team

The ZipMatch team – John Dang (light purple) and Chow Paredes (brown and black top)

ZipMatch co-founder Chow Paredes is a veteran of the inaugural 2013 Geeks on a Beach in Boracay and returns to this year’s Geeks on a Beach in Cebu, which takes place on August 21 and 22, with much more resolve, if not optimism.

Chow Parades met a key investor – Khailee Ng of 500 startups – through the first Geeks on a Beach. Together with Zipmatch co-founder and CEO John Dang, they’re still looking for more at this year’s conference, eager as they are to build on ZipMatch’s most recent success.

ZipMatch recently closed a second seed round for a total of US$550,000. According to Dang, this figure includes reinvestments from 500 Startups, which was led by Khailee Ng, and IMJ Investment Partners, which was led by Koichi Saito and Deron Quon. The new investors in Zipmatch include NetPrice CEO Teruhide Sato and Alps Venture co-founder Dirk Van Quaquebeke. To date, they’ve raised a total US$1 million.

See: Geeks on a Beach 2013: Startups, get ready for a whale of a time in Boracay

Fundraising in the Philippine sunshine

In anticipation of Geeks on a Beach, Tech in Asia spoke to Dang about how entrepreneurs can better approach the fundraising process. Here is his advice:

Don’t just seek an investment, seek investors

In a startup system as young as the one in Metro Manila, the amount of money a startup raises is often held up like a badge of pride, Dang says. While he does not discount the importance of raising money, Dang argues that entrepreneurs should give as much attention to the investor as to the investment.

Investors offer different strengths and intangibles, some of which are more useful to your particular startup and some of which are less so. As an example, Dang gave a brief overview of some of his investors, each of whom provides ZipMatch with different kinds of help.

“Khailee Ng from 500 Startups is a great problem solver,” Dang says. “Koichi from IMJ Investment Group is great at helping us with introductions to new potential investors. Earl Valencia from IdeaSpace is awesome at helping us gain PR. Nix Nolledo and Manny Ayala knows every player in the Philippines and helps us open doors – each investor offers something different.”

Don’t get caught up in vanity metrics – focus on the big problem you’re solving

Investors, of course, want a startup team that will stop at nothing to be the number one company in their given space. According to Dang, this principle can mean different things to different firms in the world of real estate.

For some other company, being number one might mean getting the most website traffic. For another company, being number one might mean having the most real estate listings posted on their site. To Dang, however, these are nothing more than vanity metrics – they give no real indication of how well these companies are helping Filipinos.

According to Dang, his metric for the success of ZipMatch is simple: “Our goal is to be able to say we helped thousands of people buy their first home. We want to say we’re number one because we helped more people buy homes than anyone else.” All of Dang’s conversations – with investors and other stakeholders – will focus on ZipMatch’s approach to getting this done.

Show that your ambitions are global

Many startups launch in the Philippines because their products or services target Filipinos in particular or emerging markets in general. While some have global ambitions, entrepreneurs often demure from voicing them, thinking that doing so would be looking too far down the road.

Dang argues for the opposite approach – if the Philippines is just your beachhead, say so from the beginning. Having a global orientation will make your company more attractive to investors, Dang says, particularly if they are not based in the Philippines.

He’s had this approach from day one. “For us, we’re trying to solve a human problem, not just a Philippines’ problem and we think this market is our place to pilot our solution,” Dang says. “We believe if we can help more people own homes in the Philippines, we can help tackle this problem in other countries as well.”

Be able to discuss your market intelligently

Some entrepreneurs may focus so much on their own startup that they neglect to properly communicate the industry landscape. Dang cautions against this tendency. Entrepreneurs should be able to intelligently discuss competitors as well as the market forces that stand in their way, in addition to how the team intends to surmount these roadblocks.

As an example, Dang says that the biggest challenge is getting real estate professionals on board with ZipMatch’s products and solutions. “Market adaptation to any new technology solution is a challenge in any market,” he says.

Dang is always ready to describe Zipmatch’s strategy to dominate the market. “We plan to overcome it by focusing on the early adopters and making our products and service really work for them first,” he says. “We want to provide a mix of free and paid services and let the market experience something new. From there, we can focus on offering the customer value-added services.”

Editing by Jeff Quigley

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