Years before local incubators and investors made their way to the Philippines, Jorge Azurin was already striving to succeed in the then-nascent tech startup scene.
Azurin was a graduate of Mechanical Engineering at the University of the Philippines – not the typical background for someone who wants to build a tech company. But in no time, he ditched his plans of earning a PhD at Stanford, and instead embarked on a startup founding spree that eventually led him to become country manager for Freelancer in the Philippines, and a mentor to many local startups.
But before he could guide other entrepreneur-hopeful, he had to learn the ropes on his own.
In 1994, Azurin’s enterprise software company, Open Systems Corporation, became one of the largest IT companies in the country. It had a strong number of clients and was earning millions of dollars, Azurin says. Most startups would be jealous of its accomplishments. But after around five years of operations, the same company that gave him his first taste of success went on to teach him how to face failure. Azurin says:
We went bankrupt. We were already losing in some large projects, and I had to get more projects to fund the losing ones. It was a chain. I also kept on losing people already. We started getting a lot of projects and we couldn’t get more talent. Within weeks of training, they’d be moving on to other jobs. Maybe it was my fault because I couldn’t handle it already.
Getting up quickly
But as some people in the startup community might say, the best way to fail is to fail fast. And that’s what Azurin did. As he picked up the pieces from his last company, his innate eagerness and trendwatching habits led him to realize the potential of e-commerce in the early 2000s.
“The power of internet pressed upon me at that time,” says Azurin. He started an online business book summary startup in 2001. That company quickly shifted from a business-to-consumer service to a business-to-business content service. As it moved forward, businesses grew to make up over 70 percent of its client base, and the company was doubling sales every year.
This growth turned into into an exit wherein his online book summaries company was acquired by an information services provider Ebsco. It’s an exit that Azurin believes was driven by savvy branding and the company’s profitability. For him, the exit was a good deal, too, because the new parent company treated Ebsco and its employees well.
After the exit, Azurin decided to lay low but still maintain his presence in the startup scene by angel investing a number of startups.
Looking back, Azurin can spot a number of mistakes he made. He claims 80 percent of the startups he invested in failed. Realizing that the difference between his failed startups and the successful ones is the delegation of tasks, he says:
The fundamental problem I had is I didn’t have a co-founder, I went on my own and didn’t prosper. When I had a co-founder, he usually complements my qualities. The qualities that they have are the qualities that I don’t have.
Currently, as the country manager of Freelancer, he is just pleased to continue his startup advocacy through mentoring. “Now I have a bigger platform to mentor,” he says.
The startup potential
In Asia, Azurin names Indonesia and India as countries with good startup ecosystems. He believes there’s a lot more to improve in the Philippines:
I can see how good and sophisticated startups are because there’s focus on science and technology. Our Indian counterparts have gone to a lot of thinking about that, and when you talk to them you see how far they’ve researched on their startups. We don’t have that much right now and I see that coming.
Venture capitalists are already here, Azurin says. They are looking for potential startups and there’s only a few to choose from. “This will be the next trend, companies [will help] to solve the big disconnect.”
(Editing by Josh Horwitz)