[Executive Edge] Promoting Filipino youth entrepreneurship to the world

From April 15 to 17 of this year, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) will host the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), a premier global competition for student entrepreneurs, to be held in Washington, DC.

The Philippines will be represented by Leo Lofranco, who at the ripe age of 21, is a serial entrepreneur. His most notable venture: Muber.

Muber is a peer-to-peer delivery marketplace for a hard-to-find item available abroad, connects a buyer with a traveler who can bring that item to them

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“I’m personally excited to represent the Philippines in this competition having gone through the extensive mentorship and support from the EO members in the Philippines,” he said.

Lofranco, as a graduate of a pre-medical course, is also eventually eyeing ways in which the healthcare system can be improved, including everything from access to monitoring to data gathering.

Youth entrepreneurship in the Philippines

In addition to celebrating Lofranco’s achievements, the occasion also calls to mind how the Philippines as a nation can encourage more Filipinos, particularly  the youth, to pursue entrepreneurship.

Lofranco himself shared 3 reasons why he eventually became an entrepreneur.

The first was his experience studying in the US. There, he attended many startup events and learned first-hand from the startup scene there. “Their startup scene is very mature and having met so many startup founder with almost the same age as mine with all sorts of cool ideas was an eye-opener,” Lofranco said.

It also helped that his parents were very supportive of his goals. When Lofranco decided to take a year off school to focus on his startup, his parents supported him all the way.

Lofranco also credits his strong co-founding team, Francis Plaza and Life Lofranco, as to why he was able to stick through the challenges of launching a tech startup. “Had it been not for them too, Muber would not probably have started in the first place,” he said.

Take the leap

What does Leofranco think it will take for other Filipinos to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?

Lofranco thinks it is important to focus on the personal growth that entrepreneurship can bring to young Filipinos.

“For self-development, pursuing entrepreneurship lets you experience diverse challenges while at the same time pursuing your passion,” he advised.

There is no better time than to pursue entrepreneurship than now, Lofranco stressed.

“Today is also more than ever the right time to start a business particularly on the tech field because of the many opportunities to solve pressing problems in the society, such as automating government processes, healthcare, and others,” Lofranco shared.

He added that there is also a plethora of resources available now like Startup Philippines to help aspiring Filipino entrepreneurs.

Lofranco also understands that the leap into entrepreneurship is often easier said than done.

The fear of failure is often times, the biggest barrier into creating a startup. “Overcoming that fear would probably be the first step to start a business,” he advised, sharing that his team overcame their fears through joining startup events like hackathons and meeting startup founders abroad.

It also requires extreme discipline to meet academic requirements while also running a business smoothly, Lofranco advised young entrepreneurs.

“In our case, we take the time to sit down and talk to set our weekly goals for Muber. Dividing the tasks equally made it bearable enough for each of us to fulfill them, while at the same time finishing up our academic requirements,” Lofranco said.

Addressing customer needs

In addition to early jitters and academic demands, Lofranco still had to deal with challenges very specific to the industry he was seeking to change.

Finding day-to-day travelers that would be willing to test out Muber remains a big challenge, Lofranco said. To accomplish this goal, the company had to build trust with users and get the word out about the product.

This problem was compounded by the fact that the co-founding team knew almost no one from the travel industry that would help them get a critical mass of travelers. Joining startup events, such as the upcoming GSEA, has helped them broaden their reach and meet entrepreneurs who are experts in their respective fields. In turn, these entrepreneurs introduced Lofranco and the Muber team to all the right contacts, such as travel agencies and investors.

After emailing the first set of Muber users one-by-one and listening to them, the Muber team discovered another issue – the buyers wanted to have a catalogue of items to choose from.

Lofranco and his team made sure to take all feedback into account. “Muber has continually reiterated to fit the needs of the market and feedback we have received from our users,” he said, and emphasized that the platform would not be what it is today without the extensive feedback they got from users during Muber’s early beta.

The ability to create and define a product in Muber is exactly why Lofranco thinks more Filipino youth should try their hand at entrepreneurship.

“Filipinos should consider entrepreneurship because being one let you have so much creative freedom in your work,” he said. “We all have our own business ideas but only entrepreneurs transform those ideas to life.” – Rappler.com

Rappler Business columnist Ezra Ferraz is also the chief content officer at ZipMatch, a tech company backed by Ideaspace Foundation, Hatchd Digital, IMJ Investment Partners, and 500 Startups. He brings you Philippine business leaders, their insights, and their secrets via Executive Edge. Connect with him on Twitter: @EzraFerraz