Startups in Manila, Philippines

AKA – Where have I been the last 4 months?

Wow, where do I start? My last post left off with some late night snacks in office #2 for ZALORA Philippines, a Rocket Internet GmbH
venture. Since then, we’ve moved offices again, largely to accommodate
the ~100 developers I hired, along with a massive pool of image
retouchers and content writers, all servicing the Southeast Asian
expansion of the now popular ZALORA brand of online fashion.

Hiring developers for a startup is an exciting, fast paced adventure.
Hiring 100 developers, system engineers and software quality assurance
staff in a few months, I definitely learned a lot about the local
talent, Philippine’s labor law and industry competitiveness. The latter
of these bore the fruit of a Cease & Desist letter from another
large development center here, along with other companies implementing
lock-down procedures on their staff once they knew a few had jumped ship
to the infamous Rocket Internet.

The quality of developers available in Manila definitely varies, as
it does in any country, but for economic reasons, Manila is one of the
best places to setup a development team. English is spoken here as a
second language (ESL), a foreign language (EFL) as it is in any other
asian countries. The western influence here also means there is less
culture gap between Europeans and Pinoys as there is in say China or
Indonesia. Until recently though, most operations here have been over
exploiting the cheap labor force here and so many of the most talented
developers are either being swept up by higher paying companies in
Japan, Singapore, Australia, USA, etc. Those who can’t or don’t want to
travel often find the great opportunity and higher rates that
onlineĀ freelance work offers (as I’ve always been a big proponent of).

I’m very happy with the people who joined us in establishing one of
the biggest development centers in Manila and which should only grow to
serve the ever expanding network of Rocket Internet ventures globally.

Once hiring got to a certain point, it was time to really look at
optimizing development processes and balancing the agility of a startup
with the business demands of a company with many investors and
stakeholders. This is where I was definitely out of my comfort zone. I’d
managed small development teams and virtual products before, but here
we were with 100 developers, 8 products spread across asia, with
hundreds of staff on the ground in each country supporting operations,
liaising with stake holders in Singapore, China and head office in
Germany. Tensions were high with conflicting aims of the micro-managing
waterfall model of software development most familiar to traditional
project managers, while aiming to be a rapid, “agile” startup
development hub. It’s going to be an evolutionary process for quite a
while longer, but it is amazing to see how far things have come from
when the first few developers came on board around 3 months ago.

Other than my career with Rocket Internet, I’ve managed to find a few
hours recently to reconnect with my contacts in the social
entrepreneurial space here in Manila, doing a preliminary meeting for a
planned startup community which went well and ended as it should with
bbq and beer! Stay tuned for big announcements for the first official
event coming up soon. Startup founder friends and other key people are
already on board, as are a large number of developers, designers and
other talent ready to make a name for the Philippines as an emerging
tech startup scene.

Personally, my kids are back in school, I need to be back in the gym,
but have found a new stress relief in the form of pistol shooting.
Something I wouldn’t have imagined myself doing, but becoming highly
addicted to it thanks to a friend and his Glock .40 calibre. Time to
revisit my Tagalog lessons which were put on hold when joining the
startup blitz with Rocket Internet 4 months ago.

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