What is Your Ability To Innovate?

It was January 19, 2004, when there was an outburst of passion that exploded in our condo office unit. We saw a new article from eBusiness news about our product, the first-ever fully web-based accounting software in the Philippines. At that time, the term SAAS was named ASP or Application Service Provider.

We partnered with Ayalaport, a newly constructed data center in Makati to host our software and offered the tool in the market as subscription per month model.

We had our first client for the product, a bus company who used our accounting tool connected to a RAS dial-up connected to AyalaPort. But they only agreed to use it if we will develop a mobile bus ticketing application for them. It turned out our focus went to software development instead of product development.

Our second client was an accounting firm who has a team of accountants who is well-versed in Solomon software. They forced our product to be customized according to what they were used to be using.

We were supposed to be a product company but turned out to be a service delivery company. That has been our DNA up to this writing.

The term DNA in a business organization refers to the organization’s ability to perform and innovate. It can be its core values, culture, personality, or how the organization behaves as a team.

DNA determines the company’s productivity, profitability, and overall performance. But at times, the market behavior dictates the DNA of the company just like life and evolution. We evolve by adapting to change, the survival of the fittest. If you don’t adapt, you die.

It is the job of the company leader, or the founder to choose the company’s DNA based on his or her preference. If the leader mindlessly pursues projects without analyzing its effect on the organization, then it is when the market define you and not the other way around.

Hilsoft, for the longest time, has been around because of its customer-service centric nature. We construct and custom-fit solutions according to the customer need. Relevant to my recent post, “The Ugly Truth About The Customized Software Business,” there are challenges in that model that is not supposed to be complicated. It should be easy if the customer and the vendor, work harmoniously as a team, and very reliable.

With this realization, I am proud to announce that we are gradually steering the company towards being product-oriented as initially planned. We are going 100% SAAS in 3 years.

Hilsoft ERP Connect

The Cash Flow Friendly Way to Start and Run a Business

“We developed our first product in a 28sqm condo unit in Makati. It’s not so quiet as we hear the city train pass by every 10min. It’s comfortable, but it was not that conducive for work.

Our initial budget was P100k. I was the one who opened the checking account in Metrobank and cut checks to buy our first desktop workstation and a small computer table. The 80×50 whiteboard behind us was the one we purchased at National Bookstore in Glorietta, which we had a hard time loading in the cab.

It was 2001, and I remember the fall of the twin towers were all over the news at that time while my brother and I just resigned from our employment to pursue the business. We both started with an allowance of about P5k each per month, rent and utilities financed by our uncle. We operated in very minimal monthly expenses.”

If you have a great and promising idea that you are itching to start, then here’s the most cashflow friendly way to start and run a business:

A. Do not formally register the business yet without a product and initial traction, especially if you are in a bootstrap mode. Registering the company only makes sense if you have either a financier or revenue.

B. Do the business registration yourself. You don’t need to hire a full-time admin or an accountant yet. We have guides on every public office from the SEC, or DTI, Cityhall, BIR, they have detailed instructions on how to register the business. You may need to talk to a friend who has the experience, get a list of requirements from him/her.

C. Get a virtual office. You can get a virtual office as low as P1,500 per month in Makati. All you need is to register the business with the address that you can put on your website. These virtual offices offer a conference room that you can rent on a per hour basis if you need to meet people or customers on-site, ranging from 1-2k per hour.

D. Use LinkedIn, UpWork, or other free platforms to source for people. Use virtual administrators, recruiters, creatives, SEO specialists, programmers, or even sales lead generators who can work remotely. It is essential to pool people in your online network, so you have reserves in the case of wrong hires. If possible, engage with them on per-project commissions or incentives and not on a monthly or hourly fixed compensation.

Balance the tasks to delegate. Admin tasks that are urgent but not that important are ideal to outsource while important/urgent tasks are the ones you can do yourself.

E. Invest in learning social media strategies, personal branding, SEO/SEM. It is the best time today to do FB or IG ads as they are really cheap compared to Google Ads or SEM.

Matching your revenue and expenses is the key to cash flow management. Improve collection, remove the urge to spend non-essential things, and invest back your profits to your company.

The Ugly Truth About The Customized Software Business

Commissioning someone or a company to develop software from the ground up or customize an existing one have always been the default option for companies who couldn’t find an off-the-shelf software to fit in their needs.

On the other hand, a lot of software companies, especially startups or young programmers, offer their services without seriously considering proper software engineering and development process.

And even for a mature service provider, if one hired wrong people to execute the process, software development and implementation are doomed to failure. As I always say, it should be a collaborative effort by both the customer and the provider to make it a success.

Here are some scenarios that you should be careful of when engaging with a software development project:

Scenario A – Both the developer and the customer have minimal or zero experience in software development. In this case, the customer will provide their needs; the developer will listen and do the requirements without any documentation, possibly execute in a waterfall approach and upon delivery, the customer will ask the developer to make a significant overhaul of the software.

Scenario B – The developer has vast experience, but the customer demands to do it their way. In this case, as the developer, even how proper your documentation is, specifications are well defined, and test scripts are well written, if the customer does not realize the value of the methodology and executes the way they wanted it, then projects get delayed and will result in a loss. This customer profile is typically the mom & pop or a small company who is governed by owners or managers who are close-minded and who antagonize the software developer during implementation.

Scenario C – The customer has an expert project manager who’s executing the project, but the developer assigned the wrong person/team. Even how good the software company is in terms of their system process in software development, but if the person executing it is stubborn and do not follow, then, in the end, the project gets delayed and eventually be re-assigned to another person or team. Yes, it is the company’s role to train and guide the assigned project team, but in reality, people are at times unpredictable.

Scenario D – Both the developer and the customer are working together harmoniously and do not offend each other. Both parties agree on the process/system; they both trust each other and has the genuine intention to make the software implementation a success.

The key takeaway here is; as a customer who is looking for a software or a software provider to help them, make sure you are ready. Prepare your team and resources. It is your job to encourage your employees to work harmoniously with the software provider. When choosing for a software provider, a reference check with their existing reputable customers is enough. If your reference check says that company was able to deliver, then extend your trust to the company 100% and do not see them as the villain during implementation. If you think this is not your profile, then opt for an off-the-shelf software or a self-service SAAS platform and do it yourself because a customized software is not for you.

As software developers, during pre-sales, it is your job to explain to the customer how you will execute the project. Make sure they understand the predicaments of doing the project. Do not engage if your gut says the customer will be a pain in the ass. You also have the right to screen and fire your customer. Because in the end, no matter how much effort you make to make it successful, and the other party is just does it their way, then you won’t be able to help them and you’ll both just lose money. It is also your job to check the early signs of employee lapses. Do not tolerate the problems that you see internally. Establish a strong HR and operations team and build a good culture. I know it is difficult to do especially the way young people work nowadays but it is what it is. But if you think you don’t have the energy to work with people then create a self-service SAAS software instead and focus on this customer segment.

Why Would You Reinvent Yourself and How?

I’ve reinvented myself so many times from an 8 to 5 employee to a startup, from a full service IT company to an enterprise software business and now going for a SAAS company. I’ve tried photography, music recording, video editing, blogging, drawing, writing, triathlon, and I know for myself that I will never stop innovating and reinventing myself.

We all have a way to measure our life, business, or at work. Income, for example, is a decent measurement stick. Some people measure their life by their emotions like happiness, regret, energy, etc.

In any case, one primary reason for reinventing ourselves is when these indicators are not happening as you expect it to happen.

Another reason is when you are meeting your goals, but you want growth. Or yes, you are achieving your income goals or you have a lot of money, but your happiness level is low.

The time factor is important in considering reinvention. Is it too soon or should I cut the losses?

Some people are content and complacent with life already, which is the best scenario, especially when they are already happy. But some others, like me, always have the itch to grow.

So the first step is to DECIDE that you are reinventing yourself. Accept the fact that it will not be easy to change things, especially when you are used to what you’ve been doing for years.

It may not necessarily be starting from scratch. If you have a business, change your business model, change your methodology, or change your culture.

If you’re an employee, then look for functions in your company that you think you will excel, and you will be happy, then go for it.

Once you have decided to reinvent yourself, then prepare yourself by setting a 3 to 5-year target. You won’t be able to achieve anything significant overnight. You may need to take one step backward to move forward two steps ahead. Save money and stop spending things you cannot afford.

The next step is to spend hours learning about the path you wish to take. Read books, join webinars, and be an expert of that thing that you want to pursue.

Once you know the basics, then join local communities of the subject. Go out every day to learn and build your network. Offer services for free until things build up through word of mouth. Then you can start thinking about revenue goals.

Manage your expectations. As they say, things may fail, but the important thing is getting up, learning from mistakes and reinventing yourself over and over again.

Practical Ways to Try Things You Might Love

I gave up a million-peso company twice!

The first time was during the growing days of our family blinds business in 2011, and I decided to sell my shares to my brother. We started this business during the transition of the company Omega to Hilsoft as a contingency.

My mother started it during our college years, and my brother continued it in our hometown in Lucena City. I remember it was during the Ondoy storm in 2009 when I took photos of the blinds swatches, I put up a website in Google Sites at the time, then promoted it online with Google Ads and simple SEO techniques for the Metro Manila market.

It had immediate traction. We were generating sales that we didn’t forsee coming. We then decided to put up an 8sqm kiosk in Waltermart in Makati. The business kept on generating income. Similar to most companies, sales growth is equal to operational issues. Our family had disagreements; each member who was involved in the operations had conflicts.

Yes the money was there but I thought I was not passionate about it, so I decided to sell my share and moved on.

I had another opportunity after a few years to go back to this business when a dear friend asked me for help to start a business and offered a chance to put up a kiosk in a mall for a very cheap cost.

And so, I repeat the same process, the business grew and was generating good profits. Long story short, I decided to give up the company because I wanted to focus more on the thing I am passionate about, solving business problems through computerization and automation with Hilsoft.

Steve Jobs said, “It’s hard to tell with these Internet startups if they’re really interested in building companies or if they’re just interested in the money. I can tell you, though: If they don’t really want to build a company, they won’t luck into it. That’s because it’s so hard that if you don’t have a passion, you’ll give up”.

I want to dive deeper into this thought and ask, why would you want to find something you might love? My answer here is similar to Jobs, to do something that you enjoy so you won’t work a day in your life again.

I love so what I do so much that I am not thrilled anymore about the idea of going out to travel anymore or have a vacation. I know I should also consider my family and their passion, and so I entertain their needs from time to time.

So if doing what you love every day is what you want, then you might want to try these practical ways to try things you might love.

  1. Deduct hours you spend on your passion for consumption like tv, Netflix, social media, drinking, etc. Then add hours on your passion for creating things such as business, arts, music, writing, good health, relationships, etc.
  2. Choose your top 10 here, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hobbies
    and https://grit.ph/business-ideas. Sort them by priority and then try what works and discard what’s not. Do it on a monthly or a quarterly period.
  3. Master the hobby you chose by spending at least 10,000 hours doing it.
  4. Register it as a business, put up a website, build your community, and initial loyal customers then advertise.

To end, I would like to share this poem a stumbled upon while writing this;

“You know a dream is like a river
Ever changing as it flows.
And a dreamer’s just a vessel
That must follow where it goes.
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores.”

“The River” by Garth Brooks, Victoria Shaw

The Role of Vulnerability in Creativity and Innovation

I’ve been stumbling across Brené Brown and her work about vulnerability these past weeks online. Netflix featured her recently, The Call to Courage. I couldn’t help but be curious about the power or role of vulnerability in innovation.

Some people ask me, especially the old schools, why am I overexposing myself? Why am I publishing some meetings we hold at Hilsoft or my personal life? If I intend to establish our brand, then how come the big brands didn’t go big with this approach? I smile, and I said to myself, social media and the Internet don’t even exist at the time, and there’s no way you can establish your brand if you are not visible online. You practically don’t exist as a business if you don’t have at least a website.

Consumers are more powerful now than before. You cannot fake things now and do false advertisements. People can now easily see them. I strongly believe in documenting and showing people your real self, your vulnerabilities, and adversities. Building a brand today is all about showing your true intentions and mission as a company or an individual.

Many of us suit up and wear armor because we are afraid of criticisms, judgment, blame, and ridicule. We say to ourselves that we are not good enough and we are so scared of rejection, and we don’t belong hence we wear a mask. Vulnerability to us is a weakness.

Based on Brown’s research, vulnerability is the greatest measure of courage. She quote, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

Let me explain. The classic example I can give here is talented people, entrepreneurs or artists who are afraid to share their work. Some are even afraid to start because of fear of what other people might think. Creativity and innovation are all about the courage to try something new, and it begins with embracing your vulnerabilities. Don’t armor up. Create habits or culture where discomfort is normal, where rejection is normal and where ideas can fail. Struggle well.

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.” – Thank you, Brené Brown.

Let’s all speak our minds by expressing our hearts through creativity and innovation.

5 Creative Ways to be a Team Player

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” -Hellen Keller

First of all, why would you want to be a team player? What’s in it for you?

Hilsoft would never have built our first ERP product without the team of five people who made it. My brother and I who developed the general ledger, I did the front-end, and my brother did the back-end. Our cousin Neil was the one who continued the accounts payable module and our dear friend Shotie who made the accounts receivable module. Later on, Bob joined us who helped us in the initial client implementations. All were young engineers who were passionate and playful about what we do.

We worked hard at day time and played basketball and video games at night. We were a team who has a deep level of relationship. Sometimes we argue, but at the end of the day, I believe we loved each other.

When they all left the company sometime in 2004, I single-handedly tried to operate the business with the assistance of my uncle abroad, partners and valued employees that came in and out of the company. Yes, I was able to have small wins but also small losses, up and down like a roller coaster ride, but it never came to a point where I wanted the company to be. I never had a core team until just a few years ago when I accepted the truth that I cannot do it alone. We grew 400% right after and now continue to grow while I empower our team to strive for impact and results.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” -This quote from Michael Jordan hits me while I write this.

So if you want to be good then maybe you don’t need to be a team player, but if you’re going to be great and achieve great results, then it is about time to learn how to be.

Here are some creative ways on how to be a team player.

  1. Believe in the power of a team. The story above was somehow proof of the power of a team by believing that helping out your team in solving a problem will result in a macro-level positive result.
  2. Actually “Care.” You can never fake caring. People will see it and feel it. Practice loving-kindness with people in general, and special care with your team and even their families.
  3. Be self-aware of your strength and weaknesses. Let go of your ego. Share with the team what you know and what you don’t know. Then compliment each other by helping them out where they are weak and vice-versa.
  4. Align with one objective. With Hilsoft, we aim to continuously develop and improve our products that are useable and make our customers look forward to more. Regardless if one engineer is assigned directly to one client and the other one is independently assigned to another, the team develop and improve one base product for all.
  5. Play. Have fun. Build a positive community. Go out and make your team your second family.

This article is a tribute to Bob Abraham (the guy in front), one of our pioneering team member and a friend who passed away last year due to a health issue. Thank you, brother.