Coworking spaces have, without a doubt, flourished in popularity recently. Deskmag has written about it, Forbes has written about it, and many many more have talked about the growth in the number of flexible, short-term workspaces. But why are they gaining such esteem? To break it down: they're human-centric. As opposed to traditional offices, coworking spaces focus more on hospitality than they do on simply providing real estate. In other words, rather than just offering a desk to come work, these spaces create a community in which digital nomads, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and even MNC's can achieve their business goals.
That's exactly what Ignition Venture Studio located in Manila's premiere business district, Bonifacio Global City (BGC), successfully does. Only opening their doors to the public last year, Ignition is a welcome addition to the coworking spaces in Manila. They have been host to the Integra Business School, several events by big companies, and have even nearly reached full capacity with multiple startups (including ourselves until recently) calling Ignition home.
Coworking has become a way to work alone together - people from different companies working on their own projects but within a community that they can count on for any support they may need. In fact a study conducted by HBR found that people most valued the social ties - both business and personal - they gained from coworking. With that said, we chatted with some of the other members before we moved (not because we didn't love it, our team had just grown - all possible because of where we were working - to a point that we needed more space). So let's meet some of the people that have set up their home bases at Ignition.
Margarita "Margo" Flores
First up there's Margo, one of the founders of Ignition Venture Studio, the Director of Finance, and tennis aficionado (she's a former national level champion) - you'll typically find her either in the pantry working away or in her office (which she'll willingly give up to members if they need a private meeting place when all others are booked out).
FS: What's the most exciting part for you about working in Ignition?
MF: It’s really the people I meet. I’m a previous banker. My two partners are previous lawyers, another one is a business entrepreneur. Because our jobs were very siloed, we met a certain type of clientele. Most of them are usually very established, and they’re from corporations who basically say, “This is your job and this is all you’re gonna talk to me about.” So the solutions we gave, the things we discussed, it was ‘I’m talking to you about this, I’m talking to him about this’, it’s basically the same thing, over and over again.” In Ignition, I never know what I’m going to face. It can be the most mundane problem such as picking up my client’s bridesmaid’s dress and she’s wondering why the hell is it stuck in customs, all the way to, a client got a visit from the BIR and has no idea how to deal with that, or has happily met somebody who wants to invest in their business and needs help. So the coworking space, we consider like a nesting ground for different businesses, different problems, and as I walk around, I end up with fun and interesting problems to work with. Some will be like “hey we’re going to a bar tonight”, you get to hang out with a bunch of different people. “Hey Margo, I need you to step into this meeting, just ten minutes, just pick your brain on X.” So it’s good and bad, because it keeps me stimulated...learning different things. Sometimes though I need the peace and quiet which is when I lock myself in there (points to her quiet office nook). So I need to work like...no more fun stuff, I have XYZ to deliver.
FS: How did you realize this is what you wanted to do?
MF: Sometimes I wonder if I realized or if it was planted by my parents at a very young age. My parents, by the time I was in high school, left their corporate jobs and set up their own businesses. And our family business was real estate. So I grew up going to job sites, going to places that were being fit out, dealing with people who were interior designers, picking up faucets, picking up nails, whatnot. Building something was always something that was fun for me, cause I saw it all around. Building a building is very difficult, building an environment like this was always something I wanted to try because there are big corporations that you can help, which are basically a plug and play solution, and then there are these guys (the startup members) which you can help, which I think is a lot more fulfilling, because you don’t just build a physical structure, but you build a community, which is a lot harder to do. Building a house, if I’m just putting nails by furniture, slapping them all together, tapos (finished). It’s done. But building a community, goes over and above having a nice office. Inviting the right people to join you, coming up with a cohesive environment, everybody is going forward vs. getting annoyed at each other. So concocting that has been fun and interesting.
Why am I passionate about it? Finance is basic. Everything needs to make sense. You basically need to make money to survive. But when I was doing banking, I dealt with nebulous things. When I started building things, I could see what I was doing. And now I don’t just see what I built, I actually experience it. It’s like a progression of you wanna be profitable, but you wanna see what you created, but you also wanna enjoy it. So this whole journey towards that has kept me excited.
"Stop studying so much and experience life. You learn more from experience than from the books."
FS: So everything kind of fit together?
MF: Yes, and everyday, it's like progressing towards something. It's not like when you finish building something, you're done. So there's still something more you can do and it's always trying to up that experience, up that chance, that ascendance into something.
FS: Especially since you're dealing with people now.
MF: Yes, it's less about the space, it's really more about the people. The space was the start and then now it's all about the people.
FS: What's one mistake you think people who want to start their own business often do?
MF: With the startups I’ve dealt with, a lot of them have overestimated their ramp up period...because they’re so convinced the product is so good, they know that when people see it, they’ll immediately join in the bandwagon and they’ll be positive in three months. I find it to be very difficult because...people forget that you also have to buy legitimacy for your product, whether you’re talking about a space, you’re talking about a laptop, you’re talking about a phone, talking about clothes. When it’s nice, it’s not necessarily all a person thinks about before they buy it. The whole customer journey is, finding a product you’d like, finding that it’s legitimate and particularly if it’s a service, finding something that has some sort of previous recommendation. So it’s legitimizing. So getting up and running is the first step of legitimizing your business. Getting people to actually jump onto the bandwagon and pay for that service is a lot more difficult. In finance, they call it customer acquisition. I find a lot startups think they’ll acquire a customer just because a product is great. No it’s not. You have to go through the whole process of social media, getting people to try it, getting people to give testimonies about it...that whole process took us about six months. Six months of bleeding. What people think is 1-2 months is not.
The ramp up period is what people tend to underestimate a lot.
FS: So that could cause some people to give up a little too early?
MF: Give up, yeah! Give up too early because it’s like “God it’s too difficult, it’s not what I planned” or they’re thinking their product is palpak (underperformed / isn't good). But it’s not, it’s just that they don’t know about it yet. Particularly with the internet bombarding you with so many things to try, you now have to become top of mind. You wanna be top of mind vs. that new hotel, that new bar, that new restaurant, that new vacation place, the new car, the new dress, the new phone. There are so many things that these people are looking at. You now wanna be on top and be the one that they’re going to spend on today. So that bombarding and particularly being the one that they want to try. Penetrating that into their attention span is a lot harder than I think most people think.
FS: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
MF: Stop studying so much and experience life. You learn more from experience than from the books. When I was in my 20s, I was all about acing my classes, being the perfect student, being on time, last to leave. A student. My experience in college was a book. I could’ve read the book anytime. I’m not saying flunk class-I’m also not saying, trying to be perfect in one thing, means you lack all the other experiences. One of the best things I took away from business school, wherein I learned my lesson, was the friends I took away and learning from their experiences. In college, I took very little of that away with me. When I was in my 20s, one thing I would definitely say is that do not stop...I was very much into sports, so extracurricular activities, maybe I would’ve done more of that, than what I’d actually done, and spend less time in the library.
Kenn Francis Costales
An avid diver and self-described nature person, Kenn founded Monolith Growth prior to moving in to Ignition. However, being in the space helped him focus his attention on the core of his business, while Ignition took care of his cash management.
FS: You studied Economics in university, any particular reason why?
KC: I chose Economics because I thought of two different paths. Path no. 1 was to become like my grandfather. That was kind of the fallback plan, so, my grandfather is basically a CPA/Lawyer, so the path there was to become a lawyer. I took Economics as a pre-law type of course and then eventually become a lawyer. So that was Option 1. Option 2, the initial goal was to start my own hedge fund. A hedge fund is basically a financial entity that manages money for its institutional clients. So examples are Bridgewater, Renaissance Technologies, all that type of stuff. So that was my initial dream, which was to build my own hedge fund. But I think the principle remains the same, which is that I wanted to build my own business. It didn’t push through because I had a pre-placement offer in Singapore for a brand management job, so I took that instead because that obviously paid much higher salary than a local finance job, which was supposed to be on track towards the hedge fund thing, so that was how I was geared toward Marketing instead.
FS: What did you learn from working at a multinational that you were able to apply as you began to run your own business?
KC: What helped me was...I was in a Brand Management position, which was mostly marketing and general management, but what I took home, really, in terms of my business was what I learned in terms of financial management, so really crunching the P&Ls, knowing the efficiency metrics in terms of marketing spend, knowing the benchmarks for salaries. I know what the benchmark salary as a percentage of revenue was, for different types of industries and for different types of countries. So I had different benchmarks then, and just applied it to my own business. And then P&G also had a very specific risk forecasting and revenue opportunity forecasting method which I also brought into my business. That helped me far more than any other marketing stuff that I learned in P&G. That plus cash flow management.
"It’s not about getting it right the first time, it’s about getting it right once."
FS: What's your advice on dealing with failure?
KC: I wouldn’t really consider previous ventures as failures. The way that I thought about it was that...is not like win/loss, or you get it right and then you fail. The way I think about it is like, you’re playing poker, where you take bets, right? It’s also an entrepreneurial concept, called affordable loss. So you take small bets which you can afford to lose. This applies whether you are a very very small business, or if you’re a large business. So for SM (one of the largest integrated property developers in Southeast Asia), you can throw 10million bets or 100million bets at will. But for a small business, maybe 50000 is too much for you. So if it’s too much for you, then take a 10000 bet. That’s why when I talk to some of my mentees who want to start their own business, I tell them, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Don’t do this crazy tech idea and put all your savings into it, because that’s not pragmatic. Instead of throwing your 100k savings and putting it all into one idea, split it into 10, and then have 10 ideas and test it one by one.
I had four ideas. Monolith was technically the fourth idea, and I knew that I wouldn’t get it right the first time. It’s not about getting it right the first time, it’s about getting it right once. So you can fail a lot but all you need to do is be right once and that’s more than enough. But the biggest question is how many tries do you give yourself? Do you allow yourself only one try, which I think is not smart, or do you give yourself five or ten tries? Because, statistically speaking, 95% of businesses fail. And you should assume that you are the average. So if it’s 90% or 95%, have ten tries in your pocket and try out different ideas. That’s my advice for different startups.
FS: If you were to chose the single most important thing that being in Ignition helped you with, what would it be?
KC: I launched my business prior to going to Ignition. So I came into Ignition midway. In terms of where they helped me out, it’s really having some extra hands. Cause at least my schedule before, there was a whole bunch of random stuff, so I did sales-I mostly do sales-I write a lot of proposals, I do a lot of audits for potential clients. But then I also did a lot of accounting and financial forecasting. For me that’s super important. I think cash flow management is the number one skill that an entrepreneur should have. And the great thing is that I was able to delegate the cash management portion of that to Ignition. It sounds very boring but I think cash management is the most important part of a business and Ignition helped me on that.
FS: How do you take a break and recharge?
KC: I like diving. I’m an advanced open-water diver and I plan to get my rescue diver certification this year. So that’s one way of recharging. Second way is travelling. I don’t travel as frequently as some people, some people travel weekly for some reason. I do one-time big-time, so for August, for example, I’m going to Russia. I have one or two big travel weeks, where I just go away and just recharge.
FS: Do you have a favorite place?
KC: I like all places I go to. But in general, I like diving, and my favorite dive spot is Moalboal, it’s on the west side of Cebu. It has a lot of nice corals, turtles...I’m more of a nature-y, chill person.
Yang Yang Zhang
A self-taught coder, Yang Yang is Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at PDAX - a digital currency exchange that enables buying and selling of digital wealth with Philippine peso - heading their product, strategy, and tech.
FS: You were in various industries, such as sci-tech, prior to founding PDAX. What made you decide to go for the industry you're in now?
YYZ: It’s actually really funny. I started coding when I was five. I really have been coding for a really long time. And when I got to college, I was originally a ComSci major in MIT. But sophomore year, I realized that unlike some of my friends who had just started coding and were super excited, I had been coding for about 12 years...in my head, I wanted to explore something else. That was in 2002, which is when the internet really just started ramping up. I think in my head, looking back, I always felt like I had missed the first revolution. So I joke around about this with my cofounders, but I always say that blockchain is my revolution. This time, I wanna be at the forefront of that. When this project came along, I was really ready for that. I’d just exited another company, I had … and so I really really wanted to do something very similar to this project and when I found out about blockchain tech, I just grabbed the opportunity and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
FS: Who taught you how to start coding?
YYZ: So this is going to sound even weirder but I taught myself. So my mom was a math professor in China, so was my dad...actually my dad was a Physics professor in China; they met while they were teaching together. They came to the States to pursue his PhD at Harvard, so my mom originally tried to get a job as a math professor but her english wasn’t good enough to continue teaching. So she decided she was gonna learn another “easier” language, so she starts getting a masters in Computer Science. But I mean if you think about it, she couldn’t really teach well enough in English, she probably couldn’t read these complicated Masters level books, so she just handed her books over to me, so we read that together and learned that together...My first language was actually with Pascal and Fortran, which are languages most people haven’t heard of...they’re super old. But I quickly moved on to things that would allow me to make games or make fun things so I ended up spending most of my childhood coding in C and C++.
When I started coding, it was probably 1990, so not only was Computer Science a new field, but especially Computer Science for girls. I think in most of my early coding classes, even in high school when I was taking AP Computer Science, I’d be maybe 1 of 2 girls in the class. Now it’s really exciting for me to see these Girls Who Code initiatives like Coding Girls Manila; it makes you really excited cause there are so many more girls joining the tech scene.
"I think what the adjustment has to be is adding more analytical skills and approaching the world around you with a more analytical eye, rather than just passively living."
FS: What's the toughest part about being in the industry you're in now?
YYZ: The doubt. I think that a lot of people, because there had been a lot of scam ICO’s always kind of doubt the validity of this industry as a whole. What I want people to know, and someone just asked me this recently, today, it’s really about the blockchain technology. It’s not about Bitcoin. There’s so much emphasis on Bitcoin, how it goes down, how it goes up…"it’s not a good investment…"...I think our focus here is really building on the Blockchain. We really want to recreate the capital market so just giving Filipinos access to it in a very easy way. I think that gets lost a lot of times in people just hearing the headlines that don’t sound as great. That’s definitely the toughest part of the job.
FS: What do you think people our age should be doing more? Doing less? (AKA those of us in the "Millennial" bracket)
YYZ: What I wish the millennial generation would look towards more; it’s a little bit cliche, people say this a lot - I think a lot of times, millennials focus a lot on instant gratification, on what’s immediate from day to day. I think one of the biggest problems is that even in my generation, we started to do that, everything is...Wikipedia, brings information to your fingertips. And so you really have to readjust the way of looking at learning. Learning is no longer just memorizing information, it’s learning how to process it. Learning how to find information where it’s located. Right now, memorizing stuff isn’t really gonna help you with anything. Because you can get this stuff so easily. I think what the adjustment has to be is adding more analytical skills and approaching the world around you with a more analytical eye, rather than just passively living.
FS: Did anything surprise you about working at a coworking space?
YYZ: It did. Originally, when we first came here, it was just because we had just started the company, we thought it was just gonna be a couple months until we found our own permanent space, and now we just signed a lease to stay here for the next year. I think we never really realized how much energy it would bring to our team. I think what I love seeing the most...I genuinely feel like there’s just so much cross-interaction. And because coworking spaces tend to bring in new startups, it’s always a sense of constant energy. It’s like working at a college campus--you feel like something’s always being invented, something’s always done. Especially what I felt like when I first went to MIT, every time I step out to campus, I knew someone somewhere’s doing something cool. It was just inspirational, and just gave you the energy even when you didn’t have it. You guys probably know we’re like the latest ones to leave every night, one of the first ones to arrive in the morning, but I think, even with that long day, people coming and going, I think their energy transfers onto us. And that really surprised me. Cause I normally hate open office environments. I feel like it’s really draining sometimes. But in the right formats, this has been really positive for us and our team.
FS: Was this the first time...
YYZ: No, and I’ve always hated it. When I was in Korea, I headed a consulting team and we worked at a coworking space, a really nice coworking space. Very artsy, very well done but it felt so stifling cause I think there’s two ways: what I like about Ignition is that it’s so open. I think all the spaces are like genuine coworking spaces. Where I was before, I felt like I was in...a prison. Because there are so many of these cubicles next to each other...It felt more closed and there was not so much a sense of community, whereas here in Ignition, I really feel like there’s such a sense of community for everyone here. And it’s so good for us who are recruiting cause when people come here to interview with us, they see the space, like “I actually wanna work here.”
A recent fitness fanatic, Robert Tiong a business analyst at TrustingSocial - a fintech startup that aims to provide credit scores to billions of "financially invisible" people by utilizing data from social networks and telcom operators.
FS: So you took up Management Honors but then you also took up a minor in Finance. Was that something you’d always wanted to do?
RT: Entering college, I always wanted to take up Management. I felt like it would give me the necessary set of skills to be an all-around type of guy. But at the same time, I was always inclined to work in the financial field. My dad was a banker, so he basically exposed me to all things banking. It really interested me. I wasn’t really forced to do it; it was something I wanted. So in third year, when I got the chance to sign up for a minor, so I thought Finance, no-brainer. It helped me build the necessary skills...Management helped me to be an all-around guy then Finance helped me specialize a bit.
FS: What's something you wish you'd known when you graduated?
RT: I wish someone would’ve told me that 70% of what I learned and was working hard at at school won’t be that important when I start working. It’s important to have knowledge, but in order to be a successful person, in order to work outside of college, you need wisdom, and that comes from work experience. So you can have all the knowledge in the world, but if you’re not wise enough, and you don’t have that level of experience, you won’t be able to do well in your job. So if someone would’ve told me that, it’s not like I would’ve slacked off in school but rather, I wouldn’t have put too much pressure on myself, that was detrimental to other aspects of my life.
FS: Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at TrustingSocial?
RT: At TrustingSocial, what I do is, I’m a Business Analyst, so in the Philippines, what I do is support whatever needs to be done. We’re just three in the Philippine team so basically everything from, identifying whether this business case makes sense, or making sure our numbers are right when we present to our partners. On a regional standpoint, I do a lot of market research. We’re a regional company, so we have to do research on different companies in different countries. The countries themselves, we have to look at in terms of their viability as a next market, or competitors, etc.
FS: What's the most exciting part for you?
RT: I think one of the most exciting parts is that you won’t know what exactly you’re gonna do on a week-to-week basis, which sounds like a bad thing but...what I mean by that is that it’s so dynamic, the industry we’re in and the company itself, like, it’s a new product. It’s an industry that’s been ripe for innovation for the longest time. So the challenges that we face are unique. And in unique challenges, you really won’t have a set job description. So that’s one of the most exciting parts, when I come into work, it’s like, what’s new today? What am I going to accomplish.
"It’s important to have knowledge, but in order to be a successful person, in order to work outside of college, you need wisdom"
FS: So it's consulting-ish?
RT: In a way, yes. How it works is that we partner with data providers. We analyze that data, we have an identity that we can assign to would-be borrowers or people that lenders can lend to. So we work with the lenders to lend to these previously unbanked or underserved people. So the banks have never lent to these people before, so they don’t have the necessary products to lend to them. So that’s the consulting part, like for this type of person, we can have this type of rate, this type of loan etc. So that’s the consulting part, where we help our partners identify which products will work.
FS: So is this your first time working in a coworking space?
RT: Yeah, first time.
FS: Did anything surprise you about it when you first came in?
RT: At first, I thought, really nice office, really nice set design. And there are a lot of other people. I thought I wouldn’t be interacting as much with the other people from other companies. I thought it would just be like, “Okay we’re in a shared office space but I won’t talk to you.” But what was really surprising was that I get to talk to different people from different companies on a daily basis, so it really helps me grow more as a person as opposed to if I were just isolated in my company. It’s one of the biggest benefits of working in coworking spaces like Ignition, because not only do they have a really good eye for looking for companies to come into their space but also managing the community itself. It makes for a good overall culture. It’s not just one culture you’re managing but different offices, or different companies. So I think that was the pleasant surprise.
FS: What do you like doing outside of work?
RT: Right now, I’m really getting into fitness and functional fitness. Back in April, I entered obesity. It was like a wake-up call, like, damn I really had to get my life in order. So I was playing basketball and the girl I was dating was watching. I played so bad and then afterwards, I was like “aw man I played so bad” and I would expect in a way she would’ve been like “no it’s okay” but she was like, “Yeaaahh.” So OKAY. I told myself, if that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is. So the week after, I signed up for a membership in the gym and I haven’t looked back ever since. As of last week, I was able to be a normal weight already, so I really focus on that now. Functional fitness and eating right and helping other people also - cause people have been asking for tips and I’d be like “Oh I just started but this is what I did.”
So now that you've e-met some of the people from Ignition, and gained some insights on how setting up their business within a coworking space has helped them why not give it a try yourself? Discover your perfect coworking space in Southeast Asia here.