“JUUL Labs’ core mission is to improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers. That they have such an earnest mission, and that they’re successful in realizing it, matters more to me than how much they make.”
The Philippines has long been fertile ground for startups. For one, we speak English fluently, making our country — and, of course, our startups — ideal candidates for foreign investors.
Filipinos are also known to be tech-savvy people. When it comes to harnessing the massive potential of social media and other digital platforms, we are always one of the forerunners.
Most importantly, Filipinos are an entrepreneurial lot. A huge portion of business ventures in the country are considered micro, small, and medium enterprises, products of a dream shared and worked on with friends and family.
Revolution Precrafted, the developer of prefabricated designer homes, proved that Filipino startups have the potential to reach unicorn status. So where are all the others?
That is the question that entrepreneur Francisco “Jay” M. Bernardo III aims to address with StartUp Village, a one-stop startup incubator launched under the LET’S GO Foundation nonprofit.
StartUp Village seeks to jumpstart startups by providing them the support they need to flourish and succeed. This assistance includes training and mentoring, linkage to potential customers and investors, and other relevant shared services.
“We strive to talk and influence to encourage and inspire. But this is such a big task. So we do it in our own little ways,” Bernardo said in an interview.
GAINING KNOWLEDGE AND PURPOSE
As the technological and innovative progress of places like Silicon Valley far outpaces that of the Philippines, StartUp Village aims to bridge the gap between Filipino entrepreneurs and the rest of the world.
Despite the vibrant startup community forming in the country, many Filipino entrepreneurs still do not have the necessary knowledge and skillset to bring their ideas to fruition. For instance, Bernardo pointed out that many entrepreneurs do not know how to create a board of directors for their company.
“It’s very fundamental, very simple. Yet we still have to inculcate in the minds of our startups how this works out. We were never used to having investors early on in our company, especially investors that we don’t know. We’ve always been used to family businesses,” he said.
More importantly, he pointed out that many Filipino startups set themselves up for failure by focusing on the wrong things.
“If I asked you who you think are the most successful entrepreneurs here in the Philippines, maybe you’ll name the big names and the big companies, right? And you are maybe saying this in the context of how much wealth they have accumulated, rather than how much they have contributed,” he said.
“But in reality, success does not equate to how much you earn; rather, it’s how much you contribute. That is a mindset that we need to understand and highlight nowadays.”
CREATING THE NEXT MEANINGFUL FILIPINO BILLIONAIRE
In launching The New Billionaire’s Club, a new series of programs by StartUp Village, Bernardo wants to shift the perspective of Filipinos from a monetary and revenue-centered metric of success towards an impact-focused one.
Through the series, StartUp Village wants to recognize and give credit to people, organizations, and enterprises that are helping improve the lives of people around the world through innovative and tech-driven projects.
When Adam Bowen, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer or JUUL Labs, the leading vapor brand in the US, was invited to become the first speaker for the program, it was a moment of serendipity for Bernardo. As a smoker himself who managed to quit cigarettes because of the JUUL device, his life was one of those most affected by Bowen’s ideas.
Bernardo had been trying to quit smoking for seven years and has tried everything he could imagine to quit. Much to the frustration of his wife and his family, he could not. He said that he used to smoke at least a pack of cigarettes a day.
That changed when someone gave him a JUUL device. Though he was hesitant at first, not believing that a nifty gadget could replace his cigarette habit, he managed to quit almost instantly.
“No commercial or no graphic pictures on the cigarette box, no higher taxations and laws could stop me from smoking cigarettes. I didn’t even stop when the government said that they will ban smoking in bars and all other public spaces. But this JUUL device stopped me from my habit within three days,” Bernardo said.
Because of how effective JUUL Labs’ products were and how they greatly affected his life, Bernardo said that he has since convinced many of his friends to quit smoking. Even some of his students and apprentices who also smoked cigarettes have JUUL devices now.
“I was so happy about that. We’re now the JUUL society,” he said.
HOLD PURPOSE AND SOCIAL IMPACT ABOVE ALL ELSE
Bernardo, his colleagues, and his peers have become the living testimony to the accomplishment of JUUL Labs’ purpose. To Bernardo, the reason for JUUL Labs’ success is simple: the company had found a way to make an indelible mark on people’s lives — and that is to convince and encourage smokers to make the switch, may it be for something as straightforward as personal hygiene or as conscientious as good health.
Like smartphones, JUUL devices leverage on science and technology to provide smokers with an experience similar to smoking cigarettes, sans the tar, carbon monoxide, and all the other bad stuff that go along with combustible cigarettes.
“Their purpose was to make people make the switch from cigarettes to the JUUL device, and maybe eventually, quit smoking for good. That affects a vast amount of people, smokers and non-smokers alike. That they have such an earnest mission, and that they’re successful in realizing it, matters more to me than how much they make.” Bernardo said.
JUUL Labs, and other companies like it, are the examples Bernardo wants the Filipino startup community to hold as the role models. If the community can work together to create a startup environment wherein companies hold purpose and social impact above all else, he said, then the money is sure to follow.
With the recent implementation of the Innovation Act, a new law that seeks to “remove obstacles to innovation by suppressing bureaucratic hurdles” and “encourage entrepreneurial attitude in order to stimulate growth ambitions in business,” the Philippines already has the foundations in place to become one of the world’s innovation leaders. The next Filipino unicorn could already exist. All it takes now is a purpose-driven, collaborative community to help it rise.
“I am very positive about the Philippines. I think we’re getting our act together. I’m sure there will be hitches along the way but we will get there. It’s very encouraging,” Bernardo said.
“It takes a lot of us to collaborate, rather than doing things on our own. Everybody could be able to achieve a lot of things on their own. But together, we can do much, much more,” he concluded.