The Startup Ecosystem in the Philippines with Paul Rivera, CEO of Y Combinator backed Kalibrr

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Paul, please introduce yourself…

My name is Paul V. Rivera, I’m the co-founder and CEO of Kalibrr. We’re the first Philippine startup to get accepted into Y Combinator and we’ve been based in Makati City since our founding in 2012.

I was born in the Philippines but moved to the Bay Area when I was 5 years old. I was educated at UC Berkeley and spent my first 2.5 years after Berkeley working for Mercantila.com, an e-commerce company based in SF.

I then spent several months at Google in Mountain View before voluntarily leaving to help co-found a BPO startup in Makati City in 2007. That company, Open Access BPO, went on to work with many top Silicon Valley companies including Friendster, Mint.com, and TripAdvisor.

It was while building that business that I experienced firsthand the challenges of recruiting people and hiring talent, which inspired me to start Kalibrr.

How did you get the idea of creating Kalibrr?

When I started my own BPO in the Philippines 6 years ago, the biggest pain point we had month after month was recruiting new candidates with the right skills. Part of the new hires were to expand our business and part of it was to simply replenish our attrition rate.

The recruitment process is a very time consuming thing for small and large BPOs. It typically takes 8 to 10 hours to screen one candidate, and only a fraction of those will get hired. This is when I thought of creating Kalibrr: a way to both source more candidates for BPOs and make their recruitment process more efficient.

In 2011, the idea was born. After pitching my idea to several investors, meeting some key people along the way, dedicating myself fully to the vision, and going through a few iterations of the product, here we are at the end of 2013, almost ready to deliver our first commercial product.

How do you see the startup ecosystem developing in the Philippines?

The startup culture in the Philippines is currently blooming but still in its nascent stages. It will continue to expand rapidly in the next few years.

We have the highest number of English speakers in Asia, our growth rate will continue to outpace the majority of countries in Asia, we’re actively engaged on all forms of social media, smartphone adoption rate is rapidly expanding and the political stability in the country is on a good path relative to other Asian alternatives.

There are several burgeoning business and intellectual hubs within Manila that are supported by modern, world class infrastructure and venues.

I see the Philippine startup ecosystem as a natural bridge between East and West – the products that come out of here will be able to enter both markets and Asian startups can use the Philippines to launch their products before going to the USA and American startups can use the Philippines as a launchpad into Asia.

I think because of the challenges with poverty, the Philippines will become a leader in technology based social enterprises like Lenddo.

What are the benefits of being based in the Philippines, over other countries in the region?

The Philippines has just outpaced India as the biggest BPO economic sector in the world so it makes sense for Kalibrr to be based here if we’re focused on this industry. In addition to BPO, other sectors of the economy are starting to grow fast and they will also need talent that Kalibrr wants to supply.

The language certainly helps as business is done in English and everyone speaks English – I would say better than in Singapore, Hong Kong and most other places in Southeast Asia.

Besides the economic benefits listed above, the Philippines offers several other things. The climate is hot but not scorching year round. The country offers some of the best beaches and natural sceneries in the world.

It is located a spit away from other asian markets but the cost of living is not as high as in China or elsewhere. It is arguably the most westernised asian country (which may be a good or bad thing for you).

What are the challenges of running Kalibrr in the Philippines?

The government needs to continue to bring positive changes to the business environment. Foreign ownership rules need to be amended to allow more entrepreneurs to come to the Philippines.

Some of the oligarchs controlling the Philippines have a net positive impact, but overall, the barriers need to be lowered so that more competition from outside can stimulate the economy and foster innovation.

Internet access is still relatively expensive (though its very competitive on mobile) and its getting more challenging to hire talent as more companies from abroad setup here and startups are created.

What advice can you share with entrepreneurs wanting to start or expand their startup in the Philippines?

Find a problem worth solving. The valley’s best brains are now focused on what are called anti-problems – things that make life more convenient, but doesn’t necessarily solve a core problem.

The Philippines has a ton of problems in almost all sectors, so learn one and see what sort of difference you can make if you develop technology around that problem.

It will be inherently more rewarding when you become successful and I’ll think investors would be more apt to listen.

Most businesses have tons of problems they need help solving and while B2B isn’t as sexy as B2C, I think you’ll find ready and willing customers there.

What is the best way to become a part of the local business community?

Once you are in the Philippines, there are many ways to network. There are different clubs of entrepreneurs you can join like Entrepreneurs Organization (EO), InterNations, U.S. Alumni Club.

Our local incubator, Kickstart Ventures, throws mixer events every month or so. There are also coffee clubs holding startup events every week.

Beside tech and recruiting, what startup/business opportunities do you see emerging in the Philippines right now?

Energy, particularly renewable energy looks exciting. We’re a geothermal powerhouse because of the volcanic islands the country is built on.

Everybody needs food so agriculture here is an opportunity that is ripe for innovation. Again, its not sexy, but you’re solving valuable problems. Education is another area that I think could be exciting area emerging.

What’s next for Kalibrr?

Kalibrr is going through it’s Beta phase through pilots with several BPO companies. We will be launching commercially in early 2014 for the entire Philippine BPO industry and we hope to solve efficiency and capacity issues for the BPO industry immediately. After that, we want to replicate our success with other industries, globally.

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