Dec 27, 2016
Interview with Rene “Butch” Meily: QBO Podcast
By Asha Gutierrez
Techshake Radio: December 27, 2016
QBO is a Filipino Innovation Hub and startup platform, created to transform the Philippine startup ecosystem by serving as a center that will facilitate connections and enhance collaboration among stakeholders; provide access to capital, resources, information and expertise; develop the entrepreneurial talent pool; as well as showcase Filipino ingenuity to a global audience. They aim to be the catalyst that helps local startups succeed, creating substantial wealth and job opportunities for Filipinos.
At the very head of this initiative is Rene "Butch" Meily, the President of the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation and former President of
the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce of New York. Armed with experience as an executive both locally and internationally, Butch aims to be part of the driving force the transforms the local startup scene.
This interview was done some months ago and QBO has been taking major strides towards supporting startups since then. Butch was also recently appointed as the President of Ideaspace, a local startup incubator + accelerator.
Learn more about QBO and Ideaspace by checking out the following links:
Paolo: Hi! So we are joined now by Rene “Butch” Meily, owner of Innovation Hub. How are you doing today?
Butch: Thanks Paolo.
Paolo: How are you liking the digs on the breach?
Butch: Well, this is my first…
Paolo: Your first..
Butch: So, I am loving it! It’s a different crowd, than I am used to. It’s a youger crowd and there’s a lot of energy. A lot of drinking… Which I enjoy, I am looking forward to happy hour.
Paolo: Yeah, happy hour!
Butch: and I mean I just love it! I hope we can get bigger every year, will try and help.
Paolo: Awesome. So is it your first time in Bohol or have you been here frequently?
Butch: Well, I’ve been here in Bohol a couple of times. Before for vacation but the last time I was here was before the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, one of the hats I weas is the one for the Philippine disaster foundation…
Butch: Which was made out of one of the major groups in the country. So, even though they compete with each other, commercially, they are brought together. They are seen as a role model for other parts of the country. We are rebuilding a school in Laon, Bohol in the islands. I have been there then I was actually there right after Yolanda hit.
Butch: After that I visited Tacloban in the early days.
Paolo: So before we actually go and talk about QBQ Innovation Hub, we want to know actually how you started and why you ended here in the start-up industry.
Butch: Well I spend a lot of time in the United States. I was born here but I left to go abroad and study. I woumd up worknig in New York for almost twenty years and I worked with a company called BFS International, it was an African American owned company. We used M. Luis, married to a Filipina. Luis who’s been quite active here and I worked with him for a number of years and I helped him in public offering, where work stock exchange . In the end, we kind of fell short, with a few things. At least I got an experience that way. After a time, I got an offer. I met Manny Pangilinan, who was the Chairman/CEO of PLDT and he asked me to come home. More than twenty plus years overseas, I had to come home because of him.
Butch: I became his special assistant and first vice president. I handled the PLDT Smart Foundation at that time. Right after the Ondoy floods, I think I remember that….
Paolo: Yes. Yes.
Butch: Manila was kind of devastated. At that time, the Philippines had no Doppler radar and they didn’t knew this. They just knew that it was going to rain without knowing the intensity. A lot of people died in their cars, they got trapped. A lot of places got flooded and we were asked by the president at that time, President Arroyo, to set up a private sector department partnership. That started the Philippine Disaster Brazilian’s Foundation which got even bigger after Yolanda, the earthquake in Bohol, and the fighting in Zamboanga.
Paolo: Entering the…
Butch: Oh! And then Ondoy from there, that was the long segway. You know, from there, MVP spoke to help out in IdeaSpace and at the time, we all had left. We had decided to set-up, it had been a dream for many years to restart a renovation hub.
Butch: This, we call it now a QBQ Innovation Hub, It’s QBO which is a play word for Filipino, hot.
Butch: Finally, just a few weeks ago, we were able to put it together and I have that now. It’s a smal team Kapchan is my, second in command. Primarily from IdeaSpace but our direction is a little bit different now. Because we are focusing on, it’s now a private sector partnership, DOST put some money.
Butch: DTI put in the space so it’s now in Makati. Then GP Morgan put in some money, and then IdeaSpace is putting in some money as well. With that, the whole idea is to transform the local start-up scene becausee what we’ve noticed is that many start-ups grown because of the work of IdeaSpace, Kickstart, and Sitina of GOAB. But what we need is to jumpstart these start-ups from this early stage to the seed captial and scene play. I’ve been to Hong Kong and Singapore to meet with the funds there and they say, “Just get us the company, a few companies, up to some series.” and they plan to go in already. (papasok na sila) They’ll come in and they’re eager to come in. So we need to intervene at that stage. Into introducing them to foreign founders and then the other stages that we’re looking at is the pre-IPO.
Paolo: Yes. Yes.
Butch: Because we need some success stories.
Paolo: Yes, I understand.
Butch: We need Filipinos to not grow up thinking of going abroad…
Butch: Thinking of working for Procter and Gamble or Uniliver. Not that that’s bad, but they can see an alternate path and decide that if they start they own company, they can become rich and turn help this country which I think by creating jobs for other people. So we’re trying to change this culture because it can be a very risk adverse culture, probably a lot of our parents would then tell you not to try this, “Wag ka na dyan because it’s risky.”
Paolo: “Be a lawyer.”
Butch: Yeah! “Be a lawyer, be a doctor.” But to be an entrepreneur, to actually take a chance where the risks are there, where risks are huge. If we just get a few success stories like Alibaba or even a different scale. We’re pushing to have a few companies exit, either through a sale or IP, we’ve set-up a working group in the Phillippines stock exchange. There’s one way, one exit that’s potential is the IPO. They have a smaller board, for SME board. I think they need 15 Million pesos, cumulative earnings within 3 years. So, you can lose money on 2 years but on the third, you can earn money. As long as 15 Million over 3 years. Then the evaluation could be close to like a hundred million, but we’re also studying another exchange. Yes, it’s not too bad! We’re also studying exchanges in other countries. Hong Kong, I’ve had the group studying Australia and Singapore. Singapore’s a Capitalist. Australia has a small exchange, before the requirements were really loose. We get listed on it but I think they’re tightening up a little bit. I guess that’s one example in which we are only surpassing on to the PSC. They study it, they’re looking at it, and try to get it applied here. Exchange might be best for us, like in India. It’s the institutional trading platform and it specifically started to keep Indian start-ups in India. To not let them migrate abroad and so board was to give them a chance to exit, and to keep them in India. To keep jobs in India. So, hey it’s part of the India’s stock exchange. We’re looking at it, the PSC Philippine Stock Exchange is looking at it. If we can broaden this for start-ups.. [ ] Yes, they want to broaden the investor base, they did realize that the ones investing in stocks are actually the younger people. But do you think if we have some exciting companies, with some earnings and some track record, that you can bring to the market, even more young people would come in the market and want to invest. That’s the beginning. That’s one possible exit. The other exit, is selling out to one of the larger, local companies or foreign companies. We need some success stories so that we can showcase what Filipino companies can do and what Filipino entrepreneurs can do.
Paolo: That’s very very interesting. It’s like you’re treating or helping your side of the industry from basically start to finish which is to the eventual exit.
Paolo: and it’s also very timely because now we’re receiving more and more support from the government. So, it’s all about creating the relationships and continuing it with the government sector and the private sector and also the start-up community itself. So, that’s very very exciting. In terms of your program and creation of QBQ Hub, what type of start-ups are you looking for right now?
Butch: Well, we’re looking for two kinds. One, that we’re not just really staged but have moved on a little bit, ready for some seed capital and even maybe series A funding. So, a little bit larger. And a little bit more of a track record. That’s one set. Then they’re in the modelled into scaleable. The other set is the larger start-ups which might be ready for an IPO or a sale exit. Either people are local or foreign and if we can get our companies together, we can do anything to help them. Rig them up with funders, local corporations, because I’ve already got all the big companies of the PDRF board. So, if we can work together for disasters maybe we could work together and help start-up communities in the Philippines.
Butch: and I think they also want to pipeline into this Innovation which QBQ can be. Now, the other thing that we are looking at is raising a core of senior executives. They want nothing more but to help mentor these start-ups.
Butch: There might be a stage where the start-up might need a change in the management team before they go public. They’ll be left so that they can take care of their financials, to make sure that they’re ready to talk about corporate governance, compliance, these sorts of things. So that they can be ready to be there in public, to have a good story as well. I think all these cases can help there because we are also looking for some retired foreign executives. I will tell you where but there’s a bunch of people that might be ready to come over to the Philippines. The good element of this is that silicon valley’s slide through the TV series.
Butch: We want Filipino-Americans who’ve had Silicon Valley experience to come back here so that they might bring some spark and that knowledge. We just need to broaden the minds of people here and open them up. If that means taking them abroad or shows, so that they can meet these guys from overseas or coming over here to do QBQ lectures. We will do that but as I said before, our goal is to have successes and we have got to do that within the 2 year time frame if possible. (kung kaya)
Paolo: That’s interesting. It’s like you’re trying to do a reverse brain wave basically. Bringing them back here.
Paolo: Like Filipinos
have migrated in the US or Canada then attracting them back to start-ups here.
So, in that sense though, how would you plan to actually attract.
Butch: I came back.
Paolo: Yes, you came back. (laughter) How do you plan to attract them, to actually come back to the Philippines or go to the Philippines in the first place?
Butch: Well, I think men would want to go to the Philippines too. I mean, they’re lonely as to where they are.
Butch: Given the opportunity and the if the rewards are great. When they see that the start-up community here is vibrant, we’ve got the technical expertise, we’ve got the activity, and there’s this drive that I’m picking up here from Go Ave.
Butch: There’s this drive and this youth that I’m imbibing. If we can get that, to the people overseas na it’s possible. (pwede pala dito noh.) I think from America I’m gonna come back, the labors are less expensive, and yet they’re more dedicated. The people are nicer. I think you can have a great lifestyle here in the Philippines.
Butch: They’ve got gigs on the beach. You can live by the beach and have a great company.
Paolo: There’s a happy hour too.
Butch: Yeah! Happy hour!
Butch: I think the happy hours are pretty long here too. (laughter) So, it’s not a bad lifestyle, especially if you go to these islands. As part of PDRF I’ve gone to different parts of the world, and you’ll be surprised just how many foreigners want to buy an island in the Philippines…
Paolo: Yes. Yes.
Butch: or they want to live here and get a resort, this sort of thing. So, sometimes we just don’t appreciate just how much we have and how lucky we are. It can be hot here but it’s just like the South of Singapore. We have so much here! So much beauty.
Paolo: Yes. Yes!
Butch: and the thing about the Filipinos, we are good. (mabait tayo eh)
Butch: We are very nice except in traffic…
Butch: because the drivers, once they get in the car, they become different people! But otherwise they are good. (mababait sila.)
Paolo: Yes. Yes.
Butch: I’m hoping that we can get these guys back and if they come back even for one or two months, that’s fine.
Paolo: When is the program starting?
Butch: Well, as soon as we can get it going. We have small team, we want to try and form an advisory in board and be quick in finding rope. [ ] The one thing about QBQ is we’re trying to make it inclusive and multisectoral so that we’re not linked to any one particular business group, but we want to include everybody. Manny Pangilinan is my boss, my chairman, also our chairman out of 3 chairmen over PDRF. Over there we also have the Ayala’s chair and Cardinal Tagle. We have Sir Aboytis, Adoris Ho, and the whole set of Ed Shua shell [ ] and the chairman and CEO of coke. So, if we can duplicate it and kind of structure and get them to invest. Put a little bit of money into QBQ Ventures, might spill it off in equity.
Butch: If we can get them to do that, then I think we’ll run it.
Paolo: That sounds
very very exciting you know.
Butch: It is!
Paolo: Not only for like the start-ups that were actually like join QBQ eventually but also for the Philippines in general. Because you’re right, like creating these types of environments and these type of initiatives will also create more jobs. That is the end goal to actually push up and evolve, make the Philippines a much much greater and stronger place in terms of technology and also in terms of economics.
Butch: It’s like ecology. I think you want to grow the pie and you know sometimes I heard somebody say that yesterday, she feels difficulty when she makes money. Actually, she shouldn’t because you know getting the money and doing well is a good thing.
Butch: It’s not a bad thing! There is nothing to be ashamed of because if you do well, then you’ll be able to create jobs for other people and you create wealth for other people as well. I guess the start-ups should go after that. There’s nothing wrong in creating something well for yourself of your employees. We also want to encourage for the stock options, because that’s what drives people in Silicon Valley. Hopefully that will spread over here. I see Manny Pangilinan does that so it really drives his executives to achieve when they see that the company improves, their options will improve as well. Then everybody takes a piece of the pie! You keep your employees happy and your company’s doing well.
Paolo: Yes. Definitely. Well, I’m sold! When are you starting? (laughter)
Butch: Yeah! (laughter) Well, we have a time frame, we want to get this going fast.
Butch: There’s a sense of urgency, I have a small team but they’re pretty dedicated, I invite you to come and visit us. One of our work schemes is to set up continuous activities since we also want to help start-up communities so we also have a QBQ night and we hope that we have ‘dirty ice-cream’ (sorbetes)
Paolo: Oh nice!
Butch: and taho (soy dessert) maybe not on the same night. They might get sick. But you know QBQ beer nights and all that stuff… I’ve got somebody working on that set of activities and as I‘ve said, everybody’s welcome. It’s not that exlusive to anyone particular company or business group.
Paolo: How can our listeners reach out to you and where do we find you? So that we can also visit like QBQ Innovation Hub.
Butch: Well, we’ve got a Facebook page and it’s out there. I think you can even just Google QBO Innovation Hub, it should pop up.
Butch: and we’re just
beginning our social media push. Just remember, we just got launched a few
weeks ago. I think within 2 weeks, we’ve accomplished a lot because we’ve set
up the links to the Philippine Stock Exchange. We’ve set up links with the
Singapore funders and the Hong Kong funders.
Butch: and now we’ve launched here at QBQ at Go Ave. We’re moving. We’ve got two meetings next week.
Butch: But just wish us luck! If we can get even just 1 or 2 success stories, the whole community’s gonna gain.
Paolo: So your office is in along Jupiter, along Buendia, near DTI?
Butch: Yes. We’re there and am not there all time because I’ve got a couple of other things to do but our staff is there and we’re all pretty dedicated guys. We’ve got an intern from Stanford University, Jacob Levi. He’s a good guy.
Paolo: Anyway, everybody can drop by and say hello?
Butch: Yes, it depends. (laughter) because you know it’s a DTI building and I don’t want anybody to come here, I mean, generally if you’re a start-up person, we’ll try to make sure that we’ve got somebody to talk to you and we’re going to try and figure out where you fit in the Universe. Are you here in the early stage or seed capital or are you closer to an exit?
Paolo: Of course. Of course. Any final message?
Butch: Well, I’ve been real happy just to be a part of this scene, and I think your group, Paolo is really one of the—you’ve got the mission to build up your company and increase the number of listeners and build up the users of your technology. I think you’ve got a great future too because I know that your company is overseas. We’re looking exactly for this type of thing.
Butch: So, the key for you is you got to drive traffic to your text start-up. And if you can do that, I can tell you that there might be opportunities.
Paolo: Thank you so much for the kind words and we’re also very lucky to have you… and QBQ Innovation Hub helping the country, it was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much, Butch.
Butch: For the country! (Para sa Bayan!)