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25-Year-Old Filipino Startup Founder Wins P1 Million in Debut Season of Project Go

Rookie entrepreneur bags grand prize.
IMAGE Go Daddy / AXN
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What were you doing at 25? Because entrepreneur Pearl Janine de Guzman just won the P1 million grand prize in the debut season of AXN and Go Daddy’s startup show Project Go.

At just 25, de Guzman bagged the top prize after a successful final pitch to Go Daddy’s judges. The show, which you can binge-watch on YouTube, gathered bright young entrepreneurs with the hopes of winning an investment to expand their startups.

But de Guzman’s stood out among the crowd. Her startup, Staffz, is an online outsourcing solution rooted in its social mission to give underprivileged youths a shot at a better life. Leveraging on the rising gig economy, Staffz connects freelancers with part-time and full-time opportunities with MSMEs based in the U.S.

Driven by Social Change

Staffz is only two years old, but it’s already bagged a P1 million investment from GoDaddy, one of the leading web hosts in the world. The idea of Staffz took root when de Guzman was still a student volunteer in college and realized the full weight of the limitations set by society on children born in poverty.

“It broke me to think that the reality and the culture of poverty where these kids are born from would immensely hinder them from achieving their dreams. Education in itself is a privilege that is not afforded to everyone and the communal helplessness mindset of which their community believes in would cripple them from even trying,” said de Guzman.

“It made me question the very foundation of what we do—why are we even trying to mold them and encourage them when the only thing we do afterward is to hope that they can make it on their own?”

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Hope is necessary, but it will lead to nothing without action. And so in 2020, Staffz was born, rooted in purpose and passion. While the idea of Staffz had been in her mind for a while, 2020 proved the perfect time to get their feet on the ground. The normalization of the work-from-home setup and migration to online environments made it the best time to setup Staffz, proving that crisis and opportunity are just two sides of the same coin.

Rookies Steal the Show

The debut season of Project Go attracted a young batch of entrepreneurs, some of whom were still in college. The finalists included some who were in their early twenties and barely done with their bachelor’s degrees.

It was a welcome surprise for those who are used to seeing seasoned startup veterans take to the stage. According to Tina Shieh, GoDaddy Asia marketing director, the show is open to everyone, but even the showrunners were surprised by the young turnout.

Somewhere along the way, Project Go became a champion of youth entrepreneurship and its episodes became a starter pack guide for millennials and Gen Zs dreaming of founding startups.

De Guzman was one of those dreamers, along with her two colleagues at Staffz who are about the same age. Together, the three-person team run the ship.

Bagging P1 Million in Investment

With its investment from GoDaddy, Staffz will be using the prize money to scale, starting by investing in hiring more people, connecting to more freelancers, and acquiring the tools and equipment they need to improve their services.

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Right now, Staffz offers its clients the following services: SEO, graphic design, and content writing, all of which are essential for online businesses looking to boost sales and traffic. The MSMEs Staffz serves are attracted to the affordable talent in the Philippines, as well as the opportunity to make a tangible impact in the lives of its freelancers.

Unlike other offshoring online solutions, Staffz is zeroing in on freelancers who really need the opportunities. It’s even offering hands-on training and upskilling workshops, as well as laptops and portable internet until the startup can secure a headquarters where freelancers can work in. It’s clear that to Staffz, impact is just as important as profit, and in a time when the pandemic has emphasized the need for greater empathy in the private sector, it’s easy to see why they won the grand prize.

Because of the pandemic and the unemployment it caused, the Philippine employment industry is more competitive than ever.

“With demanding job requirements making it difficult for people to even get an interview and with a lot of companies downsizing because of the pandemic, it has become even more challenging for hopefuls to be employed. More so, aspirants who don’t have the necessary qualifications (college education, years of experience, skills, etc.) are at the bottom of the hiring pools [and] are left with the tiniest of job opportunities,” said de Guzman to Esquire Philippines.

That’s precisely the problem this startup aims to solve. While some tasks at Staffz will require baseline educational attainment, the startup’s quality control system will be run by team heads who won’t just maintain content standards, but will also mentor the youths the startup hires.

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Staffz is still in its early stages, so we’ll have to wait and see whether it takes off. But one thing is clear: youth entrepreneurship rooted in social causes is on the rise, and it promises great—and meaningful—things for the future of startups.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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