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Financial Adviser: 5 Startup Lessons Everyone Can Learn from Andres Bonifacio

Just like any successful startup, the Katipunan that Bonifacio founded also had its share of ups and downs.
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Andres Bonifacio had the makings of a successful entrepreneur when he co-founded the Katipunan in 1892. He was very passionate about his idea to disrupt the 300-year-old Spanish colonial era in the Philippines.

He was a revolutionary leader who knew how to execute his plans into action and take risks when necessary. He was also a constant learner who listened openly to suggestions and criticisms when he was building up his startup organization.

The revolution that he started, at a time when no one dared to challenge the Spanish establishment, helped pave the way for the Philippines to eventually achieve independence in June 1898.

Today, Bonifacio is known as the Father of the Philippine Revolution. Some historians also consider him as the de facto national hero of the Philippines.

Just like any successful startup, the Katipunan that Bonifacio founded also had its share of ups and downs.

What were the early struggles of the Katipunan? How did Bonifacio manage to grow the Katipunan as a national organization? What were the mistakes that Bonifacio committed?

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Here are the five business lessons every entrepreneur must learn from Andres Bonifacio:

1. Develop a visionary executor tandem

The success of any business does not depend on the ideas of the business founder alone but also on how the ideas are translated into actions.

Many entrepreneurs are driven by innovative ideas but lack the necessary skills to execute their ideas into reality.

To succeed in business, an entrepreneur needs a reliable partner who can help him execute his plans properly. Such was the case of Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto.

Bonifacio was the visionary who was the catalyst behind the KKK movement while Jacinto served as the executor who helped put operations in place.

When Bonifacio became the Supremo of the Katipunan, he wrote the first set of regulations for members called the Decalogue or Sampung Utos ng mga Anak ng Bayan.

Jacinto, who was studying law at the University of Santo Tomas later joined the Katipunan and made his own version echoing Bonifacio’s ideas, and called it Kartilya or the Teachings of the Katipunan, which served as a guidebook for new members joining the organization.

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Bonifacio and Jacinto had a successful business partnership. They were like brothers who shared ideas and worked together in building up the propaganda machinery and forces of the Katipunan.

Jacinto became instrumental to the success of the Katipunan in the early stages, leading to him now be regarded in history as the Brains of the Katipunan.

2. Develop a branding strategy

The Katipunan was originally spelled as Cataastaasan Cagalang-galangang Catipunan. The letter K during that time was not part of the official Tagalog alphabet.

Bonifacio and his revolutionary comrades wanted to use something symbolic that many Filipinos can easily identify themselves with. They chose an ancient script called Ka or the “k” symbol to represent their revolutionary advocacy. The letter “k” became popular among the masses as it later symbolized an act of defiance against the Spaniards.

Bonifacio further developed his branding strategy by shortening the Kataastaasan Kagalang-galangang Katipunan into a powerful acronym called KKK for better brand recall. He also used a red-colored flag to psychologically encourage action and impress a sense of protection to all members.

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The use of color and acronyms is more than design and aesthetic in marketing. It is an important strategy that helps strengthen brand identity and experience.

Brand design that comes with the acronym and the color can host a lot of emotional associations with the customer. 

3. Develop a direct marketing strategy

Andres Bonifacio only became the Supremo of the Katipunan in 1895, three years after he co-founded it with other members of the La Liga Filipina, which became inactive after its founder, Dr. Jose Rizal was exiled to Dapitan.

During those years prior to Bonifacio’s election as the Supremo, the Katipunan had roughly around only 300 members.

Bonifacio found out that the reason for the low turnout was due to the lack of propaganda materials. Upon the suggestion of Dr. Pio Valenzuela, Bonifacio approved a renewed marketing drive by coming out with a newsletter for the Katipunan called Kalayaan.

They printed around 1,000 copies and distributed it secretly in Manila, Cavite and Bulacan. Once the paper began to circulate, the KKK attracted thousands of applicants.

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By the outbreak of the revolution in August 1896, five months after the newsletter was distributed, it was estimated that membership has grown to over 30,000 members.

Effective direct marketing occurs when results of a marketing campaign can be immediately measured by tracking how many customers have responded through a marketing message’s call to action.

4. Develop financial controls

A company with weak check and balances is highly vulnerable to financial fraud.

The Katipunan had an informal way of managing its finances and as result, there were several allegations that some members of the Supreme Council had stolen from their coffers.

Bonifacio discussed with his assembly at the Katipunan the need to put the finances in order. They agreed to strengthen their internal controls by segregating the funds for the Katipunan as whole from the funds that belonged to each individual section, from the Supreme Council down to the smallest unit.

To establish better audit trail by documentation, they also agreed that no member would be awarded certificates unless the awardee had actually paid the required fee for his admission.

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5. Develop corporate ownership control

In March 1897, Bonifacio was invited to attend a meeting known as Tejeros Convention to primarily discuss the defense of Cavite against the Spaniards.

Little did he know that the convention turned out to be an election that would decide the future leaders of the revolutionary government, which was not approved by the Supreme Council that he headed.

The election was dominated by Katipunan members of Cavite who voted General Emilio Aguinaldo to be the president.

Although Bonifacio did not acknowledge the results because he believed that the election did not represent the stakeholders from other provinces, it was too late when he realized that the new government already formed.

History tells us that the internal discord between Bonifacio and Aguinaldo culminated in a tragedy. Bonifacio was arrested and imprisoned by Aguinaldo’s troops, and within another 10 days, Bonifacio was tried by a military court for treason, found guilty, sentenced to death, and executed.

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A startup founder can lose control by dilution when too many shares are issued to different stockholders.

When a founder has less than 51 percent share in the company, even though he remains to be the biggest shareholder, there is always a risk that other small shareholders can group together by electing a new president of the company and fire the founder.

Equity distribution must always be strategic. There are many ways to raise funds by selling shares without risking losing the majority control in the company. 

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Henry Ong
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