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What's Happening With the Philippines' First Startup Unicorn?

Back-to-back news stories suggest all is not well with Revolution Precrafted.
IMAGE Edric Chen
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When Robbie Antonio founded Revolution Precrafted in 2015, it was an ambitious startup that sought to connect home buyers with some of the world’s most recognizable names in architecture and design to create made-to-order homes for anyone anywhere in the world. Prefabricated homes were often thought of as inferior or even ugly. Antonio's startup wanted to make them hip and cool.

Back then, Antonio said the ultimate goal of Revolution is to democratize high design and architecture by making the work of these “superstar” creatives available to more people. “I am a firm believer that design on a large scale need not be limited to a privileged few, but rather available to a wider audience of end users,” he said in an interview in the December 2016 issue of Forbes Philippines.

Antonio also harbored dreams of Revolution Precrafted becoming the country’s first unicorn, or a startup with a valuation of $1 billion. It sounded lofty back then, but less than a year later, in October 2017, after a Series B funding round co-led by Silicon Valley venture capital firm K2 Global, Antonio’s dream was realized. Revolution Precrafted had indeed achieved unicorn status.

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Fast forward three years later and there are signs not everything is quite right with the startup. Last February 20, finance and business news platform DealStreetAsia ran a story questioning the health of the company after it allegedly sought funding for as little as $1 million to $3 million against its $1.85 billion valuation as of 2017. 

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“It is extremely rare for billion-dollar businesses to raise such small amounts given their presumed scale,” the report said. “At that investment size, a full equity deal of that nature would either give an investor a minuscule stake of just thousandths of a percent in Revolution or imply that Antonio was taking a drastic haircut on the value of his own shares.”

The DealStreetAsia report also alleged Revolution is far behind schedule as far as delivery of its main product is concerned. The news platform said it visited the site of Flavorscapes Lakeshore in Pampanga and came across “rows of derelict, bare-faced modular structures and not a single construction worker in sight.”

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At about the same time, another report was published in relatively new website The Ken, which bills itself as “a digital, subscription-driven publication headquartered out of Bangalore, India.” The Ken story included interviews with disgruntled but unnamed home buyers and current and former employees of Revolution Precrafted. Similar to the report that came out on DealStreetAsia, the story in The Ken claims there is little evidence the unicorn startup had actually delivered a prefab home to the market, despite Antonio's pronouncements and optimistic projections. 

“It doesn’t help that its founder has started pursuing other business ideas, supposedly taking his focus away from Revolution,” writer Jum Balea said in The Ken.

Balea was talking about Antonio setting-up a parent company called Resident Holdings, which not only includes Revolution Precrafted, but over a dozen other subsidiaries, including a marketplace for franchising concepts involving Filipino celebrities; online auctions of pre-loved apparel, accessories, and furniture; and others.

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“All these businesses are said to be at varying levels of incubation today,” the report said.

The Ken report also mentioned the email trail that purportedly showed Antonio seeking the “$1 million to $3 million” in funding in return for preferred shares, the same one also mentioned in the DealStreetAsia story. This seems to suggest that the source of both emails, which The Ken says is a prominent VC in Southeast Asia, is the same person.

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Who is Robbie Antonio?

Robbie Antonio is the third son of Amb. Jose EB Antonio, the founder and chairman of Century Properties. A graduate of Stanford University’s MBA program and an economics degree holder from Northwestern University, Robbie’s connections with global players in real estate, architecture and design helped his father’s company land deals and collaborations with the Trump Organization, Armani Casa, Missoni, Versace, Paris Hilton, Daniel Libeskind, and many others. 

The fortysomething Antonio is also a flashy globetrotter. His personal Instagram feed is filled with selfies with Hollywood superstars and American political power players. Last New Year’s Eve, he attended a gathering at U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. 

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Antonio had been featured before in countless magazine covers and society and lifestyle websites, but after Revolution Precrafted achieved unicorn status, he started hogging the headlines of business and tech platforms as well.

In March 2017, after a series A funding round worth $15.4 million pushed his startup’s valuation to $256 million, Antonio landed on Forbes’s list of 50 richest Filipinos that year, ranking 28th alongside his father, with a net worth of $400 million.

Although Antonio maintains Revolution Precrafted is a separate entity from listed Century Properties, he still holds a managing director position in the latter company. The two companies have also done business together. According to financial statements filed by Century Properties with the Philippine Stock Exchange, its subsidiary Century Limitless Corporation (CLC) partnered with Revolution Precrafted “as contractor for the homes, mock-up units, and amenities of its projects in Batangas.” Various news sources indicate that Revolution Precrafted is providing the prefabricated homes in Batulao Artscapes in the province.

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Esquire Philippines has reached out to representatives of Revolution Precrafted. The company said it is releasing key company milestones soon.

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