When You're a Startup Founder, 'You're Either in a State of Euphoria or Agony'

Being a startup founder is a rollercoaster ride. But it's all worth it in the end.
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Hard facts: being a startup founder is a rollercoaster ride. You might experience graying hair and endless stress, but the satisfaction of growing your startup is still worth every challenge along the way. 

During Esquire Philippines and Sinigang Valley’s first edition of Build: A Startup Festival, the country’s leading startup founders shared the realities of building a company from the ground up. In the talk “A Founder’s Fundraising Journey to Series B and C,” moderated by industry thought leader and Local startup founder Constantin Robertz, the Filipino founders of Growsari, PDAX, and Kumu gathered for a conversation that no startup founder should miss.

The founder of Philippine crypto trading platform PDAX put the realities of managing a startup perfectly: 

“There’s no steady state. You’re either in a state of euphoria or agony,” said Nichel Gaba, founder and CEO of PDAX. PDAX, which stands for Philippine Digital Asset Exchange, recently secured Series B funding and is already one of the Philippines' leading fintech and crypto startups. 

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Even though PDAX has already reached a point that any onlooker would consider “success,” Gaba shared that there’s never been a moment where they felt that they’d “made it.” The CEO met with over 100 venture capitals before securing its pre-seed, and from his experience, it’s always “a journey of building,” enduring setbacks, and innovating to keep up with the times.

Meanwhile, for Growsari co-founder and CEO Raymond “ER” Rollan, he advises that startups should not lose sight of their business while chasing fundraising. 

“Focus on the problem you're trying to solve; focus on proving the economic model, the business model, the value proposition; and then fine-tuning all of that. I think fundraising would be a byproduct of all those things,” shared Rolland.

"It means that the reason why you're getting money is that people find what you do valuable. Just, you know, build the business.” 

It certainly worked out for GrowSari. After securing Series A in 2018, Rollan spent the next few years building GrowSari into the valuable startup it is now. The startup secured Series B in 2021, and only a year later, it secured Series C in 2022. 

Rexy Dorado, co-founder and president of Kumu, shared his two cents on fundraising. 

“There's a great kind of joke, a PowerPoint slide that is actually very accurate, which is something like, the best fundraising deck ever is just one slide that says ‘we're not raising money,’” said Dorado. 

“The best way to fundraise is to not need to fundraise, and I think there are different ways to get there, like focusing on the fundamentals, especially for the early stagers. There are some valid reasons to want to grow fast and bootstrap some growth early especially if you have a kind of marketplace model where you just need supply to even get started,” shared the founder. 

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“But still, you have probably more time than you think.” 

Too often, startups fall into the trap of thinking the industry is in a never-ending race. There’s no shame in taking your time to build your startup—there’s no deadline to when you have to succeed. If you rush, you might make mistakes you can’t take back, so you might as well take the long road if it means you’ll grow to the more sustainable and valuable. In a short anecdote, Rexy shared how they once pitched to a VC that joked that they ought to get an 80 percent stake in the startup for how much they were putting in. Emphasis on joke. 

Kumu, like GrowSari, has secured a Series C, and all three startups are signs of a booming Philippine startup industry. Now is the best time to start a startup, and for investors, it’s the best time to fund them. 

“We’ve never really had a shortage of good ideas in the Philippines or of people who can execute it,” said Rollan. 

Based on Rollan’s insights, the competition in the startup scenes in India, Indonesia, and China have made the Philippines a prime place for investments, innovation, and ideas. 

“The overall climate at the moment will make it easier [for founders] and hopefully you can learn a thing or two from the people [in the ecosystem],” concluded Rollan. 

As we’re in the midst of the golden age for startups, aspiring founders have an entire community that is more than willing to mentor the next great Filipino innovators.

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To view the entire discussion with PDAX founder Nichel Gaba, GrowSari co-founder ER Rollan, Kumu co-founder Rexy Dorado, and Locax co-founder Constantin Robertz, watch the Build: A Startup Festival recorded livestream below. 

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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