They were at a “really low point,” SpellDial founder Albert Padin said in our interview. After two years of chasing their startup dream to make the world dial names instead of numbers, Padin had to look for a job.
Padin said he could no longer stretch funding for his startup and decided to look for money. He linked up with Dave Overton of Symph, a technology solutions provider.
But weeks ago, SpellDial got a much-needed boost. It was picked by the Science & Technology Council as one of the 2012 ON3 pitching competition winners, along with Payroll Hero and NEXTIX, another Cebu start-up.
The teams will be brought to Silicon Valley for three months of immersion at the Plug and Play Tech Center, a business accelerator.
Like second wind
It’s like a “second wind,” Padin said during our interview with co-founder Nicole Macarasig. There’s still hope, we’re inspired to work again, Padin said.
The SpellDial team is among the first to emerge in Cebu’s start-up community. Padin said they started with a big team of 10 to 15 people looking to “change the world” by simplifying communications. At one point, they invaded the IT Park with a group of teenagers, friends of friends, asking businesses to sign up and then putting up SpellDial stickers. That was their “high point,” Padin recalled wistfully.
Everything unraveled with dreams of money and funding.
“We realized we could get funding,” he said. The group became excited. “We could get a million dollars for this. We forgot we were in the Philippines.”
“We saw people getting funding of one million dollars, five million dollars, idea stage 10 million dollars and we were like ‘oh we have a very nice idea, we could get at least a million dollars,” he said.
Instead of working on their app and getting more people to sign up, SpellDial wrote proposals.
“Instead of trying to change the world here we were writing proposals and executive summaries and we had no idea what these were. A pitch deck, pitch presentations,” he said. “We stopped working on our product and convincing people to use it to focus on building an awesome presentation to pitch to investors, to pitch in startup competitions.”
Padin said that changed the team dynamics and some members left because they were offended by the shift in focus to making money. “We were supposed to change the world and it’s now a job.”
Padin said the biggest lesson he learned in building a start-up in Cebu was to always understand context.
“Reading so many things online, it’s like I’m living in Silicon Valley, with the thought culture there and I forgot that I’m living in the Philippines and the culture here is different,” he said.
“For example, in Silicon Valley they say quit your job and work on your start-up and focus…I think that can apply in Silicon Valley because people who quit their jobs can live off something for the next five or six months and have enough money to do that,” he said, “But not all Filipinos have that kind of luxury to quit their job. If we quit our job now, we won’t have food tomorrow.”
Padin and Macarasig are leaving for Silicon Valley in June. Padin said he will focus on getting feedback on SpellDial and network with people during his stay there.
Max is a journalist and blogger based in Cebu. He has written and edited for such publications as The Freeman, The Independent Post, Today, Sun.Star Cebu, Cebu Daily News, Philstar Life, and Rappler.
He is also a mobile app and web developer and co-founded InnoPub Media with his wife Marlen.
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