#TBT: Startup Weekend Manila 2011

Fortuitous and life-changing. These two words capture best this day, October 1st, for two startup founders in the Kickstart investment portfolio.

  • Fortuitous because today is the first day of October, which falls on a Thursday, and it brings back memories of the 1st-ever Startup Weekend Manila held at MINT College, October 21-23, 2011.
  • Life-changing because little did two registered participants know then that Startup Weekend Manila 2011 would be their first step out of their corporate cubbyholes and into the crazy cool world of co-working spaces for startup founders.

And following the modern tradition of #tbt posts, below is a repost of an original blog written by GiftLauncher co-founder Kenneth Reyes-Lao. Together with co-founder Shiela Marie Jocona, the unfolding story will take you back to Startup Weekend Manila 2011: what Ken and Shiela experienced, what they learned, and who they’ve met.

The blog accurately captures what makes Startup Weekend a great 54-hour bootcamp for wannapreneurs, the fledgling entrepreneurs, and anyone who willingly embraces entrepreneurship and digital innovation as a way of life.

And what’s heartening? Some folks from other teams Ken and Shiela were in competition with to earn the distinction of being the best  “No Talk, All Action” team of SWM 2011 reunited at #area55 — as founders of early-stage startups Kickstart invested in.


by Kenneth Reyes-Lao, Co-Founder and CEO, GiftLauncher



Startup Weekend events have been a staple tech event in the Philippines since 2011. The very first one was Startup Weekend Manila which was held in Mint College back in October of 2011. This year’s Startup Weekend Manila will be held in iAcademy in Makati City on October 10–12, 2014.

There are a lot of conflicting opinions on when the startup phenomenon really began in the Philippines but for us, Startup Weekend Manila 2011 was the starting point of our Startup Journey. This is a #throwback post to our Startup Weekend experience and what we’ve been doing since then.

Ground Zero

Back in 2011, Shiela Jocona and I used to work for a company calledTransnational Diversified Group (TDG). One of the enjoyable tasks that we were assigned to do was to conceptualize new businesses for the company and organize and mobilize resources to execute that new business.

On our spare time we were toying with a business idea that revolved around Crowdfunding and if we were to pull it off, how would that be implemented. A few weeks before Startup Weekend Manila, Patch Dulay told us about the event and that we should join. We took a look at the event page and decided to jump right in.

What I liked about Startup Weekend was that they invite people that come from different industries and have different expertise who try to work and learn together during the event.

Shiela and I enjoyed every minute of Startup Weekend Manila. We met a lot of interesting and cool people from different industries and backgrounds. And most importantly we learned a lot within that 54 hours and kept it close to our hearts until today.

Walk In Our Shoes

Let me take you back to what we’ve experienced, what we’ve learned and some people that we’ve met during Startup Weekend Manila 2011.

Getting Picked Last 

Shiela and I joined Startup Weekend with the intent to work on our idea. Back then, joining another team was out of the question. We wanted to pitch our idea and look for technical people to work with us over the weekend. And on that Friday night, we nearly walked out on this amazing experience twice…

Startup Weekend (for those of you who don’t have a clue) works like this:

  1. The Pitch Fire — Friday night, if you have registered to pitch an idea, you will only have 60 seconds to pitch your idea. In that 60 seconds, you need to have shared the following information: a) Introduced yourself b)The Problem you are trying to solve c) Your Startup Name and how it is going to solve the problem, d) And most importantly what you need for your team (ex: Designer, Developer etc)
  2. The People’s Choice — After the Pitch Fire, people from the audience gets to vote for the startup idea that they found interesting and would like to support. They then announce the top ideas from the Pitch Fire.
  3. Teams — Startup teams start looking for possible team members that they need.
  4. No Talk All Action — Once teams are formed, they have until Sunday to, learn from the mentors and work on the prototype.
  5. Final Pitch — Sunday evening is the final pitches for the teams and judging of the winners.

The main gist of the concept was to give better gifts that couples will love by pitching in with family and friends.

After the Pitch Fire session, there were 60+ startup ideas which were posted up and were voted upon during the People’s Choice segment. Of course we were biased and bullish about our idea and felt a bit of a heartbreak when we saw that we just got less than 10 votes (I vaguely remember how many votes exactly because I was trying to erase it from my memory haha).

We thought that if your startup idea did not garner enough votes then you’re out. Shiela and I are introverts but are foolishly competitive, and at that moment we were stubborn as well. We came to this event wanting to only work on our idea and no one else’s. We were about to leave when I had the urge to ask someone from the organising committee if we can still join and work on our idea over the weekend. Our eyes lit up when he said that as long as you can convince a developer to join your team to help the prototype then you’re good to go. In my mind I was thinking, “How hard can it be?”

It was pretty damn hard! We were walking around in circles in the halls of Mint College trying to convince developers to join our team and work on our Wedding Lab idea. I guess our idea was not that cool to work on and at that moment we were beginning to lose hope again. It was 11:30 pm and teams were already working on their ideas. They close the doors at 12:00 midnight and once again we were about to leave empty handed.

We were standing in the hallway near the exit with one foot already out the door. We were both tired and depressed being shut down through out the night that all we wanted to do was go home.


Shiela Marie Jocona, GiftLauncher co-founder. Pictured here at MINT College, the venue partner of SWM 2011.

I told Shiela that we will wait for a couple of more minutes and ask the next developer that walked by if they would be interested to work on our idea. We ended up meeting two amazing developers who were willing to work with us over the weekend. Their names are Rod Coronel and Jose Asuncion. Looking back, waiting for a few more minutes and getting to meet these guys was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made in our Startup Journey.

No Talk, All Action

Out of the 60+ startup ideas that was pitched, it was down to 28 teams. Some teams made a conscious decision to merge with another team who was working on the same idea. Others did not get enough members on the team to be eligable to participate. I guess we owe it to our stubborness and a bit of luck to be able to work on Wedding Lab and learn from mentors and fellow participants.

I will limit my sharing during this part of the event so that first timers to Startup Weekend will get to experience it without any spoilers from me. Startup Weekend Manila has been running for a good four years now and I guess it wouldn’t hurt to share some learnings that we have taken to heart.

Learning Points

Minimum Viable Product (MVP) — In the corporate world an MVP would be your Most Valuable Proposition. This was the first time we heard the term in Startup speak. Having an MVP is to be able to build and deploy the core product to early adopters. MVP here does not mean the cheaper version of your product but a process of iteration where you are able to learn from your early customers. You iterate until you find Product Market fit or you find your product to be non-viable

Problem Solution Fit — Problem Solution Fit is having to validate your solution to the existing problem that you have proposed. Sometimes you find out that the solution to the problem does not fit. And sometimes it does but the problem is not big enough to merit you spending time on it. You need to constantly validate the problem against your customer and your proposed solution

Customer Validation — Based on our corporate experience, we tend to build products and solutions based on certain assumptions that may or may not be validated. We end up building a bulky system with all the bells and whistles either because your boss wants you to or your team is just working blindly based on assumptions. Building a startup means having a two-way conversation between your team and your customers. In this way, you can validate if you are still on the right direction or not.

Monetization — In simple terms, how are you going to make money out of your startup idea. This is usually my favorite part of the conversation. I love analysing business models. We don’t necessarily have a killer monetization strategy but I will always be interested in how other startups or businesses makes money. Based on our observation the usual suspects are having and ad-based revenue or subscription based revenue.

There are a lot more things that you’ll pick up when you attend this Startup Weekend Manila 2014. You will not learn everything in a weekend because it will be an information overload kind of weekend. I suggest that you listen to the mentors, take note and take it home with you. I advise that you guys constantly study and learn beyond this event.

Final Pitches

Christian, Jonathan

SWM 2011 co-organisers Christian Besler and Jonathan Lansangan. Taken during the counting of votes for best ideas pitched.

We are nearing the final pitches. You can feel the excitement and anxiety around the room. I’ve presented to a lot of top level executives even to CEOs and it came out easy for me but this time was different. I was nervous and anxious to do the final pitch with Rod. I guess the reason behind it was this was personal.

We did not win any of the Startup Weekend categories but the things that we’ve learned and the amazing people that we’ve met helped pave the way to where we are today.

Beyond Startup Weekend

We were still working in our previous company after Startup Weekend. During our spare time we were constantly working on WeddingLab. It took us a year to develop WeddingLab.

We were able to launch WeddingLab around April 2013. And by July 2013, we got in to Kickstart Ventures and Proud Cloud’s Accelerator Program called Launch Garage

Since joining the program, we’ve learned a lot and with our continued startup education we have decided to open up the platform and allow group-gifting beyond the wedding vertical.

We launched GiftLauncher.com so that we can pitch in for amazing gifts for any occassion.

Collectively we’ve processed over 700,000 pesos in gifts for our customers.

We are about to release version 2 of GiftLauncher.com and will continue on and develop mobile applications so that you can easily launch and pitch in for gifts as easily as sending a message.

Words of Advice

We wanted to share our story to be able to give back to the Startup Weekend community in the Philippines. This is how we started and for most of you Startup Weekend might also be your starting point.

For those brave enough to continue to work on their idea beyond the weekend we wanted to share some advice.

  1. Keep It Simple — Starting out with limited resources is very difficult. Flesh out your idea and build an MVP. Adding features to set yourself apart will be tempting but as much as possible focus on the core and it will be much easier for you when you iterate.
  2. Be Flexible on Execution but Be stubborn on the Vision — If you have a grander vision for the solution that you are building, you need to be stubborn about it. There are a lot of curve balls that will be thrown at you while building your startup. Always go back to the vision and be flexible on how you execute that vision.
  3. Get out of the Building — You will hear this a lot. It just means that never work in a silo. Go out and meet your customers and constantly validate. Talk to strangers and random people about your idea, they might provide you with a much more uncensored feedback that would be very valuable in the future.
  4. Have fun and love what your doing — It’s a bit of a cliche but it works for us. Have fun on your Startup Journey. There will be ups and seemingly long series of downs but if you love what you are doing it will definitely tide over those down days.
  5. No better day than today — There is no better day to start working on your startup idea than today. Jump in.


NOTE: GiftLauncher is a Kickstart-funded startup, which was first pitched as Wedding Lab PH on June 24, 2013 for LaunchGarage Mission 02 —the early-stage incubation program of Kickstart Ventures and ProudCloud