The Manila Miracle: How HeyKuya got acquired after 24 weeks of operation



The Finishers: Learn First-hand from the Philippine Founders Who Willed Their Startup from Idea to Exit
was written by Ezra Ferraz in 2017. This book documents the stories of 11 local founders who were able to scale their startup and exit. This excerpt, titled “The Manila Miracle: How HeyKuya got acquired after 24 weeks of operation,” which focuses on the journey of HeyKuya and its founder, Shahab Shabibi.

 

In search of lost time

  

After meeting over coffee, Shahab Shabibi and Farouk Meralli,  the co-founders of a new holdings company, Machine Ventures, reached  a gentleman’s agreement with their friend Subir Lohani to form the SMS based service HeyKuya. Shabibi would focus on operations as  the CEO and sole founder of HeyKuya, while Farouk and Subir would help  set it up and strategize as partners.  

The branding of HeyKuya invoked the image of the friendly  neighborhood vendor there to serve you, and that’s essentially what they  planned the service to be, only on a much more ambitious and grander  scale. Users would be able to text a central number to make any request  for assistance, including everything from making reservations and booking tickets to hailing rides and delivering parcels, so long as it was legal.

A real person, a kuya,* would then respond to get the details  needed to process your request. If you wanted pizza delivered, they would  get your exact order and your address, for example, all in polite, friendly,  and exemplary English or Filipino. On the back-end, the kuya would scram ble to get whatever you needed done, done.

If they had set this business up farther west, they could have called it HeyGenie. 

To say that Shahab, Farouk, and Subir had their work cut out for  them would be an understatement. 

“It would be a real world version of a search engine. HeyKuya  would be able to put things together in a way that Google or Siri could  not,” Shahab said. “And to cover for all of those services, we would need a  lot of expertise in many different verticals.”  

Even entrepreneurs in countries with much better infrastructure than the Philippines struggled to coordinate the talent and resources necessary to pulling off these types of personal butler services. The  much-needed motivation to address this logistical nightmare came in the  fact that they were trying solve their own problem.  

All three of them were extremely busy professionals—Shahab  was working around-the-clock to get Machine off the ground, Subir was  the managing director of the Rocket Internet-backed Carmudi Indonesia;  and Farouk was the CEO for his own mobile health startup mClinica—that  understood the value of time.  

Miscellaneous errands were merely inconveniences here and  there, but when you added them up over the course of a week or a month,  you get the dictionary definition of an opportunity cost: you lose out on all  the other things you could have done.

Shahab and Farouk were willing to bet Machine’s small nest egg  on others feeling the same way. Who would not want to offload their simple but tedious tasks to a reliable virtual assistant, available just a text  away? 

Shahab believed Filipinos would eagerly adopt such a service.  The son of a diplomat, who had been stationed for some time in the Philippines, Shahab chose to remain in the country, even when his mother and  father left in 2013. Comparing the Philippines to his native Iran, where he  had founded his first business at the age of thirteen, Shahab admitted  that Iranians are less open to solutions. “While here, people are just wait ing for innovations to happen,” he said, the statement conjuring the image  of the Filipino commuter staring dully at another wall of traffic.  

Shahab’s service would be especially useful in Metro Manila,  where commuters already lose hours each day to what navigation app  Waze proclaimed as the worst traffic in the world (see fig. 1.2 on previous  page).2 Citing a 2012 Japanese study, economic planning secretary Arsenio  Balisacan said that the man-hours forfeited to Manila gridlock cost the  Philippines 64 million dollars a day,3 a figure that seemed to call out in  challenge to the HeyKuya team: Could they reclaim the productivity that  our roads stripped away from us?

 

Founder as concierge

 

Undaunted by the scale of the work ahead, the founding team  moved fast to launch an early version of HeyKuya. You could say that it  was their minimum viable product, but the term would imply some element of development. Startups are advised to build MVPs, after all. Yet  Shahab did not write a line of code. Subir and Farouk, who focused on  strategy once the company was set up, did not tell him to hire a workhorse developer, either.  

Instead, Shahab bought two smartphones, one for each of the  major carriers in the Philippines, and pinged 100 of his closest friends,  most of whom were expats, entrepreneurs, and Rocket Internet employees—people accustomed to a high level of service and not afraid to denounce companies when they fell short—to explain that HeyKuya was  open for business. 

He began taking requests just five days after conceiving of HeyKuya. Such was the speed with which he wished to bring to Machine’s venture building (the company’s main tagline is, appropriately enough, “Transforming ideas into companies”), and a reflection of the firm’s core philosophy. “If you develop products based on your customer’s feedback, you’ll never be wrong,” he proclaimed.

Their first few requests challenged this thinking. In fact, they  were not even really requests at all. Users asked about weather conditions or other inane details, apparently to gauge the service’s legitimacy.  

Some even chided HeyKuya for romantic advice.

In these early days, Shahab manned the phones himself. It was founder as concierge, a guerrilla system that even Magic, the Silicon Valley startup to which HeyKuya could be  most closely compared, had to contend with after receiving 17,000 texts  in the span of 48 hours.

In consideration of Magic’s unmanageable viral growth, HeyKuya’s 100-person closed beta was smart, prescient even. It enabled Shahab to more efficiently manage the stream of genuine requests that  began to light up the pair of smartphones he anxiously hovered over. 

Fulfillment was tougher than they expected. Even a simple request to deliver two boxes from the best pizza place in Makati was fraught with ambiguity. Best, in the user’s view, could mean the cheapest, if he was price sensitive, or it could mean the speediest, if he was time sensitive. He may not even care for the cost or delivery time, but prefer the pizza that is the most authentically Italian or uniquely Filipino. 

Alternatively, he could want the choice that gravitated toward the center of all those poles, with pizza that was moderately priced, delivered in reasonable time, and tasted like it was made in Florence but had a locally sourced topping or two. Without the data, it was impossible to tell.

As such, Shahab made his recommendations with the added disclaimer that they were based on external sources (e.g. Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato, Spot.ph, WhenInManila.com). The lack of data on user preferences could be resolved in time, but the barebones platform was still light years away from properly capturing, organizing, and analyzing it.

Shahab could do with the next best thing for the time being: manpower. Conventional wisdom would suggest hiring additional kuyas from the business process outsourcing industry, a staple industry of modern day Philippines that had recently surpassed India as the world’s preferred back-office destination. Yet customer service agents were used to scripts. Helping someone troubleshoot issues with their router via a decision tree was vastly different from helping them fulfill a Pandora’s box of requests.

Shahab instead took a chance on recent college graduates. He sought out those who had entrepreneurial ambitions and sold them on HeyKuya as the ideal training ground—it was more open than a typical corporation, yet more structured than a startup incubator—before throwing them behind desktops to answer inquiries in the ultimate trial by fire.

If serving as an ad-hoc recommendation engine was not challenging enough, it was also important to personalize each interaction, which some apprentice kuyas found out the hard way. Oftentimes the kuyas would joke around with a particular customer, who would banter back. When the kuyas applied this light tone to other, more serious customers, however, they would get a stern response. In the same way that people expected their pizza to be customized, they also expected how you interact with them to take down their pizza order to be customized.

With the smartphones mirrored to a server, Shahab and the apprentice kuyas could also answer the inquiries from laptops, but no one knew what to add on this back-end. The need for a particular feature became glaringly obvious only when users made certain re quests for the first time, such as when an executive needed an official invoice be emailed to him so that he could reimburse the expense. They would then scribble them down as part of their technical to-do.

At this point, Shahab and the apprentices also did not have a single service provider as a partner, which committed them to a fair share of grunt work. For urgent requests within Bonifacio Global City (BGC), they would set out from their 5th Avenue office to complete it themselves in Manila’s scorching heat, as though they were characters on a fetch quest in a role-playing video game. They paid bills, delivered food, and picked up items.

The more labor-intensive requests led to some rather inventive improvisation on their part.

“Whenever someone said, ‘Can you get my laundry?’ we would literally book an Uber, pick up the phone, call the driver, and be like ‘Hey, we’ll pay you extra. Just get out of the car, go to the shop, and do this,’” Shahab recalled.

Some drivers refused. For those that agreed, Shahab paid out of pocket, as he did with all requests for which he had to avail of a third party. He did not view these dole-outs as an operational expense. To him, they were the cost of research and development. Apart from determining whether there would be demand for their service, a matter which was settled almost overnight in the wake of a skyrocketing number of requests, Shahab had to figure out precisely where their users needed help the most.


“One thing we’ll all admit to is we didn’t know what requests were going to come through the door,” said Farouk, who had graduated with a Masters in Health Policy and Management from Harvard University. “We only had our assumptions.”

They soon noticed that requests tended to cluster along a few major categories, including food and beverage, travel, research, and logistics, as in the case of the laundry-retrieving Uber drivers. This data was invaluable. It let them know where they had to build capacity in terms of suppliers before they publicly launched. If they were getting a lot of orders for Chinese food, for example, they would need a stable of restaurants and eateries to call on in the different municipalities of Metro Manila as requests arose.

Farouk referred to these learnings as “proof points.” By advancing from proof point to proof point, HeyKuya reduced their business risk. As the team learned more about the space, they invested more resources to capturing it—never a minute sooner, nor a minute later. This incremental approach also kept them from losing focus on the user.

“If you really break a start-up into smaller and smaller pieces, the reality is that sometimes it’s not all about the tech. It’s about solving the problem at hand, even in this most basic way,” Farouk said.

One of the most important proof points related to the primacy of logistics. HeyKuya’s early users turned to them for assistance with on demand pick-up and delivery, as most alternatives offered only next day service. So rather than find a logistics partner, as they were already informally doing with Uber, they elected to raise their own fleet of couriers, who could earn their income by running these errands.

HeyKuya’s closed beta lasted a full two months, during which Shahab and the apprentices collected extensive feedback as well. Since these early users were Shahab’s friends, they spared no criticism when the system was not working. A common complaint was that the early kuyas did not carry enough change. In response, HeyKuya equipped them with more denominations of cash, and on occasions when even that ran out, they maintained continuity of service by giving customers who paid in excess of what was due credit on their account for future use.


In one incident, a kuya had to park in a nearby lot to deliver to a customer’s condominium. The lot, however, did not issue receipts until vehicles exited, so the customer became furious when the kuya told him that he had to pay for parking. The kuya, after all, had no proof. For all the customer knew, the driver could have just lied about the parking to top-up his earnings.


As a result, HeyKuya developed a system that asked vendors to sign a proof of payment for every transaction on the spot, even if they—like parking lot attendants—typically gave one later. These early beta users also gave praise when it was due. Some of them raved about HeyKuya on StartupPh, the main community on Facebook for entrepreneurs in the Philippines. Others left unsolicited glowing reviews on HeyKuya’s Facebook page, and repeated these sentiments when the tech and business media came calling. Some users were so pleased with HeyKuya’s service that they offered to pay. Most flattering to Shahab were the instances in which users compared world-class companies like Lazada, Zalora, Grab, Zomato, and Foodpanda to HeyKuya, still then a business running off two phones.

 

Get me 10 kilograms of sand

 

After the closed beta, Shahab retired as a kuya to focus on over-seeing the bigger picture. He hired a developer and upgraded from the pair of smartphones, adding all the technical bells-and-whistles—APIs, dashboards, tracking tools—that would transform the concierge service into a legitimate platform, one that would enable the obsession with numbers that would characterize their company culture from then onward.

Through the analytics, Shahab found that the kinds of requests that new users sent in to apprentices remained somewhat consistent from their beta. 40% were related to logistics, while 25% were related to food and beverage. Still, HeyKuya’s rapidly growing userbase revealed challenging new use cases for the platform.

“One of the daily requests we get is picking up confiscated driver’s licenses from the LTO [Land Transportation Office],” Shahab said, humorously noting that these couriers would march right up to the service window in their HeyKuya gear, armed with the required authorization letter.

While some requests were truly one-of-a-kind, HeyKuya never outright denied any of them. Doing so would conflict with the brand voice concocted by the kuyas, who stipulated that HeyKuya must be polite, caring, and though it pained them at times, go the extra mile.

So if a user requested for HeyKuya to help them with a ten-page research paper—which was not completely unreasonable given their homepage invited assistance for “anything you want”—the kuya would refer him to a freelancer who could rather than explain that such tasks were beyond the scope of their service.

More impressive, if not telling, were the instances in which HeyKuya did go to great lengths to fulfill a request. On one occasion, a user requested sand, and not just any sand, but sand from a particular beach located several hours away from Metro Manila, and oh, could they have 10 kilograms of it as soon as possible?

Traditional logistics companies would not accommodate such a customized request, but HeyKuya did not balk.

“We called a local hostel that was in the area and told them, ‘Hey, we’ll send you some money, but can you go down to the beach and collect 10 kilograms of sand?’ And then we called our logistics partner and told them to meet up with this person there and bring the order to our customer,” Shahab said.

The user, who it turned out would be using the sand for an aquarium, saved an enormous amount of time and hassle. Rather than having to drive four hours to that beach, collect the sand, and drive back another four hours, losing what amounted to a work day, the user got exactly what he wanted delivered right to his door, all on the effort of but a few texts.

With this level of customer service (see fig. 3.2), it should not come as a surprise that HeyKuya grew 30% month over month from September 2015 to the end of the year, largely on word-of-mouth. Satisfied users would tell their friends, and influencers in different circles even volunteered to serve as ambassadors, sans the fee typically charged other companies to generate buzz.

Even HeyKuya’s competitors were evidently believers. In November 2015, when their chief rival from another Southeast Asian country explored an entry into the Philippines, their customer service representatives tried to fulfill some of the early requests from their own users through HeyKuya. These attempts at on-demand white labeling were as amusing as they were illuminating. “That’s when it first occurred to me: We may be the leader in this market,” Shahab said.


HeyKuya hit 5,000 users in January 2016. Particularly vocal were HeyKuya’s power users, who made up only 20% of the total base yet made more than 80% of the requests. In some cases, HeyKuya was with them from the start of their day until the very end, delivering their meals and running their errands. One power user even used HeyKuya to order food for the workers helping him move, who were also booked through HeyKuya.

The people who went to HeyKuya’s website to sign up were greeted, perhaps anticlimactically, with a waitlist. Operationally the waitlist enabled the company to bring in users in batches, as they hired enough kuyas to serve them, but it also had a marketing function: A person could move up in the queue, now over several thousand users long, by referring a friend. Many, as you can imagine, did. People were curious to see what was behind the velvet rope.


The waitlist did nothing to appease HeyKuya’s share of doubters. In an emerging market like the Philippines, a business that purported to do even a quarter of the things that HeyKuya claimed it could would be met with skepticism. Things that seem too good to be true often are here. Their greatest ammunition might come in the fact that HeyKuya does not charge users any sort of fee.


If a customer asks HeyKuya to find a barong that suits his budget and buy it for him, he would be charged the same price as they got it off the rack, a fact you could plainly see in the receipt they give you upon delivery. In other words, HeyKuya does not tack on any kind of markup to the customer. Surely, then, the company had to be selling the private information of its users or up to some other nefarious activity.

People were clamoring to know the truth, a fact evident in one of
the top Google searches for the company: How does HeyKuya earn?

 

HeyKuya's secret sauce

 

HeyKuya’s business model was simple, dispensable even in a 170-word blog post that kuyas have had to routinely direct people to.

Users never have to pay any sort of premium to HeyKuya, no matter how mundane or special the request. Even the aquarium owner who sent HeyKuya on a wild quest for exotic sand only paid the token delivery fee to the logistics provider. Unlike Magic, which charged its users in the United States a hefty $3,000 per month for its services, effectively serving only the top 1% of the population,5 HeyKuya would not monetize from the consumer.


That HeyKuya was free and would always remain free for users was one of the ground rules the team laid down from the beginning. They noticed that similar services abroad were charging exorbitant prices to keep margins high on what was a cost intensive business. Shahab had a different idea. “Saving time shouldn’t be a luxury available to only a few. It should be available to everyone,” he said, articulating Machine’s belief in inclusive innovation.

To achieve this lofty goal, HeyKuya could not charge consumers with any kind of transaction or subscription fee. While some users were willing to pay, as they saw during the closed beta, even a small sticker price would exclude a significant amount of people who could not spare the extra money.


HeyKuya decided to experiment with a different type of business model, and like with everything else about the company, they tested it in action. The team would identify high performing suppliers that they wished to onboard as part of its network and drive customers their way as the relevant requests came in. “We would then visit the supplier and say, ‘We brought you 300 customers this week. We can continue to send them your direction. Do you want to work with us?’” Farouk recounted.

The vast majority of businesses, of course, agreed to an affiliate program. According to Farouk, it’s because the arrangement is a very aligned win-win. HeyKuya gets a commission between 5% and 25% of the total sale for each customer that they successfully refer, while the supplier receives an inflow of customers that they would otherwise not get without the platform.

And unlike with offline or online advertising, businesses did not pay for eyeballs or clicks—they paid for performance. HeyKuya would only get their commission after a customer pried open his wallet and bought a product or service, and not for anything less.

Though this arrangement would seem to incentivize kuyas to funnel customers to suppliers that are official affiliates, they don’t. Doing so would represent a compromise of the user experience that the team upheld as a guiding light. Kuyas were transparent when presenting an affiliate as an option and did not pressure users to choose it over alternatives.

As HeyKuya became a larger and larger consumer brand, they hit a tipping point where suppliers approached them for an affiliate deal rather than the other way around. Though the days of asking Uber drivers to moonlight as laundrymen were still fresh in memory, the team was not in a rush to sign every business that pitched to them.

“We quickly realized that not everyone is fit to become our partner,” Shahab said.

Fairly or not, customers would treat every business that HeyKuya introduced them to as an extension of their own brand, so any issue with their product or service would be a reflection on their own platform. As a result, HeyKuya was concerned much more with the quality of their suppliers rather than their quantity, which may seem like typical corporate speak until you examine the grueling onboarding process they adopted.


Before signing a supplier, the team would call on trusted friends to internally test their service as much as possible for a one or two-month pilot. If it was a lavanderia, the beta testers would have all their clothes washed and suits dry cleaned there. If it was an Italian takeout joint, they would eat a lot of pasta for lunch and dinner.

During this pilot, the beta testers evaluate the suppliers in general categories, such as communication flow and customer service, along with vertical-specific categories, such as clothes cleanliness or pasta tastiness.

Most businesses failed on account of their speed. These suppliers had rigid rules in place, such as a spa requiring one-day advance reservations, that did not jibe with HeyKuya’s on demand model. “It defeats the purpose of HeyKuya!” Shahab exclaimed.


If a business did well during this trial period, then and only then would the team initiate an affiliate arrangement with them. Yet quality assurance continued even after onboarding. The kuyas texted customers to spot-check different vendors, and Shahab personally emailed users to get feedback on suppliers as well as their platform as a whole.

Poorly performing businesses were dropped from HeyKuya, a hardline stance that Shahab was quick to explain. “If a supplier is not giving our customers the kind of experience we want them to have, then there is no place for them on HeyKuya. It’s a platform for qualified businesses,” he said. 

 

Forever a kuya

 

In early 2016, Shahab and Farouk began to explore the possibility of raising venture capital. HeyKuya’s unique business model made this process a challenge. Investors wanted an anchor to compare the company’s performance to, but had none. “They had a hard time understanding whether we were doing pretty well,” Shahab said, “or pretty bad.”

The investors they spoke to soon latched onto the one KPI that they could: stickiness. In other words, the extent to which users were staying inside the ecosystem of providers and suppliers that HeyKuya had not only created, but curated. By this measure, HeyKuya was a fly trap. Users came and never left. The venture capitalists were perking up.


“While entertaining that option, we thought, where would we be spending this money?” Shahab told me in an interview for Philippine Daily Inquirer.


“Technology, scaling, and building an even greater team?” Considering where HeyKuya would spend hypothetical seed money made the team realize that fundraising was a bad move. It would only stiffen the competition in a Southeast Asian market already crowded with SMS-based personal assistant startups. Even with a newly replenished war chest, HeyKuya would fight these analogues for the same talent, same users, same partners.

They changed their thinking to an old schoolyard adage: If you can’t beat them, join them. They scanned the horizon for potential acquirers and found Indonesian startup YesBoss, who evidently had more in common with them than just the name.

In the time it took some people to plan a vacation, Shahab and Farouk agreed in principle to sell HeyKuya to YesBoss for an undisclosed amount of cash and stocks. The whole affair was finished after only two meetings and several emails. By the time the deal was officially announced on March 15, 2016, HeyKuya was celebrating its 15,000th user.

It was the fastest acquisition in the history of the nation’s tech ecosystem, but one in a long line of value-added service exits. Tellingly, Shahab chose to remain at the helm of HeyKuya, which he felt could scale faster with the combined resources of the two companies. It’s easier to grow when you can share best practices across key dimensions, such as platform development or machine learning, that such a complex business involves.

Despite their overt similarities, HeyKuya and YesBoss still had fundamental differences. Since YesBoss had a logistics partner in Indonesia, they were much more focused on translating conversations into orders. HeyKuya, in contrast, had its own fleet and viewed customized logistics as the beating heart of their business. Shahab thought nothing of these contrasts—each execution was suited to their respective business climates, much in the same way Magic was tailored for the United States—until he received a call late on the evening of November 16, 2016, almost eight months to the day of the acquisition.

It was Izran Raditya, the CEO of YesBoss. Though only a few employees remained at their desks, Shahab ducked into a meeting room. He was sensing bad news. There was a short windup from Raditya—their investors were putting more pressure on them, YesBoss had to go in a new direction, one that revolved around the tech, and you know how these things are, business is tough—before the punch: HeyKuya was going to be shut down.

Shahab was blindsided. He also felt incredulous. HeyKuya was generating more revenue than YesBoss, and it had a clear path toward profitability. Closing it down would be tantamount to waving the white flag while winning the war. Shahab tried to negotiate: Machine Ventures would fund HeyKuya, just so the service could continue. YesBoss refused the offer, holding firm to their decision.

“That’s when I felt quite helpless,” Shahab said. “I was trying to do everything in my power to keep the company alive, to continue the direction that we envisioned, and it was no longer possible.”

Crisis mode on, Shahab stayed up well into the night. Since YesBoss would no longer fund HeyKuya, he would have to figure out how many team members Machine Ventures could absorb. In an emergency

all-hands meeting the next morning, Shahab broke the news. The employees, many of whom were still processing HeyKuya requests around twelve hours ago, were floored. As the shutdown was effective immediately, some of the team members worried if they would still receive their back pay.

“We made it absolutely clear that we were going to fight on their behalf with YesBoss—they can’t just shut down the company and then move on,” Shahab said.

As an interim solution, Machine Ventures would extend a bridge loan to HeyKuya, so people could be paid on time and in full. Machine Ventures would then wait for YesBoss to send the last tranche for payroll, which they eventually did.

A larger question than pay still loomed: What would happen to their jobs, their careers? During a marathon session of one-on-ones, Shahab told each team member their fate. Around 20% to 30% of the displaced HeyKuya team would be absorbed into new positions at Machine Ventures. The rest would receive severance and a golden endorsement. After helping them fix their CVs, Shahab sent an email containing them all to his C-level friends in the tech community. Within ten to twenty days, 90% of this group had positions at other companies, everywhere from PawnHero to Uber.

Shahab argued it was not his recommendation that mattered. “They were a part of one of the fastest growing tech startups in the Philippines—they got an experience every company is looking for,” he said.

Announcing HeyKuya’s shutdown to users was more difficult, if only because Shahab had no solutions or answers. As soon as Machine blasted out Shahab’s message across official channels, they were flooded with responses. Shahab received over 500 emails to his personal account alone. The general tone was somber—people were sad, angry, disappointed. Users lamented the loss of HeyKuya like they would a friend, or for that matter, a kuya. One user told Shahab he had been planning to resign from his current job in order to join HeyKuya.

“At Rocket Internet, I saw the process of shutting down a company, and it’s not pretty,” Shahab said, alluding to his experiences at ridesharing platform Tripda, which exited the Philippines in 2015. “But in HeyKuya’s case, I’ve never seen anything like it. The response from customers was amazing. Everyone was so emotional.”

At least ten different venture capitalists also reached out to Shahab. If HeyKuya had been thrown into the furnace, they longed to see it rise again, phoenix-like from the ashes, under a new name. Though these offers were flattering, Shahab demurred from pursuing any of them. He no longer wanted to build an all-encompassing service like HeyKuya. Instead, he was keen on developing solutions that addressed one of the component problems HeyKuya touched upon, such as logistics.

After seeing Uber and Grab transform the way people get around cities, Shahab believed that goods were next in line. All too often he had seen people get assistance from helpers with pick-up and delivery tasks, which is inefficient and costly.

“There’s a new way for these errands to be done. As people our age don’t have access to the resources that our parents did, the 2017 model is going toward the sharing economy. We are actively doing our research and trying to see the possibilities,” he said.

For now, Shahab has turned his attention to portfolio development at Machine Ventures. They are currently incubating several companies, in fields as diverse as digital marketing, influencer marketing, events, crowdfunding, and ecommerce.

Though HeyKuya amassed a sizable user base during its run, Shahab is legally forbidden from funneling these customers into Machine’s new verticals. This data is still owned by YesBoss, even in HeyKuya’s death. But in many ways, the user list is immaterial. The most important asset that Shahab and his core team will bring to future companies is their time at the wheel of the fastest growing tech startup in Philippine history. “An experience cannot be owned,” said Shahab, who once roamed the streets of BGC as a food-carrying kuya in the name of building a great product. 

 

To learn more from founders like Shahab Shabibi, please check out the full book, available for purchase here


The Finishers - and other business books about the Philippines and Asia Pacific - will soon be streaming on Audiophile, our platform for exclusive Filipino audiobooks.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published