Tech startup gets ‘rock star access’ to major partners via IdeaSpace

By Espie Angelica A. de Leon

“Rock star access.”

This was how Ghian Carlo Marucot described the opportunity he and his team gained by joining PLDT’s IdeaSpace, an early-stage accelerator program for technology-based startups.

Their venture, tech solutions firm eCFulfill, helps local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) sell their products globally by giving them access to major marketplaces using only one set of seller data. Among these marketplaces are Amazon, Alibaba, eBay, Walmart, and other giants in e-commerce.

Photo shows (from left) Ghian Marucot and Neptune Neptune Factor with eCFulfill’s first employee, Phen Macayayong, after preparing a few boxes of goods for air freight shipment

eCFulfill’s services include account setup, registration, online store management, inventory management, data analytics, and brand management, among others. Problem was, eCFulfill itself needed to have access to potential partners who would support their growth strategies and help them reach their target market. And by all means they did, with the help of IdeaSpace.

“Not just access. This was rock star access!” Marucot related enthusiastically, the experience of watching the Manila concert of popular rock band Guns N’ Roses still fresh in his mind.

Sharing their experience during the launch of IdeaSpace’s 2019 Startup Competition at Tender Bob’s Steakhouse in Greenbelt 2, eCFulfill’s co-founder and chief operating officer (COO) recalled the time when they were eyeing a collaboration with PayMaya. One would typically seek channels like LinkedIn to make that first step into a possible partnership with a major industry player. In their case however, it was PayMaya who came to them.

He was driving, the phone rang, and it was no less than PayMaya’s vice president Kenneth Palacios himself on the other end of the line. With that highly sought conversation, a collaboration was born and eCFulfill found a clear pathway to its market — the Philippine SMEs whose potential they believe in.

Without this “rock star access,” it would have been 20 times more difficult for them to form linkages, he claimed.

Startup world: The rough road toward IdeaSpace

True enough, nurturing a startup was far from being a walk in the park prior to joining IdeaSpace.

“We wanted to be the total e-commerce enabler.We had our sights [set on competing] with some players in other Southeast Asian countries,” the boyish-looking tech entrepreneur revealed. “The result? It was chaos.”

Their resources were spread thinly, they had no focus, did not understand their target market, and had misunderstandings among themselves. Then they learned about IdeaSpace’s 2018 Startup Competition.

Held annually, the competition picks the most promising business ventures from among the applicants. The top 20 advanced to the pre-acceleration phase which included a five-day bootcamp.

Each of the 20 selected startups likewise received P100,000 equity-free operations funding plus P500,000 worth of in-kind support in the form of mentoring by startup founders and industry experts, learning sessions, networking, free use of office space, and housing allowance. From this pool of 20 startups, 10 were chosen for the actual accelerator program.

Marucot and his team, composed of co-founders Neptune Factor, project lead and product designer, and Bonnie Joe Factor who heads social media, e-learning, and marketing, applied for the competition.

At this point, Marucot was still part of the corporate jungle, working successfully in the BPO industry since its “sunshine years” in the Philippines. Along the way, he picked up important lessons in operations management and innovation.

Yet, something else was in store for him.

From mere startup to accelerator program participant

Among the field of applicants, eCFulfill made it to the top 100. Marucot was not so enthusiastic and thus kept his corporate job. And then, they got into the top 50. He remained unconvinced.

The tide, turned, however when they landed in the top 20. “We had to win,” he realized. “Losing was no longer an option.”

And win they did as eCFulfill went on to earn a slot in the accelerator program. Marucot also went on to pack his bags and leave the corporate world to attend to their startup full time.

From left: Marucot, Bonnie Jo, and Factor during the awarding of the P500,000 grant by the Ideaspace Foundation for winning the 2018 Startup Competition in July 2018

Aside from gifting them with “rock star access” to top-tier partners, IdeaSpace helped them develop their business model, taught them where to put their resources, what they should do as co-founders, and which area to focus on, which is value and not revenue.

The group also received team support and individual counseling.

“Us startups, we have our unique set of problems compared to regular entrepreneurs like those opening laundry services, photocopying stations, Internet shops. Those are old business models. They know where their money will come from,” he explained. “Us, we really don’t know exactly what to do.”

Internal and external struggles were aplenty, he said and quipped, “If not for IdeaSpace, I’ll probably be in an institution somewhere.”

They also acquired pre-seed funding from an angel investor.

Today, eCFulfill’s clients are selling globally and have instant high seller ratings while saving on costs. It is also easier for the tech firm now to acquire new clients partly because they’ve developed a more solid value proposition.

From January to April 2018, the company signed up roughly six sellers with around 10 SKUs (stock keeping units or product lines). In the months following their participation in the program, particularly from April to mid-November of 2018, the total number of sellers climbed to 34, with over 100 SKUs.

The startup also now monitors its sales and inventory more easily and reporting is managed more effectively. By mid-November, Gross Merchandise Value or GMV in the last 30 days was recorded at $4,200 — a sharp rise from the $350 per 30 days GMV from January to April 2018.

“Money burns fast. But the value that we get from our mentoring and our network that we got access to via IdeaSpace, these are things that we will take on to the latter stages of our journey,” said Marucot, “long after the money is gone.”

Starting in 2019, the IdeaSpace Startup Competition will pick 30 from the pool of applicants then trim this number to 20 finalists that will go all the way to the acceleration program. The top three startups will also receive a grant of P1-million equity funding each. Deadline for filing of application to the 2019 Startup Competition is January 18, 2019.