Tech entrepreneur and Pinoymail co-founder Dominick Danao recounted his journey from becoming an infotech journalist, setting up the Philippine version of Hotmail, heading the innovations at the Information Systems Group of Globe Telecom, until recently establishing the fintech company Magpie.IM and expense management solution Xpense.io during the fifth episode of IN BETWEEN presented by Tech Sabado and Newsbytes.PH.
Danao initially took up a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics at the University of the Philippines in Diliman but eventually decided to shift to Bachelor of Arts in Communication majoring in Journalism. At UP, he joined several organizations including the Philippine Collegian, the UP Writers Club, League of Filipino Students (LFS), the Students Christian Movement, Dulaang Peryante, and Samasa.
As chairman of the militant LFS during the late ’80s, he was an outspoken activist and was passionate on various issues particularly the US military bases. He quipped that if that activism happened today, he would have been “red-tagged” as well.
After his student days, he became a journalist at The Manila Times, then owned by the Gokongwei family. Danao was one of the youngest editors for the major news daily and went on to become an editorial writer. Eventually, he joined a team of reporters and correspondents for the small-circulation newspaper Today where he covered LGUs and police departments for 17 towns and cities in the metropolitan area.
“That is where I discovered tech journalism. I didn’t really start as a tech journalist, but I got the position after the former editors of the section left. For the tech page, I became the only reporter and editor all-in-one,” he shared.
Apart from being Today’s reporter for information technology, Danao was also in charge editing the weekly special section where he traveled to several Asian cities to cover IT trends. He then eventually co-produced Folio, a bi-monthly feature magazine where he focused mainly on copy editing and art direction responsibilities.
In March of 1998, Danao, along with two other co-founders, officially launched PinoyMail as the country’s first free e-mail service dedicated for Filipinos. It functioned in a similar way to Web-based email platforms at the time where subscribers can send and receive e-mails from any Internet-powered computer terminal.
During his stay at the company, Danao also served as the spokesperson and publicity campaign coordinator, launched the electronic greeting cards service ‘Pinoycards’ in the Philippines, unveiled the WebTxt service that enabled users to send short messages to any mobile phone from the Web, and upgraded the service to a more scalable configuration that can handle the growth in subscribers.
At around 100,000 subscribers in 1999, PinoyMail was sold to NewNet Holdings of Orlando B. Vea, founder of Smart Communications and PayMaya, who purchased a 90% stake in the company. Danao tried to partner up with corporate and educational institutions, but decided to move on and join Sun Cellular as head of its Wireless Data Group (WDG).
In 2004, he was appointed as the marketing director for value-added services (VAS) where he was responsible for the branding and revenue generation through media advertising and merchandising. The following year, he was promoted to assistant vice president.
“After Sun, from being part of a team that took care of content providers (i.e. ringtone sellers and service providers), I went to the other side. I resigned from Sun because I wanted to start a business again — a service provider doing chat and mobile telephony,” he said. “Unfortunately, I was ill-equipped and I did not have capital. I did not have the team and I did not have the smarts to actually implement a mobile app on my own. I had ideas, but I was unable to execute them all.”
Fueled by his desire to push his technopreneurial journey, he managed to be the exclusive provider of VAS-SMS infrastructure for Bayan Communications with his NTC-licensed startup Happy.Mobile Corp. He also set up and managed the mobile services of Bluemedia Communications and brought tri-telco connectivity for the iMail push email service of Eureka Mobile Communications.
In 2012, Danao joined his college buddy Henry Aguda at Globe Telecom where he led the telco’s Innovations and Solutions Delivery department . There, he spearheaded the drive and thought leadership towards next-generation technologies like cloud computing, API management and monetization, big data, and mobility programs.
“I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work with a very mission-oriented team with the goal of trying to seize the number one position from PLDT. Globe has always been number one in postpaid since the profile matched with Globe’s branding. We introduced the idea of the cloud to Globe. We all know the telcos are very hardware-oriented, but we saw that the business was not necessarily the most profitable moving forward,” he recalled.
Ultimately, Danao focused his efforts in developing his own digital payment solution called Magpie.IM, co-founded with his cousin Jon Raphael Danao. The project was initially created to serve as an Internet marketplace, hence the ‘IM’, built around the social media platform Twitter.
After his realization that Twitter is not compatible with the commerce business, Magpie.IM ditched the marketplace and promotion aspects and zeroed in on the small corner of e-commerce — digital payments. This strategy proved to be effective according to Danao, even sharing how Magpie.IM has seen exponential growth in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“Before it was difficult to convince customers in digitizing their stores and choosing Magpie.IM as their payment system. Last year, the tables turned. Around April to July, those who ignored us came for us. We were now the ones who can’t keep up with the demands of clients,” he said, likening the business growth to the shape of a hockey stick — a stagnant line with an abrupt and quick rise.