How I got a co-founder in a foreign country on my first visit

To launch a Skype-based English tutorial service, I got onboard for Manila on July 2007. My flight landed at NAIA, the international airport, which was crowded with long lines in front of immigration. The air-cons weren’t effective enough to cool down the humid air. It smelled exotic. Sour and a bit sweet and fishy. I was alone, for my first visit, without any acquaintance here.

“What place should I visit for English tutorials?” I wondered while reading a guidebook. It said “UP, University of the Philippines, known as best university in the Philippines, has its big campus in Quezon City” There might be something there. I booked a hostel inside the campus.

Once I put my baggage in my room at the hostel, I went back to reception. There were two guys, wearing worn-out T-shirts. They saw me and slightly smiled. I asked “I want to start an online English tutorial business. That’s why I have come from Japan. Where do you think I should go?”

They were surprised, looking at each other’s face, before going back to me. “Online English tutorial?” I showed to them the paper I prepared in Japan, saying “My friends and I are preparing a business. Filipino tutors teach English online to Japanese in Japan. I need the tutors and a business partner.”

They still seemed to be digesting what I told them. I added, “This is my first visit to the country. I don’t have any friends here. But I’ve heard UP is the best in this country. There could be something. I will go around the campus, but have no idea where to go. I know I’m asking you a stupid question. But I will keep on asking the same question. “Where would I be able to see Filipino tutors to teach English to Japanese?” That would be the only way to get to my destination. You’re the first ones I asked that question. Please give me any idea. I will go to any place you say and ask the same question.”

They talked to each other for a few minutes. And one of them took out a piece of paper, saying, “This is the map of the campus. This hostel is here. And this is International Center. How about going there?” “Thank you, I’ll go there.” They kindly instructed me how to get there. Just one ride of a jeepney called “Ikot”. A jeepney was familiar to me because of the guidebook. It is a long vehicle, carrying passengers like a bus.

I took the ride “Ikot.” Easy to get onboard. Seven pesos as fare. My seven pesos was passed from hand to hand until it reached the driver. The jeepney started to run. Ran, ran, ran; turning right, left, right. I got lost trying to keep track from where I came from. From the window, I couldn’t see any sign of a jeepney stop. Ran, turned left, ran. Finally, the jeepney “Ikot” came back to the original stop, just in front of the hostel. I got off to take a walk to the International Center.

After walking for 20 minutes, I got to the International Center. A guard was standing at the entrance, armed with a gun on his waist. “Can I go in?” He let me write my name in a notebook. “What is this International Center?” He told me it was an international dormitory for foreign students, studying abroad at UP.

I got disappointed a bit. I was looking for Filipinos, not foreigners. Without any clue, I started to look for a trail toward my next step at International Center.

There were few people. Flags can be seen. And then, I saw some bulletins

This must be the next step! I decided to do the same thing. I had brought a one-page presentation from Japan, to verbally explain how the online tutorial would be. To change it into a bulletin for recruitment, I added some of my handwriting, committing some grammar errors.

Then I copied them, got approval for posting from UP, then put them around the campus. Having nothing to do anymore, I decided to leave Manila for Banaue. The rice terrace there was overwhelmingly awesome.

Walking in the middle of rice terrace, I thought “People, who did this great work like this once, must be able to do great things in the era of IT as well.”

Then, I went to Internet cafe to check my email. Finding a few inquiries about the post, I replied to them all. In the end, I was able to make an appointment only with one person whose name is Shem. I went back to Manila to see her.

I saw her at International Center. After briefly introducing each other, I explained my business plan. Then, I told her, “I know you saw the ads about the online English tutor recruitment. Actually, I don’t need any tutors now. I need a business partner, who can gather tutors.” She lifted her head. I gave an envelop to her, saying “I am going back to Japan tomorrow. Therefore, I am with this month’s salary for you.” Then, I gave another envelop to her saying, “This is next month’s.”

Then, I gave a card embossed with my name to her, saying, “This is my bank account card. You would need it when I send you the fee for the tutors.” Then, I gave a piece of paper to her, saying, “This is passcode for this bank account. You would also need it.”

Shem’s face appeared to brighten up. I kept on looking in her eyes and said, “I’d like to start an English tutorial service, connecting the Philippines and Japan. Can you become my business partner?”

Without any hesitation, she said “Yes.” We shook hands. Her friend, Kris, accompanying her, applauded.

Then, we went to an Internet cafe to elaborate further how it would work. We went to Trinoma, the nearest mall to UP campus then, to eat dinner. Her friend took a shot of Shem and me.

I went back to Japan on following day. She worked on acquiring tutors from her friends. Soon, we realized that the sound quality of the Internet cafe was not enough for online lessons. Shem rented a space and acquired Internet connection under her name, to ensure a tutoring space (and better quality of connection) as soon as possible. I sent the tutors’s fees to her. Starting with a thousands pesos, soon it reached to a hundred thousands pesos. She didn’t pilfer any centavo. Shem did her job alone there for 6 months, until I visited Philippines again. Luckily, in the lowly-reproducible way, I’ve gotten a business partner who had a grit in the area of zero to one. No Shem, No RareJob.

[Series]
1) How I ended up to aim to be an entrepreneur

4) Pivots to English tutorial
5) How I got a co-founder in a foreign country alone (You’re here!)
6) How I quit my FT job to launch RareJob as start-up business (To be published)