Filipinos love social media, and there’s no question to it. According to social media management platform Hootsuite, Filipinos led global social media usage, averaging at 4.17 hours daily back in 2016.
In the words of Ralph Regalado, a professor from the College of Computer Studies (CCS), “[The Philippines] is one of the social media capitals of the world, and it’s a relatively untapped treasure of data. People only need to utilize [this data].”
This untapped treasure trove led Regalado to build Senti, an award-winning social media analytics start-up that aims to understand how people feel through the analysis of language in social media.
Initially, Senti started as a concept for a thesis. Regalado however shares that it progressively changed as it stepped out of the confines of the University.
Localization, especially the focus on the Filipino language, is what makes Senti unique. Although many social media analytics platforms already exist, Senti caters especially to the analysis of Filipino speech. “This tool is being utilized by brands [such as] Jollibee who wanted to observe how people feel about their products and services. It’s relatively assessing how people think about the brand itself and a way for them to leverage their marketing plan, and a way to improve business based on how people are actually reacting or commenting with regard to their company,” he shares.
While plans exist to expand to other Southeast Asian countries, Regalado shares that his audience is currently limited to local brands, companies, and agencies. “We’re targeting brands but [we also target] government offices if people are actually complaining about them. It’s a way for them to see and react and identify which matters because conversations are actually huge and you don’t know which are the important things there. So we summarize all of these conversations to pinpoint them in the right direction,” he says.
As a Lasallian professor, Regalado encountered hurdles that greatly affected the way Senti was built and how it functioned.
“The reason why I wanted to familiarize myself with a start-up is [because] I’ve been teaching technopreneurship. For me to provide more to the discussion, I should have experienced it myself. There’s that credibility at the same time. When you have experienced it therefore you can provide much more. During the time I was still a college student here, it was a required course for all computer science students, and it was quite a challenge for me to grasp the concepts. When I became a teacher here, I was given the task to teach it. Since I experienced it as relatively hard, I tried to find a way to better teach it. It’s completely different because you’re teaching Computer Science students business concepts,” he mentions.
Regalado also believed that the process of building an idea, observing it, and going to the market itself was a way to return to DLSU as a professor. Being a professor in DLSU has led him to helping students who dream of becoming entrepreneurs in the future. However, helping his college is a challenge itself because of the many processes that go behind forming startups in the University. His initial plan was to build an internal incubation for CCS only to help CCS-based startups, and he hopes that this system could be seen as beneficial by the administration and replicated throughout the other colleges.
Regalado’s experience in building a startup and maintaining it is not as easy as it seems, as he states, “Probably, you have heard that startups is all the glitz and glamour but it’s really not.” One of the biggest challenges he finds essential to the formation and maintenance of a good startup is having enough passion to keep going.
He says having a startup is a rollercoaster ride of emotions and workload, and it is important to have a team that can complement your skillset. It is important to know one’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of his or her team members in order to work out a system beneficial for all. He cites an example, “You’re not good in tech, you need a committed team member who will help understand how tech works. If you’re not good with business management for example, you need to look for someone who can help you with things like financial studies, financial projections.” There will also be times when there will be rapid changes in work assignments among the members and it is necessary that the team is good in order to produce good results.
Another challenge in building a startup is receiving rejections from clients. However, he stresses the importance of learning from the drawbacks really fast. “You need to ask yourself; What happened there? Can I change the way I pitch to the client itself? What’s the next step? You should be able to go back again [before moving] forward”, he reiterates.
Points of improvement
Regalado believes that mentorship plays a very important role in the formation of a startup. The right mentor will be there for the team to give advice. With the right mentoring, the team can be guided on the right path and be given the proper support for the formation of the company. Therefore, finding a mentor should be one of the first steps one takes during the formation process.
One should also commit themselves fully to their passion and work for the company. They should be ready to sacrifice their own finances and their time for any changes that may happen outside their calculations. Self-assessment is an important part in building a startup, and it comes with taking risks in the business world. With these risks, one should be able to bounce back in case of any failures. “It is not a straight path,” he says, “It’s a big question mark and being able to address failures and being able to learn from failures are skills also important.”
Further steps for the University
Regalado believes there should be changes made to the current system of accepting and creating startups in the University, because the current system takes too long to process thus hindering the growth of the businesses. The ownership of business is also a part of the problem.
One suggestion is to approach commercialization in DLSU by treating a temporary business as a startup. As a startup, one would receive the right and proper support needed and the systems which need to be improved for the business can progress. He emphasizes, “You learn by executing it. So you change the process as you move forward”. He likewise encourages formations of faculty development programs that stimulate faculty who are interested in exploring the possibility of building their own startups.
He compares DLSU to other international universities, saying, “I really wanted to help startups here in DLSU because if you look at MIT, Stanford, most of the startups there are coming mainly from the university. It’s their students who are really doing startups. I want La Salle to be at the forefront of startups here”.