Symph Asks Vol.II

April 25, 2024

Symph’s growth has always been evident with its team size, from a one-person team to a team of 30 — and growing.

Just recently, our latest addition to the family has proven our said growth — not because he’s another number to our population, but because he joined us to help develop our roadmap as a tech company. Having co-founded CareSharing and Next-Level among other startups, we are thrilled to have this tech and outdoor junkie onboard.

Mark kicked off his career in tech when he was 17. Now years into actively developing the Cebu tech scene and co-founding 5 startups to date, he still has the energy and potential of a 17year old.

For the second edition of Symph asks, we decided to turn the spotlight to the *newest* member of our team Mark Buenconsejo:

What was your first business/venture like?

My first “business” was with a few friends in college, we called our team, InServ (stands for Internet Server). We were thinking, we are the people who will build internet servers. This was around 1998. Other times we were called, the La Guardia boys, since the apartment we lived in was in La Guardia Ext, Lahug area — back when IT Park was mostly an empty, grassy lot.

I remember, that business was our excuse to freedom. We had the initiative to make money, live together as friends, and play LAN games anytime we want. We felt we are on our own, based on the fact that we are independent, and making money.

Around this period, we worked on a few ideas, together with a business-minded partner. There was GoCebu, TheBigWap, and we even have a basic AI chat bot, available on SMS.

I remember, that business was our excuse to freedom.

We didn’t bother to register it as a business, even as we are receiving income. It was only when I co-founded LearningToGo (4 years later), did I get a TIN number.

This was not my first exposure to business since my family and relatives have always been into small business. We had a store in the local public market, we used to sell stone-craft furniture, raised and sold pigeons, grown and sold orchids, sell photography and video services, and operated a fleet of taxi.

Around 3rd year high school and until 2nd-year college, sometimes I work on video coverage gig, through my uncle, which I earn 500 pesos. It’s big money for a kid, and I’m excited about the free food I get in events we are covering.

How did you get into this kind of venture? Can you tell us about your early days as a technopreneur?

Back then, I didn’t really think of business, as business. But rather, a means to make money, and sustain whatever interest I have.

Only when I was exposed to the Internet, and the 90’s DotCom gold rush, did I pay attention to this business thing. Even though my window to the world is via a slow, dial-up connection, it was enough to convince me, that the opportunity of making boat loads of cash is on the Internet. Of course, we all know, many years later, I have yet to see this boat loads of cash I hear about.

In 2001, I got involved in setting up one of the first BPO companies in Cebu, called Cleverlearn Learning Asia, which later branched into Bigfoot. Sure there were other BPO companies back then, but I consider Bigfoot, as the first with the DNA of the DotCom bubble. Though, me and my business partner, didn’t last in the company, and a few months after we started, we left and co-founded LearningToGo.

I consider LearningToGo (LTG) as my first taste of startup success, when we built a few mobile apps (for PalmOS and Pocket PC handheld devices), from Mandaue, Cebu, using all our Bisaya sweat and tears, and sold it online. Our apps were not smashing hits like Flappy Bird, but educational ones like a dictionary, thesaurus, and a world encyclopedia.

We built our first app in 3 months, and after a month of launching it earned a total of 150,000 pesos.

To me, earning real money from something we built from scratch, was an eye opener. It was my proof, that this model of selling software is real, and that earning money is not only being hired to write code.

LTG lasted until late 2005, and I left when sales slowed down. It was at this time, I started an outsourcing business, called Simpleteq. I recruited my friends, to work together on software projects from foreign clients. One of our projects was Chronic, the main product of Caresharing.

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We worked on the Chronic product for about a year and launched it in late 2007. After the first users were on-board, we realized, we need to continue to develop and support it. Since it was earning money and can support us, we decided to stop accepting projects, close down the consulting business, and join the dedicated product company as Caresharing.

All these years, I’ve had many roles. This gave me the experience and exposure to all aspects of business. Though, where I shine the most is in engineering, operations, people, and strategy. My experience through my work in the company has helped me develop a unique insight on how businesses are built from zero.

The greatest lesson/insight you’ve learned in the industry.

This is a hard question to answer. I have not found a single lesson or insight, that qualifies as greatest amongst them all. Though, there are many lessons, that I think are notable for sharing.

I think it’s important to be both ambitious and realistic. It’s good to visualize what is an ideal, ambitious scenario you want to achieve, take a step back, and identify realistic steps to get there.

Be critical, and learn to say no. It’s good to study, and spend time understanding an opportunity, before embarking on an idea. Often time, learning the why behind the opportunity, its root causes, reveals more of the opportunity, than say quickly coming up with a solution. Then, whatever you have learned, pick the top 1 major item you’ll want to focus, and maybe take up to 2 items as side-bets, and then say no to the rest.

And last insight I like to share is always be selling. Even at idea stage, sell your dream. When at prototype stage, ask people to pay for your product. Only when you have sold, do you know you have something worth pursuing. Before then, what you have is just an imagination.

Tell us about your latest venture at Symph

What made you decide to take on the role as Principal Consultant at Symph

I have known Dave and Albert, for a few years now, even before they’ve teamed up to build Symph. I’m more acquainted with Dave, due to his Bigfoot experience, since we have common friends back there. Though, I was already out of Bigfoot, when Dave joined.

There were a few occasions, where I and Dave discussed starting something together. These were always Healthcare related ideas, given that Dave has Glory Reborn and me at Caresharing. In addition, we also worked together on community projects, with TechTalks (together with Tina), Startup Weekend, GOAB, and crazy ideas prior to the start of The TIDE co-working space.

Early 2016, I have been on the look out of what I will do outside Caresharing. I like my work at the company, but I find myself wanting to have a bigger impact on what I am doing. Also, I am curious, about what I can achieve outside the company, and if I can apply what I have learned, and will others find it useful. I felt I have lived in the comfort of this corporate life for a while now, and that it’s time to live outside this comfort zone.

Meanwhile, I co-started a small community of software engineers, with Murat of EngageSpark, which we called Cebu Code Camp. It was a way for me to connect with the local software companies, and learn what they have been doing. From this exposure, I realized, I might have an opportunity being a consultant helping companies improve their process of building software.

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And of course, being me, it wasn’t long before the idea became bigger, where instead of just helping on software, I want to do it all and help the entire business. I then thought of starting a business accelerator.

A few years ago, when I was involved in the discussions of starting a co-working space, which led to The TIDE, we looked into the idea of starting an accelerator. We were convinced, it is the next step to do, after a co-working space. Keep in mind, this ‘we’ is the same group of people, who collaborated on TechTalks, SWC, and community events. We felt it is our next step in this process of building a startup ecosystem. Crazy idea for sure, since after reading the Startup Communities book by Brad Feld, we felt we are now on this path to achieve our mission.

Fast forward to a few months ago, I met up with Dave, as he is the only one I know, who is crazy enough to think we can build an accelerator. Of course, how hard can it be? We did some research and quickly learned that no one wants to give us money to fund startups. I reckon we don’t look like people to be trusted with money, but more like hackers, who just want to build things all day.

Thus came to our conclusion, that if no one will give us money, we will just produce the money ourselves.

By this time, I was already committed to start a software coaching business, which I called Next Level, to have some income. Though, I see it more as a leverage play, to get me in the door to opportunities. After all, my long-term goal is still to start a business accelerator.

Further, since Dave has Symph already, we thought, why not team up, build Symph to the next level, become the cash cow we needed for the accelerator. In the process, we get a bonus of growing our connections in the industry, which is valuable for the accelerator.

It helped that Symph has the same objective. Dave and Albert shared with me, that from the start, they intended Symph to be a startup builder, where startup ideas are built, or startup ventures are funded from. For the mean time, they take on consulting projects, to keep the business running, until break away ideas become profitable.

Well, it didn’t take long to convince me to join up. So here I am. Still one foot on the accelerator dream (though probably more like a venture builder), and one foot helping build Symph. Oh, I still have one more of my foot on coaching at Next Level.

How is it working with the team so far?

I officially started in April of this year, and so far, it has been a hectic experience. Working at Caresharing, where most things are already stable, the contrast of a younger company is immediately obvious. It felt like I traveled in a time machine, back to when I was at Simpleteq.

Hectic is not new to me, I’ve perpetually been in startup mode. And honestly, it’s probably when I shine the most. Where there are complexity and chaos, I thrive and excel in simplifying it. Hence, the moniker, a war time general in a startup.

I am happy to report, everyone has been a joy to work with. My fears of meeting new people, in a new environment, are unfounded. I have yet to encounter someone I don’t like.

Though, most people are about 10 years younger than me. Hence, I tend to relate more with Dave, who is the only one in my age bracket. At least, we can share jokes that were funny, back in the early 90s.

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I like to think, I can relate with the next generation, but having endured the tests of time, made me more gloomy and serious looking. Trust me, I am happy and jolly on the inside. I feel the rest are probably giving me the don’t-mind-the-old-guy treatment. Hehe, joke only.

Despite the young faces, I’m surprised, they know a lot of things. Probably a lot for their own good. Hehe. Like, I can’t imagine growing up, late teens, early twenty’s, living in a world with this thing called Facebook. How complicated it will be to find true love, when the whole world is watching, judging, meddling. Hehe, poor kids. When I was young, we only have TV, watching shows of people we don’t know, who are not related to us, not even to a 3rd degree. I’m glad we don’t have to ‘like’ them.

One thing I remember, the time when I was at their age, the important thing on my mind, was how much effort I should spend training for DOTA at lunch, so I am ready for action in our nightly showdown.

What strikes me in working with the younger generation, is I get to relieve the startup energy. After someone reaches the age of 35, certain things change. I know I can’t speak for everyone, but what happened to me, is I grew more cautious. I sense it in the way I bike, especially on the downhills. I sense it in my attitude on time, I am annoyed if people are late.

This opportunity of working with a younger generation temporarily resets that change. And since I work on their time (the concept of time as illustrated in the Time Paradox book by Philip Zimbardo), I am able to re-position myself, and operate without the limits of knowing what is hard to do, and can not be done. It also helps, that I am living at home, with 3 young teens, who are testing the models of how I see the world we live in.

What impact do you aspire to create?

I used to think, I am going to grow and do big things. As I got older, I learned that it takes time to achieve anything meaningful. Fortunately, I still have time, not a century, but enough to make something worthwhile.

Looking back, I spent the past 20 years, building a career in IT and Software. From this point forward, perhaps, in the next 10 years, I like to grow my career in building businesses.

Hence, my engagement at Symph. I see my effort in helping build the company, as my first move in this new chapter.

There are many areas where I can help, and right now, it’s in the sales process. Next, will likely be our marketing strategy, and helping the company build its brand and trust in the market.

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There are other aspects that are close to my heart, which is in engineering, operations, and people. I look forward to working in this area in the future. But for now, I will focus on growing the opportunities for the business.
I like to see lasting impact, where everyone is happy to do their work at Symph, they take pride and perform their best, and the business is sustaining, and fulfilling a meaningful purpose.

Beyond the company, as a principal consultant for our clients, I intend to affect the same impact, of helping them achieve their objectives and build their business.

A lot of businesses in our country are faced with a challenge to compete on a global scale, in a digital arena. Where business decisions are made at the speed of thought. This demand a meaningful digital integration. I aspire to help companies achieve this.

In the bigger picture, I consider these three efforts, of being part of Symph, doing my coaching at Next Level, and then, later on, the accelerator for startups, as giving me the different mediums, to make an impact in the world we live in.

Of course, we can only observe through time, if I have made an impact. When we look back in the future and see what Symph has become, I hope to find dots that I have contributed, which we can connect to its success.