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Founder’s Corner: On Taking Career-Defining Risks with Patrick Zulueta

Founder's Corner: On Taking Career-Defining Risks with Patrick Zulueta

Having been in the tech industry for the past fourteen years, Patrick has witnessed how the Philippine industry has since evolved and adapted.

Patrick considers himself blessed to be experienced in the tech industry as he was able to launch household fintechs like the BPI Mobile app, PayMaya and Cashalo.

Despite his string of successful tech endeavors, Patrick expressed, “I’ve always felt that I could do so much more since I was limited to just launching and scaling one tech product at a time.”

Passionate about his mission of helping the country become more competitive than its regional counterparts for tech adoption and startup growth, he decided to start Apper along with his Co-Founder, Diwa, with the purpose of helping a multitude of digital companies and tech startups alike by using the expertise and know-how they earned from their tenure of successes.

Fast-forward to one and a half years later with Apper, Patrick has found fulfillment is his rewarding journey. “I’m thankful to have taken the huge risk I took after seeing the many businesses & lives we’ve impacted through our operations.”

In an age where cloud innovation and digital awareness is at its peak, Patrick embodies what it means to lead his team and act on their shared goals and vision.

In this feature, we get an insight on what goes on the mind of a progressive and forward-thinking leader like Patrick and the key role he plays in leading his startup to growth and expansion.

How did you know you were ready to commit to a startup like Apper? Were there any signs?

The 3rd quarter of 2019 was when I decided to make the shift to start Apper.

Back then, it was not easy to leave my comfortable, glamorous and high-paying role. Before I founded Apper, I was an executive for a regional brand that had massive ambitions for its product, which translated to my personal and career growth as well. I also had many offers to be a Country Manager or a C-level executive for rising stars in the fintech industry.

Thankfully, I felt it was time to take chances to pursue my ambitions of contributing at a wider scale for the country’s tech industry. I also felt that I need to expand my skill set outside just leading a fintech company’s teams and brands to achieve hypergrowth.

It was time the founding members and I shared our gifts, talents and blessings to help more tech companies become as successful as the brands we supported previously. Thankfully that drove me to encourage everyone to fully commit to Apper and its purpose and mission.

What unseen opportunities did you see that may result in making your startup a huge success?

There is a huge gap in knowledge and skills in the country for cutting-edge technology, including the cloud, machine learning/AI, and data analytics/science. We saw that with the experience of Diwa and our tech leaders was valuable, we could help tech companies scale so much faster by sharing our expertise to complement the skill set of their tech teams.

What are your views on customer experience? What will be the customer experience of your business?

I’ve recently learned from the Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) recent pulse survey (published late 2020) that the 2020s is the decade of the digital conscious customer. As such, customers are expecting so much better user experience from apps/websites, and they expect their feedback to be not just heard but addressed at a higher speed than ever before.

All of these while tech companies and other businesses alike are struggling to adapt to the impact of the pandemic. Covid-19 has brought about challenges to the operations (WFH, having to offer more digital services, shift their business model, etc.) of tech companies, and even crippled some industries and businesses.

In addition to that, HBR mentioned that “a majority of innovation leaders (59%) have increased the speed of customer and end-user innovation during the pandemic.” This means that the businesses trying to keep up would have even greater pressure to develop offerings and ultimately improve their customer experience, all while trying to adapt to the pandemic.

That being said, we initiated during Apper’s earlier period that customer experience should not just be about providing what businesses or partners need, or simply applying best practices that have been done before.

We believed from the very beginning that customer experience should be about having a more intimate, deeper relationship with the teams we work with to really understand their pain points and tech challenges.

The result of this period of discovery is a more curated, tailor-fit solution that is able to best help our customers and its teams.

Do you feel that with Apper's culture, you have the right support system in place?

Apper has a very open and empowered culture, with a high regard for psychological safety. This allows every member of the A-Team to not just freely express their ideas, but also to explore and discover innovations. This culture is very important for a tech company which has a strong sense of purpose for innovation.

Apper has also developed a culture for learning. Every member is encouraged (required to some extent also) to expand their knowledge and skills for the cloud. That means investing time and resources dedicated to just learning. This means it’s not just our business which is growing, as each member of the A-Team is expanding their know-how as individuals as well.

In what way do you think Apper's mission has impacted your industry?

Apper has contributed to the growth of the Philippine’s tech scene in such a short span of time because we have provided greater confidence for digital businesses to embrace cutting-edge technology, and innovation as well.

Since we can easily extend our expertise to businesses that were once afraid to fully utilize technologies -such as Amazon Web Services for example-they can focus on their core expertise knowing that a certified team of cloud experts is ready to assist and enable them.

When you imagine Apper's future and your role in it, what do you see?

Within the next five years, I foresee Apper shaping the future of over 50 Philippine tech companies, and expanding into the ASEAN region to support even more tech companies.

Personally, I see myself continuing my role (Chief Growth Officer or COO) at a more strategic level, and enabling more leaders and potentially Country Managers to help Apper create more impact at an exponential level.

How do you find the right pool of talents to join your team?

We use our partnerships with the tech communities of the country to get referrals for the right skills and talents, and social media (Facebook, LinkedIn) to engage with potential candidates. It’s fairly simple to gather fresh and skilled talents as Apper is known to be a progressive company with an awesome culture.

When asked about his tricks and tips when it comes to thriving in the height of a pandemic, he expressed:

The pandemic has affected businesses and customers alike, at a scale that is truly unprecedented. With that in mind, my first point of advice is for everyone to accept the fact that the next few years and possibly the entire decade (2020s) will be unpredictable. No one knows what will happen in 1, 3, 5 years. A closed-minded and legacy mindset will not be helpful in these tumultuous times as everyone needs to aim towards resiliency.

Another recommendation is for leaders to put a strong emphasis on research and learning. So many amazing stories are being told during the pandemic, and you would never know when one of these learnings could drive a turning point for a business or industry. All it takes is spending time to discover these stories and harnessing ideas from them.

Lastly, I advise businesses and leaders to bring down their barriers and inhibitions for change and innovation. Now is the time to be open to taking risks and attempting the impossible. Everyone should be willing to fail fast, fail forward, and fail together.

That way new and innovative ways to solve problems may be discovered, which would help spur a new wave of growth.

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