Bohol-born Winston Darillo left for the United States over two decades ago, armed only with a diploma in Industrial and Mechanical Engineering from De La Salle University in Manila. Apart from following his then girlfriend (now his wife), he had his eye on Silicon Valley.
“It ‘only’ takes a La Sallian education to make it in America,” quips Damarillo, who competed with candidates from Harvard, M.I.T. and Stanford to become one of California’s most successful young information technology (IT) entrepreneurs.
“That, plus guts, courage and determination,” adds Damarillo, who recalls spending time as a “couch surfer” at his uncle’s home in California before landing a job at Intel with over twenty applications.
He rose to become a star employee then took off to set up his own company. At 35, he picked up a multimillion dollar check from selling his first company, Gluecode, an open source application infrastructure software company, to IBM in 2005.
“I think it’s persistence, it’s not giving up. The Filipino brain is no different from the American brain. What can be changed from a Filipino standpoint is our confidence and our drive. And our believing that we can achieve it,” he says.
Instead of resting on his laurels, Damarillo continued to create and build innovative businesses that predict emerging trends in technology. He started two more software companies, Logicblaze, acquired by Iona Technologies in 2007, and Webtide, bought by Intalio, in 2009.
In 2001, Damarillo returned and cofounded Exist Global Inc., now one of the Philippine’s leading software development and technology companies, with offices in Cebu and Manila. It provides Open Source, Java, Ruby on Rails, web and mobile application development services. Aside from its local bases, Exist also has offices in Japan, Indonesia, and Singapore. Currently, the company has over 100 people in its Manila headquarters and over 50 in Cebu.
Among its many successes, Exist built one of the best cellular phone applications for GSM in Barcelona, Spain.
Up in the cloud
In 2007, years before cloud computing was the buzz of the industry, Damarillo founded Morphlabs, Inc. now considered a global leader in digital cloud infrastructure development.
In October 2012, Dell, Inc., the third largest global PC provider, announced its partnership with Morphlabs through its new product, mCloud Helix, described as the most price-performant private cloud in the market today.
Morphlabs started in Cebu in 2007, and five years later, set up operations in Manila, Indonesia, Japan, and Singapore, with its headquarters in California.
For those not yet familiar, Damarillo explains that the most common understanding that we have of cloud computing right now are things like Facebook and Twitter and Google—things that you use everyday. “It’s like electricity. You don’t know where it comes from, you just use it. It’s from the cloud. The infrastructure for cloud computing is what we do at Morphlabs.”
Providers like Morphlabs serve as an active cloud enabler. Such trends put the company and its founder at the forefront of the industry.
Young global leader
In 2010, from a pool of about 5,000 candidates, Filipino technopreneur Damarillo was named among the Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum.
Both Exist and Morphlabs have won the prestigious Red Herring Asia, which recognizes the region’s top software companies. According to their website, Red Herring “analyzes hundreds of cutting edge companies and technologies and select those who are positioned to grow at an explosive rate.” To date, only these two companies have been recognized from the Philippines.
Journeys like Damarillo’s and stories like Exist’s and Morphlabs’ are proof that Filipino engineering can become world-class.
Damarillo, who sits on the board of the Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev), joined the recently concluded Hack2Hatch ‘from Hacker to Founder,” a program in Cebu that brought successful innovators and investors from Silicon Valley to meet and mentor, one-on-one, young and existing startups from the Philippines. They gave the top eight startups no-strings-attached seed money and invaluable advice.
Angel Network funds
Damarillo and PhilDev are taking it one step further by forming an “Angel Network.”
The project is a cooperative of investors who are willing to help fund Philippine-based and Fil-Am-headed start-ups. “The idea here is it’s biased towards Filipinos, because its contents should be biased towards Filipinos,” he says.
Among his backers is computer engineer Diosdado Banatao, one of the first Filipinos to hit it big in Silicon Valley.
The Philippine Angel Network Fund, Damarillo says they will ask individual investors to commit to an investment level, around $100,000. “Investors in the fund will select which companies they would like to invest in,” says Damarillo. “So you [start-ups] still have to sell yourselves to investors of the fund.”
The project has attracted government assistance. The Angel Network Fund will be taken under the wing of Department of Trade and Industry, he says.
“We need to do it fast because we are so far behind,” Damarillo says, citing that similar ‘angel funds’ all over Asia are already extending help to small businesses in their respective countries.
“I believe that Philippine education and innovation makes the Philippine software industry equipped and ready for leadership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the global markets. I’m very optimistic about the Filipino capability. We just need to synergize and become one.”
Find your passion
Damarillo’s advice to aspiring technoprenuers: “If there is one thing to do, it is to do introspective soul searching to find your passion. When you wake up in the morning, what makes you excited? To me that’s rapidly changing all the time ‘cause today I’m getting excited about cloud computing, tomorrow, energy. But that excitement has to be there. When you have that excitement first everyday, everything follows. When you have passion for something, whatever is missing in knowledge you’ll acquire. Whatever is missing in capital, you will seek out. Whatever is missing in people and team, you will be the best sales person of your idea. But it starts with passion and that’s what I’m looking for in Hack2Hatch and the Angel Network. I’m looking for people who believe in what they are trying to do and who will commit to whatever it takes to be successful. And you can detect that very quickly so, that’s what I advise people. Find your passion.”