In 2016, I took a stab in applying to graduate schools. I was 23 years old then and never in my life would I have thought I'd be running a company four years later. I did not end up going to any of the schools that offered a place in their master's programme. Never regretted a day since that decision. Building a company is my real-life MBA.
I am sharing this personal statement I wrote to the London School of Economics and Political Science in the hopes that it may help someone else. I still aspire to achieve the visions I wrote here someday, taking one step each day.
Three years ago, at twenty years old, I started my own company, despite having no prior background in business. It was one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. Coming from a small town in the Philippines, and being the first in my family to go to college, I moved to Boston knowing I was going to do one thing—engineering. I was not disappointed. My time at MIT was one of the most formative experiences of my life. Through rigorous academic work and cutting-edge research, by being mentored by top-notch scholars and collaborating with the most amazing peers, I have learned the most advanced applications of sciences and technology while addressing the critical challenges of our time.
By the age of seventeen, I was already comfortable with my computing skills. I started building websites, programming tools, and other small software projects; most of them were for fun. Came junior year, although hesitant at first, I joined various startup groups and even spent two summers teaching technology and business development in Manila. It was not until the last term of my senior year, however, that I truly realised my interest and my potential in running a business. Encouraged by my advisor, I ended up starting a company.
During the autumn of 2013, just shortly after graduation, I co-founded and served as the CTO of Muber, an e-commerce company that tore down international borders in online shopping and allowed consumers to access goods from overseas at a much lower cost. By using everyday travelers as carriers and connecting them with local shoppers, our service avoided substantial shipping costs and provided buyers with a wider range of product choices. My co-founder and I treated this fledgling startup like our baby; we worked hard day and night, and my responsibilities varied depending on the fast-changing needs of the company. While coding was my main forte, I was also heavily involved in developing our business model and pitching our ideas to different angel investors and venture capitals in various cities, including San Francisco, Atlanta, and Manila. While growing up, I have never felt the desire to start a business, but after all these experiences, I knew what I wanted to do.
While I have had such unique opportunities to apply my strong engineering background in real world business, my entrepreneurial and management experiences have mostly been self-taught, learning a step at a time from my successes and failures. I feel that my potential to succeed in technology business will vastly improve with the tools acquired through a management education. With this, my goal is to pursue a formal management degree focused on developing the next-world leaders who will drive businesses through the fast changing technological and digital transformation.
I chose to apply for the Management of Information Systems and Digital Innovation master's programme at the London School of Economics and Political Science because of its strong emphasis on the study of information systems and the practice of innovation in business and government. LSE's unique management curriculum and the specialised track in digital innovation will allow me to harness my education and passion in technology better and use that knowledge for my career goals. Moreover, LSE's perfect location in the heart of London provides me with such incredible and infinite resources to access the brightest minds from startups and companies around the area. Overall, I believe this programme resonates directly with what I hope to achieve out of a management education.
One of the biggest takeaways from my entrepreneurial stints was the full range of possibilities one can achieve through the use of technology. As a computer science major, I learned the necessary engineering skills to develop transformative software from no less than the best people in the field. Through MIT's rich intersection of mind and hand, as embodied in our motto, I felt empowered to reframe problems as opportunities and transform them into impact. During Professor Rob Miller's user interfaces class, I realized my interest in connecting people with technology. I had greater admiration towards the importance of designing usable technologies. I understood that, in the end, we are not simply selling lines of code but actual products real people would use. Writing good and scalable software and building a usable and relatable product, for me, are never a zero-sum game.
Since then, every single one of my software designs embodied this philosophy of user-centric approach. Even as a manager in Globe Telecom and Smart Communications, I consistently encouraged my team to put the user at the core of our every solution. I have specific interest in user-driven innovation. Through my experiences in developing user stories and conducting user testing for every software development project I was involved in, I recognized that many features and products we successfully released were driven by the specific user needs that they addressed. At LSE, I hope to study aspects of technological innovation that specifically target existing pain points in the market, and more specifically, to be able to identify these pain points ahead and steer the direction of any organisation towards addressing these needs. I am thrilled at the prospect of having the opportunity to work with professors in the MISDI programme to learn the theories behind innovation that will lead me towards a better understanding and application of these interests.
My travels through almost 25 countries over the last five years have helped me grow as a better person and have contributed to my knowledge of the differences and similarities between people. Specifically, I developed the appreciation of how people interact with technology in different cultures and contexts. A ride-sharing app that works in Bangkok may not necessarily gain traction in Nairobi. Even in a more globalised world, certain market forces can drive technologies to become localised. In the Philippines, social media has been a powerful driver to Mr Duterte's presidency and his all-time high approval ratings and popular support. In spite of the increased rate of misinformation and cyberbullying, albeit rather disappointing, one can only admit that the speed at which people create and share information has since changed the game of politics. With LSE's highly international and diverse environment, compounded with my extensive international experience, I hope to learn and contribute with my peers to better understand such a captivating technological trend.
After completing the master's programme, I plan to return to the Philippines. I intend to use the knowledge and skills I shall acquire from the MISDI programme to influence the technology and business sectors of my country, particularly in the areas of education, entrepreneurship, and public policy. These are areas in which, I believe, I would provide lasting impact to the sustainable growth and success of innovation in the country.
Over the last five years, the Philippines has seen a rapid expansion in GDP, from $168 billion in 2009 to $280 billion in 2014. The emergence of service-based industries and technology startups helped push this trend upward. These opportunities present major challenges at the same time. Starting a business remains involved, and sources of venture funding are scarce. While the rest of Southeast Asia experienced an increase in the flow of capital funding during the first half of 2016, the Philippines saw a 77% decrease — a disappointing outlook compared to its neighbours, but also an oasis of infinite possibilities for growth.
Inspired to transform these challenges into opportunities and impact, within 2-3 years, I shall build upon the foundation of an earlier FinTech startup I started with my friends and colleagues last year. Our business model focused on delivering a better payment experience for the credit card market. From the lessons we have learnt, I envision building inclusive financial services that target the unbanked and the uncarded market. Through MISDI, I hope to learn new organisational skills and strategies that will help me harness technology to develop better and inclusive business models. Using technology as a driving force and through accessible and affordable methods, I envision 95% of the market will have the capability to access goods and services that previously catered only to those who have better means.
All these plans would only be best effective with enough support from the government. In the long term, within 5-7 years, I intend to collaborate with the national government in forming the National Digital Service and becoming the country's Chief Technology Officer. Inspired by the US Digital Service and the UK Government Digital Service, this institution will serve as the primary body of digital innovation for the Philippine government. I believe that the MISDI curriculum has the right formula to prepare me for a major involvement in the technology policy for the public sector.
My personal and professional experiences as an engineer, academic, manager, expatriate, mentor, and leader have equipped me with the passion, fortitude, and competence to succeed in management school. I firmly believe that the MISDI programme, compounded with LSE's exceptional reputation regarding the quality of students, faculty, and education, will equip me with the additional tools and resources necessary to pursue my professional goals. With my strong technical background, my past experiences in the industry and starting up businesses, and a management master's degree from LSE, I shall be very well prepared and equipped to accomplish these goals and, even more likely, achieve beyond the target.