The Disruptor

Pinoy technology leader Winston Damarillo

You’d think Winston Damarillo would reach his peak after starting seven companies and initially funding three new ones. But the Pinoy technology leader is just hitting his stride, and not just in Silicon Valley.

Damarillo was a hotshot venture capitalist for Intel Corp. in the early 1990s. In 2001 he co-founded business IT solution consultant Exist Global, Inc. and also became its chairman. He sold his GlueCode software to IBM in 2005, and two years later, he co-founded MorphLabs, a leader in global cloud solutions for service providers and enterprise.

 “I love building companies and I enjoy working with brilliant engineers who can transform ideas to product,” Damarillo says. “More importantly, I love to take Pinoy-engineered technologies and compete globally.”

He adds: “I have the raw materials, but we need more mentors and more seasoned global entrepreneurs that will build their companies in the Philippines.”

Macel Legaspi, director for marketing at Exist Global and former “employee number six or seven” at MorphLabs, is all raves about Damarillo.

Legaspi remembers her mentor saying, “When we built Exist, we had in our minds a plan to dissolve the notion that Filipinos can only be consumers of technology. Look at our track record and you’ll see how Exist has played a leading role in changing that thinking.”

Legaspi says Damarillo’s mantra is “do something really big and make a difference or do nothing at all.” At Exist’s tenth anniversary celebration, the theme was “Making innovation happen over and over again.”

Far from Ideal

Damarillo explains that the Philippines is currently “far from ideal” in terms of IP protection and business friendliness, conditions for accelerating the success of budding tech enterprises. “But there are vast opportunities in Open Source (software written and maintained for free by developers around the world) and software services. We just need more entrepreneurs and more support infrastructure to nurture them.”

He cites his success with GlueCode, which he believes can happen again in the Philippines.  “When I built my first company, GlueCode, we went after IBM’s and Oracle’s product. But since we did not have the budget to hire an army of developers, we had to change the rules of the game.”

In this case, they used Open Source. GlueCode simply focused on the last 20 percent of the software to make it even more user-friendly. This resulted in a more agile and low cost software. 

This is Damarillo’s version of disruptive technology, an innovation that creates a new market or new value and eventually disrupts the existing ones. This usually displaces the earlier technology.

 “Disruption in this case is the fact that IBM did not want to cannibalize their product–the Websphere line–and, instead, acquired GlueCode to sell at a low cost more agile products to developing markets,” Damarillo explains.

Not Up to Type

Disruption aside, Damarillo does not exude the stereotypical roguish persona of some of Silicon Valley’s famed tech pioneers (made famous by the 1999 made-for-TV movie, “Pirates of Silicon Valley” where, as the story goes, how Xerox inadvertently gave away the mouse and GUI to Apple and how Bill Gates purportedly took advantage of DOS and Mac OS.)

Still in his early 40s, Damarillo is no dropout. In fact, he earned double degrees in Industrial and Mechanical Engineering in 1990 from De La Salle University in the Philippines. 

The K-10 curriculum is no longer enough to prepare incoming engineering students in the Philippines with the necessary background for complex courses. More importantly, our kids must aspire to be great engineers and scientists.

He is from Bohol but grew up in Cagayan de Oro. He moved to the U.S. in 1991 and is currently based in Los Angeles, traveling back and forth in the Asia-Pacific region.  Yet, he spends a lot of time with his wife, Pam, and son, John.

 “I picked Industrial Engineering because I believe that learning the total picture of the system is important and that if there’s a particular field of science and engineering that interests me, I can always learn it later,” he recalls.

Being an industrial engineer helped him greatly, giving him the mindset for IT. “Mechanical engineering was initially a wild guess. I get to apply it now because I’m involved in sustainable energy development.”

The famed Dado Banatao is a Mapua alumnus while Winston Damarillo graduated from De La Salle. Both are on the Philippine Development Foundation (PhilDev). So, which school of engineering is better?

Damarillo weasels out of the question: “We went to school at different times, so it’s not fair to compare. Both schools provide excellent engineering programs. What’s different at De La Salle at the time I was there was our exposure to business and entrepreneurship in addition to engineering.”

Exist Global staffers (from left): Ida Ortiz, Marketing Associate Mich De Castro, Co-founder Junnie Arreza, Director of Marketing Macel Legaspi, and from Healthcare Services Alain Yap

Eliminating Poverty

Damarillo believes in PhilDev because “it is passionate about eliminating poverty by improving our economic situation through the advancement of science and engineering.” 

The board of trustees works on a broad range of initiatives in education, economic development and entrepreneurship. One of PhilDev’s initiatives is Hack2Hatch, a weekend entrepreneurship camp began in 2012 where Philippine startups are mentored by Silicon Valley investors and founders.

“Dado is our fearless leader,” says Damarillo. “He sets the vision for long sustainable initiatives like the Engineering Research and Development for Technology (ERDT), a consortium of seven schools including Ateneo, De La Salle, Mapua and UP.”

Working with the government to make sure its programs are implemented, the consortium is a response to 2007 UN reports ranking the Philippines at the bottom third in technology advancement because it had one of the lowest number of scientists and research engineers and.

“PhilDev is in the early stage of accomplishing its mission,” reports Damarillo. “While we are seeing early success, it’s going to take time before we see full rewards. We are, however, optimistic about the path we are headed.”

Wanted: New School Paradigm

The root of the problem, it seems, is STEM (for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses, Damarillo explains.  “The Philippines’ higher education curriculum must improve. We have too many universities that do not produce employable graduates in engineering and science. The K-10 curriculum is no longer enough to prepare incoming engineering students with the necessary background for complex courses. More importantly, our kids must aspire to be great engineers and scientists.”

Schools must immerse kids today in an entrepreneurial mindset and teach them how to take risks or make a case for business.  The country needs more graduates in software and technology, as well as other engineering courses. “We have to invest in educating the younger generation and in mentoring the Filipino IT community about what their peers in other countries as doing,” he stresses.

Damarillo integrates Open Source in his business model. Open Source disrupted the industry back in the early 2000s. “Today, if you take a closer look, it’s still very disruptive,” he says, “remaining an agent of innovation and now has a wider appeal. Look at how many companies support Open Stack [IaaS or Infrastructure as a Service] cloud computing that is free open source software.”

He believes the Philippines can’t be a leader if it continues to play catch-up: “We must think about building something that can disrupt the local continuum (in order to disrupt globally). If we get several hundred success stories, all eyes will be on the Philippines, for sure.”

Harvey I. Barkin

Harvey I. Barkin

Harvey Barkin is a freelance general assignment reporter who covers, community, features and technology. He is also a tech writer and copywriter.