He is one of the few who offer caution before mentoring would-be Philippine start-ups in the Silicon Valley way.
“Manila is not Silicon Valley and Silicon Valley is not Manila,” Paras warns. “To do the Silicon Valley thing in Manila is the wrong mindset. There are too many variables involved. Ultimately, the entrepreneurs themselves must take stock of their resources and make their own decisions.”
What Paras is trying to do, really, is help people become more resourceful. There’s a lot of talk these days about entrepreneurs. From his own experience, while it may be romantic and sometimes heroic to say you’re an entrepreneur, it’s often difficult in the early stages. You’ll need a lot of resources.
“If you look at the life cycle of a start-up,” says Paras, “there is no return on investment at the early stage. A lot of start-ups will die in three months. Some might not even get off the Powerpoint presentation.”
Gumption Studios LLC
“With my company, we’re trying to shorten the return on investment by using the resources that a company already has. That’s why I called it Gumption Studios LLC – we find the gumption that makes you stick to your purpose.”
It’s a way of seeing and moving resources as human development or human capital (when “most people still think capital, labor and real estate”) to optimize effect. Paras says, “There’s so much that can be captured on a spreadsheet by looking at the potential of people. That’s when Gumption tries to effect change. If you want a metaphor, it’s like Archimedes looking for the fulcrum to better leverage change in the world.”
Paras works with a number of people, from college graduates to professionals in their sixties. Some call themselves CEOs, some are executive directors and others are founders. But they all make decisions about the base forces at their companies. They decide on how to spend money or how to spend people’s time.
“I do have a group of technology people, a lot in the nonprofit sector. I have a lot of social enterprises. They could be non- or for profit but they are all affecting social impact.”
In high school, Paras’ physician dad shared with him books on creativity, Abraham Maslow (and his theory of human motivation) and the aphorism, Mens sana in corpore sano (A sound mind in a sound body).
But over the years, it was a curious mind and a big heart that has propelled Paras. After graduating with a technical business degree from Stanford in the 1990s, Filipinas Magazine gave him the Achievement Award for Youth Leadership in 1999.
They were right – Paras would be the youngest member of the team that spun off Agilent (a bio-analytical measurement manufacturer) from Hewlett-Packard (HP). The $1.2-billion IPO was his last project as a financial program consultant for HP.
Like many Renaissance men before him, Paras wanted to do things on his list before he kicked the bucket. “After working for 20 years, I realized there were things I needed to do while I still possessed most of my faculties.” By the end of 2006, he quit Agilent.
Instead of climbing mountains, he decided to pierce through the complexity of China. He took the counsel of his mentor and then-HP CTO Edward Yang: If you want to understand China, do not think of it as a market; because that’s how business people would do it. Think of China as a country of people with many cultures.
So Paras abandoned original plans to study abroad for three months, then travel for another three. He visited Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and a lot of other places. Then the 2008 Olympics happened, extending his sojourn to 18 months. But he told himself, it was also to better understand the background of his Chinese college sweetheart.
After coming back to the States in 2012, he officially launched what was still a concept in his mind. Even then, it was more to organize than to set up a business. “People kept asking for my advice until I realized, I had to formalize this as my function in life.”
His first individual client was an attorney who was also an educator and a management consultant who started companies. Paras worked with him for six months, going through exercises and questions, connecting him to resource persons. Then he coached him in role-playing situations. In the end, the client enrolled in a boot camp for software engineers. He’s now working for a pre-IPO and his story got the attention of Wired magazine (required reading for those who make technology their career or lifestyle or both).
Paras was also hired by the Banatao family for the Asian Pacific Fund – Filipino American Education Fund to design and conduct a retreat for all-Filipino scholarship students from MIT. Cal Poly, UC Berkeley and Stanford. The program involved a business plan competition, innovation workshops, as well as a do-it-yourself assessment as a leader. The retreat took place over three days, but the planning took several months because Paras had to research private case studies.
The Stanford Alumni Association is a current client. He also counts clients in Manila, Wisconsin, South Texas and West Africa.
Paras considers Gumption’s services not so much as damage control at company crises, but as capacity building for higher strategic thinking. But he has been known to be on retainer for some clients.
Earlier in 2010, Paras conceived Filamthropy while doing a social media campaign. Gumption is pragmatic while Filamthropy is noble.
“What I’m trying to do with Filamthropy is to recognize, connect and engage the Filipino forces for good in the world. I mean this without the on-line branding-speak. Because people think that it takes money (to do good) and I’m trying to turn that (idea) on its head.”
And here is where the heart and mind of Paras truly lie. He was enrolled at the Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute at De Anza College in Cupertino. Former Mayor Michael S. Chang ran the study of case histories. You either took the class or did a project to fulfill it. Always the hands-on administrator, Paras chose to do a project.
“The project I wanted to do was to see if people valued time and talent over money. I went to about ten Bay Area non-profit organizations like Alliance for Justice and Bayanihan Resource Center. I asked them to choose between $25,000 for one year or a specialist (paid $100,000 yearly) and ten hours of his time. Which would they get?”
The replies were all over the place, he says. Some wanted the money, others the addition to their staff. Still others wanted to make the distinction over operational or program money.
Paras went further and took his proposal to other executive directors, to Quezon City (his birthplace), the provinces in the Philippines, the Ateneo Innovation Center, to a group of young people in Manhattan about to launch their own start-up, the Filipino Googler Network in Mountain View and others. “All these people are trying to do good, but they have different takes on it,” he recalls.
The contentious part is “good.” How do you set parameters? Do you put in the same basket an organization that started as faith-based and now builds homes and creates jobs for the poor (Gawad Kalinga) and activist groups (PAWIS, NAFCON, Anakbayan)?
Paras replies, “You don’t have to go far to find models for social change. There’s a lot. People Power in 1986 is one. It did not ask for a lot of money. But it got together a lot of people to gather at EDSA, locking out the highways, effectively sending out the message for social change.”
“But what I’m about is applying to our diaspora. What are the ways to improve the lives of Filipinos worldwide? I try to meet a lot of people who are doing this. And a lot of times, people who are doing good are not household names.
“They’re not the Banatao family, not Sheila Marcelo, a CEO who founded a service website for caregivers, who’s doing her IPO. They may be simple folks like those delivering newspapers in the morning in Manila. Or Shasha Nakhai, a Toronto, Canada-based filmmaker who co-produced ‘The Sugar Bowl’, depicting life in a Negros Island plantation.”
For now, the data that Paras has collected for four years sit fallow. What he got was a lot of invitations to speaking engagements from like-minded organizations: in San Diego with the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) in 2014, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York in 2012, at the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco last year and at Stanford and Sonoma State University this year.
Unfortunately, money still makes the world go round. But with the re-purposing of social media, change doesn’t have to mean man vs. 40-ton T-59 tanks like in Tiananmen Square, China in 1989. Social media already instigated change in Egypt in 2010.
The Paras family immigrated to the US in the 1970s and has lived in Illinois, Louisiana, Texas and California. Julius has even been further out, to the jungles of Borneo. But he also spent Thanksgiving with a family of five in the border between Texas and Mexico. He is hard put to explain the sense of fulfillment that he gets out of good deeds. “Don’t you want to live in a different world? You don’t need a lot of money.”
For a man who cares a lot about social change, Paras, “forty-something,” is tight-lipped about his family life (married 11 years, one daughter). He plays the French horn and enjoys classical and classic rock music. He confesses a passion for Mozart and hip-hop dancing. And, for somebody who has been around the world, butterfly-style bangus at Star Plaza Motel in Pangasinan.
More articles from Harvey I. Barkin:
Pinoys @ Google Bust Myths
March 13, 2013
It’s not true that only U.S.-born young techie hipsters with college degrees can get a piece of the Google lode.
The Talented Mr. Fernandez
August 27, 2013
Patently inventive litigator who started one of the earliest venture capital funds in the Philippines.
Putting The Start In Start-Up
October 28, 2013
Start-up incubator/accelerator Earl Martin Valencia is always ready to pounce on tech talent the moment he sees it.