The story behind GroupHug.ph

(Warning: might be long and filled with gramatical errors :D — I decided to just write this once and not bother with copy editing. Quick summary: I recently joined the Start-up Weekend Manila and the idea I pitched placed 5th over-all. Not bad!)

The story behind the idea

Last month, we had this message series at church entitled "Change Your World in 52 Days". Craig Groeschel asked "What breaks your heart?" and then challenged us — "Somebody has got to do something. It might as well be me".

And so I asked myself, what breaks my heart? My answer: aside from seeing people far from God (my first on the list), it breaks my heart whenever I see kids who needs healthcare and are not getting any because of poverty. 

TV stations like GMA and ABS-CBN have been so far successful in bringing these concerns to TV viewers. They will create program segments that features these kids and would ask you to donate and support their hospitalization. 

If you really care, your heart is pounded. I would normally have that feeling — I want to donate, I want it now! And so the TV programs will tell you where to deposit the money, the name of the child and assures you that your money will be able help the kid survive the predicament. And sure it will. So the next morning, you'll wake up, eat your breakfast and go back to work. You forgot about the heart-breaking segment you saw on TV last night. I don't blame myself, or anyone for that matter, who will have this routine. We're human beings. We forget. That's our nature. Our nature is the problem.

Somebody has got to do something. It might as well be me. There's a solution to this problem. And as a web entrepreneur, I can see a solution. 

Imagine if you'll see this same program, same images, same story of a kid who needs healthcare — the same intensity, the same emotion, the same willingness to help — this time on a website while you're browsing, or checking your emails, or lurking at Facebook. You are presented with the opportunity to help the child right there and then — not tomorrow in the bank — right now, with your Paypal accounts and your credit cards. Assuming that you have the real desire to help, the possibility of you making that step has increased by a hundred fold. Multiply that with hundreds of possible donors, pitching in to help the child. I'm sure raising funds will be faster than just featuring his story on TV.

The idea: a web app that non-government organizations can use to facilitate online donations for kids that need healthcare.

When I was sharing this to my LifeGroup, my original plan is just to partner with a huge organization that works with children healthcare (like ABS-CBN Foundation, GMA Kapuso Foundation), offer my services in building this platform for free. I wasn't planning to earn anything out of it. Just the thought of having my skills gone to good use is a huge blessing and an accomplishment for me. I have in fact contacted a friend at a TV station to try to pitch this idea to him to see if his organization can support this partnership. But Start-up Weekend Manila happened sooner.

Start-up Weekend Manila's pitch

Start-up Weekend was finally coming to the Manila. (To know more about Start-Up Weekend Manila, click here). I know I'll join — not for anything else but to just be immersed into the Pinoy geek community. The energy of multiple geeks and entrepreneurs in one room would definitely blow my mind. That's what I looked forward to. On the side, I was thinking about pitching an idea. A "cool" start up. 

Unfortunately, I can't think of anything original. My other ideas have been implemented already either by my team or with others around. The only other idea that I have in mind is this one — the non-profit web app for children's health care. So I thought, why not pitch this idea and see if this is viable. 

However, if this will be pitched it needs to be profitable. So, I kinda modified the idea. Instead of just doing it for free to partner with one huge organization, I would be presenting it as a Software-As-A-Service, Social Entrepreneurship start-up that will provide free tools to multiple organizations that takes care of children's healthcare donations. The revenue stream will come from processing fees. Not bad, isn't it?

Friday night pitch fire

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I pitched the idea. I was among the less than 70 ideas that stood and pitched for 1 minute. My goal is simple: no competition, just wanting to know how people will react to the idea. Is that something worth pursuing? Will people actually find it interesting?

I named this start up GroupHug.ph. As in, "come on, let's group together, hug this kid by pitching in our money for his hospitalization" group hug.

Wasn't expecting anything actually. When informal votation came, my piece of paper was average. Compare to that Voodoo App's popularity, mine was … well.. :D 

Team formation

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But then, it made it to top 20! We were asked to form a team to work on a prototype over the weekend for presentation Sunday night. Some really passionate individuals approached me and interested to work on the project with me. 

Meet Chris, Sam, John and Dayle. With the exception of John, everyone else I just met that night. We started rough and extreme. That's natural for people who do not know each other, with different goals and directions. My goal was simple — I just want the idea to come out. Not to win or anything like that. But these dudes, they're on to something. They want to win. They so believe in the idea that they actually believe this will win the Singapore incubator gig! They're so passionate about winning that they got me to believe about the project's winnability, too! And I'm saying this on a positive note. Sometimes, you need people to believe in you to so you can believe in yourself.

They're not just about winning, they coupled the passion with hard work. I saw them worked their ass off over the weekend to be able to come up with a prototype.

Sunday night presentation

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I've marveled as I listened to the presenters. Filipinos do have wonderful ideas. We have skills to match the ideas. Just being in the midst of that room with those really talented individuals makes me want to go home :D But, I still need to present what we have.

My presentation focused not just on the web app. It focused primarily on the benefit. And since this web app is primarily for a cause, my goal is to trigger the emotions of those that will be watching it. That's how GroupHug.ph differed from the rest — it's not just about technology, it's technology with a heart. 

People's reaction

Seeing how great the other apps were technologically, I already knew we're not going to be #1. But still, we'd be winners if my goal of confirming whether people can relate with the project or not, if the project is viable or not, will happen. And somehow, it happened.

After my presentation, several people came to me telling me how they loved the idea. It's the cause for children's healthcare that grabbed their attention and touched their hearts. An incubator gave me a card, interested to talk about GroupHug.ph further. 

Some people Twitted:

@iamLadyVera: I used to think that I don't have a heart but GroupHug.ph just touched it.

@renzmarv : Hope to see GroupHug & Startup Mavericks to get live soon! Aside from ours, those two are my personal favorites! #swmanila @jasontorres

@dazedndconfused: #swmanila GROUPHUG very socially conscious app- " technology with heart"

jfdiasia: #swmanila GroupHug: web application facilitating donations for children's healthcare services

5th place finish

Hearing the people's reaction makes us winners already, seriously. That's the primary reason why I came here, to validate this idea. The icing on the cake being part of the top winners — 5th to be exact.

So, what's next?

What's next for GroupHug.ph? Are we going to continue on with this? Quick answer: of course. Why not? The idea has been validated. People loved it. It will make a difference in the lives of children who needs healthcare. And quite honestly, it will also make a difference in the lives of people who will be given the chance to donate. Giving is always a blessing, it changes you more than it changes the recipient of your gift.

HOWEVER, the reality is, to launch this project requires a lot of time and energy. It's not a simple iPhone app that you upload on iTunes store. GroupHug.ph requires vision casting to non-profit organizations. The webapp itself, as I envision it, needs dedicated time to make it work. And I can't make my company, TeamSparrow be involved in this. We're really full at this point and a man-hour investment is something my team cannot provide. On top of that, I just launched a start up (in partnership with Abe of YugaTech and James, a long time client) called YugaDeals. And, together with my buddy Jerameel and Abe, we've started working on another cool, kick ass web app which we hope to launch by early 2012. Plus, I have another start up: LifeChurch Makati (which technically is a start up too). I can't have too many start ups all at the same time. I need to do outsourced work to feed my family. LOL! :D

BUT, this thing is real. And it needs to happen. Maybe, if I'm going to run this from the leadership capacity without involving my current company and with an incubator or VC supporting it, maybe things will be much easier and it'll fly as it should. So, GroupHug.ph is on the fridge right now as I try to follow up on those incubators and possible VCs and partners.

Start-up Weekend is both a fun and a challenge

I have learned a lot from this experience. I honestly have some reservations, but overall, the Start-up Weekend is what the Philippines need to promote entrepreneurship and technology in the country. We have really great minds locally. These people don't need to go abroad to work. Work is here.