Why 2 Pinoys left US to start a tech company in PH

by Jon Carlos Rodriguez, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Apr 18 2015 11:11 AM | Updated as of Apr 19 2015 06:57 PM

MANILA – The itch to start something.

This is what brought Paul Rivera, the founder and chief executive officer of online jobs platform Kalibrr, back to the Philippines in 2007 after spending most of his life in the United States.

But the decision to leave US and go back home to Manila didn’t come easy for Rivera, not when you are working for one of the biggest tech companies in the world -- Google.

Rivera is a graduate of University of California - Berkeley, where he met his partner in Kalibrr, chief operating officer Dexter Ligot-Gordon.

Rivera and Ligot-Gordon worked together in an organization called Pilipino Academic Student Services (PASS), which was involved in mentoring high school students on how to prepare to apply and qualify for a school like UC Berkeley.

Their first task together was to get more Filipinos into UC Berkeley, one of the most competitive and selective schools in the US.

After college, the two friends took different paths, with Ligot-Gordon ending up in the public sector while Rivera worked for a tech startup called Drivespeed Designs, which eventually became Mercantila.com, a pioneering e-commerce company that sells home products.

Kalibrr chief operating officer Dexter Ligot-Gordon (left) and chief executive officer Paul Rivera

Rivera's Google stint

After two years as a product manager at Mercantila, Rivera made a big leap and worked for Google as part of an online sales and operations group.

After only three months as a Google employee, Rivera received a call from an old colleague, who had an offer that changed his life.

“I worked in Google but I had an itch, and it was an itch to start something,” Rivera said at the commercial launch of Kalibrr.

By 2007, Rivera found himself in the Philippines, establishing a call center in Makati.

“My mom said I was crazy for doing that because I not only left the best company in the world, but I left to go back to the Philippines,” he told ABS-CBNnews.com at the sidelines of the press launch.

BPO in Makati

From 2007 to 2012, Rivera led the growth of BPO firm Open Access, which found a niche bringing Silicon Valley to Manila.

With Rivera holding the position of operations head, Open Access saw its employees grow from 100 people in 2007 to 300 by 2012.

He said his confidence in the BPO sector’s potential back then pushed him to take on the challenging task of running a BPO company

“It was not as big as it is today, but if you look at what BPO was then and what it is today and what it means for the Philippines, how can we not be positive about it? It is an industry and a sector that 1.1 million Filipinos work in. This BPO sector is driving some of the best start ups in Silicon Valley that opened offices here. So imagine all of the cross pollination of talent that gets created,” Rivera said.

“Look at India, their BPO industry has now turned into a high-tech industry. Same thing will happen in the Philippines,” he added.

The birth of Kalibrr

But while Open Access continued to grow, Rivera faced one big problem: Why were people with a college degree not getting hired for entry- level jobs?

As Rivera continued to seek other problems to solve in the Philippine BPO sector, Ligot-Gordon was fighting a similar battle in California by creating strategies in the areas of education and workforce development.

In 2010, Ligot-Gordon resigned from government in the US and went to the Philippines to reassess his career.

Kalibrr chief operating officer Dexter Ligot-Gordon

He met with Rivera over dinner one evening in 2011, and they talked about the very problems that Kalibrr is trying to solve today—underemployment and the difficulty of recruiting talent.

“We never had a phone call, we never saw each other for seven years. But when we saw each other here, the connection that we had about impact was resparked,” recalled Rivera.

Ligot-Gordon and Rivera brainstormed, jointly produced a concept paper, and four months later Kalibrr was born.

It was full circle for the partnership between Ligot-Gordon and Rivera, who years ago focused on getting more Filipinos into UC Berkeley, and now focused on getting Filipinos into the right jobs.

“It’s kind of funny now because we are applying very similar principles to employment in the Philippines,” said Rivera.

An estimated $2 million was the amount spent to start Kalibrr, making it one of the largest funds ever raised by a local start-up company.

Between 2012 to 2013, Kalibrr received a seed fund of $200,000 in two rounds of funding from Kickstart, a venture capital firm owned by Globe Telecom.

“When the idea of Kalibrr was pitched to us in 2012, we knew that they had the potential to disrupt the human resource industry—especially at the backdrop of the BPO sector hyper growth,” said Ernest Cu, president and chief executive officer of Globe.

Kalibrr is also backed by angel investor Nix Nolledo of Xurpas Inc., Y Combinator, and eBay's Pierre Omidyar.

Kalibrr chief operating officer Dexter Ligot-Gordon (left) and chief executive officer Paul Rivera

Since Kalibrr’s new platform went online in late 2014, it has amassed over 65,000 active job seekers and about 3,000 companies. The online jobseeking site aims to grow its jobseeker base to 1 million, and its employer base to nearly 20,000 before the end of 2015.

Rivera believes Kalibrr is at the forefront of not only solving problems related to recruitment, but “revolutionizing” the recruitment process through technology.

“I was scared that I was going to fail, but I also knew that I was young enough to fail, I was 24 years old. And even if the fear of failure was always great and present, I feared more not being successful as an entrepreneur. So that sense of fear was very big as I was leaving Google, but as I spent more and more time in the Philippines, that fear has been overcome with tremendous opportunity to solve very important problems,” he said.