Starting a business is easy. Sustaining it, on the other hand, is a whole other story.
For 27-year-old Valenice Balace, that story meant going almost a million under debt, selling personal belongings to fund her company, and filing for bankruptcy one too many times before landing in Forbes’ 30 under 30 2016 Asia.
An alumna of De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde, Balace holds a degree in Computer Applications and is now the CEO and Founder of Bootfruit, Inc., the company that created the dating app, Peekawoo and the newly launched social app, Twine.
Valenice, also referred to as Val, has a sweet and cheerful personality that would also remind anyone of their favorite school teacher, the one who never seemed to get ill-tempered or stressed-out about anything.
Her aura veers far from how people would describe an ambitious business person, often perceived as arrogant and too busy to talk to other people. But under Val’s cheerful disposition lies her her penchant for generating success.
Her first business was selling jewelry at a bazaar in Glorietta with P 4, 000 worth of materials she bought from Quiapo. After just a day of successful business, she was able to triple the amount of her capital.
After her stint in making jewelry, she tried her hand at reviving old furniture then re-selling it for a higher price, a skill she learned from watching youtube videos.
“Hindi kasi ako mapakali sa buhay ko,” she joked.
Balace was able to save up money from her tinkering abilities and working different jobs for both Smart Communication and ZTE. These companies helped her discover her fondness for coding applications – mobile application in particular.
Since it was something she had a genuine interest in, plus she didn’t think bank interest rates would be much help to her savings, she decided to put her savings in the business of developing her own brand.
Start of Peekawoo
Balace admitted that part of the reason why she and co-founder Mara Ong decided to create a dating app was because they haven’t had boyfriends for quite some time. Going to bars or joining dating apps didn’t help either.
The problem however with modern dating apps such as Tinder is that they don’t necessarily work out in the Filipino setting. “Five minutes pa lang kaming nagchachat gusto niya na akong puntahan sa bahay,” she said.
Furthermore, she wondered why there was no app that focused on women, one where women would not be just a part of a catalog for men to choose from. Hence, the launch of Peekawoo.
It’s an app that aims to empower women to accept only what they deserve and encourage them to be themselves instead of getting pressured to do things just because all the other girls are doing it.
The app also aims to rid Filipinos from the taboo of dating and the stereotype that those who date often are flirt or womanizer.
“Meeting people shouldn’t be a bad thing. It’s a way to get to know more people. […] The more you go out, the more you can set standards for yourself,” Balace said.
Peekawoo tries to preserve the good parts of old world dating like how back in the day, the guy who wanted to woo the girl would really have to prove himself worthy
She said that one of the traits that set Filipinos apart from others is how they value women more and she wants to have a hand in preserving that.
Balace’s company started in June 2013 with a P1.3 M start-up fund but as all business goes, it doesn’t always immediately become all smiles and flowers.
After doubling, tripling her efforts of finding more investors for her company, it all seems inadequate what with all the road blocks and bumps that seem to hinder their path.
One of the biggest occurred when one of their core team members had a stage 3 cancer and all that was left of the company’s money, all P300,000 of it, had to be given for his treatment. And yes, this meant bankruptcy.
Balace recalled how people kept telling her at the time to just imitate popular dating apps like Tinder to have a shot at that success but she refused to do so. What’s the point of making her own company if she would just do what the others were doing?
In July 2015, she flew to the United States to look for potential investors but the rejections rolled off one after the other.
Two to three months would go by without her employees getting their paychecks and Balace had to sell off her laptop, cellphone, even tickets for her and her boyfriend’s vacation to pay her employees.
Left with no other choice, Balace closed off the company in August 2015 then messaged the investors and all those who lent her money about the dire news.
“Ang hirap diba, paano ko sassabihin sa mga taong to na wala na silang pera? Every email na ginagawa ko umiiyak talaga ako,” she recalled.
The following week, an investor wanted to meet with her. Even after hundreds of rejections, she still thought this might be the miracle she was looking for. And indeed it was.
“Una niyang sinabi […] ‘I want to fund you for the next four years’,” she narrated.
Understandably low in spirit because of past failures, Balace offered to just sell her company instead of the investor funding them but he refused to do so.
Balace accepted the offer and after a week, the new investor wired funds to the company.
With the funds, business was once again running. With this new opportunity presented, aside from the development of the existing Peekawoo, they thought of launching Twine, a new social app geared towards more religious people, providing an avenue where talking about your beliefs wouldn’t get a patronizing, “Ang banal mo naman.”
Twine is a social app that aims to form a community of people with deep-seated values who are looking to find a more meaningful connection.
Since the Philippines remains largely Catholic, our values which were formed at home and society tend to lean towards that where our interactions and relationships are vastly different from that of the likes in America and other countries.
Balace aims to create a community where people can freely discuss matters with faith incorporated in their perspectives without having to sound preach-y or overbearing.
Good working relationship
With the highs and lows she went through in starting her business, Balace shared that the number one thing she learned is the importance of a good working relationship.
She said that they try to maintain good relationships with partners and treat them as friends instead of merely a transaction.
Although business gets stressful, she doesn’t let herself feel so negative or angry and instead just tries to understand the situation.
She also emphasized the need to maintain the relationship between the employers and the employee because once you damage that, there will always be bad blood. Instead of thinking her employers owe her their work, she thinks of it the other way around.
“I think of myself as more of a leader than a boss. I’m thankful they’re allowing me to hire them to do my dreams,” she said. (Nina Ibarrola)