If you’re reading this, you probably have a dream. Maybe it’s a big dream. But do you have what it takes to follow through on your dream. Are you realizing those dreams?
What are the mechanics of this dream machine? What happens if you live in a small town of a small island, say in the Philippines? How do you imagine yourself outside of your environment? How do you imagine yourself at a better school, then at a top university in your country, then at the top business school in the world? The World! That would be somewhere far away from where you are right now.
How are all of these dreams supposed to become reality? Because right now, you are in a small town, on a small island, and there are problems on this island, and you are just this small person, playing with your friends, on a small street, off of a small road, in a small town.
Do you just scrunch your face up and concentrate?
And what’s beyond the top business school? Is it working as a consultant, a hedge fund, a start-up? When do you start giving back?
This podcast highlights Carmen Feliciano’s journey, how she followed her dreams, the importance of her mother’s support, how she gets help from others, and how today she inspires 20,000 students back in the Philippines through http://www.kendii.com/ to write and broaden their world.
Carmen is CEO of Penny and Mary, which helps couples and wedding planners collaborate to create their perfect day.
Watch a video describing their service at here
Kent: So right now you are traveling in Charleston, South Carolina.
Carmen: Yes, it’s my bachelorette weekend, so I am living and breathing weddings.
Kent: And you are meeting with clients down there as well?
Carmen: Yes. So it’s a mix of work and play.
Kent ([1:43]): Carmen, tell us a little bit about your background.
Carmen: I grew up in Southern Philippines. My love for tech brought me here to the US in 2009 when I attended the MBA program at Wharton. My very first job was in a mobile tech company, back in 2004 when startups were not cool. At least not in the Philippines. I love building products that solve problems and people enjoy using. I am now currently the CEO of Penny and Mary. It’s a wedding planning collaboration site, focused on helping couples getting things done. So we help couples go from inspiration to actual planning, via our visual collaboration tool, you can organize your thought, engage your mom, planner, close friends, even find potential vendors.
Kent ([2:30]): What’s a problem that your clients will typically come against that you will help them solve?
Carmen: Wedding planning is a project management nightmare. You have finite resources, time and budget to have a wedding that you will hopefully have only once in your life, so there is a lot of pressure. All the other products out there just add to the overwhelm because most of them focus on inspiration and retail and none of them really help you get from inspiration to the actual doing. We help you get from the inspiration to doing by first helping you organize, helping you streamline what you want. Your very visual plan on our platform to help engage with the people helping you make your wedding happen, whether it is your mom, your wedding planner, or potential vendors. They are engaging with you on what you want for your wedding. The part which no-one is addressing which is when you are planning your wedding, there are so many tasks you need to do. You are always talking to different people and you find yourself repeating the same information over and over again and you end up with a lot of email threads and it just adds to the overwhelm that you feel when you are wedding planning. I know this because I am in the middle of planning my own wedding.
Kent ([3:52]): So your clients are both wedding planners and couples?
Carmen: Yes, DIY brides mean brides without planners. Use the tool and it helps them plan their wedding more effectively. A lot of planners also love our tool because they want to know your vision of the wedding so they can execute it well. I have a wedding planner as well and I use our tool to communicate what I want for my own wedding.
Kent ([4:18]): How did you come to create Penny and Mary?
Carmen: The idea of developing a solution for wedding planning, you can probably infer from my story, didn’t come from me, because when we started it I was not engaged yet. My co-founder was not engaged yet too but, she was maid of honor five times and she was helping her friends plan their wedding. It was so inefficient. She approached me because I worked at a startup before, to come up with a solution to help couples.
Kent ([4:45]): You were working in one of the early tech companies of the Philippines correct?
Carmen: Yes. The company that I worked for in the Philippines, we developed a lot of cool products. The two products that I handled, one was a mobile remittance product, so a lot of Filipinos work overseas as nurses, as domestic helpers, and they would send remittances back home. As everyone knows, Western Union charges a lot for the transfer fee. We developed our product where we can use mobile credits from the phone and use that to send remittances back home. We charge less than a dollar per transaction. It was a very popular product. In the Philippines back then, mobile credit to the peso is 1 to 1. A lot of people see mobile credits as currency. When there was a big typhoon back in 04, we developed one of the first solutions where you can donate to the red cross using the mobile credits.
Kent ([5:51]): By the way you worked at Grameen Bank.
Carmen: Yes, I did a summer internship for them. I really love social impact. That is really my passion. One of their main focus was mobile payments. That was very fun for me.
Kent ([6:03]): What is your dream from here? What would you like to accomplish?
Carmen: My dream is to contribute to a world where everyone can dream and dream big and to me if I can simply inspire people to dream bigger, that would be good. But if I can help empower them somehow, that would be even more amazing. When I was still back in business school, I founded a nonprofit called Kendii, the goal of Kendii is to promote writing and creativity to young students in the Philippines. Because personally I think my ambition came from my love for reading.
Kent ([6:48]): Can you say more about your nonprofit? What does that name mean?
Carmen: It’s kind of a Filipino spelling of candy. Meaning something bite-sized. We currently reach over 20,000 students. We have two programs, one is the Kendii awards, where we award students who submit good work in fiction, poetry, essay, and we just started to do writing workshops last year in a few high schools. The goal is to encourage people to read more and write more. You might not be inclined to write, but if your friend got published in Kendii hopefully you can check it out and see some of the other works.
Kent (7:45): Carmen I am checking out your website, Listeners, that is www.kendii.com. It is a lovely website. The work you are doing with Kendii is inspiring. What can be more important than encouraging young people to write, to read, to think for themselves. Can you talk more about your motive here?
Carmen: I believe reading helps people develop empathy aside from opening up your world. Sometimes you just need to expand your world so you can dream more. I feel like reading also, especially if you learn to read critically, you learn to think critically. I think it’s very important.
Kent ([8:32]): How about you, what part of the Philippines are you from?
Carmen: So I am from Ozamiz. It is a small city where not a lot of people from Manilla actually knows it exists. It is a very small town. I didn’t have a lot of options in terms of activities growing up, which is why books were my world.
Kent ([8:57]): So you grew up in that environment. How did you come to think about imagining yourself leaving the Philippines, going to University abroad, what was that like?
Carmen: I have a very supportive family. They instill in me that I can do whatever I want. My mom had a similar journey except that she is from an even smaller town. Decades ago when women were expected to get married at least in her town at the age of 15 or 16. She was not supposed to go to High School. She begged her mother to live in an _______ so she can go to High School. She supported herself through college, got a really amazing job, I grew up with more resources than her and she really believed that I can do great and big things because she has done it for herself.
Kent ([9:46]): What Languages do you speak?
Carmen: Coming to America I was already speaking English from a very young age. English is the medium for instruction in the Philippines. More than that, the hometown that I grew up in, our dialect is very different from the national language. Growing up I had to learn the national language. I also had to learn Fukien and Mandarin because I went to a Chinese high school. I had to learn English. When you watch TV and you watch movies, it’s all in English and when you read storybooks it’s in English. English was the easiest language for me and I gravitated towards it.
Kent ([1:25]): Did you find yourself thinking in Chinese, then you thought in Tagalog, then you thought in English?
Carmen: My Chinese never got really good. When I am home, I think in my dialect. When I am in Manilla I think in English. When I speak to most of my peers in Manila I would speak in English because I could speak it better than the national language, sadly. When I am in the US I think in English.
Kent ([10:53]): After University you worked at the startup tech company then you came to America. What was your first impression?
Carmen: Coming to America, I was so impressed by the people around me. / Everyone was so talented, everyone was so ambition, everyone was so driven. I think it’s because is still the land of possibility where you can do a lot of things if you work hard.
Kent ([11:21]): Do you ever feel yourself out of context? Kind of between cultures?
Carmen: Yes. More in certain situations where it’s something that I might not be used to. When I started business school for example, networking was very new to me. Back in the Philippines, we don’t just network. Initially, it felt very transactional to me. It felt very unnatural. It could be very transactional, so what I have done, I just focus on being helpful to people and trying to see if I can connect them to people or resources that they are looking for. I try to build relationships with the people I do end connecting with.
Kent ([12:04]): Carmen when you don’t have resources, how have you dealt with that, whether it be connections or capital?
Carmen: You just need to be very courageous if you are not used to cold emailing people. Just do it and follow up. Also if you don’t have a lot of money or resources, you have talent and you need to be generous with it. Also just help people and they will help you back. Tell people what you need. People are very helpful in general.
Kent ([12:43]): Carmen, you are pretty resilient. What obstacles have you faced and how have you dealt with it?
Carmen: I would say the Visa issue is an obstacle that every immigrant has to face with when they are trying to start a business and there are no companies sponsoring the visa. There was a lot of startups for example that I wanted to work for right out of business school and it just doesn’t make sense to sponsor someone international because it is an added cost. For someone to sponsor and h1b, you need to spend a lot of money on the visa fee and you need to hire lawyers. Those are extra costs you won’t incur when you hire someone who has a green card. To deal with that we doubled our research. You find a company that you want to work for, you find a role that is a good fit for you.
Kent ([13:41]): Would you say there is a Philippine advantage? A secret sauce?
Carmen: I don’t know if this is unique to Filipinos, one thing that is very helpful when you are doing a startup, which is something that a lot of Filipinos have, is a positive attitude. If you are a country that is visited by several typhoons every year, you just learn to be very resilient and positive. When you are doing a startup, you will experience a lot of defeats. You need to bounce back from the defeat and learn from them. It can backfire too as a nation because, if people just make do with what they have, they just take something negative positively, they don’t push for change as much. You need to kind of balance the positive attitude too with pushing for change, pushing for better things.
Kent ([14:33]): I think it’s a positive overall. Do you have a favorite Philippine quote?
Carmen: I really like this quote from Albert Einstein, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” I like it because everyone can study hard, everyone can read as much as they can, but I think the people who move society forward, that move technology forward, are people that have imagination or people who look at what is right now and what could be.
Kent ([15:07]): What resources do you use?
Carmen: I believe in people’s good nature that if you ask for help, they tend to give it. In return I try to be helpful as much as possible. I also rely on my sales talent. When you don’t have a lot of capital or connection, you really need to sell people on your vision.
Kent ([15:32]): What advice can you give some people that are starting a business?
Carmen: My advice to people that are starting up is to seek mentors, but also seek out other entrepreneurs because they are on the ground doing exactly what you are doing and so their advice will be very tactical. You are going together as leaders and you are learning things from your journey and you learn from each other and you get support as you deal with growing pains.
Kent ([16:06]): Are there online resources that you use? Are there tools that you use as well?
Carmen: Yes, I am a big fan of google. I am a big fan of Quora, even if you don’t have a tech background, I highly encourage you to check out Stack Overflow, just to see how people have answered certain tech questions. It is Quora for engineers. If they have a tech problem, they would post it there and the community will answer some of the questions.
Kent ([16:39]): If people want to get a hold of you, what would be the best way for them to do so?
Carmen: They can email me; my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org . They can also follow me on twitter @carmencita13.