Jig Young: Growth Hacker

Jig Young, a third year student currently taking up Information Technology Entrepreneurship (BS ITE) in Ateneo de Manila University, shares with us his valuable experiences from being a former intern and employee of Kalibrr, a startup which provides a platform to streamline the job-matching process between jobseekers and companies in the Philippines.

Jig was an intern for five months, and a full-time employee for twelve months as a Product Manager for Growth and Expansion to Indonesia wherein he helped grow Kalibrr’s user base from 200,000 to 600,000 users. However, his startup journey started way before he joined Kalibrr. His vision of creating a thriving, intellectual environment among the Filipino youth started from his past experiences in college as the former President of Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society Philippines (ASES).

Planting Seeds

Before incubator firms like Kickstarter and Ideaspace were established, Jig was first introduced to the startup scene by Kai Elmer Sotto who was the Head of Growth at Facebook for South East Asia. He would mentor Jig whenever he was in Manila or send Jig articles or books to read. It was also through Sotto that Jig heard about a billionaire Filipino-American entrepreneur named Dado Banatao. His rags-to-riches story that captivated Jig and inspired him to believe that he could pursue a career in technology and entrepreneurship.

At the end of his first year as an ITE student, Jig took on the challenge of becoming the ASES president in the Ateneo. As ASES President, he became a delegate to the ASES Stanford Summit, where he visited Silicon Valley startups and tech companies such as Google and Facebook. Seeing and encountering various young people involved in building the future electrified Jig and led him to ask, “How could we recreate a community and spirit here in Manila?”

This thought led Jig to organize the ASES Manila Summit, where they invited approximately 40 foreign students to the Philippines and gathered top tech entrepreneurs as speakers in a week-long event. The entire event from inception, to recruitment of organisers and delegates, to execution happened over 3 months (the summer of his freshman year).

It was through this summit that Jig managed to first employ concepts such as growth hacking, which he describes as playing with the rules of the system to make it work for you. By making use of unconventional tactics and guerrilla strategies, Jig and his team managed to get into Ocean 2014, a conference in Cebu, in order to invite top entrepreneurs and government officials.

Every small failure is used as scientific insight and learning to build a stronger product and business model.

Watering the Sprout

Jig’s startup journey started from there, because through that experience, he learned how to lead and trust individuals and teams with autonomy and decision making. As a leader, Jig believes in the theory of structured chaos—structuring the organization, systems and people to thrive in moments of crisis, disorder and randomness.

“Of course, one must take ‘calculated risks,’ but what’s more important is in the re-framing of the perception of your team to think about how they can profit from tragedy and disaster instead of simply deflecting it and ‘managing the risk,’” Jig elaborates. This way, every crisis can be turned into an opportunity and every issue can be turned into a motivation to work harder and maneuver more creatively. He discusses Nassim Taleb’s concept of “anti-fragility” as an example to better visualize his idea.

“In the book, he uses the metaphor of the Hydra from Greek mythology and contrasts it to the mythological figure of a Phoenix. Whereas a Phoenix, once killed, returns to its original form (signifying robustness in its entity and its systems), the Hydra, once its head is chopped off, grows to be stronger. As someone who worked at a technology startup and a startup organization, [I think] this imagery of a Hydra really captures the constant tinkering and iteration of product and business development. Every small failure is used as scientific insight and learning to build a stronger product and business model.”

Jig’s first encounter with this idea was when he was a young child and learned the Chinese word for crisis: 危机 (Wéijī). “危 (wéi) is the Mandarin word for ‘Danger’ while 机(jī) is the Mandarin equivalent of ‘Opportunity.’ So in every crisis, there is opportunity found.” These words struck him and helped shape his worldview.

Spreading Branches

Jig didn’t really think of Paul Rivera and Kalibrr until he was doing his summer semester for JTA. There’s that saying that goes: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” but Jig believes that one can have it all, and this is where “growth hacking”—making the rules of the game work for you—comes in again.

At first, he was planning only to intern for two to three weeks. But then he was interviewed by Joan Magno, a Product Manager at Kalibrr and an Atenean summa cum laude graduate of BS Management Information Systems. After that interview, Jig changed his mind to wanting to work for three months because he wanted to learn from her.

“As Product Manager, you’re basically a mini-CEO. You manage design, business and technology processes and people in order to deliver a product and service to customers,” Joan tells Jig during his interview. But because Joan didn’t need a product intern, he got assigned to the marketing department. As an intern, Jig focused on user acquisition of fresh graduates. He did market research, graphic design, facebook ad iteration, partnerships for marketing, and built the brand ambassador team. It was basically, “hustle—all the dirty work that you had to sit down and do and keep doing, not just do it, but do it well and in advance.”

Jig’s first day was the product launch and his goal was basically to acquire fresh grads from top universities in the Philippines. This time, Jig’s “hack” was by replicating the Ateneo Facebook Jobs and Internships group for all of the other universities in Metro Manila, and having brand ambassadors seed Kalibrr URL’s into these groups. By the end of the fifth month of his internship, he had acquired 14,000 new users per week. For Jig, who had come from a leadership position, this experience of learning how to follow added another dimension to learning how to lead.

After JTA, Jig handled Kalibrr’s Marketplace Growth (user acquisition and activation) when he became the Product Manager of Growth. He would think about how to get more users and increase the number of meaningful interactions on the marketplace—for Kalibrr that was applications for jobs from jobseekers and accepts of recruiters. Moreover, his challenge was to grow acquisition and activation without spending money on advertising or traditional marketing — but rather by developing features, products and technical hacks with his team. Jig says that this manifests in different ways, like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for example. By using SEO, Jig improved organic growth of Kalibr byr—ranking for job-related keywords. This helped Kalibrr grow more sustainably and with much less friction. He would measure these inflows of job seekers from different channels, and try to spot trends or patterns in order capitalize on them. He’d study what makes people send applications and what channels convert better, re-engage better. “A lot of growth is measurable,” Jig says.

Despite being inexperienced, Jig also took on the challenge of becoming Product Manager of Expansion to Indonesia. “At first, I was kind scared and hesitant, because what do I know about expansion?” Jig laughs, “I didn’t know much about international business relations.” He was worried because he did not know how to build a professional working relationship online. But he grabbed the opportunity anyway. With an engineer, he managed the research, design and product development and iteration for Indonesia customer-facing teams. This led Jig to the next insight of “extreme ownership”, which meant taking on the responsibility and owning the the problem in its entirety—stakeholders issues, bugs and delays are all yours to revel in.

To Jig, being a Product Manager meant moving things forward and bringing out 100-percent in not only his direct team but as well as committing to the success of with executives, other departments, and most importantly the customers. Clearing the path for others to succeed is how he took initiative and and showed pro-activeness.

Try to work under somebody who is at the top 5%  in your chosen field of industry and develop a relationship with them by offering value.

Reaping the Fruits

When asked what his main takeaway from the whole experience was, Jig cites three things. The first is to focus on building a product some users love. It was much easier for Jig to do his job because of the immense care and thought of everyone else who was involved in building and developing Kalibrr’s core product and service—the marketplace.

The second is to be customer-focused—learning from the customer and making it an active part of everyday process. “In Kalibrr,” Jig says, “they care so much about the customer. [And] it’s not about listening to the customer exactly, like specifically what they are saying out, but [rather] listening to everything about the customer. Not just what they explicitly say but their data. What’s their behavior and interactions in the website?”

The commitment and focus on the customer was something that he really learned from the startup, particularly because Dane Howard, former Head of Design at eBay and Microsoft, gave a one-week workshop to them about human-centered design and customer journeys for technology startups. After which, he translated these design lessons into product, business, cultural and organisation development. Dane holds a weekly Skype session with the product team to coach and guide their design thinking process.

The third is to be very data-oriented. When Jig became a Product Manager at Kalibrr, he was trained to check the data before making an argument and to come out with strong analysis that was supported by data because every business decision, product or new feature should have qualitative and/or quantitative data to back it up. In fact, Kalibrr has a dedicated team of data scientists for research and analysis of business and product decisions. Good quality data makes a business intelligent with business insights to act upon on.

Jig is thankful for the mentorship and coaching he got from everyone in Kalibrr. He has a few people to thank for spending time and resources to coach and train him. In the end, Jig gives one advice to people looking for jobs and internships as someone who worked in Kalibrr.

“For me, I was lucky. The first company I joined [had] great culture, a mission that I really cared about, and a team I that really mentored me. This is really difficult to [find], so what I’d advise is to make your own opportunities.” When Jig was looking for internships, those listings didn’t exist, so what he meant was to craft your own opportunities and design your lifestyle based on your general understanding of your personal vision in life. Try to work under somebody who is at the top 5%  in your chosen field of industry and develop a relationship with them by offering value. It’s a good way to find out if that job is really aligned to the lifestyle you want.

For people who are asking what startup they should join, Jig says that it’s a matter of joining a startup which solves a problem that is interesting for them. “If the mission is exciting, if the people there are above average or you think are good, it’s easier to join a startup where you believe in the vision and mission. If you really care about the customer they’re serving, and the problem they are working on, then it will be exciting and meaningful for you. [It’ll be] easier to work hard.”

He also says to set learning goals, “Be very clear about what you want to learn.” He believes that everyone knows deep inside what they really want to learn.

Between being an intern and a full-timer, he explains the difference lies in the depth and brevity of the learning and responsibility that you do. Reading and research are really important, but doing it and working firsthand for an extended period of time gave deeper understanding of technology, product and business development for Jig.

As someone who came from a startup organization who focused on community events, Jig realized that many of these people who you’d want to meet and learn from about startup companies aren’t in startup meetups. “These people are working on weird and interesting things—and working on solving problems for their customers and building value. [So] work on impactful stuff, and you’ll meet other people working on impactful stuff as well.”  

For now, Jig is working on his thesis in Ateneo. His vision is to create collaboration software (similar to supply-chain management software) for Southeast Asian small-medium enterprises (SMEs) by starting out with Binondo SME’s in order to make operations and data analysis more effective. Although there are still no billion dollar startups in the Philippines, Jig believes in the next generation of startup entrepreneurs—college students who will have 5–9 years of work experience in technology. There still maybe many hindrances and concerns such as better quality education in terms of computer science programs and the need for better infrastructure in terms of Internet, but Jig remains hopeful that more problems will be solved by new startups in the future. With the growing interest and drive of the youth, hacking building the future isn’t as impossible as we think.


The Paragon Business Summit features startups on business innovation this March 18, 2017 in the Leong Hall Auditorium, Ateneo de Manila University. Get your tickets now at tinyurl.com/Paragon2017OrderForm. Better hurry, we only have limited tickets left!

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Written by Andrea Chan.

Photo from Jig Young.

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