by Adjani Arumpac
In 1999, Nico Jose "Nix" Nolledo dove into the digital realm with a
simple premise—harness the intimacy of conversation to create a community. Together with his brother, Dr. Michael Nolledo, Nix created the first local standalone online message board. PinoyExchange.com is an online site where Filipinos from around the world can strike up conversations on anything under the sun. Nix tells how they, being newbies in the business, started. “We designed it using PowerPoint. We just used clip art for the images. The software was off-the-shelf and we had someone set it up for us. We launched it and it worked. It became popular.”
Now with over 20 million Filipinos visiting it every year, PinoyExchange.com is one of the largest online community forums. Nix now considers it lucrative, but it wasn’t always the story. “We lost money for six years. Our web hosting was expensive and we couldn’t monetize the site. Every month that PinoyExchange operated, I contemplated closing it.” He was only able to maintain the site by propping it up with funds earned from his other company, Xurpas.
Created in 2001, Xurpas is a mobile content provider that develops, maintains, and hosts services for GSM networks. To date, Xurpas is connected to 70 telecommunication operators in 37 countries, selling virtual content to 750 million mobile subscribers around the world. Xurpas has always been the stronger child but in 2005, Nix finally found a way to secure the sustainability of his first child. He and his partner, Michael Palacios who was managing Pinoy Exchange, had the idea of selling advertising inventory for foreign websites who did not have a sales office in the Philippines. His usual pitch back then to foreign online publishers: "We’re from the Philippines; you don’t have a sales team here. We run this website called PinoyExchange.com. We know what we’re doing, and we can do ad sales for you.’” Their big break came in 2005 when Friendster signed with PinoyExchange.com, giving them the sole rights to sell Friendster advertising in the Philippines.
Since then, Nix has continuously explored the potential of the digital space, co-creating more enterprises from perceived gaps in services needed by this growing market. These include A-Solutions, an e-commerce technology provider; Hatchd, a technology incubator, Fluxion Inc., a mobile application developer; and Rappler, a popular social news network. He calls putting up his ventures “Determined Entrepreneurship.” Trying to explain what this means, he whips out his phone to Google Harvard Business Review’s definition of an entrepreneur: “The relentless pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled,” he reads proudly. “It is the resourcefulness and tenacity of the determined to succeed.”
The drive has always been there and it was only a matter of finding a niche that Nix can claim as his own. His father is the late Jose Nolledo, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission of the Philippines and a renowned law professor. His mother, Mercedita S. Nolledo, is a trusted corporate executive in the Ayala Group of Companies (AGC). “After graduating, it was not easy finding a job because of the Asian Financial Crisis. I didn’t apply to any of the Ayala companies because I knew what my Mom would say: ‘You wouldn’t know if you’ll get hired because of who I am or because of who you are.’ She didn’t have to tell me, but I knew.” This was among Nix’s first experience of the values of AGC—his mother’s integrity. Such unsaid rubrics at home kept him on his toes—from building his first business, a video gaming place, when he was still in college to walking the whole stretch of Ayala Avenue with several copies of his resumé in hand and finally finding work in a fastfood chain. “Every time I’ve accomplished something, the satisfaction I get from it really isn’t as fun as actually doing it,” Nix recalls.
His approach to doing things—the monetization of products and services through breakthrough entrepreneurial schemes in a largely unchartered terrain—can only come from the mind of somebody who delights in the process itself. Nix is a wily architect of the local digital realm. He is on a constant bid to bridge the world of data and everyday life, ironically by noting disruptive practices that lead to new experiences. When asked how he spots prospects, he offers his approach: Solve a pain point. “Pain points are things that inconvenience a particular target audience.” In order to swiftly gain market traction and success, one has to “solve a genuine pain that a customer or a business feels.”
One can never know to what extent Nix has seen through the vast area of the Web. But one thing is for sure—he’s on fire. “The Internet is very exciting. People haven’t discovered what its true potential is yet. I plan to leverage it as quickly and as aggressively as possible before others realize how disruptive it can be.”
This new brand of businessman believes that the Internet will transform every industry. Nix says, "Take physical product distribution for example. All of the current providers are built similarly: They are good at delivering bulk orders to key accounts. They aren't built for e-commerce, however, where you have thousands of little orders delivered to thousands of locations, with multiple returns, varying payment options, and thousands of invoices. Now imagine what that looks like when it is a customer to customer transaction?" Next year, he will launch a service that will completely re-imagine logistics. "I think this industry is ripe for disruption," he says.
Nix smiles as he thinks through every major industry whose cost and organization structure makes it difficult for current leaders to compete in the nimble world of the internet. He observes though that "it's often the corporate culture of these organizations that prevents them from properly innovating." "When employees are blocked from accessing most of the popular websites such as Facebook and Twitter, how will they begin to embrace the power of social media? One local billion dollar company," he says, "only has one email address where the owner filters through every message that goes into the network. Now why would your employees innovate for you if you don't trust or empower them?"
Indeed, the World Wide Web is a brisk economy. For Nix, it is as tangible as the earth that he stands on. “The Taipans of yesterday were built because of property; the Taipans of tomorrow will be built because of property. Except the property is a limitless space,” he postulates. His vision, albeit forward-looking, is grounded on the idea with which he started his career. As with any economy, that future world must be built on communities. “I’ve always believed that the next Makati, Fort, or Quezon City will be online. A good community”—which that online space will be—“is a place where people like to spend their time; a place where people like to bring their friends; and of course, a place where people spend their money.”
The community of tomorrow “is a relationship built on trust. It is also a relationship that’s built on being able to experiment, try new things. Innovation and progress has to be its backbone. I have fun imagining and making these things happen."