‘Founder-first’ venture builder out to catalyze tech startups
Serial entrepreneur Bjorn Pardo has been building new ventures all his life. He first founded express shipping and courier service Xend in 2004, followed in 2013 by QuadX, an e-commerce venture studio. Later in 2018, he joined Union Bank of the Philippines’ fintech arm UBX, where he ideated and launched two tech ventures: Bux.ph, a payment service provider and Sentro.ph, an online shop builder.
With his wealth of experience, the 42-year-old says the underlying purpose of it all is to level the playing field and help other entrepreneurs thrive—something which he aims to achieve with his new venture, AHG Lab.
AHG Lab is an independent venture studio founded on serving the Philippine property technology (proptech) industry, focusing on property owners and tenants. The company, which was established just this year, helps new and established startups grow their businesses through operational and managerial support.
As the cofounder of AHG Lab, Pardo—who graduated from De La Salle University with a degree in Commerce, and later on pursued a Masters in Business Administration at IE Business School in Spain—says their first proptech cohort aims to solve the industry’s biggest issues.
“Real estate is one of the most antiquated industries in the Philippines and it’s marred with manual processes,” he says. And as consumers moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pardo says there is a huge gap in terms of ventures that could serve that new demographic.
One issue, he relates, is the lack of property management solutions focused on helping coliving and dormitory operators. One of AHG Lab’s ventures, Collo, offers a property management software that helps provide property managers, brokers, tenants and owners a way to streamline all the necessary processes in managing their properties through a single app.
Another overlooked segment is real estate brokerage, adds Pardo. Through Enta, an online real estate marketplace, brokers now have a seamless way to list, find and manage properties. “These are just a couple of our proptech ventures that [are] helping vastly underserved markets,” Pardo says.
Aye, there’s the ‘plus’
Just recently, the company has decided to expand focus toward adjacent industries, such as hospitality, education, procurement, logistics and beyond, in a space they call proptech+.
“[A]s we dived deeper into the solutions, it became clear that there’s so much need to address the communities around [proptech]. We saw opportunities to serve adjacent markets like professionals in coworking spaces, students in coliving arrangements, tourists and so on. That’s when we added ‘plus’ in ‘proptech+,’” he explains.
With the goal of serving customers more effectively, Pardo saw opportunities in other industries, such as e-commerce with Shoppable, a B2B or business-to-business marketplace that helps businesses easily buy and sell online. Currently, AHG Lab has 10 ventures that have either gone live or are currently in development in various areas such as proptech, e-commerce, mobility, technology solutions, human resources, fitness and home services.
As a venture studio, Pardo says that they are “looking for founders who are passionate about a problem that is worth solving, whether they just have an idea and a deck, or they have already launched [their startup] but see the value of how we can help them get to their next phase of growth.”
AHG Lab provides these founders with operational support—starting with a tech team to build a minimum viable product, a marketing team to develop a marketing strategy, a finance team to build a financial model and a legal team to incorporate an entity.
The venture studio also has a hands-on management and advisory team, employing entrepreneurs from different industries in order to offer unique insights when it comes to manning the various startups in their portfolio.
“We see ourselves as helping founders end-to-end, from refining the idea all the way to fundraising support. Aside from the deep operational support, hands-on management and advisory team, we provide a physical environment that is optimized for founders to thrive,” says Pardo. “As they say, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ … Everyone is housed in one ‘village’ and anytime anyone needs anything, immediate help is just a few steps away.”
For Pardo, what makes the company different from other venture-builders is AHG Lab aims to build a “true independent venture builder,’’ that is “for founders by founders,” taking only a minority stake in the company and acting as a true partner in building the business.
He relates that one of the challenges his company faces is the assumption that venture builders are not “founder-friendly”—wherein founders are generally not given a majority stake in the companies they build and/or the company becomes corporate-led.
“Filipinos are naturally entrepreneurial, but the operating environment is not the most friendly and it’s very difficult for new founders to get started building their ventures. We are here to augment any founder that has an idea to serve this new market. This focus of being founder-first and treating the customer as the central focus is something vastly different from all other venture builders today,” says Pardo.
As the startup grows and becomes more independent, Pardo explains that they start to gradually exit their economic interest and equity stakes as larger investors and institutions could come in and support the startup in their next stages of growth. The proceeds they earned will then be used to fund succeeding ventures.
Pardo says one of his goals for 2023 is for AHG Lab to be top of mind for any founder who wants to build a tech venture, and for investors and potential partners to see AHG Lab’s ventures as the gold standard of what a tech venture in the Philippines should be.
“It’s an ongoing effort to show why our unique take on the venture builder model is the best way for founders to build ventures in the Philippines,” says Pardo. “It may be an uphill battle for others to see immediately, but we continue to work with our founders to prove to the ecosystem that AHG Lab’s approach to venture-building is different. We will work hard towards making our approach become what’s considered as best practice.”
He also sees an opportunity to expand beyond the Philippines for both AHG Lab and some of the ventures in our portfolio. “Many emerging markets have similar pain points that our ventures are currently building solutions for and we will pursue these as our ventures mature,” he says.
Instead of having a target number of ventures, Pardo says he would rather aim to expand their portfolio to serve other underserved industries. “More than a hard target of the number of ventures, we are more focused on the quality of ventures. We will continue to launch ventures in more underserved industries and hope to bring our venture builder and ventures to other foreign markets,” he says.
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