This week, Ye! is in conversation with Ye! Ambassador for the Philippines, Chino Atilano, Co-Founder & CEO of TimeFree. Read on to learn more about Chino as he shares his journey to becoming a successful young entrepreneur leading a software tech startup in the Philippines.
Can you share with us the story of TimeFree?
The story of TimeFree is not a typical tech start up story!
I was born on Mapun Island in the Southern Philippines, where there was no stable electricity. I did not learn how to use email until I was 17, and did not start to use a computer until university. There is no airport on Mapun Island. In order to get to university from my hometown, I had to take a small wooden boat and traverse the open sea. It took me 24 hours! To put it into context – it only takes 18 hours to fly between Sweden and Manila.
I completed my bachelor’s degree in Electronics & Communications Engineering in 2010. I started working in 2011 as a transmission engineer, specialising in fibre optic networks for a telecom company in Manila. Then in 2013, my employer held a competition and I entered with the idea of a virtual queuing system – this was the start of TimeFree.
The idea of mobile banking was non-existent in 2013. I had to go to the bank, wait 1-2 hours to perform just one transaction - a huge loss of time! So, my co-founders and I created a virtual queuing system that allows you to manage your appointment with a message sent to your smartphone. This may sound quite common now - but it was ground breaking at the time. In a nutshell, TimeFree makes it so that people never have to wait in line again!
In order for me to focus on the development of TimeFree, I had to step away from my previous job as an engineer. Fortunately, the telecom company was very supportive in paying my salary for another 9 months, and even provided the seed funding and services for my company at the initial stage.
Over the years, TimeFree has evolved into a software company, helping businesses streamline operational efficiencies and improve their staff productivity through data analytics. Our most successful product is QMobile, a mobile queuing app that enables users to book a queue slot or appointment. Followed by QApps, a suite of virtual queuing solutions that helps businesses manage the queue in their shops and improve operational efficiency through data analytics.
How has Ye! Community supported you as a Young Entrepreneur?
Ye! Community came to the Philippines in 2015 and I have been the Ye! Ambassador of Philippines ever since. Being part of such a huge and diverse community of young entrepreneurs has been an amazing opportunity to expand my network both locally and globally. Through Ye! Community, I have had the chance to experience different countries and cultures, including my visits to Amsterdam and Sweden. These visits were a real eye opener for me. They have allowed me to benefit from a great network, to exchange knowledge, and share good practices.
I know from my personal experience coming from a small remote island, that compared to urban and capital areas, big events or networking opportunities for young entrepreneurs are severely missing. As a Ye! Ambassador, I have organised a number of events outside of the big cities in order to help local innovators network and to build enabling ecosystems. My work has allowed me to better understand the importance of grassroots initiatives that put youth in the drivers seat.
In addition, I have started mentoring university students to share my experience and encourage the students in their studies. My key message to all the young people is: “If a guy coming from a remote island, who didn’t know how to use the internet can do this, then you certainly can too! “
Did you experience any setbacks in the early days of TimeFree?
Yes for sure. At the start, we were a small team of engineers with no formal business training. We thought we would just build and sell software. What turned out to be way more complicated was actually running a business.
For example, almost three months into our first project, we realised we needed to file tax returns for our corporate profits. Afterwards, we nominated one of the co-founders to handle the accounting and taxation. No mistakes since then!
How has the COVID Pandemic impacted your business?
When the Philippine government announced a lockdown on the 15th March 2020 , TimeFree had zero hiccups in the transition to working from home. Prior to covid, we already had 70% of the team working remotely and we were already regularly holding virtual meetings.
During the pandemic, our company has continued to adapt and innovate to meet the emerging needs and challenges in the changing market. For example, before the pandemic, we used to offer our services to a bank to help them manage their waiting queues; since the onset of COVID-19, and in view of the increasing need for social distancing, we evolved TimeFree into a social distancing tool to help the bank manage the flow of people on their premises at any one time.
How do you market TimeFree?
Essentially, our customers are enterprises. We made a conscious decision to focus on businesses as customers, in other words, direct business to business (B2B) marketing. From the perspective of provider, we understand the significant value of our end users and really take our time to identify any issues and address them quickly, to ensure a great user experience.
Where do you see TimeFree in the next 5 years?
Innovation is key and we will continue to focus on developing new products. We were one of the first companies to adapt to cloud technologies and we are going to champion innovation, as always.
We are exploring new ways to grow TimeFree and improve our product offering. A focus for the future is to collaborate in GovTech – government related digital transformation projects. Digitising the work processes (for example to obtain a licence or permit) would allow for greater administrative efficiency and increase cost savings. Online payments can be easily tracked, unlike cash payments. Importantly, digitising work processes provides data for analysis to further improve the processes. This is also a win-win for users of government services. Applicants for various government programmes can track the status of their applications and avoid waiting times caused by the current manual processes.