The Founder Of The Philippines' Fastest-Growing Social Media App On How To Conquer Adversity
Roland Ros is the co-founder of Kumu, the Philippines' fastest-growing social media network. But Ros says his current success was anything but a straight shot. Here, he shares advice on overcoming mental health challenges, facing down failure and how to break down the most complex of problems
In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters.
Today, Kumu is the Philippines' fastest-growing social media network, with around 2 million active users and 1,000 percent revenue growth year over year. The app's users broadcast around 40,000 live-streams daily, visiting the app 60 million times a month.
In April 2020, Kumu announced a US$5 million Series A funding round; last month, press reports indicated that Kumu is closing a forthcoming US$15 million Series B. But Ros says his entrepreneurial journey has been far from straightforward—a path marked with wrong turns and failures along the way that have helped him get to where he is today.
Here, Ros describes his journey so far in his own words.
When I was a college student, Yuri Kochiyama, a civil rights activist and close friend of Malcolm X, told me to never give up. That was the best advice I'd ever received. She was 82 years old at the time, and I was completely inspired by her passion to fight for the rights of others, even at that age. Years later, as an entrepreneur trying to find my way in life, a 12-year-old girl named Jessie Rees was fighting multiple brain tumors. And despite the fact that she was sick, and died after a courageous battle, she started a foundation called Never Ever Give Up, to help children fighting with cancer. In both cases, whether you’re 80 or 12 years old, their example forever imprinted in me an unchanging desire to "never give up".
Entrepreneurship is all about managing the mind and focusing on mental health. The harsh psychological challenges that occur when trying to get a company off the ground is an open secret. True entrepreneurship comes with a huge price. So if you’re going to commit to doing this, make sure you have an unyielding deep-set passion to fight for this dream. My morning ritual is super helpful. Basically it's meditation, reading and long-term goals, some push ups or a morning walk—and boom, start the day right.
We need to continue to build tech infrastructure in the Philippines. Better internet, cheaper smartphones and more education. Not just university-level STEM courses, but a deep, deep investment in anything that could help [the Philippines] participate in the global supply chain. Coding bootcamps, full stack, UI/UX, product management and digital marketing skills especially. When you match these skill sets with the naturally creative genius of the Filipino people, you will have magic.
I love [Filipino cubist painter] Vicente Manansala. His nephew Ferdinand is an important father figure in my life. He provided stability for my family when he married my single mother, Cheryl. For the longest time growing up, it was just my mother, my brother and myself. Every time I see one of Vicente’s works, especially with Madonna of the Slums or Mother and Child, I think of my mother, and her hard work raising us, and I think of my stepdad, and all of the lessons he taught me growing up.
If I find myself in front of a tremendous challenge, I stop. Take a step back, write the problem down, figure out what I need to do—one by one. I first focus on the first thing, then I tackle the second thing, then cross off the third thing. I don’t stop until I’ve overcome the problem.
The biggest secret to handing career-related stress or fear is understanding the seasonality of life. After winter must come spring. For Kumu, the company may have grown tremendously over the past two years since its founding, but it is just a part of a 17 year journey of failing, standing back up again and never giving up. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the world, my relationships and myself. I hope to continue growing till I die.
My biggest dream since college was to do something with impact in the Philippines. That was more of a motivator than actually [wanting] to do something in tech. Working in the tech space was more of a means to an end. In college, I was an activist trying to fight for human rights for marginalised Filipinos. As a working professional I engaged in social entrepreneurship projects in Pampanga province. After I was involved in selling an internet company, I did missionary work in Rizal and other humanitarian projects. Throughout this journey I have failed many times, but learned a lot about my passion for the Philippines. Making an impact through technology eventually became the answer.