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Filipino start-up makes it big in Silicon Valley

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By Emmie V. Abadilla

A Filipino start-up, Align Commerce, made it big in Silicon Valley, delivering a technology that makes global payments easier, faster and cheaper.

In late 2015, the company received a $12-million funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB), Silicon Valley Bank and Recruit Strategic Partners and after two years of operation, it has expanded its presence in 60 countries.

Align Commerce logo

 “Align started in my garage,” says co-founder, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Technology Officer Aldo Carrascoso, 38. However, his love affair with technology sprouted much earlier. He created his first line of code when he was in fourth grade.

Later, he got a diploma in Psychology from Ateneo De Manila University and an MBA in Entrepreneurship from Babson College, Massachusetts and to date, he is based in San Francisco, California although he travels to Manila often to build the business and supervise operations here.

He is also keen about the potential of the Philippines as a location for startups. “We recently closed a significant round of funding. I got the support of one of world’s largest and most influential VCs, KPCB, one of the first investors behind Google, Amazon, Uber, Waze, Snapchat among many others.”

Align’s real-time system of sending and receiving payments via email replaces complex, costly telegraphic transfers, wire systems and SWIFT by bypassing the banks and other middlemen, using proprietary multi-rail payment systems and the “blockchain” – one of the fastest-growing areas for tech investment.

A number of Filipino software engineers working with Carrascoso built the first Align system – “some of the first blockchain payment engineers in the world,” he noted.

 “The Philippines has a tremendous amount of untapped talent. Even though we are based in San Francisco, I knew how to manage a team in the Philippines, which is why we started core development there early, aside from the cost benefits.”

He started to build Align’s system in a small office in Salcedo Village in Makati before moving to Ortigas “because of our hiring needs.”

 “The business model I love is ‘Made in the Philippines, with Sand Hill Road valuation,‘” he explained. “This can work for any aspiring Pinoy entrepreneur. Currently, we’ve split engineering work among the San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Manila offices as we are experiencing hyper-growth.”

Interestingly, “I‘ve seen and heard of a lot of Silicon Valley-trained professionals trying to do something in Manila, yet things don’t work out,” the Align Commerce CEO observed.

 “Even though Silicon Valley provides great infrastructure, systems and processes, they have not really been localized for the Philippine or Asian markets. Our engineering and product teams in the Bay Area, including our payments operations team in Canada, work closely with our Manila team. In the end, our Manila team acquired so much blockchain and payments Internet Protocol (IP) that we expatriated them to the US to teach our San Francisco-based engineers the system.”

And despite being in the ICT (information Communications Technology) business, his psychology degree served him well. “The key to growing businesses was always about the people.”

After finishing his MBA in 2008, he began running ventures based in Boston, Manila and California. One of his requirements for graduate school was a tech startup, prompting him to set up his first venture, Verego.com, a matchmaking service, a sort of Tinder for companies.

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