They say to get ahead in life, you must know what you want. This is exactly the case for this two high school sweethearts who both agreed to take up computer courses, knowing that’s where the future is headed. RJ David recalls, he was in his fourth year in high school when he convinced his then girlfriend, Arianne delos Reyes, to take up computer science, instead of interior design or architecture. RJ says, “since high school, I was already into (computer) programming, and because one of my uncles was a mechanical engineer, I was promised that I’d be getting a good job.” This was the reason he took up mechanical engineering at UP. It was also a good thing, he says, that he was able to convince Arianne to get herself into a computer-related course, as well.
Indeed, after college, the two embarked on their careers in computing, with RJ becoming a freelance web programmer and developer, while Arianne worked in the technical department of a bank. In particular, RJ was inspired by a website called Digg.com in 2004, which started the web 2.0 era, and he knew that group would also someday find its own niche on the web.
But it was a casual conversation during a business road trip in 2006 that changed the course of their careers. They were on their way to seeing one of their clients in Tagaytay, when Arianne asked RJ about the possibility of putting up their own website. “I got this idea of putting up a buy-and-sell platform or classified [ads]platform, in order to find out which niche or category would be successful.” They both agreed it would be a good experiment, so they went right ahead and registered the domain name, Sulit.com – which in Filipino means ‘it’s worth it’ – and started operating from RJ’s parents’ house to save on operating expenses. The couple launched the free online classified ads website on Sept. 11, 2006, when, they remember clearly, the first posting for a second-hand item was a Sony Playstation, while the first posting for a brand new item was a birdcage.
What started out as an experiment to find out which category would be suitable for them to go into turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as all categories did well. “So instead of just focusing on a niche, we expanded to around 300 categories during that time,” RJ explains. They eventually trimmed the categories down to much more manageable levels.
In no time, Sulit.com became one of the most popular Philippine websites, driving huge traffic and successful transactions, and beating even their own expectations. But RJ admits, the road going there had many challenges. He remembers the time when as a newbie, they had to resort to spamming emails. “On the first day, there were 22 guys who responded positively, but they got hundreds of angry emails, too. So we knew this was not the way to go,” RJ said. It was a good thing, he says, that within their first week, they realized that there was an existing database of sellers that they could use, through the offline buy and sell paper. “I had an old Nokia phone back then, so I created a program that would automatically SMS everything I was scanning.” When they got to a thousand sellers within one month, the couple started the online community of Sulit, which was a forum where members can interact with each other. One year after they started, Arianne quit her job and worked with RJ on the business full time. Still another year later, the couple decided to get married.
On March 19, 2014, Sulit.com.ph was acquired by OLX, an internet company headquartered in New York City, and it was rebranded as OLX.ph. The buy-in came after a global media company based in South Africa called Naspers, invested in Sulit in 2009, and in OLX in 2010. The global company also bought into another Philippine website called AyosDito.ph and merged the two companies in early 2015. Today, RJ and Arianne are considered one of the most successful tech entrepreneurs in the Philippines, with their company still continuously expanding, as they opened their bigger office in Cebu. They say this is in line with their vision of reaching out to more Filipinos nationwide.
Along with the new global brand, with RJ retaining his post as managing director and Arianne as head of operations, the two are excited to enter into the next phase of their business, going more into mobile devices. They are also preparing for their 10th year business anniversary in 2016 with a new and much bigger roadmap to be a significant player in the region, by bringing Filipino entrepreneurs to the world.
When asked how they are able to balance their work and personal life throughout that journey, Arianne says, they still try to do long road trips whenever possible, and come back home to Angono, Rizal, where they are originally based. They also enjoy traveling whenever they can. But the most important project at this stage, they both say, is to try to grow as a family by having their own baby soon. Everything is still a work in progress, Arianne says, but she is confident everything will work out perfectly fine in time.