“Being able to balance hiring the right people and to compensate them properly, while getting them to embrace the company’s vision, is part of my learning curve in this job.”
Months before the coronavirus pandemic started last year, entrepreneur Donavan Yu launched TRIPKO, a digital payment scheme aimed to revolutionize the way Filipinos commute.
“During my work travels overseas, I saw the disparity between how First World or newly industrialized countries managed [their] transportation [system] compared with our own, especially the use of cashless means to pay fares,” says Yu, who is chief executive officer (CEO) of Journeytech, the company that conceptualized and promotes the innovative scheme. “I always knew we could apply the same solutions to the Philippines. So, after retiring from my previous company, and starting my own IT firm, Journeytech, we envisioned TRIPKO.”
Safe and convenient
Introduced in August 2019, TRIPKO stands for Transport, Recreation and other Interests Purchase Ko (mine). To pay, all commuters have to do is tap the device installed in the public utility vehicle with their reloadable payment cards. Wallets are no longer exposed and easy bait for pickpockets, and handling money — found to be one of the fastest ways to contract the deadly coronavirus — is minimized. Even contact tracing in every trip can be done effortlessly through the automated manifest.
“The impact of going cashless or contactless benefits various stakeholders: the government, the transport operators and the commuting public,” Yu explains. “It provides for the safety and convenience of the commuters, reduces fraud and improves efficiency on the part of transport operators and offers data to help the government make the right policies.”
Other perks for TRIPKO users include reloadable card terminals found in bus stations and select Palawan Pawnshop branches, as well as through its merchant partners. Until this year, passengers could apply for accident insurance on TRIPKO’s website, which, unfortunately, had to be discontinued due to the recession.
Yu boasts of considerable working experience before setting up Journeytech in 2010. A marketing graduate of De La Salle University, he started as a marketing assistant in a UK-based insurance company, earning only P7,000 a month. He recalls: “My main task was to help the general manager develop new products and launch them. Eventually, I became the general manager.”
He moved on to another multinational insurance company, where he stayed for around 20 years, before starting his own risk management practice and eventually, Journeytech.
His experience as an employee, says Yu, proved invaluable. “My corporate years helped in the way I manage my company. As country manager of a multi-national company, I was trained in all business aspects. and it became second nature to understand the implications of each strategy and how to immediately respond to situations.
“When Journeytech started, I actually had a co-founder, but things didn’t work out since we didn’t share the same vision and that’s usually the hardest part of bringing in partners.”
Yu is intensely proud of how TRIPKO has grown in acceptance. He says: “The card can be used in select regions nationwide with our transport partners. We continue to add more partners, as we go on with the vision of using TRIPKO anywhere and in various types of public transport [including sea and air] and eventually, for non-transport establishments, too.”
Yu believes his product could not have advanced, if not for the “forward-looking group of people” who were keen to adopt cashless transactions and welcomed the change. “The main reasons (for them) were that it helped in budgeting their expenses; it was convenient not to use cash and wait for [small] change; and it felt safer not to have to bring their wallets out,” he says. “They also wanted to prevent the spread of Covid-19, as research shows that cash is the dirtiest and easiest way to transmit bacteria.”
Initially, Yu’s biggest challenge in promoting TRIPKO was convincing transport operators to adopt it. “The transport industry was so used to managing their business the traditional way,” he observes. “It was not easy to get them to remit their money digitally, as they were used to receiving cash on a daily basis. However, the more TRIPKO was used, the more they were able to experience the operational and financial benefits of this innovation.”
More work lies ahead, Yu acknowledges. “I’m more concerned about distribution and logistics of TRIPKO,” he says. “We are expanding rapidly, and we need to make TRIPKO available. I’m fortunate that I have a young team that embraces the vision we have and is up to the challenge.” Fortunately, his wife, Louise, who is the HR (human resources) and marketing director of Journeytech, is also around to support him.
“As CEO, the risk and responsibility is greater,” he emphasizes. “You put in your own money and have limited resources, compared with being backed by a multinational company. Being able to balance hiring the right people and to compensate them properly while getting them to embrace the company’s vision, is part of my learning curve in this job.
“My goal is to provide security for the future of my employees. Being a Christian company, we also have a responsibility, not just to pay the salaries of our employees, but to also enrich them spiritually by knowing Christ.”
TRIPKO, which now offers its tap card for free, following a government mandate, prints a Bible verse on its cards and other merchandise. “Hopefully the card can be used as a medium to spread hope and God’s love to our countrymen,” Yu says.
Managing a company and a family for this entrepreneur are similar endeavors. Both are tough propositions. He says: “There will be ups and downs, but you persevere, and in the end, share the success with every member of the team.
“I try to model what I teach them – hard work, integrity, faith, accountability among others – and explain how each one of us has a role to perform. The failure of one affects the outcome and morale of others, who put in their best effort.”
There are times when Yu is understandably disappointed by employees, whom he expects to be resourceful and driven, yet fail to deliver. “It’s always difficult on my part to assess an employee who is productive, but at the same time has an entitlement mentality. My experience with these types of people is that they often complain and are not able to accept criticism constructively,” he says.
How do Yu and his wife unwind from the pressures of work? When not having their weekly “date night,” they’re at home with their six-year-old son Donnie. “We do sports on weekends, like biking, golf, basketball among others since he is an active child,” his father adds.
Yu, himself, was deep into sports as a youngster. In fact, his initial ambition was to become a player or coach, one that was sidetracked once he started to work.
“I grew up seeing my parents, Florentino and Victoria, manage our printing press, and they got all us, children involved in it too,” Yu says. “That was the best legacy they could leave us with.
“That legacy, in turn, is reflected in the people we influence. No amount of assets will define us, but those by which, we have honored God with all the things we have.”