Andyan Agad

An old friend of mine from college, Riel, reached out some time in April to talk about this startup he cofounded.

The startup was AndyanAgad.com, a remittance-in-kind company for over 12 million Filipinos who live overseas. Instead of offering services like money transfer and sending mobile airtime (load), AndyanAgad provided a way for Filipinos to send groceries to their families in the Philippines. The company partnered with Robinson’s Supermarket with 60 branches all over the Philippines. All you have to do is choose from over 15 thoughtfully curated grocery packs, select your Robinson’s branch then AndyanAgad notifies you as soon as its ready for pickup. It’s that simple.

Ditching the logistics aspect meant saving on handling costs and actually offering a product that they can easily pick up in a few hours. It’s an arbitrage play so there was no inventory to manage.

With less than a year of operations, the AndyanAgad founders  got a couple of people to sign-up and buy packages from the site. The plan was to get a consultant (that would be me) to help out with their acquisition strategy.

I immediately liked their business model. So what was originally a plan to make me a consultant ended up with me becoming AndyanAgad’s latest cofounder/investor. The prospect of being part of a post-validation startup was just too hard to resist.

At a professional level, this is going to be a great vehicle for me to learn and practice growth and conversion optimization. We (notice that I’m now using “we”) have spent the last 9 weeks reengineering the site with this in mind.

We just went live with the newest iteration of the site, a far cry from what it was before. We’ve armed ourselves with the right tools (proper project management software, Mailchimp,etc) , have a pretty good acquisition framework (content marketing + good ol’ PPC) and a great platform (Woocommerce was a good fit for this project) that would allow us to introduce improvements in coming months.

I’m very excited to be part of this project. More to come from my end as well.

You can check it out here.

Canadian Food

It’s been 8 years since my last trip to Toronto and when the opportunity presented itself to visit, I asked my wife to tag along with me. Coming from New York City, it’s a short 90-minute flight via Porter where you can walk to your hotel (which we did). It was a short trip and we managed to do a lot of things including a token trip to Niagara.

Niagara Falls

While we didn’t go there to eat, we still had a chance to try some Canadian food. I was having a conversation with a local on where to eat and they can’t help but snicker at the thought of “Canadian” food. “Oh, you mean Poutine? Peameal Bacon? Beaver tails?”. Yep.

Poutine

Poutine is Canada. No doubt. While it’s on its way to become hipster fare (it probably is), there’s something about french fries doused in gravy topped with some cheese curds. I first tried it in Montreal then on my last trip, we had it every day. Just because. Then there’s Banh Mi Boys with their Kimchi poutine, where you get fries mixed with Kimchi and some pulled pork.

Peameal Bacon

Peameal Bacon, also known as Canadian Bacon is a briny, hammy piece of processed meat enjoyed over breakfast. It’s served on a bun, although I’ve had it with poached eggs. How does it taste? It’s ham pickled in brine, with a little bit of fat covered in cornmeal. Instead of using pork belly, you get a leaner meat with pork loin. I haven’t had a chance to try it with maple syrup but it goes pretty well with Ketchup. If you’re dying to try it in the US, you can order it online.

This might be blasphemous but you can more or less replicate the peameal experience (with 65% accuracy) by brining lean cut pork chops and uhm, using shake and bake.

Then there’s Hakka Cuisine. Like Chinese American takeout restaurants in New York, Hakka provides you with a full menu of Chinese food with Indian influences. Associated with nomadic Chinese, this particular kind of “Chinese Calcutta” cuisine might be a true Toronto specialty. I had Chicken Pakora, spicy deep fried chicken with hints of cumin, turmeric and chili powder. The food is hot and has pretty amazing flavor profiles.

Towards the end of our trip, we made a last minute grocery run just to try other “native” delicacies. After visiting 4 groceries downtown, we got two tubs of Maclaren’s Imperial Sharp Cheddar Cheese. Manufactured by Kraft, this has a cult following in the Philippines, pairing the crumbly, tart cheese with pan de sal. It has a pretty distinct taste and goes well with any kind of bread – even bagels. We’re just puzzled on why it’s so hard to find, are people hoarding this? Then there’s OMG’s, clusters of dark chocolate, almonds and toffee that we discovered through Bio’s “Food Factory”show (also Canadian). The segment we saw on TV featured migrant Filipiinos working in the factory, sharing their favorite flavors with a demo of their special OMG’s dance. Made by the hardworking hands of our people, we grabbed a couple of bags as well. 3 months after our trip, we’re down to our last bag.

Due to unexplained reasons, you can’t find any Jalapeno Cheddar Cheetos in New York City. Guess what? They have in Toronto. We got 3 bags and couldn’t be any happier.

The Problem with Magazine Subscriptions

I went on magazine subscription binge in 2013.

All 5 magazines subscription wrapped up this month. I’m looking forward to empty mailboxes (the offline kind) and less clutter. Soon, all these piles of magazines from the last 12 months will be gone.

It’s funny how I got to this point. Two years ago, my primary care provider asked me to go through supplementation therapy. This meant accumulating a stash of 8 different supplements, refreshed on a monthly basis. Realizing I’ll be under this program for a while, I had to look for cheaper options. I found an online retailer selling at 20% off the list price. As with most online retailers, they partnered with another company for bonus offers upon checking out. The deal went like this – get two free magazine subscriptions, just pay a dollar for shipping.

It worked out pretty well and the digital edition bundled with each subscription was valuable. Of course, I didn’t consider the physicality of magazines. After a few months, piles of glossy paper have started to emerge on our coffee and dining tables. The pile on our side table was stealing precious real estate as well. Even our magazine rack was calling getting filled to the brim.

The recycling bin was just two doors away yet I still found it hard to part with these printed liabilities. I just got overwhelmed with a nagging sense of responsibility to read them. Maybe I’ll find myself reading during my commute. Maybe I can catch up while relaxing at the park. Maybe I should have a magazine day set and just do a marathon reading – just because(?).

But it just lay there, unread. It went on for months. Soon, I would deprive myself of the joys of buying magazines on impulse at the newsstand. Back home, a hoarded pile of unread magazines are crying foul. Read us first! It was a battle between commitment vs. spontaneity, making time vs. finding time, $4.99 vs $0.69.

It’s tough to be a magazine. I’ve grown accustomed to my Feed reader and Instapaper routine on the train and it works just like a magazine. Not to mention so many things vying for our attention.

After shutting off the media faucet (and avoiding steep renewal fees) I’m just down to my last two magazine piles.

I think I’ll celebrate with a visit to the newsstand.

Platter Porn

I have a strange obsession with platters. The premise is simple, just combine a complete meal (greens, starch and meat) and stuff them all in one plate. While any buffet plate can qualify as a platter, it all boils down to how thoughtful the combination is.

It all starts with breakfast. The Full English is a combination of bacon, sausage, baked beans, toast, a fried egg, half a tomato, mushrooms and a hash browns.

I first encountered Full English via a Flickr group created in 2005 (via lomokev). It’s still active, with a modest community of 346 members.

Full English.

Photo via John Logan/Flickr

Here’s a sad interpretation of Full English, Pinoy style.

Faux Full English - Pinoy Style

Office workers, in the Flatiron area help themselves with lunch platters sold in food trucks. You can get an inexpensive meal of side salad, protein and rice all cramped in a styrofoam container. The vendor finishes the dish with a generous drizzling of garlic sauce. All for five dollars.

They more or less taste the same (except for the 53rd and 6th Halal guys, The Trini Paki Boys Cart in Midtown West). Due to its proximity to where I work, I go to Rafiqi’s with its toppings and their Italian Sausage/Chicken combo.

Halal Guys

Photo via Lulun & Kame/Flickr

To complete our platter day, allow me to introduce you to Colombia’s Bandeja Paisa.

Colombia’s national dish combines white rice, pork and beans, ground meat, deep fried pork belly, fried eggs, plantains, chorizo, arepa, hogao sauce, black pudding, avocado and a lemon. Oh and let’s throw some steak in there while we’re at it.

184360_JV4_Bandeja_Paisa

Photo via Columbia Travel/Flickr

While good for hangovers, I wouldn’t mind having this for dinner. There are a couple of Colombia restaurants in Queens that serve pretty authentic versions of this. As soon as I get clearance from doctor, I’m there.

Damaged Philippine Passport Incident 529. The Case of the Detached Cover.

I’m back in the Philippines.

An apologetic TSA agent managed to detach my passport cover in Newark Liberty airport last night. I didn’t know the implications of having a damaged passport until I conducted some research during my layover in Hong Kong.

You see, some E-Passports issued by the Philippine Government in 2010 have a tendency to fall apart. The government claims that there were only 528 incidents of such damage – make it 529 now. The spine is the most vulnerable part of this particular batch of passport and they’ve mitigated this with some tape. There was even coverage in local news about a kid who wasn’t allowed to fly out due to his damaged passport.

I went straight to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) office as soon as I arrived. Upon inspection of my “mutilated” (their terms, not mine) passport, they felt that it was necessary for me to have it replaced. Sadly, this is something tape can’t fix. To be fair to the DFA, the staff were accommodating and professional. At least they showed some empathy on the situation. But yes, I had to pay for my new passport and two, I have no choice but to accept what they offer me. It could be worse.

From what was originally planned as a short, 1 week trip is now tentatively set to almost 2 weeks. If I get my passport in time, I have to at least extend my stay in Manila for another 5 days.

Ouch. Time to send out some emails.