A Bold Vision

There are only few business men and visionaries that is blessed with the Midas Touch. What I mean is the ability to turn any business that they envisioned to a state that we could generally call as a success.

A prime example would be the Ayalas with their real estate ventures. In the Philippines, they are widely attributed to the success of Makati as a business hub of the country. At first, it might have been that they struck gold on its location, and it is something that they might have a hard time replicating elsewhere. But then came the Ayalas' next success story: The Bonifacio Global City. They transformed a mostly barren area into one of the prime downtowns in the country. It seemed like they could turn any piece of land and increase its value to more than three fold.

I also recently visited their Vertis North Mall on the northern part of Quezon City, just next to Trinoma Mall. I went there to co-work in Clock-In, at Vertis North Corporate Center... I was awed by how upscale the area was, which upped the ante on the meaning of upscale for the two nearby malls: SM City North and Trinoma.

Now, enough with the introduction... We all know by now that the historically rich family of the Ayalas do have multiple successful business ventures in their portfolio, proving that they consistently know how to do business. What I want to talk about is about another aspiring businessperson, who realized the bane of the country and tried to take matters on his/her own hand.

Urban Migration

Although urban migration does happen everywhere, it's a little more profound in countries like the Philippines due to the fact that there's mostly only one main metropolitan area per each island group that people migrate to for work. In Luzon, we have Metro Manila; In the Visayas, it is Metro Cebu; In Mindanao, it's Metro Davao.

Now, Luzon is a pretty large island, relative to the whole of the Philippines. Imagine most of the people in Luzon migrating to a couple of hundred square kilometres wide, with an infrastructure that could be a case study for poor city management. That's what you get in Metro Manila.

Traffic. It's traffic all over. The two main arteries of the metro, EDSA and C5, is basically a very long parking lot during rush hours. What time is the rush hour? Well, it's around 6am until 9pm. There's not much of a window where you would see a free flowing traffic in these roads.

I live at the East, and with the East turning out to be one of the main goto residential areas for people who make a living at Metro Manila, the roads going to the metro is always in a traffic jam. There used to be only 2 main roads (right now there's sort of a third option, but the bridge to that road is still partly under construction) going to the metro. Ortigas Avenue, which is always crammed due to it being narrower (at its widest, it is only 4 lanes each, while the average is just 3 lanes each) and the fact that it traverses along multiple fancy gated subdivisions/villages, villages where the residents usually have their own private vehicles. The other main highway is Marcos highway, which is pretty wide with an average 5 lanes for each side, although the bottleneck is the road to Aurora "Boulevard", with an average of 2 lanes per direction.

I guess you get the general picture of the main issue when having job opportunities concentrated on a small area of land. If job opportunities were a little more spread out, similar to how it is in Japan, wherein although Osaka is the more-known metropolitan area, there are still plenty large companies on nearby areas like Kobe.

So, instead of getting everyone in the East travelling westward to Metro Manila, what if there was a business hub to the East instead? It would be great if we could halve the traffic flow that is currently jamming up westward.

Yes, this is exactly the vision of the aspiring businessperson, whom I saw (met), but never talked to. She's the owner of GritXL Knowledge Process Outsourcing Solutions, the business entity that established GritXL Business Center in Morong, Rizal.

An East-side experiment

I first found GritXL when I was searching for a co-working space near my newly bought home at Binangonan, Rizal. The two other co-working spaces nearby listed (one in Taytay, and another in Antipolo City)  in coworker.com were defunct. I guess this is because of the fact that these two areas are pretty close to Pasig City, which is part of Metro Manila... Most people living in that general area are already used to wasting hours of their life traveling westwards, and they can somewhat afford to do so.

GritXL on the other hand is located a little farther east, and targets Eastern Rizal. This is somewhat risky and a good thing at the same time.

It's a good thing since if you do live somewhere in that area, the travel time going to Metro Manila without traffic, would be around an hour and a half... Now, if you do work in Metro Manila, you would easily eat up 3 hours of your life just travelling to work in a normal day, to the nearest area in Metro Manila.

Why did I mention risky? Well, although talent and skilled individuals are everywhere, there is no clear data as to how many people are skilled in computer-related industries in this area. There is also the question as to how many businesses located in the metro are willing to setup offices to the east, considering that there's no clear data as to how many skilled individuals are here... It would've helped if there's a known college or institution nearby that is known to provide highly skilled graduates.

Take for example Cebu City. Although Metro Manila has been the goto hub for businesses, Metro Cebu is quickly catching up, especially with the fact that they do have prestigious colleges and universities in that area. Businesses could easily justify setting up satellite offices there due to the proven availability of local talent.

Another area outside Metro Manila where businesses do have a decent presence is Laguna, where a lot of industrial complexes are... There's a  nearby prestigious university too which does validate the assumption that there are intelligent individuals in that area.

Now, Eastern Rizal does not have any of that, nor is it located near a shipping area or a known airfield that naturally attracts industries like Subic and Clark.

This is why I see it as a risky foray to the unknown. Does this mean that this experiment was destined to fail from the start? Absolutely not! I said that there was many unknowns due to the lack of solid points that can be used to objectively justify an investment on an area.

I mentioned before that talent and smarts are everywhere, it's just that most of them are forced to migrate to where the money is. One interesting phenomenon that is a result of the bad, unscalable infrastructure of Metro Manila is that more and more companies are opting for Work From Home setups. The reasoning behind it is the simple fact that if their employee is wasting 2 hours to work, and another 2 hours to go back home, that extra 4 hours could've translated to a new feature or a bug fix.

If their employee is wasting 2 hours to work, and another 2 hours to go back home, that extra 4 hours could've translated to a new feature or a bug fix.

Remove the travel time, and the energy spent on it, and you would most likely get an employee that is less stressed and well rested... which usually translates into a pretty productive person.

So where does GritXL come into play here? Well, I did say that the Philippines has a pretty crappy infrastructure, and that includes the crappy internet services provided to residential customers. Most internet providers value their business customers more due to the amount of money they are willing to shell compared to residential customers, and this is why GritXL is a viable business... this is exactly why I am at GritXL to work on my day job.

I see their co-working service as an attractive selling point for residents of Rizal that is tired of the traffic that they have to go through to work. If their employers would finally allow them to work remotely instead, they can choose to co-work in establishments like this one that has a very decent and stable internet connection (50~60Mbps), backup generators, and well lit + air conditioned spaces.

What I think GritXL needs is a little more visibility that they do exist, and I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only software engineer in Rizal that is lucky enough to be offered to work remotely rather than travelling all the way to the office at McKinley Hills.

Now, with that said, there are also some other factors in play here. I've been to another co-working space that is quite far from the center of the metro, albeit still part of Metro Manila: Launchpad at Muntinlupa. Although I had to go through SLEX to get to Launchpad, the establishment was quite busy with lots of co-working individuals.

The main difference between GritXL and Launchpad's location, although both a pretty far from the center of the Metro, is that GritXL isn't located on an area that is known to be a business center, while Launchpad is located in Alabang, which is pretty much a business center in its own right. It has wide roads, pretty skyscrapers, and plentiful establishments. I got lots of choices to eat out in that area during lunchtime.

Conclusion

The reality is that GritXL does have a lot of hurdles to overcome compared to the other coworking spaces out there, even with top-of-the-line perks and lack of immediate competition in the vicinity.

There are known challenges on its location, but the business owner did not plan GritXL as just a office space. She envisioned it as a business center in Rizal and I do hope she realizes her dream to make this area into a Business Hub of the East.

Note: most images used in this post are from GritXL's facebook page