When a woman succeeds in a male-dominated industry, we should also look at the support systems that she has in place that have enabled her to thrive. There are programs such as Startup Pinay, an initiative by QBO Innovation Hub to increase the participation of women in the tech sector and to provide focused support for female startup founders.
There is also the kind of support that is indeed closer to home—the support that women in tech could have from those closest to them.
This Father’s Day, we were able to interview two father-daughter duos with very different dynamics. We talked to Mel Nava, founder of 1Export, a startup that provides end-to-end services that help MSMEs go global, and her father and first investor, Carlos. We also received insight from Jojo Flores, co-founder of Plug and Play Tech, a Silicon Valley-based innovation platform that connects the best technology startups with the world’s largest corporations, and his daughter Cody, who is part of the company’s ventures team.
The duos talk about their beginnings in the startup field, separating work from home, and how fathers can continue to support and understand their daughters’ ventures into the startup space.
Mel showed early signs of entrepreneurship skills. It goes back to as early as her grade school days when the craze around themed playing cards was at its peak. Mel noticed this and immediately decided to resell the cards she would buy at the market to her schoolmates at a much higher price. Selling playing cards at school turned into selling clothes at seasonal bazaars, and the rest is history.
“She was always very passionate about what she wanted to do,” said Carlos, who has been working in the corporate field for four decades. “She always knew she was going to end up going down the entrepreneurial route.”
If Mel displayed her interest early on, for Cody, it was quite the opposite.
Jojo & Cody Flores
“My daughter Cody is actually on the shy side. Early on, she didn’t really show signs that she was interested in joining me at Plug and Play,” said Jojo. Regardless, he would still bring her along to various startup pitching competitions that he hosted, back when she was still in school. Jojo eventually noticed how engaged she was during these events and would come up with her own set of winners. He supposes that from then on, her interest in the startup field had piqued and led her to where she is today. “I think she’s enjoying her work now, meeting founders every day and learning new things,” he explained.
Letting them leave a mark in the industry
“I believe that she’s able to bring a more regional perspective for the local startups in the country,” said Jojo. Cody works as part of Plug and Play’s ventures team in APAC and is able to gain exposure to startups from across the region. This exposure is something that is vital to the operations and success at Plug and Play. “She’s able to bring this knowledge down to the Philippine startup scene, and we are all able to learn from her insight,” he added.
Carlos acknowledges just how passionate and driven Mel is, and how that passion has translated into successful results.
“She has pitched all over the world, and seeing so many people interested in her vision is very telling,” said Carlos. And while he does not necessarily have experience in the startup industry, he can see that 1Export is something worth investing in. “Seeing people believe in her work and invest in it, is something that I am very proud of,” he remarked.
The best advice a father could give
“I find that most of the advice I follow to this day are all essentially rooted in the importance we give to people and talent,” said Cody. Her father has always emphasized the importance of building a network that you can learn from, as well as forming warm and genuine relationships with them. “The time I spend speaking with hundreds of people within the startup ecosystem leads to the most priceless learning experience that I never would have gotten anywhere else,” she shared.
Mel Nava with her parents at graduation
There is a difference in dynamic between Mel and Carlos, considering Mel’s background in sales and Carlos’ decades of experience in finance. However, they make it work to their advantage and continue to learn from each other’s different perspectives.
“One of the things I really took to heart was to focus on the things you can control,” said Mel. This advice from her dad is something that she continues to apply to her company. Another piece of advice was something she learned from the fledgling days at her company and is something that she partially attributes her company’s success to: “Everything worth doing is worth doing well.”
Finding the work-life balance that works for your family
The dated belief that family members should not have a working or professional relationship may stem from the possibility that it would create unfair dynamics or even a bias within the industry. Alternatively, there is also the possibility that work conflicts may permeate into personal issues that could eventually cause rifts inside the household. However, both Cody and Mel offer sound advice on how to steer clear of these issues.
“I am very lucky to have a solid support system within my family,” said Mel, who acknowledges the privilege of being able to get all kinds of support and empathy from her family. More than support, it is important to establish clear separation of work and personal life, as well as develop a mutual understanding of boundaries between family and work. “We don’t talk about work at the dinner table. Boundaries are clearly set and respected in our home,” she explained.
For Cody, she shares that there are more similarities to the work and home environments than we think.
“I’ve come to realize that at the very core of a working relationship are relationship patterns that can be found in the foundations of a home setting as well—good communication, respect, and honesty,” shared Cody. For her, accepting and understanding the parallels between home and work settings has helped her build the foundation of seeing Jojo as her boss and as her father.
The importance of empowerment and support throughout the startup journey
While the startup space in the Philippines is still a relatively novel one, it has experienced a more rapid growth and a spike in market interest in the recent years. That being said, it is more crucial than ever for families to be supportive of their children’s interest in stepping into the startup field. Empowerment should start from the home and can be manifested in many different ways. There should be trust, as well as the understanding that growth and success in this field may manifest in unconventional ways. It should also mean believing in their child’s vision as much as they themselves do.
“The way that parents can empower and support their children who are undergoing this professional milestone is with an empathetic heart,” said Cody. Parents should fully realize how agile and ambiguous the startup field is, and how this environment can impact their children. It is not a journey that should be emotionally embarked alone. Having a strong support system founded in a safe and restful home is a privilege, one that both Mel and Cody admit they are very lucky to have.
“Let her set her own standards of success and happiness,” said Jojo. “Be supportive. In the end, it’s their life.”
“Learn when to give input and when to step back,” said Carlos, who shares a similar sentiment with Jojo. “Be there when they need you, but also give them space to grow and learn from their own decisions.”
“Treat yourselves and the whole process with patience, kindness, and excitement,” said Cody. While it is fine and even beneficial, to implement the family energy in the workspace, it is important to make sure the whole team is involved, and that everyone benefits from this same energy.
“The startup industry is growing so fast, and it is so exciting to see,” says Mel. “It’s something that should be shared and enjoyed with your support system, and is something everyone can definitely grow from.”