Twenty-three year old Orange Apps founder Gian Javelona talks Apple vs. Orange and being at the right place at the right time.
Gian Javelona good-naturedly recalls his days as a student in PUP. He describes himself as a “regular guy” who enjoyed basketball, video games, and perhaps best of all, programming. But university life had its share of hardships. He had only PhP15 to spend on lunch—3 pieces of Shanghai rolls with rice. To learn to code, he had to share one computer with seven other students. And then there was his three-to four-hour wait in line to enrol, on top of the hours it took to check his grades.
In an attempt to respond to these problems, the then 19-year- old Gian designed his thesis around providing a solution. “I hacked into the school’s database,” he says quite simply. Was that allowed? “Not at that time,” he admits with a laugh. But the app that he built around the said database provided such great service to the school, professors and school authorities were too astounded to protest. What started as a school project then turned into a practical innovation that first serviced PUP’s College of Technology, then the entire university. “The (university) president asked me ‘how can we make money from this?’ and that gave me the idea to create a company,” Gian explains. “I figure if my school loves it, other schools will love it.”
But with two more years of school left, Gian had an important choice to make. “Ito na yung matagal kong iniintay (This is what I had been waiting on for a long time) so I thought maybe I should pursue this. So I didn’t continue with my 4th and 5th year of college and pursued this fulltime.”The resulting company, Orange Apps, was founded in 2013. For Gian, it was like laying the groundwork for a dream he had nurtured since his high school days. “I told all my friends that I will beat Apple one day,” he says. “And that I will (do it by) creating an Orange company here in the Philippines.”
“Why isn’t there a tech company in the Philippines that’s as big as Google or Facebook or Microsoft That’s really my question,” Gian continues. “That’s the ‘why’ behind Orange Apps. I want to prove it’s possible.”
The goal is lofty, but Gian is up for the challenge—scrapping his initial plan for a server-based app and instead creating an entirely new platform. “At first, I was just planning on linking up to the schools’ pre-existing systems. But that’s when I realized most schools don’t even have a system,” he explains. “And sadly, those who do—even the really big schools—use systems that look like they’re from the 80s or 90s.”
In comparison, Gian’s own system features several functions that benefit different members of the school community. Students can study, discuss lessons with classmates, and even do homework through the app. Assignments accomplished through the app are automatically graded, relieving teachers of having to go through paperwork. Parents can access the app to enrol, view grades, and get important school announcements. The school administration, meanwhile, can use the app to monitor data, manage accounting and payroll, and project revenues. Best of all, the system is a much cheaper alternative—less than PhP500 per student per year, compared to the 9-digit price tag some of the bigger universities are currently paying.
Gian describes his system as “Facebook for the learning environment”. He predicts Orange Apps will be in 100 schools by next year. “All we want is to make the life of the school easier,” he shares when asked about his company’s vision. “We want to give them tools to empower them, so they can focus on providing better education.”
After a trip to Silicon Valley, Gian says he has realized that he’s in the right place at the right time.“The Philippines is 10 years behind what they have going on over there,” he explains. “We have an opportunity to build something like that. We are at the perfect stage to start something.”
And he’s happy to take anyone willing to learn along with him on the journey. “The good thing about Orange Apps is it has become an image of hope to the youth. It’s not usual to see someone who came from nothing building a company and yet here we are,” he says. “Sobrang daming magaling, pero walang opportunity. (There are so many good ones, but there is no opportunity.) I try to give them that. I don’t ask about your school or your course. But if you want to join our team, you have to believe in what we are trying to prove. It can’t just be belief in what I’m doing now…it has to be belief in the potential of what we can all become.”