Hate waiting in line? Meet Chino Atilano. His start-up venture TimeFree Innovations is slowly but surely making long lines a thing of the past.
“The perfect storm.” That’s how Chino Atilano, shop co-founder and CEO of TimeFree Innovations, describes what made him leave his 9 to 5 job for the often rocky, at times rewarding, entrepreneurial path he is on now.
TimeFree Innovations got its start in 2009 when Chino and three friends spent hours waiting in line to pay for their tuition fees at Ateneo de Zamboanga University. They decided to do their thesis on solving that very problem through a virtual queueing system. The thesis did well, placing among the top 10 in the 6th SWEEP Innovation and Excellence Awards in 2010. But it wasn’t until Chino was working full-time, two years later, that the very same program offered them the opportunity to further pursue TimeFree’s potential. The deal included a paid sabbatical leave from Chino’s post as a Fiber Optics Engineer at Smart and seed funding for the venture on top of that.
“There was no reason for me to say no,” shares Chino. “That was one of the best opportunities that have come my way, and I just had to grab it.” After bootstrapping for over a year, Chino and his team decided to make TimeFree a full-time pursuit in January 2014.
TimeFree has come a long way since. Its initial hardware-centric model has evolved into an integrated system that allows both on-site and off-site queueing. Patrons of TimeFree’s corporate clients, which now include Smart, PLDT, BDO, and Cathay Pacific, no longer need to wait in line. The queueing system simply registers customers’ mobile numbers and sends them a text notification when their turn is near.
TimeFree is also betting big on its new virtual queueing mobile app, which allows consumers to directly secure a place in the queue before they even leave home. The system effectively frees users from the hassle of waiting in line by letting them spend that time doing something else. Chino underscores just how providing this convenience puts TimeFree’s clients a cut above the competition. “Customer experience is the great equalizer,” he says.
Just as TimeFree has evolved, so has the man behind it. Born and raised in Mapun, a remote island in Tawi-Tawi, Chino’s early life was one of limited electricity, no cell signal, and no internet connectivity. In 2005, he took a 24-hour wooden boat ride to Zamboanga to pursue his college education. He had never even heard of email until his first day of class there. Yet today, Chino has the distinction of being one of just nine Filipinos to qualify for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Silicon Valley, and one of only two to be admitted into the GES+ Program, a week-long, hands-on mentoring session with Google and other tech giants.
Despite his success, Chino is quick to caution those who might think the start-up life is easy. He gets candid about his many failed attempts, TimeFree’s shaky beginnings, and even going through a period when he and his co-founders went without pay. Having been through all that, he tries to paint the full picture for young, aspiring entrepreneurs who seek his advice. “Be prepared to fail. It’s inevitable. We’ve failed tons of times! If we didn’t have the grit to see these things through, we would have folded,” he shares.
“The reality of business is that it’s not all sunshine. If you’re able to experience that and get through it, nothing can break you anymore, because you know you were able to handle the lowest of the low. That’s one of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur.”