For this serial entrepreneur, this pandemic was a big boost to his latest tech business

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Aug 29 2020 06:17 AM

Niel Dagondon, founder of the three-year-old Edusuite

MANILA -- Starting a new company is always one of the hardest things any entrepreneur can attempt to do. Niel Dagondon, founder of the three-year-old Edusuite, the next-generation campus management program, can readily attest to that.

Although he has been a serial entrepreneur for two decades now, Dagondon is particularly proud when he put up Edusuite, his brainchild and actually his fourth business.

“You have to deal with the 90-percent rate of failure and losing all your money in a new business,” shared Dagondon in an e-mail interview with ABS-CBN News. “From my previous work, where I ran everything from the board room, I had to go back again to doing everything myself such as learning how to make a website, doing hires myself, digital marketing, even buying light bulbs and coffee when supplies are low.”

He added, “Thankfully, now that I had a name for myself, it was much easier getting investment support. Not to mention already making a lot of mistakes in the past, so I have a lot of experience running businesses and also not making the same mistakes again.”

In case one tracks the history of Dagondon’s past ventures, there is a pattern that they are all inter-connected and all are industries he is passionate about. He worked early as a gasoline boy when he was only 12 and became a math tutor when he was 18, and when he got to college, he started a post-production company.

That was followed by Dagondon’s work in a video game development company. Back when he was still in high school, he was already vocal about wanting to make games for a living.

In 2001, when he was only 22 years old and fresh out of college at De La Salle University (DLSU), he founded the gaming development company Anino Games.

“Unfortunately, since there were no game development companies when I graduated from college, I had to start my own company,” recalled Dagondon. “I saw that what I started had a positive impact in the country being a pioneer.”

After 14 years with Anino Games, Dagondon continues to be on top of his game, co-founding an educational technology startup that has helped schools operate fully amid the pandemic.

“I decided I had to move on to other things, such as education which, I believe, would have a wider impact in uplifting the Philippines,” Dagondon insisted. “I am a vision guy and as the organization started to grow, I had to hand it over to someone who is more into operations.

“Schools are very different as you have a lot of things to think about: compliance to government bodies, academic issues, student concerns, managing facilities on top of the usual business issues of employees and marketing.

“Things also move much slower in an academic institution and there is a lot of ‘tradition’ that you have to contend with. Innovation is something that is natural in a technology firm and something that needs to be emphasized over and over again in an educational setting.”

Edusuite was born out of Dagondon’s experience working in a college where, he found out, a lot of the software available to local companies were either outdated, need a lot of customization to be usable or simply too expensive.

“Plus a lot of them don’t utilize the power of computers to make schools efficient,” Dagondon lamented. “For that, I drew back from my experience in game development and go back into technology.

“In any industry, change management is always difficult and more so in education, where process changes move slower than most. It takes a challenge to convince schools that cloud computing is the future or they should modify their processes to be more efficient or they should let the system help them make decisions.”

Since two years ago, not just at this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Edusuite has started to ease the burden from students every time they need to enroll. The AI-driven technology of Edusuite adapts to the student’s needs while optimizing their output.

Dagondon is the company president of Edusuite, that takes the registrar system away come enrollment time in schools. “The goal is to implement full online enlistment, enrollment and advising without having a single student or teacher go to school,” Dagondon pointed out.

“The system advises every single student what subjects to take. Normally, in college, the advising is taken cared of by the program heads or even the college dean. With Edusuite, no human intervention is needed. It’s really up to the system. Everything needs to be done from the home.”

The system tells the registrar which subjects need to be open the following term. At the same time, the system also advises how many students are enrolled per subject and how many sections the school needs to open. Everything is done on auto scheduling.

Edusuite makes possible a school enrollment where there are no long lines often with worried and stressed students and even no frustrated parents. The system takes care of the student assessments, outstanding balances, payments, additional charges, penalties and gives the final assessment amount. Moreover, Edusuite keeps a copy of the transcript of records for students and the registrar can easily download it.

“At present, there are 10 schools in our client list, but there are more than 2,000 colleges and universities in the Philippines and even more than 3,000 private schools in K-12 that are in need of our services,” Dagondon said.

“We haven’t even scratched a little bit of the market. Three fourths of the market hasn’t heard about us. To make schools aware that there’s a solution out there for them to be able to manage their schools remotely and more efficiently.”

In a decade, Edusuite’s goal is to be the “leading campus management system” in terms of market share locally. “We want at least 10 percent of the market, which is a moon-shot goal,” Dagondon said. “That translates to 500-plus schools in private education alone. We also see Edusute diversifying to other educational technology solutions. Plus, we would like to expand to other emerging markets with similar issues to the Philippines.”

Asked about the hardest and most difficult challenges in running a business like Edusuite, Dagondon explained: “In any industry, change management is always difficult and more so in education where process changes move slower than most. It takes a challenge to convince schools that cloud computing is the future.

“Or that they should modify their processes to be more efficient or they should let the system help them make decisions. Luckily, the quarantine period has a silver lining for us as it helped accelerate schools to change their way of thinking. Suddenly, what was a ‘nice-to-have’ for schools such as having an online process became a ‘must-have.’”

This pandemic proved to be ideal in adapting Edusuite into one’s school system. No wonder, Dagondon recently launched a PR campaign to get more awareness to schools outside the National Capital Region (NCR).

Although they were swamped with a lot of inquiries when the quarantine period started, they realized there are still many schools that are not aware Edusuite exists. Which is why aside from the online advertisement that they run, they started relying still on traditional media – print, TV and radio.

“Internally, we are also building capacity so we can handle more schools at the same time and making the software more user-friendly,” Dagondon said.

Dagondon acknowledged his co-founder, Calen Legaspi, presently the CEO of Orange and Bronze Software Labs, for putting up Edusuite with him. “I started talking to Calen back in 2016,” Dagondon recalled.

“As part of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) Technical Panel for Computer Science all over the country, Calen saw and was trying to help solve the same problems that I had. While I contributed the knowledge of schools, Calen contributed the technology side of building scalable enterprise-level software.”

Married for 20 years, Dagondon and his wife Nicole celebrated their blissful union last year by hiking around Europe. “Our 20th year was just stuck at home with quarantine restrictions,” he sighed.

The couple has four children. Their eldest, Alexa (19) has a scholarship at the University of Melbourne (also in lockdown), while Aria (16), Mateo (14) and Leon (12) are at home with their parents.
Dagondon credits his dad and mom, Elson and Nina Dagondon, both 65 years old, for the entrepreneurial skills and amazing drive that apparently rubbed off to him. “They started their first successful business when they were only 33 years old with a borrowed capital,” he said.

“I’ve admired how they were able to do that. They are now into everything -– from gasoline to trucking, food logistics, cold storage, food distribution and even retail. Sadly, the family businesses did not align with my values, so I chose to go my own path. My sister and my brother are now helping run the businesses.”

He laments how the current situation prevents him from visiting and seeing his extended family every Sunday. Yet, Dagondon consistently keeps a positive attitude not just in personal matters, but even his important professional endeavors, Edusuite included.