Looking for the next big leap

Manila Bulletin, 07-27-2014

Amanda Carpo is not your typical take-all-risks entrepreneur. She was well aware of the pitfalls of timing and the nature of the market-her father was one of the first Filipino real estate developers in the U.S., enjoying success during the late 70s and 80s in what would become Silicon Valley. The economy was booming but was hit hard by the 1987 savings and loan crisis, and her father went from building condominiums and subdivision to filling Chapter 11.

In 2000, just a few years after her son was born, she saw the dot-com bust take its toll on the economy in San Francisco. While working as a senior tax consultant with Price Waterhouse Coopers(PWC), she saw the difficulty of starting a business in the other side of the world.

"We had a client that wanted to set up a BPO here. He had a storm of problems," says Carpo. "He spent all his money on start-up costs. His local bookkeeper stole from him. His local employees stole equipment. He had a heart condition. It was a nightmare," she relates.

Where others saw problems, Carpo saw opportunity. "I felt for the guy. There was no market-no advisors for his size of business. Back in 2005, there was no one addressing the need of small and medium enterprises coming into the Philippines," she says.

Carpo wanted to make doing business in the Philippines easier for foreign investors and help sell the country as an investment and outsourcing destination. After she left PWC, she met entrepreneur Gregory Kittelson and started a business consulting firm, Kittelson&Carpo Consulting.

An appetite for risk

In the early days of their business, all they had were two used laptops and shared a wooden table, but they were determined to turn the idea into reality. It was Carpo's first foray into entrepreneurship, but she was confident about what they had to offer.

"There are so many people who will tell you that it's going to fail," says Carpo, "so you have to be utterly confident that you've got a good idea. You have to have that hunger, that appetite for risk."

She adds, "We didn't really care about our competition. If you think about your competition all the time, you'll never look at improving yourself and never do something new."

Kittelson and Carpo ended up bringing one of their first clients, Michael McCullough, on board the company. McCullough would help them form KMC MAG Group, areal estate service firm, and KMC Solutions, a staffing and serviced office provider.

While she was the experienced lawyer among them, she considers her role to be that of the protector, making sure that every step was calculated while weighing the risks and rewards.

"I'm the bossiest of the three," admits Carpo. "I feel strongly about things like 'This is the way it should be.' I like to think that what I do is pushing things along while watching over them. I need to make sure that they're okay, because Gregory and Mike are really aggressive in business. I am the type to say 'Let's take a step back and assess, or let's write this down,'" she says.

The trio wasted no time, offering office space to small and medium enterprises and developing their brokerage team, creating a one-stop shop where foreign investors can register their business, find an office, and even hire staff.

Their responsiveness, vision, and agility soon set them apart from their competitors, with KMC MAG Group attracting business from organizations such as Canon, Fox International Channels, the World Wildlife Fund, Roche, Aboitiz, and QBE Shared Services.

"Clients were surprised because somehow we knew exactly what they needed," shares Carpo. "The only reason why we knew what they needed was because we listened to what the last client said. We had plug-and-play solutions-we made it easy for them," she says.

One of the things that Carpo enjoys the most about her job is being of help with the process of entrepreneurship. "Some lawyers like annulments, some like litigation. I like business pitches and helping create things," she says, adding, "It's always fascinating to listen to business ideas, ranging from animation, accounting, legal process outsourcing and real estate-a really wide range of businesses. Seeing the idea become a reality is one thing, but making a contribution to other people's lives and business success feels better."

Enjoying life

Carpo enjoys the problem-solving aspect of her job. "When it's a foreign investment, you have all these layers you have to get through. It's like finding your way through a maze," she muses. Keeping up the momentum can be a challenge for any entrepreneur, and Carpo works just as hard to pursue her other passions-triathlons, books and food-and achieve work-life balance. "I try to squeeze in eight hours of work a day with endurance sports training," shares Carpo. "I train every day. I always push myself physically and mentally." Later in the year, she and her husband Mike Bond are participating in Iron Man in Palma de Mallorca and then Iron Man Philippines.

Getting the Correct Work

With KMC MAG Group looking at expanding its brokerage team and its footprint to keep up with the country's real estate boom, Carpo relies on a great support system to get her through her high-octane schedule. "I have a team on the office and I have my triathlon team," says Carpo. "I kind of keep the worlds separate. That helps me."

This year, KMC MAG Group will be celebrating its fifth anniversary, while Kittelson&Carpo Consulting will mark its seventh. For Carpo, it's been a long road since working with the client who inspired her to take a leap of faith. She shares that the last she heard of him, he was still trying to set up a business, "Sometimes, it's the wave at the right time," says Carpo, adding, "you can make a fortune or you can lose it, depending on the timing." Catching the right wave also means being attuned to the trends and events that could affect the industry. Carpo foresees IT-BPO companies continuing to come to the country, and other areas outside of Metro Manila benefiting from decentralization. "The development is finally going to centralize. It has too…it's too crowded in Metro Manila. It was always the plan. It's in the Local Government Code, even the PEZA law. It's going there because of the sheer pressure of the population and the jobs," she says.

She looks forward to having more investors come in and be part of the country's growth story. "There's still much room for growth here-I believed it then, and I believe it now. This country has a lot to offer," ends Carpo.