Ramon recalling Hoppler’s origins starting from his decision to leave Silicon Valley
“One of the biggest gifts you can give to anyone is time,” begins Hoppler CEO Ramon Ballesca Jr. as we talk about his startup journey. “Hopefully I will make things easier for people and it would buy people time—time to earn more money and time to spend with their family.”
Ramon is the co-founder of Hoppler—an online real estate platform for brokers, buyers and sellers. He started the company to address problems for an underserved and often neglected industry—one that, according to Ramon, has the potential to be so much bigger in the Philippines. “If you think about it, trillions of trillions of pesos move into real estate yet it’s not focused on as much as health or stuff like that, right? We don’t have a lot of the tools that the other industries have,” he states emphatically.
With years of developing industry tools under his belt, Ramon knows the difference having the right tools can make. And when it comes to his finances, he definitely knows where to find them: “Everything is convenient with Security Bank. I don’t want to name any names but our prior institution didn’t have many online facilities… so there was just a huge jump for me in terms of doing business banking. So that’s why I just harp on it so much… because there’s just such a huge difference with Security Bank!”
Ramon recalls starting his career working for tech firms in California. “I was constructing and building cloud-based platforms before cloud was even a term.” He muses. His credentials speak for themselves: he developed online platforms for schools and libraries and had a hand in pioneering a management software for lawyers. But after a while, Ramon burned out. The Silicon Valley grind had caught up with him, which prompted him to quit his job in dramatic fashion.
“I kind of felt like I was too addicted to my CrackBerry, my BlackBerry. It was consuming me…So in a typical “ Office Space” moment, I went to the driving range, put it on the tee and just went whack!—and I whacked it out. It was liberating,” he recalls laughingly. After that, he sold his belongings, grew his beard, and spent over a year backpacking across Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America.
His travels allowed him to see new business opportunities in Asia. In 2011, he gave up his dream of opening a brewery and decided to open a real estate brokerage firm in Vietnam with his partner. That didn’t go so well for him either. “After 2 and a half years of doing it, I realized that I pretty much failed miserably,” Ramon admits. He continues, “We did a good job of finding clients but we weren’t closing deals.” In this moment of failure, the idea for Hoppler was born.
At the core of every man is a desire to make a difference in the world. Ramon Ballesca Jr. does not do this through volunteer or charity work—although he wishes that he did—but through finding ways to make people’s lives easier. Nowadays, after going through life’s twists and turns, he finds himself fixated on redefining real estate.
First of all, just to let you know, I’m 100% Pinoy…despite the hairy arms [laughs].
I was born in the US and would spend summers in the Philippines. My dad was from Greenhills, San Juan while my mom was from Tiaong, Quezon. On my off time, I watch a lot of basketball just like everyone else here!
It wasn’t necessarily my dream to be an entrepreneur per se, but even as early as being a teenager, I always had this drive to essentially be something more than I am. Anywhere I went, I always tried to overachieve, whether it’s in getting good grades or being the top employee, and then eventually just finally saying, “I need to do this on my own.”
I always wanted to do something on my own but never had really the chance. In 2011, I finally was able to save up enough money and I thought, “Well shoot, I love craft beer, micro brew. I think I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna create a microbrewery.” It’s every guy’s dream. But then I met my business partner and he goes, “Why are you making a brewery? Why don’t you try real estate?” As if that wasn’t crazy, right?
And so I was kinda headed to Vietnam to set up base there and he goes “Why don’t you try opening up my real estate brokerage company in Vietnam? Partner up. Split it 50-50 and then let’s do it!” So that’s where I moved to Vietnam, permanently in 2011 and opened up, naively, a real estate brokerage.
After that failed, that’s when I thought of Hoppler. And I kinda based it with my background in software and all of that. And I said, “Why don’t we just build a company where we don’t just have real estate brokers internally? Why don’t we embrace sort of like this sharing economy thing?” And you know just partner up with people who are the experts in real estate and we just basically do business together. So instead of hiring people, brokers internally, why not provide this to everyone out there?
Hoppler is basically a network and a platform of brokers to buy and sell real estate. And so we basically built software, we allowed them to list, we marketed the properties and then when they close the deal, we share the commission. We kind of “Uber-ized” real estate in general.
You don’t need to have an office anymore. You can do everything on your phone. So you don’t have to wait in traffic for 2 hours just so you can type up a contract. You can actually create contracts on it, you can create offers on it, you can meet others brokers on it so you can do deals together.
My goal is more to just improve the services side of real estate and give what everything us—real estate brokers—and the broker network deserves. To kind of push to the attention that other industries get.
It kind of placed extra confidence and it just confirmed that you know that this is something that people would actually grow, use, and like.
In late 2013, early 2014, I invited a number of my friends from high school, from California—Silicon Valley people. They worked at Zynga, Roche Pharmaceuticals—places like that. And I invited them to invest to build Hoppler—the platform and the network. So they did, they placed in and that was really one of the highlights. Because it made me see that my friends are confident that we can actually do something.
And then late 2014, early 2015, the Elro Corporation, which is the Elizalde-Roxas Corporation (responsible for Ipanema Footwear, Punta Fuego, and places like that) came in. And we’re actually a subsidiary of the Elro Corporation. So when my friends and the Elro Corporation came in, it definitely was a highlight. It kind of placed extra confidence and it just confirmed that you know that this is something that people would actually grow, use, and like.
Every day is looking at how we can improve and seeing how we can tweak things. For the better part of these past six months, we’ve been really focused on developing software for real estate. So I come in, have coffee for that extra jolt, I see what was done the day before, and then I get together with our product manager and just talk about—”Alright, is that working? Is this working? Do we need to tweak anything? Are people okay? Are they working a lot? Are they burnt out?”
Cause it’s a fine line, especially in tech, between pushing to your deadline and actually getting burnt out. We’re close to 270 brokers now. I’ve got targets to reach in the thousands.
I always feel like if I did my own thing and then I apply what I do—what I’ve done in my career which is build things, and implement things—I felt like that, hopefully, I will make things easier for people.
I’ve always felt like that I’ll have the best opportunity to do that in Vietnam and then of course more so in the Philippines because this is my home. I’d have a lower probability of achieving that goal in the US versus over here.
The hardest thing I think I’ve faced is just kind of getting the message out. And education that technology doesn’t hurt, that it will actually improve your life. And that you shouldn’t feel threatened by it. What we’re doing is not gonna replace your job—It’s just gonna make your life easier and better, you know? So getting that message out has been the most difficult challenge because there’s a lot of resistance to technology and something that’s unknown.
Both mom and dad are inspirations to me—total inspirations! Dad basically was hit by cancer about the same time that I started doing all of this. And so you know I had to make a decision at that point and to really realize that “Okay, you’re gonna be the patriarch of this family someday.” So it serves as some kind of extra motivation to work harder and to take more responsibilities. And you know, that was in the early 2000s.
And then actually, last year even, I think Hoppler would have grown even faster, but I actually took 6 months off because my mom got hit with cancer last year also. But she’s a cancer survivor. She defeated it and so she also serves as an inspiration for me to keep going because if she can go through something like that, I could also.
Push it to the limits. I guess coming from California and the whole San Francisco Bay Area, you know that sitting on something means that you’re not moving. And so whether it’s money or resources, you want to use them to the best of your ability to grow the business. Now of course spend wisely—don’t spend just to spend.
I just wanted everyone that we work with to share the same theme of moving everything online so that was the main reason why we’re pretty happy and in terms of how we do things through Security Bank.
We actually moved to Security Bank for the pure simple fact of your online presence. Even more so your online tools—online banking. We have a corporate account with DigiBanker. That was one of the most important things for me. Just the convenience and it just kind of goes with the theme. I just wanted everyone that we work with to share the same theme of moving everything online so that was the main reason why we’re pretty happy and in terms of how we do things through Security Bank.
By the way, second, you guys are living up to your name—SECURITY Bank. So you know all of our transactions, I don’t have any worries in the world. All these checks and balances—that’s good, better safe than sorry. You’re well taken care of, you feel safe and you know that things are gonna push through at all times. Really happy about that.
I breathe Hoppler [laughs]. So whatever’s next for Hoppler is next for me.
In ten years’ time, I truly hope and believe that Hoppler will be the place to be in terms of doing real estate and helping the entire industry elevate itself to have the same—respect might be too strong a word, but having whatever it is that everyone else has that real estate deserves.
I worked 70, 80, even 90 hours a week before. It’s just kind of in me to do everything and do everything fast. I want to help. I want to get things done.
But at the end of the day… you got to know that you can’t do it alone.
There’s only 24 hours in a day, of which you should have at least 8 hours of sleep. 9 out of 10 times you’re gonna have to work with a team. And chances are—the probability of your success will increase if you’re working well with that team and you trust them. Sometimes, I do think that I can do it best. But if you got someone else available who has that time—hey, you can get twice as much done.
It’s still a lesson that I’m trying to teach myself today.
Photography by John Eric Eudin