Limpag: Startup works to simplify bills management

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Sunday, August 3, 2014


WHEN Rollie Villaflor nearly got into a fight while waiting in line to settle an electricity invoice he and several others were questioning, he thought to himself, “there has to be a better way to pay bills.”

Four weeks from now, he hopes to unveil the first beta or public test version of his vision of a better way to keep track of bills with the release of CoBill, a system that aggregates your bills to simplify keeping track of payments and getting reminded on amounts due.

He thought of building CoBill because of his bad experience with that power tab and other bills that come late or else are not delivered at all.

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Villaflor is a freelance consultant on ZenDesk, a piece of software that companies use for customer service and support. He helps companies set up ZenDesk to deal with customer support issues online. Some of his clients include startups and e-commerce shops in the US and UK.

Villaflor, as with many freelancers, finds work via sites like oDesk. His wife also works freelance, handling marketing and research here in Cebu for a company building a mall in Hong Kong.

Although technically-inclined, Villaflor was dissuaded by his mother from taking a computer-related course in college. She told him he could study computers on his own by reading books and asked him to take up law instead.

Villaflor chose management accounting as pre-law course. He was already on his first year in law school when he decided to try out working for a call center because of his free time. He got hooked by the industry until he was asked to lead the transition of his company’s customer support system to ZenDesk.

When he left the company to work freelance, he decided to focus on ZenDesk. When he got more offers than he could handle, he worked with three developers to meet the demand of his clients.

Villaflor said he later decided to join TechTalks.ph, a community of technology enthusiasts founded by Tina Amper, to learn about how he could expand his freelance jobs into a full-time business.

He said he was encouraged to join startup events and was part of the group that won a bootcamp organized in Cebu by the IdeaSpace Foundation.

During Startup Weekend Cebu in June, he pitched CoBill, organized a team behind the service but failed to land a spot among the winners of the event.

Villaflor said he was able to validate the idea behind CoBill and decided to pursue the project with a different team–the developers he was already working with for his ZenDesk freelance work.

Villaflor said their focus right now is building a minimum viable product or MVP, startup-speak for a product with just the barest features released to get market feedback. They are working on a website and Android app that will allow users to centralize information and keep track of bills.

The ability to pay bills will be added later, Villaflor said.

He said they are using a scraping system that will allow CoBill to grab billing data from telcos and utilities like power and water. He said they want to use APIs or application programming interface but only a few local companies offer these. He said they are also having a hard time talking to companies and often get the run-around.

While they are currently focusing on Cebu, Villaflor said CoBill will be a nationwide system as many of the billers are national companies.

He said building a startup is a challenge, adding that government can help small-time tech entrepreneurs like him by providing assistance in helping a business. He added tax exemptions for new businesses as well as government assistance related to setting up a startup will help a lot.

(max@limpag.com/http://max.limpag.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 04, 2014.

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