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Chikka founder rallies new Filipino innovators

Dennis Mendiola, Chikka Founder

“Think of services that seek to make something better, solve a problem in your locality.”

Chikka founder Dennis Mendiola brought the little gem of advice during his keynote at UP Diliman, for IDEASPACE – the technology and entrepreneurship hub organized by the MVP-led Metro Pacific Investment Corporation. The group is looking to award the most innovative ideas not only with funding but also the cooperation of business, industrial and technical experts from leading companies such as Smart, PLDT, Meralco, and Philex Mining.

A real need among Filipinos, Mendiola said, was the primary reason for the birth of the Internet-based text messaging solution we all know now as Chikka Text Messenger.

“Do not model your projects after first world examples because their environment, the problems they are trying to solve, and their resources are quite different.”

“Mark Zuckerberg and his group’s situation was unique to them,” Mendiola said, referring to the Facebook founder who in the early 2000s built the service for use among students at Harvard. Only subsequently did they open it up to other colleges and high schools first in Boston and then across the US.

“And Americans, they were all online, even then,” said Mendiola.

Meanwhile, Chikka sought to connect global and online Filipinos to folks back home who weren’t online but even in 1999 were avid texters.

“This was a time when even international text was limited, with the U.S. being one of the last countries to be interconnected to Philippine telcos by way of text. And we solved this by interconnecting online PCs to mobile phones via text,” Mendiola added.

“$50,000 dollar servers and dial-up Internet”

Mendiola joked that they would have built the Chikka prototype in his garage ala Silicon Valley, “but for the mosquitoes.” Instead he said he and his hacks holed up in the air-conditioned living room.

But Mendiola also stressed how the new generation of students and young entrepreneurs have so much that he could have only hoped for when they were as young and building the first version of Chikka.

“The times were different. Laptops cost 5,000 US dollars, our servers cost 50,000 dollars, and we had Internet at dial-up speeds. We’ve had to import talent from Silicon Valley. Only one percent of Pinoys then had Internet but text was booming. Telcos then were still cynical about us connecting to them from the Internet,” he recalled. “But now big companies are actually the ones reaching out, wooing innovators.”

Like the young entrepreneurs at IDEASPACE, Chikka, he said had the support of Smart Communications who in 2000 became the first telco to open up their network and subscribers to them.

“Over-the-Top and Over-the-Air”

Despite the many limitations then, Chikka was far ahead of its time as they came up with an Over-the-Top (OTT) to Over-the-Air (OTA) solution – PC to text. Meanwhile other global players such as Yahoo, AOL or MSN, were all thinking of mobile instant messengers that run purely “OTT,” – something that didn’t enjoy popularity until recently with the emergence of smartphones.

Moreover, Chikka’s OTT and OTA hybrid enjoyed instant commercial success, with its very sensible revenue model – FREE from the net and a value-added text charge for mobile users.

Chikka was acquired by PLDT-Smart ten years later in 2010.

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