Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

Mark Ruiz changes the face of Philippine industry

Text by: Carren Jao
Published online at Ateneo Alumni Association website ( Sept 20, 2008

WE’VE all been there, sighing deeply in front of our desks and hoping to be anywhere but where we are. While most of us contemplate a different future, there might only be handful that take matters into their own hands- with an exact mix of caution and courage, of course. Mark is one such person.

The saga begins

It was around two years ago, Mark gained an insightful eureka about his current career path. “[I realized] this isn’t what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he relates during one of his innovation workshops. He left a large multinational company and a promising corporate career in order to begin realizing his dream – to create more valuable Filipino jobs. It was a move that surprised his colleagues and, despite counteroffers to stay, he persisted and left the company leaving no safety net below him, meaning he fully resigned with no option to return to the company.

“I did not want a safety net to fall back on because I would always know that that option would be there… and believe me some days I wanted that safety net to be there,” says Mark, clearly and resolutely explaining the reason for his bravery.


While one would naturally assume his instant success at such bravado, it was not the case for Mark. His first attempts at business with partner, Bam Aquino, did not fare as well as he had hoped. They found that while the idea of call centers was touted left and right, the playing field was full of companies that have gone before them and competition was steep.

This initial setback only served to redouble Mark’s efforts. Blessed with a naturally voracious mind and taking a dose of his own innovation medicine, he returned to the drawing board to re-examine what he was all about. He drew upon his own previous experiences as well as a Life’s Directions retreat he attended in some years back. He defined his own identity as an “innovator with soul” and his goal of “creating more valuable Filipino jobs” through education, entrepreneurship and leadership. Though many cynics have shaken their heads in bewilderment at such a fool’s errand, Mark stayed true to his mission believing Marketing guru Seth Godin’s words, “Safe is risky.” Risking his previous seemingly set corporate career for a passion-fueled entrepreneur’s life, he was actually gambling for more profit in terms of finances and fulfillment.

Along with Bam, a partner in three of his businesses, they tapped into the area of education and leadership. They began the WhyNot Forum inspired by TED talks ( in the United States. The WhyNot Forum brings together amazing Filipinos of different backgrounds to talk about their lives and ideas within 18 minutes in the hopes of inspiring Filipinos around the world to “Think new thoughts. Share big dreams. Do Brave things.” He supplemented this with a teaching position in his alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University, touching the lives of the country’s future businessmen by teaching Innovation at the John Gokongwei School of Management.

Ever the businessman, Mark, working with his colleagues, soon began Hapinoy ( bringing the concept of empowerment to the smallest of sari-sari stores. Together with the nation’s leading microfinancing institutions, they were able to help struggling nanays- wives, mothers, sisters- set-up a network of sari-sari stores around the country. By consolidating the needs of small sari-sari stores, they were able to get the much-needed volume to realize discounts given by manufacturers and simultaneously earning the sari-sari storeowners more profit per transaction. By helping build these mircotrepreneurs’s capital, Hapinoy helps uplift the quality of life of the even the smallest sari-sari store owner.

Not content to rest on his laurels, Mark again collaborate with a group of young professionals from the Life’s Directions community and the Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan of the Society of Jesus to take an idea and give it the extra twist it needed to become an innovation. Using seed capital of Php10,000 generously donated by Jeremy Kho, sacrificing his own graduation gift, Rags2Riches was born.

By removing the middle man from the go-to market equation, the Rags2Riches team had already increased the income of the women making rags from scraps in Payatas, one of the most depressed areas in the Philippines-- but it was not enough for Mark and his colleagues. Along with Rajo Laurel, they launched RIIR (, a designer line of tote bags, yoga mats and laptop sleeves among others, transforming these rags into quality Filipino fashion items that go for as much as Php1,500. Quality controls were set-up and the product caught the imagination of the local fashion industry.

Rags2Riches eventually went on to win the Social Enterprise Award at University of San Francisco International Business Plan Competition, an international contest drawing entries from such prestigious schools as Dartmouth, Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford. It truly became a rags-to-riches story – not only for the creative entrepreneurs behind the idea, but also for the toiling mothers of Payatas.

Looking to the future

Mark’s story now reads like every man’s dream life, but he refuses to end there. True to his own gospel, Mark incorporates innovation into his daily life, his mind racing ahead of the curve. His latest ventures now see him broadening his spectrum of social entrepreneurship into high-value services. He partnered with the creative entrepreneurs of Inovent (, an industrial design firm that innovates products and services, creating a holistic experience that Filipino consumers can only fall in love with (think iPod, Starbucks, and IKEA). His other passion project with another group of partners is Kolektib, an innovation and collaboration space in Cubao X wherein he runs innovation workshops with the advocacy of spurring more innovative and creative entrepreneurial startups. It’s his way of paying-it-forward for his blessed entrepreneurial life. How all these will pan out, we can only surmise, based the amazing trail of successes he leaves behind.

Waking up to a beautiful morning

One would naturally shake one’s head in disbelief at the list of Mark’s endeavors and wonders, “Where does he get the time and energy for such pursuits?” But, after spending only minutes with him, one begins to understand that it is genuine passion that fuels him- passion not only for his interests, but for those of the country as well.

“It’s a beautiful thing, to wake up knowing that the things you’re doing are really the things you want to do,” Mark relates. And the Philippines is more than lucky to count this innovator with soul among its ranks, building businesses with a heart for Filipinos.

Curious to hear more? Mark’s thoughts on innovation are continuously streamed through is online blog,


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