What Matters To Me: Shahab Shabibi, Founder Of MyKuya
In the What Matters To Me series, a Generation T honouree describes what they do, why they do it, and why it matters.
Shahab Shabibi wants to get the Philippines working. The Iranian native was only supposed to visit the country for three months; nine years later he’s still around, at the helm of on-demand labour platform MyKuya, which matches people with employment opportunities in a bid to solve the country’s unemployment and underemployment problem. Here, Shabibi introduces his work in his own words.
I started out with a blog back in Iran, where I’m originally from, maybe when I was seven or eight years old. I was blogging about my experiences, and each post would get five to 10 thousand readers. When I was about 13, I started a website with my friends where people from Iran could download music. Since people there don’t speak much English, there was a local version of everything. It was pretty organised; I would say it was a Spotify-like experience, but from 10 years ago. When I was 16, I started a sports media company, again with some friends, and it’s still the number one sports website in the country. So at this point I had a taste of what online, tech-based businesses can do. That’s when I came to the Philippines. My parents are diplomats who were posted here. I was supposed to just stay for a three-month vacation—now it’s been nine years.
I realised that there are so many basic problems that surround us here, and it got me thinking. I thought I was doing great businesses but the reality is that I was just dealing with entertainment, while there were real problems waiting to be solved in the Philippines. I thought of building tech-based companies to enable scale and accessibility, which this country needs.
A lot of people say you have to be at the right place at the right time, but I think you have to be at the right place all the time.
— Shahab Shabibi
I teamed up with Farouk Meralli, founder of health-tech company mClinica, to build Machine Ventures, a venture capital company. We started building HeyKuya, which was an SMS-based personal assistance service born out of the pain of getting things done. Six months down that journey, we ended up selling 100 percent of the company to an Indonesian player. It became the fastest exit story in the Philippines. It was a pretty good opportunity to fund and build more businesses, and got us very good attention. We started MyKuya upon realising that there is a big unemployment and underemployment issue in the Philippines that isn’t being solved, and the country is very much a labour economy. MyKuya is an on-demand labour platform that enables people and companies to hire people they need. Our goal is very clear—we want to create one million job opportunities over the next five years.
Patience is necessary. We’ve achieved success quickly, and it has been such a blessing. It makes us wonder: why isn’t the employment problem solved yet? But the journey is a long one, and it takes a lot of patience. A lot of people say you have to be at the right place at the right time, but I think you have to be at the right place all the time.