MBA Student

Paul Yap

MBA ’24
Paul Yap, MBA ’24
Paul Yap, MBA ’24
How could people like my parents get access to technology to plug into this digital economy?
May 7, 2024

Paul Yap first learned business working in his parents’ Manila store, selling everything from cigarettes to shampoo, stocking shelves, taking inventory, helping his father order products, and working the cash register.

“What I enjoyed most was being a cashier, understanding consumers, what they do for a living, how their kids are,” says Yap. He hopes to build a business of his own that helps other small businesses in his native Philippines access technologies that can help them grow. “That helped me understand their psyches more. Even as a kid I just enjoyed talking to people.”

He brought that ground-level appreciation for entrepreneurship to Stanford, and says he intends to apply what he’s learned at Stanford GSB to small enterprises all over the Philippines in much the same ways he already has helped his own family prosper.

Tell us how the internet and online gaming broadened your world as a kid in Manila.

I had a narrow sense of the world growing up. My parents and aunt had a small store, and we lived in a one-bedroom apartment above the store. That was my notion of the world — the store, our apartment upstairs, and the small neighborhood I was surrounded by. One day my friend dragged me to an internet cafe, and we played this game called RuneScape. It was so fun. I was always fascinated by stories and sci-fi. I love Lord of the Rings. I love Narnia. I love Star Wars. Playing this game felt like a next level of immersion for me. It was a new world I was exploring that was beyond where I was.

Tell us more about your family’s business, and the most persistent challenges in running it.

When you have limited people and resources, you have to be gritty and entrepreneurial. I remember my aunt and my mom and dad would explore different things to sell based on different months of the year. For example at Christmas — Filipinos love Christmas — we would sell new items like Christmas baskets, which now is common but 20 years ago I didn’t see those baskets available in supermarkets. I packed those for Christmas, and that became a new product line we created. We also tried selling frozen food. We tried selling home appliances. We were constantly looking for new things to expand into because consumer needs changed. To sustain a small business, you can’t do the same thing all the time.

Did that broad experience help shape your approach to business school?

It informed how I approach the world, how I approach leadership, and how I approach entrepreneurship. No. 1 is being open to different opportunities and generally being curious about people. I remember when I joined Boston Consulting, I didn’t know anything about consulting. I fell into it by chance. It’s a white-collar job, and no one in my family is a professional, much less a consulting-level professional. But I had this curiosity to learn the job, and I talked to managers all the time about how I could improve, and talked to clients about how I could help and add value. That level of honesty helped me build relationships with my clients and helped me succeed.

You want to build a business offering “low-cost enterprise resource planning systems” to small businesses in the Philippines. Why?

I see the impact small businesses have on people in society. Small businesses constitute almost one-third to one-half of the economy of my country, and that’s similar to other parts of the world. When everything was being shut down during Covid, my family store had no access or backup plans. I was working in the digital sector of BCG, and they had an army of consultants helping them transition to the future. But who was helping my parents out? How could people like my parents get access to technology to plug into this digital economy? We need better infrastructure to make it accessible to small businesses.

Any specific technologies you hope to bring to those businesses with your envisioned company?

I worked with the largest mobile wallet player in the Philippines, and when I first joined that project in 2018-2019 there were very few end users for that product. But I worked with them for two years, and Covid really helped that company grow. Now, more than 80% of Filipinos are using mobile wallets. If you go to the Philippines, even humble little kiosks like somebody selling street food are using QR codes to pay without cash. It’s also easier to sell online with a mobile wallet. Working on that project, I thought, “Whoa, we’re just scratching the surface here.”

Have your goals evolved since coming to GSB?

“Tech has huge power to democratize access for more people.”

A lot. I’d never been to Silicon Valley or America. I was curious about what I could learn here to take back to my country. Coming to Stanford vastly expanded my horizon. Every day I learn about so many new technologies I frankly didn’t know existed. For example, I had a broad notion of what AI is, but I never understood it in depth. Now, I’m interacting with engineers every day to understand how it might impact markets like mine, or even other technologies like EVs and spatial computing. These are all things I didn’t have a conception of two years ago when I wrote my admissions essay. I had a deep belief that tech has huge power to unlock access or democratize access for more people, but there are just so many new technologies I’m wrapping my head around. My horizon is now 10X, but my mission is still the same.

What did you learn during your time with the Boston Consulting Group that’ll help you build your business?

I joined to help build BCG in the Philippines at an interesting time. There were two partners when I started and they hired me and a couple of others to see the vision through. I learned the need to be curious and open to new experiences. I also learned the importance of leadership and being a great mentor. My manager at BCG was a great coach for me in terms of interacting with clients and understanding their needs, navigating my way through different hoops in the organization, and leading and influencing people better.

How did your internship at Discord support your overall plan for starting your business?

I’ve always been curious about how companies in Silicon Valley operate and their best practices, to improve the ecosystem in my country and Southeast Asia in general. I was working on two projects at Discord. First was helping them think about how to grow their user base beyond their core segment, gamers. Second was working with their product team to improve revenue models for their subscription product, “Nitro.” It was a great learning experience to interact with leaders in Silicon Valley and understand their philosophies, the tools they use when thinking about growth, and how they build high-functioning, collaborative, and passionate teams.

You’ve talked about how the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) group was important in helping you feel welcome at Stanford. Why was that important?

I had no family or friends here, and it was a completely new environment. I was also the only Filipino in my class. I was looking for a sense of belonging, and AAPI was one of those early communities where I felt welcome. It’s very diverse; all sorts of Asians come to Stanford from India, Pakistan, China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore. For a lot of them it was also their first time in this country, and they became my close friends because of our similar journey. While we looked different, we shared values — family, community, and big dreams. We care about impact. I’m at the stage now where I’m finding more and more communities at Stanford, but that initial community unlocked my confidence and convinced me there are more similarities than differences.

Any particular classes at GSB that have been especially helpful?

One course is called Riding the Next Wave in Emerging Markets, and the premise is learning about different tech ecosystems. We covered Southeast Asia, Latin America, India, Africa. It was interesting to see the dynamics of those different regions, their similarities and differences. Most people think innovation comes first from Silicon Valley and spreads across the world, but it actually can come from a humble market like Rwanda, in the case of Zipline, where you can start with a blank slate and apply those learnings in other markets.

Another course, Learning How to be an Effective Coach, was part of the Arbuckle Leadership Fellows Program. I was coaching nine first-year MBA students, and my professor was coaching me. I learned to think about how I could be better at holding space for others and be empathetic, and at the same time, be effective at challenging people and help them reach their potential.

Photos by Elena Zhukova

Paul Yap, MBA ’24
Paul Yap
MBA ’24
Manila, Philippines
BS, Management Engineering, Ateneo de Manila University
Professional Experience
Strategy Lead, Discord, San Francisco
Senior Consultant, Boston Consulting Group, Manila
Finance Manager, Procter & Gamble, Manila
Current Profile