A good-looking couple, George Royeca and his wife, Angeline Tham do not only love each other. They also work together as partners in Angkas, which they founded three years ago to provide motorcycle ride service to commuters, legions of whom need to reach their destinations on time, be these their offices, homes or business appointments.
Together, George, Angkas Chief Transport Advocate, and Angeline Tham, CEO and co-founder, visited the Daily Tribune office and guested in Spotlight, the online lifestyle show of Tribune hosted by lifestyle editor Dinah Sabal Ventura and society editor and columnist Jojo Silvestre.
Daily Tribune (DT): How did you come up with the name “Angkas?”
George Royeca (GR): Definitely, she didn’t (laughter). We brainstormed. We came up with a list of several names, from the mundane to simple to words with double meanings, until Angkas became the word. We’re glad that we’re the first to be able to get it. It suits all sectors. It has a good recall.
DT: We heard somewhere that you met in a bar.
AT: You are well-informed.
GR: In my previous life, I was working with the Singapore government. We were their partners in the Philippines. We hosted a bunch of official Singapore events for entrepreneurs. We decided that since we were all young and it would be nice to change the venue, we held the business conference in a bar. The bar was in the Global City. It’s not there anymore.
DT: But you two are forever.
AT: Actually, he invited me to dinner the next night. I thought it was business-related. So, I brought my business partner who’s also a girl.
GR: In my mind, why do you have a companion? But from there, our relationship developed.
DT: I’d like to know why you thought of this kind of business.
GR: It’s not an original idea. You find them in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. She was also heading the Grab Bike business, but they decided to shut it down. We saw the potential. Despite the regulatory issues, and considering the social impact it could have on the country, we decided to move it forward.
The idea behind Angkas is not really to create something new. We only wanted to professionalize the existing habal-habal. They’re saying they’re only in the provinces. That is not true. In Manila alone, there are 200 terminals. There are 18 million motorcycles versus three million cars. Half of the three million cars are in Manila. It was high time to professionalize the industry. We saw that need, that problem.
AT: People are using it anyway, and we really wanted to find a safe way to empower the people to make decisions for themselves (to take that ride).
GR: Traffic is not just an economic issue. It is a social issue. The truth is, it is difficult to visit a boyfriend or girlfriend if you live in Alabang and you have to see them in Quezon City (laughter). It’s funny but it’s true. One’s choices are limited because one could not easily go to friends or would-be who live far. That’s your future family. But let’s not just talk about social life. Also, school and work.
DT: I’m curious about you, Angeline. What were you doing before you two became partners in business?
AT: I was running an auction e-commerce website before I came to the Philippines and met him. So, we had operations in Singapore and Malaysia, and then we eventually partnered with his company, also to do business here in the Philippines.
DT: How about you, George? What was your main line of business?
GR: It was Information Technology. I’ve been in IT along time ago, it feels like one is a dinosaur already.
DT: Was it easy shifting from what you were doing before to transport?
GR: The tech side and the operational side were easy. It’s the regulatory side that’s a little bit more complicated. Because now you have to deal with public interest. And that’s something that we did not know how to manage. Well, that was because of our ignorance, we came in, and then… But we’re glad we are in this. It’s now somewhat of a more accepted thing to take the Angkas to reach one’s destination. We’re grateful that through the course of the three-year journey, people got to accept this as a good form of alternative transportation.
AT: It used to be that people did not want to tell their friends about it. But now, they go, “Oh my gosh, how am I going to do without it?”
GR: It used to be that we would ask them to post their pic in the social media. They refused because they did not want their friends to know that they were taking Angkas. But now, they take their selfie while they’re riding on an Angkas motorcycle.
DT: How did you manage to change the perception, the image?
GR: Marketing did it. Advocacy did it.
AT: I think also running the service well.
DT: And with that kind of traffic, even these glamorous girls would rather take the Angkas, I guess.
AT: We have a lot of models.
GR: As well as people in the entertainment industry. These musicians and singers who need to be on time for their gigs. Or these models rushing to their “go sees.”
AT: Oh, we should give some tips to those who have not ridden before. If you tell the rider it’s your first time, they will give you tips. They will give you a card that tells you how to ride a motorcycle. So, first thing is helmet is the most important safety equipment. Put it on and strap it on. It needs to be two fingers tight. That’s the two-finger rule between the strap and the chin.
DT: Why the two fingers?
GR: If it is too loose, the helmet could fly at an impact. But if it’s two fingers, you don’t get choked, but it’s tight enough to ensure it won’t fly.
AT: Number two, get on the right side because there’s a pipe on the left side. You can hold the rider and get on the bike. And when you’re riding on the bike, be sure you don’t hold the shoulder of the rider because he uses his shoulders to control the bike. You should hold the waist. And if he’s traveling too fast and you don’t feel comfortable, just tap on his shoulder to let him know. Another most important thing is to lean with the biker. Sometimes, people think that because the rider leans toward the right, that they should lean toward the left thinking that would balance the bike. It is best to follow the rider. If you go against him, the bike would not be able to balance.
DT: Another thought. What if the passenger has lice or anything on their head and people use the same helmet?
AT: There’s a shower cap. A face mask is also made available. That is mandatory. We tell passengers to report to us if a rider did not give them their mask and shower cap. Our bikers bring alcohol to sanitize the helmets.
DT: Do you know these guys who drive for you?
GR: Yes. We have a very close community. We meet them on a regular basis. We have biker fiestas, we have safety fiestas. We have meet-ups. We have done about 50 field activities for the last six months. They’re also our singers and writers. That song, “Angkas, Tara Na” was composed by the riders. They’re the ones in our video. It’s a very good community.
Adapting to Philippine life
DT: How did you adapt to the Philippine setting, Angeline? Was it easy for you?
AT: I didn’t leave the house during the first year I lived here. What is this traffic? (laughter) Every time I asked our driver if we were near already, he would say yes, it’s very near already, and half an hour later, I would ask him, aren’t we there yet?
DT: What do you miss about Singapore?
AT: I miss the efficiency. But there are many other things to love in the Philippines.
GR: Philippines is blessed with a lot of challenges. Therefore, it is equally blessed with a lot of opportunities. There are many entrepreneurial opportunities.
DT: So, how do you handle cultural differences?
GR: I take our cultural differences with an open mind. I like the fact that her world is culturally different from ours. You get to be more receptive to a lot of things. There are quite a number of cultural differences between us. Many would see this as a disadvantage but we look at it as an adventure as we learn more about each other and deepen our relationship. Admittedly, it was a bit challenging in the beginning but the two perspectives allow us to bring two worlds of knowledge together and help us become better versions of ourselves. Differences make our relationship stronger.
DT: You definitely are not children of the owners or what people now call COOs. What were you doing before? Are you self-made? How do you look at yourselves?
GR: It’s hard to claim we are self-made. I’m not made yet (laughter). For me, growing up is at least…you know, it’s always talent versus hard work. I was dyslexic growing up. You really have to double up when you’re doing things, reread things. For me, I had to accept the fact that I had to work harder than anybody else. That made the difference.
DT: How about you, Angeline?
AT: I started my life from school as a banker. I kind of followed the Singapore path. One goes to school, and then work. And I never thought I’d be doing my own business.
DT: Does Angkas engage in social responsibility work?
GR: My birthday was last month. We focused on our Taal efforts. Together with the bikers, we went to Batangas and Tagaytay to distribute relief goods. We also partnered with Unilever to distribute hygiene packs and masks. Our drivers form parts of different communities and they work in orphanages, we paint basketball courts, we do clean ups in communities,
AT: We have to give back also, so we support our drivers in their community work.
GR: We give free rides to students in certain hours.
AT: The other day I saw an Angkas biker. It was his birthday so he put a sign stating, “Today is my birthday, your ride is free.” (laughter)
DT: Okay, let’s wind up. What do you intend to do on Valentine’s Day?
GR: I don’t know yet. Maybe a quiet dinner. Some alone time…but I think we will be in evacuation centers from 13 to 15 February. That’s Angeline’s birthday.
DT: What is your advice to couples who may have the same cross-cultural circumstances as yours, and who may also be partners in their own business?
GR: Our advice for couples that work together is to take whatever differences you may have as a major advantage and refine it so that it compliments your working styles to push the business forward. Welcome disagreements because these show several perspectives which are critical to making the right decision. Trust each other because no one else will look out for you more than one another.
DT: It was a pleasure having you both, a good-looking couple who are also business partners making life much easier for our commuters, and a couple who engages in social responsibility work.