Love, survival and transformation

As a husband and businessman, he has experienced how it’s like to be in the ‘eye of the coronavirus.’ His wife, actress Iza Calzado, is now fully recovered from COVID-19 and the company he founded,, is rising to the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

“Your wife’s pneumonia is progressing again… we are planning to transfer her to the ICU… we found a new bacteria strain, which is the hardest to treat… it’s a new economic reality, you have to slash company payroll and Opex...” These are some of the sound bites I remember from the last 10 days of March. My eyes are tearing up as I write this as perhaps only now I’m emotionally processing what happened. 

The 11 nights at the hospital was a rollercoaster of good news one day, bad news another day from various doctors and around-the-clock series of micro-challenges related to ensuring that Iza was eating enough and getting a few hours sleep (she has sleep issues), ensuring that loved ones were being updated on Iza’s condition, ensuring that a big investor signs the final funding agreement (amidst all of the economic uncertainty!) for our company and all throughout, ensuring I was frequently sanitizing and regularly changing in and out of five different components of protective gear. Hats off to the doctors and nurses who endure much of this every day. I was at least fortunate enough to be allowed to stay with my wife and care for her (the rules on this became stricter across hospitals after we were discharged).

When Iza eventually started to show steady recovery (part of me still can’t believe it), I had to make a grim phone call from our hospital room to my leadership team at about slashing salaries and operational costs to ensure the business’ survival in the uncertain times ahead. This triggered another cry session but also relieved some weight from my shoulders as this was the prudent decision for everyone’s future (app users, employees and shareholders) related to the company.

It was time to move fast and break things, an approach that many tech companies can draw upon but not without its own human costs.

My wife and I returned home to quarantine life. When I encountered conversations about people still adjusting to the new life of lockdown in Manila, my joke at the time was “if you need a way to love home quarantine, spend 11 nights at the hospital.”  Although meant to humor, nothing was more true. Iza was recovering well, our helper Donna had taken great care of our family at home  and I was healthy (albeit 10 lbs. lighter). Things were looking up but the next set of challenges were pressing upon me.

The acceleration

I founded about seven years ago with most of my current leadership team also having been with me from the start. The company had seen strong annual growth, mainly on the back of people using our app to enjoy discounts at food and lifestyle service businesses, usually at shopping malls. As a result of lockdown, revenue was shot.

It was time to move fast and break things, an approach that many tech companies can draw upon but not without its own human costs. Our 92-person team scrambled (fun fact: our company name is Scrambled Eggs) to quickly launch a CSR campaign to raise money for frontliner meals and launch another campaign called SupportPH to help support local businesses stricken with cash flow issues by selling discounted vouchers and GCs for them. (Please visit, you will be helping our business, too!).

The remaining prescription is also becoming clearer but the fast-changing environment still forces us to constantly re-evaluate what we’re doing.

We also got working on a significant opportunity to build a platform for restaurants and other service businesses to power their online ordering and payments. People weren’t at malls but they were all at home so this was a no brainer. The amount of work across a company to plan, productize, bring to market and grow usage for these new products, cannot be enumerated without some feeling of queasiness. Both the vouchers and our new online ordering platform are both very exciting lead products for Booky now but will remain a lot of work for the foreseeable future.

Product innovations aside, perhaps the most challenging but impactful company rebuilding exercise we’re currently engaged in is looking at ourselves in the mirror and asking what leadership qualities, techniques and strategies are required to get us to where we need to be. So much strain at the company, so many disturbing things happening locally and overseas, all compounded by everyone having to work from home, are just a few of the factors weighing on employee health, happiness and productivity. 

Part of the solution we’re seeing now is doing the basics well, like structured communication to ensure everyone consistently has context on what each other is going through and helping everyone feel connected to our vision. The remaining prescription is also becoming clearer but the fast-changing environment still forces us to constantly re-evaluate what we’re doing. It’s an unprecedented challenge for us and most other companies. The Last Dance on Netflix provided us with some timely insight and inspiration on the topic of team winning but business is a harder game as the rules and playing field can quickly change, as we’re experiencing now.

I couldn’t be prouder of my team who are rallying together around Booky’s mission of helping Filipinos live their best lives and proving that we’re one of the most innovative tech companies in the Philippines. Not everyone at our company may see it yet, but the pandemic has been a powerful catalyst for our personal growth and expanding our role as enablers for digital transformation in the country. 

Inner game

I’m sharing below a journal entry I wrote the day before Iza was admitted to the hospital and tested for COVID-19, just as her condition started to peak. As some background, I’ve been journaling and dabbling in different mindfulness techniques over the past few years in order to keep a healthy mind. The structure of my daily morning journal requires writing three things I’m grateful for, three important things I want to achieve today and three self-affirmations. This allows me to take stock and it sets me up for a good day. This is what I wrote:

Thursday 19th March

I am so grateful

      • that Iza was feeling slightly better last night
      • that I have such dedicated leaders across my company
      • for blue skies and fresh air

Today will be great when

      • we diagnose Iza
      • Iza feels a bit better
      • my team are focused on producing helpful informational content

I am disciplined. 

I am focused.

I am healthy. 

When I look back at the past few months, this habit of practicing gratitude and perspective, and the constant self-reminders of being disciplined and focused (my daily self-affirmations on this rarely change), were all fundamental to my mental clarity and happiness. There’s always a silver lining and there’s always important work to be done. I am grateful that I have these tools and I hope that everyone has tools of their own. Last but not least, Iza and I were so blessed to receive an abundance of support and prayers from our friends and loved ones.

Iza’s recovery was nothing short of a miracle and this happened because of greater collective energy at work. Iza and I are forever grateful to all of you. I have been witness to these difficult times bringing out the best in people and so I’m optimistic that we will all get through this, together. 

Now, back to work.


Edited by Rica Delfinado

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