Dubai: A Dubai-based Filipino entrepreneur has tapped on Filipinos' love for social media to create an online platform that caters to the specific needs of his fellow overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
Louie Romero, 41, says his social media platform, Picstagram, draws inspiration from the social media giant Facebook as well as other success stories in the tech world.

“I am one of the fans who watched the documentary on how they built the platform,” Romero tells Gulf News #Pinoy. “I watched their struggles, how they overcame the struggles and the strategy that they employed.”

Romero created Picstagram in 2015 and launched it on February 26, 2016. He adds: “[I was inspired by] how Facebook, Alibaba and Apple overcome the test, financially, emotionally and physically, just to achieve their dreams.”

He hoped his own Picstagram would be embraced by the more than half a million Filipinos living in the UAE, who are one of the major sources of user traffic in the digital world, and around 10 million Filipinos around the world who use social media to keep in touch with loved ones back home. 

Initially, Romero just wanted to create a simple e-card platform, but while writing and testing the program, he was flooded by requests to include more social interactivity features. 

“During the concept, it was totally an e-card platform, where people can send greetings to their friends, families or loved ones,” says the Mark Zuckerberg wannabe who has lived in Dubai since 2002. “But when we launched the website, there were so many requests to build it like Facebook or LinkedIn where users can communicate with each other. So from the original concept, we turned it into a social media platform.”

Romero says part of the first investments into the project came from the OFWs, particularly from domestic helpers who were looking for a way to invest their hard-earned money. “These people are the ones who inspired me to create such a business model; they can embrace and call it their own investment.”
Romero says part of his initial wave of funding came from people who invested as little as Dh200 for a share in the company.
Romero reveals more in this Q&A:

How similar or different is Picstagram from Facebook and other social media platforms?

Picstagram was segmented into three [main social activities]: play, where everyone can play unlimited games; earn, where everyone has a chance to earn in many ways such as contests from referral links; and socialise.
At the current time, we are almost the same as the other social media platforms, but we will definitely introduce unique features this year. Once you log in the platform, you can join the contests or share your affiliate link so you can earn. You’ll earn through Picstagram contests that we have every month, which offers a minimum prize of $100.

How is the reception so far? What comments do you usually get from the users?

We have a very positive feedback, but it is always being compared to Facebook. In 2016 we started with 200 users, slowly we grew to almost 2,000 users [who] accessed [Picstagram] in 63 different countries. The majority of the traffic comes from Philippines and the UAE, then we have users in Canada, the US and some parts of Europe.

How useful it is for the people, especially for Filipinos, aside from networking?

Earning and personal development are where we really concentrating now.

What are the conditions to join Picstagram?

We strictly follow the policy imposed in each country. All the terms and conditions of other social network platform [are also in place], as we are almost the same in terms of services.

What is the biggest challenge of creating Picstagram?

Funding. To operate such a platform, you will need to invest on your server. This is where the cost is all about. Your website or app should be fast as much as possible to keep the users coming back. We only had $41,000 when we started, and bought back almost 75 per cent of the shares from the investors with each share earning almost 50 per cent from the initial investment. That's what matters to me most, to make sure that every investment will earn, and make things possible to deliver what we have promised.

What do you think it takes for a social media platform to make it big such as Facebook?

You should understand what the users need and want, and deliver it to them for free, plus make a difference and stand out.

What are your tips on how to properly use social media and to prevent abuse?

Every user should not abuse the freedom of speech. Cyber bullying is rampant and it will take time to sort this out. This should be addressed with high importance.

Are there mechanisms in place to help prevent certain people from using Picstagram in an abusive manner, such as cyber bullying?

Any social media company doesn't have the control what the user might post. We can minimise [the impact] but we cannot stop it. We will be redesigning the platform gradually and educate the users on how to use it properly and also help them earn and develop their professional skills.

After Picstagram, what's next for you?

Deliver what I have promised and make this dream come to reality.