Fascinating Women: PICK.A.ROO CEO And Co-Founder Crystal Gonzalez
As a tech boss who built a thriving career in an industry traditionally dominated by men, she raises the bar for what it means to be a woman supporting other women
"We are more what?" was all Crystal Gonzalez's daughter had to say when she, CEO and c0-founder of Filipino-developed shopping and delivery app PICK.A.ROO, showed her the video of her big work presentation for International Women's Month.
The question was in response to PICK.A.ROO's first-ever International Women's Month's campaign—#WeAreMore.
"We are more what?" she asked Crystal again, to which this tech boss and mommy of two (soon to be three) replied," I explained to her in six-year-old language—that you're a woman, you're a girl and you are more. You can be more. You can be anything you want to be. You can feel whatever you want to feel. You can do whatever you want to do, and no one should tell you otherwise."
"And then she got it, at six," Crystal laughs.
It's the same message that Crystal and her business partner, Megaworld's Kevin Tan, wish to send about PICK.A.ROO itself as an organization. The app that's the first of its kind within the Philippine setting is soaring to new heights and it's precisely because they committed to do and be more for users—and then delivered on the promise with flying colors even more vibrant than those in their unicorn logo's mane.
"I think people assume that [PICK.A.ROO is] just food or grocery, and then they look inside the app and they're like, 'Oh my gosh, I can buy slippers! I can buy [other things]!' And to be honest, I feel like it's the same as how women are," Crystal begins.
"I always got this before... Before the pandemic, I'd be at an event, and they'd say 'What do you do?' And I'd say, [I do this for work], and they're like, 'And you're also a mom?' Parang it's shocking. You assume that because I live this tech life, I have a career, and I have two kids and they're young [that I can't do other things]. I think that's the key message that I want to impart: that you can be more, you can do more, you can be everything and anything you want to be exactly because you're a woman," she smiles.
We tell Crystal's story as an empowered woman and entrepreneur who has lived through both painful failures and tremendous successes as part of our "Fascinating Women" campaign in celebration of Women's Month this year . Through her experiences, we see how women surpass expectations and in the process, raise the bar for what kinds of dreams women everywhere can hope to achieve.
Queen of tech
Crystal knows her way around her tech. She's the anti-thesis to the helpless, gadget-savvy man-dependent picture of women who buy phones for their cuteness factor, so much so that she's now the proud CEO and co-founder of PICK.A.ROO, the first Filipino-developed shopping and delivery app that's quickly becoming everyone's pandemic needs savior. In her choice of career alone and the success she has carved for herself, she has defied the odds.
Her resume says it all, really. Her springboard to making it as a tech boss began as far back as when she was a grad student, first interning at PLDT and then landing her post-Master's job at Smart. Her employers who followed were internationally-owned firms—Yahoo, Lazada, Tribal Worldwide, Viber, Canva, and Honestbee.
She went on to become Lazada's head of branding, then went off to Viber, an Israel-developed messaging app, she became the first-ever non-Israeli employee to be hired and wrapped up her four-year stint with them as Southeast Asia's regional head. And at Singapore's Honestbee, she served as its country managing director and throughout the app's lifetime, Crystal worked hard to make the Philippines its top-performing country. And finally, she's also had experience as the Philippines and Southeast Asia CEO for Canva, an Australian computer software developer, and is now the proud CEO and co-founder of PICK.A.ROO.
To think that even in this day and age, so many still believe that women and tech are like a round peg in a square hole.
"Since I started my career in a male-dominated industry... I didn't know [how to be], otherwise. So, how I dealt with it was just I took it as a challenge to be better, to be the best that I can be exactly because I was different," Crystal shares.
"I was not a man, so I knew that I had to perform and go through the challenges... I felt like it made me step up to the challenge and try to prove myself more exactly because I wasn't man. I think I used it to fuel me to be more passionate and to try to do better," she tells us.
Fortunately for Crystal, her places of work always had room for gender diversity in its top tiers; women were not subconsciously reduced to become support of male colleagues, are free to compete for the best positions, and are not thought of as less capable. But at the same time, work didn't go easy on them. Just because they were women didn't mean that they were protected from the pressures of crunch time or excluded from the heat of having to innovate and beat competitors. Crystal's response to this? Bring it on—even if it means coming prepared to a board meeting armed with figures and reports, plus a breast pump and a nursing scarf (like she's done in the past).
Over the years, her collective work history has made her realize one very important thing. It's not only that women can do the job as well as men, but that they can address blind spots that men being men fail to anticipate and factor in. With the unique experiences of being a mother, a wife, a person with different hobbies and interests, and a career woman on top of all that, female leaders are able to bring something to the table that men can't, and in the case of PICK.A.ROO, she's almost sure that this not-so-secret secret ingredient was what perfected the app's success formula.
The dream team making the dream work
Crystal's last working gig before PICK.A.ROO was at Honestbee. She loved it there, no doubt, and she was truly heartbroken when she was given much of the responsibility to literally shut down operations in the Philippines and bid farewell to her team. After all, it's rare to love what you do and also lead a team that feels the same way and envisions the same grand things for the future. But for Crystal in particular, the time was doubly painful. Honestbee's closure coincided with a miscarriage.
"Anything hard you experience in life, like a loss or breakup, lahat ng masakit, if you're sad, you can cry, but what's more important is how you get back up and move on. I just always believe that things that happen like that... [they're] not meant to make you stop or to pull you down. [They're] meant to make you stronger," she reflects.
And so she took some time off to recover from the twin losses in her life, but in the mind of this achiever was not a longing for once what was, but plans on recreating, rebuilding, and improving.
She was back to the drawing board sooner than later and in her conceptualizations for what to do next, she took everything she loved about Honestbee and strengthened the knowledge she had figured out was missing from the picture.
She eventually found Kevin Tan, too. The Megaworld Corp. CEO became her partner in her passion project and just like that, a match made in corporate heaven was made. Her expertise in digital paired with his mastery of offline retail and them both knowing the pulse of the Filipino consumer well was pure business magic.
Crystal recalls, "Since day one that we met and brainstormed, from the time he shared this plan and vision for how we wanted to create an app, even his version of what he wanted to do, it was already aligned since day one with what I personally wanted to achieve and do."
So what was it that Crystal wanted to do, exactly?
She wanted an app that would be a one-stop shop for everything, and she meant everything. Most popular shopping and delivery apps (and websites) today focus on just one thing, be it food or apparel, cosmetics or pet needs, homeware or medicine. For the consumer, that meant spending for multiple delivery fees, endlessly scrolling through multiple interfaces, and keeping track of different delivery dates. Crystal was having none of that.
She wanted a digital shopping space where people—most especially the women who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic's work-from-home life where they are simultaneously tutors, caregivers, cooks, cleaners, moms, wives and more—could enjoy the most convenient and complete online shopping experience to date and be given access to all of their favorite brands, restaurants, and shops all at once—and with just a few hours of delivery time, to boot.
It was a chance to prove that the Philippines could become a rightful leader in the tech industry. With so many creative talents in the country and even more opportunities to innovate, the window was wide open.
But Crystal knew she couldn't do it alone, even with Kevin Tan by her side.
And so, she rounded up the old Honestbee gang. She was ecstatic to know that they were more than happy to back her up on her start-up, even though it meant truly starting from zero, all the way down from picking the app logo's colors.
The result of this shared effort and passion for serving the Filipino and wanting to push the Philippines up and forward in the tech scene is nothing short of impressive.
PICK.A.ROO was born in August 2020.
And in just seven months, PICK.A.ROO has partnered with well, practically everyone in the metro. You'll find merchants like McDonald's and Wildflour, Beyond the Box and Dyson, The Face Shop and Mothercare. Hotel food and S&R products are also available for delivery with PICK.A.ROO, plus your needs from Toy Kingdom, True Value, and soon, Apple, Office Warehouse, and Mia Maison among so many others (more than 800 brand to be exact).
More importantly, Crystal wants everyone to know that not only heavyweight brands make it to the the PICK.A.ROO lineup.
"From what I remember, I think 40 to 50% [of our brands] are actually SMEs... There's really equal billing for even SMEs as long as you're legit and trusted. That was very important for us, especially because our main driver for doing this is that passion for being able to race that Filipino flag," she explains.
In terms of numbers, Crystal notes a 600% increase in sales and 650% increase in orders. A regional expansion looks like it will be soon be in the works, too.
She's also pregnant with her third child at the moment.
Crystal has a lot to celebrate.
OG boss lady
For Crystal, a lot of where she is today is built on the life her mother allowed her to have. Sacrifice is the word she uses to talk about where she is now, thanks to her mom.
"My mom, she worked in a bank for a long time. And then when she gave birth... she had to give it up and [she] decided together with my dad that it was just better that she stayed home and took care of us. Knowing her story, and seeing how she had to make that sacrifice, I think that's what inspired me to try to change it," Crystal reveals.
It's a story that resonates with many Filipino children, sons and daughters alike—the feeling of owing their freedom, privilege, and success to a parent's selflessness and not wanting to waste that.
"It's our mom actually who's really been pushing us to be this type of woman who doesn't need to do what she did. So for me, it's more like, instead of [it being] an inspiring story, it's really more like a challenge again in being able to fulfill the dreams that my mom didn't get to do... I think she instilled in us at a very early age that you don't have to do that, [that] you're at a different time now. You can be so much more," Crystal shares.
Crystal is confident she's made her mother's sacrifices worth it. Not only because of her personal gains, but because she's doing well by other women, too, in PICK.A.ROO—women whose experiences might mirror that of her mother's, women who might not have the same familial support, women who might also be dreaming for a better future for their children.
This Women's Month is the first that PICK.A.ROO is celebrating. To do so, they launched their #WeAreMore campaign to prove this point exactly and show how businesses can support women in very real ways.
Being self-made is probably one of the things about herself that Crystal is most proud of.
In her words, "I grew up looking at magazines and [seeing] all society type, and for some reason I was made to think that [I needed to be like that]. I mean, my family was okay, but we weren't society material. And as I was growing up, even in college, I had that insecurity that I didn't study abroad, that I didn't have the last name... I don't want that for my daughter. I want her to grow up really seeing stories like what we [at PICK.A.ROO] share."
And at PICK.A.ROO, many of the businesses they partner with were started and are owned by women who live and breathe being self-made. There are female entrepreneurs there who really started from nothing, with no entrepreneurial experience, no idea that they would one day own a nationally recognized business, no clue as to how to compete in the market—and yet they made it in order for us to enjoy brands like Mary Grace, The Moment Group, Sonjas Cupcakes, Havaianas, and a lot more.
And as Crystal mentioned, SMEs are on equal footing with these bigger players, many of which are owned by mom entrepreneurs or women making their first steps towards financial independence and instilling pride in themselves by being able to monetize their passions.
The fact that Megaworld, PICK.A.ROO's biggest investor, can boast that 60% of its leaders are women is also something Crystal wants to highlight.
All of these things put together are the soul of PICK.A.ROO's #WeAreMore Women's Month campaign.
Women are more than what they or others believe they are, and they can certainly be more than expectations, convention, and tradition.
Fascinating women now and tomorrow
PICK.A.ROO might be an online space, but it represents a shift in attitudes towards what women are capable of that Crystal wants to manifest in the real world.
"With the technology and the digitization of everything, you are really able to know more, whether it's you actually doing more in career or even just speaking about it, now you can. We don't live in a time where you say something as a female and you get shut down," she says.
"We're living in a different time where we're actually free to do it. It's almost like an injustice if you don't, because for the longest time like my mom, they didn't have the choice to be honest. They didn't really have that much choice to really be more or do more and be fascinating enough to maximize their capabilities. Now that women of our generation can, you really have to take advantage of that opportunity," she advises.
Crystal dreams of a future where being a woman actually living life according to her own terms is normal—where revealing that you are a CEO but also a homemaker is normal, where having children or choosing a career while not getting married is normal, where being past retirement age but still choosing to work is normal.
"My hope is that these fascinating women evolve already in terms of what fascinating means," Crystals points out.
In theory, women already know that they can be fascinating in many new and original ways. They know they can rebel against standards and they know they're armed with the hammer to shatter the glass ceiling. However, sometimes, what it takes is a role model to show them the way. All it might take is one woman to push the envelope, and with Crystal's experience and motivations, it's an envelope whose contents will be read by people far and wide.
Family photos courtesy of Crystal Gonzalez / Profile photo courtesy of PICK.A.ROO