Filipino millennial wins global clients

Monolith Growth Ventures Pte. Ltd. founder and managing director  Kenn Francis Costless.
Monolith Growth Ventures Pte. Ltd. founder and managing director Kenn Francis Costless.

A 27-year-old Filipino entrepreneur, who used to work for Procter & Gamble’s regional headquarters in Singapore where he helped relaunch the Safeguard brand, is now making a mark in the field of digital marketing, with Australian, US and European companies as his first clients.

In its first year of operation, Monolith Growth Ventures Pte. Ltd., a company established by Kenn Francis Costales and incorporated in Singapore, realized P6 million in revenues and employed seven full-time staff in the Philippines earning in Singapore dollars.

“Monolith is a digital marketing agency.  What we do is in the digital space.  One part of it is ad buying.  We also do copy writing and design,” Costales says in an interview at a coffee shop in Mandaluyong City.

“One of the reasons why we first served US clients was because they are already prepared for digital marketing. They are asking for it.  And the sales cycle—or the process from contacting a lead to closing them—is very short at five to eight weeks.  In the Philippines, it is different.  You have to talk to the vice president, and you have to educate them on the benefits of digital marketing.  It will take five to eight months,” he says.

“Our clients are mostly based in the United States and Australia. But we are now starting to look at the Philippines,” says Costales, who grew up in Davao City.  He studied in Ateneo de Manila University where he obtained Bachelor of Arts in Economics, a degree loaded with Math and statistics, he says. That enabled him to land a job in P&G, one of the world’s largest consumer good companies.

P&G hired him as a fresh graduate of Ateneo in 2011 for his analytical skills and after passing a seven-step interview process.  He became a foreign direct hire in Singapore where he would stay and work for the next four and a half years.

At P&G, Costales led the global brand refresh of Safeguard in China, the Philippines, Pakistan and Mexico which generated $25 million in additional revenue for the business in its first year. He also led the business turnaround for Gillette Bangladesh which grew 50 percent in seven months and was responsible for revamping the pricing and distribution strategy for Olay Philippines.

Costales says his stint at P&G armed him with knowledge on finance and legal services.  “Brand management at P&G is not just marketing, but about everything.  You learn about finance, legal and R&D.  A brand manager is a business manager also,” he says.

Once he had enough savings, he left his prestigious job to pursue his original dream of establishing his own business. “Ever since I was 14 or 15, I wanted to go to business. I want to have the flexibility that other entrepreneurs enjoy.  I realize that businessmen could be flexible with their time.  So I decided that once I’m old enough and once I have enough experience, I am going to run my own business,” says Costales, who finished grade school and high school at Ateneo de Davao.

To prepare for his own business, Costales learned programming and coding.  Armed with new skills, he tried several ventures, including a ride services application in Cebu, but they did not take off as fast as he hoped.  “My long-term goal is to play into software, because digital and software are the future,” he says.

“There are other side projects that also failed.  I partnered with a  few people before, but our projects did not work out.  Good thing I had my savings which I projected would last for two years.  I invested in mutual funds and forex,” he says.

Costales also started a blog on growth hacking, which is about digital marketing.  “It came to a point that some people were asking my advice and help for marketing.  I started getting requests through my blog, asking if I were offering services?  I said okay, why not?  That’s how Monolith started,” he says.

“For some reason, people from the US and Australia were the ones who asked for my services,” says Costales.

Monolith was incorporated in Singapore.  “Compared to the Philippines, the process of incorporation is much faster in Singapore..  There is an agency in Singapore that incorporates companies and provides accounting services.  I engaged them and they informed me about the process for foreigners.  Their only requirements were a virtual office address and a resident director who is based in Singapore,” says Costales.

Costales describes Monolith as a digital marketing agency that helps clients increase their exposure in the digital space.  The technology-enabled startup uses internal proprietary software to algorithmically optimize the marketing campaigns of clients for higher return on investments.

It buys, develops and optimizes digital ads such as banner displays on Google, Facebook, Amazon and Bing for clients. In its first year of operations, Monolith helped more than 20 clients grow their online presence and exceed their revenue and ROI targets.

Monolith generates about P600,000 to P700,000 in revenues a month, growing 30 percent to 40 percent every quarter.  “For next year, we set a target like P50 million.  But I really have to make it full blast,” says Costales.

“Most digital marketing agencies only focus on generating traffic and awareness for their clients through campaigns. We focus on our clients’ revenue and ROI by building the full marketing funnel that goes beyond mere advertising and involves landing page optimization and CRM [customer relationship management] development. We’ve also built internal ad optimization software to enable us to get more revenue, faster,” he says.

Among his clients is The WOD Life AU, Australia’s leading fitness e-commerce brand which generated $1 million in additional revenue through Facebook ads in eight months with a 10-to-1 return on ad spend.

“With our client in Australia, we did so well that they were able to hire their own marketing person.  We helped them become so successful that they could hire their own marketing team. At least we had a good relationship with them.  At the end of the day, the goal is to empower businesses to grow,” says Costales.

In the US, Monolith helped  Arthur Murray USA, the world’s largest chain of dance studios, generate three times more monthly qualified leads, which helped them further expand the chain in the Midwest.

Now, Costales hopes to establish his name in his home country and give back to society by mentoring companies for their digital marketing efforts.  He says it is easier to approach foreign clients because digital marketing is not yet fully developed in the Philippines.

“If you are new, and you are still building your name, you have to give a lot.  Once you get that first few clients, that would snowball. Reputation is getting built and you start to get referrals from clients.  Only then can you charge higher.  So we conduct workshops and speakerships in conferences.  It is about building your reputation at first, and business will come afterwards eventually,” he says.

“Local marketing in the Philippines is still more about likes, engagements, shares. So I think I can position myself with better offerings.  While others offer likes or shares, we guarantee certain revenue numbers.  I expect this positioning to help in better buying,” says Costales.

Monolith uses a formula in computing the return on investment.  “It is traffic times conversion rate.  Conversion rate is the percentage of people who buy in their sites.  It is different by industry and by price.  The goal is the ROI,” he says.

“Hopefully with that I can get more local leads.  For the long term, I want local clients.  It is more sustainable,” says Costales.

Costales says he hopes to establish a local office in Fort Bonifacio within the year and set up a main office in Singapore where his girlfriend lives.  “Eventually, I do plan to come back to Singapore.  But my employees are here.  In a way, it is my way of giving back to the country,” says Costales.


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