The pandemic has given everyone more time than they know what to do with. With both work and school transitioning online, many people found themselves picking up old hobbies, discovering new ones, taking on internships, or starting a side hustle. Amanda Cua was no different, but instead of becoming a plant parent or opening an online shop, she started her own company and launched a newsletter that would later grow to have nearly 10,000 subscribers as of January 2023.
Cua is the 20-year-old CEO of the media startup BacksScoop, and their flagship product is a newsletter that centers around the tech and startup industry of Southeast Asia. It is sent to the subscriber’s email 4 times a week, and it serves as a one-stop-shop that would save people the time from having to scour through multiple websites and news articles just to stay updated on the fast-growing Southeast Asian tech industry.
Although only 20, Cua’s journey of building Backscoop was quite a long one. The catalyst began in 2020, when Cua graduated from high school and decided to take a gap year instead of attending college online. On a whim, she applied for a job at Avion School, a startup that teaches Filipinos how to be programmers, and became the company’s first employee. She stayed there for a little over a year, working different roles such as marketing and growth, customer success and admissions, and B2B sales. Over her time there, she managed over 200 students and grew the company from 0 to 140 corporate partners and the startup managed to get funding from Y Combinator, a global startup accelerator that funded some of the world’s best-known startups like Airbnb, Twitch, and Reddit.
After a little over a year at the startup, Cua saw a problem that eventually made her decide to start one of her own. “After one year there, I realized it was hard to keep up with Southeast Asian tech news, a problem that I saw become more and more painful as I continued working in the startup space, especially in the Philippines. Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem was growing so fast, with more companies getting funding than ever — even in the Philippines, which previously barely had any startups or significant funding rounds. It was scary to leave my job and start building a startup at 19, but I realized that it’s better to take the risk while I’m young and have a lot of time ahead of me. If it fails, I could go college, get another job and just move forward. Plus, I knew it [Southeast Asian startup news] was a space I was excited about, that I’d be solving a real problem, and that I’d still end up learning a lot if I failed — so it would be worth it.”
Cua launched BackScoop in August 2021, a month after leaving her job, and it has since gained over 9000 subscribers and received funding from investors. The path Cua took was both unconventional and risky, which understandably drew a lot of skepticism from her parents.
“It’s not really in our culture to go against the grain, especially when it comes to things like education, so when I told them I was going to take a gap year, it was a bit of a weird thing for them. But because it was the pandemic, it was something that’s a bit more acceptable. But when I told them [after taking one gap year already] that I would be taking another year off and maybe not go to college for the foreseeable future because I want to start my own company, I think they were very surprised and they were not very happy,” Cua recalls.
“Every parent wants the best for their kids, but I feel like Chinoy parents all the more want to pave the way for their kids. That’s why a lot of Chinoy families do things like push them to have high grades, help their children pick their college majors, tell them what jobs to take and even to the extent of starting their own family business (or pass the family business down) for their children to run in the future. They want to help their kids in every way, so that everything is secure for their future. But as with every Chinoy family, it was always tough love. [My parents] were very upfront about how they’d rather have me go to college, but they were actually the people who supported me the most. They would share BackScoop with their friends and family, especially anyone they knew who had a kid who was working in tech in some form.”
As a compromise, Cua made a deal with her parents. She would give herself until December 2021 (specifically 4 months) to work on BackScoop, and if there were no promising results by then, she would go to college. However, in November 2021, one month before Cua’s self-imposed deadline, BackScoop received funding from their first investor, Buko Ventures, an angel investment firm run by previous and current Lazada Philippines executives. This helped Cua’s parents see the potential in what she was doing and allowed her to keep going.
“They recognized the hard work that I put into it. I think from a young age, my parents were not Chinoy in a way that they would force me to get high grades and always tell me what hobbies to pursue; they let me explore and just told me to just do my best in whatever I was doing.”
“A Chinoy family value we do have is the value of hard work. And I think they saw that I was actually working hard and producing real and impressive results, with me being able to raise funding at 19 with “just a newsletter” and having subscribers who were founders, executives and investors at large conglomerates, big tech companies, well-known startups and respected Venture Capital (investment) firms not just in the Philippines but in other parts of Southeast Asia.”
BackScoop was and still is indeed a product of long days and sleepless nights. Starting a startup from scratch meant that Cua did not exactly have a team behind her and was funding the startup with her own savings from her first job. As a one woman team, she had to manually search and read every Southeast Asian startup news article on the internet to curate and write her news. Now that BackScoop has grown and become a daily read for many people working in the Southeast Asian startup scene, startups, venture capital firms, and PR agencies have started sending news directly to her, but even then, Cua has to filter and curate the most relevant news and write all the articles herself, not to mention she also has to ensure that the newsletter is as concise and easy to read as possible.
Cua’s hard work opened many doors for both her and BackScoop, but she also credits her success to her readers. “The volume and quality of our readership is something I’m very proud of because we have been able to reach that without any marketing at all. I didn’t pay any ads or promotions, but we were able to reach that number purely because of word of mouth. And it’s because of the people that subscribed that we’ve been able to get a lot of opportunities, like we were featured on CNN Philippines because of a reader. I was able to go to Malaysia and interview the founder of 88Rising at a startup event because of one of the subscribers who [recommended] me. And I was able to go to another event in Thailand for free with a lot of well-respected media folks because of a reader who recommended me as well,” Cua shares.
However, for the youth who also wish to go beyond borders and pursue an unconventional path, she shares that hard work isn’t enough.
“If you pursue an unconventional path, like not going to university or starting a business, especially at a young age, you should be ready for pushback and people who disagree with you. That’s why it’s unconventional.”
“You can’t expect that just because you think it’s the right thing and because you’re working hard, people will support you and cheer for you wholeheartedly. While some of these people are strangers who don’t believe in you, some are your friends and family.”
“Don’t get me wrong, your friends and family aren’t bad people — they actually want what’s best for you. You might not see that at the time, though. It’s just that they think it’s too risky or the wrong path, so they’ll tell you not to pursue that path because they really want you to have a good life without that potential failure or mistake. But that can hurt, and you need to be prepared for that.”
“To get through this and the entire journey in itself, you need a lot of conviction in what you’re doing and the commitment to keep moving forward, no matter how hard it gets. And it will really get hard, and much harder than you think it will over time.”
“You also need to learn how to think for yourself and learn how to take in others’ opinions with grace. When you’re young and taking an unconventional path, you’ll get a lot of differing opinions and advice from people much older and with more experience. It’s easy to second-guess yourself, but at the end of the day, you’re the only one who can make the decisions. And whatever decision you choose, it’ll affect you the most — it’s your life after all.”
“Don’t solely make decisions based on your own thoughts and experiences. But it’s also important to make sure you’re not just following someone else’s advice just because they’re older or more experienced. I try my best to be open-minded, hear from others and do my own research, then make the decision from all of those as a whole. Sometimes, your opinion will be the way to go, but other times I realize others’ advice is better. It’s not about knowing everything, but knowing whose advice to pick and when to apply it.”
“When you disagree with people or receive pushback, respond with grace. It’s easy to just be offended or argue, but whether they’re wrong or not, you have to learn to listen and discuss in a tone that’s positive. Sometimes, you still learn from these kinds of discussions, and you don’t want to be around a crowd of only yes-people. And again, some people pushing against [your decision] are people who want what’s best for you, so you don’t want to burn those bridges.”
Cua might just be getting started, but she already has a vision for the future of BackScoop. “We’re not your typical media company, and definitely not just a one-person newsletter. I started with a newsletter on Southeast Asian startups because we saw a real problem with how the news was being delivered and that people were struggling since there was no easy way to keep up with Southeast Asian startup news.”
“For now, we’re still focused on the Southeast Asian startup scene. We’ll be launching new products and expanding into new media channels to serve this audience. For example, our second product, the One More Scoop Podcast, gives listeners a behind-the-scenes look into the personal journeys of many top founders, executives and investors in Southeast Asia, and it will be launching this month.”
“But in the future, we’ll definitely expand to other verticals beyond the Southeast Asian startup scene, with our trademark style of being fun, fresh, digital-first and very much focused on the content, lifestyles and needs of the exact niche audience we’re serving in Southeast Asia.”
If you want to know the latest news on Southeast Asian startups in just minutes each morning, subscribe to BackScoop for free now on: www.backscoop.com.