NOTE: “Leadership Reflections” shares views of the different members of the University Leadership Council on matters related to campus life and the operations of the University. As well, it features opinions on issues of national and/or international relevance.
By Mr. Mark Raygan E. Garcia, Director, Office of Information and Publications
(Speech delivered during the launching of the 2nd Entrep Corner, a partnership between Silliman University and Robinsons Land Corporation aimed at providing Entrepreneurship students with the experience of selling their products in an actual mall setting.)
You know that you are an entrepreneur when you are not so excited about “pay day”.
In a survey conducted by Inc. 500 Almanac, the following were the reasons why people have become entrepreneurs:
To be my own boss or control my own life 41%
To make money 16%
To create something new 12%
To prove I could do it 9%
Because I was not rewarded at my old job 6%
Because I was laid off from my old job 5%
Which among those reasons do you hold?
With high unemployment rates around the world, entrepreneurship seems to be the easiest and most convenient option in terms of a course to pursue in college. Others, after saving much from their corporate lives, would venture into it because they want to have full control of their life. Some invoke genetics and take pleasure in being COOs – children of owners.
But to me, entrepreneurship has to be gleaned as a product of passion. And while it is very much dependent on what you want, or what you and your associates want, it is greatly hinged on your appreciation of the community that you belong. You don’t sell that which only you will use. You don’t cook that which only you will eat. You sell a product that will probably help a household cut by a considerable percentage the time spent on doing chores. You cook that which will remind people of home yet appreciate the value of dining out within the comforts of your restaurant, for the customer service that you afford and the ambience that your interiors offer help them to spend more time together as a family and share stories about how their weeks had unfolded, away from the troubles of washing dishes.
I had my own rubbing of elbows with entrepreneurship back in college. I used to manage a modest catering business that only came alive when there were orders. It was too modest that I didn’t pay taxes – and that is not something that I’m encouraging you to do. It started with my love for cooking. When I was in my second year college, I would volunteer to cook pasta and humba. That resulted to me being volunteered to bring the same dishes during acquaintance parties and outings with my classmates.
The opportunity to experience having a business came when the organizations that I was a member of got tired of the idea of “potluck”. Because I was too visible to hide from receiving the assignment, I ended up catering for them. And somehow friends of my friends learned about it, and my contacts in the other student organizations got wind of it. It reached a point that I was already being contacted to cater for them during their acquaintance parties.
My biggest gross income was P80,000 – catering to around 400 Nursing students. I was still in my third year in college that time. The experience was nerve-wracking! It was a family affair. All the helpers, my cousins and aunts had to be called into the house. The floor was full of containers as we developed our own manual system of putting in rice, viands, and packing by 10s. I had to borrow my cousin’s truck so we could load the cases of soft drinks – and because we didn’t have the freezers for them, we had to layer crushed ice on every case of soft drinks as they were loaded on the truck.
When I was already working in the University, I had to “close shop”. I felt it would pose an issue of conflict of interest. I didn’t like to lose my job.
My point is: Entrepreneurship is really about what you want doing. It is something that cannot just be imposed on you. It is something that starts small. It is something that you may not even know is already a business by its very nature because you were only doing it out of fun.
And entrepreneurship is not genetics. I come from a family of businessmen. My grandfather, while he wasn’t able to finish college, established what would become Dumaguete’s first and oldest corn mill. My late father, while a lawyer, established a similar business, and so did my uncle. Deep inside me, until now, managing the corn mill is something that I don’t want to do. My brother has more interest in the same business than me. My modest short-lived catering business was not a product of my exposure to this – although I may have imbibed the determination of my family. But it was more what I wanted, an experiment of what I could still become outside what I had envisioned myself becoming right after college.
The same story could be gleaned from the life of Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple – what brings to us our iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. Of course, his was a remarkable story that towers down mine; and there is no iota of comparison between the two. Steve started in a garage. He always had his own way of doing things. While there were a number of instances when his ideas were shot down, and when he could have easily backed out, he pushed on and farther into breathing life to what he had in his heart.
In the book Steve Jobs by Water Isaacson, it was written that the empire that Steve built stands firm on three distinguishing principles. Isaacson wrote that Mike Markkula, the marketing man behind Apple, with whom Steve worked and established his company, referred to them as “The Apple Marketing Philosophy”:
Empathy – an intimate connection with the feelings of the customer. “We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.”
Focus – “In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.”
Impute – It emphasized that people form an opinion about a company or product based on the signals that it conveys. “People do judge a book by its cover.” “We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software, etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.”
Without an attempt at all to strike a difference or compare-contrast, I share with you from my experience and appreciation of entrepreneurship in its roughest state what I am convinced are characteristics or at least adjectives that describe a businessman or an entrepreneur. They come in the acronym: A-B-C. And after I explain all three, we go back to the first letter, “A”, but now fleshing it out into a word that stands for what I believe each business or organization must grow within them.
The first is “A” – ALERT
An entrepreneur is someone who is on constant search for opportunities, for business trends. You need to see what captures your customers’ fancy, what gets them excited, what about their particular preferences draw them to seal their choice on something that can or could be closely derived from what you can offer.
Also, ALERT refers to customer feedback. Having the right amount of confidence in what you can offer is necessary in sustaining a business; but having the same block off what is constructive criticism can shut the doors close on your business. Alert in terms of customer feedback is listening to how your customers feel they can be served better. It requires you to put yourselves in their shoes and view things from their perspective. It reminds you of a negative experience in a restaurant, and how at some point you doubted coming back to the same restaurant if the same service persisted.
ALERT is also about being hands-on or having a substantial grasp of your operations. Busy as most of you would be with other responsibilities in school, in the house, or at work, you need to project yourselves as the one most knowledgeable about the business, especially since you are the ones running it. You have to handle personnel management, and ensure that sales tally with the inventory at the end of the day. You have to be sensitive and responsive; spotting any needs for training or values reinforcement into your staff, whenever you feel that their actions pose a potential reputational risk to your branding or marketing.
Very simply, comparing it with your life as students, ALERT is knowing when there is a need for someone to jump on a school project and manage it. You volunteer to take it on. You position yourself as a “top of mind” resource or commodity, in order to test your trustworthiness and reliability. And when you have done so, more likely your grades and reference letters from your teachers will bear nothing less than positive.
Just like in printing your research paper, when your computer signals that your printer is running low on ink, being ALERT requires you to either immediately replace the ink or consider an alternative. And running a business is like that printer. You need to find and observe actual or potential cracks. If you leave it unattended, brace for a damage control that would require far more money, time and effort from your end.
Second is “B” – BOLD.
Entrepreneurs are BOLD. They are willing to invest. Invest with the end goal of profit but with the perseverance to recover from a loss. You and I know that investments, while may sound so tall an order, don’t necessary come hefty and in the form of money. They also come in the form of time – time with family, with friends, for study, for leisure, for pleasure.
Being BOLD is knowing what you are getting into and understanding your priorities along the way. It is about managing your time and resources. It is about studying your market and your offering. It is about being convinced not just of your product’s value but of yourself as an entrepreneur. It is, after all, an investment on an experience that will rake in for you profits in terms of enhanced management skills and a sharper understanding of the interplay of variables that influences people spending.
BOLD is also you being ready to answer the question: “What will happen if this fails?” Are you going to give up? Are you going to push on?
Entrepreneurship is like courtship. You court your market. Among men – not intending to sound gender-biased – your market can be that girl you have a crush on. The first time you invite her out to a date and you get declined, you don’t just give up; you try again. Why? That could be a sign that you still need to study what tickles her to saying yes. In business, it could be that you still need to understand more the complexities of your market.
And past courtship, when you have already changed your status on Facebook to “In a relationship”, don’t be complacent and slack off. Continue to look appealing; let your value appreciate. And after months of “operations” (being together), up the ante, challenge yourself more – propose marriage. In business, invest more to make a stronger presence; others, diversify.
In short, being BOLD requires constant polishing. You need to push farther and further into an environment that will shape and expand the world you rotate in.
Next is “C” – CREATIVE.
Dare to create a niche. Being CREATIVE means you whetting the appetite of your market for something new, something that they have yet to uncover. Build into them a demand, a longing. Explore an experiment to establish your USP – unique selling proposition. And position yourself as the pioneer or innovator – if not, the second best thing.
Creativity is much more a product of the heart as it is of the mind. Touch base with what you feel. The daily experiences you encounter, the tears that you shed, the terror teachers that you come in contact with, the breakups and heartaches that you might – if not will – breeze through, the pressure of meeting standards – they and more provide nuggets of wisdom and insights as to how much life could be better for you and the people around you.
Capture that experience and capitalize on it. Let that inspire you to innovate with (1) what is abundant that others may have not utilized yet, (2) or what is limited that others may have not mastered or found the art to optimize in terms of function and business opportunity.
Spark an “AHA” moment within your clients – that same element of “pleasant surprise” experienced by men when their girlfriends randomly bring them cupcakes they baked on their own; or by women when their boyfriends knock on their doors and hold before them a pot of long-stem roses they grew by themselves.
Some of us get discouraged because we think that almost everything that this world needs has been thought out and catered to by existing products. But you’d be surprised how, if at all true, in our own city, you have a mushrooming industry of restaurants and coffee shops. Even the evolution of the tocino and the tempura is a good example of how far innovation can bring you.
Lastly, overstretching the idea, I offer another letter:
“A” – ADVOCACY.
While your business might still be in its infancy, grow within how you run it something that you can offer to the world. If your advocacy is environmental conservation, avoid plastic bags as containers. If your advocacy is people empowerment, consider training persons with disability as your sales personnel.
They say that when you are already rich, buying is not a problem as with poor people. But buying that which brings about fulfillment – makes them wear a lasting smile, inspires them to embrace the world despite the negativity that surrounds it – is the rich people’s ultimate challenge.
As you venture into something that you so desire, think not only of yourself. Ask yourself these questions: “What does this mean to the society?” “What does this mean to the people who may not have the interest in what I offer?” “How can I let my business also matter to them?”
Listen to your heart. Let your passion fuel your ideas.