So, You Want to be an Entrepreneur?
Those who are familiar with my advocacies know that I have always pushed for a stronger entrepreneurial spirit among our people, and, a more entrepreneur-friendly policy environment on the part of government. The reason is simple: Entrepreneurship is a key component to accelerating economic growth. It creates new jobs and opportunities, promotes innovation, and, more importantly, helps us in our fight to end poverty.
While I will be very happy if we develop a culture of entrepreneurship instead of a culture that promotes becoming an employee in a multinational corporation, I feel it is also important for prospective new entrepreneurs to understand some hard truths about going into business. You need to understand what you are going into. You need to understand that while you see very successful entrepreneurs as role models, you are looking at them at the apex of their careers — with all the successes and material possessions it brings. I think neophyte entrepreneurs need to see them at their lowest, which is usually when they are starting out.
I want to clarify that this is not meant to discourage you from becoming an entrepreneur. This is intended to make you aware what awaits you when you take that plunge into the wonderful and exciting world of entrepreneurship. Knowledge, as they say, is power.
First, you need to understand that being your own boss is not an 8-5 or 9-6 job. You will be spending more hours especially as you set up your business. You will spend sleepless nights conceptualizing the product or service you will offer. You will spend countless hours meeting with suppliers, bank employees, government agents, and, once you are set up, your own staff. Being your own boss is not as glamorous as you imagine it to be. Sure, you see Bill Gates enjoying life in retirement or Richard Branson and Elon Musk basking in the limelight. But that is now, after they have accomplished what they set out to do. You need to see them when they were struggling. Gates, for instance, spent years working from his garage, developing coding and programming, which according to him took seemingly endless hours.
As an aside, I read a proposal emanating from the House of Representatives that would allow private employers to institute a 35-hour work week (from the current 40-hour week). This is purely voluntary or upon request of employees. This is not the first time I have heard of this proposal. And while it has some merits — increased productivity, better work-life balance, etc., — this proposal crystallizes the distinction between an employee and being your own boss. If you own the business, you own your time but that time will be spent (usually more than 40 hours per week and definitely more than 35) working to make sure your enterprise succeeds.
Second, when you decide to become a business owner you have to become a multitasker. I am thinking that at the onset you won’t have the budget to hire a full team of marketing, finance, or, sales executive. I remember when I decided to sell seafood to Makati companies, I would deliver the goods myself. And I would be standing in front of the elevator smelling like the sea at the break of dawn. Becoming a multitasker also means you need to expand your knowledge base. You need to learn the basics of accounting, marketing, sales and the other aspects of your business. Now it is comparatively easy given the resources readily available and accessible via the internet but when I was starting out, I had to read books and talk to people with experience. It helped, of course, that I finished with a business degree from the UP. But there are skills, expertise, and knowledge that even the best formal education cannot provide.
The third thing I want to mention is also the most important — you will experience failure. If you are the kind of person who gives up easily then entrepreneurship may not be for you. According to a study by the Trade Department, 20 percent of small businesses fail by the end of their first year. This number increases to 50 percent by the end of the fifth year. Remember that Walt Disney’s first company went bankrupt. Steve Jobs was kicked out of the company he co-founded. Even Thomas Edison had to endure the embarrassment of unsuccessful inventions before coming up with his greatest innovation.
Perseverance is key. You need to see failures not as the end of your endeavor but a necessary step to success. Think of failures as an opportunity to do better.
I hope many more young Filipinos become entrepreneurs. These are some of the hard truths you will face. But if you are truly passionate about becoming your own boss then you will persevere, you will endure.