MIND YOUR BUSINESS: My First Hard Lessons in Business (Or How I Failed Miserably in my First Attempt

“Well, writing a column, actually,” I replied.

 

“It’s really in the blood, no?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Yeah right.

 

I actually quit my job as a business reporter in March 2000 to be a businessman. Though I truly believe that journalism is a noble profession, it did not pay well enough for me. In my almost five years as a dedicated journalist, my income did not move much. I got a different idea of a ‘stable’ income and a ‘stable’ job.

 

That time, the Philippines was just joining the Internet rush, and dotcom businesses were sprouting everywhere. So I joined the dotcom “gold rush,” dreaming to create a Pinoy version of eBay.com or Amazon.com. A Pinay-British investor called me and got me as CEO-partner of a new auction website.

 

Unfortunately, year 2000 was already at the tail-end of the Internet rush. The NASDAQ, the stock market where lucky dotcoms made a lot of money selling new shares of stock without producing tangible products, crashed in April 2000. I junked my first venture a month after leaving my promising job.

 

Lessons learned: (1) If you don’t understand business and market cycles, you’ll end up falling for short-term market fads and ‘gold rushes.’ (2) The Philippines is not the US; we don’t have a NASDAQ, and we don’t have enough people with spare money to risk in business plans with no tangible products. (3) The Internet market here cannot yet support a purely Internet-based business; very few Filipinos buy goods on the Internet.

 

By May 2000, with a few gutsy friends, I started another online business, this time, selling bargain hotel rooms and resort accommodations to tourists visiting the Philippines. Not knowing a thing about financial forecasting, I got a stockbroker to magically churn out the numbers I needed to convince investors.

 

A few weeks later, Erap bombed Moro rebels in Mindanao. My hotel partners reported: Tourist arrivals dropped by 70%. And so did my revenue projections and chances to get investors. My second venture went pffft.

 

Lessons learned: (1) The longer you project in business, the more unreliable are your forecasts. (2) You cannot “outsource” your business’ financials. (3) Foreign tourists don’t know how far Mindanao is from Manila. (4) Yes, travel advisories are very effective. (5) Erap doesn’t give a damn about your business if there’s nothing in it for him.

 

After almost losing all my credibility with my partners, I decided go the easier way: I will learn how to run a business without risking my name and sanity. So I joined a promising and well-financed local dotcom whose employees seemed enthusiastic. Despite the dotcom crash, its investors looked bullish. “Perhaps they’re doing the right thing. I should learn a lot from them,” I thought.

 

In my first four months, I handled the Production group, the biggest department, with 15 people reporting to me. The next three months, I led a leaner but more focused business unit, which I also helped create. The next five months, I was head of sales and marketing.

 

The month before I left, I was handling special projects. In a year’s time, I got much of what I aimed to get: I learned a lot about the different aspects of running a business. And I was getting a good pay at the same time.

 

Lessons learned: (1) If you have the right intention, a job can be a less risky way to gain business skills and experience; you can even get a good pay doing it. (2) Despite my initial aversion, sales and marketing can be learned and enjoyed.

 

When I left the dotcom in July 2001, I felt I was ready to try my accumulated business experience. So I took an offer to become Chief Operating Officer of a small company. The owner was confident enough to let me run the whole firm. Although it paid less than my previous job, at 27, I got my taste of being on top of the ladder. And indeed, I learned a lot.

 

Seven months into the job, I was in a bind. My father was getting sickly but I cannot leave my big responsibilities to visit him in my hometown. When he passed away in June 2002, I felt I had not done enough to care for him. I left my last job in September and went home.

 

Lessons learned: (1) Getting higher up on the career ladder does not mean more personal freedom. (2) There are things more important than a career. (3) There are more career opportunities than opportunities to care for a loved one.

 

After months of soul-searching, I started a small business, selling newspapers to government offices in the town. I have since got a partner who does most of the work for me. It has been nearly seven years since I left my job as a business journalist.

 

“So why did you go back to writing?,” asked my friend.

 

“So I won’t get hungry when my business fails again. And to share with others the hard lessons and the inevitable miseries,” I said, half-jokingly.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Alfredo “Bronx” Hebrona is president and chief executive officer of Binex Global Ventures Corporation, which does social marketing consultancy, newspaper dealership/distribution, market and development research and personal finance consultancy. You may write him at P.O. Box 46444, Gen. Santos City 9500 Philippines, or email him at [email protected])

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