Mark's Story – The Story of a Filipino Entrepreneur
I wish I could say that I had more noble reasons for becoming an entrepreneur.
In essence—I wanted a new cell phone!
Let me tell you just a little about myself. I am the eldest of three. When my dad left us, my mother had to do everything to keep us fed, clothed, and schooled. She threw herself into her business, a spare parts store for motorcycles.
I never cared much for that business. If you asked me then, it seemed boring and confusing, and took way too much time away from reading or playing video games.
After graduating, I decided to go into Information Technology. My field was (and still is) Software Quality Assurance—that is to say, testing. It's a simple job, really: programmers make programs; I do my best to break them. The more damage I did, the happier my boss became, and the more irritated the programmers.
I would sit for nine hours a day in a comfortable cubicle, with free coffee and iced tea, tapping away at a terminal and occasionally surfing the net for the latest film reviews. I would go home at night to my wife and my cat and we'd all have dinner, watch TV, and afterwards it's off to bed. Very occasionally, I would tally our expenses. We had just enough money to pay the rent, eat out often, and buy a piece of cheap furniture every two months or so.
One night as I lay in bed, I wondered to myself if there was a way, just a small, simple way to make a little cash in order to purchase something new, like say, a cell phone.
As a typical Filipino would, I thought about selling food. Filipinos love food. You can't walk five steps in this country without walking into some kind of restaurant or canteen.
After some deliberation, I decided to sell cashew nuts. Cashew is plentiful in my province, and there was plenty of stock to ship and sell to the capital. It was a sound idea, so I used a little money from my savings, bought a few kilos, and tried selling it to my neighbors and officemates.
As it turned out, the roasted cashew was delicious. People bought it up, and I myself had a hard time keeping my hands off the merchandise.
To make matters short, I made back investment thrice within two months. I had just enough money to buy a new cell phone for myself, provided I sold my old one.
I still have that cell phone. It's old now, scratched and pockmarked, but I'm holding onto it still, to remind myself of my achievement. That phone came from an idea—MY idea. Not my boss's. Not my mother's. It was an idle thought that became a reality. It was one of the most empowering experiences of my life.
I wanted a car next.
For the next few months, I invested again and rolled over the profits to purchase more cashews. I asked my mother to mentor me and help out with operations. At one point, I took out a loan from the bank to increase our funding.
I have to add here that there was something else happening deep inside of me. Up until then, I was content to feel content.
Now I was wondering what I was doing with my life. Do I really belong in a cubicle? Do I really need to punch in from 9 to 6? Do I really need to be told what to do every day like an organ grinder's monkey?
It was difficult to ignore these wheedling little questions. But one thing I couldn't ignore was this new realization: I wasn't passionate about my regular job. I longed for weekends and dreaded every workday. Most mornings I overslept. And what was so great about my work, anyway? It had all the interest of Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill only to watch it roll back down. Starting a business brought these feelings into sharper focus.
This went on for precisely nine months. Then, January 2007, almost entirely on impulse, I decided to quit. Actually, my boss saw the sudden drop in my performance due to lack of interest, and decided to put me on an improvement program. I said I'd rather just quit to keep them from wasting valuable resources on me. At least the parting was amicable.
And so I struck out on my own. No exit plan, no hefty severance pay, nothing but my guts and my fledgling trading business to keep me going. It was like leaping into the void expecting the net to magically appear.
I wish I could tell you it was all wonderful from there. It hasn't been. My life has gone topsy-turvy.
I work everyday now. There are no such things as weekends anymore. I get up early in the morning to answer phone calls. I drive out to customers to deliver merchandise. I work on a computer terminal hammering out proposals. I sweat over my accounting and dread the day I have to talk to the bank about my loan. And I'm nowhere near buying a new cell phone, let alone a new car. In fact, I'm in debt with six digits.
If you ask me, business is confusing, and it still takes way too much time away from reading and video games.
But it's never boring. There's always something new going on, a new challenge, new people to meet, a new proposal to work on, a new product to market. I'm not yet a success, but for the life of me I can't shake the feeling that success could be just over that next hill. I just need to keep going, for a bit longer.
I look at my old, scratched and pockmarked cell phone and tell myself, I'll get there.
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