The rapid increase in the number of startups being established in the country in the last two years has inspired bold and young enterpreneurs to go into business. The whole spectrum of industry today—from tech to retail to food service—seems to be experiencing a surge. And every year brings a plethora of new ideas and innovations, with Generation Y at the helm.
These millennials are now being dubbed Generation Startup—and according to various industrial research firms, they have successfully lowered the average age at which entrepreneurs start their own businesses.
Encouraging as this trend may seem, starting a business remains a challenge; mistakes and difficult choices are inevitable along the way. We’ve interviewed seven young entrepreneurs from various fields about the biggest mistakes they’ve made in business so far, the compromises and hard choices they’ve had to make, and how they bounced back from tough times.
Alvin Gale Gener, 27, on why owning a business is not a game
“Friendship is a great thing to share among colleagues, but when it comes
to the business, you really have to be professional.”
When you go into business with friends you've got to treat it seriously from the get go. Alvin says not doing this was the first mistake they committed when he and his pals co-founded the hobby shop, The Dragonforge.
"For the first few months, we just kept getting distracted by all the games," he says. "We didn’t do enough work, and as a result, were not making enough money. Worse is, our being friends just made it more difficult to be more responsible.”
Because of this, the team missed events that could have been incredibly beneficial to brand—both in terms exposure and profitability. The company was being mismanaged in almost every way, and quite heavily. The epiphany finally came when they realized they really weren’t making dents in the community, and that the profits were less than satisfactory.
“We really just had to step it up and set boundaries," Alvin says. "We decided to be more responsible, hold each other accountable for work, and not take it personally when one of us has to step in and say, ‘Hey, dumbass! Get back to work.’”
His company underwent a total restructuring. Aptitude tests were taken to determine which position would fit whom. Incentives and chastisements (the removal of their corporate discount for a period of time) were put in place to create an atmosphere that's results-oriented and more conducive to work. “We just really had to buckle down and not treat the business like a game.”
Two years later, they’ve now just opened their second branch and plans for a third is already underway.
Ina Jardiolin , 27, on balancing artistry and commerce
For Ina, who has been working as a professional artist for roughly seven years, “Art, despite what people think, is actually very much like a business.”
She says, “Artists who are able to become successful by painting purely for themselves with no regard as to what the buyers may think, are incredibly lucky—I am not one of those artists.”
Ina talked about how her art wasn’t her own—how people didn’t appreciate her works enough to buy them—and how she has had to make concessions. To make it work, she has learned how to choose only two out of the three considerations that were important about her art: what she wanted to make, what message she wanted to send, and whether or not the art is palatable to the average consumer.
“I have had to make many decisions as to what I want to create for myself, and what to change to make it more accessible to viewers and buyers,” she says. “I never thought I'd even have to consider these sorts of things, so being faced with this decision and reality has left an impression on me.”
Furthermore, she adds, “I kept the heart of my work, the true message that I wanted to get out there. While I no longer paint strong, blunt images that may shock and make people uncomfortable, I think I have managed to keep the soul of my work. There is the hope that one day people will be more receptive of nakedness, gender issues, and sexuality. Hopefully my work is what helps get a few people there.”
Kevin Caballa, 25, on why technology isn't everything
“I can't stress how important it is to build something that people actually want to use, a service people are willing to put time and money for, something that's going to give value to them.”
Kevin is the Chief Tech Officer of 1Export, a multi-awarded startup that deals with personalized export sales solutions, market research, and business matching. What has always been a challenge to him was how to personalize and optimize business operations for other businesses.
“One of the first things we focused on was building our website and services online. I must have coded on three prototypes at the start. But then we found that our customers weren't exactly using our website or our services, and they'd have different requests and needs, which we'd end up doing manually.”
This valuable insight helped Kevin to appreciate his customers more and come up with the best service possible for them. “We got back into the thick of it, lessening development on our tech in favor of doing the meticulous, slow, iterative process of learning what your customers need. We started doing a lot of our processes manually to figure out our customer fit and what products and services people were actually looking for.”
Thea Jamila, 27, on why doing it all is unwise
“Investing in efficiency has become a must,” she argues, “because my business will no longer grow if I don’t.”
Thea runs a home-based online store called BeautyCallPH, which primarily supplies imported beauty products to many satisfied and loyal customers worldwide. Her often recurring problem: how to deal with too many orders.
“A few weeks ago, I had over 50 orders that had to be finished by the weekend," she recalls. "It was terrible. I didn’t get any sleep, and by the end of it, I had gotten sick from the hit to my immune system. Up until then, I was reluctant to invest in staff, but now I’m looking to hire a personal assistant or managing staff to help me with massive orders, and I’m also looking to have a website to deal with such orders.”
Louie Yazon, Neil Cabato, and Marvin Magallona, 30, on why passion's not enough
Left to right: Marvin Magallona, Louie Yazon, Neil Cabato
Louie, Neil, and Marvin are the three founders of Digital Waltz, a web design and app development company that focused only on one prestigious client when they were still starting out.
"Unfortunately, the client had money problems and had to let us go," says Neil. "We had to start from scratch and rely on personal connections and small jobs to survive. While we never had a client as big as Client No. 1 again, we were able to steadily grow our client base so that we wouldn't be as exposed to client's whims or non-payment.”
Marvin admits that their over-reliance on one major client showed a lack of planning on their part. "In the beginning, we as a group were too focused on improvisation and too content to let things lie. Since then, we have become more aggressive in seeking out new clients and new opportunities for growth for our business.”
From there, they decided never to put all their eggs in one basket ever again. Now their operations run smoothly; they have a decent number of reasonable clients, and legal systems (contracts) in place to protect them from payment fraud.
Louie adds: “Sometimes in business, you have to do things you don’t like, even things you aren’t good at, or even both, which is doubly hard. It is in times like this that grit is necessary, because finding your passion can only take you so far.”