Lessons from Bobbi Roberto
In last Friday’s column, Josiah Go, a teacher who was first a successful entrepreneur, shared with us his experience. A different kind of entrepreneur-teacher from whom we teachers can learn another set of important lessons is my second guest writer, Prof. Raymundo “Bobbi” Roberto.
“How can teachers become successful business entrepreneurs?” Those of us who are entrepreneur-teachers are missionaries. As a missionary, I thought I’d bare to you my heart and soul through my journey of entrepreneurship and teaching.
Was I anxious or even afraid to be an entrepreneur? Will venturing hamper my teaching that I love doing? Even when I was much younger, I did things I did not know then were the foundations of both. Exchanges of items among classmates taught positioning, valuation and negotiation. Tutoring practiced synthesizing, model building and empathy. Being an entrepreneur and a teacher is natural to many of us. But why did I start and stick to both?
I had compelling reasons to start. I grew up in a family that was really poor when I was young. So I traded my mentoring for food and beer, my help in assignments, for fares and cigarettes. When I lost my scholarship, I retailed fish and packaged food items. When I resigned from a job, I opened eateries and boutique retail shops. When businesses became routine, I taught for the added income .
So where does a teacher start an enterprise? Do what you love and what others fear. I loved food, clothes, technology and money that were so limited then. But I looked for the kinds that others believed were too difficult to succeed in. Home delivery of fish and packed ready-to-cook food items were not so accepted then due to costs. Computer parts supply and repair was not prevalent due to control and supply issues. Bangkok and Hong Kong dresses and shirts were faddish. Hard to do means more value. Opportunities always come in pairs.
What mattered was continuing what I started so that they blossomed into something beautiful and fulfilling. With what I had, I continually searched for ways to make them more distinctive.
Given the choice between a great chance of success and a great need, I chose the need before the success. Needs of the market always become more sophisticated as consumers become richer, smarter and more demanding. The so-called great chance of success was to copy the successful. I felt that this would not work. I had to be ahead of the market and the copiers. I accepted new technologies to deliver and packaged better. I searched for new market niches and economies in places others told me were stupid to pursue. But there are those who know better, my students, their friends and my friends, their relatives and my relatives. We all have them.
To be a successful entrepreneur, I had to accept that what were good would not be good for long. I used my network of friends, students and relatives to get information and anticipate trends and coming shifts of markets, technology and consumers before others. From this preparation, I aspired and schemed to be the best in the communities I served. Then I went on to act to validate gut feel by actual observation of people and places, followed by starting a venture or service.
I made this new venture or service concurrent to existing ones even when others said that my new effort was a waste of money and that could have been reinvested in the sure existing ventures and services. The two pairs of accept and anticipate, and aspire and act, along with the coupling of existing and potential were guides that I always followed. It’s like “sana dalawa ang puso ko.”
That is why teachers are naturals for entrepreneurship, not because we are flirts. These are what we face, do and relate to for ourselves, our students, their parents, our co-teachers, our administrators and our external competitors or collaborators.
Was I always correct? No, I wasn’t. We all have to contend with uncertainty. It was humbling to have had to fail many times. But I learned to be dispassionate about failures by looking again at the previous and potential and focusing on creating something much better. Or the failure can be due to decisions favoring my version of daang matuwid—sa daan nang tama.
There were times I was tempted to accept money from questionable sources. When I had to choose between going the easy way and the right way, I chose the right way to me and did not accept. The growth of my business suffered due to this. When the regulators and peace keepers made legal compliance and support during robberies difficult, I chose the right way and stuck to honesty and respect for life. I felt that if news or even gossip spread about what I did, I wanted that the image of a teacher should not be tarnished. Many said I was wrong. But when is wrong right and when is right wrong? I favor the way where I could sleep peacefully at night with a clear conscience.
Looking back when I was correct and earned new wealth, I was really high. It helped me gain grounding and a dispassionate view of success. Then the wealth went to finding the new and unexplored so I could apply all that I knew to create a venture that was distinctive but more of what were before. I accepted that my success opens up the way for others to copy with something improved. I tried to anticipate what else they would do and I acted to stay ahead continuously.
I always had to move, whether near or far or in different directions, even if it meant changing myself. That is why being a teacher is good. We teachers are good at seeing new ways of doing things and trends among people. But teaching can sometimes be bad. It’s bad when we stick to doing and teaching the same thing.
Entrepreneurship is not gambling where I would not learn much whether I won or lost. Business taught me much, win or lose. It taught me the value of friends and family, of right and easy, of contentment with the existing and yearning for the potential, of investing and spending, of moving always and moving smart.
But there are two learnings that I value the most. The first has to do with the widely affirmed need for passion to be a successful entrepreneur. But passion alone would not have made me a successful and happy entrepreneur. It would have made me amass wealth. But nobody has to have too much. I am only content and comfortable. I am happy because I love people. I gave back and paid it forward to my employees, my customers, my suppliers, my partners, the communities we served and our government.
From passion comes courage to face the uncertain and commitment to persist amid trials and tribulations. From love comes compassion and creativity. This pair of passion and love, take and give, is the secret to success and well-being of a teacher-entrepreneur. These feelings are also the driving forces of successful teachers in our vocation to make students better workers and persons.
They also lead to the second key lesson. Entrepreneurship is a way of life requiring another pair, balance and interaction. I let my teaching make me a better entrepreneur and I let my “entrepreneuring” make me a better teacher.
Keep your questions coming. Send them to me at email@example.com. A new edition of The Best of Marketing Rx book is now available in bookstores. It’s a good Christmas gift item and as a supplementary learning reference for marketing students and practitioners.
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