How Carolling Helped Me Build an Industry

St Paul ACP
October 16, 2015

Thank you for choosing this track. I’m very happy to be here to talk about one of my favorite topics: Entrepreneurship.

Who among you dreams of becoming an entrepreneur? Who among you have parents who are already entrepreneurs?

Well, unlike most of you, I did not have any kind of advantage in business. Our family was poor and no one gave me any capital. My parents were not important people. We didn’t have any connections. When I was young, I lived in Los Baños, a small town in Laguna. I was a very shy girl, and I liked reading. As you know, reading is usually a hobby of loners.

Despite this, I have always believed I was born an entrepreneur.

I formally started becoming one at the age of 8, when I sold polvoron to my classmates. As early as then, I had retailers to sell my goods to their classmates and friends. I even shared my polvoron with those who helped me wrap them.

That was my first business venture.

But then again, how would you call the carolling stint I led when I was five or six?

I still remember making sure my group knew many Christmas songs by heart. Each of us had a musical instrument to play. We even had a strategy of knocking first before singing. We wore better clothes than most other carollers. I told my group that homeowners would give us more if they liked our singing and if they saw we had nice clothes on.

At 5 years old, I already knew the importance of giving value.

When I was 9, I sold rubber bands, Tex cards, and marbles.

They were the “in” things then.

When I was 10, our house burned down, leaving us with nothing to go by. But I got a chance to buy a set of stickers, which I immediately sold to my classmates by piece. Of course, I only had a small profit but I used it to buy two sets of stickers to again sell. Then I got 4 sets to sell…until I had a bagful of stickers. My business grew because I plowed back my earnings to the venture.

One day, I sold all my stickers at bargain price and didn’t buy any more. I knew less people would buy from me, so I had to stop selling. After all, everybody had a lot of stickers already. They didn’t have any need or want of more.

Money was not that important to me then as it is now. But this is only because I have so much to pay for now.

Early on, I already loved seeing my inventory grow and making my customers happy. I have never minded working too much.

I work because I like working. And I love the challenge that a real business brings. Until now, I like making people happy and keeping my customers satisfied.

In college, I worked for the University and went into different kinds of businesses, including mushroom growing, shirt printing, and commercial sub-leasing.

When I was 18, I was asked to write a speech for a political candidate. It was on the importance of education to nation building. This is when my dream to contribute to the education in our country started.

I knew, however, that I couldn’t be a teacher. For me, teachers should be near-perfect. They should be role models all the time. With my many imperfections, I couldn’t take on that pressure.

So instead of forcing myself to be what I am not, I made it my mission to find great teachers.

I have been doing that for the past 20 years. I started the company just after I gave birth to twin boys. I didn’t want to be away from them, so I decided to go into a business that would allow me to work at home and at the same time make a difference in other people’s lives.

At AHEAD, I’ve worked with hundreds of excellent young teachers. Most of our tutors are graduating students. We give them a chance to earn while they are studying, and to gain solid experience.

Our lecturers, who handle college entrance test review programs, have professions other than teaching. They are engineers, doctors, and lawyers who find the need to share their knowledge with others. We give them the opportunity to teach without sacrificing their respective professions.

Together with these amazing teachers, we have helped thousands of students get into the schools of their choice. Since I established AHEAD in 1995, we have maintained the highest passing percentage in the entrance tests of Ateneo, De La Salle, and UP.

To go back to the question: Why am I an entrepreneur?

1. I am an entrepreneur because I have four children who each deserve my time and energy. (Working in the corporate world would not allow me to spend as much time as I want with my children.)

2. Because I believe in giving back to society.

Because I want to create positive change in the lives of students, parents, and teachers.

Being an entrepreneur in education is doubly fulfilling because I know we’re contributing to the country’s development. We pave the way for students to be the best that they can be, so that they will someday be productive citizens and leaders.

In this field, I get to help thousands of students; give hundreds of teachers and staff a living; and permanently change the course of people’s lives.

You might ask: What are the advantages of being an entrepreneur over other careers?

When it comes to earning, the sky is the limit. An entrepreneur can make millions every month, depending on the type of business he or she runs. On the other hand, there are times when entrepreneurs have zero or negative income. With all the people that we support, we often have to sacrifice our own earning just to give our employees their salaries on time and in full.

Aside from material wealth, entrepreneurship has many other benefits.

1. You can create jobs and give others a living. (Aside from giving my staff regular employment, I am able to give them the opportunity to guide a future generation of leaders and trailblazers.)

2. You can be your own boss.

3. You can work on your own schedule.

4. You can be with your family when you want.

5. You can pursue further learning (You can attend seminars, post-graduate courses, etc.)

6. You have time to develop your other interests.

7. You get to meet new people every day.

8. You get to serve the society.

9. You have the chance to touch and change lives.

For me, it is a great privilege to assist students in achieving their goals, even if it is just through a college entrance review.

I get to help the parents who only want the best for their children yet are burdened by career responsibilities and earning a living. We save them from the hassle of helping their children with their daily load of homework and quiz preparations.

With a tutor to handle the academics, parents now have more energy for real bonding with their kids. They have time to read with them, play games, and hang out.

Another thing that I love about being an entrepreneur is that I can be as innovative as I want. Through the years, AHEAD has introduced so many innovations:

1. AHEAD is the only review center to give Test-Based reviews for Ateneo, De La Salle, and UP college entrance tests.

2. We were the first to conduct diagnostic and simulated tests—the closest that students get to the actual exams.

3. We published the very first UPCAT review book in the country (entitled Score Higher in UPCAT).

4. Together with the UP Chemistry Department, we came up with the first Chemistry quiz contest.

5. We are the only center to conduct a Refresher Course before the ACET, DLSUCET, and UPCAT.

6. We are the only review center with the top 1% of Ateneo, De La Salle, and UPCAT as lecturers.

7. AHEAD is the only review center that updates its review materials yearly.

8. We are the only tutorial and review center that heavily invests on the training and development of its teachers and staff.

9. We are the only review center to publish our passers list on national broadsheets.

10. AHEAD published the first guide to Metro Manila’s top universities and colleges in cooperation with Ateneo Infotech.

11. We are the first small company to win a marketing award from the International Association of Business Communicators

12. We are the only review center that has review assistants, who are mostly former review students.

13. We’re the first to conduct seminars for review students and their parents.

14. We are the only center to include Mind Mapping and Speed Reading in our tutorial and review programs.

15. We are the only review center to offer online reviews using our own video conferencing system.

16. We are the first review center to offer franchising and to locate in a mall.

Because of all these innovations, we have the most number of recognitions from respected organizations.

If you really put your heart into your mission, you will succeed.

I must tell you, however, that not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.

So, what does it take to be one?

· You should have a strong instinct for opportunities. A lot of times, you must trust your gut feel.

· You should be ready to work really hard to achieve your goals.

· You should have an exceptional ability to find good people. (I believe this is my greatest talent.)

· You should be highly innovative, creative, and resourceful.

· You should be willing to take risks.

· You should have a strong desire to serve a real need.

· Lastly, you should be tenacious. (This means never giving up on what you believe will work. It goes beyond perseverance.)

When you are in a business that you are really passionate about, all your hard work and sacrifice would be worth it. I am blessed because what we do at AHEAD truly fulfills me.

This is why we want to continue doing what we do at a larger, global scale. Now, we have AHEAD Online to reach students and professionals anywhere on the globe through online tutoring services. I know it is an ambitious leap, but I have faith in our system and in Filipinos as the world’s best teachers.

I believe that if we succeed in this, we will be able to provide great job opportunities that would make Filipinos want to stay in the country with their families. It would be a chance to show the rest of the world how dedicated we are to the cause of quality education. This exciting new opportunity keeps me inspired these days.

Before I end, I’d like to share with you some lessons that entrepreneurship has taught me:

1. Get others to help you. (Polvoron)

2. Give more value than the rest. (carolling)

3. Plow back your profit into the business in order for it to grow. (stickers)

4. Give customers only what they want or need. (Tex, marbles, rubber bands)

5. Constantly find ways to help your people.

6. Be original or prove that you are the best in your field.

7. Be willing to work long hours. Double the 8 hours by 6 days.

8. Be sure you’re in the business that will fulfill you as a person.

You can be anything you want to be in the future. You can be a world-class chef but also be an entrepreneur with your own chain of restaurants. Or you can be a great doctor and an entrepreneur by putting up clinics. More than a career option, entrepreneurship is a way of life.

Any endeavor you choose, commit yourself 100% to it. Pray and have faith that God will make you succeed. Continue discovering, exploring, and learning. And of course, give back to your country, give back to society.

With this, I wish you all the best!