Right before Christmas, I was asked by a journalist who was my mentor in business. I thought it was an interesting question and one which is not often discussed as a crucial factor in the success of young entrepreneurs.
I got my degree in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. It was an excellent education in business. Many of the concepts, theories, systems and processes in business I learned from the four corners of the classroom. But looking back, a number of lessons in business I actually learned from people who I admired, my idols. A good number of my learnings also came from actual experience specifically from mistakes I made and challenges I conquered.
But the most important mentor in my life is definitely my mother. Usually, people would have as mentors their bosses or other experienced business people. In my case, it was my mother because I started working very early in my life and it was my mother who mentored me as I helped her tend to our fish and shrimps stall in Divisoria. You could say that my practicum came first before my academics.
Nanay Curing was not a professor nor a business mogul but she spent practically all her life as an entrepreneur. It was this experience that helped me a lot. And this is one of the reasons why young entrepreneurs should try to get someone to mentor them. Find someone who is accomplished and successful; someone you know is a seasoned entrepreneur. Mentors are important because they have experienced all the tribulation of a neophyte businessman. Learn from their success and more importantly from their mistakes. When you encounter a problem, mentors can give you valuable advice on how to create effective solutions based on their previous experiences. The advantage here is that you are getting advice from someone who can relate to your predicament.
Mentors can also be beneficial in giving you a different perspective. Sometimes, when you just discuss issues with partners, or with your board, or with your management team, you tend to exist in an echo chamber. A mentor operating from the outside is a valuable perspective that will definitely give you a unique worldview. That is one of the reasons why big organizations that are led by the best CEOs hire a board or council of advisors. Aside from the added prestige, the collective experience and diversity of points of view are simply unmatched.
Mentors can also provide young entrepreneurs with access to business connections that are otherwise unavailable to a young businessman. Because of their long and wide experience, mentors have accumulated a network of business connections that can be helpful to a novice.
When I was helping my mother in Divisoria, she would always take the opportunity to teach me a thing or two about the business side of selling fish. But the most important lessons I learned were the values which I uphold up to now. My mother, through her words and her deeds, taught me the value of hard work. She would tell me often that “Boy, walang tatalo sa masipag.” Nothing beats hard work she would tell me. And she would prove it.
She would wake up very early in the morning and work until late because she wanted to provide for us. We were poor but we would have a decent Noche Buena because months before she would work extra hard so she can save up for a nice meal for her children.
And that is a lesson young entrepreneurs should learn. When you decide to become your own boss, do not picture yourself in a vast corner office wearing a suit, or in a fancy car being chauffeured, or eating at the most expensive restaurants. There is that, but being your own boss means burning the midnight oil as you build your company from the ground up with blood, sweat and tears.
One afternoon, I was just staring at the sky from our window when my mother asked me, ‘Boy, ayaw mo ba maglaro sa labas?” I shook my head, my mother nodded and smiled. That’s another thing about mentors, they support you, they lift you up and let you fly high to reach your dreams.