5 Life Lessons from a Serial Entrepreneur


My work experience has traversed several industries: finance, sales, research, human resources, food retail, and finally outsourcing. I started working in 1991, but I did not become an entrepreneur until 2006. It was a small business; I owned and operated an automatic cell phone loading machine in Makati. It was not rewarding financially but I finally experienced what it was like to be in control of my own enterprise. And I loved it!

Two years later, I co-founded an outsourcing company that operated profitably for four years. I thought I had it made until a phone call in 2012 changed my life forever.

Life as an entrepreneur is never easy. There are new challenges to overcome every day; however, these are not hindrances but opportunities for you to become better. There are highs and lows, and the underlying emotions are beyond extreme. You can be “King of the World” one day and “The Biggest Loser” the next.

Success is never guaranteed the moment you accept the mantle of entrepreneurship. The only guarantee is your life will never be the same. Entrepreneurship will not change you; it will transform you.

Here are at least five life lessons I have learned as a serial entrepreneur.

1. Be prepared to fall several times

Name me a successful entrepreneur who did not fail even once in his or her life, and I will show you where to find a Golden Unicorn. Every entrepreneur has experienced failure at least once in his or her life. However, the best, most iconic entrepreneurs are those who have failed several times; some have even experienced failure several hundred times over. There is a saying that goes, “iron forges iron.” Failure is never easy in any shape, way, or form. It doesn’t matter who you are. You will feel pain.

There is no typo. I really meant “be prepared to fall” not “fail” several times. The feeling of failure is akin to falling and landing on a hard surface. When you fall, your body will not feel the onset of pain until it registers in your brain and it sends signals to your pain receptors. The pain of failure is the same. It will take your brain some time to process the experience before it prescribes the next course of action. But make no mistake about it; you will feel pain and its gnawing clutches on your insides.

As an entrepreneur, there are no limits to the number of times you will fall. Entrepreneurs are after all by definition, risk takers. If you want greater rewards, you must expose yourself to greater risk and take chances. However, unlike high-risk investments, an entrepreneur cannot place a “stop loss” order and exit once the pricing point has been achieved. The height of your fall depends on the level of risk you take and thus, the force of impact. Moreover, the more you rise and make the climb, the more you expose yourself to greater and impactful falls.

And this is how you become successful. The ability to get back up and make the climb until you conquer the challenge is what forges entrepreneurs to become a thing of iron—unbendable, unbreakable. It conditions your will, that is, it makes you indomitable and focused on reaching your goals.

When you fall, you must immediately assess the situation and ask yourself, “Why did I fall?” The operative word is “immediately.” Do not waste time feeling sorry for yourself or wallow in self-pity over what your failure has cost you. You should do an honest accounting of everything that you had done prior to the climb and figure out where you could have gone wrong, that is, where the mistakes could have been made. The faster you can get back on course, the greater your chances of overcoming the obstacle.

2. Be prepared to lose everything

When my family got in the food business, I remember my father said to me just seconds before signing the Master Franchise Agreement, “Are you prepared to lose everything? Even the shirt off your back?” I just laughed in jest thinking it was my Dad’s subtle attempt at humor. But he was unsmiling as he signed on the dotted line. We were on the cusp of starting a business at which none of us had any experience. I thought none of it because the franchise we signed up had great financials, a solid reputation in the US fast-food market, and most importantly, the best hamburgers I ever tasted.

Within 10 years, my father almost lost everything that he had worked for the past 50 years of his life. But it wasn’t just my father who lost financially. I had to sacrifice my salary to keep the business moving. In 2003, I had my first-born son. My entire life savings was run down. I barely had enough to buy diapers much less sustain my family. I was fortunate that my wife had a well-paying job.

But despite the damage, the sense of loss permeated the air and has unbelievably overcome any sense of relief when we shuttered the doors of the remaining franchise. I was exhausted, spent, and beaten. But I wanted to get back and try again without hesitation. I realized then that I could never go back to a regular 9-to-5 job. My life would be committed to entrepreneurship.

Before you become an entrepreneur, ask yourself just how committed are you to the venture?

What are you prepared to do?

What are you prepared to sacrifice?

There are nights where I have kept the television open hoping for sleep to takeover and give me some respite from the day’s problems only to be roused at 3:00 am or some other ungodly hour; the little demons have come out sticking their pitchforks in my subconscious. My forehead is covered in cold sweat despite the air-conditioner set at 16 degrees.

My only solace is the computer. I must start working and accomplish farther than I did the other day. It is the only way to keep the demons at bay.

This was my life for the first nine months of 2013.

When you are committed to any endeavor, you should accept the possibility of losing everything you have, that is, garnishing everything you have worked for. Even your relationships with your spouse, children, immediate family, friends, and associates will be at risk of compromise. However, it doesn’t mean that once all appears lost, you would throw your hands up in the air and give up.

You must be strategic and disciplined. All business ideas must have a plan—a framework of reference for all activity. Your business plan must be dynamic; it should be subject to change depending on the prevailing conditions. As such, your targets for profit and exit points will inevitably change as you progress. Once your studies show that there is no other resolution, exercise your alternative option and implement your exit strategy.

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