Embrace start-up culture

Today, we are made to choose: “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in the desert.”

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on July 7, 2020.

One thing is clear today, businesses need to cut losses soonest by doing a checklist of what are needed to last through the pandemic. Businesses need to take care of their employees’ health first. It is less expensive to do so than risk their health to earn a quick buck. Earning today is a short-run view and those businesses, which have seen red and was black before the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19), know that the virus is here to stay, long term.

New norm is uncharted territory. We continually grope and nobody has the key to unlock such future. Focusing on profit is not good business sense to do at this time. But all of us were start-ups once and we just need to embrace such a culture again, to win today.

A “start-up is a young company founded by one or more entrepreneurs to develop a unique product or service and bring it to market. By its nature, the typical start-up tends to be a shoestring operation, with initial funding from the founders or their friends and families.”

We all started there so it is part of the DNA of every business, save probably the big firms, which are family businesses that have been handed down across generations.

I have a 17-year-old company, Publicus Asia Inc. It was established in 2003 and we have hit our stride through the years. With the changing milieu and the trend toward work from home, we needed to fold one office, do our checklist, part with cherished equipment, furniture and fixtures, and a lot more. We had to downsize. We needed to make hard decisions fast to prevent the bleeding caused by almost three months of non-operation because of Covid. We continually held onto the staff complement since March, delaying removal of some to ensure they have the wherewithal to last the pandemic. We dared do the NCD Covid panel survey, helping Metro Manila get the needed community feedback. It was a strategic move for the firm despite the pandemic.

The sooner we accept that we will end Fiscal Year 2020 in the red, the better for us to start putting our house in order. Doing so is again going back to how we started our businesses — as a start-up, again. It’s not easy after decades of earning well and expanding business.

Today, we are again back to the entrepreneur spirit that guided us when we were starting in pursuing our dreams. There are characteristics of a start-up: “product-market fit, start with small test markets, be passionate about disruption, foster awesome company cultures, take feedback seriously, have focus and build engaged communities.”

According to a Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) report, “more than 3,000 business establishments have reported a temporary shutdown of operations, while more than 200 have closed down permanently since January.” The closure affected some 100,000 workers and these are just those reported to DoLE.

Last May, the Labor department estimated that around 10 million workers would lose jobs this year because of the pandemic. The hardest hit is the service sector. Tourism, allied business like restaurants, hotels and the transport sectors are also areas that need augmentation. The tourism sector provides jobs to 5.4 million Filipinos or about 15 percent of the total employment in the country. It is forecast that an estimated 50-percent drop in revenues in the tourism sector by the end of the year is seen. In 2019, the country’s tourism revenues hit an all-time high of $9.31 billion, up by 20.81 percent from $7.71 billion receipts in 2018.

Today, businesses are asked to be agile, innovative, adaptive, disciplined and online. We have been talking of VUCA — volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity — since time immemorial. We have trained on crisis management so often and today, we are confronted with risks. Crisis and risk communications are different from each other. A crisis is an “event that occurs at a specific point in time. It is usually something that is unforeseen, public in nature and has the potential to cause great harm to an organization in terms of finances, revenues, reputation, market positioning and service delivery.” While risk is “a potential activity or event that could harm the organization’s finances, revenues, reputation, market position and capacity to deliver services.” Risks may be of a strategic nature or operational nature.

So, how do we go back to where we started? Think entrepreneur! Such mindset is “a way of thinking that enables one to overcome challenges, be decisive and accept responsibility for outcomes. It is a constant need to improve skills, learn from mistakes and take continuous action on ideas. Anyone willing to do the work can develop an entrepreneurial mindset.” Filipinos are inherently entrepreneurial. What we lack are funds, skills to ride the tide of disruptions and grit.

All the things being described here are on the part of individuals, not on the part of government. Our economy will be buoyant once we decide to act, to do our share and not wait for government intervention because it will certainly come. Let us not wait for that, do our part on two sides, continue our businesses on a breakeven mode and buying Filipino. Breakeven is not growth, but it is sustainability in the short run.

We need to get that Bayanihan spirit back and stop all these snipping and bickering because this is already country and us Filipinos. In a crisis, we should stop hitting at each other and the better-than-you, more-decent-than-you schemes. The siege mentality has also to stop. We need to roll up our sleeves and get things done, steer together not row against each other.

There is much to do than dwell on the inadequacies of people, organizations and systems.

There are inadequacies, as in any jurisdiction, and that is global. The inadequacies are certain like taxes and death. But we need to go beyond what our blinders prevent us from doing: link arms, even with perceived enemies because this is home already.

Today, we are made to choose: “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in the desert.” Together, we can win the war against the coronavirus. The economic solution also means one consistent investment. The cheapest you will ever do: wear the mask.

About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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