How to start a business in 2021

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The pandemic has caused a great disturbance in the economy. It has closed businesses that resulted to the unemployment of thousands. How can one start from scratch this 2021?

This 2021, its time to break the romanticism of looking into passion and pursuing it, but instead, focus on what successful entrepreneurs have done and that is to seek opportunities in growing industries or strong industries and align with their capabilities.

In preparation for a 2021 program that I will run on starting a business, I asked the wisdom of a veteran economist from a research firm and he gave industries that will be strong this coming year.

The 5 are the following:

  1. Digital Services
  2. Logistics & Distribution
  3. Pharmaceuticals
  4. Construction
  5. Health and Wellness

Dr. Villegas, an economists from CRC, sees industries related to agri, digital, health and education as industries the will thrive this 2021, and business in travel, fashion, furnishings and non-digital entertainment will have difficulty in recovering.

I don’t really give specific business ideas instead one can look into the industries and see what they can do as their business. It may be based on their experience and network. But if you we to ask me what I will do for myself, I will continue with education of course because that is where my capabilities are and the industry will thrive, if I were to follow the logic of Dr. Villegas. If I were not in education today, I would be in the industry of health and wellness, probably in healthy food.

I do not undermine the importance of passion in business but in 2021 or in any year for that matter, it would be an advantage if one’s passion were aligned with a growing industry. Although of course, other factors are involved too in success like capabilities and network.

This 2021, if you wish to start a business, do it within the predicted industry to increase the chances of creating a successful business.

Diskarteng Pinoy

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This pandemic we see a lot of stories of businesses closing and people losing their jobs. However, we also see plenty of new small businesses sprouting. Thanks to diskarteng Pinoy. The word diskarte doesn’t have an equivalent English word. The closest translation would be resourceful and ingenious. Madiskarte is used to describe someone who, in a disadvantage, can thrive, and survive, and get themselves out of the disadvantage.

I asked myself where the word came from? There is one article quoting a Professor of Anthropology from UP that suggests the word may have come from the Spanish word descartar meaning dealing of playing cards, which eventually evolved in the Philippines to mean “strategizing behavior”. This maybe because of what Filipinos do when dealt with bad cards or unfavorable sitution, they get out of it. With our history of being invaded and oppressed by other cultures, this explanation makes sense. Reading Japanese history and finding out how ingenious they are during the Japanese medieval times, I thought maybe it was their influence while they were here during World War 2 so I checked the word ingenious in Japanese. 独創的 Dokusō-teki is the Japanese word for ingenious or creative, so I thought that maybe, since the sound is somewhat similar when pronounced, diskarte may have come from the Japanese, that is unfounded though and pushing it a bit; a new word though for those like us who don’t know.

In my years of training ranks, I always hear the word diskarte when they solve problems. One bus driver fixed the broken wiper by tying them together to make them travel “safely” through the rain. When I have my car fixed, and the mechanic does not buy the parts from the Casa and do something about it, they make diskarte. I had my oven fixed, the technician used the butt of the screwdriver to hit the sensor to align it better, he made diskarte. Those stories represent the negative meaning of the word.

But here, I want to focus on the productive and positive meaning of diskarte without the elements of cheating or short cut, specifically finding ways to thrive and survive. We have so many success stories this pandemic because of diskarte. I saw an article about a coffee bean entrepreneur whose business of reselling beans was affected at the start of quarantine, but eventually turned an old sari-sari store into a minimalist Japanese-inspired café. We also have seen on the internet how some flight attendants sold food on the streets to make a living and how those who lost their salaried jobs started a small home based business. In the corporate world, there are less stories I know since the set up does not give much elbow room for diskarte or Dokusō-teki. but I heard of a story where a manager lost a presentation file due to a computer virus. Fortunately, she knows the presentation by heart and turned the presentation into a game. She asked other managers to guess the percentage of sales on her presentation, just like how it is done in Price is Right and the closest gets a coffee. A failure turned to victory because of diskarteng Pinoy.

We do not know where diskarte came from, but the spirit of diskarte is evident in the mindset and culture of Filipinos. Borrowing what Wam Mendido wrote in his article Diskarte 101 for Rappler back in 2014, “Descartes. I think therefore I am, gives way to, I diskarte, therefore I can.”

Japanese Adaptability & Business

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There was a time in Japan when clans, such as the Taira and Minamoto, were at war to protect their interests and a time when the Mongols wanted to conquer the world. There were events during those times that showed Japanese adaptability, which the newer generations were able to inherit and bring to business practice.

Though the Samurai is not purely a Japanese creation, it has a long history in Japan and evolved to benefit the Japanese society. The concept of Samurai was learned from China’s warrior class but social unrest made the Samurai’s identity the way we know them today: Adaptable among others.

In one account, the Mongol Armada attacked Japan through the bay. The Japanese, within their “war code”, were used to fighting based in ranks, which was not present with the Mongols. This culture difference made the Mongols shower the Samurais with arrows and stones from their ship.  Japanese being inferior in navy warfare devised a way to beat the Mongols. The Mongols were anticipating a night attack coming from the land so the Mongols prepared for a land combat, but the ingenious Samurais went around and attached from the sea, using smaller unmanned boats which they allowed to float near the big Mongol ships. Once the boats were near the Armada, the Samurais shot their fire-lit arrows setting the small boats on fire causing fire on the bigger Mongol ships.

This characteristic of adaptability is also present in the Emperors that time driven by the need to survive. Here’s a story from Hogen Monogatari (tale).

Emperor Nijo, son of Emperor Go-Shirakawa, came under siege when he was 13. In order to escape safely, he disguised as a young girl. His young physique, make up and heavy kimono, made it easier to fool the enemy guards. His father, Emperor Go Shirakawa escaped by dressing as a lowly attendant on a horse. He was able to pass gates without attracting attention.

In another attack, his older brother, Prince Mochihito, adopted the ruse that worked before. He let his hair down, put on a woman’s robe and shielded his face with a large hat. A group of samurai holding an umbrella over the Prince’s head accompanied him as they hurried down the street. He was such in a hurry to reach his destination that he didn’t mind his demeanor. Faced with a large ditch on the road, He athletically jumped across, making the passers-by shake their heads in disbelief seeing a “woman’s” lack of ladylike air.

Adaptability

In the Mongol attack, the Japanese knew they had no match against the fierce Mongols if they allowed them to a land combat, and the Emperors knew that they were no match against the enemies if they fought against them. Instead of fighting, they turned to understanding the situation and responding to the needs of the situation. They were adaptable.

These stories tell us that adaptability is part of Japanese culture which they brought in how they do their business. The roots of the world renowed Kaizen principle, the principle of continous improvement, can be traced back to Edward Deming. Deming, a management consultant from the US, introduced Total Quality Management in post-war Japan. Both TQM & Kaizen tackle continous improvement.  Understanding the difference between the 2 will help us understand why Japan did not just adopt TQM. A paper called An Analysis of Relationship between Total Quality Management and Kaizen, has this to say on the difference between the 2, “TQM features primarily focus on customer’s satisfaction through improvement of quality. It is both a top down and bottom up approach whereas kaizen is processes focused and a bottom up approach of small incremental changes. Implementation of TQM is more costly as compared to Kaizen. Through kaizen, improvements are made using organization’s available resources.” This paper gives me a clue that if Japan used TQM instead creating TPS, it would have not worked.

One of the first applications of TQM in Japan was when Taichi Ono converted the principle of TQM into Toyota Production System (TPS), which also uses the principle of Kaizen. Here we see that the Japanese did not just adopt and use TQM, if they did, it would have not worked. Remember that that was post war and Japan had very little resource and if they used TQM, which is resource heavy, they would either borrow money or close. So, instead of using TQM they adopted its principles and made TPS, which is something, the fits their needs.

Aside from principles, Japan is also known for their technology. Comparing them with the west where part of grand vision is to dominate planets and space travel, most of Japan’s technology is used for practical reasons, adapting for social needs such as those robots for the elderly care, automating agriculture to make it efficient for home delivery or safer mobility. This can be seen in their society 5.0 policy.

The Japanese adaptability is something to admire. It made them survive and win against their enemies, and it is also something they used to bolster their economy after the war. In such a short period of time after the war, they were able to bring their economy back.

To be an expert you need to know many

I had the privilege of having a conversation with Shuang-Min Chang (SMC). What’s remarkable about her is her 15-year experience in the luxury brand industry. She lived in Europe, India and China before going back to her homeland Taiwan after her retirement. Currently she is a life coach. She helps executives chart their path or understand changes in their lives.

In the course of our conversation, I asked her thoughts on being a master or expert of something or being a Jack-of-all-trades. I asked her because I think this is one of a modern man’s dilemma where a society favors experts over generalists. This is evident in what is seen in media. I also tackled this thought and I wanted to know what she thinks about it. For her, who loves to do many things, she prefers a holistic approach and finds that one can be successful not by being great in one thing but greatness is a combination on many things. In other words, a manager can not be great if all he knows are technical matters but do not know how to communicate. I would like to put it this way: A master was once a student who explored many things to come to the one thing he is great at. I must say that I agree with her. Being social beings, we communicate ideas and ideas or knowledge can only be power if it can be used to influence and create something.

Another topic we tackled is the difference between eastern and western coaching philosophy. For her what matters is the person being coached. In her experience, someone heavily influenced by the west is easier to coach because they are more straightforward than someone influenced by east.

We also discussed about perspectives. For her, this pandemic created many positive events compared to how it is portrayed in media. She has gained more time for family, and she has since socialized better. I do feel the same. The pandemic gave people more time to think and discover themselves. Stopping made us look from outside the circle where we have always been.

It was an insightful 40 minutes of interview. My biggest takeaway that I can bring to business is that expertise or being known comes from knowing a lot and putting them all together to create what your are.

Serious about change

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An innovative company is one that challenges status quo and welcomes new ideas into its methods and processes. In the past few years, there has been an increase in training human capital in the topics of creativity, innovation and design in the hope of creating a new product. However, the failure to implement the outcome of the training can be traced to management who likes the idea of new but does not want to take risk in the implementation. Such company is in tug of war between change and tradition. It takes more than wanting the idea of change to drive change.

Creating an innovative company begins with the commitment to change and resources. Change carries more than the idea of shift. Creating paradigm shift requires plenty of energy because one is not only changing the culture of the company, it also changes the established habits of the people used to doing certain things previously. I know of a company who wishes to implement a simple after sales survey. All the necessary questions and survey were done, but even after 2 years, it is still in the upcoming project. This company is no small or medium company. This company employs hundreds of people. 

If you wonder why some learning programs do not work, it is not because the training is ineffective, it is the structure that has to be checked. There has to be a champion who needs to see to it that the desired outcome is coming to fruition.

Commitment and change requires a champion. Every company who wishes to drive change can only change its culture by changing its structure and having a champion committed to change is what is needed. This champion is someone who needs to have authority and solely focused on realizing change. That person may be a project manager but the key is that the person needs to be bestowed with authority and listened to by the management.

If you are thinking of bringing innovation to your company check if everyone is committed to change, there is ample resource to bring change and a champion the will drive the movement.