How Ink All-You-Can owner took big leap from employee to entrepreneur

Jerry Ilao

Posted at Jan 10 2016 04:21 PM | Updated as of Jan 11 2016 03:19 PM

(Business Mentor's note: Jerry Ilao is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) by profession and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA). He was an academic scholar and despite his financial constraints, he graduated Valedictorian and Magna Cum Laude of his class in 1999. He was also selected as Most Outstanding JPIAn of the Philippines and became a finalist in the Top 10 Most Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP). He is the owner of Ink All-You-Can, an alternative printer consumables business with 20 branches nationwide. He is also the current President of the Association of Filipino Franchisers, Inc. (AFFI).)

MANILA - I was born in Naga City, Bicol Region, to a humble family of seven. My mother was a teacher and my father was a government employee. Like most parents, they told me that I should study hard so I could land a good job and improve my life.

So, that’s what I did. I really studied hard and became active in extra-curricular organizations. When I graduated in college, I was fortunate to receive various awards and in a way, they helped me get accepted in one of the most prestigious consumer goods companies in the world, Procter & Gamble.

I entered the corporate world and then quickly realized how lucky I was to be in that company, not only in terms of financial rewards but also in terms of the training and the wealth of knowledge that I received. I handled different roles--from plant accounting, to sales finance, to Global Internal Audit, and later on, to a Global Anti-Fraud Team.

It was indeed a very fulfilling career. But deep inside, I felt early on that something was missing. So while working for P&G, I also started to engage in various small-time business ventures funded with my savings because I felt a strong interest in entrepreneurship ever since.

First salvo

My first venture into business was a boutique in 2001. Yes, you read it right, a "boutique" from a straight man.

During weekends, I would go to the busy streets of Divisoria market to buy my merchandise of ladies’ shirts, blouses, etc., not minding the crowded place and the “not-so-good” smell around the area. I then send the clothes to my hometown, Naga City, for display in my small shop.

My parents were very supportive and greatly helped with running the business while I was working in Manila.

For the first few months, the business was doing OK until I realized that the stocks were getting harder to manage. In addition, vendors from Metro Manila came and offered cheaper prices. After almost a year of operation, I closed the business.

Lessons learned:

1) Managing many inventory items is hard.

Determining which design will sell and how much to order for each item can be really overwhelming.

2) Pricing the product at two times the cost is not enough to cover unsold inventory, salaries of people, and rental for the store.

3) I have to find a way to differentiate my business from others.

Second round

My goal of becoming an entrepreneur was not shaken by my first business failure. The mobile carwash business was becoming popular that time in Metro Manila so I decided to bring it to Naga City. Personally, I hate waiting and doing nothing for an hour while my car is being washed so it seemed like a good business opportunity for me.

What I did not anticipate was the headache of actually operating the business. I ran into different problems like absenteeism, sub-standard work, disregarded work policies, and even theft. In short, I was shocked by the operation nightmare.

To make matters worse, I was “managing” the business long distance. I was working in Manila while my business was in Naga, so it was extra difficult.

Lessons learned:

1) When you have a service-oriented business, the complexity of managing people is multiplied by the number of people you have.

2) Standardization of work is very important in a service business.

3) In a service business, “fraud” or “undeclared sales” is harder to detect because there is no “real” inventory.

Third round

Coming out of the mobile carwash business heavily bruised but not beaten, I then developed a small area in a mountain near our city.

It started as a small place that I bought for my parents so they can plant fruit-bearing trees, and have a place to rest, away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

However, a friend suggested that we convert it into a weekend grill restaurant so more people could enjoy the place. Being the aspiring entrepreneur that I was, I got excited. We set up a simple menu and advertised on the radio that a view like Tagaytay overlooking the city was available in our place.

It quickly created a buzz in the city and soon a lot of people came to our restaurant. However, after a few months of operating it and much to our dismay, we decided to abandon the place due to security concerns. It was another investment down the drain.

This time, I was really hurt. I was beginning to think that entrepreneurship may not be for me. At this point, I already lost around P1 million trying different business ventures. One million pesos of hard-earned money that I could have used to buy a new car.

The Knockout

In 2005, I found an interesting technology that just came out in the market. It could give up to 96 percent savings on printer ink expenses without suffering print quality.

I got very excited again and called up my mom to tell her about my new business. After I told her about it, she told me something I will never forget:

"Baka naman malugi ka ulit diyan. Magkano na naman kaya mawawala sa 'yong pera? (How much money will you lose again this time?)”

I could sense the concern and worry in her voice because I already lost P1 million trying to be an entrepreneur.

I knew I had to be strong and continue to believe in my passion so I simply told her, “Ma, pasasaan ba’t tatamaan ko rin yan! (Mom, I know someday I will hit it right!)”

Ink All-You-Can was then born.

I started Ink All-You-Can as a home business with P10,000 capitalization, a far cry from the P1 million that I spent on my first 3 businesses. At first, I was doing everything from sales, delivery, installation to customer service.

Since the product was really good, the overwhelming response from customers triggered the business to grow faster than expected.

In January 2007, after working for seven years and operating Ink All-You-Can for more than a year as a side business, I quit my job and went full-time with Ink All-You-Can.

Soon, the company expanded to SM Supermalls, including branches in SM Megamall, SM City San Lazaro, SM City Fairview, SM City North Edsa and SM Mall of Asia, among others.

This year, we just celebrated our 10th anniversary in business with 20 branches all over the Philippines.

Looking back, I remember when I was resigning from P&G, my co-employees asked me during my despidida, “Why do you want to do it? Why do you want to forego the corporate life that you currently have, for a life as an entrepreneur which is full of risks and uncertainties?”

I told them, “I take pride when I see one person eating three times a day because of my business. Even if it’s just one person, it is still one person who can live a decent life because of me.”

Now, I am much prouder that Ink All-You-Can gives employment to not just one person, to not just 10 people, but to more than 100 deserving employees. Is it worth it--all the troubles and the pains that I had to go through as an entrepreneur?

You bet it is!

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For questions and more information, you may contact Armando "Butz" Bartolome by email: [email protected] or on Twitter https://twitter.com/philfranguru. His website is www.gmb.com.ph