PIPOL: How RS Francisco, once a shoe salesman, became a millionaire
When six-year-old Raymond Francisco was cast as a tree in his school's Foundation Day play, he wasn't sure whether that entailed standing still or swaying to an imaginary breeze. So he dug for answers.
"Tanong ako nang tanong sa direktor: Ano bang klaseng puno ako rito — malaking puno ba ako, maliit ba? Matibay ba akong puno? Marupok? Mahangin ba, o walang hangin? Maaraw ba o maulan?"
At the time, Raymond didn't realize that his discontent with just donning a carboard trunk with paper cut-outs for leaves, and his inquisitiveness about what portraying a tree demanded, were what comprised what he knows now as character study.
To call Raymond a professional actor nowadays is inaccurate. Acting is his "passion," he says — one he affords to give time and resources to precisely because it's no longer his full-time job.
He was 18 when he first got paid as an actor. In the years prior, he had drawn happiness from handcrafting costumes, rehearsing lines, and finally embodying a different person before an audience — and Raymond always thought that was enough.
"Hanggang sa one time, may ginawa akong play sa Dulaang UP sa Diliman, ang title ay 'M Butterfly,'" he says, referring to what's regarded in theater circles as his breakout role, under the direction of Tony Mabesa.
Raymond recalls: "After noong opening night, inabutan ako ni Sir Tony Mabesa ng paycheck. Doon ako nagulat na, 'Bakit ako binabayaran?' Ang unang reaction ko nga, 'No, no, no, sir. Hindi mo ako kailangan bayaran kasi gusto ko itong ginagawa ko.' Sabi niya, 'No, you deserve it.' Doon ko lang na-realize na, puwede pala ako kumita bilang isang aktor at mabuhay bilang isang aktor sa entablado."
"M Butterfly" was a resounding success, spawning a tour and a major re-staging. His lead role as Song Liling, a French opera diva who tricks a French diplomat into falling in love with him, in the guise of a woman, stuck with Raymond for years. He became known as RS Francisco, the stage name drawn from his initials as suggested by Mabesa, in line with the character's myterious identity.
The role opened doors for him and he went on to act on bigger stages.
While the pursuit fed his soul, RS was forced to acknowledge a difficult truth.
"Gawa ako nang gawa ng theater for so many years, tapos na-realize ko na medyo hindi po ako nabubusog, hindi ko nabibili lahat ng gusto ko sa kita ko sa teatro," he says.
But he wasn't about to give up acting. His solution was to juggle a job he was passionate about and sustained his spirit, with a job that could sustain him financially.
"Pero dahil hindi ako nag-graduate — kasi kailangan ko tumigil dahil hindi na namin mabayaran ang tuition fee — pumasok ako sa SM, nagtinda ako ng mga sapatos... Nagtrabaho ako sa Binondo, sa isang warehouse ng mga telahan.
"Naalala ko, ang unang suweldo ko po noon is P1,800 a month. Para sa akin, laking-laki na ako doon, kasi ang kinikita ko sa mga play, P125," he says.
For a time, RS was also a hairdresser at a salon, and went door-to-door to sell bottles of perfume. He didn't mind hopping from one job to another, so long as these helped him earn, and thus allowed him to pursue his happiness — theater.
A shift in his mindset — that he should strive for more and not be content with getting by — came after one of his shows at the Music Museum.
His batch mate in Dulaang UP, actress Giselle Sanchez, congratulated him on the successful play when Raymond asked if he could hitch a ride with her going home. Giselle appeared surprised that he didn't own a car yet, despite being active on stage for years, RS recalls.
Giselle suggested he try being a commercial director, as it aligned with his skills anyway. To him, it was an epiphany. Why didn't he think of it sooner?
"Doon ako nasabak sa advertising," he says. "Kinapalan ko 'yung mukha ko, tinawagan ko 'yung mga producer na kaibigan ko. Gusto ko maging acting coach, gusto ko maging director, ako magpa-pa-arte sa mga talent. Nagawa ko 'yung for the longest time."
The career jump was life-changing for RS.
"Coming from selling shoes na I was earning P1,800 per month, to advertising na I was earning, per day, five to six figures... Doon ko na-realize na, 'Wow, nabibili ko na 'yung mga bagay na gusto ko.' I have financial freedom," he says.
For years, this was his new normal — which also meant giving up acting, and time with his family. RS's typical day included waking up by 5 a.m. for his latest TV commercial shoot. Most times, the shoot would stretch until the early hours of the next day.
What he lacked in time for his family, he made up for feasts, or "pakain," that he would throw for special occasions. And just because he could afford to splurge, he would make up holidays, like the anniversary of his parents' first meeting, so there was a reason to treat them to an extravagant meal. But RS was never around.
He narrates a conversation his mother once told him about. "Every time nagkakaroon ng event or party sa bahay namin... 'Sino nagpakain?' 'Iyong anak ko 'yan, si RS.' 'Nasaan na siya?' 'Ah wala, na sa shooting.'"
"Meron akong financial freedom, pero 'yung time freedom, wala ako. Ang tawag doon: no work, no pay," he says.
This was a familiar predicament for RS, only now the tables have turned. Whereas as a young theater actor, he managed to feed his passion but with the uncertainty of having a stable income; now, his wallet was full, but he could no longer say the same for his soul.
Just as his conversation with Giselle marked a turning point in his life, so too did a random invitation from a friend to try out a different field: multi-level marketing.
"Ayoko, scam 'yan," was RS initial response to the suggestion.
But he gave it a shot, upon the insistence of his friend.
"Nakita ko na 'pag maganda ang produkto mo, 'pag maganda 'yung kumpanya mo, 'pag maganda 'yung patakbo ng negosyo mo, hindi pala siya scam. Nakita ko na maganda. Pinasok ko 'yung mundo ng entrepreneurship," he says.
In 2010, RS founded Frontrow with his business partner, Sam Verzosa. The goal was to make accessible imported beauty products to the "masa," or general public, without relying yet on traditional advertisements. By applying what they now knew about multi-level marketing, RS and Sam saw Frontrow taking off sooner than they had anticipated.
Now, Frontrow has the likes of American boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather, and the three most recent Miss Universe queens, including Filipina Pia Wurtzbach, as its endorsers. Local superstars Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla were also recently introduced as "Believers."
These personalities, as well as Frontrow's ubiquitous ads along EDSA, are indicators of its great strides in the past eight years. But for RS, the fulfillment lies in seeing the personal successes of the company's distributors.
"Nakikita ko, ang success ng Frontrow, pag maraming nabibigyan ng parangal na millionaires club, car club, house club, travel club... Meron kaming pinarangalan na janitors, mga dating tricycle driver, ngayon umabot na ng millions in commissions," he says.
BECOMING 'BUTTERFLY' ANEW
RS appears tentative when asked to give a tangible example of how Frontrow has changed his life. "Without sounding mayabang," he begins, as he shares an anecdote about how commuting used to be a constant struggle for him, which he no longer has to deal with.
He does not give a precise number when he mentions having his own cars now. What RS is comfortable sharing doesn't involve digits, but gives an idea anyway of where he stands now.
For one, he is finally returning to stage with the role that made him RS, via "M Butterfly." That he's Song Liling again isn't the most remarkable part; RS is financing and producing the play, with all 21 performances in September intended as benefit shows for several organizations, including where he traces his roots as a professional actor, Dulaang UP.
Unlike when he was a commercial director, RS points out he now has "time freedom," which affords him regaining the passion he once traded for financial stability. Now, he can have both.
Momentarily looking far, as if reminscing, RS re-focuses on the present and says: "Kailangan ko dati magsukat ng tela sa bodega sa Binondo, magtinda house-to-house ng pabango. Iyon ang mga kailangan kong gawin para kumita ako. Ngayon, naiisip ko, 'Thank you, Lord, dahil nagagawa ko 'yung mga bagay na gusto ko.'
"I can do what I love, not just do what I need to do."