“The reasons behind the popularity of social entrepreneurship are many. On the most basic level, there’s something inherently interesting and appealing about entrepreneurs and the stories of why and how they do what they do. People are attracted to social entrepreneurs like… Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus for many of the same reasons that they find business entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs so compelling – these extraordinary people come up with brilliant ideas and against all the odds succeed at creating new products and services that dramatically improve people’s lives.”
– Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
Etu. EE. E-squared. Ernesto Elsisura. Entrepreneur Extraordinaire.
The last time I saw him, everybody knew him by his Christian name, Ernesto. 16 years later, he is now more referred to as Etu: Etu the person and ETU the brand. More specifically this 32-year old (young) businessman is the proud owner and Director of ETU Exams &Training Unlimited, a regionally-acclaimed review center for Nursing and English licensure exams (Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental).
A registered nurse (both in the Philippines and in the U.S.A.) and a licensed professor of Biology and Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), this fellow has spent more than 1/3 of his lifetime teaching.
Who would think that the boy who was once confused about how to find his place, will eventually become the man to help others establish themselves around the globe? All the while loving it, enjoying it AND getting paid for it. Ernesto does sound like he is living a dream come true because, how many of us have dreamt of finding that ideal job? How long have we spent planning and trying to come up with ways to land on that livelihood that fulfills us both materialistically and spiritually? But let’s be honest, one does not build a review center and becomes widely recognized in less than a decade without “working like a horse”. This guy has a lot on his plate: he literally works from dawn till way past dusk, 6 days a week… and on the 7th day? No, he does not rest. I’m not even sure when the last time he took a vacation was. For some people, passion knows neither pause nor break.
Believe it or not on Sundays (his only free day), he actually assists his students in their university or college entry in the UK, USA, NZ and Australia- free of charge! But he will always have time for coffee and chitchat with his favorite people. And to check the Philippine Stock Equity Index every now and then.
I really find it funny because I asked him to choose a random sentence that says something about him. I could’ve sworn it would be: “I’m a fan of purchasing life insurances that are linked to money market investments and I check good buys online on available local real estate.” Is there anything more random than that? Well, according to him more random is the fact that he is “one lucky individual!”
However as we all know, no amount of luck is enough to succeed. Everything comes with a price which for him was the difficult start of his enterprise, the uphill battle against himself and the society’s expectation*, plus an acute case of burn-out syndrome. Now this enterprise is currently changing not only his life, but the lives of his clients and their families as well.
Speaking of which, he is adamant in saying that his family is his number 1 inspiration- his strongest tool in turning a vision into reality. His ambitions are also fueled by his search for happiness and stability- his most effective shield against increasing competition. Though for someone who knows him personally, it’s safe to say that his hard-headedness is surely doing a lot more for his success and his business’ survival.
Not sure about how long he will be playing in the field, his vocation took over and says he will be around, “for as long as there is a demand for my service and that I am still happy and satisfied with what I am currently doing”.
One thing’s for sure, though- he doesn’t see himself very far from teaching or academics for that matter. In his own words he thinks he’d “… be a good teacher in a university here in the Philippines while enjoying a year break every two years, completing further studies and spending holiday breaks at the same time”. Ah, if only your high school teachers could hear you Ernesto…!
Dear reader, I am happy to present Ernesto Elsisura, Jr.; but before proceeding to the interview proper, allow me to thank him earnestly (no pun intended!) for taking the time to share with Colorfulifesite blog. I hope you learn as much as I did!
K: Exactly what do you do? How did you come up with your business idea?
E: I manage my own review center for Nursing and English licensure exams. I am a licensed nurse in the Philippines and in the USA, a registered biology teacher in the Philippines and a licensed TESOL (Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages). So to make use of all these, I thought, why not turn these investments into something that’s worthwhile?
K: Where did you get your capital?
E: To be honest, I am a product of people’s generosity. I started doing tutorials in Starbucks and wherever a table is available in a cafe wherever. It all started with a group of mature students who gave me a career break. They independently organized a group and availed for my tutorial service. I was able to gather few thousands. I was amazed!
Another client passed his IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and he offered me his office space for free. Not to mention there were already air conditioning units! It felt even more amazing! Currently, I am still operating in the same office, but I’m already renting.
K: What can you say about your brand? Pretty original one, by the way…
E: The reason behind the business name ETU Exams & Training Unlimited is because in the past, when my former students were asked as to where they were reviewing, they would just say “At ETU”. The others would never understand that ETU was actually my (nick) name so I decided to just use it as the final business name, instead.
K: How hard/easy is it to start a business in Cagayan de Oro City? (establishing logistics, permits, clientele, etc…)
E: Cagayan de Oro has the best nursing schools in the Philippines. That would mean that the competition among review centers here is really tough. It is not easy to make sure that the people helping you out in the business are honest and sincere and so, I decided that only family members could actually be in the operations.
To get permits isn’t really a problem in CDO, the local government constantly conducts one-stop agency where businesses could actually procure necessary papers. We are well informed and their advocacy of legitimizing businesses is really sound.
K: What was the toughest lesson you learned during that “starting” stage?
E: The core marketing strategy of the business I personally handle is ‘no marketing’ marketing style. I let former and currently enrolled student endorse me, should they be satisfied with our service. I think it works well that the business treats every client as an individual, and not just a part of the group.
K: What was your first success that made you decide to go on with the trade?
E: We produced an outstanding passing percentage and a national exam top-notcher. We also became Mindanao’s 2nd IELTS Agent as cited by IDP Australia.
(PAUSE FOR RESPECT)
K: What was your biggest failure/mistake that almost made you back out?
E: I was 22-23 when I started to work seriously. There came a point where I really experienced burnout. After graduation, I underwent non-stop examination, sat a series of training and seminars, vis-a-vis serious work. Whenever I devote (myself) on something, like work, I make it sure that I am prudently focused that I give my whole day and night, compromising holistic balance, which eventually resulted to complete burn out.
Simply put, it was my mistake not to balance my time for work and rest during the first few months of the business.
K: How is the competition?
E: Getting tougher every single year. What makes it exciting though is that age is an investment in the field of business and academe, so as the years passed by, the degree of competition rose but our number of years in the field also advanced.
K: Good point! Now, how do you establish prices?
E: Ideally, businesses should base it according to demand and competitor’s price but I chose to close my eyes from it.
I started as a personal tutor which usually comes with a higher price tag. I decided to keep the price range higher compared to other centers until present. I think it also depends on the clientele, on the general level. I personally think that customers nowadays are willing to pay a higher price for better quality and personalized service.
K: Yes, I agree. I think like that.
Tell me, Ernesto: after all that’s been said and done, do you consider yourself successful? Would you have done anything differently?
E: Success is covert, illusive even. I would like to believe I am!
Maybe, I should’ve started the business earlier. That way, I could’ve earned more years and learned more as a sole proprietor, in the field where I’m currently engaged.
K: Good, because you are successful! Well, of all these: what was unexpected?
E: Over and above, the many lives I have changed.
K: How many years have you been in the business? Do you wish to expand?
E: This is my 12th year as a professor, approximately 8-9 years as an entrepreneur.
For the business, to expand is no longer a wish. It can happen as a surprise, maybe. What I wish more is to “expand myself” and gain more experience outside entrepreneurship
K: Lastly, I would like to know what you think is the biggest challenge faced by:
-The young entrepreneurs?
E: By and large, it’s definitely the stigma on the young population’s ‘credibility’ which is usually associated with (lack of) experience. To my way of thinking, though I am not generalizing, the young people definitely have the knowledge and skills acquired from their college years- the paying clients, however, believe that their engagement with the inexperienced entrepreneurs can be a gamble as they haven’t proven anything yet. THIS IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE I FACED WHEN I STARTED!
-The social entrepreneurship (SE) sector?
E: Regardless of the entrepreneurial creed, SE’s bottomline is advocacy and the social media has really been of gargantuan help. The downside, however, is that consumerism has gone too far and has negatively affected the starting entrepreneurs- delaying, if not repelling, them from becoming their ideal selves as businessmen
E: Majority of my students, whenever I ask what they aspire, would always say the same and it is this- to land on a stable job. I see this as a challenge on my part as their coach as I see this as a future crisis.
*The Philippine society still expects high school honor students to finish college, get a 9-5 job, climb the corporate ladder, and settle down and so on…