Apart from being a reputable stock trader/analyst, Marvin Germo is many things: entrepreneur, blogger, book author, newspaper columnist, and registered financial planner. All these, however, are just his ways and means of fulfilling his ultimate goal: financial freedom for every Filipino. Now, that might sound like a lofty dream (and indeed it is), but if Marvin’s life is an example, nothing is impossible.
From completely ordinary beginnings, Marvin is now one of the leading finance experts in the country. He represents Registered Financial Planners (RFP) Philippines, an independent self-regulatory professional group educating and gathering financial planners in the country. He writes regular columns on stock investment for the Business Mirror and MoneySense Magazine. Marvin, who often appears in TV and radio interviews, also shares financial knowledge as a keynote speaker in various events and seminars.
Here are insights on how he was able to carve his own path toward financial freedom through entrepreneurship.
1. Being an entrepreneur is a decision.
Marvin wasn’t born to a particularly wealthy, business-minded, or financially-savvy family. His father, for example, was a long-time employee of a top multinational pharma company up until retirement. Marvin himself seemed destined for the same, safe path, having started out in a corporate job and staying there for five years.
But along the way, he realized that he had more ambitious goals, and that being an employee was not going to help him fulfill them. “I just used that particular season in my life to be able to save, to learn different skills, and meet different people,” he says.
He is quick to point out, however, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with living the corporate life. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all idea, because some people will really be effective in the corporate world and some as an entrepreneur. Ako, I really saw myself as someone who’s very entrepreneurial, but I found that out when I was working already,” he recounts.
2. Lay your foundations early.
The first five years of Marvin’s professional life might not have been spent being a businessman, but he was already testing the waters. “I started doing a lot of things on the side when I was 21, like buy-and-sell and concessioning softdrinks in conferences,” he recalls.
What it was not, he says, was a way to earn more money. He wanted to see if the ventures he branched out to were things he could do in the long term. Trying different things, he said, let him see for himself if he could stay in a particular business without getting burned out. His early businesses might not have earned him much money, but he took away something more important: knowledge and experience that would serve him later in life.
Marvin adds that saving up as soon as you start earning is another way to build early groundwork. Young professionals, he says, often think that they’ll have enough time later on to earn money and to save. What they don’t realize is that starting early makes it easier to save up when you’re older. “Say, if you start when you’re in your 20s, you just have to put in a small amount, but if you start 50s then you already have to put in a bigger amount.”
3. Make mistakes. Make them now.
The very fact that his parents were not entrepreneurs was what pushed him into being one. Marvin recalls the time that his father was offered early retirement. The elder Germo was given a sizable lump sum and decided to put up his own businesses: a gas station and a napkin distribution company, but without a strong business experience, these ventures eventually failed.
“I decided it shouldn’t happen to me in my 50s. I said if I’m going to make a mistake, I’d rather make it in my 20s or when I’m still young.” That way, he says, he would have the rest of his life to correct the mistake.
Being in your 20s is also an excellent time to make mistakes: the risk is considerably smaller because you’re simply not able to put out more money.
4. Start small.
So maybe you’re excited now and you want to give up your job to start your own business. Hold your horses. As with any new venture, a business carries a lot of risk, especially if it’s your first time to put up one. You’ll want to dip your toes one at a time, preferably with your job as a lifesaver around your waist, instead of jumping in headfirst.
Don’t forget that a new business will most likely not make a lot of money for the first six months to one year. You don’t want to be worrying about where payments for your mortgage or bills are coming from, at the same time that you’re worrying about growing your business.
5. Money isn’t everything.
It might seem ironic, but don’t go into business just because you want to get rich, Marvin advises.
“Money is not the end-goal, it’s just a tool.”
Apparently, the harder you chase the money, the harder it becomes to get it. Instead, he says, find a purpose, do what you love, and do it well. Money will come, without you having to chase after it. Control your money, and don’t let it control you. The real question, Marvin points out, is that “if the money comes, will you be able to handle it?”
6. School isn’t everything.
A Harvard Business School diploma could be your sure ticket to that corner office and a six-figure salary, but it’s not strictly necessary. Just ask Marvin.
“All things I know now about business and finance, I learned them all after I graduated. [In college] I took up engineering, which is far from what I’m doing now.” Indeed. Marvin, who got his Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics and Communications at the Mapua Institute of Technology, currently deals with stock markets and finance, all of which he learned when he’s out in the real world. He admits it’s just another proof of the truism that nothing you’ll ever learn in school will be useful in real life. Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, anyone?
School isn’t completely useless, however. “I think what you get in school is the connections, and some foundational things but it doesn’t really mean that if you’re, say a cum laude, you’re going to do better outside than an average student student,” Marvin says.
7. Learning is everything.
“For me, part of entrepreneurship is also educating yourself. When I started doing things, I’d read so much on sales, mindset, those things that are going to be helpful in business.” Marvin arrived to what he is now through reading books and investing on knowledge.
He completed the Philippine Stock Exchange Certified Specialist Course in the Ateneo Center for Continuing Education, It’s vital, Marvin says, to learn as much as you can before trying anything out. The lengths to how far you can go in your chosen venture are only limited by how much you know.
Having people to look up to is also important. He counts finance and tech luminaries like Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Edgar Sia, Randell Tiongson, Chinkee Tan, and Jason Lo as his most important influences.
PH Needs More Entrepreneurs
Marvin says that what the country needs right now is more entrepreneurs. People have to stop looking for ways to earn a bigger salary, and instead create multiple streams of income. You don’t even have to quit your job to be an entrepreneur.
The Philippines has the second-highest GDP (gross domestic product) in Asia but people keep asking why they don’t feel it. It’s not a question, he says, of whether or not you’re getting a benefit, but of whether or not you can contribute to it. It’s important to take part in business because that’s how we, as ordinary citizens, can help the economy, and thus, help the country move forward.
Marvin does his part in educating Filipinos about finance through his work as a member of RFP. “What I like about RFP is that it lays the right foundation on money. They teach you how to make a plan, and about the right foundation towards setting your financial goals, or getting out of debt, in investments, and savings. RFP has been part of everything that I’m involved in: the radio show, etc. It helped build my credibility.”
“Focus on what you’re good at (because) it will give you more returns. Starting businesses will also make our economy more sustainable, (create) more jobs, (and create more) wealth.”