Entrepreneurship is about seeing possibilities, learning from failures, and never giving up.

RJ Ledesma, co-founder of Mercato Centrale and its COVID-19 pivot, Mercato United Kitchen, told us this at Stridec 10th session, which began on September 3rd.

RJ has experience in real estate and brand management (Procter & Gamble). He’s a published novelist who’s also worked as a newspaper columnist and the editor-in-chief of a men’s magazine.

He is a well-known TV and event host, as well as the creator or co-founder of a number of companies, including Yoga Manila, Brainfit Studio, and Easy Franchise. He graduated from De La Salle University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in real estate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bernard San Juan, Managing Partner of Stridec, spoke with RJ about how he got into entrepreneurship, the origins of Mercato Centrale, and how he turned his talents into mentoring small businesses.

From Corporation to Entrepreneurship – And the Central Market

RJ learned about entrepreneurship from his father, who operated multiple firms of his own, even though he started his career in the corporate sector.

When RJ decided it was time to quit corporate Melbourne, his father offered him the choice of working for him or working for himself. RJ did both, working for the family’s real estate company, among other things.

RJ got the concept for Mercato Centrale while on his honeymoon with his wife. They went to Florence and discovered the Mercato Centrale, a market full with handmade vendors and delicious restaurants. RJ was skeptical of his wife’s desire to carry the idea back to the Philippines.

During media travels to Singapore, Thailand, and Taiwan, the topic kept coming up. On these travels, he saw that the first thing the tour organizers did was take him and the media contingent to hawker booths and food markets.

“It’s culturally rich, safe, secure, and sanitary.” It’s a meeting point for both locals and visitors. And I wondered, “How come there is no counterpart of that type of experience here in the Philippines?” RJ recalls something.

Back at home, he proceeded to scout the industry and discovered that BPO evening workers were in high demand. He took it as another indication that the plan would work.

“Would they go to a convenience store or a restaurant that would provide them hot, freshly prepared home cooked food?” So that’s what I’ve been thinking about,” RJ explains.

From the Central Market to the United Market Kitchen

RJ was able to successfully launch Mercato Centrale in November of 2010. It included a variety of enterprises, some of which went on to become successful brick and mortar establishments. The business grew to include cities all across the Philippines, and it was instrumental in bringing the food truck concept to the Philippines.

But then the pandemic struck, and RJ had to figure out how to adapt Mercato to a new set of constraints: safety, social distance, and a surge in takeout and delivery orders.

He gave the new concept a name.

The Hybrid Cloud Kitchen — a place where individuals may enjoy a variety of food vendors in a safe, socially separated environment, with take-out and delivery choices. He assembled fifteen merchants in a leased space at Ayala Malls Circuit Makati, where people could dine securely “al fresco” for those who loved the variety of options offered by Mercato.

He also incorporated an e-commerce delivery component, which allows clients to quickly order from all of the merchants at once.

Resolving the Issue

RJ recognises the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives, yet he is not disheartened as a businessman.

“You look at a world that’s full with possibilities,” he stated as an entrepreneur. You’re someone who wants to make a difference.”

“As an entrepreneur, your job isn’t to judge whether a scenario is good or terrible. As an entrepreneur, it’s your responsibility to ask, “What are the opportunities that exist in both good and terrible times?”

Entrepreneurs must always be on the lookout for opportunities to solve client concerns.

“What opportunities have been created as a result of this lockdown’s social distancing?” You try to see things from a new perspective.”

Turn consumer issues – or pain points, as they’re known in the business world – into opportunities, he adds.

Don’t Be Afraid To Fail

RJ was able to refine his entrepreneurial philosophy while navigating the start-up sector, “borrowing from the past but realising where you have to go in the future,” he explained.

He claims that corporate marketers strive to do it right the first time, which is a luxury that many entrepreneurs lack.

“Marketing professionals are meticulous. It’s time to get ready, aim, and fire the first shot, and it has to be your finest shot, right?” he inquires.

“As an entrepreneur, precision is more important than speed. It’s ready, aim, fire, After that, you aim and fire. You must continue to re-adjust the aim.”

He advises entrepreneurs to concentrate on opportunities and issue solving. “What is the problem you’re trying to tackle, the item you believe is underserved or missing?”

He claims that a competent entrepreneur must also be at ease with failure.

“Stand up if you fail,” RJ said.

Visit our Stridec website to view a replay of this webinar and read more about previous Stridec webinars.