'Disrupt or be Disrupted'—Lessons on Entrepreneurship from RJ Ledesma of Mercato Centrale

'Opportunity is found in the challenge.'

Mercato Centrale’s CEO RJ Ledesma may not be at the head of an international conglomerate, but he has managed to earn perhaps even more respect than many other CEOs due to his commitment to helping small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) thrive. Once a food market, Mercato Centrale has redefined itself as a small food business incubator where tenants invest in more than just a stall—they invest in the chance to grow under Ledesma’s guidance.

It’s no surprise that Ledesma’s company won the SME Company of the Year Award at the 10th Asia CEO Awards, as well as an SME Excellence in Innovation Award at the ASEAN Business Awards. Aside from Mercato Centrale, Ledesma is also the man behind EnterPH, a business consultancy, and EasyFranchise, a one-stop franchising tool.

The first speaker and host of Esquire Money’s event Lessons in Entrepreneurship from Business Movers, Ledesma had a lot of insights to share with the audience of aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs.


1| Be patrons of other businesses

“The way of the future is building ecosystems for your business,” said Ledesma. Outsourcing is an avenue to support fellow entrepreneurs—it’s how local businesses can be patrons of local businesses.

“Not everything should be in-house,” said Ledesma, especially if outsourcing can lighten the load on your plate and create more efficient results. Micromanagers are guilty of trying to do everything themselves, but that’s not an advisable trait as an entrepreneur. If you want to maintain the quality of your core competency, outsourcing things like logistics, ecommerce, and even accounting may be the way to go.

You don’t have to be an expert at everything, and outsourcing helps you build not only your business but also the businesses of others.

2| Put on your entrepreneurial glasses

On the question of whether entrepreneurs are born or made, Ledesma said, "Entrepreneurs can be trained."

It’s the entrepreneurial mindset that matters, and it’s something that all the best entrepreneurs have in common. Seeing things in a new angle leads to a mindset that’s drawn toward opportunities, innovation, and value creation, which in turn can become a source for new ideas, businesses, products, and services.

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Ledesma compared the mindset to a pair of glasses that entrepreneurs should never take off. There are opportunities everywhere if you look hard enough. While there are no steps toward a successful business, there is a roadmap toward thinking like a successful businessman—and putting on those glasses is the first step.

3| Failure is part of the job

“No entrepreneur worth his salt out there has not failed at a business venture, whether big or small—that’s impossible,” said Ledesma.

Risk is part of the job, and with that risk comes the possibility of failure. Ledesma noted how Filipinos in general are afraid to fail, which makes it hard for them to take the risk to start a business. It’s a legitimate concern considering the money you can lose if your business fails, but as Ledesma said, “Anyone who’s big right now has failed in the past.”


He went on to explain the entrepreneurs learn to wear failure like “a badge of honor” as proof of a risk that was taken and a challenge overcome.

Because despite the failure, “opportunity is found in the challenge,” and the next step after a failed venture is to figure out what you learned, how to move ahead, and how to apply what you learned so you don’t make them again.

After all, the greatest risks that were ever taken are now household names: Microsoft, Google, and Facebook.

4| Ask the right questions

Often, aspiring entrepreneurs start with this wrong question: “How can I make money?” According to Ledesma, the first question should be, “What problem am I trying to solve?”

Problems are the pain points of society that people will be willing to support if it helps their daily lives. That’s how industry disruptors managed to come up with concepts and monetize on its success. But Ledesma emphasized the need to create a sustainable solution that can’t be copied. Milk tea and mango drinks may be popular now, but the market competitors face the challenge of trying to stop copycat recipes.

There is opportunity in the challenge, but there is also opportunity in the problem, of which the Philippines has plenty.

“Find the problem, check how other people are solving it, and think how you can solve it better,” said Ledesma.

The hospitality industry’s problem lies in its steep prices and complicated booking process. AirBnb became a solution and disrupted the traditional players in that industry. Traffic in the Philippines has reached new unbearable levels, so Angkas was created to provide commuters with a faster and cheaper mode of transportation, and one that could maneuver its way through traffic. It disrupted the disruptors.

A thriving business landscape encourages the growth of small and big ventures, but the real challenge is the demand to keep innovating. Because according to Ledesma, "Either you will be the disruptor or your business will be disrupted."

In partnership with LBC Express Solutions, Esquire Money’s event Lessons in Entrepreneurship from Business Movers was held on October 26, 2019, at the Dusit Thani Davao.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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