Bright ideas

HIT THE GROUND RUNNING: Wellness Entrepreneur Justine Cordero talks about the Risks and Rewards of turning your passion into a business

Justine Cordero considers herself lucky. At a young age, she experienced entrepreneurial success and heartbreak with her sports events company, Color Manila. Today, she is bouncing back and ready to share her experience and wisdom with aspiring entrepreneurs.

Runner’s High

Justine has been an organizer of mass participation sporting events through her brief stint in Camarines Sur’s tourism efforts. So when a colleague and soon-to-be partner showed her a video of a US-based running event, The Color Run, and asked if they could do something similar in the Philippines, Justine said it was easy. In 2012, they established Color Manila.

The project excited them because it tapped a market completely different from other running events in the country at the time. Instead of catering to experienced athletes, Color Manila welcomed participants from every skill level.

“That was part of our communications: Don’t pressure yourself,” says Justine. “You don’t even have to run. As long as you finish the race, you still get a medal. What’s important is that you were present, and that’s already one step into a healthier lifestyle.”

From the classic race where participants were given color powders to throw into the air, Color Manila would also have night races, paint races, black light, glow paints, and glitter race challenges.

In its first year, they mounted 3 races. By the next, they were mounting 10. By 2018, Color Manila was mounting 30 races in a year, with some events held back-to-back in locations as far as Manila and Cebu.

“That’s how you know your brand is successful: when you go beyond the physical product you’re selling,” says Justine. For Color Manila participants, the races became more than just beating their personal records or showing off the merch. It was about friendship, having fun, being free, and self-care. Justine mentions participants proposing marriage at the race or celebrating their anniversaries there.

Getting ahead of yourself

But a brand’s success isn’t the same as a business’ success, as Justine would soon find out. For eight years, Color Manila ran with practically no financial planning outside of the basic cost-estimate analysis.

Color Manila expanded adventurously. Business decisions were guided more by passion over prudence, the core of which was wanting to provide bigger and better experiences for their community of runners. While they succeeded in creating a brand beloved by its audience, the business suffered from a lack of foresight. They acquired office space in BGC and hired more people. Justine discovered that they had assets sitting idly in their warehouses, unaccounted for. This oversight in financial planning left Justine's business with a severely limited number of options.

“Kapag entrepreneur na ang na-burn out, you can’t make the right decisions. Domino effect na ‘yun,” warns Justine. “Kumbaga loss ka an, mali na yung first decision mo, yung next decision mo magiging mali rin. You really need to take care of the entrepreneur. You’re the leader. You’re the head of the company. Pag nag-falter ka, wala na.”

In Business and in Health

Justine touches on an issue that many business owners tend to overlook: their personal health and wellness. Running a business can be rewarding, but it is also challenging, time-consuming, and stressful. And while it’s important to take care of all the financial, marketing, and business aspects of your operations, the beating heart of your company is you, the entrepreneur.

In the same way that your business equipment and machinery need regular maintenance and upkeep, it’s important for the entrepreneur to take care of your body and mind, and to ensure that you and your business are financially ready in case the business owner gets sick or needs time off.

“Apart from the financials, you have to ask yourself as an entrepreneur about the time you will be spending in your business,” says Justine. “Given the profit margin that you’re going to get when you scale, kamusta yung health mo? Mentally, would you still have time? Is it worth it?”

When she finally took a serious look at their finances, Justine had to admit that the business was in trouble. And no matter how much they loved the brand, they decided to sell Color Manila in 2019. “Don’t fall in love with your business,” Justine advises aspiring entrepreneurs. “We treated Color Manila like it was our baby. We were willing to give up a lot of things to make it work. Know when to close doors.”

Bouncing Back Brightly

Today Justine is running several different businesses in different fields. She operates Blackwood Resort, an old clubhouse in Tanay that Justine and her business partner renovated by themselves and converted into an AirBnb space. That was also where they got married.

“I have a very lean team [at Blackwood Resort],” says Justine. “I’m keeping everything small, testing the market even before we go big. I already have a business plan set up for that. But for now, I know that I shouldn’t expand yet. Eto lang ang budget natin, we just work on this, let’s not make it too fancy.”

“Even if people say, hindi naman masyadong maganda ang resort, dapat mas fancy pa! Well, that’s not my market. That doesn’t reflect me,” says Justine firmly. “As entrepreneurs, mayroon tayong tendency maging ganoon e. “My business is going to reflect me, so it has to be the best!” Remind yourself: this is a business. And I am not my brand.”

Justine also runs Women’s Fitness Philippines, an event brand centered on women’s health and wellness. Women’s Fitness Philippines continues Justine’s passion for events, fashion, mental health, and physical wellness. “We want to be able to mount events that cater to women. We want to communicate that there’s no one way to become fit. It’s not about having a slim body. You need to be holistic: physical fitness, mental health, even spiritual. I might even have an all-women’s run too.”

With her new brands, Justine is more discerning now. She’s more logical and no longer blinded by love. She shows her care for her new businesses by making financial planning a priority, not an afterthought.

“When I do business now, I want one with faster ROI (Return of Investment), says Justine. “You never know when the next pandemic or crisis will be. At least nakabawi ka na. Return na agad ang investment mo, rather than 5 years later pa. Especially for start-ups. If you can ROI in 3 months, go for it. Kasi malaki na yung risk. Sobrang conservative ko na!”

“There’s no hack in business,” says Justine. “If you were bad in your previous business because you didn’t know how to run it, don’t expect to suddenly know what you’re doing when you open another one. You have to educate yourself. Learn however you can.”