I’ve got a real treat for you today. Mark Mellinger is a valued PhilFAQS reader who, like many of you out there, has long had the idea that he wants to leave his job in the US and come and live in the Philippines.
Also, as many of you are also concerned with, he needed a way to make a living in the Philippines.
I’ve been working with Mark for actually several years now, helping him find answers to some questions, giving him my honest opinion on some issues and in general just enjoying the conversation.
Well, Mark finally “made the move”. I’m delighted that he agreed to share his story so far. (Mark’s own words are in blue. I’ve made some comments and clarifications, and made a few changes in the formatting for readability only, but aside from that I’ve changed nothing. Thanks, mark:
My name is Mark Mellinger and I would like to introduce myself
and share my story thus far. Some background about me is that I am a former Marine and came to Subic Bay in 1982 and got “bit” by the bug and wanted to come back.
Since then I have made 9 trips total to the Philippines part vacation and part business. I knew that having a business was the way to go and at first I looked at all the standard business models such as internet café, taxi, jeepney, sari sari store and even construction. I felt I could kick butt and come over here and show the Filipinos hot to do it right and my “Kano” get it done attitude would get me tons of business. Thank GOD for what we all call EDUCATION! Through lots of networking and Dave Starr’s site here as well as Bob Martin and buying some of his books [highly recommended] I got educated. I realized the most important thing I need to bring to the table is flexibility. I now know that I need to mold and adapt to the Filipino way and not the other way around. I will give a good example here in a bit….
Amen to that Mark. The number one reason I see for most failures of foreigner business here is the fact the foreigner arrives with a head full of ideas, all focused on “showing the Filipinos how it’s done. Normally, this ends badly.
My Business Model:
I have been making Beef Jerky for 23 years now and literally have thousands of customers back in the states. I’ve even shipped jerky to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. I thought about Jerky as a business in the Philippines about 5 years ago and started to craft my plan. Its ready to eat, spicy and salty, no cooking required, high protein and a very mobile snack. The more I researched the more I liked it. I came over for 2 separate trips to cost out all my supplies, rent, and also handed out lots of samples and even sold jerky in a bar in Libis. I felt jerky was and is a viable potential business and focused in on that.
Mark I have two comments here. First of all I commend you on choosing a path that matches your experience. So many times I have heard from other foreigners about their plans to start a business here in which they have absolutely no experience. They work in a bank in the US now, and they want to drop everything to come to the Philippines and start a Jeepney service or some such .. where they have EXACTLY zero experience. Again, this seldom ends well.
Second, I have been wondering why this whole venture seems to be completely separate from your obviously successful business back in the USA? I know one of the more regretful parts of my move to the Philippines has been that my wife and I just “gave up” on our successful business back in the USA. We felt it would be impossible to continue that business remotely from the Philippines. But now, after some years of experience living here, I often wonder if we didn’t make the wrong decision there …
The thing I will most certainly say you are doing right it to focus on your area of expertise. As the words to some song say, “Do what you do do, well”.
Making the move:
it was somewhat challenging. I tried my best to tie up loose ends but there is never enough time. I initially wanted to come over in September of 2013 and set the date but the fear of such a big move was so daunting that I became paralyzed with fear and canceled my trip.
I then became somewhat depressed as this has been a dream of mine for some time. I was letting fear control me and my dream.
I spoke to some friends and came to the conclusion that one more trip was warranted and in December of 2013 I came over again and did some more research, primarily on distribution.
I forgot to say exactly what my fears were so I will state them here. I was and am still afraid of corruption. I am 6-6 and lily white. In other words I stick out like a sore thumb. Will other business men take me seriously? Will they scam me? Will the pay offs and bribes be endless? How many times will I be robbed? So far none of that has happened and only one time was I approached by a guy from new Zealand who tried to pressure me like a used car salesman. He even leaned in and violated my personal body space to try and intimidate me by saying I am in grave danger with my tourist vise but his girlfriend is a “fixer” and for a price he could fix it and wanted to know how soon I could give him the money. I ran the other way and will never hand out money like that to anyone. Anyway, I set a new date and this time I told myself that no matter what I was getting on that plane. It was still scary but I did it and let me tell you the relief of landing and actually putting into play my ideas is refreshing! …
Exactly. You know I have even heard people talk about President Roosevelt’s famous speech where he told the country, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” with derision or ridicule. (but I have never heard anyone who actually lived through the Great Depression and WWII making fun of the words). As an American who has now been fortunate enough to live through nearly 7 decades, my impression of my own country is that we have become a nation of overly fearful, overly cautions people.
There are certainly things to fear in the world, and there is certainly time for reasonable caution, but we must always remember that fear itself can be much worse than anything which really happens to us. Once you “take the bull by the horns” and get going on something, it is never as scary as you thought it would be, and the feeling of accomplishment is a real, honest, legal and natural “high”.
And like Mark, the only time I actually know I was scammed and the times I avoided being “crooked” because I smelled a rat, were all “courtesy” of fellow foreigners. There are a lot of non-Filipinos who hang around [places where there are lot’s of foreigners .. like Immigration, the US Embassy, etc., who delight in offering “help” and giving you “good deals”. Beware is all I can say. You do NOT need a “fixer” or “guide”. Trust yourself before you trust others, no matter what nationality they are
I bought a one way to manila, and then 14 days later I bought an onward to Hong Kong for an additional 90$.I bought both these tickets in the states and had the etickets in hand when I departed the states and yes, they wanted to see the onward and the Philippines immigrations also wanted to see the onward ticket. It worked perfectly and the air carrier in the states never questioned it nor did anyone on the airport when I landed. No one even batted an eye…
One can also eliminate this issue by buying an onward ticket at the full-fare, fully refundable rate. Airlines sell these tickets .. businesses for example couldn’t live without being able to book refundable tickets .. and if you are going to refund the ticket immediately after arrival in the Philippines, what matter is the cost? You’re not going to pay the bill, so the price doesn’t matter.
Immigrations office adventure:
I need a tourist extension and went to the zoo, I mean immigrations and it was loaded with foreigners and long lines everywhere. I got my form and was told to get in line to get my passport stamped and also get a few 2X2 pics taken. Let me tell you I saw some frustrated people stomping and storming around with pissed off faces. Me? I was smiling ear to ear. This is the Philippines and flexibility and the Filipino way was top at my list. I got in the passport scanning line and when we got near the front the lady yelled out “LUNCH TIME” and walked away and told us to go to the other line. A pissed off stampede of people ran to the other line [I did too] only to be told by that lady “LUNCH TIME” and people were pissed off, yelling, cussing and fuming. I took it in stride and thought I will go and get my 2X2 picture. I went over and smiled and made small talk and she was very nice. I told her to make me look younger in my 2X2 and we chatted for a minute or so and told her how the photocopy girls were at lunch. She whispered to me to give her my passport and quietly went into a back office and came out with my passport copies. The lesson I want to impart here is you get more bees with honey than you do vinegar. And it worked perfectly…
As I have written before, the rules here on what happens at Immigration are “Consistently Inconsistent”. Just venture forth and git ‘er done” and don’t worry about horror stories and such. It’s all doable once you get started. I ALWAYS carry a small envelope of 2×2 ID photos (they are usually cheaper by the dozen any way, and several copies of my passport “face page”, the page with my current entry stamp, and any other copies I think I might need. That has saved me a lot of time over the years. Tip for those coming to the Philippines … buy a cheap scanner/copier/color printer … even if you don’t have a computer yet. The convenience of placing something on the glass platen, pressing “start” and having copies come out is hard to beat.
I am a licensed Virginia driver and what that means is I can go down and “avail” a drivers license here. It was a breeze and I was done in an hour! That license now gives me a certified Philippine based ID card and that’s exactly what I needed to open a bank account.
Getting a bank account
I knew I needed a Bank account and Dave and I went back and forth many times on the strategy. I went to the bank my niece uses so when we walk in there is already a connection. I walked in and spoke with the manager. She was very friendly and I was too. Lots of yes ma’am’s and small talk. I said I wanted to open a checking account and she said no sir, you cant but if you want you can open a joint savings account with your niece here. I wanted an account just in my name and I pulled out my license and she saw it and it raised her eyebrows and I could see it was a deal changer. She took it and looked at it and we established through my license I had a manila based address. I showered her with kindness and we spoke about the jerky business. She wants a sample and trust me…she will get a sample! I walked out with a savings account, a debit card, bank to bank transfers and more. All in 1 hour. Thanks Dave for all your incredible advice! Killing with kindness works. Even when the answer is no just hang in there and twist and turn, him and haw and watch how it might become a yes.
I’m still waiting on a bag and am working with a bag designer and I expect bags in just a few days. All in all I have accomplished this in 3 weeks.
I came with a well thought out plan. Lots of research talking to the “Old salty dogs”. Multiple trips to vette my idea and hopefully I will be selling jerky off my website as well as local bazaars and farmer markets, gyms, bars and so on. Actually I am at the part where I am going from putting my kitchen together to actually trying to make jerky transactions.
The biggest things I have learned so far is to be very flexible and learn the Filipino way and also don’t pick a business model most “Kanos” seem to gravitate to [see above]. Mine Dave’s site as well as Bob Martins site as they are the “Anchors” to learning what you need to “pull the trigger”
I haven’t actually earned money yet but I am very happy so far and I pinch myself everyday because right now…I am living the dream.
Thank you, Mark, for sharing so much. And let me also say something about the “haven’t earned money yet” comment. Earning money is a secondary goal, really. Now of course, many people really need profit from a business to sustain them. BUT. Starting a business for the sole purpose of making money? That’s a fool’s errand.
Start a business to introduce people to all the benefits and great taste of the Jerky you produce, or at showing them the best of whatever you are good at .. money will follow. To those readers who hung in there to the end of this long post, Thanks and be sure to share your success story as well. (And buy some Jerky, eh? Smart 0999 522 6398
Also Facebook under “big marks jerky”)