Childhood hustling helped her turn a successful edtech entrepreneur

Christmas cheer brings memories to Philippines-based Rossana Ladaga-Llenado of her earliest hustle. As a six-year-old who loved giving gifts to her loved ones, she didn’t have the means to afford these gifts. The solution she came up with was simple – selling candies, stickers, stationery and all things precious to kids at her school for a small profit.  In this exclusive chat with AsiaBizToday, Rossana relives the moments that finally led her to where she is today.

This small endeavour gave her a deep insight into herself. She learnt that she loved making people happy, whether it was by giving them gifts or by selling them what they wanted or needed. This early realisation is what led her on her journey towards becoming the Czarina of the ed-tech sector in her country. Incidentally, she has also been honoured with more than 33 awards for entrepreneurship, leadership in the field of education and marketing.

Rossana has this to say about herself, “Helping people get what they want gives me fulfilment. I have always enjoyed providing varied things that different people need.” No wonder then that the candy side hustle changed into T-Shirt production, seminar/workshop catering, and commercial space subleasing once she was in college. She also provided her fellow students things like perfumes, jeans, fans, and fresh mushrooms.

Along with being the hustler that she was, Rossana ensured she participated in as many social and extra curricular activities as she could. “I was the president of two organizations in my university for four years besides being a member of several others including the varsity football team and the college paper,” she says while speaking about her college life. 

Taking the plunge

It was, perhaps, this ability to multitask that she mastered in college that made her journey into entrepreneurship the natural choice for her. After graduation, she tried and excelled at different things like selling real estate, campaigning for people who ran for public office, writing articles, and teaching word processing in a computer class. All these experiences, she believes, equipped her with qualities like discipline and determination that made it easy for her to transition into a business owner at the young age of 25. 

The bigger push, though, was becoming a mother to her twin sons at that age. “I wanted to stay at home to take care of them. At the same time, I also wanted to continue working because I needed the mental stimulation,” says Rossana recalling that early decision making phase. 

Delving into her interest in knowledge sharing and teaching with her experience, she started tutorial services for university entrance exams called AHEAD. “Back in 1995, being young and being a woman was not common for people putting up a business and I was both,” she rues. 

Over the last 25 years of running a very successful business Rossana has received several awards and honours. Among them all, she holds the honour she earned amid the ongoing pandemic at the ASEAN Business Awards dearer than others. 

Talking about the reason for this, she says, “Just like other businesses, AHEAD also encountered some obstacles due to the pandemic but we chose to soldier on. The award will always remind me that I can continue to make a difference even, and especially, in difficult times.”

Clearing the hurdles

Prod her about the exact nature of the obstacles and Rossana speaks about how difficult it was for her entire team to convince parents and students to go digital. “I have always advocated the use of technology in education. AHEAD had already launched different digital platforms and initiatives, so our digital transition wasn’t extremely difficult. We had to work hard to convince parents and students that online learning is possible and productive,” she shares. 

In fact, envisioning a scenario when digital interfaces become more commonplace as tools of learning, she aims to build robots that can continue imparting lessons to students during human catastrophes like wars and pandemics. Rossana believes that she is well equipped to work on this passion project, except in terms of the required capital. 

Like every working mother, Rosanna had her fair share of struggles within the domestic sphere as well. However, she feels dealing with her kids was not as difficult when they were younger. She explains, “I consider it more challenging now that my children are already grown-ups who have their own beliefs and values. It’s getting more and more difficult as they grow older because  they have their own personalities and opinions, and we sometimes clash on these.” 

These run-ins don’t stop her from guiding her four children to discover who they are while giving them freedom for growth. In fact, values she has learnt from her own mother are lovingly passed on to her daughters. “I consider myself as an authentic person because I always say what I mean and feel. I want my children to know that it is okay to be who you are. Each of us are unique in our own way. We should be confident and secure with ourselves because we are complete on our own,” she says. 

Steering the conversation towards her role as the head of a successful organisation, Rossana believes that she is well aware of her strengths as a leader which makes her more eager and confident to encourage more women to take up leadership roles in the business world. Having women make important decisions in the workplace helps to make an organization more humane and considerate on issues like delegation of duties, work-life balance and building a more conducive work environment, she believes. 

Woman as a leader

A staunch proponent of including more women in the workforce, a topic which she often speaks about passionately on various public forums, Rossana thinks that many ambitious women are hindered by the discrimination they face in the corporate world as well as societal expectations. 

“Women always prioritize their families. Women are also expected to be the first to give up their careers when needed, once they get married. Women are considered to be more emotional and sometimes prioritize human relations over professional gains,” she says. 

She believes that often people justify the woman’s place being at home by calling these traits as weaknesses, when these are the exact qualities that make many women business owners successful. “Their passon, love, patience and understanding are what clients and employees need. The world needs more of these leaders, especially today,” she says. 

For the enterprising spirits, Rossana has some words of wisdom. “Entrepreneurship is a difficult road to take, but it is also one that bears many rewards. Not everyone has the drive to continue, especially on difficult days. But if you’re someone who loves to work hard, who is not afraid of making mistakes and one who is open-minded to new ideas, pursue your entrepreneurial dreams,” she advises.