There's a saying that all work and no play makes you a dull person. But what if you can have them both at the same time?
In my 20's and still living with parents, I opened a small Internet café in front of our house in 2009. I never imagined that I would be a technopreneur at that age. When I was in grade school, I was fascinated with cakes, so I dreamt of becoming a pâtissière. In high school, I donned a laboratory gown in our class to show that I would be a pediatrician someday. However, due to unpredicted circumstances, I shifted from Physical Therapy to Computer Science in college. Fast forward to 2009, I ended up self-employed -- thanks to my very supportive parents.
I come from a family of Accountancy graduates but not entrepreneurs. The only experience I have in business was when we sisters rented out komiks during summer vacation in our younger years. But our first attempt in business failed.
Some people look down on the Internet café industry. They think this is a bum's profession and just a fad. Well, they are mistaken. Before I become an Internet café manager, I had to self-study and attend workshops, seminars and short course. They don't teach everything in school. The computer school where I enrolled in didn't prepare me for this. You have to have a technical-know-how. You need to draft a business plan before you jump into this male-dominated field. You can't learn it overnight. Some lure people especially OFWs to invest in computer shop even without computer background - like it is the fastest way to make money. Mostly after only a few months of operation, they close their shops because they rely on other people to run them.
In my little shop, customers are classified as hardcore and casual gamers, surfers and chatters. They can choose their own seats they are comfortable with. When I hear “Ako sa number 4!”, “Ate, pa-reserve sa 3”, etc., I find them funny because they fight over who gets to the seat first as if it's their territory and it's their own PC. They also have their preference in operating system (Linux or Windows). And believe it or not, kids from 4-10 years old opt for Linux over Windows despite the misconception that Linux is a complicated platform.
With my shop, I've come to know the people in my neighborhood. Some are my regular customers who are like my siblings. They've become part of my extended family. They are the source of gossip and entertainment. Sometimes I help them with their homework.
My shop is a also a makeshift day care center. Some parents or guardians leave the kids in my shop to play games while they are busy or away.
There are customers that I like and hate. I consider the loyal ones the best. Customers who always say thank you make me smile. I'm also flattered when some praise how clean my shop is and how fast its Internet connection. I resent those who are nagmamagaling and show-off. For those annoy me, as much as possible, I apply maximum tolerance to them. I have to bear with these kind of customers who are testing my patience.
I am also getting used to customers refer USB drive/disk, or thumb drive/disk, or flash drive/disk as "USB" only. I just remembered the term ma-traffic (read: ma-movement of vehicles?) instead of "slow traffic" we Filipinos often use as an excuse for late arrival on appointment.
Because I own the shop, I can impose set of rules to my customers. There's no viewing, uploading, downloading of pornographic materials. There's no smoking and drinking. I don't allow students to cut classes. Cursing or trash talk is prohibited. And the most important of all the rules is no pay, no rent.
Since I'm the boss and the sole employee (I'm also the technician, bantay and janitor), I can announce a self-declared holiday. I don't have a regular working hours. I can undergo undertime or overtime. Nobody will scold me for opening late. But no work means no income, so I have to discipline myself.
What I love about my work is the perks that come with it. I have unlimited access to almost everything. I can surf all I want, watch all I want, download all I want, and play all I want. But while I'm enjoying these privileges, I must always be aware of my customer's needs.
As a manager, I must also be updated of the latest software in the market. I don't install pirated software. A good alternative is free and open source software. And as responsible individual, I don't put too violent games in my shop.
One of the Internet café owner's worst enemies is power outage. You have no choice but to close for the day. Second is heavy rain or typhoon which may lead to the first one. Third is unstable net connection or no connection at all. Fourth is hardware failure. It's an added expense to replace the damaged parts. Fifth is competitors. In our area, computer shops are ubiquitous. Competition is very tight. I wonder how other shops survive with a 10 Pesos per hour rate with the continuous rise in electric bills. Fifth is thieves and burglars. These heartless guys don't realize how hard it is to keep a shop alive. The only solution to prevent them is to set-up a security system and always be alert. In my shop, I always check if a new customer or pretending to be a customer is suspicious-looking.
Moreover, I just earn enough to finance my basic needs and to pay for monthly and annual expenses. I don't pay for the rent since it's residential. I don't worry about transportation expense. I'm hands on and I don't depend on other technicians for repair and maintenance.
I'm a technopreneur by accident. This can't make me rich (yet) but it's rewarding. There are ups and downs but what matters most is that I love and enjoy my job (or my hobby). And of course, it doesn't make me dull.