Driven by ‘diskarte’

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Charles Paw
Founder, Digits Trading Corp.

Street-smart savvy helps businessman succeed in two disparate fields

When other teenagers were planning their summer vacation or prepping for college entrance exams, Charles Paw was worrying about ways to make a living.

“My father (Carlos) had told me early on that he would only support me until high school,” recalls this former student of Grace Christian High School. “After graduation, I would be on my own.” It was a sobering thought for one who shouldn’t have been carrying the burden of an uncertain future at such a young age.

“He informed me: ‘Until high school lang kita susuportahan hah [I will only support you until high school]. After that, you pay for your own college… Tapos na ako sa iyo [I’m done with my obligations],’” Paw recounts. His father held very decided views, believing that college was not necessary for one to survive. He did not place a premium on education the same way other parents did.


Says Paw: “I think he was just wired that way, because he wasn’t supported by his own parents. He thought it was fine that I go through the same (experience).”

The boy was understandably upset at having to fend for himself. “At the time, I felt that it was incredibly unfair. My classmates’ only problem was deciding where to go, while there I was thinking of how and where I could get money to pay for tuition.”

Despite the unusual situation, Paw remained eager to enter college. He asked a cousin, who owned a company distributing basic toiletries, to hire him. He would earn his keep and school money by working on half-day shifts. He started off as the employee who compiled the inventories and later moved on to sales.

Borne out of necessity
That feisty youngster has evolved into a tech magnate with several business brands such as Beyond the Box, Digital Walker, and Baseus under his company Digits Trading. The journey, he relates, was borne out of the sheer necessity to survive. What helped tremendously was his knack for turning a profit, displayed even at a tender age.

“We came from a lower middle-class family, but the school I went to was a little higher-end, so all of my classmates got to travel and they had the money to buy the latest shoes and newest toys. The only way I could afford the same luxuries was by making my own money,” explains Paw. “Hindi ko kaya humingi nang toys or pera sa parents ko, so gumawa ako ng paraan para sa sarili ko [I couldn’t ask my parents for money or toys, so I became resourceful].”

The enterprising tyke began his “career” as a junior entrepreneur by selling G.I. Joe action figures and Transformers to friends. When Friday rolled around, he would take orders and payments from classmates, and then with his mom Anita head to Divisoria to buy the playthings. His earnings allowed him to buy as well his own action figures. “I learned everything by instinct. There really wasn’t anyone who taught me how to do business.”

Paw used this same strategy and diskarte (resourcefulness) to put himself through college – this time assembling computers, which were the “new toys of the big boys.” He says: “I didn’t have money as well to buy a computer, so I befriended Arnold Yuen, the owner of PC Corner (the business then was under another name), working out an agreement with him to pay for my PC by installment.”

As a working student, Paw spent his spare time hanging around the computer shop, learning by observation how everything worked and was put together. Yuen, noticing Paw’s interest, urged him to assemble and sell computers to his friends. It was a win-win for both men, with Paw as the producer/salesman and his mentor as the supplier of components.

Charles Paw is a self-professed techie and gadget geek.

“I thought it was a great idea! Because after doing the sums, I saw that I could pay for my tuition by selling three to four computers a month,” Paw says. The business inspired grander and more ambitious ideas. Eventually Paw set up Digits Trading, the mega company behind Digital Walker, a one-stop tech accessory store, and Beyond the Box, the local Apple purveyor. He also recently unveiled his newest tech concept, Baseus, which provides an array of more affordable yet quality tech accessories. “I wasn’t thinking that big in the beginning; I didn’t even have a plan for the next five to 10 years. I just did what I needed to do at that time and diniskartehan ko lang [I found a way to make the business grow].”

With almost 60 branches in Metro Manila, Paw has proven himself to be one of the smartest and most successful entrepreneurs in the country – a stark difference from how his father’s concern panned out.

Paw relates: “My dad (who had died several years ago) had his own business, but it was very small because he was a very conservative businessman. He never had staff, never hired employees. He did everything. He was the agent, the salesman, the employee, the collector. It was very small-scale.”

This served as an important lesson for Paw. “You cannot grow if you’re thinking small-scale.” This self-discovered tenet is what he now applies, not only to his tech brands, but his burgeoning food service empire as well.

Digital to dining
A few years ago, Paw dipped his feet into the food and beverage field with his first dining concept, Ramen Bar.

He says: “I like to eat. So, whenever I travel, my schedule revolves around where we’re gonna eat and when we’re gonna eat.” At the time, he was ravenous for ramen and was always disheartened to return home, unable to find an authentic Japanese eatery serving his favorite meal. Out of frustration, coupled with spotting a prime opportunity, Paw put up his own noodle hub.

Paw with his wife Annabelle in Iceland; Paw meets renowned Michelin-starred chef, Björn Frantzén

The reception to the delicacy proved encouraging. Since then, Paw’s drive to satiate the appetites of adventurous foodies also grew. He introduced a gallery of exciting dining concepts under his company, the wittily named Tasteless Food Group. Today, he oversees some of Metro Manila’s most popular dining destinations including Le Petit Souffle, Scout’s Honor, Freezer Burn, Wrong Ramen, Hole in the Wall, Fowlbread, Bad Bird, Ping Pong Diplomacy and The Beef. In addition, the company also operates franchised brands such as Hanamaruken Ramen and Kushikatsu Darumo.

New dining propositions such as an “only sausages” outlet and a UK-inspired pizzeria are heating up in the pipeline and ready to be introduced by year-end. An avid traveler, who is thrilled by the vibe and eat-about-town activities of Japan and the UK, Paw is forever cooking up new food scenarios.

Paw’s diverse business portfolio and aggressive approach to growing his concerns, launching several stores at a time and introducing new service concepts every season, may lead the public to mistake him for being just another power-hungry profiteer. But this is not the case at all.

An unassuming fellow – dressed down in jeans and a simple polo shirt and sporting his signature cross-body bag – Paw explains that he’s just so driven and bursting with a raft of novel schemes. Great ideas are hard to come by, so why waste them?

Paw revels in his hectic lifestyle but confesses to challenges, saying: “With so many things going on, it does get a bit confusing. It’s wrong, I know, but I’m learning how to better manage everything. I’m thankful that I have my brother Howard, who is working with me, and my wife Annabelle, who is more organized, as well as a great, hardworking core team.”

The next phase of development, he says, involves putting “more order” into their network. “We will be focusing on scaling up. We’re weeding out the ones (the businesses) that aren’t doing well and scaling up those that are.”

How does Paw determine what will fly and what won’t? “It has to be profitable, of course,” he says. “We’ve learned that the most profitable enterprises – food or otherwise – are those that cater to a larger denominator. If you want to be successful, go for the basics.”

For newbie concepts, Paw follows one rule of thumb. He is willing to invest at most P15 million and gives the business two years to earn its ROI (return on investment). “I now only choose those business ideas, which I can envision growing to at least 10 to 12 stores.”

Digital Walker now has 30 branches across the metro

But it can be dicey at the start to gauge a concept’s future, admits Paw. One of his most memorable “failures” involved Shop 88, which sold homeware and other knick-knacks for P88. “I learned a little too late from that particular business idea, I had to have several branches open at a time, minimum 20, because sukis (patrons) always wanted something new. Which is hard if you just have one branch.” Different businesses need different strategies, he says.

Reflecting on the string of successes and failures experienced in the past, Paw declares: “It’s really hard to say which business ideas will fly and which will flop. But I’ve always been a positive thinker.

“This has paid off tremendously because the success of those that flew definitely has made up for losses I’ve incurred with the ‘failures.’ So when it comes to business, my advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is don’t be afraid to take risks.”

Paw is obviously game for life’s adventures.

BETWEEN GOOD AND GREAT
The tech mogul and restaurateur shares the qualities he believes spells the difference between a good businessman and a great entrepreneur.

HAVE PASSION
As cliché as it sounds, being passionate about your business is what will carry it over from something that’s simply sustaining your lifestyle (survival) to a brand worth building. If you don’t have a singular passion, go into something that’s at the very least interesting to you.

MAY DISKARTE
Be intuitive, resourceful and be creative in the ways you think of solutions to problems. Get things done!

KNOW HOW TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
I learned from my cousin that good business is founded on mutual trust and respect. Learn how to build and maintain relationships. It’s a fundamental in business.

BE A POSITIVE THINKER
If you think positively, that’ll allow to become a bigger risk taker. Be fearless; don’t be afraid to take risks.

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