The Spotlight On: Carlos Villa, Founder of Union Strength Gym

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For some, the thought of starting their own business seems like a farfetched dream.

"Where do I start? What about my current job? There's no way I can start something now, I'm way too busy with my work schedule!" 

If you've daydreamed of the idea of starting something of your own or know of someone who has, chances are, you've heard the above a million and one times. Keep reading, this one's for you.


The Spotlight On: Carlos Villa | Starting A Business While Working A 9-6
For today's spotlight feature, we spoke to Carlos Villa, founder of Union Strength as he shares his experience of juggling a full-time 9-6 corporate job while starting a new business. 

So Carlos, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m the founder of Union Strength, a fitness centre located in Hartamas that specialises in personal training and group fitness classes.

I’m from the Philippines – but I was born in Hong Kong, lived in Malaysia most of my life and studied in the UK for a few years. You can call me a Third-Culture Kid!

What was your life like before you founded Union Strength?

Nothing special! I was your typical corporate 9-6 fresh grad that always looked forward to the weekends and payday.

As an employee I wouldn’t say that I was exceptional – I did the bare minimum to make sure I was never on my bosses bad books and at the same time I also wasn’t that guy who went above and beyond to get the job done.
Carlos in the Corporate Life

I’d always arrive at work on time but would also leave as soon as it hit 6pm. I was always more interested in working out in the gym at the end of my day than my actual work! Haha, maybe this is why I never got a big promotion!

So, take us back to the very first day - What was the first thing you did when you decided that you wanted to start your own business?

To be honest, even before I started my first job I already had half an idea of wanting to start a gym business but the question was really, when. And I always told myself that it would have to wait till I was much older.


Anyway to answer the question, one evening I was driving home from work very stressed out. I had a tough week, had so many deadlines to meet and I was just miserable at work and in life in general. I was also very aware that if I had quit my job for a new one I would eventually feel miserable there too!


And so it was that same evening I put my foot down and decided to finally make a start on my gym business, much earlier than originally planned, in hopes for a more meaningful life.

Carlos and the Union Strength Team and Members
Once I made that conscious decision, the first thing I did was to ask for my parents’ blessings. And those who know me very well know how supportive my parents are and have always been to me. Thankfully they approved of this wild idea and it was straight to the planning phase!

Talk us through what an average day looked like back when you were still at your full-time job and planning the start of Union Strength at the same time.

It was crazy but I loved the hustle! The first 9 months of 2017 (January to September 2017) looked a little like this:
9AM – 6PM
Work/Day time job

7:30PM – 8:30PM
Gym (this was my only “ME” time)

9PM – 9:30PM

10PM – Late
Planning Union Strength
Starting on Union Strength

My weekends were 100% focused on Union Strength and it was mainly to view potential sites for the gym, to meet different suppliers and to work on my business plan. If I had time and energy in the evening, I would still go out and socialise with friends.

For those 9 months I was living 2 completely different lives and it also felt like I had 2 full time jobs!

When did you decide that it was time to leave your job? Were you nervous about making that decision?

I left my job about 2 months before Union Strength opened and of course it was timed as such to make sure I wasn’t without a salary for too long.

And for some strange reason I wasn’t nervous at all, in fact, very excited!

What would you say was the most challenging part of juggling a full-time job whilst starting a new business?

Not having enough time! I wish there was more time in a day for me to spend on planning as we definitely could’ve opened much earlier.

There weren’t many property agents willing to meet up for site viewings after work hours, and it was the same story for our contractors, equipment suppliers etc. Most meetings had to be pushed to the weekends which slowed everything down.
Construction Work in Union Strength

I’m also not really a morning person and waking up extra early to do work before my daytime job just wasn’t sustainable.

What is your proudest moment of that experience?

Wow, I had so many proud moments! But one moment that I’ll never forget was the feeling I had when the big Union Strength signage was stuck onto one of our main walls in the gym!
Carlos and the Union Strength Signage

I watched every second of it, saw them stick piece by piece on the wall and even took videos of the process which I still have on my phone.

I remember staring at that wall for the longest time and just feeling that it felt (and looked) so right.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

Looking back I don’t think I’d do anything differently. Although it would’ve been nice to start the business a little sooner, I thought it was risky to leave my daytime job too soon.
Union Strength Team

Do you have any advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs out there who may be in a similar position? 

If you have a daytime job and really want to venture into entrepreneurship, don’t get too excited and quit your job immediately. There are just so many uncertainties out there and it’s important to still have a steady income stream while your business is still in the planning phase.

If you can handle the temporary workload, try to balance both for as long as you possibly can!
Want to know more about Carlos and Union Strength? Click the links to follow them on Instagram! 

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  • Very inspiring.

    Vilo on

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