An evening with entrepreneursBy Niña P. Calleja
Philippine Daily Inquirer
All his classmates in grade school were amused and, somehow, in disbelief that he knew every nook and cranny of vehicles.
At such a young age, Atoy Llave, now 40, knew what he loves to do. In high school, he began “tutoring” the older siblings of his classmates on cars and eventually dared to join annual car shows.
His keen interest in vehicles has been the very foundation of his business, the A-toy Customs, which specializes in car tuning and customization.
“You are doing what you want to do and at the same time, you are paid to do it. What could be more amazing than that?” Llave tells a hundred aspiring entrepreneurs during a recent Entrepreneur Networking Night.
The event hosted by Summit Media’s Entrepreneur Philippines magazine recently, Llave was joined by three other entrepreneurs—Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks, an enterprise doing tours around the city of Manila; Rosebud Benitez of Chef Rosebud’s Kitchen, an online food store; and Laureen Uy of Stylebreak, an online clothing store.
The common denominator among all four is the fact that they all turned their hobbies into profitable businesses, Chad Rosario, associate publisher of Summit Media, says.
“Many young Filipinos now are quick to shun the idea of setting up their own business perhaps because they thought having a business could be daunting, uninteresting, cumbersome and financially exacting,” Rosario said.
“But it’s never too late to start a business,” he adds.
Chef Rosebud: Finding one’s center
Celebrity chef Rosebud Benitez, host of Quick-fire, a 10-minute cooking show on QTV channel (now on GMA News TV), thinks of her two children every time she works in the kitchen.
“I cooked best when I know I’m doing it for my kids. So even if they are not the ones I’m working for, I’d still think about them,” Benitez, who, apart from being a single mother to Katrina and Kyle, runs her home-based Chef Rosebud’s Kitchen.
She opened her “virtual restaurant” on the social networking site www.facebook.com/ChefRosebudsKitchen in September 2012.
The Chef mom, as she was often called, finds comfort in the fact that her food delivery business doesn’t need a physical space when her products—cookies, cupcakes, bread, and other sweet desserts—can be marketed and sold online.
She says it’s a good thing she doesn’t have to spend a single cent for rent just by turning her home into her workplace.
While delivering food to offices and houses is a daunting task, she says she’s still taking her time to learn the ropes.
Even without an office or a real address, Chef Rosebud’s Kitchen is gaining ground and becoming more popular as shown by the bulky orders Benitez gets every week, she says.
In the networking event, Benitez tells aspiring entrepreneurs that her passion for cooking dates back to her childhood when her ingenuity enabled her to save money.
“I grew up watching celebrity chefs on TV, and of course my mom cooking. And I’ve always dreamed of becoming a chef. I remember baking macaroons and selling it to my classmates even to my teachers so I’d have more baon in school,” she says.
Her biggest break after graduating from the Center of Culinary Arts in Manila, was when she was asked to audition and got accepted as one of the chef hosts of QTV 11’s cooking show Katoque in 2005.
She eventually got her own cooking show and appeared in advertisements and billboards and several culinary events.
Benitez says she must admit that her popularity has been helping her food business.
Chef Rosebud has one advice to aspiring chefs and entrepreneurs. “Ours is not a glamorous job. In fact, it requires a lot of hard work. Don’t dwell on the noise and find your center, where you are always good at,” she says.
Laureen Uy: Passion for fashion
It was only five months after Laureen Uy, the 22-year-old younger sister of celebrity stylist Liz Uy, opened her fashion blog (http://www.breakmystyle.com) in 2010 when she realized she could earn from blogging.
“I started to get a lot of fan mails. There were also agencies contacting me and asking me if they can manage my blog. Advertisers were asking for my rates. It was at that point when I realized I can make a business out of blogging,” Uy says.
The advertising graduate and owner of the online clothing shop Stylebreak says blogging for her is an effective advertising tool because it is less expensive than the traditional advertising methods.
“Clients would just give me something to post and I can put it on the Internet in two days, unlike in traditional advertising in which you have to spend months to review commercials, do briefings etc.” she says.
Never in a day did Uy feel that what she does is work. “I love dressing up and taking photos of my clothes,” she says noting that blogging is a business venture in which one “hits two birds with one stone.”
Apart from her Stylebreak shop, which has blossomed into a clothing line and expanded in Beltza at Robinsons Galleria, The Collective in Makati, Crossings at Trinoma, and Eastwood City at her showroom, Uy gets her earnings from her blog’s advertisers.
“It is doing what I love and making a business out of it,” she says.
Blogging is like a full-time job, she says. She spends eight hours a day answering messages and comments, writing posts and editing photos.
But Uy cautions the would-be bloggers to refrain from bombarding the readers with ads. “You’d want to be credible, so in order to be credible, your readers must be able to relate to you,” she says.
At the end of the day, it’s still the blog’s content that would draw readers and followers every day, Uy says.
Old Walks Manila: Advocacy and business in one
In the case of Ivan Man Dy, founder of Old Manila Walk—an outfit providing educational tour services around the city of Manila—his advocacy pushed him to start a business.
“One tip is to be guided by your personal advocacy. We are doing it in Manila because I’m a Manileno. It’s very personal for me,” says Dy, who decided to take the business route when he was 26.
He leads a team of two or three people in Old Walks Manila who guide tourists to historical and heritage sites in Manila including old churches like Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church and Monastery, China town, Intramuros, and the Chinese cemetery.
As much as possible, Old Walks tries to make the “cultural and heritage walk” in Manila as interesting as possible.
“We try to make history and culture sexy. How? We appeal to all the senses—stories, aesthetics, sound, food-tasting. We’d like to give more value to these places so the people would appreciate them,” Dy says.
‘Credibility breeds clients’
Getting his family’s support, on the other hand, was to be the hardest part in starting A-toy Customs in 1996, Llave says.
“At first, my parents didn’t like my business. When I started doing this, they thought I’m being selfish, that I’m not helping the family business,” he says.
This, however, didn’t stop him from taking the plunge. Atoy, when still in high school, would save his ampao (allowance coming from his parents) so he could buy all the necessary equipment and hire personnel to begin customizing cars.
The garage of their house served as his workplace.
From high school up to college, Llave continued to reap awards in various auto shows competitions and likewise found potential clients.
Between 1999 and 2000, barely three years after he started his business, he earned his first P1 million. This was when he was commissioned to customize vehicles of a top car manufacturing company.
Over the years, Llave’s business grew to the point of reaching out even to celebrities. Llave was the one behind the customized vans of celebrities such as Manny Pacquiao, Kris Aquino, Kim Chiu and Diether Ocampo.
Llave notes to the young entrepreneurs that they must take risks no matter how silly it seems to be to others.
“If you have the mind-set of an entrepreneur, the opinions of other people would not stop you from doing what you really want,” he says.
Llave, however, advises them to make calculated risks. In his case, new investments should not be worth more than 10 percent of his total earnings.
“If it’s beyond 10 percent, I would not take the risk,” he says.
A-toy Customs is a highly-specialized business in which turning new customers into repeat clients are difficult, if not impossible to do so. “You get to customize one vehicle only once. So how do you keep your business afloat?” Rosario of Summit asks Llave during an open forum.
Llave says his business heavily relies on the recommendations of clients and the credibility it creates in the market.
“If the customer is satisfied, we become known through the word of mouth. Credibility and quality of work … That’s the only way you can get another client,” he says.
“Once you say yes to a client, your credibility is on the line. And since you’re in a niche market, your priority is to protect it,” Llave says.
Apart from customizing celebrity vans, last year, Llave also ventured into customizing vans and pickup trucks and converting them into rolling stores or mobile kiosks.