Riding on the wave of entrepreneurship
Jeff Ortega considers himself a very lucky guy, as he has found the business formula that works perfectly for him, one that lets him play with his passions: The sea and technology.
The founder of La Union Surf School (LUSS) in San Juan, La Union established his business six years ago after finding out how much he loved riding the waves in his home province. Despite having lived most of his life in Metro Manila, the experience roused in Ortega a desire to discover how he could make a difference in La Union.
“I was in college then, so I became a working student. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I just went for it. Eventually it changed from something that landed on my lap to something that I really had to work hard on to grow,” says Ortega of LUSS, which he established in partnership with surf brand StokedInc.
Ortega focused on one thing to strengthen and differentiate his brand from the rest of the groups offering surfing lessons: Going digital.
“We do our bookings online. That’s what you won’t find in other surf schools yet here in the Philippines. You prepay, so you don’t need to bring cash on the beach anymore and risk losing your wallet,” says Ortega. In the pipeline are plans to offer prepaid cards for surfing lessons, which one can give as gifts to friends and family.
Ortega says he also worked hard on building a social media following not just for LUSS, but for his other businesses in La Union: Mad Monkeys, a burger restaurant, and the music festival Soul Surf.
Working with other small businesses in the area, such as the cafe El Union, Ortega says he also learned how to maximize the digital tools at his disposal to efficiently run his ventures, especially since he travels frequently and can’t always be there to manage everything himself.
His point-of-sales system, for one, is easily accessible through a tablet, he says.
“It sends everything through e-mail to all the directors. Every day we see how much we earn, how much discounts did we give—expense reports. When I was in Australia [recently] for 10 days, I just needed to tap on a few things on my tablet, and I was able to send out salaries,” says Ortega. “It’s really that sort of convenience that we had to grow into.”
He stresses, again, how social media strengthened his businesses, especially Soul Surf, which brings to La Union international music acts and therefore draws crowds from outside the province.
Ortega initially introduced the festival as part of the ninth edition of the La Union Surfing Break, the province’s biggest local music festival.
“After the first two [Soul Surf festivals], we learned from the Department of Tourism that 50 percent of those who went were first-timers. That meant there was a growth [in the number] of people who saw La Union and realized, oh, there’s something like this here. And it helped other businesses. In the first year of Soul Surf, Flotsam and Jetsam, the biggest and most popular hostel, opened, and they’ve been meeting their sales [targets] ever since,” Ortega says. “It wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t digitize the whole thing. The reason why we captured that market was we went digital—Facebook, social media, we paid for ads. It’s not easy to do that without portable [gadgets].”
Currently taking up his MBA in Ateneo de Manila University, Ortega, 27, says entrepreneurship wasn’t on his mind growing up, as he comes from a largely political family (his brother is La Union’s incumbent governor).
His undergraduate course, in fact, is Political Science, which he also took in ADMU.
“After learning how to surf, I found myself wanting to make a difference in another manner—[through] tourism, entrepreneurship,” Ortega says, tagging StokedInc founder JV Borromeo as one of his mentors.
“I see him working day in, day out. May pera na yun ha, pero nakikita mo nagtratrabaho siya. (He already has money, but he still works hard),” says Ortega. “You have to work, no matter what, if you want to keep what you have.”
Ortega acknowledges the fact that he is fortunate to have family who supported him financially when he was still starting his businesses, but emphasized how planning is key to his survival as an entrepreneur.
“At the end of the day, your business won’t last if you don’t have a solid plan. Nawalan na rin ako ng pera (I’ve lost money, too). I’m actually just lucky that I have a celebrity girlfriend, so now I have a following,” says Ortega, chuckling, referring to his girlfriend, actress Jasmine Curtis-Smith. “I have to thank her for that. Because of that, I was able to bring my advocacies to a wider audience.”
Part of that audience are those who recently took part in the HP “entreHPreneur Lab,” a business innovation talk for small and medium enterprises. The discussion falls under the company’s entreHPreneur campaign, which helps businesses achieve their maximum potential through the use of tech solutions.
Next year, Ortega and his business partners plan to open three more hotels on the beach of San Juan, with one of them relying heavily on tech—a relatively affordable boutique hostel-slash-coworking space that will allow business executives to stay connected even while on holiday.
“You get a private bunk which has all these gizmos that can help you with your work,” he says.
The other two establishments in the works are a private luxury villa, which he will put up together with Curtis-Smith (“I’ve gained a lot of followers from her because she’s a celebrity, but she’s gained a lot of business insight from what I do,” Ortega says), and an “ecoluxe campsite” called Easy Adventure, which has its roots in Baler.
“I’m a firm believer in tourism and entrepreneurship and linking the two together. And in order for you to be successful, you need to be able to show everyone what you have, not just locally, because everyone is so tuned into their gadgets that they see everything there. It’s a lifestyle. I want my audience to be international,” Ortega says.
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