Top 5 lessons I learned from running my own business

geekerie colored logo_smallGeekerie, the little store that Adrian and I started way back in 2008, is now five years old. Five years, countless arguments, blood, sweat, tears, and money later, we’re still growing! As a first-time business owner, the past five years have been a heck of a learning experience. The five most important lessons I’ve learned so far:

1. Do what you love, or at the very least, what interests you.
My mom used to own a very successful corporate giveaways business. It was so successful that it paid for our house, schooling, and family vacations. When she got tired of commuting to Makati every day, which coincided with me about to graduate from college, she offered me the company. I’d be her apprentice for a year before she formally turned the reins over to me. Call me crazy, but I said no. I had no interest in corporate giveaways and dealing with marketing officers day in, day out. I would have had to force myself to work, something I did not relish doing. Seven years later, I’m the co-owner of a shop that I started from scratch. It’s definitely not at the same level income-wise (yet!) as my mother’s former business but Geekerie is mine and is something that I actually want to work on.
Our first customers: our friends!
Our first customers: our friends!

2. Timing is everything.
Successful products are the product of two things: an excellent product and timing. Geekerie started selling Doctor Who fan shirts back in 2011. We debuted the “The Doctor Is In” shirt during the June Toy Convention but received a lackluster response. We only printed 30 shirts and couldn’t even sell them all! Things started picking up in 2012, with our new Police Box shirt, more people looking for Doctor Who shirts, and customers remarking “You’re the only ones selling Who merch!”. By the time 2013 rolled around, we had five Doctor Who shirt designs with print runs of 100 shirts each.
Moral lesson? Give it time before deciding that something isn’t working. Our usual waiting period is a year. If it hasn’t sold by then, then you’re never going to sell it.

toycon-2010-booth-pic-edit_new
2010 Geekerie!
3. Partner with someone who has complementary skills.
Adrian and I work well together because we bring different skills to the table. Adrian is in charge of designing, printing (talking to the printer), and marketing the shirts, plus designing the website. He’s also better at customer relations. I do the bookkeeping, order-taking and preparation, inventory, and other essential “boring”, behind-the-scenes stuff. Adrian can’t run Geekerie without me and I can’t run it without him.
4. Online stores are good, but you still need a physical presence.
We don’t own a physical store because of the high overhead involved, but we can’t operate solely online either. The compromise? Bazaars and fairs! We joined three events this year: the ToyCon (June), Cosplay Mania (September), and Christmas Toyfair (December). These physical appearances are crucial because:
  • It establishes Geekerie as a legit seller. Filipinos are still wary about shopping online, especially with newer outfits. Actually meeting the owners at bazaars instills customer confidence that we’re not out to scam them.
  • Customers get to see the products in person. Filipinos are a very tactile people – we need to see and touch things for ourselves. Plus since we sell shirts, some people are nervous about the sizing.
  • It introduces us to new customers. A lot of our bazaar customers have never heard of us before the event. They see us in person and check out the inventory. Even if they don’t buy during the event, they still get a business card and look us up online afterwards.
This is what we look like at the end of every selling event.
This is what we look like at the end of every selling event.
5. Growth is a must but do it at your own pace.
Every business needs to expand eventually, right? But do it at a pace you’re comfortable with. We started selling shirts in 2008 and a couple of toys in 2011, but it was only last year that we really started selling official merchandise and collectibles. Even then, we started out with a single shipment of items. When that shipment sold out in June, that’s when we started ordering more. The profits we earned over the years were what we plowed back into the business. It’s possible that the slow pace of growth hurt Geekerie in the short-term, but I wasn’t ready to go into debt just in case the business failed. Of course, we all have different appetites for risk so if you’re dead-set on investing your last peso into the business, then go ahead.
This is what we look like at the end of every selling event.
Geekerie in 2013!.

Edit: I can’t believe I didn’t include this in the original list! Anyway, here’s bonus lesson #6:

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Geekerie wouldn’t be where it is today without the help of a lot of people along the way.

  • My mom, the perennial entrepreneur. She lends us her delivery van and personnel whenever we have a selling event (I’m in charge of paying them, of course). It’s difficult to find people to work just for the events so I’m very glad that I don’t have to.
  • My aunts and uncles who helped me get all the fun and geeky stuff that we sell. My heroes: Tita Marian, Tito Tony, Tito Elfrid, and Tita Ofie!
  • Az, who gave us our first booth space in exchange for free shirts 😛
  • And last but not least, the wonderful friends + customers we’ve had over the years 😀 It’s been an amazing ride and we’d love to have you with us for the years to come.

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