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.

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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.

Maybank Secure Online Shopping – for peace of mind online

It’s fascinating to see how much online shopping has grown in the Philippines, from eBay to the now-defunct Multiply, to the rise of mom-and-pop online stores and international retailers that ship to the Philippines (finally!). With added competition among retailers comes the advent of the deal site, where savvy consumers can browse through discounted high-end vacations, clothes, new experiences, and gadgets. However, these deals are time-sensitive and some folks miss out on these kickass discounts because these usually require a credit card to pay. Not everyone is comfortable with paying online, with some even opting to pay in cash at payment centers even if they have credit cards. Enter Maybank’s Maybank Secure Online Shopping (MSOS).

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The Maybank Secure Online Shopping (MSOS) is intuitive to use and a free service for all Maybank credit cardholders. At the shopping website’s checkout page, you enter your credit card details as usual. Next, you’re taken to an authentication page where you need to enter your One-Time Password (OTP) to complete the transaction. The OTP is sent to your registered mobile phone number within 3-45 seconds and is valid for only 5 minutes. Enter the correct OTP within the allowed time frame and your shopping cart pushes through. It’s that simple! The hardest part in all this is probably waiting for your goodies to arrive 😛 Aside from providing a secure online shopping experience, Maybank is also partnering with online merchants for exclusive deals in the days to come, so keep an eye out for those.

Existing Maybank credit cardholders that already receive SMS alerts are automatically enrolled in this new service. If you need to update your contact information or enroll a supplementary card, please call Maybank’s 24/7 Customer Service Hotline at +632-5883888 or PLDT Domestic Toll Free number at 1-800-10-588-3888.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: This is a sponsored post, meaning I received compensation for writing this. However, rest assured that I wouldn’t write a sponsored post for something I didn’t actually like.

How do I choose a new restaurant to try?

This blog post was inspired by the upcoming Restaurant Digital Marketing Conference this October 23, 2013 at Enderun Colleges. I love food. I grew up surrounded by food. My grandmother owned a bakery and whenever she wasn’t looking, my cousins and I snitched meringues from the trays and hid them in our hats (sorry Lola!). I will swear up and down that my uncle makes the best batchoy ever. Once my brother and I graduated from college, my mother quit working in Makati and focused on her butterscotch and cookie business. People who taste my mom’s cooking for the first time often ask my Dad how he stays so thin.

butterbeer No promotions necessary for this drink!

As a result of all this, my standards with regards to food are pretty high. Sure, I’ll eat most things but to get me to rave about a certain restaurant, dish, or (gasp!) dessert? You have to be something special. Trying out a new place is always risky, but good research online helps increase the chances of picking a winner. What influences me to give a new restaurant a chance?

1. Friends. In this context, posts and photos from friends. If a friend took the time to actually write and post a blog entry about how much she loved (or hated!) a restaurant, then I take note.

2. Food blogs I like. Pepper.ph is personal favorite because of their excellent writing, excellent taste in restaurants, transparency (sponsored posts are clearly labeled as such), and their mouth-watering photos. The photos! The photos! And hey, their food giveaways are pretty sweet too.

3. Good reviews from traditional media outlets. They’re not my primary consideration but they do help in tipping the scales if the first two criteria are met.

4. A well-maintained, attractive, and informative website. Like good reviews from other people, a restaurant’s website isn’t my main influence but it does help. Once I finally decide to try a new place, I’ll Google for the restaurant’s official website and/or social media accounts to get more information – operating hours, branches (if any), sample menu, and the like. If your website doesn’t have these information or is hard to navigate, that’s an automatic point against you.

What doesn’t influence me?
1. Online deals. This may seem counterintuitive but giving a huge discount is unlikely to get me to visit a new place unless I know someone who’s been there and liked it. I do buy deal vouchers but only for established restaurants that I already know that I like.

2. Ads. I find ads annoying *shrug*

 

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Macy’s guide to surviving Star Wars Weekends

So I’m home from a 15-day trip across the United States (and Canada!) split almost evenly between the two coasts: a few days in Seattle, a week-long cruise in Alaska, then another six days in Orlando. The Orlando leg of the trip was the most tiring by far, partly because it was the last leg but mostly because of all the walking we did in the theme parks. The most tiring theme park? Disney Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends. Woke up at 4:30am, left our hotel at 5:30, fell in line at 5:45 for the celebrity FastPass autograph distribution , entered the park at 7:30, started the day at the merchandise tent at 8am, then finally left DHS at 9:15pm. WOW. For the record, I had a GLORIOUS time and would definitely do it again. However, having a great time at Star Wars Weekends requires some planning and a whole lot of refreshments. Here are my tips to maximize your stay:

1. Get there early. How early depends on what you want to do. If you’re after a FastPass ticket to get an autograph from the visiting celebrities, get there by 6am. I arrived at 5:45am and this is the line I encountered:
line at celebrity fastpass distribution
Even if you’re not interested in getting an autograph, arriving early also means that you get to be the first ones on the major rides and cut the waiting time. DHS opens at 8am during SWW (usual opening time is 9am) so arriving at 7:30 should be fine. Once you’re in, I recommend doing all the major attractions first: the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, the Tower of Terror, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, and Star Tours. We were able to ride Star Tours two times in a row with only 15-20 minutes waiting time in between. There was also practically no waiting time for the Aerosmith ride but my friend wasn’t up for it so I let it go. When we got to The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow at 2pm, the waiting time was listed at 45 minutes but ended up being longer. We had to leave the line to make it in time for our 3:20pm slot for the autograph signing with Sam Witwer.

See the Star Tours line at 10am. Not bad, eh?

2. If you want an autograph from the visiting celebrities, arrive at the park before 6am to guarantee a FastPass for the signing. They distribute a limited number of FastPasses per day (wasn’t able to get the exact number). If you get there later, say around 7am, you’re most likely to get a standby ticket. “Standby” means that you aren’t guaranteed an autograph but have a good chance of getting one depending on how fast the guaranteed line is progressing and if the celebrity is up for it. Just a reminder: each person is allowed only ONE FastPass autograph ticket. Basically, choose the celebrity you would most like to meet. No substitutions will also be allowed. The FastPass also comes with a wristband and you need both at the autograph signing. If you want your kid to be able to meet the celebrities, they better be there in line with you too. The way other folks got more autographs is that they had other family members line up for the other celebrities and just give them the photos to be signed. I saw a guy and his autographed photo collection lined up for Sam Witwer, his dad for Tim Rose, and his mom for Warwick Davis.

What you get for waking up at 4:30am: Please note the mistake they made regarding the character that Sam Witwer voiced in TCW *facepalm*

3. Go on a Friday. It’s (relatively) the least busy of the three days.
4. Prioritize. Accept that you will not be able to do all the SWW events AND all of the regular DHS attractions in one day. Once you get the schedules of the SWW activities and the regular DHS attractions, set up your schedule for the day.
Our schedule:
  • Darth Mall
  • Star Tours (twice!)
  • 11:00 am – the “Legends of the Force” celebrity parade
  • 12:00 pm – “Behind the Force: Star Wars Voices” (Ashley Eckstein, Sam Witwer, and James Arnold Taylor)
  • lunch
  • 1:45 pm – Indiana Jones stunt show
  • fell in line at the Captain Jack Sparrow ride but had to leave because the line was too long
  • 3:20 pm – autograph signing with Sam Witwer (!!!)
  • missed the 3:30pm “Stars of the Saga” show with James Arnold Taylor because the autograph signing ran late so we arrived at the theater at 3:45 pm
  • 5:00 pm – “An Ewok’s Tale – My Short Story” (Warwick Davis)
  • 6:30 pm – “Obi-Wan and Beyond” (James Arnold Taylor)
  • 8:00 pm – Hyperspace Hoopla
Please note that the only regular DHS things we were able to do were the Indiana Jones stunt show and Star Tours. No photographs with the costumed characters too, though I purposely skipped this because hey, my friends and I regular dress up as Star Wars characters anyway 😛 If you want to have photos taken with all of the characters, be prepared to cull even more events from your schedule and/or to get show seats that are in the back of the theater.
5. The one-stop shop for event merchandise is the “Darth Mall” tent. However, if all you’re after are small items like event shirts, mugs, glasses, pins, and the like, there’s really no need for you to brave the crowds at the Mall since these items are scattered in the other gift shops around the park. Going to Darth Mall is only worth it if you’re going to buy a lot of toys, collectibles, and artwork (and Ashley Eckstein’s Her Universe line) since you’ll find them all in one place. If you’re going to Darth Mall, get there early as well to avoid the lines.
6. Be patient! And either bring a friend who loves Star Wars just as much as you do or someone who likes you enough to willingly subject themselves to the immense crows and long lines.
7. Drink lots of water. Seriously. It was freaking hot.
8. Bring something to read or a friend. Waiting in line may get boring. Another option is chatting with the other people in line.
9. No whining.
10. Have fun!
And those are my tips for a kick-ass time at Star Wars Weekends. My feet ached and I had no money left but hey, IT WAS WORTH IT. It was an experience I’ll never forget and something I look forward to doing again in the future. May the Force be with you! 😀

Realizations and musings from the sustainable tourism front

I’ve been involved in the business of sustainable tourism for the past five years. Some of the tasks and projects I’ve done include staff training in environmental practices and nature interpretation, direct guest interaction via nature tours and nightly talks at the beach bar, organizing the publication of a book, getting our department website up and running, and writing, editing, producing, and directing an online nature show. As a person, I love what I’m doing. I get to share El Nido’s unique flora and fauna with people from around the world (people always laugh when I tell them that our white sand beaches are actually piles of parrotfish poop), meet scientific giants (hi Dr. Gerry Allen and Dr. Mark Erdmann!), and become famous on the Internet (watch our show!). But from a business perspective, is it worth it? Does our reputation as a sustainable tourism company help us keep our current customers and attract new ones?

My realizations after more than seven months of maintaining and monitoring our social media presence (yes, it’s another thing I’m doing on top of everything else):

  1. Most guests and potential guests don’t care that we’re an eco resort. I say most because there are definitely some that do (I love them so!), but they’re in the minority. This is because…
  2. The top considerations in booking a holiday will (almost) always be the cost and the hotel’s facilities. Us being an eco resort is the icing on top of the cake – it’s not the cake itself.

What’s my basis for these realizations?

  1. I’ve represented our company at several conferences, including ones on green business, green urbanism, and corporate social responsibility. I came prepared to enthusiastically share the things we’re doing and to learn from other participants. Instead, the Top 2 questions I got were “How much does it cost to stay in your resort?” and “Can I get a discount?”
  2. On our Facebook and Twitter pages, the posts that always get the most “likes” and “shares” are the ones about the scenic views and the luxurious hotel facilities. A sunset photo? Fifty “likes”. A hammock on the beach with a writeup on swaying with the breeze? Seventy “likes”. A feature on our Earth Day cleanup events? I’m lucky to get past 25.
  3. In the questionnaire that our guests fill out before they leave, they hardly ever praise our environmental initiatives. It’s always the service.

Lesson learned: it will never be enough to just be a responsible tourism company. You need to have the better product, better people, and better environmental profile than the other guy if you want to get ahead. Let’s face it: concern for the environment will always be secondary to whether the product works. We’re an eco resort because we believe in it, but our guests aren’t likely to care about that if our waiter messes up their drinks order.

Floating with the tide: how a biologist ended up on an island resort and stayed there

My name’s on the cover! (it’s the article in the middle) Unfortunately, they misspelled it. *facepalm*

I got published! This isn’t the first time this has happened but I’ll never stop getting excited over seeing my name in print for something I’m proud of writing.

The title of the article is Floating with the tide: how a biologist ended up on an island resort and stayed there. What’s in it: how I ended up in my present job, what I actually do for a living, how responsible tourism works in a private sector setting, and the challenges I face in an environment like this. And it has pretty pictures too! 😀

You can read/download the PDF copy here. I don’t have a scanner so I photographed the pages instead (desperate much?).

I’m hoping that this will lead to more writing gigs in the future *crosses fingers*