Turning tech savvy to business savvy

MANILA, Philippines — The first step to starting a business in this day and age? Be passionate.

Be passionate about something — anything — whether it's food, fashion, art or culture. Why? Because there are a million and one business ideas out there, but without passion, your idea will remain a run-of-the-mill money-making scheme. 

Passion is what makes your business different. It will give you direction, ground your brand’s identity, and see you through when your business goes through some hard times.

Passion is where it all starts. But make no mistake, turning it into something more lucrative requires skill and strategy as well. Luckily, thanks to digital tools and social media, transforming passion into profit is more doable now than ever.  

To illustrate this, we interviewed Chi Gibbs and Aira Medina, the masterminds and creative hands behind fashion brand, Neon Island, and asked them how they got their weekend hobby off the ground and up and running as a full-blown business. 

Filling a gap

3 years ago, Chi Gibbs and Aira Medina were school teachers who happened to share a love for fashion. On weekends, they would get together, design clothes, and post them on social media. Soon, their friends started noticing their work and prompted Chi and Aira to start taking fashion a little more seriously. 

FLOAT ON. A sample from Neon Island's Coast Calling lookbook


A sample from Neon Island's Coast Calling lookbook

The two started off peddling their designs at local bazaars. When they sold out, they had that “this might actually be something” moment. They quit their 8-to-5 day jobs and become entrepreneurs. In 2013, Neon Island was officially born

Today, Neon Island is known for their distinctive hand drawn prints, solidifying their place in this competitive market in two ways: First, through their young, unique, and colorful aesthetic; and second, through their use of locally sourced goods. 

“When we started Neon Island, we really wanted a brand that celebrates people through our hand-woven prints, through our aesthetic, through our production process, and to make sure everything is sourced here. So art and clothes that celebrate and inspire people to appreciate local products,” says Aira Medina.  

A business idea will only fly if it is able to bring something unique, something different, or something that hasn’t been done yet, to the table. The first step to building a business is to find that void in the market and fill it. 

Maximing digital resources

When it came to actually running the business, Aira and Chi were pretty much clueless at first. They were 23 years old, with limited savings and without a business background. This was their biggest challenge in the start, but it did not deter them. With determination, resourcefulness, and a few small favors here and there, they got off to a running start.  

“I think nowadays all you need is a cellphone, a laptop, and the Internet to start a business. It’s that easy now,” says Chi Gibbs. “We owe the little success that we have to social media because it’s the perfect place for a business with no money to thrive.”

SOCIAL SAVVY. A snapshot from Neon Island's Instagram


A snapshot from Neon Island's Instagram

They asked their friends to model, borrowed props, curated their own shoots, and posted it on social media. This was all they needed to get noticed by the trend-loving, Instagram-savvy crowd.

After garnering themselves a small following, it was time to level up from a purely social media based business to a more credible platform. However, they found the whole process of creating a website from scratch to be tedious, complicated, and expensive. Instead, they turned to existing online platforms like Shopify to peddle their products. This move gave their shop more legitimacy, their clients security, and themselves free reign to brand their website as they pleased.

FEMME FATALE. Jackets from Neon Island's latest collection, Girl Gang


Jackets from Neon Island's latest collection, Girl Gang

“You don’t have to have a background in business for you to succeed,” says Aira Medina. “I guess it’s really the determination and the will to really just do it. Just jump into it.”

Quitting is not an option

Being an entrepreneur is no easy task. It has its own set of unique challenges. 

It’s a 24/7 job. You don’t leave work just because you’re out of the office. It’s always on your mind – today’s instagram post, next week’s photo shoot. It takes up a lot of your own resources. Every new endeavor is going to be funded straight out of your pocket. And perhaps the most difficult thing of all is it's so easy to walk away.

“It’s so easy to quit when you’re in a business. It’s so easy to quit when you don’t have a boss to stop you,” Chi Gibbs admits. “But we’re doing what we love and what we feel like what we’re doing means something to both of us.”

Entrepreneurship is a calling for creators, for the passionate, for those yearning for fulfillment. All work will require you to shed blood, sweat, and tears – so why not commit to something you believe to be worth it? Especially now that the tools to do so are readily available. 

“I’d says being an entrepreneur is more challenging, but it’s also more fulfilling,” says Chi Gibbs. “When we see people wear our stuff, it makes it more worth it for us.” – Rappler.com

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