These Gen Z Start-Ups Share What It’s Really Like To Own A Small Online Business During A Pandemic

From the perspective of the young and passionate entrepreneurs, they tell what it’s like to operate an online business during COVID-19–the behind-the-scenes work, and their plans for their future.

When COVID-19 forced most countries around the world to go into lockdown early in the year, in-person retail and other physical interactions were either banned or deemed high-risk for good measure. With stores either closed or limiting in-person shopping, a lot of people went online to get what they needed to buy. This shift to online shopping led to an uptick in online sellers on the internet. This trend was noticeable on social media like Facebook and Instagram with different pages popping up selling different kinds of items.

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Among the owners of these online businesses are an interesting group with a unique background: young people in their early 20s, either recent graduates or current college students. Entering adulthood during a time of immense change and uncertainty, these young owners entered the online selling business for different reasons and bring a unique perspective to the whole endeavor. We talked with a few of them on what it’s like owning their own online business and what their plans are for their businesses and their careers.

AN’D

With the idea of “every woman should feel free to dress as she pleases and be comfortable in her own skin–however much of it she wants to show” behind AN’D, Angela, one of the brand’s co-owners, describes AN’D as “a slow fashion brand that aims to encourage self-expression and confidence through clothing and dressing up.”

Officially launched in late October of this year, the clothing line was originally pitched back in May with the concept of clothes that are “fun, feminine, and free,” but not too impractical or hassle to wear.

Daphne, the brand’s other co-owner, says that AN’D “…is also meant to communicate that you don’t need to be at the beach to wear these kinds of clothes either, and you don’t need a certain aesthetic to ‘pull it off’.”

The idea of starting a clothing line was something Daphne wanted to do for a while now, but the full concept of the brand only came into shape this year. When it came time to start up the business, the girls went through a few key decisions. As Daphne explains, “we thought of the pieces we wanted for the first collection and began canvassing for fabric suppliers. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to work with our seamstress whom we’ve known for years and have a limited stock/mainly pre-order model, so we developed a budget and the logistics around that.”

The day-to-day operations for AN’D vary, but can go from checking their emails and social media pages to updating stock and packing orders. The work is a collaborative effort as Daphne adds that “we consult each other on everything, down to the smallest decisions.”

When it comes to running an online business, Daphne and Angela have their likes and dislikes of the process. Daphne enjoys the creative process and uses her photography skills to help in the brand’s imagery. Angela, meanwhile, feels that the whole uncertainty of it all and being new to the business is what makes things unnerving for her. Their business is dependent on consumer demand so it’s all up to if people buy their clothes or not. “It really is a gamble of high-risk, high-reward.”

As with most things, running an online business brings its own set of challenges that are made more extreme by the ongoing pandemic. They both say that communicating with third parties has been an issue for them as they don’t have that much control over their suppliers and couriers. The pandemic has also made it hard for them to physically look for materials and suppliers, so they had to do that online.

The reactions from customers are what makes it worth it though. “Every comment, like, and order also matters; the tiniest forms of appreciation and support means a lot…a customer’s enthusiasm and sincerity are also very assuring since we aren’t able to see their reactions in person,” says Daphne.

As recent graduates, the whole experience of running an online business has shaped how they see their careers. Both say that they are currently in the process of discovering what they exactly want to do and while AN’D is a priority and commitment for both, they have career goals unrelated to AN’D.

Daphne sees the brand as something that she wants as a part of her career for a while and the whole process has made her clearer on what she wants to do in life. Meanwhile, Angela sees the brand more as an addition to her career and still plans on entering a field that is closer to her undergraduate degree in Politics and IR and Ancient world studies.

As for their plans for the brand, Daphne and Angela both agree that they’re committed to the brand and are looking forward to seeing where it goes. As Daphne explains “It isn’t a brand that we just launched to give us something to do during the pandemic. It’s definitely something we want to develop and see where it goes.”

MOLITA BAKERY

For Molly, owner of Molita Bakery, the idea of running her own food business was something she dreamed of since she was a child. “I was a kid who grew up watching Masterchef, Barefoot Contessa, anything with Gordon Ramsay in it, and basically anything about food. It was always a joy to watch those shows on TV that I somehow built a dream around that hobby of mine.”

It was only during quarantine when Molly finally decided to pursue her passion for baking and soon, Molita Bakery was launched in June of this year. The bakery, which gets its name from Molly’s pet name at home, specializes in Ube Cheese Rolls, cookies, and cakes, but she hopes to offer a bigger variety of pastries in the future. One of the most important steps Molly took to start her business was to not let her fear of failure get the best of her and push through. “It was always at the back of my mind even when I was still in college to sell baked goods, but I was afraid to do so.”

During the early days of quarantine, she kept on practicing her baking skills and improving her recipes until she felt that she was confident to begin.
Molly’s day-to-day tasks are actually determined by the day before as she explains, “I collect my orders, delivery details, then confirm and secure payments. On the day of delivery, I usually start my day early at 7 AM. Whether it’s cookies or rolls, I bake them fresh.” Once the orders are baked, she sends them to her customers via couriers. Aside from posting on social media like Instagram, she uses her free time to expand her menu and work on other recipes.

When it comes to operating an online business, Molly feels most validated when she’s told by a customer that her products are really good. “It sounds cliché, but there’s nothing more assuring than doing something you were meant to and not just wasting your time, than being told how happy you’ve made someone by doing that exact thing.”

The stress of it all though can get to Molly at times as she is the lone owner, marketer, chef, and manager. The threat of COVID-19 has also forced Molly to decline to participate in bazaars for her health and safety. She does see a silver lining to it though “…as I’ve read in a really good book by Mark Manson this quarantine, pain is a part of life…it’s up to us to choose what kind of pain we’re willing to suffer through. And this one’s what I choose.”

During the start of her business and even until now, the constant challenge Molly faces is raising awareness of her bakery especially amongst a sea of competitors, and earning the trust of consumers. Molly believes that “What makes my business stand out from all the rest out there is that Molita Bakery is purely me, it’s mine. It’s a cultivation of my own skills, knowledge, creativity, and technique, that no one can ever take away or imitate.”

After six months in operation, Molly feels now that Molita Bakery is not just a simple side hustle during quarantine, but a long-term commitment and something she can use as a transition to a full-time career in the food industry. “Being successful in this industry, given how fulfilling it is, is now my main goal, career-wise,” she says. “I am constantly being told of how much potential I have and this just gets me extremely excited for what’s to come for me and my bakery.”

Molly wants to build her business as a successful and well-known bakery in the country and even to make a name for herself as a talented chef. She even wants to enroll in culinary school once the pandemic is over.

RAWR TIME

With a unique name like Rawr Time, this small online jewelry seller’s name alone helps it stand out from the crowd. Hikaru, the business’ owner, says that the name is meant to convey jewelry that is “bold and loud by making use of beads and pendants that are not saturated in the online market.” It is branded as and heavily inspired by 90s fashion catalogs as Hikaru likes to go through online spreads of fashion/music magazines from the 80s to the early 2000s.

Her online business also allows her to play with gender stereotypes. “I try to combine conventionally masculine and feminine elements that are often associated with jewelry.” Her experiences throughout the years of going through different styles that don’t always conform to gender norms made her want to create a jewelry line that doesn’t always fit certain ideas.

Started back in June of 2020 on Instagram, Rawr Time specializes in handmade jewelry, specifically earrings, and necklaces. The idea for starting a jewelry line was something Hikaru had in mind for years when she was bored in class, but only planned and conceptualized it two months before launch. “Rawr Time has always been a vague idea in my head for years, but I never had the courage and time to pursue it. When I came across YouTube vlogs of people starting their own online art shops, I was inspired to concretize my idea!”

When it was time to start her business, Hikaru says that she first needed to find safe ways to ship her items because she lived with her lola who is high-risk. Afterward, she had to source her jewelry materials online, which was difficult for her to do since everything had to be estimated and that she is
used to sourcing what she needs in-person in Quiapo. Her day-to-day operations vary from sketching out new ideas for her line and replying to interested buyers as well as those looking to pre-order items or request commissioned pieces.

The experience of running her own small online business has brought Hikaru its share of positives and negatives. She says that she loves the community that she interacts with online, both with understanding customers and fellow supportive small online shop owners. She also loves that she can do things at her own pace and doesn’t feel the need to rush things. The downside is that she does most of the work for the brand by herself including jewelry crafting, photography, edits, and promotions, which can get difficult and tiring. Having her store running entirely online has also brought some issues such as problems with shipping from her suppliers and buyers informing her that they didn’t receive their parcels. She says it’s “all good though” once she’s made aware of the situation so that she could attend to it.

While Hikaru does enjoy her work for Rawr Time, she didn’t plan on doing this after graduating from college and is still sending job applications within and outside her field. “I think that Rawr Time has taught me a lot of things such as understanding social media marketing, graphic design, and of course, jewelry crafting! I do see it as a side hustle since I still am applying to [full-time] jobs.” The experience has made her realize that she’s open to doing things out of her comfort zone of multimedia production
such as digital marketing.

In the meantime, she plans on growing her brand, albeit slowly and at her own pace. “Hopefully, longterm so that I can use it as both a platform to create jewelry that blurs ‘gender stereotypes’ AND also to educate more people on LGBTQ+ rights and issues.”

SOLID TOYS PH

The past few years have seen the rise in popularity of collectable toys like Funko Pops but less noticeable is a small but growing scene of designer and high-end toys and collectibles. This is where Patrick and his friends come in with their business, Solid Toys, which started back in February of this year. The online business is a designer toys and collectibles shop where they sell designer and art toys made locally and internationally along with other collectible figures like Funko Pops.

The idea for the business came from one of Patrick’s friends one day while they were in Greenhills selling toys. At that point in time, Patrick was already used to being a reseller of collectible toys, but his friend realized that both of them had a sizable customer base and were reliable sellers. As the designer toy scene grew bigger in the country over the past year, they realized that there were no stores that focused on selling designer toys and saw an opportunity and decided to fill that void.

At the beginning of the business, Patrick had to hustle a bit to establish a name for themselves as he explains, “For the first few months, we would stay up for releases online then have them shipped here, sell them on Facebook, and meet up with the customer to hand their product over. We would spend Saturdays in Greenhills meeting up with customers and trying to find more good deals to resell. We talked to a lot of people to try to establish our name in the scene as sellers who could get their customers the latest releases.” Their success eventually led them to set up their own website to sell their items.

As the market that Patrick and his friends operated in was somewhat niece but tight-knit, they had the challenge of establishing a good reputation for themselves in the community. “Starting off as resellers within a community that frowns upon resellers made our goal of becoming retailers difficult as some saw us as only resellers with no intention of changing our business style. This affected our image negatively to some customers and even artists, but in the end, we are just continually pushing our image
as budding retailers in the community.”

Unlike most businesses, COVID-19 didn’t have that much of a negative impact on them but actually a positive one as Patrick explains “The longer the pandemic and lockdown continued, more and more people got into collecting toys and other collecting hobbies. We continued to sell out and have sales during the pandemic by selling through our website and having our own personal delivery crew.”

Solid Toys has seen a fair share of success to the point where they recently built a physical store in Greenhills, but Patrick says that a lot of hard work went into their success. “It is not easy, and it really requires a lot of attention to detail…every business should always have a plan for the future and should always be continuously evolving and learning while staying on-brand to their concept and image.”

Patrick sees his online business as more of a side-hustle rather than a planned step in his career as he feels that he can achieve other career goals while maintaining Solid Toys. He says that the online business is mainly there to help him with an experience that he can use for future jobs, but that it is “a very long-term thing as there will always be demand for designer/art toys as people are becoming more openminded regarding toys and the market is also growing!”

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