For one young entrepreneur, starting a business from old scraps wasn’t just another idea that looked good on paper.
As a child, JT Cruz built airplanes and ships from colorful Lego blocks. He then moved on from following manuals to setting up his own structures. “The outcome would impress and surprise my parents and friends each time,” he said in an e-mail.
Little did he know that he would someday build something bigger than his childhood creations. Barely out of college in 2006, the then-23-year-old Mr. Cruz set up Surprise Hobby, a novelty item business that was initially funded through his dad’s graduation gift: a commercial booth and some start-up merchandise.
“The idea behind Surprise Hobby was to showcase unique end-products with the ‘wow’ factor and the element of ‘surprise,’ because it is fueled by creativity and passion,” said Mr. Cruz.
But, he soon found that running a business wasn’t that easy. “The booth didn’t prosper, leaving me with nothing,” he said. With a friend, he started borrowing merchandise from others and joining Christmas expos in the same year. “Slowly, I began selling my own [products],” he said. “It was a humbling but fruitful experience.”
Of course, operating a sole proprietorship also brought its own challenges. One was the lack of manpower. “You have to do a one-man show—from procurement, to sales monitoring, to inventory, to logistics, to customer care, to paying taxes,” said Mr. Cruz.
As the business ironed out its kinks, it diversified into Picomedia Art, which offers cost-efficient printing solutions to personal and corporate clients through the use of screen printing and desktop publishing. The paper trash that Picomedia generated then gave birth to GreenGrab, now the business’s flagship product, bags made mainly of recycled paper.
“I am the type who will save coffee bottles to make condiment containers, keep newspapers to make mats against paint, and save magazines if my younger siblings would need them for school projects,” said Mr. Cruz. “It may not be necessarily keeping the trash away from garbage bins, but giving them new use by repurposing.”
Surprise Hobby also lets clients customize their own GreenGrab bags. “The customized bags are printed on the clean side of the collected papers, woven piece per piece and sewn for durability,” said Mr. Cruz.
GreenGrab’s top customers are those from the United States, France, and Australia, but the business has also taken off in the Philippines; the bags will be part of the St. James the Great Bazaar in Alabang next month and the WorldBex Grand Christmas Bazaar in December.
Mr. Cruz has his youth to thank for the business’s success. “One relevant advantage of starting young is having greater stamina—long working hours and a relatively high tolerance to exhaustion yield more results,” he said.
While inexperience may be a drawback of getting off to an early start, Mr. Cruz sees it as more time to make up for business’s losses. “Starting young gives me buffer years ahead to correct my mistakes [rather] than to retire later in my life and risk losing what I have saved up to trial and error,” he said.
Still, age is a mere number in the world of business. “Regardless of how old or young you are, as long as there is discipline and passion that motivates you into doing your best, you will succeed sooner than you think,” said Mr. Cruz.
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