Fresh graduates and entrepreneurs Claire Ongcangco and Miko Cornejo decided to start an IT solutions business, creating client websites and database systems, while still in college. “It wasn’t our thesis or anything,” says Claire of the business, named Concept Machine. “An opportunity opened itself, so we made a conscious choice to grab it.”
As course-mates in Management Information Systems at the Ateneo de Manila University, Claire and Miko met through their home organization, MISA (Management Information Systems Association). “Our first project together was for a website ex-deal with ABS-CBN in 2007,” recalls Claire. “I was an events project officer, so I dealt with the client negotiations and designing, while Miko was the E-services officer, who handled the programming.”
The prodigious partners did so well, they decided to continue working together on other projects for school organizations. These included websites for the Ateneo Scholarship Foundation, Ateneo Sanggunian (the university’s student council), and Ateneo Orientation Seminar (OrSem) 2009, among others.
“It was easy for me to bridge both ends—the client and the programmers—thanks to certain MIS subjects, like Project Management and Systems Analysis and Design,” says Claire of her exposure to the IT and systems world.
Being in school also furnished her with a wide network of people in need of IT services, as well as a pool of ready student freelancers. “We also had most of the resources we needed: computers, Internet connection, and IT and interpersonal skills,” she says.
In fact, the only capital they needed was the amount required to officially incorporate their business, Concept Machine (which they did in January 2009) and whatever gas or allowance they spent when meeting clients.As most of their work is spent in client meetings and systems development, which can be done on the programmer’s own time, “we decided to not get an office, and work from our homes or coffee shops,” says Claire. “Since there was no big time investment, everything was basically profit.”
Their first formal project was a software database for the members of Confederation of Independent Union in the Public Sector, referred to them by Claire’s mother. They have been able to close about three to five deals a month, and were handling about 30 projects—ranging from database systems, audio-visual presentations, websites, and maintenance—by the time Claire graduated in 2009.
Concept Machine offers two major products: websites, including static, dynamic, and e-commerce; and database systems for inventory, payroll, reservation log, and other operational processes. They also offer graphic design, photography, audio-visual presentations and marketing consultation as supplementary services.
Basic websites start at P10,000 and increase to as high as P80,000, depending on function and service. Database systems, on the other hand, are a bit more complex and can cost anywhere from P50,000 and up.
“Our clients are sure to get their money’s worth, as we tailor-make each project. Even before submitting a proposal, we hold several meetings to study our client’s industry and needs, and formulate the best ideas,” explains Claire. “As an entrepreneur, the most important thing college taught me, rather than the mastery of technical skills, was to adapt and find ways to do things, no matter what the circumstance.”
As such, Concept Machine has chosen to grow at a deliberate pace. Claire and Miko simply draw from a current pool of about 15 people—account executives, systems analysts, programmers, and designers—on a per-project basis.
In fact, they just recently hired their first full-time programmer, to help manage the increasing workload. “Our vision is to be among the top IT solution providers in the country,” reveals Claire. “With this business, Miko and I are proud to say we’ve experienced early on what people might not be able to experience in their lifetime.”