A sampling of Cyrene Quiamco (or CyreneQ)'s artwork on Snapchat
CyreneQ, Snapchat’s social media princess, is the proverbial girl-next-door; her wholesomeness (reminiscent of her Disney alter egos) is almost an anachronism by today’s standards. Who would think that underneath her ingenue-like personality lies an astute and seasoned artist-marketing entrepreneur who has conquered both the real and virtual world with her stylus and brushes?
This quintessential 21st-century success now commands an easy $10,000 to $30,000 per contract as a brand endorser using the Snapchat platform, which she transforms into a digital canvas where she tells cleverly scripted, 10-second stories.
Cyrene Quiamco, a 27-year-old Fil-Am, recalls that her first commissioned snap for a brand went for just $500. “After the first one, more brands started to take notice. And since Snapchat was very new and I was one of the first people who was doing branded work, the demand simply grew,” she says. Now, Forbes magazine estimates she makes about $500,000 a year.
Her intricate and whimsical art may only have a shelf-life of 24 hours but it is an interactive and creative mix of drawings, stories, videos, text, games and quizzes—something that her audience of 100,000 per snap looks forward to. Educated and trained in both classical and digital arts, Cyrene is a web designer and freelance graphic artist by trade. Her story of true grit fascinates and inspires.
Cyrene has met celebrities and become a celebrity herself because of Snapchat
Doe-eyed, bubbly and oozing with positivity, Cyrene could be your sister, daughter, favorite niece or BFF. Despite being the toast of the millennial set and a cult figure among her Gen Z followers, she has remained unaffected and gracious. Up close and personal, she comes off as very authentic: a quality that can be sniffed a million bytes away in a virtual world. Her sheer talent across many art forms and her ability to engage her massive audience on an emotional level and get them to connect and interact, has earned her the right to be called a social media influencer.
Going beyond Snapchat as a messaging app and leveraging on her design background, she has pitched for Samsung, Walmart, MTV, Pixar, Burger King, Coca Cola and Disney, among others. Her so-called “selfies” with celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift, Donald Duck and Frozen royalties Elsa and Anna are very popular with followers, as are her transformations into lovable Disney characters like Jasmine, Snow White and Ariel.
One wonders, how did she go viral? Does she belong to the entitled set whose rise to fame is usually made easier by being privileged? Or was she an accidental find on YouTube which caught the eye of DeGeneres or Oprah Winfrey, daytime TV queens who had habitually brought Filipino sensations to worldwide attention? Neither of the two. In fact, her story is what telenovelas are made of; a migrant’s hard-earned success story with a twist. In a manner of speaking, her life can be defined in stages by three Disney songs: When You Wish Upon Star, A Whole New World and Let It Go.
When You Wish Upon A Star
In 1997, seven-year-old Cyrene, together with three year-old sister Chris-Joy and single mom Christine Ganzon, went to America on the strength of a 10-year tourist visa, in search of a better life. Leaving the Philippines was not easy. Ganzon had to leave her job as a teller at BDO Unibank and sell a property she had hoped to build their house on. The amount was not a princely sum even then, but enough to buy tickets for the US, get them through their adjustment stage and enroll the kids in a private Catholic school.
Cyrene’s mother dreamed big and her shining example was a beacon for her two children to follow. Starting over was difficult and it was a constant struggle to make ends meet. What made it even more incredible was that Ganzon was not a nurse, doctor or highly paid professional who could afford costly childcare. She worked long hours as a cashier and an optometrist’s assistant but could only afford a small apartment. Nonetheless, it was a home full of love, laughter, joy and the incredible faith that things would take a turn for the better.
Cyrene with her mother Christine Ganzon and younger sister Chris-Joy
When asked in an interview with the family during a recent trip to their hometown of Bacolod City how she raised two successful daughters, Ganzon shrugged her shoulders and joked, "I just fed them!"
The two sisters were quick to refute that, recounting struggles through the difficult years. They credit their mom’s indomitable spirit for inspiration, and are eternally thankful for the love, faith and support that had molded them. Ever low-keyed, it took some prompting for Ganzon to add, “Kidding aside, I raised them to be respectful and well-mannered; to be always kind and nice to everyone. I showered them with unconditional love and support in success and failure. Most of all, they knew I would always be there, all the time for them.”
The two sisters, mature for their age even as children, practically raised each other by keeping themselves preoccupied watching Disney features after doing their homework and playing very quietly. They had each others’ back with Chris-Joy, the younger sibling, sometimes preparing meals for an exhausted and sleeping Cyrene.
A Whole New World
When Cyrene, a straight A student, decided to study art in college, she remembers quieting her mom’s unspoken fears by declaring, "I won’t be a starving artist.” She pursued her passion with that same “go for it” attitude inherited from her mom and entered college with seven scholarships (including being a Donaghey Scholar, Windgate Art Scholar and Little Rock American Advertising Federation Scholar).
She graduated from the University of Arkansas, at Little Rock, magna cum laude with three majors for Studio Art: Graphic Design, Painting and Ceramics with a minor in Digital Graphics. This explains how she could switch from one medium to another with ease, or switch styles without losing a beat. She also had scholarships in Hong Kong and Seoul. Even as a junior college student, she indulged her penchant for traveling with family. Ganzon’s philosophy of putting family first had rubbed off on her children who wanted nothing more than to share good times with each other.
Cyrene is trained both in classical and digital arts
To everyone’s surprise, Cyrene was able to purchase the dream house they had visualized for years with money left over from her scholarship funds augmented by earnings from freelance jobs. A house and a car completely paid for before she turned 25 was nothing short of amazing, but the achievement she is most proud of is the fact that their financial stability allowed Ganzon to retire and enjoy what she had missed out on. Today, they are living the American Dream while remaining as Filipino as adobo. In fact, Cyrene is the global ambassador for NDAA 2017 (National Digital Art Awards), the Philippines’ top award-giving body that honors digital artists.
Let it Go
"I’ve always excelled in art, but didn’t know how to make money from it," she says. It was providential that she studied graphics design, landed a job as a product designer for a cosmetics company and was web designer for Verizon, the US telecoms company where she won awards two years in a row. Learning the ropes prepared her for her next challenge: to monetize her art. Her early ventures didn’t pan out. “I don’t see losing as a failure, it’s only a step to finding out what success really is.”
As luck would have it, when she was 25 and burning out from a job that paid well but didn’t allow her to spend quality time with family, she chanced on the Snapchat app. Incredibly creative and equipped with the technical facility, she created snaps that integrated video and graphics. Each casual-looking snap was not as easy to make as it looks, since she had to make a storyboard and shoot videos that looked effortless. These movies in a nutshell sometimes took numerous retakes to look “natural” but her efforts paid off.
Cyrene's book, which details her rise to the top of the social media game, will be out on Valentine's Day 2017
Companies took notice, and soon enough, she had to quit her corporate job at Verizon to follow her bliss. In 2016, she was named one of the Most Fascinating People on the Internet (Cosmopolitan), Top 50 Best People on the Internet Right Now (Tech Insider), The Best, Coolest, Smartest, Weirdest Accounts on the Hottest Social Network (NYMag) and Top 100 Cultural Icons (Vanity Fair). She continues to paint and has won an award for graphics design.
Last year, she wrote a book, 11 Seconds to Success, as a way to pay it forward. To be released by Amazon on February 14, 2017, the book chronicles how she made it, hoping to inspire those who want to follow in her footsteps.
“Let It Go” indeed, Cyrene. The best is yet to come.
Mary Verdure Biron-Tolentino is an educator and an advocate of free online ICT skills and language training. She was a columnist for Sun-Star and belonged to the top 1% of Elance (now Upwork) writers worldwide