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Shifting from employment to entrepreneurship

How a career woman became her own boss
By Entrepreneur Staff |

If you were to ask Margie Bulaan why she put up Whimsical Wagon, a paper crafts making venture, she would probably tell you that she just had to do it. She says that everything—from quitting her job to coming up with a name for the business—was a case of doing what she had to do at the moment.

In 1991, on her father’s prodding, Bulaan gave up her job as a high-ranking employee in the real-estate developer Landco (now Landco-Pacific). This was because her father’s three-year old abaca factory in Bicol was losing money and he needed her to figure out a way to save it. The company, Won-Se, had been set up by her father in 1989 in partnership with a Korean company.

To save the venture, Bulaan looked for other markets for the factory’s abaca pulp and paper sheets. There was simply not enough demand, however, so the family finally shut down the business in 1992.

The following year, Bulaan and her father started to train a few backyard workers in designing various items using abaca paper. Not long afterwards, she decided to join the all-natural, all- handmade industry that was booming at the time. She established Whimsical Wagon, a business that made greeting cards from abaca by hand.

The name she chose for the company originated from spare logos and letterheads from her father’s failed business. Since they had the letter “W” in them, she thought of using a business name beginning with a “W” so she could recycle the materials instead of throwing them away.

She borrowed P70,000 from a cousin to jumpstart the new venture. With herself as designer, she developed several greeting card designs and enlisted the help of some family members and the household staff in packing them. The very first order for the cards was exported to Europe. Her handmade abaca greeting cards proved to be a hit, so Bulaan expanded her product line to include abaca bags, boxes, scrapbooks, and picture frames. Today, Whimsical Wagon exports its products mainly to the United States.

Although Whimsical Wagon was an immediate success, Bulaan admits that the transition from employee to entrepreneur was not easy for her. “In the beginning, I was so sorry for myself,” she recalls. “I didn’t have money because everything we earned went straight back to the business. Still, it was a balanced life and the business always kept me busy.”

To increase production, she worked out a partnership with a sub-contractor in Albay. The family’s abaca facility provides her with abaca paper while workers from Manila and neighboring provinces take care of designing and packaging the abaca products. The number of her workers depends on the volume of orders and she pays the workers on a piece-rate basis. Today, 15 years since starting Whimsical Wagon, Bulaan says quitting her job as an employee is one of the best decisions she has ever made: “When I started enjoying the benefits of being in business on my own, I no longer wanted to return to my old job. Here, I have the freedom to be who I want to be.”

This article was originally published in the September 2008 issue of Entrepreneur Philippines.


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