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OFW couple braves through new normal by becoming their own boss

Take it from Jobiegaile Jun and Stephane Mae Aquino, a couple currently based in Doha, Qatar, as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and Santé Business Owners. They braved through the new normal by starting up a business that they describe as pandemic proof.



Amid the new normal, some say that putting up a new business sounds quite impossible and too risky. But for others, starting your own business now might be a good option, especially if you have the right mindset and a business partner to guide you throughout your journey. 

Take it from Jobiegaile Jun and Stephane Mae Aquino, a couple currently based in Doha, Qatar, as Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) and Santé Business Owners. They braved through the new normal by starting up a business that they describe as pandemic proof.  

Taking Chances Abroad 

Jobigaile Jun Aquino has been working as an OFW for almost 12 years. He was born and raised by his parents, both teachers, in Tacloban City in Leyte. Eventually, he moved to Metro Manila to start his career as an accountant in Ortigas, Pasig City. After six years, he decided to look for a greener pasture abroad to continue providing for his family. 

“I came from a big family. At that time, I was helping my parents provide for the needs of my nine other siblings. That is why when I got the opportunity to work abroad, I grabbed it so that I can continue providing for my family,” Jobigaile said.  

He spent the next seven years as a Senior Accountant for a steel company and then transferred to a Canadian company based in Doha as a Finance Manager. As his career progressed, he did not forget to go to his church to serve the Lord—this is where he met Stephane, a Filipina nurse, originally from Davao, but now, her family lives in North Cotabato. As a couple, they are now married for about five years. 

“I also went abroad to look for greener pastures. I used to work in the Philippines as a nurse but, I was not earning enough for my family. Fortunately, I got the opportunity to work here in the Middle East. I have been an OFW for about ten years already and, currently, I work here as a school nurse,” said Stephane. 

Starting a business amid a pandemic 

Having been OFWs for more than a decade, Jobigaile and Stephane have already created great careers in their own respective fields. But just like everyone around the world, they were also affected by the changes brought by the pandemic.  

“No one was able to prepare for the pandemic. When the authorities here imposed the lockdowns last March 2020, it greatly affected our jobs. We needed to stay at home, not knowing when everything will go back to normal. We lost almost half of our income,” Jobigaile narrated. 

At that time, Jobigaile already knew about Santé, a provider of premier natural and organic health and wellness products and services. He is among those who are avid users of Santé products.  

He said that a friend introduced him to Santé, and ever since, he has been consuming Santé Barley products because of its health benefits. He even became a Santé Member, primarily to avail discounts. 

“But when the pandemic started last year, it became a turning point for us. We lost some of our income, so we needed to look for other ways to earn while isolating ourselves at home. I am thrilled that I already know about Santé,” Jobigaile said.  

He added that “at that time, some of my officemates just learned about these amazing products. They liked it. As days went by, I received many orders from my friends and colleagues—this was when I decided to dedicate more time to this business. I even decided to invest and become a Santé Business Owner.” 

Working Hard to Achieve Success 

Jobigaile noted, however, that it is still hard work and the willingness to take risks that can lead a starting entreprenur to success. During the strict lockdowns in Doha, Jobigaile studied how to run his online business by attending webinars, training sessions, and product orientations provided by Santé through its Santé Engage.  

This platform offers all business owners the essential educational programs to help them grow their businesses, improve leadership skills, and even develop personal growth. 

Santé also came up with strategies to help business owners, like Jobigaile, adapt to the ever-changing world. For example, the Santé Mobile App will help them have easy business management, and a user-friendly website for hassle-free and convenient shopping. 

On the other hand, Stephane also became much more involved in their Santé business as they received orders from their fellow Filipinos in Doha. She also became a Santé Member and eventually also decided to start her own Santé business. 

“What’s good about this business is that you can manage it whenever and wherever you are because it is e-commerce ready. While Jun delivers the products to our customers, mostly our neighbours and friends, I will answer all the inquiries we receive in our online store. And then, eventually, I decided also to become a Santé Business Owner. It was our Santé business that filled our lost income during these trying times,” Steph said. 

A Pandemic-proof Business 

When asked about their reasons for choosing Santé as their business partner, the couple said that it is really because the company shares the same values and mindset as them. 

“As a company, Santé wants to help people live better lives. This mindset solidifies our belief that we found the right business to partner with. As Santé Business Owners, we are glad that we can help our customers maintain their healthy lifestyles with the natural and organic health and wellness that we offer, particularly during this global health crisis,” Stephane said. 

Since Santé is the top producer of barley grass products in the Philippines and soon worldwide, its business partners have a business model that revolve around the certified organic Santé Barley™ grass grown in Canterbury, New Zealand. This Biogro and Halal certified organic barley grass can be found in all Santé product offerings, such as nutraceutical vitamins, health beverages, health, and wellness, among others. 

Santé products also contain natural ingredients filled with a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, and carotenoids, essential in strengthening the immune system up to the smallest cellular level. 

For Jobigaile, the idea of helping others achieve their dreams through their Santé business is, by far, his greatest success. “I am grateful to all our mentors for guiding us to become great leaders and business owners. Through this business, we are also helping other people have other sources of income. This is important because we are all greatly affected by the pandemic. Some even lost their livelihoods,” he said.  

The couple added that all these factors, particularly its products, core values, and willingness to help its distributors through trainings, webinars, and e-commerce readiness, make Santé a pandemic-proof business. 

Santé also cherishes its business partners’ role for the organization. Through its compensation plan, it provides incentives like bonuses in repeat purchases, infinity bonus, free gadgets, and a car and house incentive with free down payments and monthly amortization. 

More than a year after they started their online business, Steph and Jobigaile achieved a lot from being Santé Business Owners. They are now Executive and Platinum Executive Directors, respectively, and among the leading Santé distributors in Doha, Qatar. Their families in Leyte and North Cotabato have also recently started their own Santé Business.  

Founded by leaders with more than 70 years of combined Direct Selling and Marketing experience, Santé is now one of the fastest-growing distribution and direct selling companies globally. Aside from New Zealand and the Philippines, Santé is present in key cities such as Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Abuja, Lagos, and Cyprus. 


‘Don’t be discouraged nor lose hope even if the process is difficult’ – Cyramae Ubaldo

This February, Cyramae Ubaldo opened a candle business, Candle La Vie, with a start-up capital of around around P10,000. “Don’t be discouraged and lose hope even if the process is difficult. It will always be hard at first.”



This February, Cyramae Ubaldo opened a candle business, Candle La Vie, with a start-up capital of around around P10,000.

“(When) I started planning my wedding, I thought scented candles would make great souvenirs,” she recalled. Though, obviously, these would also be applicable for any other events. And “that gave me an idea to start this business.”

Since she finished BS IT, Cyramae said she never imagined that candle making would become her passion. In a way, this makes the venture challenging.

“Some days I tend to become hesitant if I’m going to pursue this business. (I have) lots of negative thoughts (about this business) – e.g. that it might fail right away, that no one would purchase the goods, that my candles won’t be pleasing compared to others,” she said.

But with the support of her partner, “I was able to push through.”

She has yet to reach ROI, but Cyramae thinks this is a profitable business.

And for people who may want to also open their own business, what tips can Cyramae give? 

“Don’t be discouraged and lose hope even if the process is difficult. It will always be hard at first. The most important thing is that you love and you’re happy of what you’ve been doing. Even it is a small progress, it’s still one step towards your goal,” Cyramae ended.

For those who want to get in touch with Candle La Vie, head to Facebook or Instagram.

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Create value for your biz to succeed – Jico Ambrocio

Jico Ambrocio, founder of Elo Athletics, believes in creating value for your customers. “Understanding how your brand will fit in and provide value in an industry is the key to consistently growing your brand and following.”



Elo Athletics – better known as just Elo – was conceptualized around July 2020, and officially launched via Instagram in October of the same year with an investment of around PhP150,000 to cover startup costs and the initial inventory of products.

It was, perhaps, a line of business Jico Ambrocio would eventually enter.

“I’ve been very close to the fitness industry, trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle ever since I was in high school,” he said. “I was an active gym goer before and I pursued weightlifting as my main source of physical activity throughout college and even when I started working.”

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, Jico was placed in a similar position as many others – i.e. “I couldn’t keep doing it because all the gyms had to temporarily close down.”

Jico tried exercising at home by doing bodyweight exercises such as HIIT, but he said he didn’t enjoy it as much as working out in the gym “maybe because there was always a feeling of isolation and uncertainty during this pandemic, that I couldn’t push myself to perform intense exercises.”

And then he came across Yoga, “and it really changed my perspective on health. Yoga taught me to be mindful of my emotions and to adopt a holistic approach to fitness.”

The newfound love – i.e. Yoga – led to the establishment of Elo Athletics.

“I… felt that the brand can open opportunities to spread the importance of taking care of our well-being, especially our mental health,” Jico said.


It helps that Jico studied Business Administration and Accountancy in college, and “it has always been a personal dream to be able to start and grow my own brand. Back then, I thought my first brand would fall under either the food or fashion industry, and not in the industry that Elo is currently a part of.”

All the same, “thinking about it now, I love the industry that I’m in because I know that the products and services we can create will be valued by a lot of people since most of us really value our well-being. My degree helped me make better decisions for the brand but it was my personal experiences that really pushed me to do my best.”

As a new biz, “we haven’t reached ROI yet,” Jico admitted. Nonetheless, “I’m seeing a lot of opportunities for the brand to grow and I’m still personally investing more money in it so we can create better experiences for our customers. I would say that it’s a profitable venture because we are able to generate a healthy volume of sales, but it also requires a lot of patience to see it through until it eventually reaches ROI. Hopefully that happens soon.”


There are still challenges.

“One of the main challenges I face is being insecure about the brand and its progress. I’m constantly aware of the actions of competitors and I tend to compare the growth of my brand to theirs — which has negative effects on my confidence, and belief in our products,” Jico admitted. 

However, “I have learned to overcome this feeling by focusing on the things we currently have. I realized that if I start looking inward — looking at positive customer reviews, or how many customers we’ve served, I am able to help myself view these challenges positively and constructively.”

On the business side, delivery and logistics are also challenging the running of the business. 

“I have to ensure that the products arrive to customers on time and in their best state. This means that I would also put a lot of effort into tracking the status of deliveries and communicating with customers, and consistently working with our couriers and partners to make sure that the delivery process is good,” Jico said.

But Jico is confident Elo will eventually carve its name in this industry.


And for people who may want to also open their business, what tips can Jico give?

“Don’t be afraid to start! The fact that we have to invest money in a business means that we have a tendency to make sure that everything is perfect before launching — because no one wants their money to go to waste. However, the act of actually launching your product/service and getting it out there will really help you create better products/services for the people you cater to. Start with something small, listen to your customers, innovate and improve, and things will get better,” he said.

It helps to do initial research about the industry: the product, the prospective customers, competitors, etc. “Understanding how your brand will fit in and provide value in an industry is the key to consistently growing your brand and following,” Jico ended.

For more information or to order, head to IG: @elo.athletics, or Facebook.

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Believe in your product – Jansen Prado

The Pantry Project Manila was established only on July 16, 2020, with a startup capital of approximately P25,000. “Make sure that you believe in whatever your product is. Be passionate. Challenges will abound and your passion will keep you going,” said Jansen Prado, owner of The Pantry Project Manila.



The Pantry Project Manila was established only on July 16, 2020, with a startup capital of approximately P25,000.

“Our family loves to cook. We just love cooking and making our guests happy with food.. good food at that… And we always had this plan to launch our family’s heirloom recipes. We want to ‘put them out there’ and share to everyone the love and passion that goes into every dish,” said Jansen Prado, owner of The Pantry Project Manila.

In fact, by the end of 2019, “we were already gearing up to launch our mom’s estofado seco; and we planned to sell them in jars.”

But then COVID-19 happened…

Though, initially, “we decided to put everything to a halt… we saw how the pandemic hit so many of our ‘kababayans’. We had to do something.” And so “we aimed to help not just our own kitchen but other home cooks, too, who were displaced by the pandemic. We reached out to people whom we knew can lead us to people that can cook really well.”

And so, yes, The Pantry Project Manila came into being.

The first dish offered was the “badass bopis”, a recipe “loaned to us by our mom,” Jansen said.

Now, why bopis?

“(We) want the public to be comfortable eating bopis. That bopis can be very meticulously prepared, clean and positively distinguished. And that bopis can be gourmet and not be too expensive at the same time,” Jansen said.

ROI has already been reached, and “I am really very grateful.” This is also a profitable business, though “hard work and creativity are really essential.”

In hindsight, “I never thought I would be the one who will be pushing this plan. I have pictured my sisters to make this business materialize. I was so much into what I was doing in the corporate world that I did not see this coming,” Jansen said.

Fortunately for him, he has a degree in Marketing Management that “I find very helpful to the business.”

There remain challenges.

“The biggest challenge, especially during these times in the MSME world, is creating your market, your niche,” Jansen said.

Also, “with our main product, the Badass Bopis, it was hard to convince people that it is worth trying. A lot of people have reservations regarding eating the dish. So yeah, we had to add more to the menu.”

Businesses, of course, need to learn to face challenges.

For Jansen, the approach is to “focus on our purpose and knowing that there are a number of people who depend on the online pantry’s operations; this keeps us going.”

And for people who may want to also open their business, what tips can Jansen give?

“Make sure that you believe in whatever your product is. Be passionate. Challenges will abound and your passion will keep you going. Always welcome change as it is inevitable. Patience. You need tons of this. Have faith. No day is the same, so stay calm, focus, work harder. Optimism will never hurt,” Jansen ended.

Wanna get in touch with The Pantry Project Manila? Head to Facebook or Instagram: @pantryprojectmnl; email; or call/text 09052700617.

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