SELF-PORTRAIT BUSINESS. Young couple, Mark (left) and Kirsten (right) Pangilinan, pose for the camera in their newly opened self-portrait studio in Quezon City in this undated photo. The two said it was perfect timing to set up their business as the economy reopens under a new administration amid the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Kirsten Pangilinan)

MANILA – Starting up light and unique in a pandemic setup was a big plus for a young entrepreneur-couple in Quezon City, especially now that the economy is warmly opening up.

For Mark and Kirsten Pangilinan, both 23 years old, a self-portrait studio is a strategic and trendy business, where they can enjoy their passion for a living.

In an interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA), the couple said their operations, though challenging, come at a time when the Philippine economy tries to recover from the coronavirus disease 2019 under the new administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“It is indeed good timing to try business startups if you are willing to stretch yourself, face pressure, and embrace challenges along the way. Also, the most important, if nandoon ‘yung puso mo (your heart is there) or passion,” Mark said, referring to MP Diaries: Self-portrait studio that opened last August.

Before venturing into the portrait studio business, the two were busy hustling as virtual assistants.

“During the pandemic, as work from home, there’s a struggle when there’s an Internet loss or power shortage. Another challenge is when you’re mentally stressed at work, it’s hard to take a break or vacation, travel or bond with friends due to lockdown or quarantine,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.

The Pangilinans shared that they were not professionally into film or photography. However, they took the chance to learn and execute the basic know-how using their small capital of about PHP300,000.

“The most essential is the equipment, which (included) a camera, lights, backdrop, monitoring screen, and laptop,” Mark said.

Kirsten said from humble beginnings, they went on to grow their business in a matter of months.

Noong nag-start po kami, wala po kaming kotse. Commute lang po. Tapos after three months po since nag-open po kami, nakabili po kami ng kotse po and now po yung kita po ng studio is six digits na po siya (When we started, we did not have a car, we only commuted. Then, after three months since our opening, we were able to buy a car, and now our profit reaches six digits),” she said.

Warm memories

More than the promising return of their hard-earned investment, she said it is the encounters with their clients capturing warm memories on print that make the business more fulfilling.

Self-shoot portraits of couples, families, and friends displayed on the MP Diaries wall (Photo courtesy: Kirsten Pangilinan)

Ang exciting kasi (It’s exciting because) you’ll meet different kinds of people with their own stories to tell. Karamihan sa kanila, magbi-birthday, anniversary, magpo-propose or mangingibang bansa ang asawa or member of the family kaya they want to capture their precious memories together. It makes us happy na part kami noong araw na 'yun (Most of them are [celebrating] birthdays, anniversaries, proposals, or with a better half or family member going abroad. It makes us happy that we are part of those days),” Kirsten added.

Moreover, the MP Diaries makes the scenario even more intimate with no pressure or distraction, granting a light and cozy vibe, with time rendered according to the clients’ scheduled preference.

“You can freely express yourself, since walang ibang tao sa (there are no other people in the) shoot area, except you and your loved ones. You’ll capture it. No pressure from other people, no awkward moments, all genuine,” she said.

“Self-portrait or self-shooting is also more affordable. We want people to experience na possible magkaroon ng great and quality photos na hindi butas ang bulsa pagkatapos (That it’s possible to have great quality photos at an affordable price),” Mark added.

In the end, the two encouraged other young couples and entrepreneurs to take their first step toward their targeted businesses.

Hindi mo kailangang maging magaling bago magsimula, magsimula ka para gumaling ka (You don’t need to be great before you start, you should start to be great). Remember every successful business also started with zero clients and zero sales. Be ready to learn, embrace the ups and downs, and always have a plan B,” Kirsten said.

They also expressed hope that the local government and even national authorities would help young business aspirants to thrive by raising online awareness. 

Mark (left) and Kirsten (right) Pangilinan show a sneak peek at their newly-opened self-portrait studio in Quezon City (Photo courtesy: Kirsten Pangilinan)

“I believe that more programs from the LGU (local government unit) for social media marketing will be a big help for everyone who is aspiring to have a small business. All you need to learn is to know how to create ads, optimize your social media page, and increase algorithms so people will know that your business exists,” Mark added.

The MP Diaries, meanwhile, has so far received about 750 self-shoot appointments since it was launched four months ago, with more than 4,000 followers on Facebook. (PNA)