FGD Seminar, Surabaya 2009: ‘From Hobby to Business’ (and How I Started It)

For those who happen to be very passionate in their hobbies, opportunities knock, and the door to real business opens.


I love batik!

FGD (Forum Grafika Digital) is the biggest graphic expo in Indonesia, exhibiting the work of designers, photographers, graphic digital producers and many more. First launched in 2003, this forum has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors in its two yearly events in Jakarta. I am glad that I have been a part of it since its first show. This time I was asked to give a mini-seminar with Herman Pratomo, an offset-graphic expert, for the students of Sekolah Tinggi Manajemen Informatika & Teknik Komputer (Stikom) Surabaya and Universitas Surabaya (Ubaya).

From hobby to business? Sounds tempting and promising? 90 percent would say yes. How many have done it? Less than 10 percent. Why? Well, because not all of us have hobbies :D. Once we have it, we might not have enough passion to really make it an important part of our lives. For those who happen to be very passionate in their hobbies, opportunities knock, and the door to real business opens.

Picture this: you wake up in the morning, go to work, do what you like, enjoy it to the fullest and make a living from it. It’s fun. You will of course feel bored sometimes, but it will never be that boring. You will need less time to refresh yourselves. You would even do it without getting paid and still feel satisfied. Things would only get tricky when we have to deal with the business aspects that may suck out the fun and make it complicated, such as dealing with clients, suppliers and not mentioning the competitors. The way I see it? Just accept it. It’s that easy. It’s part of the deal, but hey, it’s worth it.

I’ll talk more about my passion some other time. The main topic was how I started it. Many never heard it, but I never hide it.

It all began in year 2000. I was 24, a cum-laude fresh graduate. I moved to Jakarta as soon as I finished my university in Bandung. I had Rp 2,25 million in my pocket (around USD 200), and I decided to buy an air-con (very smart huh). So, I was broke, but had a cool rented room (no sunlight though). My room was tiny, so small that I had to sleep on a mattress (couldn’t have a proper bed, not enough room).

I spent my first three months looking for a job, found one but moved to another one in three weeks. I quit the second job in three months. A portrait of ideal employee :). To be honest, I did plan to stay for at least 2 years, but the temptation to start my own business was too great. In retrospect, I believe that I have made the right decision. Entrepreneurship could only get harder the later you start it. The sooner, the better. When you start with nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

My first priority was to make a self-promotional item. I made a desk calendar, displaying 13 of my best amateur-era pictures, with zero expense. Sweet deal. Getting more curious? You should.

During my three-month second-job-career, I called a friend of mine who was in charge of a small shop at ITB, my former university. The cute small shop at a corner of my faculty sold souvenirs and university memorabilia to visitors. I offered the shop to sell my calendars on a commission-based deal. They agreed. So I selected my best photos (mostly human interests and landscapes) and asked my former boss to hi-res scan my slides with minimum fee (after all, it was for sell at students’ little shop, right?). I got the scanning for free at the end. I then called the color separation house and asked for a discount (again, the calendar was for students 🙂 ). I got 50%. Nice. The last step was to negotiate with the printer. I chose the best one in town, and got 70% off. All because of the good will of these good fellows to support the students.

It all started with this

It all started with this

So I printed 500 calendars, and gave 200 to the shop at ITB. All was sold out. And the other 300? I sent them to advertising agencies and corporations in Jakarta. My goal was very simple. If I got only 1% feedback (3 clients out of 300), it would have been enough to start up my business. Only days after sending all the calendars, Conoco Phillips (formerly called Gulf Resources) called. They wanted me to shoot their new site in Grissik, in South Sumatera. I immediately quit my graphic design job and shot for 3 days. The profit was as much as my 2 years salary at that time. I didn’t spend a penny during the whole process. All the expenses incurred in making all the calendars were covered by the profit from selling the 200 calendars at the ITB shop. I even bought my second-hand camera that I used for that first project with the initial payment of that project.

A wanna-be rocker at his first proper office

The wanna-be rocker at his first proper office

I ran my first year of entrepreneurship in that little rented room. I made more money than I could have ever expected. Within a year, I moved to my second place (my first ‘proper’ office) in year 2001, after viewing 82 possible houses. It wasn’t easy to find a big house that could be converted into a studio with at a reasonable cost. I hired my first marketing, secretary and courier. 2 years later, I bought a land near my office, and started to design and build my dream studio. On 6th February, 2004, my team and I moved to our 3 storey office-studio, had a big launch party, and continued to pursue our true passion: to make a real change in creative industry in our country. Sounds fun? Have a hobby.

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