Manila’s Vianca Añonuevo has two successful businesses to her name: interior design firm Empire Designs and furniture boutique Harver Hill, together with her two co-founders. Bold and determined, she advises fellow women entrepreneurs to dream big and work hard for it.

“Begin with the end in mind and don’t be afraid to fail”

“My two partners and I met while studying Interior Design. We had the same background – business management, worked for a bit, and then went back to study interior design. After graduating, we founded “Empire Designs”, an interior design firm. We were very young and we set up office in the guest room of one of the partners. We didn’t borrow any money. We were referred to a client and the money we got from the first client was what we used as capital for the business. We always planned to open a furniture store, so over the years we set aside some of the profit from Empire Designs and this year we finally launched “Harver Hill”. We want to be able to supply everything when it comes to design – services, furniture, and eventually we would like to go into construction.”

“One of our biggest challenges initially was that we were very young and were trying to capture an older market. We wanted to cater to hotels and upscale restaurants but it was difficult to market ourselves – particularly for me because I was a young woman. So many people – especially male businessmen – would look at me but not really listen, a lot of times. So our strategy was that for certain markets it would be only my partners doing the marketing and whenever I needed to talk to older businessmen, I brought my partner with me. It’s a service industry and we talk to a lot of people. Beyond the esthetics and quality of our work, who does the selling is very important. Some people judge you already based on what you are wearing. It’s different now, probably because I am more established and a bit older. I’m also more experienced and I know that I can assert myself.”

“Another thing that I found quite difficult was handling the financials and business administration. My two partners are more creative types, so I handle this side of the business. At the beginning, I had to learn on my own through trial and error. I would do research and ask former colleagues that had set up their own companies. I also asked my mother who was in the corporate sector. I consulted people that I trust, but then made my own decisions – it was a process of gathering information, checking options, and determining what applied to my industry.”

“What is your source of inspiration?” “There are two famous interior designers in the US – Kelly Hoppen and Kelly Wearstler. They are my personal heroes because they are women, they are beautiful, they run businesses, and one of them has children. Kelly W. has her own furniture store, her own fashion line, and is a mother of two. And she’s hot. “Does it make a difference that she’s pretty?” “Of course it does! Because people always have this perception that if you are busy and a mother, you can’t keep it together.”

“There was probably a moment of doubt but never enough for me not to push forward with my dreams. It was mostly about money. At the beginning when you set up a new business you really don’t have any money to buy much, to travel, so for me it was very different from when I was working in the corporate sector. Here you really have to budget everything you earn – what you need for gas, for food, for any important thing. I remember asking one of my teachers, ‘will we ever become rich in this industry?’ He said, ‘There is an opportunity, it depends on you.’ He had focused on his teachings so he said, ‘I have accepted that I am not going to become rich but if you want to focus on the business, designing for clients, you could.’ That was my moment of doubt.”

“Word of advice to young women seeking of setting their own business?” “I really believe in dreaming big and taking the necessary risks. Begin with the end in mind and don’t be afraid to fail. It won’t all be perfect the first time but if you really believe in something, you will work hard, go through all the challenges and go forward. When I left Johnson & Johnson and went to study Interior Designs, it was really a leap. I thought, ‘If I fail, then I fail. If it doesn’t work out, at least I have tried and won’t have regrets haunting me later.’”

Company: Empire Designs & Harver Hill
Location: Manila
Founded: 2009 & 2015
No of Employees: 20 & 25

Same 3 founders for both companies