This Artist Started With Just PHP 5,000 and Now Earns 6 Figures a Month

A little can go a long way and Kai Sy has proven just that with her print and design studio business LYA Studios—which she started with just PHP 5,000.

On the verge of burning out, no thanks to the stress from her full-time job, Kaylah “Kai” Sy made the ultimate choice. And so, with just PHP 5,000 capital and her creativity, she started her very own business—selling custom phone cases that had her doodles on it. This soon paid off… literally, as the business-savvy artist now brings in 6 figures a month!

That was pretty much how Kai started LYA Studios 10 years ago. “It [Php 5,000] mostly went to sending custom-made products to bloggers to make the brand known,” she explains. 

Kai admits that it wasn’t easy starting a side business while still having a full-time job. For one thing, she had to learn how to balance her time because she often only got to do orders once she was home from work. “Once I got the hang of it, it was fulfilling in a sense that I was doing something that I really like and it’s a plus that I get to earn from it as well,” she says.

Following the success of her passion project, it’s no surprise then that she eventually ended up going beyond just doodling on phone cases to yet another new chapter in her entrepreneurial journey.

Of Humble Beginnings—Armed with PHP 5,000 capital, Kai Sy’s entrepreneurial journey was founded on her creativity and the growing popularity in customized designs.

On Working with Small Businesses and Couples

Kai eventually transitioned to doing logos for small businesses on Instagram before eventually expanding to product labels and even packaging. “For my small business clients, they were struggling to make their products known without making it look like it’s designed locally,” the designer explains. “For my invitation clients, they don’t want their invites to look simple and mundane.” 

Soon after, she ventured to do invitations. “There came a time when a shop owner that I was working closely with for a few years needed her wedding invitations made,” she continues. “I accepted the opportunity and she became my first client for invites.”

Whether it’s product labels and packaging or wedding invitations for soon-to-be-married couples, Kai saw the demand for well-designed pieces and used it to her advantage. This, she believes, is the advantage of LYA Studios. “My clients always tell me that what makes them hire my services is because of the work that I put out and reasonable pricing as well,” she enthuses.

Patience Goes a Long Way

But like many budding businesses, things haven’t always been smooth sailing for Kai and LYA Studios, as there have been challenges that have tested her patience.

For starters, she admits that she initially didn’t have all the necessary equipment to run a print and design studio. “I was doing all my design orders on my old laptop,” Kai explains. “As for the printing, I found a reliable partner supplier that does all my printing orders. We have been partners for 10 years now.”

Thankfully, Kai prides herself on being very patient and hardworking. After a few years, she was able to save up and buy her very own printer and desktop computer. But that’s not all. Kai has had to deal with her fair share of stubborn clients, as well as unpleasant and even rude customers. “I admit it gets a little bit challenging for me when I encounter clients who are quite firm with their design instructions,” she shares.

“I solve it by compromising,” she adds proudly.

Patience is a Virtue—Starting a business with limited capital can mean a slower growth, but with enough patience and hard work, Kai was able to eventually able to buy equipment to keep her business going.

Handling Burnout and Stress

Whether working for a company or handling a business, stress, burnout, and disagreements are part and parcel for both options. But both have exposed Kai to a wide range of people. While working with agreeable clients is the dream, she too has had to work with a few difficult ones.

For rude and unpleasant customers, she opts to just “condition my mind to handle it as respectfully and as civilly as possible. At the end of the day, they are still my customers and I have to cater to them because my business is important to me.”

Nevertheless, dealing with such customers does take its toll and so Kai makes it a point to “take breaks from time to time after dealing with unpleasant clients—just to take my mind off things and come back to work with a clear mind.”

Overall, running LYA Studios also taught her to be patient not just with other people, but also with herself. “I also had trouble managing my time between designing as well as the production as I do all those myself,” she says. “As a one-woman team, for a long time, I’ve had to adjust and let others help me.” 

What the Past 10 Years Have Taught Kai Sy

While it has been 10 challenging but fruitful years since Kai started LYA Studios, it has actually been a side hustle for 9 years, given that the designer was still working full-time in her day job. But after Kai’s big break, she realized that she could take her business to new heights—by finally going full-time.

“I remember the time when I was booked for the next 3 months with print and design orders. That’s when I knew that I could grow and do this business full-time,” she shares. “I realized that once I do this full-time, lead times can be shorter and I can focus on the business more.” 

Kai has learned many things throughout the 10 years that she wishes to share with her fellow entrepreneurs. First, she advises entrepreneurs to maximize social media by selling their stories and being visible in order to establish a stronger online presence. “I recently learned that selling and posting your products alone is not enough,” she explains.

However, she cautions against overdoing your social media posts. “Do what works for you. You do not need to put pressure on yourself and post every day,” she warns. “Once you start dreading doing content, something’s wrong. This will lead to burnout and can affect your business.”

As for dealing with customers, she emphasizes on extending good customer service. “Treat them how you would like to be treated. As cliche as it may sound, patience goes a long way.” But this too comes with limits, as the customer is not always right. “Respect is always important, but don’t forget to put yourself and your business first.”

Kai also advises young entrepreneurs in particular to “put yourself out there” as they begin to grow their businesses. “Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. Everything will eventually fall in place,” she says.

Putting Yourself Out There—Like many small businesses, Kai took advantage of the popularity and wide reach of social media platforms to strengthen her brand presence and to showcase her works.

Opportunities and Aspirations for the Future

When it comes to growing LYA Studios, the designer knows that even with 10 years under her belt, there is still a lot more to achieve. “I plan on hiring another artist and more staff for in-house production. I am currently saving up so I can have a physical store where clients can see actual works and different materials,” Kai reveals.

Moreover, couples who’d like to avail of her services for their weddings also have more to look forward to. “I also have a plan on expanding to wedding essentials like personalized giveaways and on-the-day stationery add-ons, so everything would be personalized and made for the couple,” the proud business owner adds. 

While it may seem like a lot, Kai does not mind all the work she needs to continue to put out. After all, this passion project is what she loves and enjoys the most. And for aspiring entrepreneurs, she encourages them to find the same for themselves.

“Do what you love and enjoy the most, and keep on doing it,” she says. “It’s not true that ‘when you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life’. It’s more of ‘when you do what you love, you’ll work even harder to keep it going.’”