Turning Your Thesis Into a Big Business: The Case of FILED

From a thesis project to a full-blown business that’s bringing in 10 million pesos every year! Here’s how creative merchandise store FILED did it.

  • FILED is a thesis project borne from a group of Ateneans who wanted to get an A in their class.
  • Their winning thesis idea is a local take on the Trapper Keeper—an organizer for students.
  • Graduating from their school project, this creative merchandise store now offers innovative day-to-day items like planners, organizers, and wallets, which are designed to address issues with the existing version in the market.
  • Like all businesses, they’ve adapted to the pandemic by offering mask chains and hand sanitizer holders. Most of their orders come from e-commerce platforms as well.
  • Capital is one of the many problems that FILED has faced then and now. This has hampered opportunities for growth internationally and has caused delays in creating new products.
  • Listening to what the customer wants is essential for FILED, as it helps the brand create products that are tailor-fit for its audience.

Many businesses start from humble beginnings—from concepts, passions, or even dreams. For the creative merchandise store FILED, it all began as a thesis project. This passionate pursuit took place in 2007 by a group of students from Ateneo de Manila University. And now, this thesis project is bringing in PHP 5 million a year!

In order to get that much-coveted A grade, these students knew that they needed to create something different from the rest. Something students will want to use and buy from them. This led to the production of the company’s first-ever product, which was the File Folder—the Philippines’ version of the international Trapper Keeper.

A loose-leaf binder created by Mead, the Trapper Keeper is an international novelty item that was popular among students. It featured sliding rings, folders, and pockets to keep schoolwork and papers, as well as a wrap-around flap that’s sealed with Velcro. The local version features the same elements and in different colors, which also became popular among college students.

And yes, it did get them their A.

Fast forward to over a decade later, the college project has turned into a thriving business of its own with more than 100 innovations to show for. “We are still pursuing that A, but this time, for you, whether be at school, at work, or at life,” the company website reads. “Our drive is to turn your daily school and office grind into something more fun and organized—more meaningful.”

Through this email interview with acting CEO Jessica “Mileng” Valencia, we learn more about how this school project evolved into a big business and what plans are in store for the brand.

Jessica "Mileng" Valencia CEO of FILED
Top of Her GameJessica “Mileng” Valencia started out as an intern in FILED, and now, she has risen up the chain of command.

Can you tell us about how you became the acting CEO of FILED?

I am a “work in progress” Entrepreneur. I graduated [from] AB Mass Communications but I was an Intern for FILED [in] late 2013. I started my Marketing career with the brand right after graduation in March 2014 and now, I am both in training and transitioning to fully manage and oversee the business.

Okay, so, I’m not really the one who started FILED. It was my two previous bosses who studied in Ateneo and made FILED their thesis project. But I started as an intern for them and they [saw] potential in me, that’s why they hired me as a Marketing Executive.

These two bosses of mine started to live their own lives, so every year, they were training me to be the one to take over, manage and lead FILED. It was my eighth year on March 3 and right now, the owner of FILED is handing the company to me slowly, so at the moment, I’m the acting CEO—or I’d like to call it Queen Boss since that’s my branding.

Over the years, I’ve built a strong community of loyal customers, which I call our FILED Familia. And currently, FILED has evolved into a brand that is known to be so close to its market, [almost like a] family [that] reaches out to you and at the same time, you can reach out to.

What is FILED’s unique selling point? Business strategy?

“We craft inspiration and innovation to help you become your best!”

“Everything starts with YOU. Together, we create innovations never been imagined and embrace experiences never been witnessed. We live and breathe to encourage and equip you to become the best version of yourself.”


Our business strategy is [that] we don’t just sell a product—but [rather], we want to sell an experience of a lifetime. We want our products to be our customers’ buddies in their studies, work, and life itself. We aim that our products would not only be of good use to them but of best memories with them. FILED is not really just selling; rather, more of creating the best ever life with YOU!

What are some growing pains that the owners experienced during the initial stages of creating FILED?

Basically, coming from a thesis project and turning it into a small business, the capital is the most challenging! At first, they didn’t have enough personally so, they asked for assistance from parents and relatives.

Actually, until now, the struggle is [securing] more capital for us to produce even more stocks and new products. This is also the reason why we really can’t fully blast distributing globally. And this is why moving forward, we’re eyeing potential investors.

To be honest, there were a couple of licensing brands that want to collaborate with us but we couldn’t push through with it because we didn’t have enough funds. It would really be a stretch and we fear that it might compromise us. Being a small business has never been that easy—even if we’re already earning more than a million currently, approximately less than PHP 5M during these pandemic times, but pre-pandemic, more than PHP10M.

How about the challenges that you faced while running FILED amid a pandemic? How did you adjust, innovate and pivot from it?

The number one challenge we faced was the shutdown of retail for months since this is where a huge chunk of our income comes from. But thankfully when the pandemic started, we were already available and proactive with our online platforms. While the rest of the brands were still developing, we were already accessible online, and slowly, our market shifted to buying online.

Still, it wasn’t enough. While there were people who were purchasing [our products], we were also losing a portion of our market due to the major adjustment to the new normal way of living. Some of our products weren’t as relevant; hence, this led us to innovate the country’s first-ever alcohol or sanitizer holder (Handitizer Holder), all-in-one sanitary care kit (SaniSnap Kit), and a face mask strap (Aero Strap).

This collection helped us [return] on top—in the minds of our market. We kept up with the trend and we fought the pandemic battle in line with our market’s needs. It’s like before they even thought that they needed it, we were already there.

Another thing we did was create a community in our market. We reached out and talked to them because we wanted to know what was going on in their minds and how they were coping. And so, with every learning we had from them, we translated it to content on our social media feed. We wanted to reach out more and let our entire market know that, “Hey! It’s okay. We’re going through this together. It will be okay, always!”

And honestly, that was when our community became way bigger than we expected. We got to know more [about] our loyal customers and even built more trust between each other. I think this was our best pivot! Nothing is better than truly letting your customers feel that you care for them—not just [because] they buy your product and support your brand, but also, and most importantly because you just care for them.

Jessica "Mileng" Valencia CEO of FILED
Reaching out to the market is one way to guarantee customer loyalty. What’s more, it enables a clear flow of feedback, which can lead to the innovation of newer products.

What are some innovative products that you made? What about your bestsellers?

Here are our top 3 best-sellers:

  • Pen Capsule: students, especially [those studying] medicine and law, love this! Over the years, we’ve been innovating on this—from its material to its color. We even released a few limited edition [ones] like the Doodle and Galactic versions!
  • Snap Badge: a favorite [among] the working professionals because it’s an ID holder and bi-fold wallet in one. We meant [for it to be] convenient and hassle-free so that you don’t even need to bring a separate wallet when going to breaks or lunch.
  • Pocket Wallet: a [bestseller among titas] because of its coin slot and how it easily fits in your pocket.
  • Snapper Wallet: our latest [product] since mini bags and mini purses are the trends now. [We made ours] like that of the big and famous brands—chic but still organized!

What are some recovery plans that kept you afloat during the pandemic?

Unfortunately, we had to downsize our team and this was the hardest and most heart-breaking decision [we had to make], considering how we are a familia. Letting go of someone felt like literally letting go of a family.

However, we had to compromise and sacrifice to sustain and rebuild FILED. Otherwise, we would no longer be here creating innovation after innovation. Similarly, we tightened our belts and carefully managed our finances as we don’t want to lose them all in a flash.

What are your best practices or success secrets?

First, always have two-way communication and always, always acknowledge! Second, understand first the situation before [taking] action. Third, empathize with your people and treat them as partners instead of employees. Like all of you are in this together—not [as] subordinates, but a great, solid team.

Fourth, [showing] respect within the business and among colleagues shouldn’t be optional. And finally, talk to your market as though they are your best buddies and of course, treat your customers like VIPs.

What are the emerging opportunities you see from this pandemic?

Perhaps a chance to step back and re-evaluate because all of us in the team have realized that we shouldn’t just do and do and go and go. That was how we were before the pandemic—we were spontaneous and in a rush to do this and that, and so we ended up with products that weren’t a hit or [products that were] released prematurely.

One [example] was a grooming or makeup organizer that we released. Back then, it was a trend so we went for it without the proper market and product research. Sadly, it didn’t click. It lacked the FILED quality of innovation and it didn’t “wow the market”.  

Likewise, there were a lot of financial decisions that we shouldn’t have made but we did because we were on top of ourselves—confident that everything would be positively flowing but boom! Pandemic happened.

The biggest lesson we’ve learned the hard way was to be wiser in spending and consider saving!

What do you have planned for the future?

We’re still in the happy process of rebuilding so, in the near future we’d like to re-consider distributing not only locally but somehow, internationally. Well, at least collaborate with foreign micro-influencers to get the word about FILED outside the country. Moreover, [we’d like to] push for potential investors and grow the business from a global perspective.

Aside [from] those, we want to be more open to offering more internship and freelancing opportunities, especially to our market. We love to continue cultivating [an environment of] learning—not just for them, but also for us. A win-win situation.

Basically, we want to help shape people’s careers and motivate them to become better versions of themselves, one day at a time.

What advice can you give aspiring small business owners?

It will be tough at first. And challenging! But don’t fear; welcome challenges as these will help define a better and stronger you!

Try to go beyond the norm and status quo. In a business, one should always strive to be unique. In our case, when it comes to marketing, we don’t as much follow the traditional way of looking all too good—rather, we show ourselves as we are and show how we are a brand of collaboration and inspiration.

We [also] love to feature our customers every single time and they are what our feed is all about. Some have bashed us that our brand is too family-oriented and [that] the way we market has no structure. But we think that’s okay because we are genuine about everything we do and we are transparent with them. What you see is what you get!

What’s more, we believe that this is a challenge we continue to embrace. We are proud too of how there would be small brands out there who appreciate what and how we do it. And for us, that’s fairly enough.

Next, you may feel like giving up, especially if you feel that nothing is going your way, but please know that every decision you make and every step you take to move forward is progress.

With these in your heart, [know that] there is something happening. You are getting there. Your business is thriving. Remember, you just have to choose a goal for every waking day and fight for it because if you do, you’re winning every time.

As long as you’re holding onto your goal, everything is possible for you and for your business. Breathe and YOU CAN DO IT!

Jessica "Mileng" Valencia CEO of FILED
Trust the Process—Mileng advises young entrepreneurs to stick to their goals, keep working hard, as every little step and every action counts.