She earned her first million at 18, established an interior design company employing engineers and architects at 20 and recently put up a 300-square-meter café at a busy nook of Quezon City.
Now at 24, Gila Salvador employs more than 100 people in construction, design and restaurant operations and plans to venture into hotel and property development soon. “I plan to retire and settle down at 27,” she says in an interview at the stylish MadCafe along Congressional Ave. near Visayas Ave.
“I want to build, build and build so that whoever I get to marry, I would not have to rely on him and my family would have a comfortable life because of me,” says Salvador, the founder and chief executive of MadHouse Design Studio and the owner of MadCafe. Her first venture was PaperPlanes Manila, an online shop of notebooks and customized gifts.
Salvador is also a popular vlogger with thousands of followers on Facebook. Her video on how to redesign a 22-square-meter studio unit for a family of five has more than 2 million views.
Her biggest project thus far is the interior design of a 42-story building in Manila owned by a Filipino-Chinese family. She also designed the interiors of OneOkada International, the network marketing company established in Quezon City by Alexander Salvador, her 50-year-old father.
She considers her parents as her inspiration. Her father is an architect and businessman who expanded Cut & Fix International Salon into a 47-branch chain. Her mother Michelle Salvador loves cooking and helped her prepare the recipe for MadCafe.
“My dad is good in construction, while my mom loves cooking. Both my parents are my inspiration,” says Salvador, who funded her businesses on her own.
She was taking Information Design, Minor in Management at Ateneo de Manila University when she got hooked on selling notebooks online. With a capital of P4,000, she started an online shop called PaperPlanes Manila.
“I started in business when I was 18. I sold notebooks. When I raised a seven-figure income from that online shop, I stopped going to school and bought a P400,000 printer for tarpaulin and wallpaper,” she says. She established a graphic design studio called Graphic Factory.
Salvador took advantage of the power of social media to reach out to potential clients—first fellow millennials and then their parents. “It became popular on Facebook. When I earned seven figures, I stopped going to school and bought a printer. I didn’t finish college. It is not that I don’t need a degree. It is just that I was too busy to go to school,” she says.
“I don’t say it out loud that you don’t have to finish college. I respect the people who finish college. When you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, obviously you have to go to school. But in my case, being a businesswoman, it worked out. For other people, I recommend that they finish college,” says Salvador, who now leads a team of professionals with college degrees.
“Now, I have architects, engineers and interior designers in my team. I conceptualize a project and they put it together for me,” she says.
Salvador used the large printer she bought to print stickers, tarpaulin and wallpaper. “When I started with a room makeover for kids, their parents loved what I have done and they asked if I could also design their house. I tried and enjoyed doing it. From creating notebooks, I now design houses,” she says.
MadHouse Design Studio handles interior design and fit-out, including the installation of tiles, bathroom fixtures, kitchen, walls, glass, lights, cabinets and furniture. The company handles 10 projects per quarter and is fully booked until the second quarter.
“When I look at a space, I imagine how it will look at its best. Although I did not finish college, I know what to do and I know how to execute. I also know how to manage a team of construction workers,” says Salvador, who considers herself somewhat boyish.
Salvador leads a team of 80 workers at MadHouse Design Studio and 25 at MadCafe. She says MadCafe provides a quirky, whimsical and interactive space for multiple types of customers. “It is the first cafe in the Philippines with a concept of bringing people together from different walks of life. We are trying to target families, friends, children, millennials and professionals. We designed it in a way that there are certain areas for study, dining, gaming lounge and happy hour,” she says.
Inside the cafe, customers are greeted by a bright bike-accent sculpture, wood pallet ceiling, brick walls, murals and neon lights. The cafe, which opens 11 a.m. to 12 midnight, serves coffee, milk tea, fruit tea and rice meals. At night, it transforms with dimmer lighting to serve liquor mixes and flavored beer.
“I want it to look nice and Instagram worthy while we are serving affordable meals,” says Salvador.
“It is industrial, rustic with a side of quirkiness,” Salvador says, in describing the look of the cafe. She says this also reflects her personality. “I am very out of the box. I don’t conform with other people. I don’t fit the same way. I am quite different. This place reflects who I am—slightly reserved and rustic, and I have crazy and quirk sides.”
The cafe officially opened on Feb. 3 and quickly became a crowd drawer in the area. “We were overwhelmed so we hired more staff,” she says. Salvador says she invested “seven figures” in the cafe and was originally expecting to post an ROI in two years.
“But with the sales that we are having, it looks like we can achieve it in two months,” she says. “I get a lot of support from people. But I would not push my luck as I want to study more about this business.” This early, Salvador received five requests to franchise MadCafe.
A secret door at the cafe leads to MadHouse Design Studio. She wakes up at 7 a.m. and works until 1 a.m. to oversee her businesses. “I have like 10 projects per quarter. Every day, I go to Wilcon, purchase items, talk to my construction workers. One reason we have so many clients is because of social media,” she says.
Salvador says she could only accommodate requests for condo unit fit-out in the third quarter because the jobs for the second quarter were already fully booked.
“I feel that may hair becomes thinner as if I support five families. But it is okay. It makes me happy. I want to retire at 27. I want to reach the point that even if I don’t work, money will still come in,” she says.
Salvador says her goal this year is to put up a resort called MadHostel in Siargao. “So I would have MadHouse, MadCafe and MadHostel. By 27, I don’t want to travel everyday and suffer the traffic of Metro Manila just to survive,” she says.
On how she manages her finances, Salvador says she has an accountant to do just that. She does not spend much on material things such as clothes, bags or shoes, she says, although she plans to travel more this year.
“My last rest day was in 2015, so I told myself that I should have more time to travel this year to Siargao and Palawan,” she says.
Monthly revenues from MadHouse Studio and MadCafe are now in seven to eight figures. Aside from the future MadHostel, she plans to form a property development company to put up townhouses and subdivisions.
“I noticed that there are a lot of townhouses that are too costly for their quality. I know their actual construction cost. They should look nice. I want to give Filipinos affordable, but world-class houses,” says Salvador.
On her advice to fellow millennials, Salvador says her father taught her that nothing is impossible if one really wants to accomplish it. “I have been instilled with the mindset that nothing is impossible. Whatever I think, I feel that it is possible and that I can do it. It is all in the mind. People say you need a lot of money or resources. Do you know that I started in business with just P4,000? And it became seven figures after a year. It is all about marketing and recirculating your money. It does not matter how big it is,” she says.
“You have to create something unique. Some people have money, but they just franchise. They just copy other businesses. It has to be something unique for you to really earn. If it is not, it is just mediocre,” she says.
The most important thing, she says, is the will to execute one’s dream. “You just have to make it happen. Anything you want in your life, make it happen,” says Salvador.
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