Roots & Wings sat down for a quick chat with Cindy Wong, founder of 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing House.
Words by Michellan Sarile Alagao Images by Cindy Wong
Cindy Wong moved from the Philippines to Hong Kong when she was a young girl. She studied at the University of Hong Kong while working in a full-time corporate job, which she eventually left to become a creative entrepreneur. She founded several businesses, including 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing in 2016.
8Letters aims to promote talented Filipino indie artists, in the local and global publishing scene, and boost the evolving Philippine independent publishing industry. Cindy is also the author of several books. She now resides in Siberia and continues to pursue more entrepreneurial adventures while dreaming up inspiring stories to write.
When did you first realize that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been a businessperson. Since I was seven years old, I’ve been selling all kinds of products and services, from selling comics, to making assignments and projects for my classmates, to selling jewelry, and even a house and lot! My purpose was to earn extra money and sometimes I was bored — selling was fun. I didn’t use the word “entrepreneur” until later. I didn’t realize that was what I was doing (being an entrepreneur).
When I knew that I wanted to be a writer but saw that there were no doors opening for me, I realized that I would have to make a pathway for myself. That’s when I started 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing. All I wanted, at that time, was to create a community. My intention was not to make money, in the beginning. But eventually I realized that, okay, this is a real business. There’s an opportunity here for me to be sustainable and also, I need to earn money. So I realized that I wanted to be an entrepreneur after I started 8Letters.
It’s interesting that you realized you wanted to be (or already were) an entrepreneur right after you wanted to be a writer, since creativity has often been connected to being an entrepreneur. How has your creativity guided the direction of your entrepreneurship?
Yes, I was a writer before I was an entrepreneur. As I mentioned, there was no pathway (for my writing), so I needed to create one. I’m a storyteller, so I wanted to create a “happy ever after” or a good ending for myself. For me to do that, I needed to start an adventure for myself, and create my own success story.
Yeah, definitely. I can see how — as a writer and storyteller — entrepreneurship is an “adventure” for you! And every adventure has challenges. So what are some of the challenges you face as a Filipino entrepreneur in Europe?
Book launch at the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong
Since my business is in the Philippines, I’m operating everything remotely. I just need to have an Internet connection wherever I am. Because of the pandemic I cannot go back there as much as I want to, or as frequently as I did in the past, so medyo mahirap ang communication.
I do work with trusted employees so my presence isn’t as needed in the Philippines, however I have to make sure that communication goes smoothly and that everything works well. We do video calls but it’s still different when it comes to managing your employees and meeting clients.
I understand — Zoom is great and all, but sometimes a face to face meeting is necessary.
Yeah, but one of the things I love about being an entrepreneur is the freedom and flexibility I have to do these things. I can operate my business while in Russia, and I can help people wherever I am or whenever I want to. And I work with the things that I love, like books, writing, writers, words and literature — and, you know, we’re just getting started. There are many things that we can still do. There’s a lot of potential for growth. There are challenges as well, but we just need to figure them out. Every day we face new challenges so it’s fun! Hindi siya boring. You’re not restrained within the four walls of your office, like how I was in the past when I was still working in the corporate world.
Cindy Wong, author and entrepreneur
That’s a great point and being an entrepreneur is definitely more exciting and challenging nowadays! Since you are in publishing, what significant changes have you seen in your business, compared to pre-pandemic times?
Interestingly, the business actually grew during the pandemic. I think it’s because people have more time to read, reflect, and write. People want to be more creative so that’s good for us; that’s good for our publishing company.
We will need to wait and see (what else happens), but now that we see what we were not able to do and what we were missing in the past, I said okay, this is the time to do all those things. We saw some needs and we responded to those.
I would say that we’ve made some mistakes and we’re still experimenting along the way. That’s the good thing about being a creative and an entrepreneur, right? Everything is part of the learning process. We’re taking things as they come and it doesn’t always run smoothly, but I have to wake up every day with the same motivation and inspiration; I think: I’m doing this for the writers, the artists, the creatives.
And I’m happy to report na hindi pa nawawala yung inspiration na ’yon. I’m still inspired. I’m still motivated to continue.
Here are some books available at the 8Letters online bookstore.
Beyond the Bansalan Skies
A memoir by Filipina social entrepreneur Leila Rispens-Noel, founder of Wimler Foundation. She is now based in the Netherlands.
Diaspora Journey: Stories of Philippine Migration to Hong Kong
A collection of personal essays from Filipinos who traveled, worked, and treated Hong Kong as their new home.
Takipsilim: Mga Kuwentong Mitolohiya sa Pilipinas
An anthology featuring ten paranormal romance stories by Filipino authors, featuring creatures from both higher and lower local mythology.
Check out https://8lettersbooks.com/ for more.