One look at actress and entrepreneur LJ Reyes and it’s almost hard to believe that it’s already been more than 15 years since she first entered showbiz. But even as a teenager, LJ admits she was already exposed to money matters because of her family. “Business is not really very foreign to me. I come from a Chinese family so I think even before, my sisters and my brothers kept me asking me to start up my own business. They were asking me if I can start up a makeup line, mga ganyan. This was a time before the celebrity collaborations with brands. Hindi pa uso talaga 'yun. But at that time I didn’t feel like I wanted to start a business. I was just starting off with my acting career. So siguro dun pa talaga ako happy,” she recalls.
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After she started taking home acting awards for various roles, LJ admits her focus started to open up to the possibility of making her first big investment. “When it came to a point when I kind of achieved something na sa acting career ko, parang feeling ko I wanted something new naman, something different. Because ever since I always get bored doing the same stuff over and over again. So I always ask myself, ‘What else can I do?’” she admits. WIth the help of her good friend and fellow businesswoman Cat Ilacad, LJ admits she was able to start making her ideas come to life. “She helps a lot of women to start up with whatever passion they have. She kept pushing me to do it. So I’m just so blessed to have her,” LJ adds.
In 2016, LJ launched the Smart Mommy App (MApp), an idea that came out of her concerns as a parent. "In MApp, we gather all the establishments that are applicable to (Manila-based) moms like changing stations, breastfeeding stations, and all the kids' products. Even hospitals and tutorial centers, you can find it there. We also have emergency numbers like the DSWD,” she says. “Actually, I never expected to make an app. When I was younger, I liked doing a lot of things talaga, but I never imagined that I would be an actor someday so I think isa yun sa mga big surprises in my life kasi when I auditioned for Starstruck, naisip ko try, try lang. I also like challenging myself. So I have lots of ideas and then I think this was one of the few that came into fruition. Happy ako because parang baby mo sya eh. So, I’m so happy na finally that my idea before came to life."
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Two years later, LJ launched the Wonder Jane travel kit, a set of five handy products to keep users and their kids virus-free. “The kit is really inspired by my son Aki. Whenever we go out and he needs to do a number two, he doesn’t like washing his hands. But I didn’t like using just alcohol or hand sanitizers alone. I want to wash my hands every so often. But I realized that most of the time, in restrooms, they don’t provide soaps and other items. So, I thought of putting together a kit especially for mothers with young kids so they can also teach the habit of cleanliness and proper hygiene,” LJ explains. It’s challenging enough to raise kids to be healthy and happy individuals, but in an era where parents now have to worry about new virus scares and finding family friendly facilities, her ideas can be considered as nothing less than ahead of their time.
Even though her ideas have always come from a need to help her fellow parents, LJ admits it was still a leap of faith for her to launch her products. “Because sometimes what we think is useful to ourselves, it’s different when it’s in the market. So I would think, is it really useful to all moms? But the feedback that we get is yes it’s very useful to them especially when they have numerous kids. When you have multiple kids it’s hard to even hold your phone. So if you can have all the information you need right on your phone, then that makes it so much easier for them,” she says.
When she’s in boss mode, LJ does not believe in "dictatorship," and hopes to teach her kids that kind of leadership quality as well. “I think I’m the kind of boss who pushes my subordinates to express their creativity and handle things their own way. I let them be as long as the task is done very well. I give freedom to my staff. With my app developer, I also learn from him kasi I believe that even if your the leader you can still learn from people subordinate to you. You don’t know everything. Sometimes what they recommend to you or teach you is essential to your business. I’m very open-minded to that. I see my son likes to be a leader and I always tell him, ‘If you want to be a leader, you have to be a good follower.’ So that’s the daily mantra for me. If I want to lead people, I should be able to do what they’re doing,” she says.
Managing a start up company, LJ juggled the challenges of motherhood with plans of expansion to the point that it was not uncommon to see her attending meetings last year with her baby daughter Summer in tow. The busy mom also improves her business know-how with the resources available to her. “People always ask me how I manage my time. Sometimes it’s unmanageable," she laughs. "But you just keep going. You finish whatever you need to finish in a day. Kasi sometimes 24 hours is not enough for me. I set my work schedule. If I con’t have any celebrity commitments so I will set some time at home kasi I work from home naman. Usually I give myself time with my kids and during the time when my son is in school, that’s usually the time I can work, write emails, and do things. I also take time to read. Right now I’m reading how Google works. I also seek advice also from my family. We also run businesses so malaking help sa akin yun,” she adds.
After taking an almost two year break from showbiz, LJ says she has no regrets because it allowed her time to focus on her family and business ideas she’s had for so long. The talented actress also admits she is not interested in doing long term acting projects anymore. “The good thing is, I haven’t really gone back to acting so yung time ko is divided pa lang between family and the business. When I was still pregnant I stopped working around mga five months into the pregnancy I guess. I did a Cignal series na pero yun pa lang. Hindi pa talaga yung super grabeng schedule. I don’t think that I will accept that kind of schedule anymore because I don’t want to lose time for my kids,” LJ says.
Through her two businesses, more than the profit, LJ admits it’s the ability to help more moms with the parenting process that is the most rewarding thing about her work off camera. “The fact that they always say to me that our product is so useful. I thought it was so cool because before we launched MApp, I would need to ask where the diaper changing station is or where the breastfeeding station is. But now it’s just right on my phone. So it makes the lives of moms easier in a time when sobrang daming iniisip ng moms, which I can vouch for talaga. So to be able to help every mom out there in your own small way, for me it’s an achievement for me,” she says.
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Produced by Camille Santiago | Photography by Vyn Radovan | Makeup by Muriel Vega Perez | Hair Team MVP | Styling by John Paul Dizon | Shot on location at The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences | Special thanks to Carissa Gomez of The Picasso Boutique Serviced Residences and Ira Lesaca