As the government locked down communities to curb the spread of coronavirus early this year, a group of Filipino technology entrepreneurs met online to launch a new business model to connect fans and celebrities who are also staying at home to wait out the pandemic.
Serial tech entrepreneur Anton Ojeda, who has helped launch a restaurant aggregator and an online car service platform in the Philippines, teamed up with several partners to establish Shawtout.com to provide customized or personalized video shout-out greetings from celebrities for a fee.
“It is a good way for celebrities to monetize their status. For customers and fans, it is a good way for them to have access to the celebrities,” Ojeda says in a Zoom interview. “It is a whole new medium for everybody.”
Ojeda describes Shawtout, which had a soft launching in September, as a platform that connects fans with their favorite celebrities through personalized video greetings for occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries and graduation. The prices are set by the celebrities themselves, so they vary from P500 to P4,400 each.
Ojeda oversees a small team of 15 who manage everything from their homes through technology. “So almost everything we do is automated,” he says.
Customers include Filipinos here and abroad. “We are very good here locally, because it is all Filipino talent. But there are so many OFWs who also want to get greetings from the talents that they want to send as gifts to their friends and families in the Philippines,” he says.
Ojeda says he believes that Shawtout’s business model is sustainable. “As long as there are celebrities, I think Shawtout will be okay,” he says. Among the celebrities already on the platform are Richard Gutierrez, Rhian Ramos, Martin Nievera, Billy Crawford, Rachel Alejandro, Jay-R, Gab Pangilinan, Albie Casino, Chinkee Tan and Cherie Gil.
Ojeda says while the concept of Shawtout was developed a year and a half ago, it was only this year that they found the time to bring it to the next level.
“Some people said that because it is pandemic, you should not open any business. But I said that now is the time you should do it. If you don’t try to do something new, if you don’t try to stimulate business during this time, then what are you gonna do? There is no perfect time. The right time to do it is always now. All our celebrities agree with us, and they think it is a good time for us to do it. If we opened it two years ago, maybe we would have not gotten that attention of the celebrities and even the fans,” he says.
“During this pandemic, we were locked at home and I messaged my partners that this is the perfect time to have this when there is no fun interaction between fans and celebrities. There are no more shows, production, events or concerts. So I thought this would be the perfect time for us to start amid the quarantine and lockdown,” Ojeda says.
“We actually soft opened it last month. Right now, we have close to 400 talents already. Many of them are happy to have this because there is a lack of way for them to interact with fans. People want interactions with their celebrities,” he says.
Ojeda says convincing the celebrities to join the platform was not as difficult as they thought it would be. “At the start, I thought it would be a problem. But their response is pretty good. The first few celebrities we talked to, they liked it so much they introduced us to their friends. We also approached the bigger studios like Viva. It is a change of environment also for the celebrities,” he says.
Ojeda says Shawtout instantly became popular because of Filipinos’ gift-giving habit. “Our main use for Shawout is not really for yourself. It is something you give to somebody else. If I know that my friend is a big fan of a certain celebrity, and his birthday is coming up, what birthday gift would be better than to give him a shout-out from his favorite celebrity,” he says.
“We are doing it all in good will. Gift giving is a fun thing. Gift giving is also about receiving the gifts. And you want those gifts to be memorable. That is really what we want with Shawtout,” he says.
What makes the shout-out greetings especial, he says, is that they are personalized, customized and can be kept through the years. “It is something that you can save. With the traditional radio greeting, it is an experience but it is not something that you can relieve. Shawout is different in that regard,” says Ojeda.
“It is novel. Everybody is a fan of somebody. You can be a fan of a movie star, an athlete or a musician. You can be a fan of a character or a personality, a doctor, a lawyer or a business person. We have all those talents, as long as they have celebrity status. We also include new generation of celebrities such as content creators, Youtubers, Tiktokers and social media stars,” he says.
“We have some comedians on the platform as well. We have political impersonators. For kids, we have princesses for example. We have cosplayers. Imagine that instead of your children watching a movie, the characters are talking to them, greeting them and telling them to be good and study hard,” he says.
Ojeda says Shawtout also provides celebrities a platform to raise funds for charities. “We also want to give out and help. Many of our celebrities have charities. They have their own organizations that they support. And they use Shawtout to generate support for them,” he says.
The plan, he says, is to scale up and provide Shawtout with more payment features and introduce new e-commerce products for small businesses soon. “Many requests we get are from those who would like shout-out greetings for their businesses,” he says.
“We built Shawtout as a platform for celebrity interactions. But it is also an e-commerce platform, so we have other services lined up. Right now, you can do shout-outs, greetings, video messages. Some of our celebrities already accept songs, so you can request a song number. Soon, we will be introducing advice and tips from celebrities,” says Ojeda.
“Our expectations are obviously to get more talents on board and make it a regular medium for the celebrities and for the fans. And we expect to have more services also,” he says. “We also have plans to expand to the region.”
Ojeda encourages other Filipino technology entrepreneurs to bring their business ideas to the next level. “If you have a good idea, you have to actually do it, be passionate about it, do research, talk to the right people, actually do it and validate if it works. If it works, you can then expand,” he says.
“For us it is about scaling it. So we are looking at a lot more talents. We are in hundreds of talents already, and we want to get to thousands,” he says.
“There are always going to be opportunities for tech at this time. Even the biggest tech guys are actually making more money now. It is because the world needs it now more than ever. Technology as solutions are needed now more than ever,” says Ojeda.
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