Whose Linya Linya is it Anyway? The Ali Sangalang and Linya Linya Story

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What is Linya Linya?

According to co-founder Ali Sangalang, Linya Linya is all about the Filipno life. Sangalang describes it as an online digital channel creating daily content about everyday Filipino experiences that uses “pun-ny” and witty copy, with the occasional poetic and profound sprinkled in, giving an overall reflection of our everyday modern Filipino lives. Sangalang also adds that Linya Linya also sells merchandise, particularly shirts. Sangalang says that overall, Linya Linya is an online content channel about Filipino life.

Before Linya Linya

Ali Sangalang likens his start in business all the way back to his days in the classroom, “selling” his jokes to his classmates. “Your seatmate is your first client.” Sangalang quips. He admits that he was never business-minded, but assures that anyone and everyone has the potential to be a business owner. “May pag-asa tayo.” He says with conviction.

Sangalang’s very first venture came from an NGO called “Yabang Pinoy”, where he was encouraged to turn his ideas into a business. At the time, he and two of his friends tried out a taho business, and at the time, flavored taho had not yet broken into the mainstream, and that’s what they went with. Sangalang credits himself in coming up with the name “MusTaho”, as a pun on his repeated line of “’Musta ‘ho?” when asking his customers for feedback. Sangalang describes the experience as fun, but the paths of the three eventually diverged, and they never continued with the business.

“How can we say that we’re creative, if we don’t create?”

Starting from Scratch

Linya Linya was founded by Ali Sangalang, and Pancho Alvarez. Both founders describe themselves as aspiring artists, with Sangalang wishing to be a writer-poet, and Alvarez aiming to be a visual artist. The pair started off as college friends, and went on to become workmates in the government. As artists, they shared a mutual desire to create and share something with the world. As Sangalang puts it, “How can we say that we’re creative, if we don’t create?”

Sangalang describes Linya Linya’s foundation as “starting from scratch” both literally, and figuratively. Starting from a blank scratch paper from a notebook while scratching their heads, Sangalang admits that he and Alvarez did not know what to do with their lives at the time. “When you start, you really don’t know what you want.” Sangalang says he empathizes and relates with people who are in that mindset of not knowing what to do. “That’s really how Linya Linya started. It didn’t start as ‘Oh, we have a big vision.’ Or ‘We have a large capital’. It really just started as a passion project where we wanted to express ourselves through writing and drawing, and to share it with the people…we’re proud to say that we had no capital here, other than good looks and a pleasing personality, as well as a bit of confidence and thick skin.” Sangalang says with a smile.

Speaking more on the event that inspired Linya Linya’s founding, Sangalang vividly recalls the time he and Alvarez, before their stints working in the government, worked part-time in Ortigas for a small salary. On one particular day at 12 noon in the 7-Eleven at Emerald Street, he and Alvarez bought a couple of beers. “We were in the state of ‘What do we do in life?’ There was a lot we could and wanted to do. And it was there that we got the idea to do Linya Linya.” Sangalang reiterates that it wasn’t a big epiphenous moment. “It was just a clear start. One of our first lines in Linya Linya was ‘Magsimulang magsimula’”. Sangalang admits that one of the hardest things to do not just in business, but in any project in life is actually starting in the first place. “We get scared. We have a lot of reservations, and we see other success stories, and these pressure us. But because we went back to the basics and kept it simple, we were able to continue, and most importantly, enjoyed ourselves.”

“We were consistent because we enjoyed it. That’s why we continued.”

The Early Days and First Lines

Sangalang reveals that the original name of Linya Linya was actually “Linya: Mga Guhit as Sabi-Sabi”. Realizing the unwieldy nature of the original title, Sangalang noticed the Filipino tendency of repeating words, particularly when one of their friends mentioned “Uy, nakita ko yung ‘Linya Linya’ mo.” And from there, the name stuck. Upon further contemplation, Sangalang realized how befitting the name of their page was, with lines making up the pages in a notebook, and the strokes in a doodle. Taking the lines made from the artistic disciplines of writing and drawing, coincidentally the disciplines of the co-founders, it only made sense for “Linya Linya” to be the final name.

Starting from a simple scan and post onto a Tumblr blog, Linya Linya soon spread out to Facebook and Instagram. Sangalang says that Linya Linya was not yet a business in these early years, and described Linya-Linya at the time as a simple content page. Working from morning, noon, and night on their day jobs as government workers, Sangalang and Alvarez worked on Linya Linya at night after work, and even during their break times. Thanks to the very simple concept of Linya Linya, Sangalang admits that even during meetings, his mind would think up of “makulit” lines to use for their content page, and passed them to Alvarez for him to draw up. “It was natural and organic. You didn’t need to think too hard about it, that’s what made the output genuine.” On the challenge of starting a new business alongside a day job, Sangalang links consistency and the genuine enjoyment on the creation of their content to Linya Linya’s continuation at the time. “We were consistent because we enjoyed it. That’s why we continued.”

“It’s all about confidence in yourself and your product. If you yourself are too shy with what you do, it’s hard to continue.”

The Big Break

Sangalang says that Linya Linya got its first big break when they were invited by the Yabang Pinoy NGO where they gave them a space in the Global Pinoy Bazaar in Rockwell, where they were encouraged to make and sell shirts. Despite the small space they were afforded, Sangalang and Alvarez were very excited. “From work, Panch and I went to Divisoria while wearing a barong. We took an LRT, then an FX, and we bought plain t-shirts and brought them to Sucat, Parañaque. We ourselves did the legwork. We sold them, we transported them, it was all us.” Sangalang admits at their shock when they managed to sell 120 shirts within the first two days, and that despite the neighbouring booth having 4 times the space, Linya Linya made 4 times the profit. It was at this moment that they realized they might be sitting on something special. “I said to myself, ‘It looks like our good looks really are carrying us to success.’” Sangalang says jokingly. “But really, it’s all about confidence in yourself and your product. If you yourself are too shy with what you do, it’s hard to continue.”

“You really will fight and clash over a lot of things, but when I come back to the reason why we’re doing this, it really helps.”

With Friends Like These…

Sangalang identifies the year 2015 as the year Linya Linya became a fully-fledged business, when they were joined by artist couple Jim Bacarro and Saab Magalona. Jim Bacarro was acquainted with Ali Sangalang when they were in third grade. Coming from the United States and from an international school, Bacarro was put together with Sangalang by their teacher in order to learn Filipino. Sangalang recalls the fact that at the time, your classmates would laugh at you if you didn’t speak Tagalog well, and credits this experience in teaching him the value of being good to the people close to him. “Imagine if I wasn’t good to him and I just laughed at him, and didn’t teach him. We probably wouldn’t have become friends and business partners eventually.” Sangalang stresses his point to be good to others, because everything comes back.

After a number of years, Sangalang and Bacarro became classmates in high school, and continued to be friends until college, until they, along with Bacarro’s wife Saab Magalona, met, and Sangalang told the couple about Linya Linya, piquing their interest. From there, Bacarro invested in Linya Linya. “This is another friend of mine.” Sangalang realized, now having three of his friends involved in Linya Linya.

On having friends as business partners, Sangalang sees numerous advantages, such as familiarity, and a pre-established positive relationship. However, it gets challenging along the way, especially when it comes to discussions about money and livelihood. “It gets challenging because you have to be extra sensitive and careful, because that’s your friend.” On his relationship with Bacarro, however, Sangalang describes it as a “foundation”, due to their deep understanding of their respective values and principles, how deep their love for both their passions, and their friendship runs. “That really helps with the challenges in a business, because you really will fight and clash over a lot of things, but when I come back to the reason why we’re doing this, it really helps. Our trust and love for one another becomes a safety net, and a foundation that helps overcome challenges.”

“As I teach [my creative team], I learn from them as well.”

Linya Linya Today, and Maintaining the Creative Vision

Today, Sangalang still writes for Linya Linya, and admits that he still enjoys and looks forward to doing it, and that he could never leave the creative space. However, with the growth and expansion of business, Sangalang describes the building of a creative team. “I owe it to this very talented team. Even Jim and Saab help sometimes. It’s a group effort.” Sangalang mentions the difficulty of being a creative entrepreneur, especially when you’re the artist behind it, but imparts some advice that he learned from Bacarro. “Instead of making lines to be sold your only goal, you also need to train your subordinates to do the same thing.” Since then, Sangalang aims for this goal with his creative team, training them on how he does it, and taking pride whenever they dish out creative output by themselves. Thanks to this, Sangalang can focus on bigger things, such as envisioning the future of Linya Linya, so he may pass the torch to the new generation.

While Sangalang admits that he sometimes argues with the creative team whenever they do not meet or align with his creative vision, he understands the struggle of fellow creatives. “I don’t shoot down their ideas outright, because there is no wrong answer in my creative team.” Sangalang says that the baseline creative process is him reading their lines, understanding where it’s coming from, and taking it from there. He also details that there are also standards that the creative team follows, including a “brand bible” to maintain a consistent style and tone, and that aligning with this is part of the creative team’s training. But at the same time, Sangalang doesn’t want to pigeonhole his creative team into his own style. “I’m very open to their own input.” Sangalang says he enjoys learning along the way, and describes the “Let go Ego” principle, wherein as an artist, that while your work may be very personal, and while it’s okay to have that kind of passion, you need to separate yourself from your work, and that he teaches this principle to his creative team. “You have to accept that there are kids in your team that are better than you, and embrace it, and not compete with anyone. As I teach them, I learn from them as well.”

“It’s not the cloth people buy. It’s the message.”

Linya Linya and the Pandemic

Like all other small and medium businesses and emterprises, Linya Linya suffered a major hit from the COVID-19 pandemic. Sangalang counts 8 stores in malls that they had to close. But to Sangalang, the most painful part, moreso than a few of their stores closing, was laying off some of their staff. “That was so difficult. I clearly remember having a video conference with our staff, and we had to tell them what was about to happen, and it was so painful.” With the loss of people’s mobility, they had to close their physical stores, affecting their sales. However, one thing that Linya Linya did differently, and Sangalang credits this to Jim Bacarro (who is now the managing director and co-business owner of Linya Linya), is that rather than tightening their belt on marketing spending, they instead invested even more in marketing, and increased the size of their creative team. “It’s counter-intuitive. He knew that the lifeblood of Linya Linya is content creation. He knew that people now, more than ever, needed Linya Linya as a content page.”

With this, Linya Linya pivoted away from their usual humorous messaging, and instead focused on lines relating to empathy, mental health, and togetherness. “We ‘hugged’ others with our lines. Filipinos needed a hug then, so we hugged our creatives, and in turn, hugged our followers.” By doing this, Linya Linya made themselves even more desirable to their community. At the height of the pandemic, Linya Linya also quickly pivoted to online selling platforms via Shopee and Lazada, which is where their sales recovered during the pandemic. “It’s an indication that our community loves us, because they didn’t leave us. It’s not the cloth that people buy. It’s the message. The feeling they get when they wear a Linya Linya shirt.”

“Keep it simple, ilabas ang dimple.”

Ali Sangalang’s Advice to Other Business Owners

When asked about his advice to business owners in relation to the effects of the Pandemic, Sangalang says; “First off, I empathize with all of you. What small business went through and are going through in this time is not easy. For those who had to stop operations, hopefully your intent to proceed with business hasn’t stopped, and that you may resume one day.” To Sangalang, the pandemic provided an opportunity for Linya Linya to showcase their creativity to pivot in new directions in order to continue. “You need creativity, and you need to figure out what you can get from this situation.” With businesses opening up again, and with people becoming more mobile, Sangalang hopes that small business owners can start again, even if it’s not yet to the level that they were at pre-pandemic.

For young aspiring business owners, Sangalang says not to listen to the hoopla about needing a business degree and/or coming from a family of business owners. “I am the complete opposite of that. I have no business background, my family never owned a business. I never studied anything about business. I’m from the creative field.” Sangalang credits his success to his relationship with his business partners, whom he says helped him focus on operating the business. For Sangalang, he continued straight on his path of being a creative, but also embraced entrepreneurship. “My advice for creative entrepreneurs is to keep creating, and to keep experiencing the world. The only way to form your ideas is through experience, so you need to be in a constant state of experiencing new things, and to not be afraid of failure, because that’s how you learn.” All in all, Sangalang also keeps in mind the advice his father gave him, plus an addendum of his own: “Keep it simple, ilabas ang dimple.”

While Sangalang acknowledges that there was some element of luck in the path to his success, he also stresses that he worked hard for it. As Jim Bacarro once told him, “You need to be crazy about what you’re doing.” Sangalang reminisces that the first condominium that Bacarro and Magalona had half of its space dedicated to shirts. Half the room that Sangalang and Alvarez rented was also filled with shirts. Their nights were filled with packing duty, and their days were filled with attending bazaars, and readying their mall outlets as early as 4 in the morning. “It’s a gauge on how much you want it. You can’t sustain a business if all you’re focusing on money and profit.” On business partners, Sangalang stresses to surround yourself with good people, and choose those with the same values and principles. “If they’re self-serving, and all they want is money, it’s not going to work.”

“A business is not just about money. It’s also about the impact it does for you, for others, and for the community.”

Lessons Learned

“It’s not easy, but I can do it.” Is the biggest takeaway Ali Sangalang has had on his journey so far. He admits that that there are times where he surprises even himself on the things he’s capable of accomplishing. “Believing in yourself, sticking to your strengths. If I didn’t believe in what I was doing from the start, if I didn’t know how to listen to others, and if I didn’t know how to trust other creatives, there would be no Linya Linya today. It’s a mashup of different learnings.” At the end of the day, Sangalang continues to acknowledge that it’s a difficult and challenging path for himself, but attributes his capabilities and how fulfilling it is to his continued success. “I love doing what I do, because I see what I’m doing, and what we’re doing as a company.”

Another lesson Sangalang learned is that it’s not just money that sustains a business. Least of all, not the fascination or pursuit of it, but rather clarity and conviction on what you want to achieve. “A keyword that Linya Linya does is impact. What we do as owners, as a business, and as a team, is make an impact to our followers and customers. That’s what sustains us.” To Sangalang, forming connections with Filipinos both here and abroad has influenced themselves, in a way. It’s gone to the point where the people at Linya Linya also voice out their own opinions, and use Linya Linya as an avenue to help forward their own advocacies. With this, Sangalang sees the impact Linya Linya has with the larger community. “A business is not just about money. It’s also about the impact it does for you, for others, and for the community.”

Another “secret sauce” Sangalang identifies is the feeling and sense of groundedness with what they do. Sangalang recalls the giddy feeling he first felt when he saw a person wearing a Linya Linya shirt in public. “It’s the closest thing you can feel to being in love.” Sangalang laughs. And they never lose that feeling. Sangalang additionally recalls a moment in the Leni Robredo campaign rally in Makati during the election wherein he and Saab Magalona spotted one of their shirts being worn by two youths, and they introduced themselves as the designers of said shirts. “You still feel giddy, and that’s an indication of where you are with what you’re doing. It makes what you’re doing, and why you’re still doing it clear. And when it’s clear, success will continue for you. Keep that spark.”

Was It All Worth It in the End?

“Of course it’s all worth it.” Sangalang says emphatically. “It’s stress-fulfilling. It’s a commitment where you dedicate all your time and thoughts to it, but it’s worth it. A sense of fulfilment that you’ve made a positive impact. We give our workforce a livelihood, we impart our knowledge and skills to our team of creative, and we give our customers happiness through our shirts, and that somehow, we always make people happy in this difficult life.” Sangalang promises that Linya Linya is doing everything they can to give back to the community.

“We’re not just expanding. We’re deepening.”

What’s Next for Linya Linya

To Sangalang, that’s a question that those within Linya Linya ask themselves every day. To them, moving forward is a constant challenge. “You’re focused on the now, but you’re also looking to the future.” For Sangalang, one of the more immediate and tangible things that Linya Linya can look forward to in the future are internal developments. “We’re not just focused on business expansions like stores and product lines. We’re also focusing on our team, such as procuring a larger and more legit office space.” Crediting his sales staff and creative team on their hard work during the pandemic, Sangalang pledges that it’s high-time they invest more on their own people. “We need to cater to their needs, and keep them happy, because what will deliver us to our future would have to be our employees.”

Aside from that, Sangalang also adds that they’re exploring more product categories, such as different types of shirts. Sangalang also teases several collaborations on the horizon involving cultural icons, national artists, and advocacy groups. “Our movement is not just physical. We’re also growing our community. We’re not just expanding. We’re deepening.” Sangalang aims to cultivate the relationship they have with their loyal customers, and how to serve them better.

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Vincent Flores
Vincent Flores is a professional writer currently employed by Small Bussiness Network Philippines. He has received his education in writing in the University of the Philippines, Diliman.

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