MANILA, Philippines?He could have set up the usual shop, sold stuff to people in the neighborhood, and still made a living.
But 30-year-old businessman Ian del Carmen decided to stay home and work in front of his computer. Today, he earns P500,000 every month.
The world is his market.
Del Carmen is the founder and CEO of Fireball Planet, a corporation based in Makati City which sells e-books, software, and music and instructional videos to the world via the Internet.
Everything for sale on his website is downloadable as PDF files, program files, MP3, MP4, etc. He doesn?t need a warehouse for his products nor the services of a mailman or UPS to deliver the products.
?I do not have a big office, but I have a huge empire in the virtual world,? he says.
Fireball Planet has over 50,000 regular customers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore, handled by a slim workforce of 18 employees.
Del Carmen pays for the resell rights of the software and other e-materials he buys. Fireball also develops its own software products which it also sells to customers with resell rights.
The corporation started in Del Carmen?s small house in the town of Pateros.
Del Carmen never had any formal computer training or had taken a business course. He never even finished his undergraduate course in English. Instead, he fell in love with theater and worked for ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp., producing and writing for shows such as ?Pinoy Big Brother.?
But after completing his first online purchase using his credit card two years ago?he bought an e-book?there was no turning back.
?It felt good after I made my first online purchase,? Del Carmen recalls. Soon he was visiting websites on e-commerce, studying how they work.
At that time, he did not own a computer so he would stay in Internet cafés eight hours a day, surfing and learning about e-commerce. Finally, he decided to buy a second-hand computer.
?I had a positive addiction to the Internet, unlike others who were hooked on online gaming and chat, which are not the real benefits of the Internet,? Del Carmen says.
Finally, after weeks of self-study, he started an online business in his room. He bought a $27 e-book (on Internet marketing) which he resold to an American woman. He managed to recoup his small investment on that first sale.
?I was very happy! I sent her an e-mail to thank her and I showered her with bonuses, like free e-books I had bought,? Del Carmen says.
Six months later, he earned his first million in just a week?s time after selling what is known as ?membership wholesaler sites,? according to an article which appears on his website at http://iandelcarmen.com.
Del Carmen created membership sites which he sold wholesale and with resale rights from $197 to $397 per pack. He sold over 100 of these to his global clients, earning him over P1 million.
He was only 28 then.
?I remembered thinking I will not earn this much as an employee,? he says. So he quit his TV job and registered Fireball Planet as a corporation.
He realized he needed to expand his one-man operation. He got his cousin?pirated her, actually, from a software company?to work for him.
From just selling materials online, Fireball Planet started offering consultancy work, with Del Carmen sharing what he has learned about e-marketing to other online companies.
Del Carmen says his company grew by word of mouth as his network of customers gave positive reviews of his services.
A good marketing website not only develops a database of customers, but also draws response from visitors and keeps them glued to the site, he says.
Del Carmen comes from a broken family. His father left when he was young. His uncle financed his high school and college education in Bulacan.
He also had to work for his daily allowance. He designed and sold T-shirts when he was in high school. He had a stint with McDonald?s and worked for direct marketing companies like Sara Lee and Avon, selling shoes, clothes and accessories.
These experiences laid the groundwork for his marketing skills, but it was the online world where he finally found his niche.
?If you do business offline, you can only sell to neighboring houses. Online, my market share is worldwide. I get customers from countries I have never heard of,? he says.
Only 1 percent from RP
Filipino businessmen are not taking advantage of the Internet, Del Carmen says. Nor are Filipino consumers embracing the convenience of e-commerce.
Though his company operates from Makati City, only one percent of his customers are from the Philippines.
He observes that most company websites of Filipino businesses only provide brochure-like information and do not interact with visitors, defeating the essence of interactivity the Internet provides.
?The media are partly to blame,? he says. ?Horror stories on Internet marketing, like credit card scams, are published more than success stories on e-commerce.?
It is actually very safe to use credit cards online, he says. His company uses PayPal, allowing payments and money transfers through the Internet, instead of checks and money orders.
Potential of e-commerce
Del Carmen has a vision: To help local companies harness the potential of e-commerce.
He is helping a friend, who owns a chain of upscale restaurants in the metropolis, improve the company website so it can have better interactivity with customers.
Politicians, too, can benefit from online marketing. Look at US President-elect Barack Obama, Del Carmen says, himself a member of social networking sites which Obama?s campaign had started.
He says Obama was able to communicate with new voters and get campaign contributions through the Internet.
?I hope that our businessmen will take advantage of the technology,? Del Carmen says. ?This is a way for our local brands to compete with international brands.?
?Small and medium enterprises, even home-based businesses, can go global instead of competing for a smaller market here,? he says.
(If you?re in the Philippines, Fireball Planet can be accessed at http://fireballplanet.com/ph. If you?re in the United States, it can be accessed at http://fireballplanet.com/us.)