This Former ABS-CBN Talent Is Now the CEO of Her Own Livestream Production Company
Hiyasmin Neri-Soyao is perhaps best known to Filipino audiences as one of the hosts of TV channel O Shopping. Now she wears a different hat as CEO of ecommerce livestreaming company Shoppertainment Live Inc.
As a member of Batch 15 of ABS-CBN’s Star Magic, Neri worked alongside talents like Megan Young and Bela Padilla and acted in several teleseryes and movies. But it was her five-year stint with the home shopping channel that she says she enjoyed doing the most.
“In O Shopping, we got the opportunity to travel, work with great people, and learn new things,” she tells Esquire Philippines. “It was my biggest break.”
But Neri was also looking for something more. On-camera work was there, but she knew that her career as an artist and host wasn’t enough to sustain her in the long run. It didn’t help that the O Shopping channel fell victim to the shutdown of ABS-CBN, after the network was denied an extension of its congressional franchise last year.
30-year-old Hiyasmin Neri-Soyao is the co-founder and CEO of Shoppertainment Live Inc
In 2019, Neri co-founded a company along with her husband Patt Sayao, who is CEO and co-founder of ICON Executive Asia; Ace Gapuz, CEO of Blogapalooza; and Steve Sy, founder of Great Deals E-Commerce Corp.
“I met Steve through my husband Patt, who was his classmate in CDM Digital Marketing,” she says. “(Steve) talked about his experience as an Alibaba e-founder fellow, his learnings about the iron triangle, and the ecommerce trends happening in Asia. He told us about livestream commerce, a different kind of home shopping experience that’s broadcast on digital. This gave me and my husband a business idea—our own shopping and entertainment network on ecommerce platforms.”
That company is called Shoppertainment Live Inc., a full production livestream shopping network for ecommerce and social media. It’s essentially a “broadcast network” that works with companies and brands to sell their products through livestreams.
Sarah Geronimo during a livestream for a brand
“We help brands with real results, real time,” Neri says. “We create entertaining live shopping streams for brands that will help people to shop smart so they just add-to-cart. We deliver the full marketing experience from awareness, engagement to sales for every livestream session with our ‘influensales’ mindset.”
Building a makeshift studio in Sy’s chat support office, Shoppertainment Live started out by doing livestreams on Lazada, signing-up brands who were willing to try out the relatively new ecommerce tool. It didn’t take long before they perfected the concept and they started attracting more clients. By 2020, the company put up its own livestream studios and started hiring more people.
“We knew we were doing something right when we were reaching an average of 20 streams per month and had to immediately grow the team from six employees to 30,” Neri says. “We also increased our studio capacity to meet the demands. We started with an average of one to two campaigns per month and increased to 200 percent by the end of 2020.”
Today, Shoppertainment Live has done at least 70 live campaigns within the first quarter of 2021 and has worked with more than 70 local and multinational brands. The company has also worked with some of the country’s top celebrities and influencers and have been part of award-winning ecommerce and marketing campaigns for multinational brands in a span of one year.
The Shoppertainment Live team at their studio
“Despite the lockdown and working remotely, we managed to create online productions which kept our momentum going,” Neri says proudly. “The need for livestreams during the quarantine increased and we knew that we were already equipped with the right production skills needed by the brands who were pivoting to digital.”
In front of and behind the camera
The daughter of medical professionals (her mom and dad are both doctors), Neri didn’t really imagine herself joining showbusiness while growing up. As a kid, she would hold her head up and act confident when asked to perform in front of an audience (as many children often experience), but she eventually decided to pursue a degree in Clothing Technology from the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
While in college, Neri won a role in an independent film called Xenoa, which launched her acting career. She started appearing in TV commercials and more indie films, including a leading role in a Cinema One Original film called UPCAT when she was 18. Negative feedback in that film pushed her to improve her craft, which led her to get formal training under ABSCBN’s Star Magic, under Johnny Manahan. Through it all she never turned her back on her studies and managed to finish graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
Unlike many other aspiring artists, Neri says she also developed an interest in the work behind the cameras.
“I saw right through the lenses and saw the cameramen, the director, the scriptwriters, the producers, the production designers, and ultimately, the people who ran the show,” she says. “To me, this whole new world that the audience doesn't usually see was just as fascinating as what they get to watch on TV.
Even while performing in front of the camera as actress and host, Neri never stopped learning. She interned in a production house to learn how to shoot, write and edit for both digital and television and also worked as a segment producer for a few lifestyle TV shows. Eventually she decided to pursue a Masters in Business Administration at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business.
It was after she finished her MBA that she realized that her perspectives and career direction were changing.
Hiyasmin Neri-Soyao with her husband, Shoppertainment Live Inc co-founder Patt Soyao
“I now had more knowledge about creating productions and in a way, understood the business behind it. So I crafted a business plan for a media brand and mustered all the confidence to pitch it to ABS-CBN management.” Network executives took interest to her idea and eventually offered her the chance to execute her ideas as Market Head of the ABS-CBN subsidiary Creative Programs Inc. (CPI).
“It was nerve-racking but I pulled through,” she says. “It was a digital millennial brand that was set to be published purely on social media. It was the perfect back up plan for something more stable. That was my turning point from artist to full-time management.”
A thirst for entrepreneurship
It was an exciting transition, but one that would ultimately end up in failure. Neri candidly admits that the brand she pitched didn’t meet the expectations and failed to hit the key performance initiatives (KPIs) needed to make it work. The brand was eventually shut down and she and her team were transferred to other brands.
“It was bad enough that the competition for digital brands was tough, but mostly (the brand I pitched) failed because of my inexperience as a manager,” she says. “I’ve realized the hard way that having an MBA doesn’t guarantee your success as a business professional.”
“I felt so lost,” she adds “My acting career failed. My hosting career was not good enough. And my back-up plan did not work. I started questioning all of my life decisions. Why did I do those things in the first place?”
But Neri soon realized that, if she was able to turn an idea into reality, then she could start again and, this time, do it right.
Shoppertainment Live was the answer to a gap in the entertainment industry that Neri wanted to fill.
“Unlike home shopping, where retail was a big factor in sales conversion for the program, entertainment channels were dependent on advertising sales,” Neri says. “I wanted to bring entertainment to real-time commerce and Shoppertainment was able to do that.”
Screenshot of a livestream produced through Shoppertainment Inc
As the country’s first and leading full-production livestreaming company, Shoppertainment Live has worked with the likes of Unilever and Del Monte, as well as with celebrities like Sarah Geronimo, Pia Wurtzbach, Alex Gonzaga, James Reid, Heart Evangelista, Kathryn Bernardo, and Luis Manzano, among others. The company is targeting to complete 9,000 livestream sessions in 2021.
“We are looking at growing our team and studios and expanding our network in the Philippines and throughout Asia,” Neri says about her plans for her company. She also has some goals she would like to achieve for herself.
“Apart from having kids and growing our family, (I’d like to) teach media business in a university and to create a fashion brand.”
Success through failure
Neri acknowledges the lessons she’s learned and the hardships she’s had to overcome in order to run her own business.
“Always make a minimum viable product to prove that an idea works,” she says. “You don’t need to go all out and pour in budgets right away. Just take a simple step to make your idea happen, then tweak it along the way. Fund it more when you see that there is growth and scale potential.
“You need to partner with the right people who would not only believe in your vision, but would also help you get there,” she adds. “Don’t partner with people who will only tell you their opinions and leave you to do all the work by yourself. Partner with people who have a sense of maturity, understands grit, have relevant business experience, and can lead you to the right resources to help you achieve your business goals.
The 30-year-old CEO also recognizes how the challenges and disappointments in her life ultimately helped her get to where she is now.
The CEO has big plans for her two-year-old startup
“I believe that my fortitude comes from the failures that I’ve encountered throughout my career,” she says. “I’ve always believed that everything I went through and will go through is a total preparation for where I am now and where I am headed. What drives me is the motivation to make an impact in the media industry and to create an organization where entertainment and commerce are flawlessly integrated.”
As for potentially going back to acting and hosting, Neri says she’ll always welcome the opportunity to do these “fun” things again in the future
“But right now, my focus is to build Shoppertainment Live and grow this new live commerce industry that we have started here in the Philippines.”