How the pandemic shaped this flight attendant's entrepreneurial dreams
In 2020, she lost her job as a flight attendant. But Ana Katrina Villaraza decided to use the time to become an entrepreneur
Ana Katrina Villaraza had been a flight attendant since she turned 21. “It was my first job and the only job that I’d ever done. Last year, before the pandemic hit, it was my sixth year of flying,” says Villaraza, who is half-Filipino and half-Lebanese. Born and raised in Dubai, the 28-year-old has spent substantial time here. In 2020, she was let go of her job. Villaraza admits she couldn’t handle the boredom during the five months when she was not flying. This was what motivated her to turn into an entrepreneur. Her small business called LoveNote is a gift shop. “I’d always loved the process of giving gifts, from buying and creating to giving them. One day, whilst sitting alone in my living room, I had this idea — ‘I’m going to make boxes! Not just any boxes, gift boxes!’ ’I’ve always had that little creative juice inside me, and my friends and family have always known it’s something I enjoy,” she shares. As she drives around from Jebel Ali to Ajman delivering goodies in her little Kia, we learn more about her journey from starting a business in a pandemic to the lessons she picked from working in the airline industry.
What did a day in the life of Ana, the flight attendant, look like?
Before my flight, I’d sleep for 12 hours, waking up just two hours before work, and was off to the airport! I could work up to 10 hours and come back to Dubai. Upon returning, I’d sleep for another 12 hours. If it was a layover, after settling in and resting for an hour, we’d head to the city; flight attendants get recharged when there’s a city to explore.
What’s the one thing about your ‘past career’ that you miss the most?
I miss travelling. Travelling as a flight attendant is different from when you’re on vacation. It feels like a little gift or a reward you’ve been given for working so hard on your duty; plus, you can’t forget the “all expenses paid” moment.
A few lessons you learnt from being in the airline industry.
The most important thing I’ve learned being a flight attendant is to be patient and be understanding. This applies to both colleagues and passengers. It’s important to always understand that we are all different — different in the way we speak, explain things or handle certain moments. Be patient, take your time and work together.
What is your message to young girls who want to be flight attendants?
To the young ones who dream of working up in the sky, go for it. Trust me, it will be everything you’ve ever imagined and more and it will only be the beginning. It will be tough at times, but the result will be worth it. The places you will go, the friends you will make and the things you will learn, the journey of being a flight attendant is fulfilling.
Where did you gain the confidence to dive deep into the gift box business?
My mother. She passed away when I was young, but she was the one from whom I learnt everything. She loved hosting, decorating and gift-giving. I’d like to call her the OG of LoveNote. It’s from her that I learnt which colours work well together, how to make a flower arrangement, how to decorate for each season and more. She was known for her passion and never stopped, and I knew that I shouldn’t either. I always tell myself, ‘Mum would approve of this gift, it is perfect’, and that’s how I get the confidence with my products. I owe a lot to my family of three brothers, raised by a single mother. My family is humourous, loud and crazy, and my biggest support. My brothers are my best friends, guardians and my father figures.
How and why did you choose the name of the brand, LoveNote?
I didn’t go the traditional way where I chose the brand name first, it was one of the last things I did. I did so because I knew it would just come to me, and that’s exactly what happened. We give or receive gifts on almost every occasion. LoveNote was a love note. A love note to yourself, to your partner, kids, friends and family in the form of a gift.
What are the three things you keep in mind when planning the gift boxes?
The cost would determine if it’s a doable product and how much can a customer be charged for it. Market availability; if it’s already mass-produced, then why create the same? The customer point of view, I always look at things as a customer — if I were to see it in the market, would I stop and stare or simply walk away?
What does a day in the life of Ana, the entrepreneur, look like?
The days are long, and nothing like a 9-5 job, and I often wish there were more hours in a day, so I could get everything done. I run around for three-five days preparing for big orders. When at home, I pack up smaller orders. On quiet days, I clean up, work on the brand’s Instagram (@lovenote_dxb), click and edit images of products, reply to consumer queries, etc.
What are your most favourite products in the range and why?
I’ve recently introduced tote bags. They’re fun, quirky and they’ve challenged me. It brought me out of my comfort zone from just boxes to now bags. I’ve been able to reach a new target market, learn more about suppliers and challenge myself even more, creatively. My favourite tote bag would have to be, The Happy Girls Club.
Can you summarise your experience of running a business in a pandemic?
Last year was tougher than 2021. At the time, it was difficult to find suppliers and products. It was hard to ship things, to go out and check the market because everything was closed or was open for a limited time. Although the main positives were that I was able to cater to those who were having a hard time gifting because everything was closed.
Would you say your brand largely caters to women?
I’ve chosen to cater to women and young girls. Until this day, I have probably only done around three-five gifts for men. Women understand challenges and appreciate the hard work because they know what it’s like out there. I’ve noticed when they know a woman is in charge, there is a sense of comfort. A sentence I’ve heard from many of my customers is, “I’m sure you know what type of gift I want. So, I’m going to leave it to you.” It also brings me great joy when they trust me to create something for them. Plus, women deserve it all, so they get all the great gifts.
An entrepreneurial lesson you want to share with future entrepreneurs.
A lesson I’ve learned is don’t give up. It’s clichéd, but it’s the truth. It’s not going to be easy and the first step(s) are always the hardest, but once you’ve built your platform, you’re already chasing the dream that you’ve always wanted to. Stay confident and the rest will follow. You just need patience, a support system and a little dip in your savings account! Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone because that’s when life happens. So if you’ve been thinking of starting a business, do it today.