They say life is about the choices you make, and the opportunities you find and act upon. This is certainly true for Jason Cheng, founder of NEO Manufacturing and Services Inc. NEO is a company that manufactures and sells desktops, notebooks and recently tablets under an all Philippine brand. It competes with global names currently in the country and is surprisingly able to hold its own.
For sure, not many people know that in the world of personal computers (PC), notebooks and tablets, the Philippines has been producing its own brand too, in the form of NEO. What’s probably more surprising is that if you ask its founder Jason Cheng, he will tell you that if you had asked him the same question 10 years ago, he would have given you a different answer. “I never thought I would manufacture my own brand of computers the way we do now. I simply thought of myself as a businessman like everyone else back then, trying to find the perfect opportunity,” he said.
And find that opportunity he did.
Cheng recalls that in 2003, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) had a CyberMadness event, which was then the biggest PC and Internet festival in the country. The telecoms giant had wanted to market its Internet services then at a price that many people could afford, and were looking for a partner to do so. Cheng, who was a computer components distributor under his company called Glee, was asked by PLDT if he could build personal computers with an end cost not exceeding P20,000 that were to be bundled with PLDT services. The price was a fraction of the cost of a PC at that time, and Cheng thought “it was mission impossible,” but still took the challenge to do so.
“We had to work with all our vendors, who in turn saw the growth in the PC market and agreed to give us lower cost for this particular project,” he added.
To ameliorate the perceived value of the product, they wanted to make a specific brand for the PC. Cheng recalls with a chuckle that they got the brand name inspiration from the lead character of a hit movie at that time called “The Matrix.” It must be serendipity he said, as NEO means “new,” “recent’ or “revived,” and it turned out to be the perfect brand name for a product that was literally new in the market. He was on a roll since, as they came out with the first NEO notebooks shortly after their PCs came out through PLDT. This was also the reason why the brand was able to establish itself as the leading brand of Intel Centrino-based notebooks all the way to 2004. It was also around this time that they decided to offer NEO in the retail market as a reasonably priced alternative to the ones currently being sold at that time.
10th year product offerings
NEO Manufacturing and Services was formally incorporated as a company in 2008. The same year also saw the birth of NEO’s targeted marketing strategy with the launch of its primary notebook product lines—Basic, Vivid and Elan. This year, as the brand celebrates its 10th year, it has also unveiled its latest addition to its product portfolio in the form of Omnipad tablets. Along with it comes their offering of a first-of-its-kind warranty merchandise agreement with customers for the Omnipad. The warranty, Cheng explained, means more than just a 1-800 number for technical support. “We will have our technical expert help troubleshoot and pick-up the unit from the customer if necessary, and have a replacement or the repaired unit sent back to the customer within seven working days.”
Apart from laptops, notebooks and tablets, NEO has come out with accessories which are currently being marketed in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Australia. The brand is also now under its parent company Eternal Asia, which is a publicly listed company in China.
Looking back, Cheng said that he wouldn’t even be able to predict that this is the road that he would take many years later.
“My parents are into the chemical business, so I had no choice but to take up Chemistry in college. I took up B.S. Chemistry and Computer Engineering from Ateneo de Manila. They thought I would continue the family business and I did try, but early on I figured this was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Cheng said.
Starting in Taiwan
Soon after, he said that he got an opportunity to work in Taiwan as a computer engineer, and that’s how he said he got to start his business. With a laugh, Cheng said that he was fired by the company after two years, but by that time, he already had an extensive list of contacts that supplies computer parts like motherboards and the like.
“They were the ones who actually asked me if I can be their supplier in the Philippines,” Cheng said, and at that point he remembers asking himself, “What would you do if you have no job?”
But his good sense of humor belies the admirable traits his staff and co-workers say they see in him. Indeed when asked to describe himself, he said that he is someone who’s organized and determined, and these are the very same traits that he tries to pass on to the rest of the NEO team. He thinks that the ability of NEO to adapt to the changing needs of its customers is the greatest thing about the NEO culture. He is also a dedicated family man who considers his family as the main thing that inspires him.
Nowadays, when he is not working, you will probably find him doing the things that a sports enthusiast usually does—running, playing golf and scuba diving. He has no plans of venturing into other types of businesses at this point, and is extremely happy to just grow the business that he has. Still, one never knows when another opportunity comes knocking, and he wants to be ready for that. He is constantly inspired by one of his favorite quotes by Warren Buffet which says, “you only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong.”