In a time where good health and wellness are essential, businessman and CEO Tommanny Tan makes people’s health his business.
Being an entrepreneur is not something for the faint-hearted. While it can lead to success and wealth, there are just as many risks involved. Entrepreneurship, you see, takes a mix of business acumen, skills, investments, support, and a wildcard of luck to make it work. And just as entrepreneurship is cultivated from years of experience, it’s also a skill that is taught and carefully honed to attain success.
But in some cases, the art of entrepreneurship is already ingrained in one’s DNA. Take for example the case of businessman and CEO Tommanny Tan. The brains behind FERN, Inc. and the health and wellness multi-level marketing company I-FERN, he took the risk and started a new venture—which not only grew but also helped change people’s lives.
From Humble Beginnings
“I was born as an entrepreneur. My grandfather emigrated from China to the Philippines, [while] both my parents were born in the Philippines,” he shares, touching on his Filipino-Chinese roots. “People always say, you know, Chinese [means] intsik, but if you ask me, I’m Filipino cause I’m a second-generation [living in the Philippines]. All my kids are [also] born in the Philippines.”
True to a traditional Filipino-Chinese upbringing, Tommanny and his siblings grew up in a business-minded family. In fact, they were exposed to the trade at a very young age… quite literally! “As kids, we would listen, on the dining table, about the business—how did the business go [and] what are the new businesses being put up,” he explains.
In fact, his parents, Manuel and Anita Tan were well-versed in the trading business. They would supply hardware, electrical items, and small appliances to some of the largest hardware and department stores in the Philippines. Following his business-minded family’s footsteps, Tommanny graduated with a Computer Science degree in 1990, and in 2007, he took a master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and graduated last 2008.
For a while, he worked as a programmer before taking over his family’s importation and flat iron manufacturing business. Through his supervision, productivity improved. Once he deemed his family’s business stable, he stepped down and decided to focus on his own venture by co-founding FERN, Inc.—the company synonymous with the vitamin FERN-C—in the year 2005.
Changing the Stereotype
Businesses come with their fair share of challenges, and I-FERN was no exception to that. One of the many root issues includes the negative connotation of the concept of networking, which Tommanny wants to disprove. “When you say networking, oh my God, scam yan! Pyramiding yan! Ingat ka diyan, nalugi ako diyan!“
To dispel this, Tommanny takes a different approach—starting with a brand name. He first introduced FERN-C, which people at first didn’t know was a direct selling company. They only knew that it was the first non-acidic vitamin in the Philippines. By making that big, success soon followed.
“Although not officially on record, we can still say as a fact, FERN-C is the number one non-acidic vitamin in the Philippines [from direct selling]. It’s unheard of,” he explains. “Most of the number one—if not all of the number one—products in the Philippines are coming from big pharmaceutical companies. But we made it happen with FERN-C.”
I-FERN was founded last 2012, and according to Tommanny, it was founded for a different reason. Following FERN-C’s success, he soon discovered that 70% of their sales were going to drugstores. With the direct sellers’ income decreasing, he wanted to solve this shift to the traditional business channel by creating a company that solely running on the direct channel. Thus, I-FERN was born.
With a company focused on direct sales, Tommanny knew that he had to make it different. Alluding to other networking companies, he notes that the products being sold are usually overpriced. But for I-FERN, he strongly maintains that its products are world-class quality, and at the same time, affordable.
The Concept of Health, Then and Now
Aside from the success of the brand’s Vitamin C variant, FERN-D also made its way up the charts during the pandemic. “It’s thanks to the World Health Organization, the IATF, and the DOH promoting the use of Vitamin D, Vitamin C, and Zinc that we have benefited a lot from the current pandemic,” he adds.
Back then, Tommanny explains that these vitamins were taken by people who wanted to be healthy. But times have now changed with the ongoing pandemic. It has now become a matter of survival, where people took these vitamins because they didn’t want to die. “We have become an essential product… [and] for me, we really believe that if you take vitamins properly and at the right dosage, your personal immunity [improves].”
Strongly emphasizing the importance of your personal immunity, Tommanny adds that getting vaccinated isn’t enough, especially with the new variants coming out. And with the risk that some vaccines may not work on the recent strains, he goes back to strengthening your immunity as a viable option for the uncertain.
“We are reintroducing these people to taking vitamins again,” he adds, explaining that some people forget that the vitamins they take while they’re young are just as essential to them now. “Your body will never stop needing vitamins. That’s why we’re telling you to take them again because you want to be healthy.”
World-Class and Affordable Products
In the words of his professor at the Asian Institute of Management, where he took his course on entrepreneurship, “Tom, if you can do world-class and affordable, nobody can beat you.” And Tommanny did just that.
To date, I-FERN’s number one product includes FERN-D, a vitamin D supplement, sourced from Switzerland. Although locally manufactured, the ingredients are imported. The company also offers FERN-ACTIV, a multivitamin that contains the much-needed vitamins that the average Filipino lacks, based on research from the Department of Health. “It’s designed for the Filipino, with the Filipino in mind,” he explains.
Additionally, I-FERN debuted MilkCA, a dietary supplement that is the only one in the world that uses calcium from cow’s milk. This makes it easier to absorb in the body. “We’re just making what nature intended and putting it into a capsule,” he says. “In fact, when you eat the capsule, it tastes like polvoron. That’s how you know that it’s made from cow’s milk.”
Beyond supplements and capsules, I-FERN also offers a toothpaste called SilverFresh. Proudly touting it as an all-natural product, it was well-received by consumers because it did not contain cancer-causing ingredients as other brands do. Even venturing into a beauty line, the company launched the Aurora Beauty Bar, which has whitening and anti-aging properties—something that a lot of Filipinos look for. And there are many more products where that came from.
Prosperity Through Enterpreneurship
Although Chinese by blood, Tommanny considers himself proudly Filipino. Thus, with the goal of helping Filipinos become entrepreneurs—their own bosses, even—he established I-FERN to give more opportunities to his fellow countrymen.
“What I’m doing right now is sharing prosperity through entrepreneurship. Some people don’t understand that, so I just say that I’m in the business of creating millionaires,” he shares. “[Back then], I’ve seen my grandparents’ employees. [In fact], their children are my parents’ employees, and their children are my employees. So, tatlong generations kaming negosyante, tatlong generations silang empleyado.”
He goes on to explain the potential he sees in the country, given the right guidance. “The Philippines can be a great country if more people were entrepreneurs—but the right kind of entrepreneurs. [That is], with a business that you can scale up. A business where you create a brand, [which] you can take outside the Philippines.”
Tommanny Tan on Going Global
As all businessmen do, Tommanny dreams of growing I-FERN into a global business. This, however, is not easy, given the perception that foreign countries have of fellow Filipinos—that they are mostly employed and not their own bosses.
“When you travel and people see a Philippine passport, they say ‘ah, OFW to‘, ‘seaman to,’ [or even] ‘domestic helper to,'” he shares, having witnessed this one too many times in the airport immigration. “My dream is that when they see a Filipino passport, and they ask what you do, you say that you’re a professional networker. When the immigration officer asks what company, and then you will say I-FERN, [to which] the officer will say ‘I’m [an] I-FERN member, too!'”
“It’s a Filipino coming in [and] having a global company outside,” he continues. “One of my big dreams is for I-FERN to be the first globally-known Filipino brand [for health and wellness]. That when you go outside the country, and you say FERN-C or FERN-D, [and] they know what that is. They know [that] it’s vitamin C—the best vitamin C. When I say FERN-ACTIV is the best multivitamin, and [that] it comes from the Philippines, it’s [also being] promoted by Filipinos who are now international business people.”
But Tommanny works fast and efficiently at that. Throughout the years, he has already started his global quest by making waves in Africa with the 3 offices that he currently has there. “Our African business partners are saying [to] make more millionaires in Africa, like what [I] did in the Philippines,” he says proudly as he recounts how they are talking about the business and also doing the I-FERN sign.
Of Future Plans and Dreams
In an ever-changing playing field, businesses need to constantly adapt and innovate. By creating new products to cater to the market, companies like I-FERN can continue to stay relevant. “Every one or two years, we launch new products. Sakto lang—not too many at a time, so that we can give focus to them. We can promote them properly and people can understand them properly, [which in turn] can help them promote it properly, too.”
But being relevant in the Philippines alone is not something that Tommanny Tan is content with. In fact, he still has his sights set on much loftier aspirations—that is, recognition on a global scale. This, of course, does not just encompass his products and the brand, but it also stretches to include the Philippines and the Filipinos themselves.
From OFWs to domestic helpers and seamen, Tommanny hopes to show that Filipinos are just as capable of leadership. In fact, someday, he hopes that foreigners will say that “Filipinos are great entrepreneurs. Filipinos are the ones who trained us, [and] they are the people we learn from. These are the people who are changing our lives.“
Words DIANE NICOLE GO
Photography ED SIMON
Grooming TAMARA PINEDA for NARS PH
Styling BANG PINEDA
Sittings Editor MARGA MEDRANO TUPAZ
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To find out more about I-FERN, their products, and how you can be your own boss, you may visit their website, Facebook, and Instagram pages.