The Interviews

Yo Santosa


Putting Her Branding Expertise to Work in Her Entrepreneurial Endeavors

Interview by Leif Steiner & Emily Potts
March 28, 2017

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You know how when you see something new and say, “Gee, I had that same idea. I could have done that.” But you didn’t? Most of us say that, but we never act on it. Meet Yo Santosa. When she puts her mind to doing something or filling a niche that hasn’t been filled, she goes for it.

Santosa, who has called Los Angeles home for 13 years, was born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, before emigrating to the U.S. at age 17. She graduated from Art Center College of Design, just four years later. In 2006, she opened her branding agency Ferroconcrete, where she helped her first client, Pinkberry, grow from one store to a global brand with more than 200 stores worldwide.

She’s taken that branding expertise and created her own start-ups in vastly different categories. In 2013, she launched Commodity, a fragrance company with a mission to make fragrance personal (it has been featured in GQ, Fast Co., Esquire and W Magazine), and in September 2014, she founded and published the first issue of LA Downtowner, a cultural publication for Los Angelinos looking for fun, food, and fashion.

Here Santosa talks about her entrepreneurial drive and the realities of wearing so many hats at once.

What is the meaning behind the name of your agency? 

Ferroconcrete is another term for reinforced concrete, which enabled the building of bridges and multiple-story buildings. It’s a metaphor for building brands into skyscrapers. But that’s the long answer. The short one; simply, I love concrete.

Brand identity by Ferroconcrete

People don’t fall in love with businesses, they fall in love with personalities.

What was the impetus behind starting LA Downtowner? That’s a huge undertaking. 

I have been living in Downtown Los Angeles for 13 years. I’ve witnessed how it’s changed so quickly, and I just love the energy of this place. I also realized that there wasn’t a publication that celebrated the food, drink, culture, and the people of downtown. I wanted to tell that story and share that. It certainly is a passion project. A monthly love letter.

Are you profiting from the ads or breaking even? 

A bit of both depending on the month, but the greatest satisfaction comes from getting to know the local business owners. The experience has been invaluable.

How are you able to balance being the editor of a monthly publication and running a design agency? How much of your time are you running the magazine vs. client work? 

I would say 20 percent LA Downtowner, 80 percent agency. Ferroconcrete is my bread and butter. It’s not hard to run LA Downtowner as it stands now, since I am always in downtown and know a lot of people here. The hard part is figuring out how LA Downtowner should grow, evolve and become more integral to DTLA. This needs a lot of time, which I always seem to be running out of.

How involved are you in Commodity on a day-to-day basis?

I’m on Commodity’s board of director, so I’m not involved on a day-to-day basis. We are very lucky to have an amazing CEO who is propelling the brand forward.

The naming and branding is clever. How do you come up with the names of the fragrances? 

We wanted names that are based on goods/necessities. We feel fragrances should be an extension of our personalities. We selected names like book and moss. Names that would bring up imagery, scents, and a sense of lifestyle.

Where does this entrepreneurial drive come from? 

I always noticed when I’m not doing something new, I get bored. And I know I am learning when I feel challenged. Starting a new business feels natural to keep myself excited with life.

Do you always start ventures that deliver the kinds of things you want, personally? 

I try to, yes. I believe we have to be passionate about the subject matter to be able to deliver our best.

How do you overcome the fear of starting something new? 

I’m optimistic to a fault. I always have a blind faith about it being successful. Of course, this is not necessarily a good trait, because I don’t always plan things long term. I get excited about something, and I just do it.

How do you know when something will work? or do you know? Is it all a gamble? 

I don’t know if it will always work. It’s a mix between optimism and gut instinct. I always ask myself would I be into this?

And it is all a gamble. That’s part of the fun, fear, and excitement.

Have you ever started something that didn’t take off?

Absolutely.

Ferroconcrete has been around for 10 years. There are times when I thought we had to shut our doors. We’re at the mercy of the U.S. economy. That goes for most things.

I think the biggest take away for me after doing this for so long is how do I balance my personal life with all the current and new businesses I want to do. Recently I’ve been giving myself a lot of personal time. To recharge and live life.

I look back at the past 10 years (even longer before I started Ferroconcrete), and I ask myself, ‘Where was I personally in those years?’ And it’s hard to remember the times when I was relaxed, physically and mentally. This is my current learning curve. Finding that balance.

Are you starting any new entrepreneurial endeavors? 

Yes! Always, but they’re still under wraps at the moment.  

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