Page 1







Be inspired by these 67 success stories of men and women interviewed by ENTREPRENEUR Philippines. Learn—and profit—from their words, lives and experiences, from conceptualizing to establishing their businesses, from the challenging years to more stable times. To the entrepreneur in all of us, here is a sample of what they have to say: ‘We all have the potential to be better than what we are.’ Butch Albarracin Center for Pop Music ‘It’s a love a�air between the client and the product.’ Ino Caluza Viktor Jeans

‘You don’t have third parties telling you to maximize profits.’ Francisco Licuanan III Geo Estate Development Corp.

‘The challenge for us now is to find a new role in this new world.’ Robertson Chiang Mozcom

‘One of the best things we did was getting outside help.’ Paulo Tibig V-Cargo

‘If we don’t get the best price, we can’t sell for the best price.’ Socorro Ramos National Bookstore

‘If everyone were beautiful, then appearances would be less of a factor.’ Vicki Belo Belo Medical Group

INNOVATORS: Butch Albarracin Center for Pop Music • Boots Alcantara Casa San Pablo • Angeli Beltran-Lambsdor� Sugarnot • Ino Caluza Viktor

Jeans • Ian Carandang, Tony Bondoc and Vito Lazatin Sebastian’s Ice Cream Studio • Reyvic Cerilles and Joseph Jagoring Estetico Manila • Robertson Chiang Mozcom • Derrick Chiongbian Holy Kettle Corn • Bayani Coching Mercury Freight International • Charlie Dobles and Drew Marcelo Spoofs Limited • Mark Dulag K-yong Spirits • Mario Elumba Adventure One Scuba Diving Centre • Sonny Francisco Ferino’s Bibingka • Freddy Gonzalez Aloha Board Sports • Vincent Grey Ventaja International • Joey Gurango Gurango So�ware • Paul Huang Fire Lake Grill • Ariel Jersey EZ Maps • Francisco Licuanan III Geo Estate Development • Edmun Liu Basic Graphics • Em Mariano Business FUNDynamics • Jun Ongteco Wishcra� • Vicente Padilla Fun Ranch • Redentor Ragojos Ragojos Heritage Construction • Ricky Sta. Ana Skinworkz • Glenn Anthony Soco Co�ee Dream • Che and Ricky Soler GoodAh!!! • Tanny Syfu Tri-Isys Internet • Eric Tan MPower Asia • Jimmy Thai Primer Group • Paulo Tibig V-Cargo • Tom Viray Orient Integrated Commercial • Marianito Vito Jr. Vito Prints and Pieces • Albert Yu Asya Design Partner ALL IN THE FAMILY: Alejandro family Papemelroti • Mary Grace ArboledaYoung Cordillera Co�ee • Cecille Co RJ Jewelry • Conrado Escudero Villa Escudero • Felix Garcia and family Mekeni Food • Jose Miguel Geronimo Gerry Geronimo Productions • Loly and Buzz Gomez Philippine Treasures • Mark Gorriceta Freska • Teresa and Francis Guanzon Bangko Kabayan • Jaafar sisters The 50th Avenue • Sheila and Bertrand Pesayco Writer’s Edge • Socorro Ramos and family National Bookstore • Flor and Susan Velasco Flor-San’s Handicra� • Reynaldo and Leticia Vergara RL Vercons Merchants TOP WOMEN & CELEBRITIES: Jericho Aguas and Isabel Granada Aguas Pawnshop • Maya Batac-Lagdameo MKJ Service Link • Vicki Belo Belo Medical Group • Gina Butler, Mozzy Ravena and Miren Padilla Pink Salon • Ryan Cayabyab The Music Studio • Melissa Floirendo and partners Regatta • Josie Go Karimadon • Mildred Gococo Boy Busog • Joby Linsangan Orange Blush Salon • Catherine Lopez-Uy A Di�erent Bookstore • Shaina Magdayao Ystilo Salon • Ping Medina PenPen Comfort Food Araw-Araw • Cesar Montano Bellissimo Ristorante • Happy Ongpauco and Allana Montelibano The Boutique Bed and Breakfast • Gingerie Red Kumon Learning Center franchise • Gladys Reyes KSA Magic • Dina Salonga SQL Wizard • Annabel Santos-Wisniewski Museum Café • Claude Tayag Bale Dutung

ISSN 8885-1958 00

9 778885 195005





Alternate routes


he world of business is no longer the preserve of men, and in the Philippines, a lot of women have shown that they can run businesses as well— if not better—than their male counterparts. On top of this, business is also seeing the entry into its turf of more and more celebrities—TV, movie, and stage actors and actresses, singers, musicians, and the like—looking for more stable investment vehicles for the big money they usually earn in the fickle entertainment industry. The pages that follow tell the stories


of 23 women and nine celebrities—four of whom straddle both categories—who have taken the entrepreneurial route and have made good doing so. Some of them had been born with the proverbial silver spoon in the mouth but wanted to prove that they can make good in business on their own; others went into business after they had already made a mark in their respective professions; still others went into business ventures that could give fuller expression to their art or craft; and the rest simply needed a durable and profitable business in which to invest their hard-earned money. In their own unique ways, though, how they built their respective businesses and how they run them are entrepreneurial roadmaps that are definitely worth looking into.



Jericho Aguas and Isabel Granada Aguas Pawnshop

Being an employee ‘was simply too strenuous for me’ By Leah B. del Castillo


Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso

loss in politics and its consequent financial setback could be serious career-busters, but for actor Jericho Aguas, they gave him the motivation to really focus on what he knows best—running a business. More popularly known as Geryk Genaskey (he had adopted the surname of his maternal grandfather, Rudy Genaskey, for his screen name), Jericho Aguas comes from a family that has been doing business for many years in their home province of Pampanga. His paternal grandfather, Tomas Aguas, was a pioneer in the money-changing business in the province. Jericho Aguas studied to become an engineer, graduating in 2001 with a Bachelor of Science degree in electronics and communications engineering (ECE) from the De La Salle University in Taft, Manila. When he later trained with the local office of a multinational company, however, he realized that ECE was not the career for him. “I experienced the feeling of beExcept for a ing an employee,” he recalls. “I nevbrief detour er really wanted to regularly wake into politics, up at 7:00 a.m., to sit down at my the Aguas desk, wait for lunch, wait for snack couple has time, then finally leave the office found their at 5:00 p.m. The work wasn’t tir- true calling in ing, but staying inside the building business. 4 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

and wearing a jacket because it was cold in the office was simply too much of a routine. It was simply too strenuous for me.” So, after graduation, Aguas decided not to take the ECE board examination. Instead, he chose to be a commercial and ramp model, taking on the name by which he was to become more popularly known. While modeling for a commercial, he met the actress Isabel Granada, also one of the country’s few licensed female pilots. The two got married in 2002 and settled in Angeles City, Jericho’s hometown. It was there that the Aguas couple first ventured into business. With financial help from Jericho’s grandmother, Malu Aguas, they put up an Internet café. They called it the Countersite Internet Café to capitalize on the name recall of Counterstrike, a popular video game. The couple became the store’s hands-on managers, with Jericho handling the business side and Isabel, the customer side. The Internet café gave the couple very handsome returns on their P1 million initial investment, enabling them to also put up an ink refilling station, Need for Ink, a year later. It was also due to this business that Aguas made an unplanned detour into politics. In 2004, he recalls, the Angeles City government took issue against the proliferation of Internet cafes in the city. Aguas was aghast to learn that a young city councilor was spearheading a proposed ordinance that would adversely affect the operation of Internet cafes. Aguas, on the urging of the president of an Angeles City business group, then decided to run for public office to oppose the anti-Internet ordinance. He won a seat in the city council. His entry into politics made him very busy, so he decided to shut down the ink-refilling business and sold his Internet shop as well. He opened a franchised Ministop convenience store instead to keep himself in business. Then, in the 2006 national elections, he ran for vice mayor of Angeles City but lost. As he put it afterwards, “I had nowhere else to go.”



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

f there’s anything that Jericho Aguas has learned from his flirtation with politics, it’s that nothing beats focusing on your business to make it thrive. Of his ink-refilling business, Aguas recalls: “I shelled out P200,000 to start that business but I recovered not a single cent from it kasi hindi ko natutukan [because I wasn’t able to focus on it].” Politics also took away his focus on his Internet café—which, ironically, was the reason he had entered politics. “I was no longer able to manage the shop,” he says. “The computers needed repairs but I couldn’t attend to their upkeep

anymore.” When he did focus on a business, Jericho was able to turn around his family’s floundering pawnshop—even establishing a Western Union outlet right beside the shop to augment its business.

It took Aguas a month to bounce back from his defeat. In July of 2007, he approached his father, Ronald Aguas, and volunteered to manage the family’s floundering 15-year-old pawnshop, the Aguas & Sons (Agsons) Pawnshop. Using his own money as working capital, he managed the pawnshop hands-on and was able to turn the business around after only a month. This time, because of his much sharper focus, Aguas is confident that he can become really, really big in businesses. n

AGUAS & SONS PAWNSHOP & DOLLAR EXCHANGE Agsons Building, McArthur Highway corner T. Aguas Street Balibago, Angeles City Telephone: (045) 625-7707 • Mobile: 0928-5053286; 0917-8114866



Maya BatacLagdameo MKJ Service Link

This business found a way not only to beat but to eliminate the competition altogether By Icy Luzano


Photos by Walter Villa

ne can put up a good business with things that are just lying around uselessly, but it requires lots of guts and creativity. This is precisely how MKJ Service Link Inc. got started in the cushion and bed-and-bath linen business 21 years ago. Its founder, Manel K. Jose, used to be in the business of selling embroidery machines in the 1980s. It did quite well until late in the decade, during which the business faltered and Jose was unable to dispose of four of the machines. She then thought of turning what was left of her failed business into a bigger venture. With the four unsold embroidery machines and P50,000 in initial investment, Jose put up an embroidery business in Pasig City in 1987 and named it MKJ Service Link. She started operations with just four employees, who did the embroidery on table linens using various fabrics. MKJ initially catered to the local market, distributing its embroidered products to major department stores in Metro Manila. In 1990, it began exporting its products and expanded its product line to include cushions, bed-and-bath linens, and various promotional items made of linen. Four years later, however, the products of MKJ encountered stiff competition from linen being made by Chinese manufacturers. The company started to lose its 6 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

taken out of the picture. With the assistance of Philippine government agencies, MKJ then invested in training workers and in buying new equipment such as weaving looms. Local farmers in Bohol, Aklan, Batangas, Cebu, Marinduque, and the Bicol provinces harvested the natural fibers the company needed. MKJ therefore had to establish a network of workers in those places to take charge of sorting, weaving, and various other processes. The company workstation in Pasig City then would take care of the sewing, embroidery, finishing, and quality control. In 2007, Jose resigned as president of MKJ and tapped a relative to take over. Maya Batac-Lagdameo, whose husband is Jose’s brother-in-law, assumed the post and tapped her twin, Laya Bengzon, to be the vice president for operations and marketing. Lagdameo, taking note of the public’s growing appreciation for things green and natural, sees even better prospects for MKJ’s products: “Our products have the edge in terms of novelty because they are all-natural and all hand-made. This is therefore a perfect time for our business because most everyone wants to go green to help protect the environment.” Belen Araracap, MKJ’s marketing director who has been with the group since 1987, says that the ability to change is crucial to this kind of business. “You should always be able to offer something new so your presence will continue to be felt,” she explains. Currently, MKJ is exporting its all-natural embroidered linen products to the United States, Europe, Japan, Dubai, and New Zealand and also distributes them to local malls, restaurants, hotels, airlines, and specialty shops. ■ MAYA BATACLAGDAMEO: ‘This is a perfect time for our business because most everyone wants to go green.’

foreign customers to the Chinese, who were not only capable of mass producing the goods but also could offer the same product lines more cheaply. Fortunately for MKJ, it found a way not only to beat the competition but to eliminate it altogether. This was after a foreign consultant advised the company to drop synthetic fabrics and use all-natural fibers like abaca and raffia instead. Since these can only be found in the Philippines, the foreign competition to the venture was


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ith two decades in the linen business, MKJ Service Link has learned to take problems in stride and to focus on creating ways to keep the market’s appetite for its products on a high level. Says Laya Bengzon: “The linen business is just like the fashion business. You have to come up with new and innovative designs every time.” Laya says that with the company having already established

business contacts both locally and abroad, the only thing that can slow down the business today is bad weather, which could possibly reduce the harvest of fiber. To deal with this eventuality, MJK concentrates its production during the last quarter of every year up to the following summer. If there are bulk orders during the rainy months, MKJ simply advises clients that production for those orders might take longer to fill.

MKJ SERVICE LINK INC. No. 1 Sta. Teresita St., Kapitolyo, Pasig City Telephone: (02) 638-5067 • E-mail:


TOP WOMEN & CELEBRITIES Johnny! TV talk show,” she says, laughing. “I think it got people’s attention since I really dressed up for that show and was very talkative—very unlike the prim-andproper doctors that usually get featured in such shows.” BMG gained even more popularity when the movie star Rosanna Roces became one of Dr. Belo’s most high-profile patients. After having undergone breast and butt augmentation as well as liposuction, this popular cosmetics endorser flaunted her enhanced physique in a number of TV shows and other media. This catapulted BMG into the public eye. There came a point, however, where Dr. Belo had to be selective with her target clientele, as most celebrities preferred the more

Vicki Belo

The Belo Medical Group has provided the impetus for the transformation of dermatology services in the country into the booming industry it is today.

Belo Medical Group

‘If everyone were beautiful, then appearances would be less of a factor’ By Katrina Tan


Photos by Ocs Alvarez

hen it comes to beauty, nobody knows the business quite like Dr. Vicki Belo. She has almost single-handedly elevated the old pop-and-prick dermatology treatment to the giant enhancement industry that it is today. “I had bad skin at a young age so I’d go to a clinic for treatment every week,” she recalls. “But since most patients back then were older women, I would get exactly the same treatment that didn’t really work for me. This is why I started dreaming of owning my own clinic—one with up-to-date treatments, scheduled appointments, the works.” Belo took up psychology at the University of the Philippines and graduated in 1978, then earned her degree in medicine and surgery from the University of Santo Tomas in 1985. She pursued advanced studies at the Institute of Dermatology in Thailand from 1989 to 1990, during which she developed a strong interest in cosmetic treatments using laser, which is known to be one of the most precise, safe, and wide-ranging solutions to skin problems. “I found that unlike treatments for pimples or other skin diseases that always recur, cosmetic laser treatments yield permanent results that I could actually see,” she says. “So following what I read from an Al Ries marketing book [Positioning]—that you should be the first in anything you do—I decided to introduce the first skin laser treatments into the country.” Dr. Belo returned to the Philippines in 1990, after which her parents helped her set up the Belo Medical Group (BMG), the first clinic in the country spe-


cializing in cosmetic dermatology and surgery. The company started out quite small, with a staff of five in 44 sq m of space at the Medical Towers building in Makati City. BMG just strongly focused on delivering top-notch service and treatments to its clients as comfortably as possible. In fact, the clinic came to be known for the following trademark amenities: the latest upscale magazines in the waiting room, complimentary chocolates, and baked goodies that Dr. Belo makes herself. “One thing that really helped market our clinic was when we were featured in Johnny Litton’s Oh No, It’s

n a c u Yo o do this,t o


s is the case with the Belo clinics, many businesses start with a felt need—even the entrepreneur’s own. “My clinic is a bit of a selfish thing for me,” Dr. Vicki Belo says with a laugh. “I had bad skin, so I became a dermatologist. I had a weight problem growing up, so I got into in liposuction. Now that I’m older, I’ve gotten even more interested in procedures for more mature

women.” Recently, Dr. Belo also launched her own skin care line, simply calling it Belo. She and her daughter Cristalle develop products for the line together. “As in the case of all the other treatments, I was the guinea pig,” Dr. Belo says. “Since my skin is so sensitive, I would know at once when a product is bad. Still, it took us about two years to develop products that would be affordable, effective, and really pang-masang Pilipino [with Filipino mass appeal].”

intimate and private clinic. Conversely, other patients often were intimidated and had the impression that the services offered by BMG had to be expensive. She explains: “I ultimately made the decision to cater to the public because after all, my reason for putting up the clinic in the first place was to help the most number of people. Of course, I’m not saying that everyone should get plastic surgery. All I am offering is a choice. I just want the world to be more fair to people. You see, if everyone is beautiful, then appearances would be less of a factor.” Currently, BMG employs over 120 people in its seven clinics—two in Quezon City (Tomas Morato Ave. and at the TriNoma mall), two in Makati (Makati Medical Plaza and Rustan’s Makati) and one each in Alabang (Westgate Center), San Juan (Connecticut St., East Greenhills), and Pasig City (The Podium). n


BELO MEDICAL GROUP Tomas Morato Branch • 305 Tomas Morato Ave. cor. Sct. Madriñan St. South Triangle, Quezon City • Telephones: (02) 373-33 55, (02) 373-3188 Fax: (02) 373-40 88 • Mobile: 0917-8320576 • Website:



Gina Butler, Mozzy Ravena and Miren Padilla Pink Salon These three women created an entirely new business, for an international brand. By Leah B. del Castillo Photo by Walter Villa


ost business-minded people bring in a famous international brand to the country to sell it, but these three enterprising women did something else: they created an offshoot of one such brand and started an entirely new business out of it. In December 2007, Gina Butler, Mozzy Ravena, and Miren Padilla launched Pink Salon by Barbie, the world’s first Barbie-licensed salon. They did so to take advantage of the strong market franchise of a doll created by Mattel in 1969—a product that had become a very popular gift item for little girls

Aside from pampering services, the Pink Salon provides mothers and daughters a venue for bonding.


all over the world. Pink Salon, located at the Fun Ranch Mall at the Frontera Verde complex in Pasig City, is owned and operated by Toy Barn Inc., which has six partners including Butler, Ravena, and Padilla. Besides Pink Salon, Toy Barn also owns a namesake toy store company that’s also located at Fun Ranch—which, of course, explains why the Pink Salon occupies a space within Toy Barn. The Pink Salon offers for “young misses” three years old and above several pampering services, all with Barbie- and Ken-inspired names (Ken is the name of Barbie’s male partner doll). The haircuts are called Barbie Cut, Bang Trim, and Ken’s Cool Cut; and the stylings, Princess Blow Style, Diva Style, Glamour Curls, and Ken’s Funky Hairstyle. The styling packages offered are called Princess for the Day, Glamour Gal, and Diva for the Day. Pink Salon also offers services for mothers to provide them with the opportunity to bond with their young daughters. Butler and Ravena say that the idea for Pink Salon was a result of a felt need for an activity area for little girls at Fun Ranch. While there were activity areas for boys and for kids in general—space ball, jungle gym (Active Fun), a zoo (Avilon), a kiddie spa, and restaurants—there was none dedicated to small girls. So the three partners came up with the idea of setting up a salon for them—a very apt extension of the toy brand Barbie that their store was already carrying. “We thought, ‘Let’s just try it out’,” says Ravena, wife of former San Miguel Beer basketball player Bong Ravena. “It’s something that we had connections with anyway.” It took just a little over a year for Pink Salon to get off the ground because Mattel didn’t think twice about the proposed Barbie salon. “They were so positive about it,” says Ravena, now the salon’s managing partner. Toy Barn Inc. was given the license by Mattel to be the franchisee of Pink Salon in the Philippines. “We were trying to get the license for all of Asia, but they didn’t give it to us,” says Ravena. The business partners wanted to get a name salon to provide them the salon services. They therefore talked


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ealing with a major US-based licensor such as Mattel isn’t easy and requires patience, says Mozzy Ravena of Pink Salon by Barbie. “For one,” she explains, “it was a first for us. And this project was not in the US. We are in faraway Philippines. So Mattel went into every detail, and we had to send them pictures—the colors, the tiles, the chairs, the products we were going to use, the staff uniforms, everything.” The salon uses Barbie products from the Barbie cosmetics and personal care line. For products not

in the Barbie line, Pink Salon uses well-known products like L’Oreal. “And Mattel is so particular about sanitation and safety that everything used in the salon has to have their approval,” says Ravena. Mattel also had to approve the salon’s physical look. Ravena says they had to present to them their logo 20 times before it was approved. She says Mattel also had the colors of their shop’s interior changed from black and white to pastel colors so they could match those of the company’s 2008 colors that were then coming out.

to a local company, but its owner was not enthusiastic about the project, finding a lot of reasons for the idea not to work. Ultimately, they were able to arrange consultancy and training of the Pink Salon staff with Toni & Guy Manila of Essensuals, the pioneer franchisee of the UK-based Toni & Guy chain in the Philippines. Since Essensuals was a very well known brand in hairdressing, Mattel quickly agreed to the choice. Butler and Ravena say that the licenses from Mattel and Essensuals cost them seven figures in peso terms. Still, they think the investment is worth it because the response from their potential clients—daughters and mothers—has been encouraging. The business has since grown to three more outlets— one each at Westgate Alabang, at SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, and at Trinoma mall in Quezon City. Butler, who together with her husband Tony are part owners of Fun Ranch, is confident that financial returns on Pink Salon will come in good time. “We have the long term in mind,” she says. n

PINK SALON BY BARBIE Upper Ground Level, Fun Ranch Mall, Frontera Verde, Ortigas Avenue corner C-5, Pasig City Telephone: (02) 636-1320



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

Ryan Cayabyab


ith the The Music Studio’s new location, Ryan Cayabyab intends to be even more handson in the business and stay more often in the studio. “I’ve learned a lot from running the studio and from my experience in the music industry,” he says. “For example, I now see how important publicity and marketing are to this business.”

The Music Studio ‘People saw what we could do to our students and they wanted us to do it for them as well’ By Katrina Tan


Photos by At Maculangan

y 1986, Ryan Cayabyab had already achieved wide national recognition for his musical compositions that ranged from award-winning film scores and theatrical performances to popular commercial jingles and liturgical symphonies. As the next logical step in his career, he then decided to use his knowledge and skills to teach people how to make good music. “I thought of putting up a music studio where people could take lessons in the performing arts,” Cayabyab recalls. “After all, my wife Emmy and I were both music graduates of the University of the Philippines, so we were confident that we could run the music studio that we had in mind.” From teaching music at UP and from the fees he had earned from his musical compositions, Cayabyab had by then already saved enough money for starting capital. However, following his father-in-law’s advice, Cayabyab put up only P120,000 of his savings and took an P80,000-bank loan for the music studio. The Cayabyabs set up the studio at Makati Cinema Square in Makati (now a city) and simply named it The Music Studio. It was a 120 sq m room with seven practice cubicles that could accommodate a total of 30 students. The initial studio equipment consisted of seven pianos—four brand-new and the rest used— and several cassette players. Cayabyab hired a staff of three to handle administra-


The Music School is envisioned to become the country’s ‘most soughta�er music school.’

tion and recruited seven specially selected music teachers for the studio faculty. His teaching team consisted mostly of teachers he had met when he was teaching at UP. The Music Studio initially offered voice and piano lessons for children and for adults. Instead of a year-long course, however, its full course consisted of 10 sessions of 30 minutes each held once or twice a week, depending on the availability of the student and the teacher. The couple designed the courses that way so students could easily shift to other courses if they wanted to. To the couple’s disappointment, however, The Music Studio didn’t get a single enrollee when it opened its doors in October 1986. Recalls Cayabyab: “We did the usual advertising—handing out fliers and telling

all of our friends about the studio—but for almost a month, there was nothing.” In the weeks that followed, only a few students enrolled. The turning point for the studio came when two singing ensembles that it had trained, the 14K and Smokey Mountain, became hugely popular among the Filipino public. Composed of Cayabyab’s students 14 years old and below, the 14K was to launch the successful singing careers of such TV and stage personalities as Jolina Magdangal and Ten-Ten Muñoz. Smokey Mountain became well-known for songs that focused on social, environmental, and patriotic themes.


Cayabyab is very clear about what he hopes to accomplish: “My vision is to elevate it to the most soughtafter music school in the country, and I aim to produce happy, confident musical performers. You see, one of the Philippines’ greatest natural resources is its talented performers. I believe we should work to develop that.”

“A lot of kids who saw those two groups perform wanted to be like them,” says Cayabyab. “So without really intending to, the studio got a lot of publicity from them. People saw what we could do to our students and they wanted us to do it for them as well.” Business began to pick up at The Music Studio after that, with enrollments peaking to as many as 700 students during summer breaks. But by 2003, during its 17th year, the school began experiencing enrolment slumps. Cayabyab attributes them to the fact that the building on which the studio stood had become rundown and with scarcer and scarcer parking spaces around it. This was why Cayabyab decided to close it down in early 2005 and relocated it to its present site at Robinsons Galleria along Ortigas Avenue in Quezon City in December 2006. Says Cayabyab about the new studio: “At 229 sq m, it’s almost two times bigger than our old one, so we are able to offer more artistic and exciting programs and accommodate more students. In fact, we have already added violin, guitar, and drum lessons; music theory; Musikgarten for children from age three to seven; dance classes; and body-mind classes.” n

RYAN CAYABYAB THE MUSIC STUDIO Park Avenue, Robinsons Galleria, Ortigas Avenue cor. Edsa, Quezon City Telephones: (02) 637-9840, (02) 914-5055, • Mobile: 0917-9096484 Website:



Melissa Floirendo and partners


‘Our goal was to update the look and image of the brand’ By Katrina Tan Photos by At Maculangan


ne of the few select homegrown labels that have withstood the changing tides of Filipino fashion is Regatta, a clothing line that began in 1989 as a pet project of two leading Manila socialites, Mia Borromeo and Lizzie Zobel. Its wide selection of high-end casual resort wear for men, women, and children was launched when the first Regatta store opened at Greenbelt 1 in Makati (now a city) that same year, quickly becoming one of the most popular clothing brands in its class. 14 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

The brand’s market performance made a strong impression on five Filipina students who had met in Boston, Massachusetts, while studying there for their Master’s degrees. They became good friends and when they individually moved back to the Philippines between 2000 and 2003, they decided to look for a good investment together. “The owners of Regatta offered to sell us the company,” recalls Melissa Floirendo, now Regatta’s managing director. “We saw its strong branding and potential for growth, so we decided to take the opportunity

and bought the company in 2003.” Floirendo has since been taking care of the business, while her four friends, who had chosen to be silent partners, sit in the company board. After formally purchasing the company, the group hired designers Maja Olivares-Co and Hannah Olivares-Navato of Sonia Santiago-Olivares & Associates to renovate Regatta’s flagship Glorietta branch, then commissioned another young Regatta’s designer, Tippi Ocampo, to create main claim their colorful summer collection. to fame is “Our goal was to update the look its emphasis and image of the brand as well as on versatile increase awareness and sales,” says designs and quality Floirendo. “We invested in PR and fabrics. in a launch event, hired key people, updated Regatta’s business processes, and automated key areas.” The reinvigorated brand was welcomed by the public. “The reception of loyal and new customers was extremely positive, particularly during summer and Christmas, which are our peak seasons,” she says. Floirendo says that Regatta’s main claim to fame is its emphasis on versatile designs and quality fabrics. “We’ve kept up Regatta’s tradition of casual style, keeping the clothes versatile enough for working at the office, shopping, partying, or lounging,” she says. “We use natural fabrics as much as possible and make it a point to infuse stylish details into must-have essentials. Our bestsellers are the honeycomb shirt for men and women, the striped tops with ruffles, the crust white shirts, the rayon dresses, and the logo tees.”


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


egatta’s basic way of doing business is still pretty much the same as it was from the start. The company remains focused on its original target market—males and females from ages 20 to 40 in the A, B, and C classes, and children. “When we bought the company in 2003, we were very lucky to have inherited a good group of people, both in the head office and in the stores,” says Melissa Floirendo. “We have about 20 employees, which is pretty much the same as when

we first started. This made the transition from the previous owners to our group very smooth, and although we systematized several of the business processes, we also learned a lot from them.” Floirendo says that the Regatta team makes it a point to always listen to their customers and to go the extra mile to make them happy. “We take pride in our good customer service, and our customers always remind us to keep up the good service and our versatile product offerings,” she says.

The brand uses fabrics that are either sourced from local suppliers or ordered from abroad. Floirendo and her team then develop the designs and have the clothes manufactured locally. This streamlined process guarantees that new shipments arrive at the store every week. The new owners of Regatta have since moved their original store from Greenbelt 1 to Greenbelt 3 and, because of the increasing demand for Regatta’s apparel and accessories, they have already begun expanding the business through franchising. Their five-year franchise fee for a Regatta store is P500,000, renewable for five years. The total initial investment will range from P2 million to P3 million pesos, with a projected payback period of two to three years. In May of 2007, Regatta opened its first franchise store at Ayala’s TriNoma Mall at North EDSA in Quezon City, then followed by the second in June at the Ayala Center in Cebu City. n

REGATTA 1F Glorietta 3, Ayala Center, Makati City, Metro Manila • Telephone: (02) 894-3769 E-mail:



Josie Go


‘We pride ourselves in being trendsetters’ By Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua


Photos by Ocs Alvarez

ithout coming up with a business plan or even a marketing study, Josie Go put up her first store in 1980. She merely followed the suggestion of her mother, who said she might as well make something useful out of her passion for clothes and shopping. Go figured there was no harm in trying. “Rent was cheap, and I wasn’t busy with anything else anyway,” she recalls. So, Go opened the first Karimadon shop on 40 sq m of space at the Virra Mall in Greenhills, San Juan. However, she initially did not sell clothes as her mother advised; she sold PX goods like candy and snacks instead. It was much later that she decided to sell ladies’ blouses, first sourcing them from a local supplier, then eventually importing them. “If you buy from local suppliers, your selections are limited,” she explains. “But if you source from abroad, you will have many styles and designs to choose from.” It was while running the first Karimadon shop that Go finally found her calling—to be a seller of unique, exclusive, and original clothing at affordable prices. In time, she became one of the first garment retailers in the country to buy, make, and sell her own clothes, a move that was to make Karimadon one of the longeststaying apparel brands in the Philippine market. “We pride ourselves in being trendsetters,” she says. “If there’s a current style that’s ‘in’, chances are we had already been selling that style since as early as the year before.” Go is proud that the typical Karimadon customer


is a long-time customer, one who first enters the store when she is 18, looking for prom dresses. Between that time and until she is 40, she will keep coming back for her various casual and formal wear needs. Today, Karimadon has a total of 16 branches in the major Metro Manila malls. Each of them enjoys brisk sales, whether located at high-end Glorietta or in a mass-based SM outlet. Three of the branches are owned by franchisees, but Go emphasizes that she had not aggressively sought them out. “They were the ones who came to me and were so persistent to get the franchise,” she says.

Karimadon has been successful because it plays to its strengths, and has not overextended itself.

Karimadon has been run as a family business ever since it was established, with Go and her daughter personally designing the clothes and buying the materials for making them. “We go on buying trips once every quarter, and we come out with new designs two or three times a month,” she says. Go says that Karimadon has been successful in the business because it plays on its strengths—women’s apparel exclusively—and has not overextended itself by tapping other markets such as men’s or children’s wear. “We are putting all of our efforts on our core product line to make sure we stay competitive,”


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


he secret of Karimadon’s longevity is twofold,” says its owner, Josie Go. “The first is the quality and style of our clothes. Our customers know that anytime they come to Karimadon, they will find something affordable that will flatter their body, no matter the shape.” Indeed, Go is so meticulous about how her line of clothing will fit the customer that she has actually retained specific people to represent the different body sizes— small, medium, large, and extra-large. All new designs of Karimadon must fit these people perfectly before they can be approved for delivery to the stores. “Secondly,” she says, “since we have been in business for a long time now, the Karimadon name has developed its own cachet among buyers, something that makes them truly proud to wear something from Karimadon.”

A quick look at the end credits of primetime soap operas on local channels will prove her point: many of the female stars in these shows are actually dressed up by Karimadon.

KARIMADON G/F SM Megamall A , Mandaluyong City Telephone: (02) 637-3078 • E-mail:



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

Mildred Gococo


firm believer in the handson approach to business, Mildred Gococo makes it a point to visit her Boy Busog outlets regularly. “You must make sure that the business follows a system,” she says. “Being hands-on also means knowing your employees by heart. They are your most valuable assets, and it’s important to get feedback from them because they are the

Boy Busog

‘Once you start something, you have to finish it’ By Icy Luzano


Photos by Jervy Santiago

hen Mildred Gococo took her involuntary retirement in 2006 as regional manager of the multinational Avery Dennison, she took it as an opportunity to become her own boss. She decided to put up a business of her own: a snack food chain specializing in shawarma, the Middle Eastern sandwich-style meat dish that has become popular in the Philippines. Gococo enlisted her children’s help in setting up the business. Her son Wilbert did the research and the rest of her children came up with the name for the business: Boy Busog, a name that immediately brings to mind satisfying and filling snacks. Gococo put up P700,000 from her retirement pay as initial capital, using the funds to pay for the equipment, rentals, initial food inventory, and operating expenses. Then, in July 2006, she opened her first Boy Busog shawarma outlet at the Bonifacio Plaza in Divisoria, Manila, in front of the Tutuban Shopping Center. “Getting into this business was a real challenge,” she says. “But I told myself that if in my former company I could handle all of three countries at the same time—namely Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines—I shouldn’t have any difficulty at all running this one.” But things didn’t run smoothly at first. During the first few months of the business, sales were so lean that


Even if business could entail enormous risks, MIDRED GOCOCO says that the returns from it are far greater than those from being employed.

she was forced to look for ways not to lay off her employees, like letting them work part-time with friends who were also in the food business. It was only after three months that the business started to pick up. Sales grew to a point that Gococo was able to open a second outlet in Tutuban that same year, one measuring 6 sq m. It was slightly bigger than the first one, which had an area of only 4 sq m, so she decided to do most of the food preparation and cooking there for both of the outlets. With both outlets doing well, Boy Busog quickly developed a sizable base of loyal customers. This

performance was further boosted by robust sales during the 2006 Christmas season, enabling the business to already break even after operating for less than a year. The Boy Busog outlets offer shawarma sandwiches and shawarma rice toppings. They are the only ones offering the food item among all the to-go snack food chains at the Bonifacio Plaza in Tutuban. “You have to understand the market to do well in this business,”


ones in the frontlines.” The hands-on approach has also allowed Gococo to cut down on her costs—she marinades and prepares the shawarma and its garlic sauce by herself, using proprietary recipes. To develop the recipes, she came up with three shawarma samples first and asked different sets of people to taste-test them. From the feedback she got, she created her distinct shawarma recipe.

Gococo says. “Ang market dito kailangan iba at nakakabusog. [The market here wants filling meals that’s different].” Today, Gococo now also supplies shawarma to a food stall in Greenhills, San Juan City, and to a canteen at the St. Stephen School in Manila. She currently has a staff of ten helping her run the business. There has been no looking back for Gococo ever since. Just when she was just starting up Boy Busog, in fact, she received an offer to work again in the corporate world but she promptly turned it down. She says that her decision was in keeping with what her father, a Chinese businessman, had taught her: “Once you start something, you have to finish it. You don’t just leave it hanging.” Gococo acknowledges that running your own business entails enormous risks, but she says that the returns from it are far greater than what you would get from being employed. And in her case, she says, a big plus is the satisfaction of being able to take control and call the shots and being able to spend more time with her family. n

BOY BUSOG QUICK MEALS CORP. Bonifacio Plaza, Manila Mobile: 0922-8913133 • E-mail:



Joby Linsangan

Orange Blush salon

‘A no-borrowing philosophy became my mantra in growing Orange Blush’ By Mishell M. Malabaguio


Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso

n June 2003, when she picked up the month’s issue of ENTREPRENEUR Magazine, little did former medical technologist Joby A. Linsangan know that her career would take such a sharp turn. Upon reading the JOBY magazine, she realized that what LINSANGAN’s she had wanted all along was to first become an entrepreneur. With entrepreneurial that self-discovery, she began to venture— read self-help books and magazines Orange about starting a business. Blush—came Barely four months later, an op- knocking at her door. portunity for her to get into business knocked at her door: a friend of hers asked her if she would be interested in buying a salon along del Pilar St. in Cabanatuan City that someone was about to close down. Linsangan enjoys being pampered in a salon, so she didn’t think twice about the opportunity. She decided to buy the salon and to run it as her first entre20 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

preneurial venture. Using her savings from her employment as a medical technologist and school instructor, Linsangan bought the salon for P15,000. She spent another P15,000 to have it renovated, using the color orange— her favorite color—to give it a chic and youthful image. And as a final touch, she gave the salon a new name: Orange Blush. Linsangan retained the salon’s employees but since she did not know how to run the salon herself, she entrusted its day-to-day management to her friend and to

its previous owner. In the meantime, she took up training courses in salon management and attended seminars on the latest salon industry trends. As a hedge in the event that Orange Blush did not do well, however, she held on to her two sources of income as a medical technologist. But just when Linsangan thought that the business was well on its way to becoming a great success, all of the Orange Blush hairstylists quit, having been pirated by another salon. She took this totally unexpected setback in stride, however, quickly hiring new stylists who were younger than the previous ones and more willing to be trained and supervised. Linsangan recalls that restaffing the salon was actually the very first time that she felt she was in control of the business. The experience also convinced her that success in the salon business depended not so much on the stylists but on management strategy. In mid-2004, she opened a branch of Orange Blush on Mabini St. in Cabanatuan and quit her employment as a medical technologist to become a full-time entrepreneur. “I used


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


he salon or beauty business is probably one of the toughest fields to break into. This is because it relies so much on its clientele’s personal satisfaction and on excellent word-ofmouth. That’s where aggressive promotion kicks in. In the case of Joby Linsangan, she extensively promoted Orange Blush on

radio and in the local newspaper, gave out flyers, worked out tie-ups with schools, and sponsored school events, contests, and concerts. These efforts paid off, initially generating for Orange Blush high foot-traffic of as many as 30 to 40 clients a day. It also enabled her to recover her initial investment in the business after only six months of operation.

the profits from the first salon to put up the branch,“ she says. “In fact, I never loaned or borrowed capital either for all of the other branches that I opened after that. This no-borrowing philosophy became my mantra in growing Orange Blush.” Orange Blush was able to hold its own against the giant salons and the smaller community salons in the locality by catering to an overlooked niche market— young people and students who have their baon (allowance) to spend for grooming. “I decided to go after the middle-income group, not too masa but not too classy or formal either,” Linsangan says. “My goal was to make Orange Blush a community salon that’s decent and inviting to the young crowd.” By pursuing this strategy, all of the Orange Blush salons are doing well, with each branch averaging 100 clients a day, 60 percent of whom are regular clients. Today, Orange Blush has five salons in Cabanatuan City and a sixth at Sta. Rosa, each with a distinct target market. Its salons near university and school campuses cater to the students, while the one at the NE Pacific Mall along the national highway caters to mall goers. n

ORANGE BLUSH SALON Sotto Bldg., del Pilar St., Cabanatuan City Telephone: (044) 464-4114 • E-mail:



Catherine Lopez-Uy

A Different Bookstore

‘We intend to continue selling only good literature in our store, even if we have to give up on some of our profits’ By Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua


Photos by Ocs Alvarez

ou can tell after spending just five minutes inside one of its branches that A Different Bookstore—as the name says—is truly different from other bookstores. It’s smaller than the usual bookstore with its average floor size of 70 sq m, but it has that ambience every booklover dreams of: cozy, intimate, and personalized. What makes the shop even more distinctive is that it carries mostly unfamiliar titles one won’t find in other bookstores. Upon closer scrutiny, many of them turn out to be award-winning and thought-provoking books. But the biggest surprise of all is that in no other bookstore can you find staff that are so knowledgeable about the books they are selling. Now on its 14th year, A Different Bookstore has grown at a controlled, leisurely pace to just four branches within Metro Manila. “We’ve lasted this long because we have deliberately chosen not to compete with the bigger bookstores,” says its owner, Catherine Lopez-Uy. “In terms of size, we don’t aim to be a Barnes & Noble [the largest book retailer in the United States]. We prefer to stay independent and intimate—that’s our niche.” The shop is the brainchild of Lopez-Uy’s mother Cristina, an avid bibliophile who would fill her luggage


“It was difficult for my Mom in the beginning because in 1994, the Internet was still in its infancy and wasn’t commercially available yet,” Lopez-Uy recalls. “It was therefore such a tough job to send orders to the publishers abroad, not to mention doing research on the titles.” A book-lover herself, Lopez-Uy remembers that she and her siblings grew up surrounded by tomes. “Since we weren’t allowed to watch TV during school days, we always looked forward to reading books for relaxation,” she says. In 2002, seeing that her mother was getting tired from running the bookstore, Lopez-Uy quit her job as finance manager at Benpres Holdings and took over. During the next five years, she grew the business from two to seven branches, although she eventually had to close down two of them. Besides its Glorietta main store, A Different Bookstore now has a branch each at Eastwood City in Libis, in Greenhills, and in Serendra at The Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City. As an operational change, Lopez-Uy made it mandatory for all stores’ staff to submit book reports, requiring them to read two books a month— one their choice, the other hers or her mother’s. “We didn’t set strict guidelines on how they would do their book reports,” Lopez-Uy explains. “They could write in Filipino, and they could either relate the book to their personal lives or in relation to current events.” This approach, she says, worked like a charm both for the staff and the shop. “And it still does,” she says. “Making the staff themselves read the books we sell really builds their self-confidence, and a lot of them have actually made the books they had read the bestselling titles in the store.” The impact of a book-savvy sales staff really shows in their sales, Lopez-Uy says. For instance, the Seren-

A Di�erent Bookstore has stayed small ‘because we have deliberately chosen not to compete with the bigger bookstores,’ says CATHERINE LOPEZ-UY.

with books every time she came back to the Philippines from trips abroad. Together with some business partners, she put up the shop’s first branch in 1994 at Ayala’s Glorietta in Makati City. Her idea was to sell mostly titles that were not readily available in the country.


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ltogether, the


five outlets

or on The New York

of A Different

Times bestseller lists in

Bookstore carry over

choosing titles it would

15,000 titles across

carry. The Lopezes

all genres. Compared

themselves make the

to other retailers that

choices based on their

have orders delivered

personal tastes and

by ship, the company’s

evaluation. For instance,

books arrive by airfreight from the

since both mother

United States and the

and daughter were

United Kingdom.

staunchly against the

“Our delivery

US-led invasion of Iraq,

arrangement is more

they have refused to

expensive, but the

carry books about or

advantage is that we get

written by supporters

the books way ahead

of the war. On the other

of the others,” says

hand, as advocates

Catherine Lopez-Uy.

of environmental

One other mark of

protection, they make

its independence is

it a point for the store

that the shop doesn’t

to carry lots of titles on

rely on publishers’

the subject.

dra branch has a hit rate of 80 percent—four out of every five customers who enter the store end up purchasing a book. The shop’s highly personalized book selection approach does upset some customers. Those who discover that books by their favorite authors are not available simply take their business elsewhere. But Lopez-Uy is not fazed by such losses. “My mom began this bookstore with the mission of providing good literature to as many people as we can,” she says. “For this reason, we intend to continue selling only good literature in our store, even if we have to give up on some of our profits.” n

ASIAN BOOKS INC. G/F Glorrietta 3, Ayala Center, Ayala Avenue, Makati City Telephone: (02) 813-8722; (02) 758-2243 • Fax: (02) 813-8722



Shaina Magdayao Ystilo Salon

‘We are all girls in the family, so we obviously all go to the salon’ By Marie Anne Fajardo Photos by Walter Villa


haina Magdayao entered show business as a child star but like her elder sister and fellow film-and-stage performer Vina Morales, she has been an astute investor as well, investing her earnings in businesses of her own. Among these businesses are a franchised outlet of the family-owned Ystilo Salon at Berkeley Square in Tandang Sora in Quezon City and a 20-door residential apartment, also in Quezon City. When she was just 6, Magdayao played the title role in the hit TV show Lyra, then went on in 1999 to star in another hit TV show, Marinella. This made her a full-fledged child star with a very substantial income, but she is one celebrity who had not simply rested on her success. Indeed, while juggling her

SHAINA MAGDAYAO: ‘The salon business is one of the most stable businesses around.’

movie and TV schedules and finishing senior high school through the home-study program of Angelicum College, she has also kept herself busy learning the ropes of her businesses. Whenever she is free, she hangs around either at her Ystilo salon or at the Ystilo corporate office, finding time to attend to her businesses even as she wraps up her various movie commitments. “I know that in the Ystilo salon, my savings are being put to good use,” Magdayao says. “We went into the salon business knowing that it’s one the most stable businesses around. This is because going to a salon is an emotional outlet for many Filipinos. It helps them combat stress.” The Ystilo franchising operation began in August 24 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

1999 as a single Spanish-style salon in Fairview, Quezon City, put up by her sisters Vina Morales and Sheila Magdayao and a brother-in-law, Federico Moreno. The first outlet in Fairview was established by the partners with P800,000 in starting capital. In eight years, the salon grew to a total of 32 outlets nationwide, 12 of them company-owned and the rest run by franchisees. Magdayao, who got for herself the Ystilo franchise at Tandang Sora in August 2004, says that going into the salon business seemed so natural for her and sisters. She explains: “We are all girls in the family, so we obviously all go to the salon.” Federico Moreno says it helps that Vina is both a partner and an endorser of the salon, and he thinks it has been a wise move for Shaina to get into business early. “She really knows how to invest her money,” he says. “And like all of our franchisees, she had to go through the same extensive training, from the financial aspect to operations and marketing.” Lately, Magdayao has been endorsing nail art, the latest in the services being offered by Ystilo in all its salons. “In other countries, people are more adventurous with their nails,” she says. “When we introduced nail art in Ystilo, Filipinos were then also beginning to be more experimental, and our regular clients were the first to try the service.” As to her apartment business, Magdayao recalls that she was hesitant at first to invest about P2 million in it. What eventually made her change her mind was that her sister Vina had been doing well with her own 12-door apartment complex. Now Magdayao’s own apartment business is providing her with a regular fixed income. “It was scary at first, but now, I’m thinking of expanding, maybe by going into another apartment business,” she says. n


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ere’s how Shaina Magdayao sums up her business philosophy: “I’m excited to handle more responsibilities and also to be a good example to young kids. There are many child stars today and I think they should learn to put their money to good use by either saving it or investing it.” “I know that my show biz career won’t go on forever,” Shaina says, “so I have decided to study, get myself oriented in the business, maybe take a business-related course in college, and still manage to balance

everything.” She is, in fact, learning not just to handle her earnings and to take care of her investments. As a regular of the ABS-CBN TV show ASAP, she has also been honing herself to become an all-around performer with the help of her mother. “I’m willing to learn, and given the opportunity, why not?” she says. “In my sister Vina’s case, she was a singer first before she ventured into acting; in my case, I was into acting first, but now I’m learning to also sing and dance.”

YSTILO SALON Corporate O�ce, Unit B, Gil Preciosa Bldg. 2, 75 Timog Avenue, Bgy. South Triangle, Quezon City Telephones: (02) 927-7508 to 09; (02) 927-7532 • Website:



Ping Medina PenPen

‘When you don’t have an acting assignment, you don’t earn anything at all’ By Rhea Claire Madarang


Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso

n actor in TV soap operas and independent films, Ping Medina no longer just entertains film audiences these days but now also performs an entirely different role offscreen: a reallife restaurateur. Medina, who is in his 20s, recently partnered with his mother, Victoria Chupungco-Medina, in running PenPen, a restaurant that serves home-cooked dishes in the Tomas Morato Avenue area in Quezon City. The restaurant was named by the family after his father, veteran actor Pen Medina. The young Medina says he is happy with acting but wants a more stable source of income. He played a supporting role in the independent film Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros) and frequently does supporting roles for TV dramas on both ABS-CBN and GMA 7. “Mabilis ang pera sa line of work ko, pero pag wala kang work, wala ka nang ibang source of income [Money comes fast in my line of work, but when you don’t have an acting assignment, you don’t earn anything at all],” he explains. 26 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

When he thought of going into business, he remembered that his mother had put up a restaurant the year before on Tomas Morato; it was one that catered mainly to the lunch crowd. He then realized that he didn’t have to look far to find a business, he decided to partner with his mother in running that restaurant. Medina took charge of PenPen’s redecoration, menu expansion, and marketing. He furnished it with new chairs and tables to better suit the restaurant’s

casual look and feel, and he bought a large industrial stove for its kitchen. Altogether, mother and son shelled out about P100,000 in the improvements. The menu of the refurbished restaurant reflects Medina’s taste in food: “Mahilig ako sa simple lang pero m a s a r a p . ’ Yu n g pag kinakain mo, gumaganda talaga ang pakiramdam mo. Comfort food talaga [I’m fond PING MEDINA: of simple but delicious food, During his first month in food that makes you feel good business, he when you eat them—real comdid the work of fort food].” cook, waiter, and For this reason, Medina busboy in turns added the tagline “Comfort to find out exactly Food Araw-Araw [Everyday]” what it takes to to the restaurant’s signage, and do the job right. proceeded to expand the menu to include what he describes as Filipino home-style cooking “with a twist.” During his first month in the business, he did the work of cook, waiter, and busboy in turns to find out exactly what it takes to do the job right. By running the business on a day-to-day basis, he says, he was also able to identify which systems were effective and which were not. He then proceeded to promote the restaurant through online postings on blogs and on Web forums, eventually getting PenPen Restaurant featured in shows on QTV and Jack TV. Owing to that exposure, the restaurant experienced a very substantial increase in patronage after only a month. Medina admits that at first, he found it difficult to handle this sudden surge of customers. Service slowed down and the restaurant ran out of stock. He recalls: “Hindi kami prepared. Hindi namin inex-


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ach month, PenPen Restaurant sponsors one nonprofit cause-oriented organization with a donation of 10 percent of the restaurant’s profits. Ping Medina puts the organization’s merchandise on display in the restaurant to

generate both sales and publicity for it. “The bigger the profits, the bigger our donations,” he says. Medina envisions PenPen expanding into five branches or more so he can make even bigger contributions to nonprofit, cause-oriented organizations.

pect na ganoon kadami ang magiging customers [We weren’t prepared. We didn’t expect such a big volume of customers].” That incident was a major learning experience for him: when you advertise, he says, be prepared to keep up with the demand. So he decided after that to add one waiter-busboy to his team of two cooks, one cooking assistant, and two waiter-busboys. Despite such hitches, Medina finds running his restaurant business fulfilling. He explains: “The self-fulfillment is different when your very own vision and concept is liked by other people. Even if you have selfdoubts and others also have doubts about it, you just go ahead in your belief that it will work—and it did work in my case.” n

PENPEN: COMFORT FOOD ARAW-ARAW 105-C Scout Castor St. corner Tomas Morato Ave., South Triangle, Quezon City Telephone: (02) 411-4157



Cesar Montano

Bellissimo Ristorante

gredients. Keeping the Filipino palate in mind, however, they made certain adjustments to give the food a Pinoy twist. “Almost everything on the menu I can cook myself,” Montano says, “and I have the knack for knowing when food lacks this or that ingredient. Alam ko kung anong sobra at anong kulang.” He says that except for its name, which he admits initially sounded to him like that of a beauty salon, Bellissimo is “almost entirely Cesar Montano.” He designed the interiors of the restaurant himself, making

sure that it exudes both the comforts of home and the feel of an authentic Italian restaurant. Bellissimo is managed by Montano’s eldest daughter Angela, and her husband, Christopher Canlas. But as in a movie production, Montano says, it is important for a restaurant owner to be hands-on in running the business. This is why in between his show business commitments, he drops by the restaurant almost every day and personally attends to the guests. Montano credits the warm reception customers have given Bellissimo to his being a popular show-business

‘A restaurant’s success still boils down to whether the food is good or bad’ By Icy Luzano


Photo by Jun Pinzon

hen he was still a child, Cesar Montano had envisioned putting up a bakery of his own. At that time, he would often stay up till the wee hours of the morning watching pan de sal being made by the bakers in a neighboring panaderia (bakery). The process so fascinated him that he swore to have one like that bakery some day. Today, he has fulfilled that dream, but what he has put up is something much bigger than that bakery: Bellissimo Ristorante, a P3-million restaurant on Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City. The restaurant offers authentic Italian dishes—from pizza to pasta to the finest in wines. It serves food good for two for prices that start at P200 up, and takes pride in using mostly imported ingredients, particularly the best cheeses from Italy. The inspiration for Bellissimo—an Italian word that means “very beautiful”—came from Montano’s restaurant-hopping during visits to Italy as well as from his love for everything that comes naturally. Indeed, it’s no accident that he opened the restaurant on the 7th day of the 7th month of 2007. Montano and his chef, Sherwin de la Peña, put together the menu for Bellissimo. They did it the way it’s done in Italy, making use of only the freshest of raw in28 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

n a c u Yo o do this,t o


n display in Bellissimo Ristorante is Cesar Montano’s personal collection of books about Italy as well as his personal selection of bread and wine. On the ground floor, black-and-white still photographs of the Italian Mafia taken from The Godfather movie series provide accent to the brick walls and the wooden chairs and tables. The second floor, which Montano calls an “artists’ haven,” puts on exhibit his paintings and those

of his friends. A table at the corner of the smoking area—he calls it the “Tarantino Room”— bears the signature of Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino, one of the many celebritycustomers who have dined at the restaurant. Acoustic bands perform regularly at Bellissimo, and on some occasions, Montano himself takes time out to jam with the musicians and serenade the guests. “The ambiance of this restaurant isn’t stiff,” he says. “It’s casual. You don’t have to dress up to come here.”

personality. It has made it much easier for him to whet their curiosity and get them to try the restaurant. “The real challenge, however, is getting them to come back,” he says. “Ultimately, a restaurant’s success still boils down to whether your food is good or bad.” In any case, beginner’s luck seems to have been working well for Montano. The restaurant has been doing quite well. “But we’re still a young restaurant,” he says. “That makes us more willing to experiment and to discover new things. I don’t think of the money part right now. Instead, I am always thinking of quality and how to improve it every time. Hindi ko bibitawan ito [I won’t let go of this].” Montano admits that being an entrepreneur is one of the most challenging roles he has taken on by far. And how has the experience been? “Bellissimo!” he answers. n The actor designed the interiors of the restaurant himself, making sure it exudes the feel of an authentic Italian restaurant.


BELLISSIMO RISTORANTE Units E & F, 105 Scout Castor St. corner Tomas Morato Ave., Quezon City Telephones: (02) 376-5746; (02) 414-0247; (02) 411-8335



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

Happy Ongpauco and Allana Montelibano


The Boutique

This seven-room boutique hotel has distinguished itself for its highly personalized services.

‘A series of traveling experiences inspired us to put up The Boutique’ By Francis Menor


Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso

hen close friends Happy Ongpauco and Allana Montelibano thought of putting up a bedand-breakfast hotel in Tagaytay City in 2006, they clearly had in mind the type of guests they wanted: people whose needs were precisely the same as theirs. Recalls Ongpauco: “Our thinking was, ‘Okay, if we were the clients ourselves, how do we want to be treated?’ We then came up with our own individual ideas of what makes a hotel a unique place to stay, then agreed on those that should become features of our hotel.” The pooling of their ideas resulted in The Boutique, a seven-room hotel that has made itself remarkably distinct from other hotels along the scenic Tagaytay strip because of its highly personalized service offerings. The hotel provides guests staying overnight with their own choice of pillows and pampering products like soap and scents. All of the hotel’s bedrooms, aside from being equipped with iPod-ready speakers and docks, are pro-


vided with wireless Internet access. And they are also equipped with LCD television sets and DVD players, for which the hotel has an extensive DVD library of movies that guests can view during their stay. “What differentiates us from the usual hotels is our more intimate, more personalized amenities,” says Montelibano. “Unlike them, we have not provided for gyms, swimming pools, ballrooms, and function rooms. After all, when you simply want to relax on a weekend, you don’t really need all of those things. You just want to unwind.” The Boutique faces the Taal Lake side of the cool, mountaintop city of Tagaytay, just a few meters past the downtown rotunda. It is located right in the middle of the commercial district, surrounded by a wide range of restaurants and hangouts for tourists. Ongpauco and her partners started construction of this ho-

tel in May 2006 and opened it for occupancy in October or less than six months later. In compliance with a city ordinance, most of the hotel’s staff of 30 come from Tagaytay itself, but the partners employ a chemist from Manila on an in-house basis to make the fragrances that had been especially formulated for use by The Boutique’s clientele. The two majority owners of The Boutique are businesswomen with affluent family backgrounds. Ongpauco comes from the entrepreneurial family that owns the Barrio Fiesta chain of restaurants, while Montelibano belongs to the once politically active Lopez clan in the Visayas. However, each of them has set out and made a mark on her own. Ongpauco had put up and runs the Bento Box food business, a casual-restaurant chain, a bar, and a catering business, and Montelibano helps manage the family-owned University of Iloilo. The two have two other business partners in The Boutique, Melon Santiago and Sweet Cañete, both of whom are close friends who have been their regular traveling companions during their various trips abroad. “It was actually a series of traveling experiences that inspired us to put up The Boutique,” Ongpau-


he Boutique was actually just a typical bedand-breakfast when it opened, but the partners have come up with more and more personalized services after that. Today, the hotel even grants its guests such extraordinary requests as having their beds sprinkled with roses, having a birthday cake delivered to them at midnight, or serving them dinner by candlelight. “We deal with so many different personalities who

demand a personalized touch,” says Happy Ongpauco. “Very often, in fact, our clients want to deal with us directly, not through our manager. Normally in the hotel business, the owners aren’t really in the forefront. The managers are supposed to do that. In our case, however, we have ended up doing things ourselves. That’s why in this business, it’s important to love what you’re doing—and the good thing is that we really enjoy what we’re doing.”

co says. “During our foreign trips, we would normally choose a hotel for its uniqueness. We didn’t want to stay in the usual five-star hotels.” The Boutique has become a fairly successful venture after only two years in operation. The partners say that even without putting up any paid advertising and by relying mostly on word of mouth and on their network of personal contacts, the hotel has been able to generate a sizable clientele. “We felt that we had become a success when the people coming in were already those outside our circle of friends,” says Ongpauco. “Even during the lean months, in fact, people kept coming in.” Buoyed by their new hotel’s promising performance, Ongpauco and Montelibano are now thinking of putting up a branch in Boracay and possibly also in Bohol, Cebu, and even Baguio. “Our goal is to be able to open one branch each year,” says Ongpauco. n

THE BOUTIQUE BED & BREAKFAST 45 Aguinaldo Highway, Silang Crossing East, Tagaytay City Telephones: (046) 413-1798; (046) 413-1885 • E-mail: Website:



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

Gingerie Red


lthough being a franchisee has its benefits, Gingerie Red admits it has its disadvantages, too. Her profit margin is slim because she has to pay royalties to the franchiser, she says, and she couldn’t increase the tuition because the franchiser imposes a price cap on it. “But Kumon has well-developed learning materials and its franchiser will also teach you how to manage the business,” she says. “And, of course, the

Kumon Learning Center

‘Given my math background, I thought I chould operate a Kumon Center of my own’ By Joel Adriano and Prima Gracia Sarmiento


Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso

fter living in the United States for 13 years, Gingerie Red came back to the Philippines in late 1998 and wanted to put up a business of her own. Having never been an entrepreneur, however, she didn’t know what venture to go into. She had worked for six years with the administrative staff at the University of California at Los Angeles, where she obtained her B.S. in Mathematics in 1997, but had no work experience other than that. Red had to leave the US with her parents because they decided to spend their retirement years back home. And once they were settled in their hometown in Cavite, Gingerie did not look for outside employment, helping out in the family-owned catering business instead. A few months later, she partnered with two friends to put up a computer shop. But that business folded up after just a few months because her partners decided to pursue other plans. She then decided to look for a regular job and got employed by a German consumer products company. It was while working with that company that she first heard of the Kumon Learning Center franchise. The mention of “Kumon” reminded her of the children of a cousin back in the US who had enrolled in a Kumon Center there. “I remembered being so impressed with the math skills of those kids, so I thought that given my math background, perhaps I should operate a Kumon Center of my own,” she recalls.


Kumon Learning Center is a global franchise that offers after-school supplemental education based on the principles of the Kumon Method. Kumon is a unique approach to teaching mathematics, developed in 1954 by Toru Kumon, a Japanese high school math teacher. Red so liked the teaching concept—strong on math and reading skills—that she went to the Kumon Philippines’ headquarters in Makati City and applied for a franchise. Several interviews later, she got the franchise and quit her job at the German firm to put up her Kumon center. Her total initial investment in Kumon came up to P200,000—the total cost of the franchise and business registration fees, the purchase of books and fixtures, and the salaries of her staff. In December of 2001, Red opened her Kumon Center in Kawit, Cavite. It charged a course fee of about P1,460 a month for each student,

plus a one-time fee of P340 for registration. At the start, it had only two teachers and four enrollees, mostly children of her relatives. They had two to three learning sessions each week, each session lasting 30 minutes to an hour. To promote her center, Red gave out free trial-study coupons and visited schools in Kawit to interest students and their parents in the Kumon method. But what proved most effective in spreading the word about the center was word of mouth. Most of the parents of the center’s pupils, delighted by their children’s big improvement in their reading and math skills, recommended Kumon heartily to their friends and acquaintances.

franchise fee of only P11,000 during that time—it was 2001—was cheap.” Still, Red says she’s quite happy as a Kumon franchisee, given her fondness for mathematics and for being with children. She is also gratified that she has a business that gives her a respectable living and allows her to do what she loves most. “By running a Kumon center, in fact, I discovered that teaching is my vocation,” she says.

By running a Kumon franchise, GINGERIE RED discovered her teaching vocation


Red recovered her investment in the business less than a year after the center opened. Today, the course fee is P1,800, aside from a P500 registration fee. Her Kumon center’s teaching force has grown to six and its enrolment to 160 students a month, 60 percent of whom are preschoolers taking lessons in reading and comprehension. ■

KUMON LEARNING CENTER 2/F Heritage Building, 122 Kaingin St., Kawit, Cavite Telephone: (046) 4847345 • Mobile: 0927-4103088 • Website:




tarting as a devoted beauty-product user, TV-movie actress Gladys Reyes has metamorphosed into a very enterprising beauty-product dealer. At first, because of her extremely sensitive skin, the sly, spiteful villainess of what used to be the highly popular Philippine TV shows Mara Clara and Bakekang was just someone very picky with skin-care preparations. She happens to have a particularly fair and smooth complexion, but she would rather use kalamansi (Philippine lemon) in natural form than skin-care products laden with chemicals. “My skin, particularly my face, is so sensitive that it immediately breaks out every time I use a wrong product,” she says. But sometime in September of 2005, Reyes received an offer she couldn’t refuse: be the commercial endorser of KSA Magic, a new line of all-natural, chemical-

Gladys Reyes KSA Magic

‘I had always wanted to be engaged in something more stable’ By Katrina Tan Photos byAt Maculangan 34 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

free beauty products. A maternal aunt of hers, professional chemist Elizabeth Perez de Tagle, had started producing KSA Magic in 2005 and wanted to give the line of products a public face. “I had great faith in my tita’s [aunt’s] products because they really worked for me,” she says about her decision. At the time, she was pregnant with her first

son, Gian-Christophe, and like all mothers-to-be, she had developed stretch marks on her body as well as some skin pigmentation. However, when she used KSA Magic skin whitening soap and its other specially formulated creams, her skin quickly returned to its natural radiant state. So remarkable were the effects of her skin-care regimen that her friends and co-workers wanted to try the products themselves and started ordering. “I began bringing them bagsful of KSA Magic products— whitening and placenta soaps, exfoliating gels, and facial products,” she recalls. ”The demand was so great that in one week, I’d sell no less than a box—that’s 100 bars—of KSA Magic soap alone.” It was at that point when Reyes, in show business for almost 20 years, decided to become a KSA Magic dealer. “In addition to being an actress, I had always wanted to be Her engaged in somehands-on thing more staapproach ble,“ she says. ”I and had actually conpresence sidered opening at the a restaurant bestore fore, but it required literally such a huge investbrings in the crowd. ment that I backed out.” She chose KSA because aside from virtually having no overhead cost, the business required only a few thousand pesos worth of inventory. “Another thing is that KSA products are very sellable,” she says. “They are for people from all walks of life—people who can’t afford expensive beauty products but desirous of taking good care of their skin.” In October last year, Reyes opened her first KSA Magic retail outlet at the Metropolis Star mall in Alabang, Muntinlupa City. “I was very hands-on in putting up that retail outlet,” she says. “I made it a point


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


V-movie actress Gladys Reyes admits that her income as a performer comes much more easily than that from the KSA Magic venture, but she says that her dealership business is much more stable and regular. “Although running the dealership isn’t easy, it’s something I enjoy doing because it allows me to meet many different

people,” she adds. Her celebrity helps a lot in the business: “Most people have the impression that I’m just an endorser of KSA Magic products, so it greatly surprises them to see me in the store actually doing the selling. And when they find out that I’m the store owner myself on top of being a regular user of the products, many of them are disarmed and actually buy.”

to go the barangay office myself to get the necessary clearances. I personally submitted and followed up my application to be a mall tenant and oversaw the store’s construction myself.” She recalls that at first, she and her husband Christopher Roxas, who is also an actor, didn’t know anything about store operations. “For this reason,” she says, “we decided to go hands-on in the business. Whenever we’re not doing taping for our shows, we would run the store ourselves. He would do the cashiering and I would handle the sales talk.” True enough, this approach appears to be a major factor in the success of her dealership. Her TV plugs for the products as well as her show-business clout have been a big plus, of course, but it is her personal presence in the store that literally brings in the crowd. The KSA Magic line has expanded greatly since then. It now has an ongoing consignment contract with the Watson’s chain of beauty stores, and is now also being sold at SM Supermarkets, Mercury Drug, and 7-Eleven. n

KSA MAGIC Metropolis Star–Alabang, South Superhighway, Muntinlupa City Telephones: (02) 655-3110; (02) 645-5680 E-mail: • Website:


TOP WOMEN & CELEBRITIES In 1998, SQL Wizard became the first company in the Philippines to become an Oracle Certified Solution Partner. “The certification means that we had met the Oracle’s standards in terms of product expertise and the quality of support services,” Salonga explains. SQL went public in 2001, listing 20 percent of its shares of stock on the small and medium enterprises board (SME Board) of the Philippine Stock Exchange. It was the very first company to be listed on the SME Board, and its stock price tripled from P1.75 to P5.50 within the first week of listing. “My partners and I saw our IPO [initial public offering] as a good way of getting additional capital,” Salonga explains. SQL Wizard is widely recognized today for its expertise in the use of Oracle’s development tools. The company now has over 300 clients nationwide across such industries as transportation, energy, wholesale and retail, education, insurance, and telecommunications, and it continues to enjoy the repeat business of many of its oldest and long-standing clients. The company focuses on database solutions or services. Its flagship product is DBA 911, a unique proactive system that it launched in 2003. “When clients avail of our DBA 911 service, they are assured that we will constantly be in touch to monitor their databases,” Salonga explains. Salonga took over the helm of SQL Wizard in 2004 as its managing director. Her original partners still sit as members of the board, but they have relinquished their line functions in SQL Wizard after taking active roles in other companies. She emphasizes that SQL Wizard promotes strategic partnerships with clients in contrast to the oneoff service, which is the industry norm. “We decided to provide an alternative method to doing business,” she says. Salonga sees further growth for SQL Wizard in the next several years and hopes to develop a foreign market for its services. “There is room for more technopreneurs in the Philippines, and there are still so many areas in IT that remain untapped,” she says. n

Dina Salonga SQL Wizard

‘There are still so many areas in IT that remain untapped’ By Jaclyn Lutanco Chua


Photos by Ocs Alvarez

he never expected to become an entrepreneur, but even at a very early age, Dina Salonga was already engaged in small moneymaking ventures such as selling cold drinks in summer. Even when she was already grown up and had a regular job, she would sell snacks to her officemates. Eventually, she also went into the buying and selling of various goods sourced from Divisoria. “From the proceeds of that last business, in fact, I was able to buy my first car,” she recalls. In 1991, Salonga became the very first locally hired employee of Oracle Philippines, the local subsidiary of the US-based software company. After five-and-a-half years with the company, she was invited by her friends and business associates to partner with them in a new information technology venture. “I accepted the invitation because the business conditions in the country were good at the time,” she says. “This was before the Asian financial crisis, and in my case, after being an employee for 17 years, I felt that having my own business was the next logical step to take.” The company she joined was SQL Wizard Inc., an IT partnership with the primary business of providing training, systems applications, and consulting services to Oracle customers in the Philippines. Its service offerings were something that the multinational IT company, which was primarily engaged in the selling of e-business products and solutions, could not commit resources for and provide. Oracle thus needed partner companies like SQL Wizard to provide many of the technical support services required by its clients. 36 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

DINA SALONGA: SQL Wizard promotes strategic partnerships with clients, ‘an alternative method to doing business.’


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


eing a pioneer entails facing challenges with no apparent ready solutions. With a young sta� of mostly new graduates, SQL Wizard has sailed through all such challenges to become one of the top business partners of Oracle Philippines. As managing director, Dina Salonga treats the sta� as her wards rather than as her employees. “I’m like the mother hen to

them,” she says. Indeed, SQL Wizard employees get at least 10 days of training every year, both in technical skills as well as in so� skills such as business writing. And for seven years now, the company has been running the Wizard Volunteers Project, a year-long fundraising activity whose proceeds go to the Yaman Lahi Foundation, a private science and research foundation.

SQL WIZARD INC. 6/F 88 Corporate Center • Sedeño corner Valero Sts. Salcedo Village, Makati • Telephone: (02) 889-6999 • Fax: (02) 889-6989 • Website:



Annabel Santos Wisniewski Museum Café ‘My mission now is to give back to the people who have helped us grow’ By Elaine Ruzul S. Ramos


Photo by Ocs Alvarez

o stranger to entrepreneurship, Annabel Santos-Wisniewski comes from a family that set up what was to become one of Manila’s most famous restaurants. Today, she owns and runs two thriving companies that manage an impressive number of upscale food establishments and hotelchain restaurants in the Philippines. “It’s genetics—it’s in the blood,” says Annabel of her being a food-service entrepreneur and manager. Now the president of two companies, Raintree Partners and HSAI Raintree Hospitality Management, she recalls that the Santos family had always been keenly entrepreneurial. Way back in the 1940s, she says, her grandparents and her father were engaged in selling coffee packed in brown bags. Her mother, Honorata, now in her 90s, founded the highly successful Bungalow Restaurant in Malate, Manila, over 50 years ago. It was at about this time that Annabel went to the United States for her college studies. She took up a hotel administration at Cornell University in New York, becoming the very first Filipina to graduate from Cornell. For her bachelor’s degree, she did a feasibility study for a Polynesian restaurant that formed the basis for Luau Restaurant, a fine-dining establishment that the Santoses later put up along Roxas Boulevard in Manila.


ANNABEL SANTOS WISNIEWSKI: It’s not enough to be passionate about a business; one also has to learn to run it e�ectively.

Annabel ran Luau for one-and-a-half years. When she turned 23, however, she was bitten by the wanderlust and went back to the US to take graduate studies at Cornell. There, she met a man who was to become her future husband, Thomas Wisniewski, and learned as much as possible about the upscale restaurant business by working for the Waldorf Astoria in New York and the Kahala Hilton in Hawaii. In the 1970s, she came back to the Philippines to rejoin the family business. By then the Santoses had already branched out into the cafeteria-corporate food business, servicing as many as 28 companies that included such heavyweights as PLDT and IBM. But the Wisniewskis, who already had a growing family by then, later decided to settle in the US to raise their children there. They put up a partnership, ATW Enterprises, to manage two boutique hotels, the original Orchard Hotel in downtown San Francisco and Casa Madrona in Sausalito, overlooking the San Francisco Bay. In 1995, however, Singapore-based Ascott Holdings, the general managers of the Oakwood Residences, invited Annabel back to the Philippines, appointing her country manager and vice president for their local operations. After two years, Annabel decided to go on her own. She put up Raintree Partners to provide independent consulting work for such upscale clients as the Four Seasons Hotel and Shangri-La Hotel. Keen on establishing a stronger presence and better cash flow, Annabel not long after also decided to go into operations. She formed another partnership, HSAI Raintree Hospitality Management, to operate luxury hotels under management contracts with the owners of Discovery Suites. Raintree was later contracted by the Kuok Group to develop a food court for its Enterprise Center building in Makati City. In July of 1999, the Wisniewskis opened FoodParks there as the first salvo of FoodParks by Raintree, a new food-service enterprise they had formed the year before. FoodParks also created its own food outlets, Lola’s Kitch-


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ere’s what the Wisniewskis advise entrepreneurs who intend to go into of the restaurant and hospitality management business: Go into a business that you know. It’s not enough to be simply passionate about a business; one also has to learn to run it effectively. “Going through the learning curve minimizes the risks,” says Annabel. Stay focused. The Wisniewskis will only go into hospitality

management-related ventures where they have the expertise. Invest wisely. Annabel says it doesn’t hurt to diversify and reinvent a business. This way, when one business isn’t doing well, another will be able to support it. Analyze all the risk factors. Restaurants are high-risk businesses. Andrej Wisniewski says eight out of 10 restaurants close down within a year of its opening, and still another closes down in the next three years.

en and New York Café, as well as operated its own full-service restaurants in the place.To oversee the FoodParks business, the Wisniewskis tapped their son Andrej. Today, FoodParks also manages Food Odyssey at the LKG Tower, Food & Art Galerie at GT Tower, and Food Patio at PBCom Tower, all in Makati. For the high-end market, FoodParks owns and operates Museum Café in Makati and three other fullsize restaurants—Verbena in Tagaytay, Restaurant 5 at Discovery Suites, and Chelsea Deli at the Serendra Mall at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City. Annabel, now in her early 60s, doesn’t intend to stop. “More than just the business, my mission now is to give back to the people who have helped us grow,” she says. “We want to make the Philippines a better place by offering decent jobs with decent pay. Our strongest motivation in staying profitable is to generate more jobs.” n

Raintree Partners 6/F Salustiana Ty Tower, 104 Paseo de Roxas, Makati City Telephone: (02) 752-5678



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

Claude Tayag Bale Dutung

‘Claude’9 is simply an offshoot of my passion for food’ By Louise M. Francisco


Photos byAt Maculangan

multifaceted artist, Claudio “Claude” Tayag strives for excellence in anything he creates: a painting, a sculpture, a piece of writing, a cooking recipe, even a business venture. Five years ago, Tayag, 51, son of the late writer Renato “Katoks” Tayag, discovered that he could also write. This happened when he was asked by a newspaper editor one day to put his thoughts in writing.

The artist CLAUDE TAYAG is also a celebrated chef, and so his artistry has given birth to a growing business: bottled specialty food.

He did so and before long, he was writing a weekly newspaper column. He then proceeded to write a book, Food Tour, where he put together his most memorable dining experiences in the Philippines, in Asia, and in other

parts of the world. All this didn’t really come as a surprise because Tayag also happens to be a natural cook, and over the 40 ENTREPRENEUR 2008


years has even made himself a celebrated chef. Growing up in Angeles City in Pampanga at a time when it was uncommon for men to cook, he had learned the cooking art by simply observing his mother do it. He then became an avid food hobbyist and eventually put up a specialty restaurant in Angeles City to serve fine Kapampangan cuisine. The restaurant, which he named Bale Dutung (which is Kapampangan for “wooden house”), doesn’t accept walk-in guests. It sets a minimum of 12 guests and requires a reservation to be made two days in advance. This restriction is in keeping with Tayag’s desire not to turn his restaurant into a business that would totally tie him down. But what truly makes Bale Dutung unique is that it showcases not only Tayag’s cooking talent but also his artistry in building design and sculpture. Using the camalig—the Spanish term for “warehouse”—as inspiration, he had built the quaint but impressive structure literally from scrap materials. Now, Tayag has also become a serious entrepreneur. He is engaged in a growing business that he considers simply as an extension of his artistry: bot2008 ENTREPRENEUR 41

& CELEBRITIES TOP TOPWOMEN WOMEN & CELEBRITIES tled specialty food. His company, Bale Dutung Enterprises, produces various native food sauces and seasonings under the Claude’9 brand, among them balo-balo (fermented rice with shrimps), purong taba ng talangka (pure crab fat), and pesto. “Claude’9 is simply an offshoot of my passion for food,” Tayag says. “When ‘Darleng’ [his wife Mary Ann] and I started this business in 2000, we actually just wanted to satisfy the cravings of our family members and friends. They became our ‘guinea pigs’, so to speak.” As a product market test of sorts, the Tayag couple would prepare and serve various kinds of cuisine to family members and friends during special occasions at their residence. The couple would then carefully take note which of the food were enjoyed by the diners the most, and which were most frequently taken home by them. In time, Tayag’s wife came up with a list of their favorites and eventually thought of selling them in bottled form. “One December, we prepared a large batch of the bottled products and gave them away as Christmas presents,” Tayag recalls. “After that, simply through word of mouth, many people came to know about the products and started asking us about them. We therefore decided to make a trial delivery of a dozen bottles of Claude’9 to the Bon Appetit store at Rustan’s, whose manager was our friend.” Tayag then applied his artistry in designing the bottles for Claude’9. For stronger customer appeal, he put a picture of homemade foodstuffs on the packaging and featured lutong bahay (home-cooked) recipes on the bottle labels. The products are now carried by several other major supermarkets besides Rustan’s, but continue to be homemade at the Tayag residence in Pampanga. With the increasing demand for the product, the Tayags now plan to put up a processing plant for it outside their home. In the near term, they intend to further develop the niche market for Claude’9 in the country and to establish the brand in the United States as an original and artistically Filipino-made product. n


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


hen Claude Tayag was presented the opportunity to establish a niche market for his bottled Claude’9 products, he had no idea of the complicated processes he had to go through to get the job done. To begin with, he found out that every food product to be sold commercially must comply with the strict regulations of the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD). He recalls: “I didn’t have

n a c u Yo o do this,t o

the patience to deal with those requirements of the BFAD, so it was Mary Ann who did all the necessary filings.” They then hired a food technologist and created a food lab to comply with BFAD regulations. “You see, I can cook but I can’t bake,” explains Claude. “I am the salt-and-pepper-totaste type and can’t follow instructions, so somebody else has to prepare the exact quantity of the needed ingredients for me.”

BALE DUTUNG ENTERPRISES Paul Avenue, Villa Gloria Subdivision, Angeles City, Pampanga Telephone: (045) 888-5163 • Mobile: 0917-5355163 • E-mail:






erhaps nothing is as innately intertwined with entrepreneurship as innovation. Since the dawn of history, businesses would boom when they came out with an exciting new product or service—then go bust when they ran out of fresh ideas to deal with the competition. Indeed, even before the late Peter Drucker put the two terms together to form the title of his landmark book Innovation and Entrepreneurship, smart businesspeople all over the world already knew how to take advantage of the best ideas, create a whole new market around them, and use them to drive their companies to the top. As Michael Vance, longtime idea- and people-development executive of the Walt Disney Co., says, “Innovation is the creation of the new or the re-arranging of the old in a new way.” He speaks from experience: the legendary Disney imagination helped a small


animation studio grow to become the secondlargest media and entertainment conglomerate in the world. (Called the “dean of creative thinking” and a noted inspirational speaker, Vance also popularized the phrase “thinking out of the box.”) This very same element—entrepreneurial imagination—has propelled the 35 enterprising people in the following pages to business success. From a band leader who wanted to teach pop music, to a man obsessed with kettlepopped corn, and on to a mother-and-daughter team that sought to give more book choices to bookworms like themselves, each of these entrepreneurs found their niche, reached out to serve their target markets, and prospered. But no matter how much they had tweaked an existing idea or how original their concepts might have been, these innovators kept themselves always on the lookout for ways to stay ahead of the curve once their enterprises were up and running. It’s no wonder that many companies these days emphasize one particular mantra for all their employees to live by: innovate, or die.


n a c u Yo o do this,t o

Butch Albarracin


Center for Pop Music

‘We all have the potential to be better than what we are’ By Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua


Photos by Ocs Alvarez

his insight struck Butch Albarracin way back in 1984: Filipinos love to sing and many even become very good at it, but the problem is that they are too shy to perform onstage. So, he asked himself, why not put up a music school that can give them training in voice and stage performance? With his background as a bandleader, Albarracin thought that he should put up that school even if he had no formal education in music. He wanted to concentrate on pop singing as a niche market. At the time, so many music schools were focusing on classical music but hardly any on pop singing. He recalls: “There were so few pop singing teachers, and they were mostly of the type that goes to the student’s house and teaches their students one-on-one.” So he established the Center for Pop Music as the country’s first and only pop music school. It had only 30 enrollees that summer of 1984, certainly a pittance compared to its current enrolment today, 24 years later: 4,000 in its 18 branches all over Metro Manila. From giving only pop singing lessons, the center has since expanded its course offerings to dance workshops, musical instrument workshops, and onstage hosting. It had also launched “Steps and Fashion,” a modeling workshop for people between the ages of 7 to 24. During the lean months (enrolment hits its peak in summer and significantly goes down thereafter), the center offers events organization services to augment its income.


fer the same dedication that I give to the center,” he explains. To this day, Albarracin doesn’t have a competitor—at least none that can match his music school in terms of size and diversity of curriculum. “The closest competitor I can think of has only one school,” he says. The Center for Pop Music curriculum is an interesting mix of conventional voice training and unorthodox exposure program. Explains Albarracin: “Towards the end of their course, I take my students out on a field trip to mall shows, even to strangers’ birthday parties at fast-food restaurants. I ask them to perform during those events as part of their onthe-job training.” The Center has also come up with a scholarship program called IPS (“In Partner Scholarship”), which it offers to big companies as employers. “If you are a CEO and you think your secretary has the potential to be a good singer,” he explains, “we will subsidize half

BUTCH ALBARRACIN: ‘What we o�er is a teaching service, and it’s hard to find someone who can o�er the same dedication that I give to the center.’

To further expand the center’s market reach, Albarracin thought of holding extension classes in the provinces, establishing tieups with selected schools. Franchising the Center for Pop Music would have been easier and more lucrative, but Albarracin is extremely hesitant to take that route. “What we offer is a teaching service, and it’s hard to find someone who can of-


utch Albarracin runs The Center for Pop Music with the same hands-on passion he had given it when he started it 24 years ago. Besides personally selecting and hiring his voice coaches, he also trains the center’s 200-plus staff by himself. The center’s major staff training programs are the biannual “Coaches’ University” for the voice coaches, and the biannual “Frontliners’ University” for the sales staff. Every week, Albarracin gathers the entire head office staff for a get-together,

during which they do Bible studies or attend informal seminars on topics that range from good English grammar to the Bible to chapters from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life. Albarracin is generous with staff incentives. He gives cash rewards for various meritorious achievements, from meeting sales targets to having a perfect attendance for the whole year—plus a yearend “Presidential Award” cash incentive “to people who do things for the center above and beyond the call of duty.”

of her tuition. You just take care of the other half.” The Center has now a four-floor head office and, among other amenities, houses a fully equipped concert theater. At the same time, Albarracin is exploring plans to set up a similar pop music center abroad in communities where Filipinos are the majority. He is also thinking of opening a “pop college” that would offer a degree in pop music in the same way that, say, the University of Santo Tomas’s Conservatory of Music offers a degree in classical music. “Coaching is my ministry,” the deeply religious Albarracin says. “We all have the potential to be better than what we are, and I believe it’s my God-given task to hone that potential.” n

CENTER FOR POP MUSIC PHILIPPINES 12 Don A. Roces Ave., Quezon City • Telephones: (02) 444-7022; (02) 727-5293; (02) 411-7310 E-mail: cpmpheado�



Casa San Pablo does not have ‘five-star’ amenities, but its average occupancy is an impressive 80 percent—‘full’ by industry standards.

Boots Alcantara Casa San Pablo

‘You have to be driven by the passion to make people fall in love with your hometown’ By Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua Photo by Ocs Alvarez 6 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION


oots Alcantara was sure he would someday be his own boss even while he was still an employee. “I felt that for the same effort I was putting into my office work, I could earn so much more as an entrepreneur,” he reasons. Way back in college, in fact, he would buy slippers and sell them to dorm mates at three or four times the price he had paid for them—“a ridiculously easy way to make money,” he says. When it was lanzones harvest time in San Pablo City, Laguna, his hometown, he would fill up his car trunk with the fruit and sell them to highway fruit stands on his way to Manila. For a brief time, too, he sold family computers as a sideline while working as an assistant brand manager for a food manufacturing company.

“I made so much more from buying and selling than from the salary I was getting as an employee,” he says. “It was a no-brainer: I wanted to be an entrepreneur.” Alcantara found a major opportunity to become one in the family’s seven-hectare ancestral compound in San Pablo, which for years had served as private rest grounds for the family and relatives. He saw that its lush scenery and rustic trappings had the potential of becoming a tourist destination. He then immediately worked to realize this vision by putting up a bed-andbreakfast inn at the place, formally opening it as Casa San Pablo in 1996. Initially, Casa San Pablo only had enough rooms for 20 people, but as word got around and visitors increased, Alcantara decided to build more rooms. Currently, the place could accommodate up to 130 guests, and from the original bed-and-breakfast, it now offers overnight accommodations with three buffet meals. It now also takes in day trips, half-day or evening-only events, like seminars, weddings, and product launchings. Casa San Pablo’s charm—and success—lies in its versatility as well as in its personalized services. On weekdays, it caters to corporate clients doing seminars or teambuilding sessions; and on weekends, to families and barkadas (groups of friends) having an outing. Alcantara says 35 percent of Casa San Pablo’s clients are repeat customers. “Typically, they are those who come to our place for a corporate event, and they often enjoy themselves so much that many of them later come back with their families in tow.” And whether the guests are there for a corporate function or for a vacation, he makes sure he is present to personally entertain them. He and his mother, Vinya, interact with the guests, often eating with them (with food cooked in the family kitchen) and sometimes even serving as their tour organizers. Long-time family helpers of the Alcantaras comprise the inn’s staff, with Alcantara calling on extra help from around San Pablo only when the need arises. Despite the ever-increasing demand for bookings


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


oots Alcantara of Casa San Pablo strongly believes that there is a lot of potential for the country’s tourism entrepreneurs today. “More and more Filipinos are eager to get to know our country and to explore off-the-beaten-path destinations like ours.” However, he advises people who want

to become tourism entrepreneurs to love the town or province they are in and truly immerse themselves in its culture. “You have to be driven by the passion to make people fall in love with your hometown and your country,” he says. “After all, it is this passion that people are attracted to and want to support through tourism.”

at Casa San Pablo, Alcantara is hesitant to expand too much, too fast. “Our wide, open space is our selling point,” he explains. “We want to maintain an atmosphere where guests can truly relax and recharge.” So, for now, he just wants to focus on building up his daytrip and wedding clientele. Casa San Pablo doesn’t provide its guests with free toiletries, and its scaffolding-style double-deck beds can be taken apart or put together depending on the number of occupants of the room. It’s definitely no five-star digs, but its average occupancy is an impressive 80 percent, which by industry standards is considered “full.” Alcantara is a member of Viaje del Sol, a strategic alliance of the various arts and tourism destinations stretching from Laguna to Quezon. “Rather than compete with each other, we have banded together to present ourselves as joint destinations,” he says. “We tell our guests that through Viaje del Sol, they would have a much wider range of experiences to choose from. I would say that a big part of our growth has been achieved because we chose to link arms and support one another rather than compete.” n

CASA SAN PABLO Gomez Compound, Barangay San Roque, San Pablo City • Mobile: 0917-8126687; 0920-9624083 E-mail: • Website:



Angeli Beltran -Lambsdorff Sugarnot

‘There are so many diabetics in this country, but there’s a lack of diabetic-friendly options’ By Katrina Tan


Photos by Walter Villa

Ihen Filipinos with a sweet tooth discover they have diabetes, they used to say goodbye forever to their craving for sweets. Not anymore. With Sugarnot, a revolutionary new restaurant, diabetics now have a safe and delightful way to fully enjoy their favorite treats. A bakeshop, coffee shop, and deli all rolled into one, Sugarnot has developed a wide menu of lowcarbohydrate, low-fat, and totally sugar-free items— from cakes and cookies to light meals, soups, and sandwiches. Sugarnot is the brainchild of Eli Beltran, a dessert-loving architect who was diagnosed with diabetes in 2002. Frustrated by the limited number of locally available food choices, Beltran began to search for satisfactory alternatives from the Internet and from cookbooks. Says Beltran’s daughter, Angeli Beltran-Lambsdorff: “There are so many diabetics in this country, but there’s a lack of diabetic-friendly options. My father and I saw this, so we decided to start a line of sugar-free baked goods. But instead of just having a sugar-free section on the menu, as most eating plac8 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION

es do, we wanted all of our dishes to be healthful and sugar-free.” The Beltrans didn’t have to start from scratch. The family used to have a bakeshop, Hansel and Gretel, from 1980 to 1986, and Beltran-Lambsdorff’s advertising background was a great help in the design and marketing of Sugarnot. Her husband Wolf Lambsdorff, the current CEO of Sugarnot, brought in operational know-how from his former job as operations head of the Padi’s Point chain of bar-restaurants. To be absolutely certain about the nutritional con-

tent of their sugar-free food offerings, the Lambsdorffs consulted with a diabetologist and a nutritionist and had all the items in the menu analyzed by SGS Laboratories. They also checked with suppliers what ingredients would best suit particular recipes, then conducted the necessary taste tests. At the same time, they began developing the Sugarnot brand in 2003. They commissioned Indio Dentsu Communication, the advertising agency where Beltran-Lambsdorff works, to create the Sugarnot logo and corporate identity. The result was the wholesome yet fun, modern look of the restaurant. The investment capital for Sugarnot came from the Beltran family and their local partners as well as from international investors. The funds went to purchasing restaurant equipment and constructing the Sugarnot commissary and its restaurant outlets. Two years of research and preparation later, Sugarnot opened its commissary and first branch along South Superhighway in Makati City in November 2005. The shop, initially run by Two years of four employees, carried about 10 research and items that included cakes, cookpreparation ies, and muffins. preceded the opening of this sugar-free restaurant.

n a c u Yo o do this,t o


espite Sugarnot being a familyrun business, its management team makes it a point to keep everything professional. Angeli Beltran-Lambsdorff says they spent a lot of time planning, drafted formal business and financial plans, and established well-defined areas of responsibility and guidelines. Also, none of the partners have signing privileges in Sugarnot restaurants; they must pay for whatever they order. Sugarnot decided not to use the most common sugar

substitutes available in the market. Instead, it went for isomalt, a derivative of beets imported from Germany. Also, its kitchens use only olive oil for baked goods and don’t fry any of its dishes.

Beltran-Lambsdorff says that Sugarnot’s success was partly due to its perfect timing. The no-carb diet trend was at its peak, driving to Sugarnot’s doors many diabetics, health buffs, and people who just wanted to eat well. For this reason, she says, she makes sure all Sugarnot employees are knowledgeable about sugarfree products, and can satisfactorily answer any customer concern. Each of Sugarnot’s two branches—one at The Podium and the other at SM Megamall—serves up to a hundred customers a day, with nearly half of the patrons also purchasing items for take-out. Sugarnot recently opened its restaurants for franchising, offering five-year franchises for either kiosks to full stores. n


SUGARNOT 5/F SM Megamall, Mandaluyong City • Telephones: (02) 637-2706; (02) 889-3427 Fax: (02) 889-4573 • E-mail: • Website:



n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ersonalization is at the heart of the Viktor Jeans franchise. If you want to follow in Ino Caluza’s footsteps, here are three important things to remember: Learn to sew, and buy a sewing machine. If you are not so creatively inclined, taking dressmaking lessons might help. Learn what the customer wants, and follow it. Caluza proudly points out that each pair of

Viktor jeans targets people who value exclusivity and individual expression. Every pair is customized and cra�ed down to the smallest detail.

Ino Caluza Viktor Jeans

‘It’s a love affair between the client and the product’ By Rafael Santos


Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso

all, almost hawkish in appearance, clothing designer Ino Caluza is as outspoken as the clothes he creates. He is the brains behind the upscale clothing store Viktor, an outlet that offers edgy designs tailored for the affluent market. He speaks his mind with the conviction of a grizzled drill instructor, especially when talking about the mystique that his brand has steadily built over the last couple of years. “Viktor is much more than a pair of jeans,” he


says. “It’s a love affair between the client and the product.” He talks while perched on a designer chair, gesturing with one hand while deftly using the other to get a client’s body dimensions with a tape measure. But catering to other people’s clothing needs was the last thing on Caluza’s mind when he started making Viktor jeans in 2005. He simply got so addicted to wearing designer jeans, buying as many as two to three pairs a month. After amassing a closetful of jeans, however, he realized that he was spending unrealistically on them. “I came to the conclusion that to feed my addiction to designer jeans, I had to make them myself according to my own specifications,” he recalls. “So I decided to learn how to sew and later bought my own sewing machine. The business just grew from there.” What started simply as a jeans junkie’s pitch two years ago is now a much-sought-after designer brand. The edgy style of Viktor jeans has attracted a cult following among the well-heeled. Indeed, to meet the growing demand for Viktor jeans, Caluza had since put up a three-story factory in Antipolo City that manufactures his made-to-order jeans.

“The factory and my outlets at The Podium in Ortigas Center and at Trinoma in Quezon City are rather huge investments, but I am glad that I made them because they have cut down costs for me and they have enabled me to expand my label,” he says. Viktor jeans targets people who value exclusivity and individual expression. Every pair is customized and crafted down to the smallest detail desired by the customer, from the trim to the hue all the way to the stitching that dots each pair. There is a limited production run for each style of jeans, and each pair is provided with a stitched number code. Such degree of exclusivity comes with a hefty price tag: a pair of Viktor jeans sells from a low of P4,000 to a high of P7,000 depending on the style and the customer’s specifications. “People are willing to spend money to be unique,” says Caluza, “so I give each pair of Viktor jeans the


Viktor Jeans is crafted according to the client’s desires, down to the smallest detail. He even puts a serial number on each to emphasize its exclusivity. Locate your shop in a place that’s accessible to your target clientele. The Viktor Jeans outlets in upscale shopping malls, for instance, are meant to attract the “Class A” buyer who is more likely to be able to afford a pair of personalized jeans.

personalized touch. I only make jeans that I myself would want to wear, and this for me is the most important thing. So if a client wants a pair that I think isn’t appropriate for him, I suggest alternatives in a good-humored way.” Caluza says his brand is not for everybody, and he admits that he cannot compete with RTWs because he just couldn’t bear the thought of mass-producing his jeans. Despite these self-imposed limitations, however, he says that business has been surprisingly good. “The market’s reception of Viktor jeans year has been great,” he says. “This is why I plan to roll out new products that target the youth market, and I am also thinking of diversifying into more product lines.” As his company grows, he intends to keep up the tradition of innovation started by Viktor jeans. “It’s not enough to have good products,” he says. “To avoid floundering in this kind of business, you must keep on improving them.” n

INO CALUZA Viktor Denim Republic • Address: 4/F The Podium 18 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center, Pasig City Telephone: (02) 631-6440 • Blogspot:



Ian Carandang, Tony Bondoc and Vito Lazatin Sebastian’s Ice Cream Studio ‘The key is providing quality products at competitive prices’ By Marie Anne Fajardo


Photos by Jun Pinzon

lthough ice cream is considered a favorite dessert of Filipinos, bulk ice cream sales by the big multinational companies and large food and beverage corporations have actually been dropping in the last few years. This is because the big ice-cream makers have to import 99 percent of their dairy requirements, making the business highly vulnerable to foreign currency fluctuations. This, in turn, has made it difficult for them to price their ice cream more competitively. This explains why lower-cost ice cream makers— most of whom are local companies—now enjoy a 70 percent market share compared to only 30 percent a few years back. Among the novelty ice cream makers making good in this changing market is Sebastian’s Ice Cream Studio, a business that started simply as a hob-


by for young restaurateur Ian Carandang. Inspired by the success of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand in the United States, Carandang started experimenting with various ice cream flavors in 2000 and offered them as desserts at his Hotstix Barbecue restaurant in Quezon City. Five years later, in 2005, radio and television host Vito Lazatin and his friend Tony Bondoc, both in their 30s, partnered with Carandang to expand his ice cream business. They called their company Sebastian’s Ice Cream Studio. Each of the partners invested P30,000 in the company, using funds pooled from their savings and from

loans they had obtained from relatives. They then began supplying fine-dining restaurants with their ice cream. At the same time, they started developing ice cream flavors to be supplied exclusively to particular restaurants. The ice cream operations of the partners worked well, allowing them to expand and put up their very own ice cream kiosk at the Alabang Town Center in Muntinlupa City in May 2006. They located their kiosk in the cinema area of the mall, and they scheduled its opening to coincide with the opening of the movie The Da Vinci Code in theaters. “We opened on a weekday and sold well past breakeven point without doing any promotions or grand openings,” Carandang recalls. Since then, the Sebastian’s Ice Cream Alabang kiosk has been selling a daily average of 40 to 60 scoops on weekdays and 120 scoops on weekends and holidays. The partners had generated consumer interest in their ice cream largely from positive word of mouth and through dessert blogs on the Web. “Filipinos have a sweet tooth; you don’t have to be rich to appreciate good food,” Carandang says. Since then, the partners have opened two more outlets—one at The Podium at the Ortigas Center, and the other at the SM North EDSA The Block in Quezon City. Carandang says their ideal locations are upscale malls where they can attract and serve customers who truly care about ice cream. Sebastian’s Among their bestsellers are choctargets people olate chip cookie dough, banana who truly bonanza, chocoholics anonymous, care about ice peppermint brownie, and macadacream. mia white. “We want to make the best ice cream out there,” he explains. “In fact, to give you an idea about our cost of production, we use three and a half kilos of mangoes in just one gallon of ice cream. Our ice cream is not anything simple.” Tony Bondoc, who oversees the company’s finances, attributes the five-fold growth of the assets of Sebastian’s Ice Cream Studio to the partners’ shared and firm belief in giving customers their money’s worth. n


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


he local market for ice cream is still very much open. The National Statistics Office-Family and Income Expenditure Survey says Filipinos spent P2.3 billion on ice cream alone in 1997. Another study done in 2004 put total ice cream production, including other frozen desserts, at nine million liters. These figures actually indicate a low per capita consumption of ice cream, which, according to the same

NSO survey, amounts to less than one liter per person per year. Indeed, the experience of Sebastian’s Ice Cream Studio’s founders validates the NSO survey’s conclusion that there is a large ice cream market waiting to be tapped. This should be strong enough reason for entrepreneurs to seriously explore going into the novelty ice cream business themselves.

SEBASTIAN’S ICE CREAM STUDIO Telephone: (02) 426-6935 • E-mail:



Reyvic Cerilles and Joseph Jagoring Estetico Manila

‘Pampering your clients and going the extra mile are musts in the business’ By Rafael Santos


Photos by Walter Villa

he Philippines is in an excellent position to get a big slice of the fast-growing medical tourism market because of its large pool of highly trained medical professionals. In the next five years, in fact, the Philippine government is targeting as much as $2 billion in income from medical tourism and from foreigners who have made the Philippines their retirement haven. Estetico Manila, a medium-sized clinic, is one of the medical establishments that have been benefiting from the growth of the country’s medical tourism. Put up only in 2005, it is run by two medical partners: Dr. Reyvic Cerilles, a cosmetic surgeon, and Dr. Joseph Jagoring, a dentist. Over the last two years, the partners have seen their clientele grow to 200 patients a month on the average, most of them seeking cosmetic surgery, dermatology, and cosmetic dentistry services. Of this clientele, 60 to 70 percent are foreigners and returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). The most sought-after services in Estetico Manila are rhinoplasty (nose jobs), breast enhancements, and dental implants. The clinic charges fees ranging from P60,000 to P80,000 for major surgical procedures, and as low as P1,000 for dental cleaning. The partners perform most of the simpler surgical procedures in the clinic itself, but do the more complicated surgical procedures in affiliated hospitals.


the other hand, had invested about P500,000 to purchase an operating table and equip the clinic’s operating room. The partners in Estetico Manila share the responsibility for funding and running the enterprise. When they put up their clinic, Cerilles and Jagoring and their former business partner, Dr. Erick G. Ducut, each contributed P500,000 to a pool to pay for the clinic’s design and construction and for the lease of the clinic space. Dr. Cerilles and Dr. Jagoring both say that pampering your clients and going the extra mile are musts in the business. They say that they even go to the extent of picking up their foreign clients from the airport and bringing them to their hotels—in some cases even taking them out for dinner. They do all these to ensure a high rate of return business and more referrals from satisfied clients. n

n a c u Yo o do this,t o


Targeting foreigners seeking medical treatment could be lucrative, but it is also very challenging. Entrepreneurs who want to enter this industry need to invest in world-class medical equipment, which does not come cheap. In Jagoring’s case, his dental equipment had cost him around P1 million to P2 million, payable over a period of several years. Cerilles, on

Estetico Manila has benefited from the growth of the country’s medical tourism industry. The doctors see an average of 200 patients a month.


rs. Reyvic Cerilles and Joseph Jagoring of Estetico Manila give the following suggestions to those intending to go into the medical tourism business: Define roles clearly. If the clinic is a partnership, the role of each partner must be clearly defined in writing, including specific responsibilities and size of investment. Invest in world-class medical equipment. They don’t come cheap, but they will be worth the trouble. Never

acquire inferior—and potentially dangerous– devices for the operating room. Pamper your clients. Targeting foreigners is a lucrative but challenging way to boost the business. Make sure, though, that they are satisfied and happy with your services at all times. Go the extra mile as much as possible. Do a great job all the time. This will not only boost your clinic’s chances of getting more clients but will also keep you from getting blacklisted in the medical profession.

ESTETICO MANILA Unit 501/502 Oakridge Plaza, 101 San Antonio St., Paseo de Magallanes, Makati City Telephone: (02) 854-4933 • Mobile: 0917-8104334 • Website:



Robertson Chiang Mozcom ‘The challenge for us now is to find a new role in this new world’ By Rheea S. Hermoso-Prudente Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso



hen it set up shop in August 1994 as the country’s very first commercial Internet service provider, Mosaic Communications Inc. (Mozcom) attracted a lot of customers. Being a pioneer in the field, however, the company faced formidable logistics and financial challenges, and its eventual climb to success certainly wasn’t easy. Mozcom was founded by Dr. Willy Gan and Dr. William Torres; they already had a working familiarity with the Internet long before they joined forces to put up the company. Dr. Gan owned Computer Network Systems Corp. (ComNet), a supplier of computers and network equipment, and Dr. Torres, then connected with the National Computing Commission (NCC), was the first to come up with the idea of connecting the Philippines to the Internet. ComNet, then on contract with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), had set up the Internet connection of the Philippine Network Foundation (PHnet), the country’s first Internet-based academic network that linked such major universities as Ateneo, La Salle, and the University of the Philippines. Mozcom became the commercial offshoot of that idea, and the partnership between Drs. Gan and Torres worked beautifully for the startup company. Mozcom was able to get most of its equipment on lease from ComNet. And to get the new company started, ComNet agreed to loan to The challenge Mozcom as many of its personnow for dial-up nel as needed during its first Internet service six months of operation. providers ‘is to “Getting a direct connecfind a new role in tion to the US during those this new world’ by days was incredibly expengoing higher up the value chain, says sive,” recalls Robertson ChiMozcom’s ang, Mozcom’s current chief ROBERTSON operating officer and chief CHIANG. technology officer. “And as

we got more and more subscribers, we had to keep increasing our bandwidth. So it was a never-ending cycle of upgrades. Any money that was flowing in went right out the door for the purchase of more equipment and greater bandwidth.” Indeed, the company’s initial capital of P2 million all went to network equipment purchases and to its monthly payments to the telephone company. Because the technology was so new, prices of Internet equipment and setup gear were uncommonly high. And at that time, a 64 kilobit per second (kbps) leased line from PLDT was incredibly expensive— about US$1,000 monthly (or P26,410 at the 1994 average exchange rate) compared to a P1,000-DSL connection today that transmits data 30 times faster. Mozcom’s first service offering was dialup Internet access, which it sold to subscribers at about P200 for every five hours. “Since the Internet was very new and the press provided a lot of buzz, people just kept on coming for the service,” says Chiang. “We hardly did any formal marketing.” In 1998, Mozcom established the very first international dialup roaming service for Filipinos through a partnership with iPass, a global network with thousands of dialup access worldwide. Today, Mozcom is the only service provider that’s not a telephone company with major points of presence across the country. Now that the telephone companies are offering broadband Internet, however, plain connectivity is no longer king. “The challenge for us now is to find a new role in this new world,” Chiang says. “We have to go higher up the value chain and provide more services than what the telcos can offer.” It is for this reason that Mozcom has diversified in recent years into such value-added services as biometric solutions (statistical analysis of biological observations and phenomena), network-based cameras, video conferencing, turnkey e-commerce solutions, online payment processing, and retail solutions. As the country’s largest non-telco Internet service provider today, Mozcom now also serves as mobile content (SMS) provider for two of the cellular phone companies, Globe and Smart. It has also gone into medical


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


weeping changes in the Internet industry have profoundly altered Mozcom’s target market. Before, its primary market—and the source of over half of its revenues—was home users with dialup access, but the advent of cheaper and faster DSL access has changed the picture. “The dialup market has been eroded,” explains Robertson Chiang. “The Internet market is now a mass market and the telcos are better structured to work with that market.”

Thus, Mozcom, which currently has a workforce of 80, now largely services corporate clients and small- and mediumscale enterprises that need Internet connectivity and support, and is pursuing a strong advocacy for ecommerce in the Philippines. It is doing the latter primarily through its PayEasy service, which offers hosting, payment processing, backend support, and marketing and advertising to prospective clients.

transcription services (, online music portal services (, online book sales (, online flower sales (, and online photo developing ( n

MOZCOM 6/F The Peak, 107 L.P. Leviste St., Salcedo Village Makati CityTelephone: 848-2606 Fax: 840-4434 • E-mail: • Website:



Derrick Chiongbian

thing you can eat anytime, not just when you’re watching a movie,” he explains. As a marketing clincher, he made the price of his popcorn ridiculously affordable—at that time, P60 for a big bag, and P25 for a small one. (They now sell for P70 and P30, respectively.) This was much lower than the P80 to P120 charged for the product in movie houses. The number of Holy Kettle Corn outlets had grown to 100 by mid-2008, 50 of them in Metro

Holy Kettle Corn

‘Popcorn is something you can eat anytime, not just when you’re watching a movie’

DERRICK CHIONGBIAN wanted to let people know that popcorn is a healthier alternative to chips, and avoided putting up booths beside cinemas.

By Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua


Photos by Ocs Alvarez

ost people have the longstanding notion that all popcorn tastes the same, and that they’re sold only in the concession stands of movie theaters. Holy Kettle Corn’s market entry in 2004 has not only helped dispel these twin notions but also made eating popcorn exciting again to thousands of Filipinos. In fact, over 100 Holy Kettle Corn retail booths have sprung up nationwide since then. The brand’s phenomenal success has no doubt been brought about by its many distinctive product features and its entirely different marketing and distribution approach. The product has a unique “kettle corn flavor” that hovers delightfully between sweet and salty. Hand-popped fresh every day right in the retail outlet itself, it uses only corn oil instead of vegetable oil, and it absolutely has no butter or monosodium glutamate. Unlike theater-bound popcorn, it is easily available—you can buy Holy Kettle Corn from retail booths found in malls, in train stations, even in gasoline stations. Holy Kettle Corn is the brainchild of Derrick Chiongbian, who, after first tasting kettle-popped corn in the United States, became so addicted to it that he would eat a whole bag of it every day for weeks. A serial entrepreneur who is always on the lookout for business opportunities, Chiongbian concluded 18 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION

that kettle-popped popcorn would sell well in the Philippines. Thus, in May 2004, he invited a friend, Aristotle Alipon, to be his partner in producing this popcorn for the local market. To tap the ever-increasing market of health-conscious snackers, Chiongbian positioned his product as a healthier alternative to chips. He deliberately avoided putting up his booths near cinemas, choosing instead high foot-traffic locations such as schools, gasoline stations, MRT stations, and malls. “We wanted to let people know that popcorn is some-

n a c u Yo o do this,t o



45 percent compared

Chiongbian is

to the usual 40 to

such a fan of

44 percent for good

popcorn that before he

popcorn kernels.

launched Holy Kettle

He was also able

Corn, he actually did

to find a supplier of

painstaking research

a special China-made

on the product. With

plastic-lined bag for his

what he learned, he

cooked popcorn. The

was able to close a

bag costs five times

deal with a farmer in

more than a regular

Nebraska to exclusively

popcorn bag, but

supply him with corn

keeps popcorn fresh

kernels that expand the

and crunchy for up to

most when popped—an

three days when left

expansion ratio of 42 to


Manila. In 2006, the company had supplied up to 14,000 in-flight snack packs a month to the domestic airline Asian Spirit, although the airline stopped its orders after five months to cut down on its operating costs. In October 2007, however, another airline, Air Philippines, started offering Holy Kettle Corn snack packs in selected flights. In September 2007, Chiongbian added flavored popcorn to his product line after exclusively selling only kettle-popped corn for three years. “It took us a while to do so because we didn’t want to roll out anything mediocre,” he says. He also plans to open the first overseas branch of Holy Kettle Corn sometime soon. At the moment, however, his company’s priority is to fine-tune its internal systems. “Holy Kettle Corn’s fast growth has taken us by surprise,” Chiongbian admits. “For a time, our main office had always been playing catch-up in monitoring the status and performance of our retail booths. Now we are implementing a computer system that can monitor our entire inventory not only in our warehouse but also in all our booths nationwide.” n


BLUE KETTLE CORP. 364 Apo St., Mandaluyong City • Telephones: (02) 534-6781; (02) 534-8293 E-mail:



Bayani Coching

Mercury Freight International ‘Making the business viable didn’t happen so easily’ By Marie Anne Fajardo Photos by Jun Pinzon



t had a rough start as a customs brokerage and cargo consolidator in 1987, but Mercury Freight International Inc. now ranks among the country’s top 10 logistics companies servicing Asian destinations and has become one of the top 20 most competitive companies serving global destinations. In joint venture with “K” Line Air Service Ltd. of Japan, it also runs an international freight forwarder and licensed customs brokerage company, “K” Line Air Service Philippines Inc. The founder-owner of Mercury Freight is Bayani Coching, a former bookkeeper who rose from the ranks to manage Bell Brokerage Inc., the logistics arm of the Smith Bell Group of Companies, in the 1970s and early 1980s. He recalls: “It was in Bell Brokerage that I learned about freight forwarding and cargo handling and how to run the different aspects of the business.” With the training and exposure to global logistics that the company had given him, Coching acquired the confidence to put up an international brokerage firm of his own. He believed that he could make a go of it because he had by then developed an extensive network of contacts with key foreign agents. To secure good projects from overseas, however, he joined forces with a friend—a silent partner—who had important business connections in Mercury various foreign countries. TogethFreight’s er, they put up Mercury Freight in strong 1987 and immediately bagged a commitment major project: handling the carto quality go requirements of a $26-million and its total housing project at Clark Air Base transparency in dealing with in Angeles City. customers, Although it received advance partners and funding from its client (a major agents are American construction firm), Merreasons for its cury Freight experienced a very growth. difficult first year of operation.

“Making the business viable didn’t happen so easily,” Coching says. “We were incurring so much in expenses before the revenues could come in.” After running Mercury Freight for 20 years, however, Coching now knows the business like the back of his hand. He has developed economies of scale in moving cargo for clients and has learned to hire additional manpower only if absolutely necessary. In particular, after finding out that most companies have fixed timetables anyway for shipping their goods, Coching now routinely uses sea freight instead of air freight. He knows that companies would exercise the air-freight option only if they need to send goods very urgently due to a tight production schedule. Mercury Freight, of course, also offers this option. In 1989, the company used the profits from its first cargo handling project to purchase property for a bigger office in Parañaque City. It has since held its main office in this location, where it currently employs 150 welltrained people. Over the years, however, the company has also branched out to Cebu, Clark (Pampanga), Cavite, Laguna, and Manila. In 1990, Coching further beefed up the business by going into a joint venture with “K” Line Air Service Ltd. of Japan. He had served that company when he was still an agent of the Smith Bell Group, and he decided to partner with it to complement Mercury Freight’s logistics business, which up to that time was still limited to sea freight transport. “I was flattered that they wanted to work with me again,” he says. Mercury Freight has reinvested into the business all the profits it has made. Its head office and warehouse in Parañaque City represent a very substantial portion of those investments. Two major factors in the company’s continuing growth are its strong commitment to quality and its total transparency in dealing with customers, partners, and agents. Indeed, in 2001, in recognition of the qual-


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


eing accessible to potential customers is a key ingredient to the success of a logistics company, and Bayani Coching precisely had this in mind when he formed the Mercury Freight sales organization. He therefore decided to base the company’s sales offices as near as possible to the country’s export processing zones. In 1990, knowing that export shipments generate as much as 80 percent of the business, Coching established provincial offices in quick succession at the export processing zones in Mariveles, Bataan, in Cebu, and in Cagayan de Oro. The following year, he opened a fourth branch, this time at the Cavite Export Processing Zone. He opened a fifth in Davao in 1993 and followed this with a sixth in 1995 at the Laguna Technopark in the Sta. Rosa and Biñan area. In 1996, he moved the Cebu office of Mercury Freight to a bigger location at the Mactan Export Processing Zone.

ity of its operations, Mercury Freight received certification from SGS UK Ltd. as an ISO 9002-compliant firm. “We’ve created a niche in the industry because of the way we operate,” Coching explains. “Reputation and reliability are very important in the brokerage business. For your relationship with your customers to really work, you need honesty, mutual trust, and respect.” Besides running Mercury Freight, Coching has diversified on his own into the food business and into purified drinking water. “Any business can get congested or saturated so you have to think of other businesses as alternatives,” he says. n

MERCURY FREIGHT INTERNATIONAL INC. Mercury Freight Logistics Center, Ninoy Aquino Ave. corner A. Bonifacio St. Parañaque City Telephone: (02) 830-2033 • Fax: (02) 829-1938; (02) 826-2686



Charlie Dobles and Drew Marcelo Spoofs Limited ‘The best way to test your market is to sell to actual customers’ By Iela Karunungan Photos by At Maculangan

CHARLIE DOBLE and DREW MARCELO: ‘The idea for Spoofs came to us on the eve of the deadline’ for a school paper.


o describe The T-Shirt Project as an evergreen novelty may seem to be an oxymoron but that’s exactly what it’s all about. Indeed, the project proponents—business partners and long-time friends Charlie Dobles and Drew Marcelo—have had what is perhaps the longest-running moneymaking joke on the business scene. Each of the company’s brands, now all housed under the T-Shirt Project, is an outgrowth of Spoofs Limited Inc., their oldest T-shirt brand. And as far as the two partners are concerned, all of their products prove that what hasn’t been done yet doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Dobles recalls: “The idea for Spoofs came to us in 1990 on the eve of the deadline for our business plan and concept paper in Entrepreneurial Management at the Ateneo de Manila University. There were six of us then and we had reached the ‘what if?’ scenario. As it happened, we played with the Polo brand icon by changing it to Bolo and adding the farmer-and-carabao figure to further give the T-shirt a Filipino twist. What we didn’t know, of course, was if the idea would sell.” Marcelo explains that their group leaned in the direction of T-shirts for their school project because when the members were pooling their resources, it turned out that one of them had an aunt who was into T-shirt manufacturing. “That gave us an edge we could tap into,” he says. But the group’s concept paper got only a grade of “C,” the lowest given that term to Dobles and Marcelo’s class. That low grade became a challenge for the group: they believed in their idea and they wanted to see how far they could push it forward. “Would you wear it?’ we were asked, and we said we certainly would,” recalls Dobles. During the second school term, each group member shelled out P3,000 to raise their projected P18,000 startup capital. Dobles and Marcelo say that one could start a T-shirt business with only P10,000 or less, but their group came up with a higher startup capital simply because it had six members in all. Their P18,000 enabled them to produce 400 shirts carrying the Bolo, United Couples of Banatan, and Timberlang labels. Each cost P65 to produce and they priced them at P145 each. Only seven shirts were sold on the first day. At the end of the required 21 selling days, however, a total of 1,200 of the T-shirts were sold and the group got a grade of “A” for that school term. After their graduation in 1992, the group members each pursued traditional career paths. In the case of Dobles and Marcelo, however, the idea for the novelty Tshirt business just wouldn’t go away and they ultimately decided to pursue it for real. Recalls Marcelo: “We were young and that was our window for taking risks. Walang asawa, walang anak [No wife, no kids]. If there ever was a time to go into it, it was that time.” So the two went into production of their Spoofs Tshirts with an initial run of 20,000 to 30,000. They stored


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


he success of Spoofs Limited Inc. lies in great part to sticking to one’s strong suit—in this case the T-shirt business. At one point, business partners Charlie Dobles and Drew Marcelo came out with merchandise such as key chains and mugs carrying the Spoof

labels, but all of them bombed out. Their T-shirt business has given birth to two other companies in support of their main business: Fourth Floor Apparel, to take care of the sewing needs, and Print Wiz Inc., to handle all printing-related matters.

the shirts in a basement office, but soon their inventory couldn’t fit into the space anymore. So they began storing the excess in their houses and cars. The shirts, contrary to their expectations, were not translating into sales right away. “Cinderella [a leading fashion retailer] turned us down,” recalls Dobles. “No one would have us. It was such a gray area then—and it still is—about whether it was legal to spoof known brands. No one wanted to be part of a fallout.” They got their break only when another leading fashion retailer, Gift Gate, accepted consignments of the shirts to 21 of its stores. “Cinderella then relented and accepted us in their stores, too,” says Dobles. During the next 13 years, Dobles and Marcelo concentrated on the Spooafs business, building its credibility among consumers and coming up with over 300 Tshirt concepts that were all their own. Today, Spoofs has 26 company-owned outlets and three franchised ones. Its brands under The T-Shirt Project now also include Branded, Malisya, Shirts for a Cause, Blanko, Volume One, Sounds Family, and Customized. According to the partners, two guiding principles have carried Spoofs to where it is today. Dobles gives the first: “The best way to test your market is to sell to actual customers.” And Drew gives the second: “When you work with what you love to do, then it won’t be work.” n

SPOOFS LIMITED INC. 16 Warehouse 1, Evangelista St., Santolan, Pasig City Telephones: (02) 682-3490; (02) 682-3530 • E-mail: Website:



Mark Dulag

He explains that all of the K-yong wines the family produces are organic, healthy wines, so the family is very careful to use only fruits that have not been sprayed with pesticides. Currently, he mostly distributes them to restaurants and hotels in Baguio City, but he also has sub-distributors for some establishments in Manila, Pampanga, and Zambales. “Bacause the number of our outlets is still limited, we are able to assure them of a continuous supply,” he says. Now 27, Mark is about to finish his Masters in Business Administration at Saint Louis University in Baguio City. He plans to expand the business later by finding interested investors. His objective is to make K-yong wines more visible on wine shelves and on wine connoisseurs’ cellars all over the Philippines,

K-yong Spirits

‘We take no shortcuts in our winemaking’ By Mari-An C. Santos


Photos byAt Maculangan

ihen they were still small, Mark C. Dulag and his six brothers and sisters would often watch their mother Emiliana make wine from rice and from sweet fruits grown in the family orchard in Tadian, Mountain Province. In 1997, however, their orchard yielded such a large harvest of lemons, prompting their mother to make wine out of them for the first time. She had actually intended to make only a little lemon wine, but she ended up with too much of it even just for the family’s consumption. Rather than let it go to waste, the family started selling their lemon wine. The Dulags found that lemon wine had a market of its own. With an initial investment of P 5,000, therefore, the family made more lemon wine and Mark started selling it to sari-sari stores and in the Tadian public market. He also sold the wine during fiestas in the adjoining barangays and in the town proper. Eventually, people started coming to their house to buy the lemon wine. While pursuing an accounting degree in 1998, Mark started to seriously consider making a business out of their family’s lemon winemaking craft. “Initially, we just called the product ‘Lemon Wine’,” he recalls. “Eventually, however, a cousin of mine thought that we should give it a brand name and he suggested ‘K-yong’, my nickname.” Over the next four years, the Dulags experimented and innovated on their lemon wine and on its production process. In theory, Mark says, this resulted in lots of unsold products that he estimates at P10,000. “But they were not wasted because we used them for


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


-yong Spirits

about the wine business.

now makes a

He says he had read

wide array of

about Don Roberto’s

wines from strawberry,

wines in that issue—a

pineapple, tamarillo

reading that prompted

(Spanish tomato), sorrel,

him to acquire more

guava, cherry, orange,

winemaking know-how

persimmon, mango,

on top of his native

duhat, and passion

winemaking skills. “I was

fruit. Most of these

in Cavite when I came

fruits are grown in the

across that article, so

family orchard of the

even if I wasn’t familiar

Dulags; the rest, like the

with the place, I sought

wildberries, have to be

Don Roberto out in

sourced from neighbors

Imus!” he recalls. That was the

who pick them from way up in the mountains. Mark Dulag credits

family consumption,” he says. From their rice wine and lemon wine, the family next experimented on wildberry wine and were able to perfect the process. Today, these three wines are K-yong’s mainstays. Rice wine, being a staple in ethnic Ibaloy and Kankanaey celebrations and gatherings, remains the runaway best-seller; in fact, it rarely makes it to the store shelves. “As early as when we start producing the rice wine, it would already be sold out by reservation,” Mark says.

Lemon wine, rice wine and wildberry wine are the mainstays of K-yong Spirits; all their wines are made from pesticide-free fruits, says MARK DULAG.


beginning of a friendship and mentorship that


enabled Dulag to develop

November 2006 for

his winemaking business

expanding his knowledge

to what it is today.

then eventually all over the world. “I need investors so we can put up a bigger fermentation area, buy more raw materials, and get equipment like those winemaking barrels they use abroad,” he says. Today, however, many fruit-wine brands have begun to flood the market, drawing the K-yong wines into a price war. Mark is confident of the quality of Kyong wines, though, and he says that he continues to get repeat orders for them. “You can see it in the clarity of the liquid and you can feel it,” he explains. “You’ll know it’s K-yong ‘pag di nangangasim ’yung tiyan mo [when your stomach doesn’t turn sour] after you drink it. We take no shortcuts in our winemaking so we can vouch for the quality and excellence of our wines.” n K-YONG SPIRITS Egan, Tadian, Mountain Province • Mobile: 0918-4076879 Website: • E-mail:



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

Mario Elumba

Adventure-One Scuba Diving Centre

He found the experience of his first dive so unbelievably exciting that he decided to teach diving.

MARIO ELUMBA says it was a ‘humbling decision’ to become a beach bum; but, he adds, he was too good for the corporate grind anyway.

By Jan Vincent S. Ong


Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso

n the diving community, there’s no bigger kahuna or big gun than scuba-diving entrepreneur Mario S. Elumba. As a former enthusiast who had wanted to emulate the famous French oceanographer Jacques Costeau, he took up this sport in the early 1980s by joining the UP Divers Club. He found the experience of his first dive at Anilao Beach in Batangas so unbelievably exciting that he decided to teach diving to UP students on weekends. And as a mechanical engineer working in the corporate world during the next six years, his attachment to the sea grew to a point that he no longer pursued the profession he had studied for. After a working stint at an American company, Elumba couldn’t immediately find another job. This prompted him to open a dive shop on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, calling it The Dive Spot. He says it was a humbling decision to become a beach bum, but he says in retrospect that he was too good for the corporate grind anyway. Today, he holds the highest rank in the scuba profession, that of PADI Course Director—PADI stands for “Professional Association of Diving Instructors”— and has long been a partner in DiveFirm, a coastal resource management and training consultancy for building resorts and dive shops. 26 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION


Elumba runs two scuba diving shops: Adventure One at the Aquaventure House in San Antonio Village, Makati City, and McDiver in Anilao, Batangas. He had put them up with partners—they are medical doctors, lawyers, and highly salaried CEOs—who are his former dive students. Later, with his growing passion for oceanography, he also put up Splash, an underwater video and photography equipment store right beside Adventure One. n

cuba diving entrepreneur Mario Elumba gives some advice to water-loving entrepreneurs who would like to put up swimrelated businesses: Before jumping into the water, he says, find


the right beach for your target market in terms of tourist traffic and particular places to go for tours and specific water-related activities. For instance, beaches like Anilao in Batangas are good for tourist skin-diving or snorkeling because they have friendly shores with a shallow depth of about 3.33 meters (10 feet) and have lots of colorful fishes. On the other hand, beaches in the Visayas and in Sulu are excellent for serious divers who want to take scenic underwater photographs. He says that for earning quick cash, the best largely untapped business is renting out snorkels and facemasks for skin diving. A good set can be bought for P1,500 to P2,000; the best ones, for P10,000 or thereabouts. Certified diving instructors such as PADI Diving Masters can use their skills to teach scuba lessons. The teaching rate for a certified diving instructor starts at P14,000 per student for five full-day lessons.

ADVENTURE-ONE SCUBA DIVING CENTRE 2/F Aquaventure House, 7805 St. Paul corner Mayapis Street, San Antonio Village, Makati City Telephone: (02) 899-2831 • Mobile: 0917-8348464; 0922-8348464 E-mail: • Websites:;



Sonny Francisco Ferino’s Bibingka ‘We need to balance novelty and changing customers’ preferences’ By Jet Ramos-Cruz Photos by Jun Pinzon



centuries’ old mainstay of the Philippine holiday table, bibingka is making a major comeback in the consumer food market. Several entrepreneurs have made the native delicacy commercially available in major malls and leading food establishments. They are applying modern food preparation and marketing techniques to whip up year-round demand for the product and revive the Filipino’s fondness for it. Spearheading bibingka’s commercial revival is Sonny Francisco, grandson of the late musician Ceferino Francisco, who in 1938 founded the family-owned enterprise that was to become Ferino’s Bibingka. Sonny, an architect, inherited his parents’ strong attachment to the product and carried on with the family business. Today, he owns and manages all of the Ferino’s Bibingka outlets in Robinsons malls, while his siblings own and manage the Ferino’s Bibingka outlets at Metroeast in Pasig City, SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, Market! Market! in Taguig City, and Shopwise in Pasig. There are also franchised Ferino’s Bibingka outlets in Quezon City and Makati City. “My grandparents started the business as a small restaurant in Pritil, Tondo, called Ferino’s Café,” Sonny recalls. “They decided to serve bibingka as their specialty because during that time, a lot of people would ask for it so often, especially during holidays. The couple then bought clay pots and the other cooking utensils for making bibingka. They experimented Besides with various rice, egg, and sugar mixes selling until they developed what came to be bibingka in known as Ferino’s galapong [glutinous local malls, rice mix], which to this day remains SONNY FRANCISCO the family’s trade secret.” That unique galapong mixture be(with wife came the restaurant’s major attraction, ANNE) plans to export making Ferino’s Café hugely popular the product through word of mouth. What used to to Filipino be a regular delicacy that the Francisco communities couple sold to neighbors and friends beabroad. came the talk of the town. Many major

personalities and politicians of the time became regular customers of the restaurant because of it. So popular did the product become that the Franciscos moved their restaurant to the Manila Hotel in the late 1960s, renaming the shop as “Ferino’s Bibingka.” When Sonny’s grandfather passed away in 1975, however, Ferino’s Bibingka lost its allure and eventually closed down. It was only in 1982 that Sonny’s father, Alfredo Francisco, revived the business, opening his first Ferino’s Bibingka outlet in Baclaran, Pasay City, in front of the Redemptorist Church. Later, because the malls had by then become the Filipino’s favorite shopping destination, Sonny’s father brought the business to the SM Centerpoint, SM Megamall, SM North Edsa and SM Southmall. He invested about P200,000 for stall rentals at the SM malls and another P100,000 for putting up a takeout counter along Makati Avenue in Makati. Because his outlets had such good locations and bibingka had by then become popular even to the upscale market, he recovered his investment in less than a year. A major concern of Sonny Francisco in running the business he had inherited is to continuously improve product and customer service without losing the core concept of bibingka as a native delicacy. “We need to balance novelty and the changing customers’ preferences,” he says. “Also, there are limitations in the manner we can prepare our product in the different locations where we do our business, so we have to consider those limitations in the cooking process.” For example, he explains, the traditional way of making bibingka is to cook it on a cooking pan with hot coal placed both on top and underneath the pan. But since most food establishments have stringent safety regulations and customers are always in a hurry, Ferino’s Bibingka is often constrained to use electric ovens instead of charcoal embers to cook the product. “For safety’s sake, we have to use electric ovens particularly in supermarkets that have low ceilings and are thus unfit for charcoal cooking,” he explains. “Wherever possible, however, we use the basic cooking elements like clay pots and charcoal in cooking our bibingka.”


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


esides selling bibingka in local malls, Sonny Francisco of Ferino’s Bibingka plans to export the product to Filipino communities abroad. For this purpose, he had arranged for the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to test the shelf life of his sealed frozen bibingka. It was determined that the product could last for at least a year, therefore making it viable for export. Another major initiative taken by Francisco is franchising Ferino’s Bibingka in

food carts that serve the product in a smaller size. The variant is called “Bibingcute by Ferino’s,” a more affordable bibingka but with precisely the same taste and texture as the regular-size product. “With a minimum of only P150,000, you can get started in the franchised bibingka food cart business,” he says. ”The cart comes complete with all the necessary equipment and supplies, and if you have a good location for your food cart, you could recover your investment in as short a time as 12 months.”

Proving that they can overcome obstacles like this, however, Sonny and the Franciscos have now revitalized the bibingka and made it even more widely available to the Filipino consumer. n

SONNY FRANCISCO FERINO’S BIBINGKA, Filinvest East Homes, Cainta, Rizal Mobile: 0917-8313477



Freddy Gonzalez Aloha Board Sports ‘Our goal is to call attention to the country as a surfing destination’ By Marie Anne Fajardo


Photos by Jun Pinzon

urfing began simply as a hobby for Freddy Gonzalez, but it helped him build a successful business venture that became the basis for a promising Philippine tourism project. A surfing and skateboarding enthusiast a long time back, he had actually given up the hobby somewhere along the way. In 2005, however, while visiting his sister in Hawaii, he got himself hooked on surfing again. “But when I came back to the Philippines, I couldn’t find surfing equipment that I could use,” he recalls. That gave him the idea of putting up a surfboard distributorship in the country. With an initial capital of US$6,000 from his own pocket, Gonzalez established Aloha Board Sports Inc. in February 2006, initially distributing two surfboard brands, Southpoint for enthusiasts and New Surf Project (NSP) for beginners. His timing was just right because at precisely that time, a lot of people in Manila wanted to take up surfing. “The surfboards got sold out from right out of our warehouse,” he says. Gonzalez, now 30, put up his surfboard distributorship even as he and his wife Anne were already running Terry S.A. Inc., the exclusive distributor in the Philippines of Havaianas footwear and David & Goliath merchandise. He says that the strong initial sales of his surfboards was largely generated by a posting he had made at the NSP website and by referrals 30 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION

including Lost Enterprises, Dakine, Sector 9, Global Surf Industries, and Volcom. “Aloha Board Sports couldn’t survive on surfboards and accessories alone,” he explains. In March 2008, it opened at the Rockwell Power Plant mall. Another concept store is set to open in the Fort Bonifacio area. Gonzalez says they’re still looking at other prime mall locations, as well as penetrating markets in Cebu, Baguio, and Davao. Gonzalez is optimistic about the company’s prospects due to the continuing growth of the surfing community and surfing’s greater accessibility to those who want to take up the sport. “Every weekend, surfing schools have at least 15 new students learning how to surf,” he says. “In Metro Manila alone, there are now about 4,000 hard-core, casual, and beginning surfers, and altogether there are now 10,000 of them all over the country.” Primarily for this reason, he says, sales of the surfboards and skateboards carried by Aloha Board Sports increased by 50 percent in 2007 compared to that in 2006. But it is not only pushing surfboard sales that Gonzalez has busied himself with since putting up his surfboard distributorship. He has come up with a program called Onboard Philippines which, in partnership with the Department of Tourism, aims to tap in a big way the potential of surfing tourism in the country, the coastline of which is twice as long as that of the United States. He explains: “Our goal is to call international attention to the Philippines as a prime surfing destination. There are 20 million surfers around the world looking for new destinations and undiscovered waves. By tapping the tourist market and the surfing community in general, we can help bring prosperity to many local communities.” Gonzalez cites La Union as an example: “Ten years FREDDY GONZALEZ sees continuing growth of the Philippine surfing community due to greater accessibility for those who want to take up the sport.

from his friends in the surfing community. NSP surfboards and skateboards are also being sold at specialty surf shops in the country. In 2007, Aloha Board Sports expanded its merchandise offerings to also cover clothing lines associated with the surfing and skating fashion culture,


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


hrough the

engagement with OBP


is still very recent,

of Freddy

I am confident that

Gonzalez’s Onboard

through the resources

Philippines (OBP),

of Onboard Philippines

good but little known

and the Aloha Board

potential surfing places

Sports team, Lanuza

like Lanuza in Surigao

and the province of

del Sur, have been

Surigao del Sur would

brought to national

soon become well-

attention. Says Dr.

known not only as

Algerico “Geri” Irizari,

a potential tourism

M.D., the mayor of

destination but also as

Lanuza: “Although our

a surf haven.”

ago, it had only four resorts; now there are around 10 to 12, with the surfing schools there taking in every weekend about 20 to 70 people who want to learn to surf.” Onboard Philippines aims not only to popularize surfing and the Philippines as a prime destination, but also to raise public awareness about the need to take care of these places for future generations. Gonzalez intends to continue coordinating with local governments to push the Onboard Philippines tourism campaign and monitor its progress. He is particularly eyeing the development of Samar, Batanes, and Pagudpod in Ilocos Norte as the country’s next surfing destinations. n

ALOHA BOARD SPORTS INC. AFP-RSBS Compound, Km. 12, East Service Road, Taguig City Telephone: (02) 837-0118 • Website:



Vincent Grey Ventaja International

This entrepreneur keeps in mind the ironies of rapid growth to bring his business up the next level By Dave Llorito


Photos by Jun Pinzon

he fast-growing telecommunications industry offers many profitable business opportunities, but entrepreneurs should beware that it could have many pitfalls as well. This warning comes from Vincent Grey, president and founder of Ventaja International Corp., which sells universal mobile phone cards and online payment systems to overseas Filipino workers. If an entrepreneur doesn’t innovate, he explains, growth could actually kill, for it greatly attracts the big guns in the competition, pushing down margins and easing out the smaller ones. But Grey says that Ventaja now has the momentum to hurdle those pitfalls and make it big. He explains: “Over the years, Ventaja has established a presence in cities with large concentrations of Filipinos. We have distributors or partners in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Italy, UK, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Israel, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, the USA, and Australia. And aside from the various software platforms that Ventaja uses to deliver prepaid load overseas, it has expanded its product line to include remittances—Smart Padala and Globe GCash—and collections, particularly SSS contributions.” Nevertheless, Grey keeps in mind the bitter lesson he learned from the ironies of rapid growth when, to bring his business up the next level, he started selling


PLDT phone cards 10 years ago. In 1997, Grey bought PLDT phone cards in bulk, shipped them to various cities all over the Philippines, then distributed them at street level through a nationwide network of retailers and distributors. Business was brisk, so Grey’s company, Advantage Products Corp. (APC), even brought in machines from abroad to dispense the prepaid cards. Up until early 2000, business was sweet and good,

growing at more than 50 percent a year. But smelling huge profits, the big retailers joined the fray, buying prepaid cards from the telecommunication companies in huge volumes and selling them at tiny profit margins. That really hurt APC. Also, moving around physical cards was practically the same as moving cash, so APC experienced the added headache of massive losses through pilferage and theft. The solution? Why not distribute those cards electronically? Grey did just that by outfitting the convenience stores with personal computers linked to APC’s main server, which would then print out personal identification numbers (PINs) for those who buy mobile phone credits or “loads.” Then, by 2003, came another blow to APC: Smart Communications innovated on cellular phone reloading by introducing the mobile-to-mobile phone reloading or pasa load. This made APC’s systems obsolete. Still another blow came that same year: a leading telco suspended APC’s phone card distribution rights for two weeks for some “apparent violations” in the distribution agreement. With not much else to do, Grey sent Lynne Cabreros, the company’s marketing If an director, to Singapore to figure entrepreneur out if it was possible to sell cards doesn’t to OFWs there. The results were innovate, positive, so by end-2003, Grey put growth could up another company, Ventaja, to actually kill solely sell mobile phone cards to the business because OFWs. APC then became simply it attracts a holding company. the ‘big One of Ventaja’s recent innoguns’ in the vations is a SIM card that allows competition, families of OFWs to send text messays VINCENT sages abroad cheaply. Explains CaGREY. breros: “This card is designed to make family members of OFWs save on the cost of text messages. If I’m a nurse in London and my son sends a text message, for instance, it would cost him about P20. If I have a roaming SIM card, the cost for my son to send a text from the Philippines would be only one peso.”


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ecause of the rapid developments in telecommunications, a player in the industry needs to innovate a lot. The experience of Ventaja International’s Vincent Grey has shown that with innovation, one can

ride the wave—even if one falls sometimes— survive, and still make profits along the way. But one must recognize when one has hit the trough, one must modify or even change the product or service to keep the business viable and competitive.

Still, Grey refuses to consider his company successful. “We are in a better position today than we were in 2003,” he simply says. “My expectation is that in a year or two, we are going to be successful. I think we now have the foundation for making Ventaja a successful business, because I have taken one further step: we are now issuing our own cards. We have come full circle, back to where I started.” n

VENTAJA INTERNATIONAL CORP. Unit 11E IBM Building, Eastwood City Cyber Park, 188 E. Rodriguez Jr. Avenue, Bagumbayan, Quezon City 1110 Telephone: (02) 995-8908 Fax: (02) 995-8921 • Website:


INNOVATORS it’s best to make private placements to finance our expansion at least for the next few years,” Gurango said. The company had earlier increased its client base by 400 percent by buying Absalom Systems, a HR-solutions software developer with operations in Singapore, Australia and South Africa. Gurango, who had built his company from the ground up, says that adopting a global strategy for the software development business is crucial to ensuring its continued growth. “If a software company is not poised to take its products and services to the global market, if its focus is primarily on the local market, then I would question its long-term viability,” he explains. The primary target markets of GSC are software companies that are currently developing their intellectual property (IP) and human resources (HR) assets. These markets assure the GSC a steady flow of income from software licensing fees over an extended period of time. The potential for repeat business is also greater because as a client company’s requirements evolve, the software solutions it will require will be changing as well. “IP assets have longer and more profitable lifecycles than HR assets, so the market valuation of an IP-based business is several times higher than that of a service-based business with the same revenue and profitability levels,” Gurango says. Software companies are essentially technologybased ventures that generally have no tangible assets to speak of, their products being largely in the form of stored or online digital information. For this reason, Gurango explains, determining a software company’s current value and the funds needed to achieve a certain target growth level requires considerable effort in financial forecasting. “But I have a simple rule-of-thumb for this,” he says. “Based on your business plan and financial forecasts, determine how much money you will need to grow your startup company to a cashflow positive level, then double that amount to

Joey Gurango

Gurango Software

A software company should be ‘poised to take its products and services to the global market’ By Rafael Santos


Photo by At Maculangan

oday, the global demand for technology solutions is as strong as ever, and a Philippine-based software development firm, Gurango Software Corp. (GSC), is one of the rising stars in this market. Through its overseas network of branches and affiliates, the company provides back-office product development and customer services for front-office sales and support companies in Asia, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, Western Europe, and North America. Joey Gurango, the Filipino founder and CEO of GSC, says that the company derives the bulk of its income from license fees for the proprietary software that it develops for its foreign clients. In 2007, it made $2 million (about P94 million) in total revenues, exceeding its targets for that year and representing a fourfold increase from that of the previous year. However, Gurango says that the domestic market is rather small, so GSC has gone global as the next logical step. To fund its overseas expansion program, GSC announced in early 2007 that it was raising P300 million by listing roughly 30 percent of its outstanding capital stock, but decided to delay the offer to 2010 due to unfavorable market conditions. “The IPO is not going to sell. So we think


JOEY GURANGO, who built his company from the ground up, says adopting a global strategy ensured its continued growth.



n a c u Yo o do this,t o s it your first time

should also provide a

to invest in tech?

list of your clients and

Joey Gurango

the services you have

of Gurango Software

provided them.

Corp. says a start-up

A talented software

software company

team. For a highly

would need the



business like software

An identity. What

development, the value

solutions or services

of a top-notch team

are you providing?

is crucial for success.

Your basis for coming

Gurango says GCS

up with your business

has a big advantage

identity will largely

because the Philippines

be your competencies

has many excellent

as a prospective

quality software

software development



The hardware and

A website. Internet

software. High-

visibility will be critical

capacity computers,

for an IT business, so

licensed software

you need to develop

tools, and a high-speed

a website to catalog

Internet connection will

the various services

be the lifeline of your

you are providing. It


brace you for contingencies and other unforeseen expenses. That is how much in capital investments you should try to raise.” Gurango says that in addition to profitability, he uses two other measures to keep track of his company’s performance: “I measure annual revenues per employee (RPE) and annual revenues per customer (RPC). The RPE and RPC will measure the efficiency of a software company and its potential for scalability. The higher these ratios, the better chance the company will have to continue growing profitably at a faster rate.” n

GURANGO SOFTWARE CORP. Philippine O�ce: 2F Topy’s Place Industria St, Libis, Quezon City, Philppines Telephone: (02) 637-0928 • Fax: (02) 636-3800 • E-mail:



Paul Huang Fire Lake Grill

‘You have to be realistic. Your lifestyle will have to change’ By Leah B. del Castillo Photos by Walter Villa


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


t could be unsettling to retire at a young age, but for former corporate executive Paul L. Huang, he took it as an opportunity to embark on a lifelong passion. Now the owner and chef of Fire Lake Grill in Tagaytay City, Huang had just stepped into his 40s when he decided to retire from Pepsi-Cola International (PCI) as a top marketing executive. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the local Pepsi bottler, PepsiCola Products Philippines Inc. (PCPPI), had been undergoing major financial difficulties, and the PCI came to its rescue by converting debt for equity in its local franchisee. Huang opted for early retirement when PCI took a more active role in PCPPI, transferring to the local franchise the marketing functions that he used to handle. He thus opted for early retirement instead of accepting the drastic pay cut that resulted because of that transfer. The affable Huang, now 47, has been reaping the fruits of what he describes as his “tranquil” life in Tagaytay for over three years now. At the same time, it has given him the opportunity to really live his passion—cooking. In March 2005, he put up Fire Lake Grill in the highly popular tourist strip. A cozy 70-seater steak house with an unimpeded view of Taal Lake, it is one of only two or three niche restaurants in the area that target upscale weekend vacationers coming largely from Metro Manila. Having to retire so early in his corporate career at first put Huang in a quandary. He remembers thinking then: “41 is too young. What am I going to do with my life?” He soon realized that he only had two choices— to get another job elsewhere in the corporate world, or to strike it out on his own. Upon the suggestion of his wife, Odette, he joined the twice-weekly course on cookPAUL HUANG ing essentials of the Heny Sison has opted to Culinary School in Quezon City. regularize his He found himself training in that employees, school for two years, after which convinced he ended up being named its “most that not promising chef.” making them While in cooking school, he met ‘contractuals’ leads to Ariel Manuel, chef and proprietor greater sta� of the Manila restaurant Lolo Dad’s. productivity. Manuel encouraged him to train


further in a hotel. Huang took the advice and later asked Norbert Gandler, who was then Mandarin Oriental Manila’s executive chef, if it was possible for him to work and train in the hotel’s kitchens. Gandler agreed because he knew Huang personally, the latter’s wife having worked at the Mandarin sometime before. He worked in the hotel’s various kitchens for two years without pay. “Working at the Mandarin was a good learning experience, for it allowed me to start from the bottom up,” he says. Huang runs a really tight ship with his restaurant. Initially, Fire Lake Grill had a staff of 14, but realizing that he could do with less, he had since cut it down to nine—among those whom he retained were his four kitchen assistants. All of the restaurant staff are based in Tagaytay City. Contrary to prevailing business practice, Huang has


aul Huang has investors in Fire Lake Grill but he is the majority owner. He says that being one’s own boss is great because it allows you to do what you want, and you can set the direction for the business all by yourself. But he admits that it also has its drawbacks: “I also own all of the problems of the restaurant.” It would be nice, he says, if he had a business partner he could share these problems with. Huang emphasizes that to start a business, one must be ready to do some self-sacrifice and accept a lifestyle

change. He explains: “When you enter into entrepreneurship, you have to be realistic. Your lifestyle will have to change.” For instance, he says, while before he used to have onethousand-peso haircuts, he now has his hair cut by the corner barbero (barber). He adds wryly: “You can’t keep comparing yourself to other people. So when I see my contemporaries in their new cars, OK lang [that’s OK]. Look, I tell myself, they don’t have this restaurant. They are not responsible for the livelihood of so many people as I am with my restaurant staff.”

opted to regularize his employees instead of maintaining them on a contractual basis. He is convinced that doing it this way leads to greater staff productivity. He attributes his wanting to do right by his staff to his Jesuit education, having gone to both Xavier School and the Ateneo de Manila University. Huang expects to recover his investment in Fire Lake in about five years’ time. Since going into the business, though, he has already been reaping great psychic rewards from it—recognition, developers knocking at his door, a loyal staff, a satisfied clientele, and most of all, the chance to live his passion. These are rewards that he says had been hard to come by in the corporate world. n

FIRE LAKE GRILL Unit 3 Cli�house Tagaytay, Aguinaldo Highway, Tagaytay City, Cavite Fax: (046) 413-2069 • E-mail: • Website:


INNOVATORS ARIEL JERSEY and his team used guerilla marketing to penetrate their target markets, convincing gasoline stations to carry EZ maps as a standard o�ering.

Ariel Jersey EZ Maps

Getting lost in Metro Manila’s streets leads to a bright business idea By Cecilia C. Gonzalez Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso



fter getting lost driving in Makati City’s streets sometime in 1994, Ariel Jersey came up with this business idea: create detailed city street maps for both local motorists and tourists alike. “I thought of it because of all the one-way streets and all of the changes in the names of Makati’s street names,” Jersey recalls. “They were so confusing that I had actually been lost in Makati many times before that.” The business he put up to address the problem was United Tourist Promotions, which started publishing what were to become the internationally known EZ Maps in 1995. Today, these maps and the company’s various other publications are widely available nationwide, with a strong presence in gasoline stations and convenience stores, and bookstores and in the retail

outlets of malls, hotels, airports, and seaports. EZ maps are designed for people traveling in the Philippines, particularly motorists, who need specific directions for finding key streets and major establishments in the country’s top destinations. Much more comprehensive than other maps available in the market, the maps give more specific details about streets in major cities as well as useful information for contacting local authorities. The company also produces specialty maps that indicate the major festivals held in particular points in the country and show the country’s major historical and religious sites. The maps use colors that are easier on the eye, such as light green and light yellow, and avoid intricate fonts for greater readability. “And I don’t put any extraneous details like unnecessary shadows and colors on the maps,” Jersey says. EZ Maps are updated much more often than other maps. “I originally intended to update them once every two years, but since I’ve been doing reruns every year anyway, I have been updating them even more frequently than planned,” Jersey says. Jersey’s Angeles City-based company now also publishes various easy-to-read and up-to-date travel publications such as road atlases, travel guides, and city guides. To come up with all of these products, his company’s team has to coordinate closely with the various government agencies, traffic bureaus, and local authorities to create accurate maps and travel brochures. He says it is not an easy task because of the sheer number of government agencies they had to deal with. Jersey, who hails from Sorsogon, finished his secondary education at the Estenias Science Foundation School in that province. He then moved to Angeles City in 1986 and landed his first job there as a laborer with the William Golangco Construction Corp. Later, he worked as a gun club instructor and recreation assistant at the Skeet and Trap Range in the former Clark Air Base. He then worked his way through college, graduating from the Holy Angel University in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He eventually became the manager of the Clark Skeet and Trap


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


riel Jersey of United Tourist Promotions made his maps available nationwide in the two places motorists most often frequent: gasoline stations and convenience stores. These places also have the added advantage of being open 24 hours every day. “The important thing in the map business is to know your market, and the best strategy is to make your products visible everywhere in that market,” he explains his marketing strategy.

Jersey and his original four-man team then used guerilla marketing to penetrate their target markets, approaching the major gasoline stations one by one to convince them to carry EZ maps as a standard offering.

Range. In this capacity, he helped train the Philippine national shooting team for the 1991 Southeast Asian Games, during which the team captured the gold medals in the individual and team events. But the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 displaced him from his job at Clark, and soon the American forces there moved out of the Philippines for good. He then decided to study in various computer schools—at STI, Systems Plus, and Adtech—to become a computer programmer, graphic artist, and systems analyst. He later volunteered for the Rudolf Steiger Foundation, which undertakes mass-based sports programs, then got employed as a production research assistant and systems analyst by a shoe manufacturer, the Intelligent Manufacturing Company Inc. While working with this company, he got transferred to Manila, where he eventually decided to put up his map company. Jersey says he has a simple success formula: “You have to be in a business that you are truly passionate about. That is the secret.” n

UNITED TOURIST PROMOTIONS 16-14 Marlim Avenue corner Don Juan Street, Diamond Subdivision, Balibago, Angeles City Telephone: (045) 322-8767 • Telefax: (045) 625-7708



Francisco Licuanan III Geo Estate Development

‘You don’t have third parties telling you that you have to maximize profits’ By Maria Operario


Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso

rancisco H. Licuanan III has come full circle. The 64-year-old Ateneo and Harvard graduate recalls how, in the early days of his storied 40-year career at Ayala Land Inc. (ALI), he was very much involved in the finer details of running a real estate company, talking to contractors, architects, engineers, and bankers. He’s at it again, this time as the head of Geo Estate Development Corp., which was formed in April 2007 by his former colleagues and investors—all committed to make a major mark in the real estate industry. Geo Estate’s first project is The Beacon, a 44-story upscale residential condominium at the corner of Arnaiz and Chino Roces avenues in Makati City. Licuanan, who retired in July 2004 as president of Ayala Land, is actually new at being an entrepreneur. He has spent most of his life working for somebody else, including being a consultant from late 2005 to July 2007, but he is now getting the hang of working for himself and is finding it a refreshing change. Since Geo Estate is still small, Licuanan says he tends to share duties as chairman and CEO with his partner Manuel J. Colayco Jr., the firm’s president and chief operating officer. Colayco was formerly the chief of Laguna Properties Holdings Inc. (now Avida Land). 40 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION

ry responsibility for finding new projects and for negotiating acquisitions and joint ventures. This time, though, he also has to contend with the reality that he doesn’t have as much capital at his disposal compared to the time when he was with the formidable Ayala group. His margin for error is therefore more limited, he says, so he must make sure that every project is a success. But a definite plus for Licuanan this time is his being much closer to the action. “You don’t have layers of bureaucracy between you and the marketplace,” he explains. “You can focus more on the actual business. In essence, you are more of a ‘doer’ and less of an administrator. But I actually prefer this because I have always been a doer. I enjoy doing things.” Unlike before when he had to deal with other people’s money, Licuanan says, he can actually take more risks now as an entrepreneur. He explains: “You can decide to give a better product even if it means making less money because you don’t have third parties telling you that you have to maximize profits.” But he cautions those with no real estate background against rushing headlong into the market simply to take advantage of the sector’s growth. He says there is so much more to real estate than just moving earth and pouring concrete. Licuanan explains that the industry is intrinsically cyclical and volatile, especially in developing countries like the Philippines: “Even among developing countries, we are more volatile than most of our neighbors because of our political environment and our inability to maintain a consistent policy framework.” He says that despite these inherent risks, there are many areas for growth in the country where upstart companies like Geo Estate can get into the action. “For small to medium-scale entrepreneurs,” he says, “what matters is not so much the state of the industry as a whole but the demand and competitive situation for a particular product in a particular location.” n

A newcomer at entrepreneurship, FRANCISCO LICUANAN III says he tends to share Geo Estate’s duties with his partner, Manuel Colayco Jr.

“In practice, we tend to focus on different things because of our different backgrounds,” Licuanan explains. “Manny, being a marketing man, focuses on the marketing and sales aspect. He also handles the day-to-day administrative matters. My involvement in marketing and sales is more at the overall level— pricing, sales policy, copy strategy for advertising and promotions, and choice of people.” In addition, Licuanan takes care of product design, construction matters, and finance. He also has prima-



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

rancisco Licuanan III of Geo Estate gives this advice to real-estate developers: “Don’t get too emotionally attached to your project. Make sure you look at it in a very hard-nosed, unemotional way. And don’t just look at its merits. Look at it relative to other projects. Competition is a fact of life. You may have a good project, but is there a better one right down the road? And if it isn’t there yet, could one

suddenly appear soon?” And for property buyers, he has this advice: “Look for good locations and wellbuilt products. Don’t just look for bargains, for they may not be bargains in the long run. In boom times, the gap between the good and the mediocre products tends to narrow. But when the boom ends, there will always be a market—a rental or sale market— for the better products, but the market for inferior products dries up completely.”

GEO ESTATE DEVELOPMENT CORP. Address: 14th floor, JAKA Building, 6780 Ayala Ave., Makati City Telephone: (02) 856-2831 • Fax: (02) 856-2832



Edmun Liu Basic Graphics

‘We wanted to be a printing company that was on a par with those in Hong Kong and Singapore’ By Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua Photos by Ocs Alvarez 42 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION


hen Visayas-based businessmen needed good-quality marketing collaterals 12 years ago, they had to go to Manila and even to Hong Kong or Singapore to have the job done. There just were no local printers good enough to do it, and the region’s printing industry itself had been stagnating due to lack of competition. Edmun Liu’s family got so frustrated with this situation because it was running a thriving clothing business. His elder brother Bernie—creator of the popular apparel brands Penshoppe, Oxygen, ForMe, and Memo—needed a lot of high-quality collaterals to support the brands and was getting them from a compa-

ny the Lius also owned. In time, however, that company could no longer meet the ever-growing demand for the collaterals. It was at this point that the family decided to put up their own printing company, one that could serve not only their needs but those of other companies as well. Thus, in 1996, Basic Graphics Inc. (BGI) was born. The Lius had put Edmun in charge of forming BGI, and the young accountant immediately got the family’s consensus of not settling for a run-of-the-mill printing service. “We wanted to be a printing company that was on a par with those in Hong Kong and Singapore,” he recalls. To achieve this goal, the family invested in top-ofthe-line equipment, making BGI the first printing company in Cebu to acquire computer-to-plate technology. It was expensive, but it produced superior-quality printed jobs faster and more efficiently than traditional printing equipment. The ambitiousness of the enterprise, however, made Cebu’s existing printers skeptical about it. “People really thought we would go out of business in no time at all,” Liu says, chuckling. During its first few years, BaEDMUN LIU got sic Graphics only serviced the the consensus Lius’ apparel company, Golden of his family to ABC Inc., but word eventually put up a printing got around to both Visayas- and company with Mindanao-based businessmen top-of-the line, that there was now a printalbeit expensive, computer-toer in Cebu capable of highplate equipment. quality production. BGI’s roster of clients grew quickly after that, making BGI an industry leader and the undisputed premier printing solutions provider in the VisMin area. Today, BGI’s sister company Golden ABC, now accounts for only a small part of its sales; the bulk of BGI’s business now comes from five-star hotels, major resorts, jewelry exporters, and furniture makers. On any given month, the company handles 150 to 200 printing projects simultaneously, with each order averaging 100,000 units. “We make everything from brochures to packaging materials for jewelry and fur-


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


side from the excellence of its printing, Basic Graphics Inc. has an excellent reputation for taking care of its 118-strong employees. The benefits it provides its workforce are on a par with those of large multinational companies. Among them are scholarship programs and generous performance and sales incentives for its employees. The company also maintains the following facilities for them:

a fully equipped inhouse fitness center at its main office, an auditorium that converts into a chapel, and a clinic that retains a company doctor who provides free annual medical checkups. Because of all these perks, Edmun Liu says, its employees have rewarded the company tenfold in terms of performance and dedication. “Fifty percent of my staff has been with us since we started,” he says.

niture companies,” Liu says. Basic Graphics has attracted many more clients despite a pricing twice higher than those of its competitors in the region. “We may not be the cheapest, but in terms of quality and service we are the best in the Visayas and Mindanao,” Liu says with pride. “Our designers have been trained in marketing so they are capable of creating materials that really sell. Also, we keep our printing equipment well-maintained and continually upgraded to ensure the flawless execution of our printing jobs.” No longer disparaged as an overly ambitious upstart, BGI enjoys well-deserved and respect in the printing industry today. In fact, it has received awards for print excellence four times from the Printing Industry Association of the Philippines, winning in one of the ten awards categories in 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2006. “We are the first and so far the only printing company outside of Luzon to have won this award,” Liu says. n

BASIC GRAPHICS INC. 880 A.S Fortuna St., Mandaue City, Cebu • Telephone: (032) 344-7244 Fax: (032) 346-1297 • Website:



Em Mariano

good at it,” he says. Indeed, by then, his craft collections had already been featured several times in fashion magazines and TV shows. Even before putting up Business FUNdynamics, Mariano had already been selling the craft items he had been making to his call-center officemates. Later, he started posting his craft designs on the Internet, where they caught the attention of several upscale retailers. They liked the designs and started ordering. Since then, such upscale fashion boutique brands as Souk Gallery, Pandango, F&S, Elaisa, Urban&Co., and Tint have been carrying Mariano’s collections. It was then that Mariano put up Business FUNdynamics. He explains: “Having beWith a borrowed come a crafter and accessory delaptop and a signer as well as a consigner for DSL connection, local and international upscale EM MARIANO brands, I became more confident and a friend put that corporate clients would buy up Business FUNdynamics. our CraftRELAX program. But in

Business FUNdynamics ‘Arts and crafts was something I knew I was good at’ By Carl Ng


Photos by Walter Villa

oing it simply as a hobby, Em Mariano started creating fashion accessories in 2005 using only his father’s pair of pliers and some spring binders he had taken off from notebooks. Today, that hobby has become a thriving business venture—one that not only gives vent to his talent and entrepreneurial skills but also allows him to impart both to other people. That venture is Business FUNdynamics, an artsand-craft training workshop that also encourages and teaches learners to put up their own business to supplement their income. The training programs range from crafting beaded embellishments to designing custom jewelry, and Mariano’s students range from yuppies looking for therapeutic off-work activity to homebased mothers looking for a business sideline. In addition, Business FUNdynamics conducts what it calls its CraftRELAX program, which is specifically designed for companies that need to offer their employees something creative and fun to do as a way of relieving workplace stress. Mariano, now 25, decided to put up Business FUNdynamics after working for two years as a call center agent. “I was growing tired of my job,” he recalls. “I was always trying to apply for a higher position but I kept on getting rejected. Then the idea finally came to me—why not make myself my own boss in my own company?” So, in December of 2006, with only a borrowed lap-


top and a DSL Internet connection, Mariano and a friend with a background as corporate trainer put up Business FUNdynamics. Their vision was to provide top companies and organizations with unique, funfilled corporate training programs and events. The partnership was short-lived, however, for Mariano’s partner left the company only a few months later. Mariano decided to continue the business on his own, but this time focusing on arts and crafts training. “I didn’t have enough capital to start any other business, but arts and crafts was something I knew I was

n a c u Yo o do this,t o


m Mariano believes that the Business FUNdynamics seminars are popular because they teach people a potentially lucrative sideline business. “In the crafts business, with a capital of only P500 for tools and materials, you can start creating and selling end-products that you can sell at a markup of 300 to 1,500 percent,” he says. Besides training the students on craftwork and providing them

with the materials and tools for learning, FUNdynamics also teaches them the basics of small business operations. Mariano explains: “I teach them how to make accessories that are high-class, saleable, and of export-quality, then how to make business out of the craft. One of our goals is to inspire our students to be business-minded, and our niche objective is to incorporate fun and creativity into the corporate world.”

any case, to counter the thinking of some people that arts and crafts are just a waste of money, I designed my modules in such a way that people could really make a profit from them.” Business FUNdynamics started by doing a craft workshop once a month, then made it a twice a month due to the growing public interest generated by word of mouth and the program’s Internet exposure. “Now, just for bead craft alone, we are now holding workshops twice a week,” Mariano says. To help Mariano handle its current workload, Business FUNdynamics now employs four more trainers for the different crafts and market segments. Mariano limits participants in a workshop from 10 to 20 individuals so they can get sufficient hands-on training in the craft of their choice. “As always, the objective of our seminars is to provide professionals, housewives, and students with a low-cost but profitable sideline,” he says. n


BUSINESS FUNDYNAMICS Telephone: (02) 717-3014 • Mobile: 0919-4011308 Website: www.cra�




‘One can’t will an enterprise to grow while standing on the sidelines’ By Neil Palabrica


Photos by Ocs Alvarez

n 1999, when events companies were still a dime a dozen, Jun Ongteco and his partners started Wishcraft with only P20,000 in initial capital. But instead of being buried in the heap because of its smallness, their company flourished. Some of its earliest big projects were the launch in 2000 of what was to become the country’s biggest circulation magazine, FHM; that magazine’s equally successful “Win a Date” promo; Rexona’s “First Day Funk” event; and Cosmopolitan Philippines’ Bachelor Bash. And to think that Wishcraft started with only 12 people, all of whom had day jobs. “This meant not being able to give our all to the company because we had other things to worry about,” Ongteco says. “Managing a business requires commitment and dedication, and one can’t start an enterprise and just will it to grow while standing in the sidelines.” Indeed, six of the original 12 partners dropped out, unable to keep up with the demands of the business and of their jobs as well. The six who remained decided to work full time with Wishcraft and grew it to what it is today. But as events companies like Wishcraft mushroomed between 2000 and 2001, advertising agencies that were their main sources of clients started putting up events management units of their own. Despite the competition posed by the advertising agencies, however, the Wishcraft partners pushed on. “We did so knowing that unlike them, events management was our specialization and strong suit and not simply 46 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION

JUN ONGTECO:The business of events management is built, foremost, on good relationships with customers.



f you intend to go into events management, Jun Ongteco of Wishcraft says you should manage your finances well to forestall cash flow problems in the future. After that, he says, diversify: “Your business has to adapt to the shifts in market preferences. In our case, from being an events company, we’ve since branched out into staging display, video editing, and

manpower staffing. Before you diversify, of course, you must study first which services would click with your market and which would not.” Ongteco also advises that entrepreneurs should make sure that they’re in the business for the long haul. “Love what you do,” he says. “If you go into business only because you had no choice, chances are you won’t succeed.”

courtesy of: wishcra�

Jun Ongteco

an add-on service,” Ongteco says. He says that Wishcraft had a two-fold way to its success over the past 10 years, the first being its ability to form good relationships with its customers. “We don’t take clients for granted. While maintaining our drive to gain new customers, we work hard at keeping our loyal customers who, after all, account for the bulk of our sales.” The second, he says, is being flexible to the client’s needs and requirements: “We put in long hours, and we give each project our painstaking attention and care. Our costs are always based on the client’s budget, and we assign a project and an account manager to make sure each event is given proper attention.” The partners had not allowed success to get into their heads and try to live as simply as they could. Says Ongteco: “With what we’re earning, we have not bought expensive cars but saved our money for the rainy days instead. We prepare for emergencies by setting aside a certain amount to at least cover our employees’ salaries because try as we might, we have not been able to determine our peak and lean seasons.” Ongteco says that although Wishcraft now handles events almost every day, there is no way of knowing when the dry spell will come. “This is why we make it a point to pay our people on time,” he says, “and we don’t wait until our clients pay us either. We don’t base our payment schedule on our collections.” He gives this advice to entrepreneurs like himself: “Don’t just go after the money. In fact, for two years we had no fixed salary in Wishcraft. What pushed us to look for clients was the commission sys-

n a c u Yo o do this,t o

tem we ourselves had instituted. It provides that we’d earn only from the projects that we have brought into the company.” n

WISHCRAFT 160 Pasig Blvd., Bagong Ilog, Pasig City • Telephones: (02) 671-6831: (02) 671-672 Fax: (02) 671-2698 • E-mail: jun.ongteco@wishcra� • Website: www.wishcra�


INNOVATORS Ark Avilon Zoo. “Putting up Fun Ranch in this part of Pasig City has become a ‘win-win’ decision for us,” Padilla says. “Aside from providing a more accessible alternative amusement area for children, it complements the businesses of the other establishments in Frontera Verde.” The Fun Ranch entertainment Instead of complex offers kids and their partaking their ents a wide range of leisure and kids to theme parks outside amusement facilities: fun rides, Metro Manila, childcare and activity centers, and the Padillas a zoo. Complemented by a spa, decided to a salon, and several retail stores, put up one in restaurants, and food shops, Fun Pasig—right Ranch is, in fact, a mall by itself. in the heart of It has also become a major kiddie the city.

Vicente Padilla Fun Ranch

‘Putting up Fun Ranch in this part of town has become a win-win decision for us’ By Roderick L. Abad Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso


ome parents—particularly those who are relatively well-off—find it difficult not to give in to what their children want. For this reason, restaurateur Vicente A. Padilla Jr. and his wife Miren frequently found themselves taking their children to theme parks and amusement centers outside Metro Manila. But eventually, being an entrepreneurial-minded couple, they thought of put48 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION

ting one such children’s center right within Metro Manila itself to spare parents from traveling too far. Thus, in December of 2006, they invested P50 million in initial capital to put up Fun Ranch at Frontera Verde in Pasig City, where a new shopping, dining, and recreation complex had grown in recent years. The complex is located right beside such major commercial establishments in the area as Tiendesitas, SM Hypermarket, and the

party venue, with over a thousand seats for parties for all sorts of celebrations. No entrance fee is required at Fun Ranch because it is an open-space kiddie play area. “Once you enter, you can ride or play all you want,” Padilla explains. “You are not required to pay to play, and you can take any of the fun rides anytime and for as long as you want.” Fun Ranch makes every effort to make itself a tru-


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


o sustain customer interest in the entertainment complex, Vicente and Miren Padilla have been constantly striving to improve Fun Ranch. “We are making it even bigger and better by reinvesting in the business whatever revenues it generates,” Vicente explains. “Our focus is to maintain the loyalty of our customers

and make them happy, particularly the children.” Fun Ranch, which markets itself largely through word-of-mouth, has been getting favorable online publicity from satisfied customers. “For instance, video clips of parties with the dance number of our Fun Ranch mascots have been posted on YouTube by one of our clients,” he says.

ly safe and child-friendly establishment. All the walls in the activity centers and party venues are padded with rubber stuffing. Two nurses are always on hand, one each at the Jumpin’ Jack and at the Active Fun play areas, and there is also the pediatrician owner of the Little Lamb’s Spa, Clinic, Salon, which has massage and jacuzzi facilities for children and their families, to help in the event of an emergency. As a security measure, there are CCTV cameras all over the place, and aside from the regular mall guards, Fun Ranch assigns a security guard for big parties that are being celebrated. The place also provides elevators and specialized urinals specifically for guests with disabilities. “We continuously try to put everything we could think of to add to people’s convenience,” says Padilla. Unlike other amusement centers with wild seasonal swings in patronage, Fun Ranch enjoys a steady weekend stream of young children accompanied by family members. It also has a regular weekday customer base consisting of the pupils of its in-house preschool Sea & Learn and of school children taking class field trips. n

FUN RANCH MEGA DEVELOPMENT INC. 291 P. Guevarra Ave. San Juan, Metro Manila • Telephones: (02) 727-5143; (02) 726-6517 Website:



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

Redentor Ragojos


lways finish jobs on time,” Redentor Ragojos, owner of Ragojos Heritage Construction Corp., says. “Your company is only as good as the promises you keep. You should always be

Ragojos Heritage Construction ‘Your company is only as good as the promises you keep’ By Rafael Santos


Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso

ne of the country’s top interior design and construction firms, the Ragojos Heritage Construction Corp. (RHCC) has carved out its own market niche by building swanky office spaces instead of residential outfits. And because of the upswing in local construction by high-end service companies, the company has seen spectacular growth during the past several years. The man behind the company’s success is Redentor “Reggie” Ragojos, 50, an architect and self-made millionaire who confesses that he never really expected to make it this big. “I started out building ATM booths in the late 1980s for a local bank,” he recalls. “My first few years in the business were tough because some clients didn’t pay me for services I rendered to them. Most of those clients were residential ones, so I told myself I would never take residential clients again.” RHCC’s turf is the highly lucrative but extremely demanding world of interior outfitting, designing, and office space construction, and the company’s clientele consists mostly of multinational banks, embassies, business process outsourcing (BPO) firms, and other high-end corporate offices. The quick turnaround times for this business—construction and outfitting typically takes no more than 30 days—is a primary reason for RHCC’s brisk growth. 50 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION

Ragojos Heritage has thrived in the extremely demanding world of interior outfitting, designing and o�ce space construction.

“But being in this line of business is very tough, so not a lot of companies are doing it,” Ragojos says. “It involves lots of manpower and takes a lot of creativity. You must not only keep an eye on what looks good but also on what’s practical. And the deadlines in this industry must be met at all cost. Companies always want their move-in date to be on the dot because any delay costs them a lot of money.”

Ragojos emphasizes the value of after-service and the need to avoid shortcuts in any construction activity. Taking shortcuts is always the easy way out, he says, but it only provides short-term solutions that usually result in long-term headaches for either you or the cli-


able to meet deadlines in the construction world. Also, delivering everything at cost puts a premium to your company, and the quality of the afterservice you give to your clients can make or break your reputation.”

ent. Indeed, allowing yourself to get a bad reputation in the construction business is suicidal, he says. “The bulk of our accounts consists of referrals from satisfied customers,” he explains. “This is why way back when I was just starting out, I always tried my best to market the company when playing golf with my friends and acquaintances. Now, the company literally sells itself. It’s something that gives me genuine satisfaction.” As a result of his company’s steady stream of projects, Ragojos now can find the time to do missionary work for a local church organization as a way of giving back to his community. Indeed, he plans to build a hotel that focuses on spiritual rejuvenation for corporate warriors who have grown weary of the daily grind of business. “At this stage, I don’t have to be on-site most of the time anymore,” he says. “I have full trust in my people and I let them make decisions in the field without having to get my approval. This gives our company one of its strategic advantages—being able to make decisions in real time, instead of getting bogged down by a long chain of command. I’m not afraid to delegate because I have full faith in the abilities of my employees.” Currently, RHCC is staffed by a total of 500 people—architects, foremen, and construction workers. Its organization is a far cry from the five-man outfit the company started with in 1988. n

RAGOJOS HERITAGE CONSTRUCTION CORP. 51 Vicente Ave., North Susana Executive Village, Old Balara, Quezon City Telephones: (02) 951-9765 to 67; (02) 951-2200 • Fax: (02) 951-1985 E-mail:



Ricky Sta.Ana Skinworkz

‘I didn’t let people’s bias get in the way’ By Icy Luzano Photos byAt Maculangan



ulti-awarded tattoo artist Ricky Sta. Ana is out to prove that tattoos are chic and perfectly respectable, not things that should make people apprehensive. In any case, he has made designing, sketching, and applying them a sound and profitable business venture. Sta. Ana used to do tattoos simply as his favorite pastime. He got into it when he was 20, at which time he experimented with various inks on improvised tattoo machines that he had made a point to sanitize. He then talked to bystanders in his neighborhood in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, to give his tattoos a try, and many of them ‘From the took up his offer. start, I Before long, what was simply a knew people pastime became a good source of wanted to income. He was making a lot of have tattoos,’ money in tips alone, so he decidsays RICKY STA. ANA. ed to put up a tattoo studio at the ‘The problem Cartimar Arcade in Pasay City in was that they 1990. He called it Skinworkz. didn’t know He recalls: “Noong 1990s, ang where to get tingin ng tao sa tattoo masama [In the one that was 1990s, people considered tattoo art artful and as in bad taste]. It was really hard to safe.’ promote having tattoos then, but I didn’t let that bias against them get in the way.” With P10,000 in starting capital, Sta. Ana purchased the basic equipment for his one-man operation. He personally attended to every business detail and to every customer that walked into his shop. In three months, he got back his initial investment. Skinworkz became a household name through the years. The tattoo studio eventually not only attracted ordinary people but also rock stars, movie and television personalities, and models in men’s magazines. One of his regular customers, video jockey Maggie Wilson, did not even have the slightest goose bump when she got her tattoo in Sta. Ana’s studio sometime back. She says: “I know he’s good. His works are really nice. I trust him.” Foreigners and balikbayan (comebacking locals) also drop by his shop to have a piece of Filipino culture tattooed on their skin. Even some medical professionals and high-profile politicians are known to

have one of Sta. Ana’s tattoo designs discreetly hidden underneath their white robes and formal suits. He explains the psychology of tattoowearers: “Simula pa lang, parang gusto na talaga ng tao ang tattoo, lalo na ’yung mga nasa middle at high class. Ang problema, hindi nila alam kung saan ’yung nagta-tattoo ng maganda at safe [From the very start, I knew that people wanted to have tattoos, especially those from the middle and high classes. The problem was that they didn’t know where to get one that was artful and safe].” To address these concerns, Sta. Ana got his tattoo studio certified by the Department of Health (DOH) and conducted lectures and seminars for budding tattoo artists on the basics and sanitation aspects of doing tattoos. Under his initiative, the Philippine Tattoo Artist Guild (PHILTAG), of which he is currently president, collaborated with the DOH and the Remedios AIDS Foundation in 1995 to get a book on tattoo standards published. Today, Sta. Ana has five guest artists working with him at Skinworkz. He has put up two working areas in the studio to accommodate more customers, and he has replaced his improvised machines with new equipment from the United States. Besides doing tattoos, Skinworkz also removes and repairs previously etched but no longer wanted tattoos, and offers body piercing and cosmetic tattoo (such as permanent eyebrows and lips). On June 14 this year, Sta. Ana opened a second tattoo shop, this time on Timog Avenue in Quezon City. This way, he says, he can help more tattoo artists get the proper exposure to correct tattoo techniques and practices. He also makes this fearless forecast: “Hindi magtatagal, ang tattoo shop para na ring beauty parlor, at ang pagpapa-tattoo, para na lang pagpapagupit [Soon, tattoo shops will become like beauty parlors, and having tattoos done will be just like having a haircut].” n


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ow 18 years in the tattoo business, Ricky Sta. Ana continues to innovate. He says: “Dapat nag-aaral ka ng iba’t-ibang design para lalo kang ganahan. Hindi puwedeng pare-pareho na lang. [You have to keep on learning new designs to keep your enthusiasm alive in this art-form. You simply can’t offer the

same tattoo over and over.]” Sta. Ana’s ultimate goal is to promote Philippine culture through the art of tattooing. His ethnic and tribal tattoo designs are among of the most requested by foreign customers, and he wants to offer them as a major come-on for the Philippines a primary destination for people who want to get tattoos.

SKINWORKZ Pasilyo D-19, Cartimar Arcade, Pasay City Telephone: (02) 834-5001 • Mobile: 0905-2222012 • Website:



Glenn Anthony Soco

Coffee Dream

‘The country is best served by patronizing our own products’ By Darlyn Ty


Photos by Ocs Alvarez

ihile scouting around for other businesses to complement his cinema business at Ayala Center-Cebu, Glenn Anthony Soco noticed that the moviegoers didn’t have a place to hang out before or after seeing a movie. At that time, Soco was already toying with the idea of introducing to the Cebuanos the gourmet coffee drinking habit that was so pervasive abroad. So, with only P90,000, three sets of chairs, and a home-use espresso machine, he opened the first Coffee Dream kiosk outside the Ayala Cinemas in 1996. “My goal was to inculcate gourmet-coffee drinking into the consciousness of the middle-income individual,” Soco says. This meant balancing quality with price. He also wanted to bring back the Philippines’ old glory as one of the world’s foremost coffee producers by using only locally grown coffee beans. “Our homegrown blends are unique and something we should patronize and be proud of. I therefore wasted no time in developing the Coffee Dream blend, design, and concept with the help of my team.” 54 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION

fessional organization that has for its vision the “creation of awareness and appreciation for local coffee.” “We believe that the country is best served by patronizing our own products,” Soco says. Coffee Dream’s product offerings reflect this pride in all things Filipino: Kape Pares, a breakfast set consisting of a Coffee Dream blend and pan de sal or cheese bread, and local delicacies like dried mango and chicharon. “This is our way of telling our customers, ‘This is your brand, and this is your coffee,’” he adds. Coffee Dream took the franchising route when it decided to expand in 2000. As it was building its franchising arm, the company learned to be picky with the location of its outlets. Soco explains: “We realized that with the coffee business, the opportunity lay in non-mainstream areas. That’s why Coffee Dream expanded only to what I call visionary markets—we opened branches where we became the pioneering coffee shop in the area. That’s how we became the first to open in Cagayan, General Santos, Cavite, Davao, and Bohol.” Today, Coffee Dream has become a national brand with 29 branches all over the country, but it has stuck to kiosks instead of full store set-ups to ensure leaner operations. “We just have enough people helping us,” Soco says. “In fact, the company’s flat structure makes it easier for us to reach one another.” He adds that an entrepreneur has to be passionate and needs to understand the market and to know how to provide what it wants. He explains: “You may love the business so much, but if you don’t give what your market wants, your business just won’t work. It’s all about providing the right product to the right market.” n

GLENN SOCO’s goal was to instill drinking gourmet co�ee into the middleclass Filipino’s consciousness— and so he needed to balance quality with price.

The downside to being among the first in the market was that for a while, no one was willing to follow Soco’s initiative. His coffee was cheaper than that offered by competitors, but it still cost more than the instant blends sold in sachets. “But I persisted because I believed there was an opportunity waiting to be tapped in the Filipinos’ love for hanging out,” he says. Coffee Dream had since evolved into a more pro-


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


offee Dream is known for its good customer service. In particular, its staff are trained to remember the names of regular customers and their favorite drinks. “But our being able to provide quality service comes from fostering a culture where every one feels he has a stake in the company,” Glenn

Soco says. To that end, he says, he has arranged for each kiosk to function as a profit center owned by its employees. They then earn commissions and rewards for good sales performance and for addressing customer needs as they see fit. “That’s how empowered each Coffee Dream employee is,” Soco says.

COFFEE DREAM Witco Bldg., Ace Furtura St., Mandaue City Telephone: (032) 344-7249 • Telefax: (032) 345-1625 E-mail: co�


INNOVATORS system and to start rebuilding the brand.” Of the four GoodAh!!! outlets Soler acquired, all but one had shut down. The new management thus reopened outlets at its existing sites, and then started franchising the restaurant in earnest. After that, the new management went to the next level: building the company’s franchise network. ”That’s what we are doing now,” says Che Soler’s brother Ricky, who is now RICKY SOLER also involved in managing the and his brother food chain’s franchise. “The CHE were previous owners were not reboth ‘batang ally focused on building their GoodAh!!!’—so, franchise. For the business to a�er buying the franchise, go big, however, franchising is they set about the best vehicle. We are therereengineering fore now changing things that the well-loved didn’t work and enhancing brand. those that did work.”

Che and Ricky Soler GoodAh!!! ‘We developed an entirely new franchise system and rebuilt the brand’ By Dulce Castillo-Morales


Photos by Walter Villa

ver three years ago, when he purchased and took over GoodAh!!! Restaurant from its original owners, Jose Antonio “Che” Soler pondered this option: Should he rebuild the company even if the only good thing still going for it is its brand? The once robust business had been going through bad times, but the restaurant’s name had maintained a strong positive connotation in people’s minds. This was reason enough for Soler, president of Del Sol Foods Inc., to accept the challenge of reviving the self-proclaimed “25-hour” food chain. On top of that, he admits, he himself was a “batang GoodAh!!!”—somebody who grew up on the food shop’s meals. The shop had its glory days in the 1980s when it popularized traditional hot and quickly-served Filipino snacks, particularly goto and arroz caldo (richly flavored porridge) as well as the silog fare (various viands with fried rice and fried eggs). These offerings made the “GoodAh!!!” name and eateries so popular that it even inspired a comedy movie of that title. Being a close associate of the previous owners (he prefers not to mention their names), Soler was there to help them sell the business when they decided to give it up. However, when three months passed and there was no interested buyer, the owners asked Sol56 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION

er if he wanted to take over the business himself. He thought it over for a month and on September 15, 2005, he bought the brand and the trademark, the menus, the two company-owned stores, and the two franchises of the food chain. “The first thing I had to do was to reengineer the whole business operation and to come up with the appropriate systems,” Soler explains. “The existing systems were okay in terms of store operations, but on the franchise level, there really were no systems at all. We therefore had to develop an entirely new franchise

n a c u Yo o do this,t o


he Soler knew that running GoodAh!!! was not really in synch with his other businesses, Solerex Water Technologies Inc. (a water treatment business) and Crystal Clear Water (a purified water distribution business), but he nevertheless decided to take it on as another challenge and learning experience. “I did an informal survey in my Crystal Clear outlets in Metro Manila,” Soler says. “I asked if they could recall GoodAh!!! and if they would be willing to go into that restaurant business themselves. From among my 30 franchisees, 25 gave

positive responses. But the responses of the remaining five franchisees weren’t really negative; it was just that they were also in the same food business or were already contented with just doing the water business.” After consulting people close to him and his business associates, he firmed up his decision to revive the brand.

As of last August, the revitalized GoodAh!!! had already grown to 26 outlets. Che Soler says he originally wanted to open 180 stores in 2008, but he has pared that target down to a more modest, more doable 90 stores. In any case, just two years after acquiring the food chain, Soler has virtually recovered his initial investment in the business. Goodah!!! celebrated its 25th year in March this year still living true to its Taglish catchphrase “Pagkain for every all” (“Food for everyone”). This time, though, its outlets are beginning to attract big numbers of an entirely new set of customers—the callcenter crowd, an entirely new generation of “batang GoodAh!!!.” n


GOODAH!!! Del Sol Foods Inc., 369 Dr. Sixto Antonio Avenue, Maybunga, Pasig City Telephones: (02) 6424489; (02) 642-9295 • Fax: (02) 6404989; (02) 6404237 Website:



Tanny Syfu Tri-Isys Internet

‘In the Philippines, brand counts for a lot’ By Rafael Santos Photo by Jun Pinzon 58 ENTREPRENEUR SPECIAL EDITION


t the peak of its market dominance in 2000, dial-up Internet service provider Tri-Isys already saw the storm clouds coming: the introduction of high-speed broadband in the local market. But as Tanny Syfu, the company’s chief executive adviser, now recalls, the company had underestimated the impact the new and much faster type of Internet service would have on the market. “Back then, we thought that high speed broadband was only a trickle,” he says. “This was because broadband was relatively expensive to operate, and we fig-

ured that the application would only serve big companies that could afford it, as what was then happening in other countries. But time has proven that this assumption wasn’t very accurate.” Indeed, with the advent of broadband, the operating costs of an Internet service dropped dramatically, and domestic telephone companies could now afford to offer the service at increasingly cheaper rates. The alarm bells sounded for Tri-Isys. Syfu recalls what the company did in self-defense: “We researched and planned a course of action to counter the threat. But as things stood at the time, the company didn’t own the cable links needed to bring Internet service to consumers; we simply had no choice but to lease them from the telephone companies.” Tri-Isys felt that it was equipped to weather the storm because of the company’s strong foothold in the prepaid service arena. Indeed, as 2006 rolled in, the company was finally able to identify the market niche it was going into given the new competitive situation: corporate security services in the form of antivirus and security software, Second Generation UTM (Unified Threat Management) for corporate security solutions, and Voice Over the Internet Protocol (VoIP), a comTri-Isys invested in munication service that bypassresearch es traditional telephone lines and to find out courses its data through broadband precisely what lines instead. consumers “We knew what we wanted to want out of do, so we went about implementthe things ing the plan,” Syfu explains. “A they buy. good thing about that move was that we had the existing backbone to support it, so we only had to buy the license to distribute anti-virus and UTM security software and to secure the lines we needed for the VoIP service.” Despite taking this new direction in its business, the company maintained prepaid Internet service vending as its core business. Syfu explains that the new ventures of Tri-Isys were meant to reinforce and not to totally reroute its prepaid Internet service, the


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


common pitfall in diversification is not being able to properly judge the market. A company needs to invest in research to find out precisely what consumers want out of the things they buy. Thus, to ensure that your new offering doesn’t turn out to be a flop, Tanny Syfu of TriIsys says you need to closely watch the trends in the market and, if need be, engage the services of a competent research firm. Once you have rolled out and demonstrated a product to potential

customers, Syfu says, make sure not to overlook finding satisfactory answers to the following questions: “So what? Why should customers care about your product? What will the product do for them?” In the case of TriIsys, Syfu says his company decided to go into corporate data security solutions in the country because it knew that there was a demand for them. Knowing that the market preferred branded products, TriIsys bought the licenses for well-known security solutions software from India.

demand for which has remained consistent. “It’s a way to diversify, to mix things up a little bit,” he says. “This is the only way for the company to grow: by maintaining our dominance of the prepaid market, and by becoming more aggressive in penetrating the corporate and business segments.” Tri-Isys plans to roll out more new services, including Managed Leased Lines, Managed Services, Bonded Links, and Wi-Fi services for consumers along with more managed IT solutions for corporate clients. Syfu expressed confidence that these new moves will spur more growth for the company in the years to come. n

TRI-ISYS INTERNET 5F AIC Center Bldg., 204 Escolta St., Binondo, Manila • Telephone: (02) 230-8777 Website:



Eric Tan

ploy Filipino workers abroad. However, since acquisition of an international license required considerable sums of money, the group decided to get their feet wet in the local market first. They then invested P4 million to start MPower Asia in 2004. His sole investment in the company was time and effort, but Dr. Tan was named general manager and operations head of MPower Asia. His partners had other family businesses to handle, so they all chose to be silent partners, handling only the financials and backoffice responsibilities. The company initially did well deploying janitors and promo girls. After a few months, however, it could hardly find any more clients. It was at this low point that an unexpected client, Lotus Spa, commissioned MPower Asia to provide it with 20 massage therapists. Dr. Tan recalls: “They supplied us with their training manual, and our job was to look for and train the required massage therapists. With that deal, in fact, Lotus Spa became our very first spa client.” With his strong hands-on approach, Dr. Tan decided to research various massage techniques on his own and trained the therapists himself. “I did so because I enjoy dealing with people and find it so rewarding to train them and help them find work,” he says. As it turned out, the Lotus Spa contract not only helped get MPower back on its feet but also set it on an entirely new direction. “Our approach to the business was entirely different from those of other establishments,” Dr. Tan explains. “Most of them produce their first batch of therapists by pirating a senior therapist from another establishment to do the training. This can be such a hassle because before they can put themselves in operation, they first have to put up a training facility, develop expensive training manuals, give allowances to the therapist trainers—the whole works.” With the promotion of the country’s massage services both here and abroad now its ultimate goal,

MPower Asia

‘This business was purely accidental’ By Katrina Tan Photos by Jun Pinzon


r. Eric Tan, MD, has always been an entrepreneur at heart. From the fourth grade until he got his medical technology degree from the University of Santo Tomas, he had pursued one business sideline after another: supplying sports uniforms to grade-school intramural participants, running a fish breeding company, owning a fruit-shake stall, even operating a Mexican restaurant. After getting his medical degree from the Fatima Medical College in 1998, however, he finally found his true calling: as manpower provider specializing in the training and deployment of massage therapists. Today, Dr. Tan, now 37, manages MPower Asia, a company that runs three core business operations: the Philippines Wellness Institute, a therapist training center; the Orange Home Spa, a massage home service; and Beyond Medi-spa, an in-hospital center providing massage to patients that need them. “It’s funny because although I’ve been involved in so many businesses, this one was purely accidental,” he says, recalling that he was actually on his way to becoming an oncologist (a specialist in cancer and other tumors) like his father. “I was in the United States, thinking of applying for work there, when I got this call from a friend back in the Philippines. He was asking me to join a manpower recruitment business he and his partners were starting. Since I love dealing with people, I accepted his invitation.” The proposed business was initially intended to be an international manpower company that would de-


DR. ERIC TAN decided to research various massage techniques, and trained the therapists himself.


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


r. Eric Tan of

lectures in provinces, and

MPower Asia

even talking to people

says the main

in malls. But he says the

difficulty the company

best promotion is getting

encounters is finding

referrals from the

enough people to train.

company’s graduates.

He thus actively looks

“We get 14 to 30

for prospects by running

students a month,” he

ads in the newspaper

says. “Aside from skill,

classifieds, giving

I look for character in a prospective massage therapist. I want our therapists to be those who will feel pride in their work. Of course, it can’t be helped that some would leave in the middle of the course, but I always try to learn from every experience with them.”

MPower Asia recently expanded its services to include spa conceptualization and consultation. “I’m constantly keeping ourselves one step ahead in all our training,” says Dr. Tan. “The point has been reached that some people have begun to call me ‘The Spa King’, but I don’t mind that at all. I’m very happy to help people find a livelihood. For me, in fact, the best reward for what I’m doing is the gratitude and thanks I get from those that I’ve trained.” n

MPOWER ASIA 409 Bldg., Shaw Blvd., Mandaluyong City 1500 • Telephones: (02) 724-0359; (02) 723-7714



Jimmy Thai Primer Group

‘The best customer experience is aligned with the company’s people and brand values’ By Iela Karunungan Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso



e describes himself as a “shy, stayaway-from-the-limelight guy,” but Jimmy Thai says this has not dampened his entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, the business sense in him was so strong that his grandfather, Sia Tao, decided to fund Thai’s first venture—selling stickers—with P50 in capital when he was still in the second grade. Thai learned the basics of entrepreneurship when he still was growing up. He had helped out in the Thai family’s hardware store on Ongpin Street in Manila’s Chinatown, doing such tasks as warehousing, delivery, purchasing, selling, even collection. In 1979, after getting his degree in Marketing from the De La Salle UniversiJIMMY THAI: ty, Thai joined the Ever-Gotesco The Primer Group as finance officer. He would Group is one stay with the company for the of the first next nine years, learning a great vendors deal in the process. Its founder, Go to execute the ‘shopTong, whom he considers the secin-a-shop’ ond most influential person in his concept. life, encouraged him to “envision the future.” In 1985, while he was still working for Ever-Gotesco, Thai and four friends established the Primer Group. They traded assorted seasonal merchandise for the next four years until 1989, when their company acquired the exclusive distributorship of the Samsonite brand of luggage and travel accessories. It was a huge break for the Primer Group, but it also came at a time when department stores were refusing to carry Samsonite because it was simply too expensive for the market then. Thus, to gain entry into the department stores, the Primer Group agreed to sell the products on concession terms, which means that the department stores would only pay for units actually sold. In addition, the Primer Group became one of the first vendors to execute the “shop-in-a-shop” concept, which means leasing exclusive space within a department store to give one’s products a distinct display area. By aggressively doing their business this way, Thai and his partners managed to grow their P500,000 startup capital into a broad and thriving business. Today, its luggage stores—namely Travel Club, Brat-

pack, and R.O.X. (Recreational Outdoor Exchange) stores—are the foremost of the Primer Group’s businesses. The stores number about 36 combined, all located in prime mall locations nationwide. In addition, the Travel Club now has a store in Kuala Lumpur, marking the first step in Primer Group’s regional expansion. The Travel Club bills itself as a traveler’s “one-stop shop solutions provider.” The five partners in Primer Group came up with this concept of the first multibrand luggage and bags store in 1992. They were then on a trip abroad and got to experience the mobile demands of traveling, thus leading them to hatch the idea. Since then, Primer Group has successfully marketed a wide range of international luggage and luggage accessories. They now classify these products into three product lines, namely Travel (Samsonite, American Tourister, Victorinox, among others), Lifestyle (Jansport, Kickers, LA Gear) and Outdoor (The North Face, Timberland, Teva). Because of its innovative approaches to marketing and retailing, the Travel Club was named the 2007 “Retailer of the Year” by the Philippine Retailers Association. Thai says that this honor has given the Primer Group “greater credentials,” making it even more difficult for the once terribly shy guy to stay away from the limelight. n


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


brand-driven company, the Primer Group relies on the power of the brands it carries and the level of relationship these brands have with their customers. Jimmy Thai says that to build these relationships and foster marketing innovation, the Primer Group follows these three guiding principles: relevance, uniqueness, and consistency. The group gives priority to the degree of relevance each brand’s campaign will bring to the life and lifestyle of its customers. “Our customer is first on our minds,” says Thai. “From program

execution to offerings, the campaign should be chiefly beneficial to our customers. By making our business relevant to them, we are able to build trust, credibility, and lasting relationships.” Thai says that by constantly thinking out of the box, Primer Group develops fresh, unique perspectives on products and services to cope with changing market and consumer trends. “Innovations allow us to stand out in the crowded market,” he adds. Finally, consistency means providing the best customer experience through aligned people and brand values as well as business principles. “We walk the talk,” he says.

PRIMER GROUP OF COMPANIES Suite 902 State Centre, 333 Juan Luna Street, 1006 Binondo, Manila Website:



Paulo Tibig V-Cargo

‘One of the best things we did was getting outside help’ By Rafael Santos Photo by Walter Villa


n 1998, Paulo Tibig was doing well running two profitable laundromats in downtown Manila, with both enjoying a steady clientele and fast- Vintel, now growing revenues. Based V-Cargo, ‘was on gut feel and a spur-of-the-mo- a hands-on ment idea, however, he thought of business from the start,’ going out of the business and putsays PAULO ting up a logistics and cargo com- TIBIG. ‘I was pany instead. involved in But the problem was that Tib- delivering the ig didn’t have the money to put goods myself. his new business idea onstream. It was tough He therefore had to resort to what work.’

he calls “creative financing”: he borrowed P150,000 from his future mother-in-law to capitalize the venture. He then purchased a second-hand truck to get the new business started. He explains that decision: “Back then, my fiancée and I were wary of approaching banks for a loan. We were afraid to be turned down because we didn’t have a credit history. So we decided to borrow from her mother. We got the loan, and the good thing about it was that it was interest-free as well.” Tibig, who named the company Vintel Logistics Inc., initially focused on bundling services—which means packing two separate products together to be sold at a discount. Gradually, he added four other service lines to the business: merchandise materials distribution, drop-box management, freight forwarding, and events logistics. “It was a hands-on business from the start,” he recalls. “I was involved in delivering the goods myself, with my wife and I running the day-to-day operations. It was tough work.” The business did very well, though, so Tibig was able to repay the loan from his mother-in-law after only a year in operation. However, he eventually sold his two laundromats because he could no longer find time to manage them. He has no regrets with that decision, though. Today, Vintel Logistics now makes sales revenues in the seven figures, consistently recording a 20 percent growth rate for the past five years. The success of Vintel Logistics has been largely due to its being a consistent industry trendsetter. Aside from offering extended pickup times for cargo, it offers longer booking hours than the rest of the industry. Its flexibility and reliability have always been its main selling proposition. On top of this, it has developed strong expertise in round-the-clock, nationwide deliveries of foodstuffs, raw materials, and manufactured goods and of marketing materials such as posters and streamers. “For our delivery system, we are always on call 24/7, and our cutoff time is 7:00 p.m., three hours longer than that of the competition,” Tibig says. “That gives us a longer window to service our cus-


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


s Vintel Logistics grew from a mom-and-pop outfit to a full-fledged cargo company, the Tibig couple eventually had to hire a consultant to help professionalize the company’s information technology and financial systems. “One of the best things we did was getting outside help,” Paulo Tibig recalls. “We realized that some of the things we needed to grow were outside our sphere of competence. To help us streamline the business, we needed to hire people

with prior experience.” The services of the consultants cost the company upwards of P300,000 each, but Tibig views that cost as a necessary investment— one that really helped Vintel grow. “You must not be blinded by your own brilliance,” he says. “Sometimes, you need a fresh point of view to help you decide what’s best for the business. Indeed, by hiring consultants, we were able to develop the systems that we still use today.”

tomers without compromising the reliability of our service.” In nine years, Vintel Logistics has grown from a pocket-size cargo company to a medium-scale business that employs a full-time staff of 60 and operates a fleet of 15 delivery trucks. It currently services such big-name companies as Pepsi, Chowking, Red Ribbon, and Procter and Gamble Philippines. Vintel Logistics definitely has arrived as an industry player, but Tibig is still not content with the growth that it has achieved. He wants to make it one of the country’s bigger logistics and cargo solutions companies. “To reflect our bigger plans for the coming years, we have changed our corporate identity to V-Cargo, which is the company’s new name,” Tibig explains. He says that a remittance service, tentatively called V-Cash, is in the planning stage. n

VINTEL LOGISTICS INC. (V-CARGO) Warehouse 1, Armal Compound, C. Raymundo Ave., Maybunga, Pasig City Telephone: (02) 900-0002; (02) 900-0003 • Website:



Tom Viray Orient Integrated Commercial

For a businessman to succeed, he has to honor his commitments By L. T. Guilas Photos by Walter Villa



cknowledged as the father of silkscreen printing in the Philippines, Tomas “Tom” Viray has always dreamt of becoming independent ly wealthy. Even when he was already nearing 50, he continued to pursue that dream, going into silkscreen printing with only P5,000 in start-up capital. Today, that small business has grown into the Orient Group of Companies, a P200-million enterprise engaged in industrial signage, labels, packaging, offset printing, digital printing, and trading. Now 83, but still active in running the business, Viray recalls that as a young boy of 8 in 1933, he had fabricated a kariton TOM VIRAY: ‘With (makeshift cart) from scrap four growing and the wheels of a worn-out children, I thought bicycle. He did this to earn that going into some money transporting business was the the goods bought by people best thing to do.’ from Divisoria in Manila. His family lived on Antonio Rivera St. in Tondo, just a few blocks away from Divisoria, and he remembers dreaming of how it would feel like to have a calesa (horse-drawn carriage) so he wouldn’t have to be so heavily burdened. A few years later, Viray realized that dream and got to own a calesa. He then dreamed of having something even better: a car that could transport him in grander style. It took him much longer to realize that dream, but today, he owns not just a car but a whole fleet of cars and commercial vehicles as well. Viray says that the road to his first million definitely wasn’t easy: “I worked as a civilian employee in the military for 27 years, and I retired in 1971 when I realized that as a government employee, I couldn’t open up opportunities for a better life for myself and my family. With four growing children, I thought that going into business was the best thing to do.” He recalls that one day, while looking for the right business to go into, he chanced upon a man doing screen-printing. “I got interested in what he was doing, so I offered to sell his products for him,

an offer that he readily accepted,” he says. “We then agreed on a partnership and Orient Integrated Commercial Inc. was born. We began with nine staff members, squeezing ourselves in a two-room commercial apartment.” He entered the screen-printing business at a time when it was still largely considered as a backyard industry. “Unfortunately, my industrial partner didn’t like the idea of sharing his technique with me and our people, so we decided to part ways after only a few months,” he recalls. Viray and his workers at Orient stayed on, but the first few years of the business were very unstable due to very limited working capital. Also, being all silkscreen neophytes, they made so many mistakes and often had to repeat job orders. He then realized that for the business to succeed, it had to greatly improve its screen-printing techniques, so he started sending his employees to skills improvement seminars and workshops. Later, Viray found a supplier from the United States for the luminous holograms that garment manufacturers used for their jeans line. These holograms proved so popular that they became a major moneymaker for him. In fact, it was as their distributor that he earned his first million at age 50. Viray got even more substantial orders for holograms from various garments manufacturers, so he needed to increase his production very quickly. He was also able to bag a million-peso contract with ABS-CBN for the sarimanok scratch-on promo followed by a similar order from the makers of Lucky Me instant noodles. He took a bank loan to purchase a brand-new offset machine on lease basis, eventually acquiring a total of five special labeling machines to meet the increasing demand for various orders. In 1980, after training with 3M USA on the various techniques and materials for traffic engineering, he became a trusted supplier of 3M


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


o he could always pay back his loan amortizations promptly, Tomas Viray of the Orient Group of Companies holds a strict rein on his finances. Then as

now, he believes that for a businessman to succeed, he has to honor his commitments. “Though thick and thin, even in times of economic crises, I have never failed to pay my obligations on time,” he says.

Philippines. Over the years, this enabled him and his four children to establish four more companies engaged in various printing and signage applications. His elder daughter Celia put up Modagraphics Builders Corp. to sell illuminated flexible signages; his eldest son Cesar came up with Mega Specialty Labels; his second son Celso started Metrocolor Corp. to do offset printing for posters, calendars, newsletters, and brochures; and his youngest daughter Celina founded International Graphics Supply Inc. to provide screen-printing as well as digital supplies and services. n

ORIENT INTEGRATED COMMERCIAL INC. Kingspoint Subdivision, Novaliches, Quezon City Telephone: (02) 937-2050; (02) 930-4772 • Fax: (02) 930-3895 E-mail:


INNOVATORS feature either ceramic or paper tags. Although the paper bags remained a fast-moving item, however, Vito realized after three months that his income from them could not even pay for just the showroom rentals. Recalls Vito: “I was just selling at P35 to P96 apiece depending on the size, giving me a margin of only 25 percent. Most of this margin just went to the pay of my workers.” So Vito wracked his brains to come up with something that could be truly profitable without requiring big money to get started, and one that could relate well to Bacolod City in particular. Finally, he came up with the idea of producing papier mache masks. Vito thought of it because Bacolod City has a 25-year-old annual celebration in October, the MassKara festival, that features weekend-long street dance competitions among colorful masked dancers. With P5,000 in savings from his day job, he then hired an artist to design some masks and made 30 pieces of them from the waste paper in his printing press. He named the masks after himself, Vito, and registered the product under his company, Vito Prints & Pieces. He then put them on display at the ANP Showroom in Bacolod. His papier mache masks were sold out in no time at all. Soon after, there was a surge of orders for the masks from local and foreign tourists, enabling him to recover his capital after just two months of operation. He recalls that there were times when he found it so hard to juggle his time doing three things on a given day: painting the masks himself, managing his printing press and the mask business, and teaching at the university. He says with a laugh: “There were even times when for lack of time, I had to go to class with paint still all over my hands. As an excuse, I would then tell my students, ‘Look, these are the hands that work.’” In 2006, Vito started getting orders for his masks from companies for use as corporate giveaways or party At the start, with no money to invest, all JOJO VITO could think of was to produce paper bags out of the available raw material inventory of his printing press.

Marianito Vito Jr.

Vito Prints & Pieces

‘Look, these are the hands that work’ By Mishell Malabaguio


Photos by Clemn Macasiano Jr.

is five-year-old printing press business in Bacolod City was floundering, so Marianito “Jojo” Vito Jr. was desperately trying to keep it afloat by diversifying into other products rath-


er than just accepting printing jobs. This was in 2005, right after the Association of Negros Producers (ANP) had invited him to display his products in the city’s ANP Showroom. Vito, then 37, had quickly accepted the offer although he really did not have a single tangible product to display for his company, Papyrus Prints Co. The printing press had been running at a loss, and to make ends meet, Vito had to augment his income by teaching management and entrepreneurship at La Consolacion College in Bacolod. With no money at all to invest, all he could think of was to produce paper bags out of his available raw material inventory. Simply to test the market, therefore, he produced 100 pieces of paper bags, printed the label “Bacolod Bacolod” on them, then registered the product under the Vito Prints & Pieces brand. To his surprise, the paper bags sold out fast. This encouraged him to produce more, adding as an extra


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ven if he has more workers now, Jojo Vito of Vito Prints & Pieces still designs all the masks by himself. “I just make one design and then my artist will innovate on it,” he says. “Painting is really my form of expression. I don’t feel tired painting and I don’t mind working overtime at night doing it.” Vito’s creativity has also allowed him to diversify his brand. He now produces other products such as mask key chains, clay masks, wooden masks, framed masks, masks with magnets, sculptures,

bag jewelries, semiantique lamps that use secondhand wood, and fashion accessories. With the business still growing, he is now exploring the use of several materials other than fiberglass for his masks.

costumes. He decided to further improve the quality of his products considering that he was now getting orders from abroad. Then, when the international orders got so big, he decided to shift from paper to fiberglass—a difficult and painful process for him because it required a much more sizeable investment, training in new production technology, and a bigger production area. Today, the Vito mask has become an all-yearround product that averages 200 pieces per month in sales, with the volume tripling during the month of the MassKara Festival in October. From only one artist and a helper, Vito now has three artists, three production assistants, one supervisor, and several subcontractors. “Passion is the key to our success,” Vito says. “I was able to grow Vito Prints & Pieces this big because I have been plowing back my profits into the business and because we really work very hard at it.” n

VITO PRINTS & PIECES ANP Showroom, Lourdes-C Bldg., 9th St. cor. Lacson St., Bacolod City, Negros Occidental Mobile: 0918-9302556 • Fax: (034) 433-5965 • E-mail:



Albert Yu

Asya Design Partner ‘I want to create not just buildings but landmarks’ By Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua


Photos by Ocs Alvarez

here’s an unending hubbub of activity at the offices of the architectural and construction firm Asya Design Partner in Pasay City. Albert Yu, the principal architect himself, looks as if he would multiply himself into three if only he could, for at the moment, his firm is overseeing the construction of as many as 50 major building projects simultaneously— and these are only the high-rises. Name the type of architectural structure, and Yu’s firm has already conceived, designed, and built several of it both here and abroad—shopping malls, highrise residential and office buildings, residential communities, schools, churches, hotels, and resorts. In the Philippines, among the firm’s notable commercial projects are the 168 Shopping Give Asya Mall in Binondo, Canyon Cove and Design a Residential Resort and Hotel in Naconcept for sugbu, Batangas, and the SM Mezza a building, Residences in Sta. Mesa. The firm and they ‘can has also designed several commersubmit a cial buildings in southern China and design within two weeks,’ in Shanghai. says Albert True to Yu’s vision, most of these Yu. ‘And we structures have become popular never repeat landmarks in their respective localour designs.’ ities. “Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to be an architect, but I wanted to create not just buildings but landmarks,” he says. While studying architecture, he worked mornings as a draftsman and renderer for renowned Filipino architect Willy Coscolluela, attending classes only in the afternoons and evenings. “It wasn’t because I needed


the money,” he explains. “I just wanted to get as much experience as possible. After all, you can only learn so much in school.” Right after acquiring his professional license in 1993, Yu put up Asya Design Partner. With just three architects, he embarked on his first project: a four-story

residential building. It proved to be a very auspicious start. “When that building was completed and I joined its owners during its house-blessing, I was able to get 10 more clients from among the guests,” he recalls. Yu went on to grow his four-person firm into one of the best and biggest in the country, with current staffing of 82. During the past three years, BCI Asia, the region’s leading construction information service, has named Asya Design among the top 10 architectural firms in the Philippines. These firms are selected based on the highest accumulated value of the active projects in their portfolios for the past year. The company counts among its clientele three of the country’s top developers—Robinsons Land Corp., SM Investment Corp., and Brittany Corp. All of them had first enlisted the firm’s services by referral. Says Yu: “In all of Asya’s 14 years in business, we have never listed ourselves in the phone directory, and neither have we ever made a bid for a project. It’s always the clients who came to us.” All of his projects, Yu says with pride, are almost always sold out even before construction begins. “This is because whenever I come up with a design, I think like a developer myself,” he explains. “I know what features to include to make a particular building attractive to the buyer.” Asya Design Partner prides itself on its innovative designs and the speed of their execution. “Give us a concept and we can submit a design in two weeks,” Yu says, “and we never repeat our designs. It’s a policy that also serves as excellent training for our staff because it exposes them to so many different concepts at one time.” As with most successful architectural and construction professionals, Yu hopes to penetrate the global market and design more buildings for overseas clients. He likewise dreams of designing a building that’s more a piece of art than a habitable structure. “Like a building that’s tilted on one side,” he says. The market might not be ready for this concept for a while, but he believes there’s no harm in dreaming early and dreaming big. After all, Yu says, it was exactly how he started out. Look where it has taken him. n


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


part from his

Among his initiatives


is providing more open

designs, what

spaces around building

sets Albert Yu’s brand

structures to improve

of development apart is

indoor air quality.

his advocacy of “Green

In November

Architecture.” He

2006, Yu cofounded

espouses environment-

the Philippine Green

friendly designs that

Building Council, and

could soften the impact

in 2007, he became the

of development on

only Filipino to join the

human health and

United States Green

the environment.

Building Council.

ASYA DESIGN PARTNER 2/F ACE Building, 353 Protacio St. cor Zamora St., Pasay City Telephones: (02) 833-8773; (02) 831-4787 • Website:





the baton

he Zobel de Ayalas, the Gokongweis, the Gaisanos, the Lopezes, the Sys. When you think of family businesses in the Philippines, these clans come to mind first. Clearly, family-owned or family-operated enterprises form the backbone of the local economy; indeed, studies estimate that at least 80 percent of Philippine businesses are family-owned. And this figure mirrors what’s true for the rest of the world. According to the journal Family Business Review, 80 to 90 percent of all businesses in North America are familyowned; in Europe, it’s anywhere from 60 to 90 percent. There may be no hard-and-fast statistics on family businesses in the Philippines, but no doubt two of the country’s top schools think these enterprises are worth focusing on and studying about. Ateneo de Manila University, for instance, has its Family Business Development Center at its John Gokongwei School of Management; De La


Salle University’s Angelo King Institute has its Family Business Studies Center. Also, the University of Southern Maine’s Institute for Family-Owned Business recently reported that 35 percent of the Fortune 500 companies is family-controlled and that they account for 50 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product (GDP), generate 60 percent of employment in the US, and create 78 percent of all new jobs. But like all other businesses, family enterprises have the same—if not more— challenges to face. Continuity, particularly succession, and longevity are crucial issues; and when these aren’t addressed properly, two out of three family enterprises close down before they reach the second generation, at least according to US statistics. In the following pages, however, 14 entrepreneurial Filipino clans show us how they hurdled their unique challenges on their way to success. The perseverance of the Ramoses (National Bookstore), the phoenix-like rise of the Garcias (Mekeni Foods), and the vision of the Escuderos (Villa Escudero) are all outstanding and inspiring examples.


PATSY, MELDY and TINA ALEJANDRO: Their parents ‘refused to borrow money.’

Alejandro Family Papemelroti

‘It has always been my hobby to make new things out of what people usually throw away’ By Katrina Tan Photo by Thaddeus Reantaso 4 ENTREPRENEUR 2008


hey might not have had the best-laid plans when they started Papemelroti in 1967, but after four decades and two generations of running the business, the husband-and-wife team of Benny and Corit Alejandro have made the curio gift-shop chain one of the most popular and successful in the country today. “It has always been my hobby to make new things out of what people usually throw away,” Corit recalls

how she got started in the business. “I sewed dresses for my daughters and made toys from toilet paper rolls and piggy banks from empty bottles. My husband, Benny, also enjoyed woodworking and making furniture.” Benny was then looking for a new home for the family and Corit had asked him to find one where she could also put up a small store. They found an apartment that fit their requirements along Tomas Morato in Quezon City, and they moved to it in 1967. Patsy, the Alejandro couple’s eldest child, recalls: “My mom would make different crafts and run her shop on the first floor, while the family lived on the second. We were just kids then, so naturally, we would help her out every now and then.” The couple initially named the store Korben Gifts, after the first syllables of their first names, and they opened it for business during their first summer there. Patsy remembers: “At first, the products we had were just enough to fill the window display; the rest of the 30 sq m store space was empty. But my parents refused to borrow money. All of their capital thus came solely from their savings and from my dad’s earnings as a broker.” When friends and neighbors soon began frequenting the store, however, the couple was able to steadily expand the shop’s product line. They even began sourcing some of their product lines from Europe and the US, but as the Philippine economy took a plunge and importing became too difficult, they concentrated on making their own merchandise: figurines, furniture, metal pieces, stationery, woodcarvings, and other crafts. Having not yet perfected her molding method, Corit Alejandro would inadvertently produce many pieces of deformed figurines, which surprisingly ended up becoming a favorite of their customers. This encouraged the Alejandro children, all still in grade school at that time, to paint figurines and hammer down wooden plaques to give them that distressed, but lovable, “antique” look. In May 1976, using all of the profit they had made from their shop, the Alejandros opened another shop on the second floor of Ali Mall in Cubao, Quezon City. This time, they named the shop “Papemelroti,”


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ver since the Alejandro couple opened Papemelroti, all of the five Alejandro siblings have been in the thick of things running the business. Patsy and Peggy would take turns at the cash register, Meldy would sell the items, Robert would draw decorations on the

little wooden figures, and Tina, only 7 at that time, would help out in the gift wrapping. Tina remembers: “I couldn’t even reach the counter. And since I didn’t want customers to know that their gifts were being wrapped by a kid, I would do the job on the floor where they couldn’t see me.”

the acronym formed by the first syllables of the names of their five children— Patsy, Peggy, Meldy, Robert, and Tina. Papemelroti’s biggest attraction was definitely its charming, distinctly handcrafted items, many of which were made from recycled materials. “My mother was naturally thrifty, so a lot of our items were made out of scraps, natural paper, shells, twigs, and so many others,” says Patsy. “We used recycled brown paper even back then. Then, we would put sentimental sayings on some of those items.” The company now has a chain of 14 gift shops all over Metro Manila and from its income over the years, the Alejandro couple had been able to send all of their five children to college. Each studied and got a college degree from the University of the Philippines: Patsy in interior design, Peggy in architecture, Meldy in business administration, Robert in fine arts, and Tina in mass communications. Patsy joined the family business right after graduating. Her siblings decided to first work with other companies before finding their way back to Pepemelroti. Today, Papemelroti now also sells its products wholesale to several stores in the province through resellers and business partners, and has also started exporting them to Hong Kong, Singapore, and other foreign markets. n

PAPEMELROTI GIFTS AND DECORATIVE ACCESSORIES G/F, Korben Place, 91 A. Roces Avenue, Quezon City 1103 Fax: (02) 375-1069; (02) 374-2442; (02) 412-6487 E-mail: or • Website:



Mary Grace ArboledaYoung

Besides Benguet coffee, the coffee shop of the Young couple also serves espresso, cappuccino, café latte, café Kalinga, and café amandine, but the only roasts it sells are Benguet coffee and the D’kapetimusang or civet coffee, which is one of the most expensive coffee varieties. (The musang or civet cat ingests Benguet coffee beans and then excretes them. The beans are pro-

Cordillera Coffee ‘To grow as a nation, Filipinos must go back to their roots’ By Mari-An C. Santos


Photos by Jun Pinzon

n November of 2003, Mary Grace ArboledaYoung and her Englishman husband Frank decided to promote Benguet coffee by putting up Cordillera Coffee on Xavierville Avenue in Quezon City. A business administration graduate who hails from Kalinga in the Cordillera Region, Mary Grace says they did so to help MARY GRACE rekindle the Filipinos’ passion for ARBOLEDAtheir own products and rich culture YOUNG: ‘We in a market dominated by foreign help farmers coffeehouse franchises. strengthen “To grow as a nation, the Filitheir faith in pinos must go back to their roots,” their product.’ she explains. “We are giving a special focus on Benguet coffee or the Cordillera Arabica because it’s at par with the Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, which is one of the finest and most expensive coffees in the world.” Cordillera Coffee sources its coffee beans from farmers in the adjoining municipalities of Bokod and Atok in Benguet. These farmers are supported by the Cordillera Coffee Assistance for Indigenous Development (Coffee AID), of which Mary Grace is the leading proponent. Coffee AID is a nongovernment organization whose objective is to ensure consistent 6 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

income and fair trade to the farmers who grow Benguet coffee. It also seeks to promote the preservation of traditional coffee farming as a livelihood in the Cordilleras. “Benguet coffee is smooth and has a fresh, rich aroma,” says Mary Grace. “It is full-bodied and matures very slowly, thus developing its flavor better. The high altitude makes the coffee better tasting. The elements of air, climate, and soil combine to make Benguet coffee one of the finest-tasting coffees in the Philippines.”

cessed inside the cat’s digestive system in such a way that, according to coffee connoisseurs, they come out less acidic and more chocolatey.) Today, from the Young couple’s initial investment of P1 million, Cordillera Coffee has expanded to five more coffee shops. These shops are located at the Riverbanks complex in Marikina City, at the School of Economics and the Institute of Small Scale Industries


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


he branches of Cordillera Coffee are a marriage of café and gallery. They often host poetryreading sessions and their walls are always decked with artworks by different artists. “We want to reach those who drink coffee and who appreciate arts and culture,” Mary Grace ArboledaYoung says. As organizer of Coffee AID, Cordillera

Coffee buys the produce of the Benguet coffee farmers in advance and at a fair price. Says Mary GraceArboleda Young: “Through Coffee AID, we help farmers strengthen their faith in their product and feel a sense of pride in what they are doing. More than that, the fair trade in the coffee they are producing strengthens their sense of selfworth.”

at the Diliman, Quezon City campus of the University of the Philippines, at the Philippine Social Science Centre along Commonwealth Ave. in Quezon City, and at the SM Mall in Baguio City, which, with a staff of 16, is the largest outlet. “We recovered our initial investment in the business after three years, but everything we earned we plowed back to expand the business,” says Mary Grace. Currently, Coffee AID is benefiting a total of 50 farmers and their families. Cordillera Coffee buys coffee beans from the farmers at P150 per kilo to supply its three outlets in Metro Manila and the one in Baguio City. In contrast, if the farmers were to sell their coffee beans to middlemen or directly to public market stall owners, they would normally be forced to sell at P100 to P120 per kilo. “We want Cordillera Coffee to reach an even wider market by putting up more coffee shops,” says Mary Grace. “This way, we can help more farmers and promote their coffee and their causes even more strongly.” To this end, Cordillera Coffee has started franchising; their first franchised outlet is at the Vargas Museum in the UP Diliman campus. n

CORDILLERA COFFEE Unit 104 Llanar Building, Xavierville Avenue corner Gonzales Street, Loyola Heights, Quezon City Telephones: (02) 436-0324; (02) 933-8040 E-mail: cordilleraco� • Website: cordilleraco�



Cecille Co RJ Jewelry

‘What sets us apart is our craftsmanship’ By Katrina Tan


Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso

rom 1970 to 1979, Cecille Co got handson training in jewelry while working as a stone-setter for another jewelry company. Her job was mainly to set stones in jewelry mountings by hand. One day, however, a friend of hers came to see

her and wanted a particular piece of jewelry. “I found what she wanted and got a good deal for it, so I just paid cash for it myself,” Co, now the CEO and director of the family-owned RJ Jewelry, recalls. “My friend paid me back in installments, with a 30 percent markup on a 60-day term, split in two postdated checks. One deal just led to another after that, and before I knew it, I had already established a bunch of regular clientele.” This steady stream of customers The growth in prompted Co to leave her job and to the OFW market open her own jewelry shop in 1979 has enabled together with her five siblings: Kris- RJ Jewelry to expand its tine, Roland, Phinee, Mariane, and operations Lilet. The six decided to make the from buying shop, RJ Jewelry, specialize in fine and selling to white-gold and yellow-gold jewelry manufacturing with pearls and precious gemstones. their own With an initial investment of product line.

about P150,000, they set up shop in their father’s house in Bulacan. Co used the money to purchase a weighing scale, a gold and diamond tester, pouches and boxes, and about 20 to 30 pieces of jewelry. She and her family members then divided the work evenly and handled all the business operations themselves. “Our target market is the B-income segment,” Co says. “Our buyers are mostly employees with stable jobs, businessmen, and sometimes even OFWs [overseas Filipino workers] who buy from us and then resell the items to their coworkers abroad.” The continuing growth of the country’s OFWs was that motivated RJ Jewelry to aggressively market its products outside of the Philippines. “Although the local market is okay, we noticed that many of our good buyers are balikbayans and OFWs,” she says. Today, RJ Jewelry has expanded its business to manufacturing a jewelry line as well as to buying jewelry pieces from abroad and selling them locally. Co says that although the family business is doing well, it has its share of difficulties particularly in collecting from clients who buy jewelry on credit. “In this business, there will be times when you’ll have problems with postdated checks,” she says. “Our advice? Don’t sell on installment basis if you don’t know the buyer well enough.” RJ Jewelry’s products are able to hold their own in the overseas market. “What sets us apart is our craftsmanship,” says Co. “Our designs are simple yet elegant and fashionable. Also, we’re always on the lookout for new designs, and to keep our clients satisfied, we always make it a point to enforce strict quality control and deliver orders on time.” n


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


he buy-andsell jewelry business can be very profitable if your credit and collection is good, says Cecille Co of RJ Jewelry. Since most buy-and-sell businesses can be run from one’s house with minimal overhead expenses, their earnings depend mainly on the product markup and payment scheme. “If you sell on

cash basis, a 10 to 15 percent mark up is good enough,” she says. “Installments, on the other hand, can be priced with a 20 to 30 percent markup, depending on the terms you give to your client.” Thus, if you can realize a good number of sales each month and keep your expenses to a minimum, you could get back your investment in just a few months.

RJ JEWELRY 6 Purok 4 Tugatog, Meycauayan, Bulacan Mobile: 0917 5161476



Conrado Escudero Villa Escudero

This former hacienda is now a famous tourist spot showcasing Filipino culture and traditions.

‘My siblings used to tease me as a dreamer,’ CONRADO ESCUDERO says, ‘but now everybody can see that my dreams have all come true.’

By Joel D. Adriano


Photos by Jun Pinzon

he Escudero family has made a radical change in their business that very few other businesses can do without encountering serious difficulties. In 1979, the family started transforming their 800hectare coconut plantation that straddles San Pablo City in Laguna and Tiaong in Quezon province into a themed tourist resort, then trained their plantation workers to become service staff and cultural performers instead. Today, Villa Escudero has become one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations south of Manila, attracting over a million foreign and local tourists every year. Its biggest draw is the fiesta-like atmosphere it creates each touring day, during which its staff—clad in traditional native holiday costumes—regales guests with Filipino folk songs and dances as they tour the sprawling plantation. The place has retained much of its rustic charm, but it has become a beehive of tourist activity instead of farming. Villa Escudero began as a self-contained sugarcane plantation in the 1800s, but it shifted to coconut during the early 1900s. Don Arsenio, the only child of the elder Escuderos, later inherited the plantation and, together with his wife Rosario who was also an only child, further developed the farm. From among their seven children, Don Arsenio Escudero chose their fifth born, Conrado, to run the


family business. Although all of their children grew up in the hacienda and were therefore all exposed to farming, only Ado, as the family fondly calls him, had chosen to formally take up a course on agriculture. After finishing the course at Cornell University in the United States, he decided he also wanted to become a chef, so he also earned a degree in hotel and restaurant administration. But with the world market price of coconut declining steadily in the 1970s, Conrado—once a spokesman

for the Philippine coconut industry—thought that it was time to put up another business as a fallback. He then approached his father and proposed to convert part of the family estate into a resort—not just any resort, he explains, but one that would bring the visitors back in time while showcasing Filipino culture and traditions. “My siblings were skeptical and used to tease me as a dreamer,” Escudero, now 75, says, “but now everybody can see that my dreams have all come true.” He saw two distinct aspects of the family estate that he could use to make the farm a destination of choice: his father’s huge and highly diverse antique collection, including the biggest private religious collection in the country, and the surroundings of the estate itself. Running through part of the plantation is the Labasin River, and the Escuderos had acquired the rights to a portion of it on which they later created a waterfall. Before Conrado was able to put his plans into motion, however, Don Arsenio died in 1978. Discouraged, he sought the advice of a village elder—a reputed seer—on what to do. The elder recommended that he proceed with his idea, saying his late father’s kindness would guarantee its success. This revived Conrado’s enthusiasm and


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


onrado Escudero emphasizes the importance of hands-on management in running a business. In Villa Escudero, he alone makes the final decisions on management matters, but he draws on the support of various family members in running the resort. More importantly,

Escudero says, you need to command the respect and loyalty of your staff. “I am firm but fair to my staff,” he says. “Since the time of my father, we have always been generous to our workers. We have consistently provided them with free housing, medical benefits, and scholarships for their children.”

he got a P30,000 loan from his mother in 1979 to fund the development of a portion of the farm near the foot of the river waterfalls. He made it a picnic area by furnishing it with two makeshift tables, several wooden benches, and a small hut. The concept quickly became popular among visitors from Metro Manila looking for an idyllic rural setting for their out-of-town trips. Eventually, the resort became the favorite haunt of politicians, show business personalities, movie producers, and couples looking for a unique wedding venue. “When I first started I only had three staff plus myself as the cook,” Escudero says. Today, the 100-hectare resort now employs a staff of 700. It has 34 cottages for overnight guests, three swimming pools, several function rooms, an air-conditioned conference center, a recreational hall, and a churchlike museum with a modern-Gothic design where Don Arsenio’s quaint antique collection is on permanent display. n

VILLA ESCUDERO Manila o�ce: 1059 Estrada St., Malate, Manila • Provincial mailing address: P.O. Box 4, San Pablo City, Laguna 4000 • Telephones: (02) 0830; (02) 523-0392; (02) 523-2944; (049) 561-3808 (Laguna o�ce) • Website:



Felix Garcia and Family Mekeni Food Corp. ‘We obtained the proper education for the business’ By Dulce Castillo-Morales


Photo by Thaddeus Reantaso

emarkable” is the word that can best describe the camaraderie among the five sons of Felix “Tatang” Garcia and Medicia “Meding” Garcia, the patriarch


and matriarch of the clan that owns Mekeni Food Corp., a highly successful Pampanga-based meat processing company. This amiable relationship between the brothers—Adriano (Adrian), Prudencio (Pruds), Angelito (Lito), Diosdado (Doods), and Nardo (Nards)—has much to do with the continuing growth and prosperity of the family-owned company, which makes a wide range of meat products that include chicharon (pork skin cracklings), tocino (cured pork), hotdogs, bacon, ham, longaniza, beef tapa (cured beef), and bologna. Indeed, it forms the backbone of their rags-to-riches story or, more aptly perhaps, an ashes-to-success story—for their meat-processing business had been devastated by the eruption of nearby Mount Pinatubo in

1991 but had somehow survived, nursing itself to a strong recovery. Being full-blooded Pampangueños, Tatang Felix and Imang Meding (in Kapampangan, “Tatang” is a patronymic for “father” and “Ima” for “mother”) and their brood are all fiercely proud of their hometown of Porac and loyal to it. Thus, in 1991, when the Pinatubo disaster struck, their first thought was to help in the rehabilitation of their fellow townsfolk. This abiding sense of community has been a hallmark not only of the Garcia family but also of Mekeni Food as a corporate citizen. Mekeni Food is no overnight success, having started as a small-time backyard poultry and piggery business. To this day, Tatang Felix still could not believe that it had become a full-scale commercial meat-processing enterprise. He recalls: “I started a backyard poultry and piggery only to support my family FELIX GARCIA and to augment my salary. At the and his sons: time, my wife and I were schoolAn abiding teachers in the mountains. What sense of my small backyard business has becommunity come truly exceeded all my expechas been a tations. I never really thought that hallmark of it would get this big.” Mekeni Food From growing and selling liveas a corporate citizen. stock, the Garcia family eventually ventured into meat processing, initially by producing chicharon and tocino. These meat products under the Mekeni brand immediately became popular in Porac and in Pampanga’s nearby towns. But just when the business was picking up fast, Mount Pinatubo erupted. The lahar that it unleashed wreaked havoc in Porac and damaged their meat factory. At that time, Adrian, Pruds and Lito Garcia were already living and working abroad. The eldest, Adrian, had settled in the United States. Pruds and Lito had well-established careers as accountants in Saudi Arabia. But the sons heeded their father’s summons. They came back home and helped the company recover from the disaster. With the revival of Mekeni Food, the Garcia family was able to generate more jobs for



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

n running a business, nothing is as valuable as first-hand experience and the knowhow, Prudencio Garcia of Mekeni Food says. “We learned by working with our parents,” Prudencio explains. “We also obtained the proper education for the business. Three of us are graduates of business administration; the

eldest, of animal science; and the youngest, of marketing.” He adds: “Given our experience and education, we understand the nature of the business very well. Of course, our individual experience in working outside the country and in dealing with multinationals also helped. And when the challenges come, we solve them together one at a time.”

their townmates and other fellow Pampangueños. Today, from only 30 employees when it started, Mekeni Food now employs over 700 people. During the last few years, Tatang Felix, 81, and Imang Meding, 78, had gradually handed over the reins of Mekeni Food to their sons. Prudencio is now its president, Adriano its vice president for engineering, Angelito its vice president for finance and administration, Diosdado its vice president for plant operation, and Nardo its vice president for sales and marketing. In 2001, with loan assistance from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), the Garcia family ventured into a major expansion program for Mekeni Food, building an ultramodern meat processing plant, purchasing more equipment, and diversifying into more meat products. With their stronger focus on quality, the plant obtained international certification for its processes and reaped consumer awards at the same time. “The foundation of this business is the family,” Prudencio says. “Without that strong foundation, the business would not have survived. And we have remained focused on another vision for the business—we want to help others. We were given the chance to do that and we thank God we had accepted the challenge.” n

MEKENI FOOD CORP. Main O�ce: Balubad, Porac, Pampanga • Telephone: (045) 458-0000; (02) 927-4692 E-mail: • Website:



Jose Miguel Geronimo Gerry Geronimo Productions

‘Now we can be watched by Filipinos all over the world’ By Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua Photos by Ocs Alvarez



rom childhood all the way to his becoming a medical doctor, Jose Miguel Geronimo has been helping out in the family business. This meant working alongside his mother and brother as crew for Ating Alamin, his father Gerry Geronimo’s highly popular show on radio and later also on television. The award-winning public service program—the longest running agri-developmental and livelihood entrepreneur show in Philippine broadcasting history—teaches and promotes various agricultural businesses to the general public. “The show has been successful because we communicate directly to the grassroots,” the younger Geronimo explains. “Another reason is that there’s no politics involved.” With continued viewer interest in Ating Alamin, Geronimo decided to use technology to reach and help even more people. In the 1990s, Gerry Geronimo Productions Inc. (GGPI) switched from linear to nonlinear technology in editing its radio and TV shows—making it among the very first in the industry to do so. This enabled the company to produce its shows more efficiently as well as further increase their viewer interest. In 1996, Geronimo realized that the Internet would be the next big thing in communication technology, so he arranged for GGPI to have a website—again making the company among the very first in the Philippines to have one. “In fact, we were one of the first in the world to have a website, so much so that we obtained lifetime free use of our domain name,” he says. (These days, websites need to pay an annual fee to maintain their domain name.) With Ating Alamin having its JOSE MIGUEL own website, people abroad could GERONIMO: now more easily and freely acAting Alamin cess the show by e-mail or through was among Web postings. “My priority was to ‘the first in get in touch with the overseas Filithe world pino workers,” Geronimo explains. to have a “Many of them don’t know what website.’

business to put up when they come back to the country. Through our website, we have made it easy for them to directly ask us for ideas and for how-to’s on particular businesses.” In 2000, Geronimo partnered with Mobile Arts Inc., a short-messaging services company, to make Ating Alamin also accessible through text messaging. Thus was “Text Ka Gerry” born, allowing people even in the country’s farthest provinces (who may not have Internet access but have cellular phones) to download business how-to’s from Ating Alamin. Through years of research and experience, GGPI has been able to put together a comprehensive list of entrepreneurial and livelihood programs, all proven viable and requiring minimal capital. Today, three times a week, the company holds seminars on these various businesses, attracting as many as 80 participants. Some of its seminar packages come with on-the-job training at GGPI’s six-hectare demo farm in Lipa, Batangas. In 2005, GGPI signed an agreement with television giant ABS-CBN to air Ating Alamin over The Filipino Channel (TFC), the network’s overseas cable channel. “Now we can be watched by Filipinos all over the world,” Geronimo says. Over the years, GGPI has developed several livelihood teaching products for the general public. Among them is the Ating Alamin Libro sa Video, which consists of instructional DVD tapes on various crops, fishery, livestock, and home industries. Another is the bimonthly Ating Alamin Gazette, which is sold in leading bookstores in the Philippines as well as abroad through TFC. The surprising thing, says Geronimo, is that 60 percent of GGPI’s income comes from corporate advertising support. He sees this as a sure sign that public service can be commercially viable. “This is perhaps because we have gained enough expertise and credibility over the years to become a reputable institution that’s worthy of support,” he says. n


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


aking advantage of existing and up-andcoming technology is a major reason for Ating Alamin’s success. Some of the technologies Jose Miguel Geronimo’s company uses is worth noting by entrepreneurs: The Internet. A business gains a lot more credibility when it has its own website. It allows the venture’s owners to promote their products or services, and helps lead to future face-to-face meetings where deals can be sealed. Text messaging. With nearly every Filipino

having a mobile phone or having the means to buy one, promoting the business is as easy as sending an SMS to multiple contacts. Television. Cable TV, in particular, has allowed many companies to get the word out on their products or services, whether through traditional advertising or through the numerous infomercial channels on regular cable. Compact discs and other storage media. From company press kits to instructional videos, CDs are indispensable promotional tools in today’s wired world.

GG PRODUCTIONS INC. 10 Greenheights Ave., Greenheights Village, Sucat, Paranaque City Telephones: (02) 826-2604; (02) 825-6162; (02) 825-6564; (02) 827-7454 Website:



Loly and Buzz Gomez

Philippine Treasures ‘I wanted to do something from scratch, to create with my hands’

n a c u Yo o do this,t o

LOLY AND BUZZ GOMEZ: A patient bank manager helped the couple secure a loan, and launch their business bigtime.




did not grow as fast as

Treasures started

they expected. “During

small with only

the initial years, medyo

a P20,000 loan from

palpak [we bungled it

Loly Gomez’s father-in-

somewhat] because we

law. The Gomez couple

didn’t know anything

would then reinvest into

about exporting,” she

the business whatever


they earned

By Mari-An C. Santos Photos byAt Maculangan

he husband-and-wife team of Buzz and Loly Gomez of Philippine Treasures has been exporting home décor made from leaves, twigs, feathers, and broken glass for nearly 30 years now. Neither of them had any prior business background, however. They simply learned along the way how to do things. As a young couple in the mid-1970s, they used to make cured meat such as longanisa, tocino, and tapa at home. The business did well by supplying big hotels and schools in Baguio City with the products. Simply by chance, however, Loly later got into another business: buying silver jewelry from nuns in the city and sending the jewelry to the United States to be sold by her brother there. Both businesses did very well, but the time eventually came when the couple had to choose which one to pursue for the long term. “It was very difficult to have two totally different businesses,” Loly recalls. The couple finally chose to focus on the silver-buying business. Their trade in silver products grew, enabling the Gomez couple to expand their operations by putting up a stall at the Baguio City Market. They also began to supply the then-US bases at Clark and Subic with their products, from where some of the pieces would end up being exported to the US. This later gave them the idea of going into the export of the silver products themselves.


Loly also began to design such houseware as forks and spoons, then to ask silversmiths to make them for her. This went on until the mid-1980s, at which time she had a change of mind. “Nagsawa na ako sa silver [I got fed up with the silver business],” she recalls. “I wanted to do something from scratch, to create with my hands.” Her inspiration to go into the home décor business came from her experience every Christmas season. Friends visiting their house in Baguio City would be so impressed with her homemade décor that they would sometimes ask her to sell pieces of it to them. That

gave Loly the idea of another business: Christmas décor. The couple started small with the Christmas décor business, making just a few pieces at a time to sell to friends. “They liked whatever we made so the products would be sold out before long,” she recalls. Then sometime in 1980, the Gomez couple joined a CITEM exhibition in Manila and put their Christmas décor on display for a bigger market. To their surprise, they received so many orders and were suddenly faced with the problem of how to finance their production. One day, Loly recalls, they met a bank president by chance and talked to him about their plans to go into exports. The latter suggested that they should consider getting financing from his bank. So Loly, bringing only a purchase order, went to the bank and asked for a loan for almost P100,000. “I thought the PO was enough,” she recalls, “but to my embarrassment, the manager explained to me that it wasn’t. He told me that there were several other requirements before you could get a loan and then proceeded to show me how to prepare them.” At first, Loly would not only design but also make the Christmas décor products herself. She was even


But the company has

from their

since overcome these


hurdles. It now exports

décor sales.

to the US, Australia,


New Zealand, Japan,


Italy, Spain, Germany,


Switzerland, and the UK.

a lot of

It now also outsources


some of its production

pains and


hesitant to hire someone to do the accounting for the business. “I was so worried na baka hindi ko siya masuwelduhan [that I may not be able to pay her salary],” she says. One of the company’s bestsellers is its Broken Glass collection. The inspiration for it came to Loly when her son Anton’s car window smashed when he shut the car door. He was about to throw away the glass but Loly, seeing the potential usefulness of the broken glass, stopped him from doing so. Since then, Philippine Treasures has been making various kinds of accessories made from broken glass, eventually expanding its broken-glass product line to architectural items like garden tables and windows. Philippine Treasures remains focused on the export market, but lately, it has begun to also set its sights on the local market. Explains Loly: “We have started making corporate and wedding giveaways and architectural items. The local market for them has grown, especially in Manila.” n

PHILIPPINE TREASURES Puso ng Baguio Building, Session Road, Baguio City • Telephones: (074) 443-3443; (074) 444-4444 Metro Manila o�ce: G/F Unit 2A Mile Long Center Amorsolo St., Legaspi Village, Makati City Telephone: (02) 843-3369 • E-mail:,



n a c u Yo o do this,t o

Mark Gorriceta



‘We decided to fly in our five starting staff members all the way from Iloilo’ By Katrina Tan


Photos byAt Maculangan

hen Mark Gorriceta, now a lawyer at 30, moved to Manila for college in 1995, he couldn’t find any authentic Ilonggo dishes around. He thus missed so much such addictive Ilonggo dishes as La Paz batchoy and pancit molo as well as the region’s various seafood specialties. No longer able to hold back his craving, he decided to put up his very own Ilonggo restaurant together with his then-girlfriend, Caroline Dizon, and his sister, Pauline Banusing. But it wasn’t really an altogether fanciful decision on Gorriceta’s part. “My family has been in the food industry since I was young,” he explains. “My mother, Sandra Sarabia-Gomez, ran the biggest fast food chain in Iloilo City—it was called ‘Try Me’—during the late 1980s and early ’90s. Pauline also owns a string of five successful restaurants in Iloilo.” He continues: “That time, we wanted to open a cozy, family-friendly restaurant where Manileños can enjoy an authentic Ilonggo dining experience. We also decided to focus on seafood dishes popular in the Visayas, particularly the managat [Visayan mangrove snapper], oysters, and scallops.” The partners decided to call the restaurant Freska, a name adapted from the Hiligaynon word “priska,” which means fresh. They then invested P400,000 from their savings for a stall-type outlet at Tiendesitas in Frontera Verde, Pasig City.


MARK GORRICETA: Proper time management and delegation have proved essential to this lawyer-entrepreneur.

“Planning took us only about three months because my sister Pauline was already experienced in the business,” Gorriceta recalls. “Then we started buying second-hand kitchen equipment and went to the cheapest places for other items. Since our top priority was to make the food truly exceptional and truly Ilonggo, we decided to fly in our five starting staff members all the way from Iloilo.” Freska Restaurant, which opened in October 2005, proved to be such a success that the partners recovered their investment in just three months. Freska’s signature dish, then as now, was tender grilled managat with a sid-

ing of pickled radish. The restaurant also served such specialty seafood dishes as grilled scallops with lemon butter sauce, baked oysters with two cheeses, and sizzling stuffed giant squid, and also such nonseafood dishes as chicken inasal, kadios baboy langka, and pancit molo. “Our foodstuffs are delivered fresh from Iloilo to Manila on a daily basis, and our prices are reasonable,” says Gorriceta. “You can have a complete meal with a drink for under P200, and we regularly come up with monthly promos and gimmicks for our customers.” With their Tiendesitas 45-seat stall usually filled to capacity, the Gorricetas were able to raise money to put up their first stand-alone Freska restaurant along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City. It opened in September 2006, or barely a year later. Says Gorriceta: “Caroline and I simultaneously planned the opening of that second branch and our wedding. We got married in January 2007.” The Freska restaurant on Katipunan Avenue has an indoor air-conditioned area that seats 90 and an openair area that seats another 30. Its compound now also houses the company’s central commissary, main office, stockroom, and garage for delivery trucks.


aving a full-time job is many times a challenge for would-be entrepreneurs. But with proper time management and delegation, Freska co-owner Mark Gorriceta says, one can do both. “When I’m at the law office, I make the most of my time,” he says. “I also spend my evenings checking our different stores. I believe there’s always time for everything, even for leisure.” The main operational concerns of the partners are to ensure that the restaurant’s quality standards are met on a day-to-day basis and that its high level of service is maintained at all times. Actual monitoring is carried out by Freska’s supervisors and area managers. “We have learned the importance of hiring the best people in the industry,” Gorriceta says. “It greatly helps to develop your brand and create a consistent image for it. Freska is authentic Ilonggo dining and we are sticking to that.”

The Gorricetas opened a third Freska restaurant a year later at the Promenade Mall in Greenhills, San Juan City branch. The outlet is slightly smaller than the one on Katipunan Avenue. They also opened a 70seater restaurant in their hometown of Smallville, Iloilo in February 2008. “Our plan is to continue expanding our casual dining and full service restaurants,” Gorriceta says. “We will open two to three more Freska outlets every year in major malls, including Powerplant, the SM chain, and TriNoma. We will likewise develop our food stalls business under the Freska-Express brand and penetrate the food courts of malls.” n

FRESKA Katipunan Avenue, Blue Ridge, Quezon City; 2L EDSA Arcade, EDSA Mandaluyong City Telephone: (02) 438-6785534-7898 • Website: Email:



Teresa and Francis Guanzon Bangko Kabayan ‘We have a social goal to spur development in the countryside’ By Nanci Locsin


Photo by Jun Pinzon

baan in Batangas is a trading town where selling is a major source of livelihood. “This is why we have a lot of peddlers here,” says Teresa M. Ganzon, managing director of Bangko Kabayan Inc. (BK), which is based in the town.“Capital plays a big role in the selling business, and my father, being an entrepreneur, had clearly seen this.” Indeed, this was why her father, Bienvenido M. Medrano, and her maternal grandfather, Manuel M. Agregado, established the Ibaan Rural Bank Inc. way back in 1957. The forerunner of the presentday Bangko Kabayan Inc., the Ibaan Rural Bank had made it its objective to provide reasonably priced credit particularly to the community’s small merchants, farmers, and traders. In 1977, however, Bangko Kabayan went through a financial crisis that forced Ganzon and her husband Francis to get deeply involved in its operations. It took the couple almost nine years to turn the bank around. But then, in 1989, Ganzon’s father ultimately decided to sell his interest in the bank. “At this point, my husband and I offered to buy out the rest of the family’s share in the bank,” Ganzon recalls. “Our offer was accepted and this gave us the freedom to pursue the vision that we had for Bangko Kabayan.” That vision, then as now, is to make Bangko Kabayan a leading rural financial institution that 20 ENTREPRENEUR 2008

FRANCIS AND TERESA GUANZON: Bangko Kabayan designs its products according to the principles of ‘economy of communion.’

“fosters God’s presence in the community” by efficiently delivering personalized financial services to small and micro entrepreneurs in Batangas. Ganzon explains: “As a rural bank, we have a social goal to spur development in the countryside. While some entrepreneurs aim only to achieve their business objective, we at Bangko Kabayan have made it a point to go further down to the rural areas that we are servicing. We have made it our main objective to serve the poor.” This goal was inspired by the “Economy of Communion,” a project conceptualized by Chiara Lubich, the Italian founder of the Focolare Movement, an international religious organization of which the Ganzon couple are members. Through the “Economy of Communion” project, Focolare challenges its entrepreneur-members to carry out this vision by helping the poor until they can fend for themselves and are no longer in dire need. The couple anchored Bangko Kabayan on this philosophy, designing its deposit products, loan products, and microfinance services to inculcate the value of savings and promote entrepreneurship among the poor. An initial deposit of only P100 is required to open a BK interest-earning savings account. To convert it into a current account, the depositor simply needs to deposit an additional P5,000; this current account is interest-bearing and can be monitored through a passbook. Time deposits in BK have a minimum term of 90 days, and require a minimum placement of P10,000. Among Bangko Kabayan’s major microfinance offerings is the Kabayan loan, an individual lending program that caters to SMEs, providing them with working capital and facilitating their acquisition of fixed assets. Another major BK microfinance offering is the Kapitan loan, a group lending program for women in the rural areas. Aside from lending, this program facilitates seminars and discussions on credit management and discipline, business management, health care, leadership, and values formation.


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


angko Kabayan’s success proves that helping the poor can be profitable as well. Entrepreneurs interested in going into rural banking should therefore consider replicating BK’s loan offerings for such agriculture development activities as cultivating, developing, and improving agricultural land; raising poultry and livestock; and developing fishponds.

Like BK, they can also offer development incentive loans to educational establishments, finance cooperatives, hospitals, and medical services establishments. Other services they can offer to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are holdout loans backed up by the borrower’s deposit as well as salary loans, car loans, house loans, and pensioner’s loans.

These microfinance programs began in 1996 when Bangko Kabayan established its social development foundation. Four years later, the bank offered them as regular bank products to a clientele that had by then grown to 500 borrowers. From that time onwards, this number has further grown to 8,000. Today, BK has a total of 11 branches in Batangas— in Batangas City, Calaca, Cuenca, Ibaan, Lemery, Mabini, Nasugbu, Rosario, San Jose, San Juan, and San Pascual. With current resources totaling over P1 billion, it services more than 50,000 clients. For its rural banking performance, BK has received various awards—including five Eagle Awards from the Rural Banking Association of the Philippines for excellent performance in managing microfinance operations—and currently ranks among the top 3 percent of all rural banks in the Philippines. n

BANGKO KABAYAN INC. Address: Poblacion, Ibaan, Batangas Telephones / Fax: (043) 311-1152; (043) 311-1323; (043) 311-1814; (043) 311-1420 Website:



Jaafar sisters The 50th Avenue

The growth of a business ‘starts from the personal touch’ By Miki Espe


Photos by Jun Pinzon

ll dayangs or Muslim princesses, the Jaafar sisters Soraya, Faricia, Aisha, Fatima, Janette, and Jihan have stepped out of the confines and comforts of royalty to go into business on their own.

The six independent-minded women are daughters of Rep. Nur G. Jaafar, representative of the lone district of Tawi-Tawi and a datu who belongs to the noble lineage of the Sultanate of Sulu. Theirs is a family of politicians, but the sisters have all chosen not to follow in their father’s footsteps, jointly going into trading and retailing instead. In 2000, they initially put up a clothing shop named Sleek Av- JAAFAR SISTERS enue at the Greenhills Shopping (from le�) D. Center in San Juan City, follow- Soraya Jaafaring it up a year later with Tele- Golez, D. Jihan com World at Robinsons Place Jaafar, D. Faricia Jaafar, D. Aisha Ermita, a much bigger store that Jaafar and D. specializes in retail sales and re- Fatima Jaafar: pairs of cellular phone units and All self-confessed their accessories. hands-on Two years after that, in 2002, entrepreneurs.

they put up a salon, C & C (Cups and Capuccino), at Robinsons Galleria on Ortigas Avenue corner EDSA in Quezon City. This became the precursor of an even more ambitious entrepreneurial venture that they were to open in the same mall that same year—The 50th Avenue, a one-stop shopping area that houses independent outlets offering specialty coffee (a franchised Figaro outlet), apparel and accessories, shoes, clothes alteration, and even a nail spa. Drawing inspiration from stores in Europe, The 50th Avenue sports an open-air atmosphere with brick walls and street lamps as accents. A coffee shop sits at its center, with a special concierge to attend to customers’ queries. Altogether, the place exudes an out-of-the-country feel like that of an idyllic piazza— a concept that the Jaafar sisters had drawn from their travels and shopping sprees abroad. The 50th Avenue has a specialty shop for the needs of most everybody in the A, B, and C market segments. When one needs a new bikini to sport at the beach, for instance, there’s Lae Clothing. When one has a craving for new clothes, there’s Preview or Shang. And when one need accents for one’s wardrobe, there’s Girl Shoppe. The sisters, drawing from the earnings of their other businesses and from their personal savings, initially invested P5 million in The 50th Avenue. It went largely into construction, not on store equipment, because the primary objective of the business is to provide space for tenants with unique specialty goods. Fil-Asia Concepts Inc., a micro retail lease management company that the Jafaar sisters had put up, runs The 50th Avenue. It occupies a 1,000 sq m area that holds more or less 50 stores. Starting with only 10 workers, it now has 70 workers, having also opened a branch at the Alabang Town Center in Muntinlupa City. All self-confessed hands-on entrepreneurs, the Jaafar sisters visit their stores almost every day. Says Fatima: “We even come to work on weekends to see what’s going on. It somehow eats up our time, but since we are fond of the business, it seems like we’re actually not working at all.” Aisha adds: “The personal touch must be always present in a business because its growth


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


lthough theirs is a family business, the Jaafar sisters strictly adhere to company policy and exercise teamwork in managing it. Soraya Jaafar-Golez is the president and CEO, Faricia Jaafar the VP for finance and administration, Asiaha Jaafar the VP for marketing, Fatima Jaafar the general manager of the franchised Figaro outlet, Janette JaafarFelizardo the concepts and design manager, and Jihan Jaafar the marketing officer.

As VP for marketing, Aisha ensures adherence to their marketing strategy of keeping The 50th Avenue as a piazza-like umbrella store that sells nothing but unique goods positioned in a prime location. Several young entrepreneurs who used to do their business in bazaars have signed up as tenants of the one-stop shopping area. Each had met the company’s requirement of having a business idea that meshes well with The 50th Avenue’s overall concept.

starts from there. You should know and learn what your people are doing and there should be a commitment—a commitment in both energy and time—in everything that you do.” The six royal princesses, who have been steadily expanding The 50th Avenue ever since, expect to recover their initial investment in the business within two years. From all indications, they have truly found their niche in micro retailing. n

FIL-ASIA CONCEPTS INC. 20th Floor 2009-2010 Robinsons Equitable Tower, Ortigas, Pasig City Telephones: (02) 635-3313; (02) 687-3445 • Fax: (02) 638-6077 THE 50TH AVENUE • Telephones: (02) 635-6489; (02) 683-0575



Sheila and Bertrand Pesayco Writer’s Edge Leaving their ‘regular jobs’ allowed this couple to finally have control over their time. By Maan D’Asis Pamaran


Photos by Jun Pinzon

riter’s Edge, an agency that provides media content for client companies, got conceived by a couple in 2002 in—where else?—their bed in their own bedroom. How they did it isn’t what you might be thinking, though. Sheila Pesayco, who runs Writer’s Edge with her husband Bertrand, recalls: “We were then playing Scrabble and he was taking so long to take his turn, so I told him we might as well brainstorm for business ideas.” At that time Sheila was trying to convince Bertrand to quit his communications job with the Lopez Group: “He was so burned out with the work so I was quite concerned. I also saw that it depressed him seeing me so excited with my new line of work.” Sheila had by then left her banking section editor’s post at the newspaper BusinessWorld and was working part-time with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) while also doing consultancy work with the Ford Foundation. “I was really glad with my decision to leave newspapering because it meant that I finally had control of my own time,” she says. In her former job, she explains, she always had to work ear-


ly and leave late, even on Sundays. The couple’s brainstorming in bed led to a major decision: they would both pursue writing as a fulltime business. “We decided to build a business based on our skills,” Sheila says. “Because both of us had a professional background in communications, we felt that professional writing was something that we both knew about.”

But although Writer’s Edge was conceived almost effortlessly, its birthing pains were quite traumatic. “At the outset we decided to do everything legally, without making any lagay [red tape payoffs],” Bertrand recalls. “In the end, it took us four months just to get our city government permits and clearances. And because we didn’t hand over any money under the table, everybody came to inspect us—even fire marshals who wanted to sell fire extinguishers to us!” On the plus side, the couple needed only a small initial investment. “We invested only around P60,000 for a Macintosh computer and the peripherals,” says Sheila. “And we decided to work in a home office to keep our overhead low.” They also kept their manpower flexible. Sheila explains: “There are only four of us who are regular employees—Bertrand, me, an administrative staff, and a messenger. For each project, we just get extra help from our pool of talents.” No project was too big or too small for the couple during their startup years. Recalls Sheila: “Our first project was a souvenir program for an NGO called Galing Pook for distribution in Malacañang, the next was a Christmas wrapper for Universal Motors, then a book for SGV (SyCip, Gorres, Velayo & Co.), and a brochure for a multiple intelligence center put up in a school adopted by HSBC.” They depended solely on referrals from satisfied clients to make the business grow. “We didn’t advertise at all,” Sheila says. “Everything SHEILA AND was by word of mouth. When we got BERTRAND a client, they often also got us for anPESAYCO: other project, or refer us to anoth‘Professional er group that needed some editoriwriting was al work done.” something Currently, Writer’s Edge offers that we both such communication services as knew about.’ newsletters, brochures, annual reports, research studies, corporate logos and stationery, audio-visual presentations, Web publishing, press dispatches—even CEO speeches, which, Sheila says, is one of Bertrand’s strengths. In the beginning, Sheila admits, Writer’s Edge took


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


lexibility is the name of the game for Writer’s Edge. Its services are customized and it doesn’t charge a fixed rate for projects. To keep itself lean and mean, the

company uses a wide pool of freelance writers, artists, and photographers. And to ensure quality printing work for its clients, it has formed partnerships with various printing press companies.

on practically every kind of work that came its way. “But now we are more selective,” she says, “and we even do pro bono work for such good causes as Caritas Manila. This time, before a company can be our regular client, we have to believe in its product.” n

WRITERS EDGE INC. Telephones: (02) 824-1907; (02) 821-3897 Website:



SOCORRO RAMOS with granddaughter TRINA LICAUCOALINDOGAN: ‘Cooperation, love and respect for each other’s opinion are the ingredients to the vitality of our business.’

Socorro Ramos and Family National Bookstore ‘If we don’t get the best price, we can’t sell for the best price’ By Carla Paras-Sison Photo by Jun Pinzon



he remarkable success of National Book Store Inc. (NBSI) is founded on three abiding attributes of the Ramos family: mutual respect, cooperation, and simple living. As a result, what was once a hole-in-the-wall book and school supplies stand in Manila in 1942 is now the biggest bookstore chain in the Philippines, with over 80 branches nationwide and a workforce of 2,500. Says Cecilia Ramos-Licauco, the company’s vicepresident for purchasing and youngest child of So-

corro Cancio-Ramos, its founder and general manager: “Nanay taught us to be frugal, to avoid wastage and unnecessary expenses. There’s this constant reminder to cut cost, to get the best price. Because if we don’t get the best price, she maintains, we can’t sell for the best price. NBSI never wants to be expensive.” Although close-knit, the Ramoses don’t take expensive annual vacations nor do they go on foreign cruises as a family. Their reunions are simple lunches or dinners to celebrate special occasions like Christmas, All Saints’ Day, birthdays, and the death anniversary of Jose Ramos, the late patriarch. The one time the Ramoses did go on foreign vacation together was when Mrs. Ramos won the 2004 Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines” award and became the Philippines’ bet in the “World Entrepreneur of the Year” finals in Monaco. “I got to go for free, representing the Philippines, but everybody else had to pay their way,” recalls Mrs. Ramos, who is fondly called Nanay Coring by her staff (“Nanay” is Tagalog for “mother”). So it helps for the penny-pinching Ramos matriarch to have a small clan of only about 25 members all the way to the fourth generation. Her eldest child, Alfred Ramos, is now president of NBSI, assisted by two area vice-presidents: Alfred’s twin Benjamin and Alfred’s wife Presentacion, nee Sunico. The following children of Ramos-Licauco are active in the business: Ramon Licauco is NBSI information technology manager, Trina Licauco-Alindogan is NBSI operations and human resources manager, and Gabriel Licauco is operations manager of Powerbooks Inc., a wholly owned NBSI subsidiary. Ramos-Licauco says exposure to the NBSI business at an early age naturally influenced their decision to join it. She recalls: “We grew up with it. Being with the family business is like eating, drinking, sleeping. I was still in grade school, maybe in the third or fourth grade, when I started manning the cash register at our store along Rizal Avenue in Manila. We loved those days—coming home from school, being cashier for a little time and then taking merienda [snacks].” Nanay Coring explains: “It’s the influence of the


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


ricia LicaucoAlindogan of National Book Store says that the family’s third generation appreciates the respect their parents and grandmother give them. She explains: “Respect is important. The older generation recognizes that the younger generation has ideas, and we recognize that our elders have the experience. Sometimes, it’s just that the time is not right for some of our ideas, so we understand why some of our proposals aren’t approved, and why our elders sometimes don’t agree with us.”

Nanay Coring, on the other hand, emphasizes: “Cooperation, love, respect for each other’s opinion—these are the ingredients of the vitality of our business. I understand that the younger generation is better educated, and I can see that they work hard and understand the business. So the important thing is to listen to them so their ideas can be incorporated in the decisions. Anyway, if we make a wrong choice and reject their suggestion in the beginning, we can always go back to their idea and consider doing it the next time.”

environment. They could see me doing all the aspects of the business. Our family lunches and dinners would always have the business as our topic. Our mealtime discussions would include which shoplifter was caught in which branch, what’s the latest on the bestseller list—things like those.” Despite having no family constitution and no written guidelines for settling disputes and claims, Nanay Coring has never been fazed by the dynamics of managing such a large corporation in which family members hold key management positions. Indeed, she and the two women from the three Ramos generations—Cecilia Ramos-Licauco and Trina Licauco-Alindogan—actually look forward to NBSI’s continuing growth and expansion given these organizational dynamics. n

NATIONAL BOOK STORE INC. 125 Quad Alpha Centrum Building, Pioneer Street, 1550 Mandaluyong City Telephone: (02) 631-5363 • Fax: (02) 631-5016 • Website:



Flor and Susan Velasco Flor-San’s

A persistent foreign buyer provided this couple the money to jumpstart their business. By Tino Pamintuan


Photo by Ocs Alvarez

very time the cargo ship’s foreign captain wanted to assert his authority over the Filipino members of his crew, he would yell at them: “I’ll send you back to the Philippines!” Among the crew was 30-year-old seaman Florentino “Flor” Velasco,


who recalls that he was always irked by that threat. “The captain would do this because he thought that most Filipinos were dirt poor and had nothing awaiting them back home,” he says. Nevertheless, not allowing himself to be cowed by the threat, he would answer the captain back: “So send me home! I want to go back to the Philippines anyway!” True enough, he had been thinking about going home for good so he could be with his family. He wanted to help his wife Susan grow her startup handicraft business. However, since he had a nine-month contract with the shipping company, he had to stay on until November of 1989. By then he would have worked on foreign cargo ships intermittently for four years. “I left the Philippines in June 1985 to work as a seaman just six months after Susan and I got mar-

ried,” Velasco says. He had trained to be a ship captain, obtaining his Bachelor of Science degree in marine transportation from the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy in 1982. While he was working as a seaman, Susan worked as a contractual employee in a municipal treasurer’s office, collecting payments for business permits. She was also helping her elder sister Beatriz Cadang in a handicraft business, assisting her in the hiring of workers to carve wooden ducks and deliver them to customers in Metro Manila. Susan learned the business herself, after which she decided to go on her own and later quit her job at the municipal treasurer’s office. In 1986, the Velasco couple put up Flor-San’s Handicraft with an initial capital of P3,000. “We were able to raise that amount from my monthly pay as a seaman, which was US$400,” he says. The company started with only four employees but in just 12 months, Flor-San’s had already recovered its initial investment, mainly by selling painted wooden ducks. The wooden ducks, made from hardwood found in the forests of Paete and sculptured and painted with antique finish by FLOR and SUSAN Paete craftsmen, attracted a VELASCO: ‘We are good number of foreign buynot about to give ers. Among them was Gerald up because this Heinen, a native of Holland is a business we who had eventually made the have nurtured for Philippines his home. 20 years.’ “He liked our painted wooden ducks; in fact, he ordered 10,000 pieces worth P400,000 from us in 1987 for export to Europe,” says Velasco. “But we told him we couldn’t produce and supply such a huge order because we didn’t have the capital, the manpower, and the equipment.” But Heinen was persistent and struck a deal with the Velasco couple: they supply the ducks, and he would lend them P100,000 without interest to buy wood, acquire sawing and carving tools, hire more workers, and put up a workshop. “That thing seldom happens,” recalls Susan. “He


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


t one point in the early 1990s, the growing foreign orders to FlorSan’s Handicraft became too burdensome for the Velasco couple to finance. “This was when we learned about the export facility being provided by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) to small- and mediumsized exporters,” Velasco recalls. “We got our first loan of P1.8 million and later P2.3 million to cover at least 80 percent of our letters of credit. That enabled us to bring our export products to many more parts of the world.”

But running FlorSan’s has never been easy, particularly in recent months when the value of the peso against the US dollar has been very volatile. There is also the increasing competition from handicraft makers of China and Vietnam. Still, the Velascos are undaunted. “We are not about to give up because this is a business that we have nurtured for more than 20 years,” says Flor. “More importantly, this is our source of livelihood. It enables us to send our seven children to school. Our hundreds of workers also depend on it.”

trusted us to make and deliver the painted wooden ducks, and we were able to do so because we worked doubly hard for it. After just a year, we were able to pay him back the P100,000.” In 1989, Velasco finished his last contract on board a ship, and joined his wife full time in running the business. In the early 1990s, however, Flor-San’s stopped making wooden ducks because of government restrictions on the use of hardwood and forest products, In their place, the company then shifted to products made of driftwood, paper, capiz, and resin. Flor-San’s now has an 800 sq m factory in Paete that employs more than 100 workers. Among the products the company produces today are ethnic woodcarvings; planters, topiaries and bird cages; gift items; and home and holiday décor such as mirrors, vases, boxes, Christmas tree ornaments, and Easter eggs. ■

FLOR-SAN’S HANDICRAFT Manila East Road Highway, Paete, Laguna • Telephone: (049) 557-1033 • Fax: (049) 557-0892 E-mail:, • Website:



Reynaldo and Leticia Vergara RL Vercons Merchants This countryside business is not afraid to use technology By Rafael Santos Photos by Thaddeus Reantaso 30 ENTREPRENEUR 2008


n the early 1990s, when their agribusiness venture hit a rough patch, the husband and wife team of Reynaldo and Leticia Vergara took the bold gamble of putting up a supermarket in Dinalupihan, Bataan. But the couple recalls that the reception accorded by their prospective market to their new business was lukewarm at first: “People were afraid of our self-service type outlet because they were so used to doing over-thecounter transactions. Some of them would even remove their footwear when they entered our store.” But now, 18 years later, Vergara Supermarket, the neighborhood grocery store that the

couple had put up, enjoys such a big following that it has become one of the better-known retail names in Bataan and Zambales. The couple’s holding company, RL Vercons Merchants Corp., now runs two other supermarkets, two department stores, a bakeshop, and a trading company within Bataan and at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Zambales. The couple credits their honest and efficient service for the success of their various businesses. Says Reynaldo: “We have made it a policy to be always fair to our customers: fair in our service, and fair in our pricing. And we only sell highquality goods, even to the point of not carrying the cheapest brands.” Vercons’ use of a computerized point of sale (POS) system has proved to be such a big boon to their expanding retail busiThe lukewarm reception the ness. It has made the monVergaras initially itoring and control of the received from their over-the-counter transaccustomers was tions of the outlets much overcome by their more manageable. honest and e�cient service. “Before, I used to run the counter myself and would punch in the items one by one,” Leticia recalls. “But as we grew and the number of brands we were carrying ballooned, we realized we had to upgrade our systems to better manage consumer traffic.” More recently, the company centralized product distribution to all of its branches to ensure the system-


n a c u Yo o do this,t o


esearch is a very crucial aspect of putting up or expanding a business, according to Reynaldo and Leticia Vergara of RL Vercons Merchants Corp They explain why: “Before we start constructing or leasing a commercial space to house our stores, we make sure to do some research first about

our target market. We figure out its various nuances; for instance, we learned that there are very significant differences between city shoppers and small-town shoppers. Then we use the data we have collected as inputs for doing the layout of our store and for determining the best product mix for it.”

atic, efficient, and timely delivery of merchandise. “We started implementing our centralized inventory and logistics system in late 2007,” says Reynaldo. “We did it to have better control of our deliveries from point of origin all the way to our retail stores. This way, we are able to monitor the movement of our merchandise more efficiently and minimize shortages at the outlet level.” Due to strong consumer demand for food and nonfood items, the Vergaras expect sales of their retail outlets to remain brisk, and they plan to open one more retail outlet within the year to better serve their evergrowing clientele. n

RL VERCONS MERCHANTS CORP. San Ramon National Hi-way, Dinalupihan, Bataan Telephone: (047) 481-5676 • Fax: (047) 481-5401 • E-mail:


67 Success Stories  

Inspirational success stories of 67 enterpreneurs

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you