From Bike Rides to Changing Lives: The Story of Packworks
“It is not about the destination. It’s about the journey.”
And for Hubert Yap, Bing Tan and Ibba Bernardo, a motorcycle journey meant to bring solar panels to isolated communities revved-up an idea in their minds that has now helped thousands of Filipinos microentrepreneurs. Inspired by the frequent stops made on these journeys to sari-sari stores that peppered the countryside, they developed an innovative solution that promises to redefine how these businesses work. Observing first-hand how sari-sari stores operations continued to be limited by analogue processes, they knew that their shared technical know-how can inspire a fundamental shift in our neighborhood sari-sari stores. And thus, Packworks was born.
Packworks has helped countless micro-entrepreneurs all over the Philippines through an app that helps them grow their businesses. It was grounded on the mission to digitize small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and to urge them to ditch the old-fashioned pen and paper way of doing business.
“We have always seen the strength these sari-sari store entrepreneurs have shown in their households and with their sari-sari stores. That is why we wanted to tap their potential to grow, because we believe they deserve to be given equal opportunities such as the right tools to help them and their business flourish,” Packworks Co-Founder Ibba Bernardo said.
Packworks provides a B2B platform with mobile ERP (Enterprise resource planning) that is easy to use, low-bandwidth and light footprint that will allow these sari-sari store entrepreneurs to become more efficient in managing their business. It also provides them with access to cheaper suppliers and financial products.
But the road to building Packworks has not always been smooth sailing.
“The startup failed many many times. We weren’t taking salaries for 4 years, we could barely make rent if at all and pre-pandemic, the Philippines remained a technological laggard,” Bernardo said.
But giving up was never an option for these three friends-turned-business partners. They gathered up everything they could and tried again. And again. And again. Because they knew the value of their start-up and the possibilities it could contribute to positively impact the lives of these sari-sari store entrepreneurs. And with the right partners, such as Unilever to help them out, their “eureka” moment finally became a reality.
“What was magical really was that you had all founders who were very mature. We weren’t naive 20-year-olds. We are all hyper-entrepreneurial because we always were willing to see things in a different light,” Packworks Co-Founder Bing Tan said.
Packworks has always strived to empower sari-sari store owners by narrowing the divide between them and big companies. In order to do that, these sari-sari store entrepreneurs need a strong digital support to propel them into transforming into a business that not only survives but thrives.
“We saw the power of networks and the power of distributed commerce and shared services. We wanted this for all of the families who took the courage to open their doors to become an entrepreneur,” Packworks Co-Founder Hubert Yap said.
Because of the ingenuity of these three entrepreneurs and the faith of trusted partners such as Unilever, more than 150,000 micro-stores in the Philippines have been transformed.