Growth Con PH: 5 Key Speakers Who Talked About Sustaining the Quality of Business Operations

Starting a business is one thing, but sustaining it is another challenge altogether. At the recently-concluded Growth Con PH, five business owners shared how to build a brand that lasts.

There are a lot of struggles that come with operating a business and that includes making sure that it lasts for a long time. In fact, according to a 2023 report, 33% of organizations lack a business case for sustainable supply chains—whereas almost half of the respondents reported that their companies have difficulties in measuring sustainability-related returns.

That being said, it is very important for businesses to implement long-term efforts that make their businesses sustainable. And this does not just apply to environmental practices. Even social sustainability, which encompasses fair labor practices, matters. Moreover, business sustainability can also encompass economic sustainability, which focuses on optimizing the company’s operations. 

Given how challenging this can be for many business owners and entrepreneurs, The Business Manual gathered 5 well-known key entrepreneurs who have implemented sustainable operations in their respective brands. In a roundtable discussion—set in Ascott Bonifacio Global City on June 29, 2023—they shared insights and key learnings that said owners and entrepreneurs can implement in their respective operations.

With that, here’s a brief background about the brands they run and their key takeaway as seasoned and accomplished business owners: 

From L to R: Jefferson Tan of Expedock, Bubbles Lim of Easy Franchise, ER Rollan of GrowSari, Ron Baetiong of Podcast Network Asia, John Michael Hilton of Visum Ventures, Randolf Palanca of AGC Power Holdings, and RJ Ledesma, Editor-in-Chief of The Business Manual

Bubbles Lim, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Easy Franchise

Easy Franchise is a platform that people can easily access to learn and access everything that involves franchising. It’s a go-to site where business owners, potential franchise investors, or business-minded people can check out to find what they need and make franchising easier.

Through their website, people can customize their preferences in order to let people determine their preferred franchise brand, their budget, as well as their target time frame to get their Return on Investment (ROI)—defined as “an approximate measure of an investment’s profitability.

“Because of our investment starter, we were able to create a stage wherein you don’t have to go all in,” Bubbles explains. “All you’d have to do is own a part of that business through [an] investment starter with our flexible ownership, and at the same time, own a part of [that] equity.”

Her key insight as a seasoned franchise incubator and mentor? “Being a franchisor [means being] data-driven and incorporating innovative practices within your franchise model. [This] is crucial to the sustainability and success of your business.” 

As the go-to platform for all things franchising, Bubbles Lim—through Easy Franchise—caters to stakeholders, franchisors, and franchisees. “What we’ve created that’s unique to our business model is a flexible way of owning a franchise,” she explains. Photo by KLIQ, Inc.

Jefferson Tan, COO of Expedock 

Expedock provides AI-based outsourcing services to supply chain companies around the world. By using a special technology called the Expedock Nuance, they can move thousands of freight containers internationally every week. They do this by automating the manual processes and having all physical and digital data sources in one platform to help provide efficiency and profitability to businesses. 

“Essentially, the business model is [that] we’re a data platform, [and] we have different automation tools that these logistics usually use,” he adds. “From there we provide them with visibility on their information and insights about how their businesses are performing.”

That being said, Jefferson believes that having a good grasp of data will help lengthen the lifespan of your business, given its consistency and accuracy. “I think to become a sustainable business, you need to become data-driven in terms of making your decision-making. You [want to] understand the different trade-offs you make from one decision or the other.”

Coming from a family business in the logistics industry has equipped Jefferson Tan with the right skills to create a business of his own in the same industry. Photo by KLIQ, Inc.

ER Rollan, CEO and Co-Founder of GrowSari

While it may seem like sari-sari stores can be seen in almost every corner of the country, GrowSari CEO and Co-Founder ER Rollan notes that they are not as abundant as one may think. This is where his business, GrowSari comes in.

Aside from promoting Filipinos to open sari-sari stores of their own, GrowSari works as a business-to-business (B2B) platform that helps these local sari-sari stores nationwide. That way, they can be assisted with the necessary tools and infrastructure that will improve their services, prepare them for modernity, as well as improve on their overall management.

When asked about his brand’s competitive advantage, he says: “As much as possible, we don’t charge sari-sari stores anything. When we sell goods or products to sari-sari stores, we make our margin from the support that we get from our suppliers. So that, to the MSMEs, is virtually a free product.”

“As you grow your companies and the supply chain requirements [for] that, you’ll be faced with hundreds of questions. But I think knowing at what stage you are, [it’s important to note] what’s [the] most important at that point in time,” he advises business owners and entrepreneurs. “Being able to do that also helps you focus your team.”

A pain point that ER Rollan founded GrowSari on was the lack of accessibility for Filipinos when it came to sari-sari stores. “[While they] continue to be the fastest growing channel in the Philippines, nine out of 10 Filipinos approximately are still within a block or two away from a sari-sari store. That’s the opportunity,” he says. Photo by KLIQ, Inc.

John Michael Hilton, President and CEO of Koomi (Visum Ventures) 

Koomi is a popular store that offers healthy, guilt-free, and delicious yogurt-based drinks. A brand that hails from Australia, Koomi reignited an interest in yogurt among Filipinos through its wide variety of flavors and the option to tailor-fit their drink by offering an Australian (sour) or Filipino (sweet) blend. To date, Koomi has over 80 branches in the Philippines.

Introducing a product that was thought of as expensive or sour, however, was a risk in itself, given that the market had a preference for sweet drinks. “I’m a huge lover of milk tea and there was a huge craze for milk tea in the Philippines,” John notes. “So, we decided to take a risk to see that we were adversely focused on healthy alternatives.”

“In the early stages, when we launched in the first six months, the split between Filipino blend to Australian blend was 80-20. Filipinos like more creaminess and very sweet, but it’s that maasim (sour) flavor that gets you really hooked into the yogurt brand,” he adds. “Right now it’s a complete 180. It’s actually now 80% Aussie blend and 20% Filipino blend.”

His advice to business owners and entrepreneurs? Look into bringing in brands from other countries. “Scaling towards franchises helps us progress and open multiple stores. Our current split between company-owned stores and the franchise stores is 50-50,” he notes.

“Focus on the supply chain and also the financial model,” he advises people who are looking to start a business. “We invested heavily at the right time in the pandemic when we were able to onboard some experts within the food and beverage industry. We were able to build a fantastic model with people with a lot of experience and that’s what really propelled us. By going to franchise mode.”

To end, he adds: “I think if you’re passionate about something, everything else falls into place. As long as you choose something you love and you love doing, then it’s not actually work.”

While many found success in starting new businesses from scratch, John Michael Hilton of Koomi (Visum Ventures) believes tried-and-tested brands work just as well. This is why his portfolio of businesses includes both international franchises and local concepts. Photo by KLIQ, Inc.

Ronster Baetiong, Founder and CEO of Podcast Network Asia

Podcast Network Asia is a platform that “drives growth for on-demand audio content by creating high-quality podcasts.” This, in turn, adds value for listeners and brands who want to connect with people and learn through podcasts.

During the formative years of the company, Ron Baetiong, the Founder and CEO of Podcast Network Asia, notes a prevalent pain point. “Podcasters here vary in terms of following. Some sound like they’re in their bathroom, [while] some sound like they’re in their studio. Most are subpar, so we wanted to elevate that.”

This is why within their company, they have assets and the expertise to help podcasters in setting up their own shows, resulting in good quality content. Having started by hosting five shows, the company has grown so much to include around 300 local and international shows in its roster.

But even so, Ron reminds business owners and entrepreneurs to still consider the reality of doing a business—beyond creating products, services, or content that they like, as money still runs the show. “At the end of the day, in any type of business, you need to find a sustainable and repeatable business model. The path towards that, for you to be in control of your own destiny, is profit,” he ends.

Seeing how people didn’t know how to monetize your podcast, Ron Baetiong created Podcast Network Asia—a platform that helps content creators create and monetize their content. His key insight? “The way you monetize your podcast is very similar to how you monetize your startup, you need to validate [it, and you] need to have your podcast fit [the market.]” Photo by KLIQ, Inc.

With the insights shared by these successful entrepreneurs, attendees of the Growth Con PH learned more than a thing or two about how they can create a sustainable business model that will keep their business running for the long run.

More importantly, these esteemed speakers not only shared their knowledge but the story of how they built up their respective businesses for success also inspired attendees to do the same for theirs.