Silicon Valley is famous for its proverbial - and sometimes real - garages. Some of the greatest founders in technology are said to have started their companies in one, long before they became household names. The companies that leapt from garage-to-great include Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Mattel, and even Disney.
If Silicon Valley has its garages, the Philippines has McDonald’s. Kim Lato, the founder and CEO of Kimstore, started her business in a McDonald’s beside De La Salle University, Manila, as she was still an undergraduate student.
Lato recounted these early days of Kimstore in the book, Fearless Filipinas: 12 Women Who Dared to be Different. In her story written by co-author Pancho Dizon, she recalled having to order a value meal just so that the security guard would not kick her off the premises. Then she would complete “meetups” with customers buying her gadgets. She would give them the product they ordered from her site, and then they would pay her in cash. Kim was operating a business within a business.
In-person meetups like these were necessary because the ecosystem for e-commerce was not yet developed in the Philippines. There were no on-demand logistics providers like Grab or Lalamove to deliver items. There were no mobile banking apps from BPI or BDO. There were also no marketplaces like Shopee or Lazada.
In fact, all of Kim’s customers back then discovered her through Multiply, the now-defunct social media platform that allowed its users to post and share photos, blogs, and videos. In the beginning, Kim would meet with around one customer per day from Multiply at the McDonald’s, but this soon grew to several meetings a day there and all across the Metro as her customer base rapidly expanded through word-of-mouth. Kimstore’s rapid expansion even made it so Kim had to learn to navigate the different stops of the LRT, taking her to unfamiliar parts of the city.
That Kimstore is now the premiere gadget store in the Philippines fifteen years later, boasting of more than 100 employees, its own marketplace, and storefronts across the largest e-commerce platforms should serve as an inspiration to every aspiring business leader.
Today, Kimstore prides itself on its 100% dedication to customer service and satisfaction. At Kimstore, employees are reminded to accomodate all reasonable customer requests, which means anything from wrapping a product in special packaging or going out of their way to find a rare phone model for someone.
Once, the Kimstore team even delivered an emergency replacement phone to a healthcare worker whose mother had trouble reaching her—an astounding feat when considering this happened in the earliest days of Enhanced Community Quarantine, when many courier services had to be suspended.
Kimstore is also aware of the key role it plays in helping people adjust to the realities of the “New Normal.” For many, transacting with Kimstore means getting that pocket wifi that will make working remotely a breeze or ordering the laptop they need to keep up with online classes.
Kim’s story shows that from the simple confines of a burger chain, it is possible to build a business that enriches the lives of thousands. If Kim built Kimstore in the chaos of a college-side McDonald’s, you can build a great business anywhere in the country. You don’t need a fancy office, or sleek furniture, or even an office at all. Like Kim, all you need is a dream.
People who want to learn more about Kim’s story can pick up a copy of Fearless Filipinas here. Authored by Monica Padillo, Pancho Dizon, and Mica Magsanoc, Fearless Filipinas also tells the inspirational stories of other great Filipinas, including Dr. Reina Reyes, Angel Locsin, Elda Rotor, Erika Legara, Stella Abrera, Jessica Cox, Jessie Sincioco, Asia Jackson, and Merlee Jayme, and includes a foreword from Vice President Leni Robredo.
People who are interested in finding the nearest McDonald’s to work on their great idea can do so here. That’s not us being clever, either. In an interesting turn of fate, McDonald’s began encouraging business meetings at their locations around the country in 2017, offering conference rooms, coffee breaks, and even technical equipment. If many great companies in Silicon Valley emerged from the dim light of a garage, maybe more successful startups will be built over a burger and fries.