Packworks: Empowering The Sari-Sari Stores
Mr. Bing Tan
One of the many pillars of Filipino culture are sari-sari stores. These stores have built easily accessible mini convenience stores for small communities in the Philippines for decades. Similar to this, other countries too have their own versions of sari-sari stores that contribute to their national economies. But a glaring problem that these stores face is their difficulty to integrate technology and financial management. As small store owners who lack necessary resources given limited funding, access to a broader market and financial funding is incredibly difficult for them. This is where Packworks steps in.
Packworks is a tech startup that empowers sari-sari stores and small store owners through expandable and reachable technology. Their ultimate goal is to provide these women-led, home-based, and micro-entrepreneurs with the knowledge and capabilities to grow more resilient, knowledgeable, and strategic, most especially in the middle of the pandemic. Packworks does this through their platform that is available on the internet, on smartphones, and even via SMS. This application educates approximately 1.1 million sari-sari stores in financial literacy. With this, why don’t you join me in learning more about Packworks with Co-Founder and CEO, Bing Tan.
What inspired you to start Packworks?
It started out of necessity. It was something that we created because we wanted to create a business that was self-sustaining. However, things got to a point wherein the sari-sari stores were put in front of us and it was something that we felt we needed to do something about. In reality, you’ve got sari-sari stores who are getting a markup of 5%-8% on the products that they sell. They borrow their money from a loan shark who gets 20% off the peso. As soon as they get that money, they’re already in the negative. Now the question that comes up is, “How do you create this environment for sari-sari stores which are trying to make a living and still be part of that entire structure?” It was change that pushed us forward.
What inspired you to continue your career in the startup technology ecosystem?
I’ve always been a believer in technology— for the past 20 years. However, I think that ecosystem building is far more important in the present because it’s about connecting the dots. Gone are the days of Web1 and Web2 wherein services are built. Now, it’s really about connecting people and connecting segments of people. It is easy to get inspired if you know that you’re helping people. For us, when sari-sari stores use our platform, it’s like you’re trying to raise a kid: you’re giving them schooling and they’re studying.
What would you say are Packworks biggest achievements?
Biggest achievement is really being able to manage all of the stakeholders. At the very core of it are our main stakeholders: the sari-sari store owners. If they win, we win. It’s that kind of connection. For me, that’s our biggest achievement. We actually built something for the nanays or the sari-sari store owners, which a lot of people have been trying to do for the past 20 years or so. It is only now that you can find a company that’s Philippine-made that truly helps the Filipinos. We have the widest reach at close to 200,000 stores, and to us, this is 200,000 families.
As the grand winner of the Startup World Cup X Wildfire competition, how are you feeling right now?
I’m absolutely ecstatic. I’m very grateful and thankful. I’m very single-minded, which means that every time I get a platform to talk, I know I’m working with the people I’m serving. To me, that’s the best thing. It’s the opportunity to talk in front of people and elevate the conversation.
With this in mind, since Packworks will compete at Startup World Cup 2023 in Silicon valley, where do you see Packworks in the near future? How do you think this will affect the overall company at a global and national scale?
Frankly speaking, while Packworks has a bit of funding, I know it’s not enough. I’m hoping we’ll be in multiple countries, but I doubt it since we don’t have enough capital to do so. At the very least, I want to make sure that we’re very focused at expanding our network reach. From close to 200,000 and hopefully double that the next year. That’s the goal, to double the count. To me, that’s the intention. Additionally, it’s putting in true banking services in front of these stores. It’s very important that I’m working towards building this platform with the team, because I don’t believe in being a middle-man. I think we are one of the very first digital companies in the country who are striving to provide and push policy makers for the sari-sari stores that we’re working with to give them a 0% Merchant Discount Rate (MDR). We want to make sure that when they do digital money, store 1 purchasing to store 2, or customer purchasing to store, there are no fees. That’s the only way you can create true inclusion.
To all the inspiring entrepreneurs out there, as well as those who wish to be in your shoes, what message do you have for them?
It really takes a lot of grit, a lot of passion, and a lot of unique thinking. Grit because when you’re doing something, you cannot just count the highs, you also have to count the lows. For us, that was difficult to deal with during the pandemic. Next, passion because you have to have purpose. My passion is making sure we can build this out for the customer stakeholders. I’m not merely taking money from them. That’s not my intent. Lastly, always be humble enough to know that you’re not the smartest in the room. You have to find people who are smarter than you so that you can think about solving huge problems together.
Bing Tan is the Co-Founder and CEO of Packworks, a startup empowering sari-sari stores through digitalization and financial management. With an extensive background as an entrepreneur in several tech startups, Bing, alongside his fellow co-founders, has continued to uplift the Philippine tech ecosystem. He aims to bring forth this advocacy of helping our fellow sari-sari store owners and expand this further to other countries in Southeast Asia and eventually, the world.
Visit www.techshake.asia if you would like to know and connect more with Packworks.