A dirty ice cream story

GO NEGOSYO PILIPINAS ANGAT LAHAT! - Joey Concepcion - The Philippine Star

It wasn’t a few days ago, before I left for Indonesia to attend the ASEAN Business Investment Summit, that my team at Go Negosyo told me about an entrepreneur who sent a message on our Instagram page and said she was a participant at a youth event we held at SMX a few years ago.

She recently embarked on a business of her own and had quite a story to tell. Her name is Jen Pelo. She grew up never having met her estranged father, and only met him when she turned 20. It turns out, he was an ice cream vendor at the UP campus in Diliman, Quezon City.

Her father, Mang Bert, sold what is popularly called in the Philippines as “dirty ice cream.” These are made by the ice cream vendors themselves in small batches and in popular flavors like cheese, chocolate and tropical fruits. They make the ice cream using shared facilities and buy the ingredients from the owner of the facility, who charges for the use of their equipment. The ice cream vendor gets to keep whatever he sells from the cart, which is usually borrowed or rented. From what I understand, every dirty ice cream vendor has his own “timpla,” or recipe. I am told Mang Bert has a gift for making ice cream and that is why he’s managed to make a living for 35 years just selling his own recipe of dirty ice cream.

The relationship between father and daughter, though estranged for years, turned out well for both. And though Jen already had a steady job working in the human resources department of a company, her entrepreneurial dreams never really left her. She was one of the high school students who attended our Go Negosyo youth summit and the experience probably stayed with her because she’s tried her hand at entrepreneurship over the years.

It was her father’s ice cream business that finally inspired her to quit her job and become a full-time entrepreneur. Using money she borrowed from friends, she went around Batangas looking for the best deal to fabricate a cart for her father, seeing that her father’s ice cream sales were limited only by the number of carts he had.

Ice cream carts are not cheap. They cost around P70,000 and more, depending on how fancy you want it to be. This was no small project for Jen; she had bigger plans beyond having ice cream carts. She said she managed to convince some of her friends to lend her money because she had a business plan. Based on her projections, she will be able to repay them in no time (and with interest).

In six months, she managed to grow the ice cream fleet to six carts. Not only that, she implemented her plan for securing equipment and a kitchen from which Mang Bert can prepare the ice cream. Jen also had a marketing plan, and started booking the ice cream carts for events (and who doesn’t enjoy an ice cream cart at a party?). More than that, her siblings pitched in and are involved in the business.

And apparently, there is merit to Mang Bert’s reputation for delicious ice cream blends. Soon after putting up her ice cream facility, Jen started receiving requests for pint orders, and set to work right away by buying pint containers, and figured out how to tweak the process so that the ice cream is still delivered fresh. Dirty ice cream, you see, does not use stabilizers and this can be a double-edged sword: the lack of stabilizers gives it its distinct flavor but at the same time makes it spoil easily.

In no time, Jen started paying off her loans. I asked why she didn’t opt for offering equity instead, but I suppose it is but natural for any entrepreneur to want to own their business. She said she even gave a sizable interest to her handful of creditors. I myself was surprised at how generous she was with the interest, but she said she was repaying something that was more than just money; she was repaying the trust they put in her.

I was happy to see how the lessons we keep repeating ad nauseam are so clearly brought to life in this story. She knows the value of having a mentor (“Hindi lang galaw nang galaw. Gusto ko guided ako,” she told me). She reinvested her earnings back into the business and grew it bit by bit. She planned the action and acted on the plan. She wasn’t afraid to take on all the risk: a mindset that we see in entrepreneurs; this is where a sound business plan can come in handy because it will give you the courage to believe in your plan.

She recognized the value of the “Mang Bert Special Ice Cream” brand and even convinced her father to wear a straw trilby hat and red scarf with a yellow shirt (the brand colors, I presume) to events. She uses social media to tell the heartwarming backstory to her business and appeal to the childhood nostalgia that every Filipino must have for “dirty ice cream.”  She consistently populates her social media channels and pushes awareness for Mang Bert’s Special Ice Cream. Social media is also how she gets feedback and market insight; this is quite a blessing for small entrepreneurs who can’t afford expensive consultants and market research studies.

She and her father paid me a visit at our offices in RFM last week. My team at Go Negosyo believed she can benefit from a few ice cream-related mentoring from me. I myself consider it a happy coincidence that within a few weeks of celebrating the 75th year of Selecta that I met this natural entrepreneur.

I broached to her the possibility of a franchising model (just supply the ice cream and don’t settle for percentage of sales), hire a good lawyer to set up safeguards in the contracts and intellectual property rights, be very careful with the branding and maintain the integrity of the dirty ice cream brand and start exploring other sources of capital. I even encouraged her to strive to compete with established brands (like Selecta!). But always, I told her, put your family first. Never lose sight of why you set out on this journey in the first place.

These are the stories that attest to the power of entrepreneurship mentoring. Mentorship, to paraphrase a famous quote, is a candle that never loses its light because it is used to light another.

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