MANILA -- A few weeks before Christmas, tech executive turned chef Paolo Benedicto took his spot at a food park of home cooks who all went viral on Instagram and scaled up their enterprises using e-commerce and logistics apps that disrupted business in the Philippines in the last decade.
Fresh from the first of its kind "Chubbycon 2019," Benedicto was taking orders on Viber, receiving payments via GCash and BPI Mobile, and dispatching trays of roast beef and salmon through Lalamove and Happymove.
For the busiest season for business, Benedicto and "kakulto" (cult member) businesses endorsed by Instagram food review page "MasarapBa" (Is it delicious? in Filipino) tapped on their mobile devices to get things done.
"To scale properly, the ability to take food orders and serve them properly, tech is simply the only way to go. With a lean team, I can't do it without tech," Benedicto told ABS-CBN News.
"For the same operation, I would need to hire more than twice the staff. It will not make economic sense. Tech serves me in 2 ways: convenience and efficiency and, of course, unnecessary labor expenses," said the triathlete father of one, who studied economics in college.
Fans of MasarapBa, with 270,000 followers on Instagram, are clamoring for "Chubbycon 2020," having turned to the anonymous account for food finds and honest reviews on almost everything from the newest Jollibee dessert pie and the latest incarnation of KFC's Zinger.
With millions of smartphones and acknowledged as one of the world's social media capitals, the Philippines is a prime market for e-commerce apps.
Lazada and Shopee sales from "9-9" to "12-12" have become online events, pick-up points for Grab rides have taken their place beside taxi queues in shopping malls, and cash registers have QR codes ready to scan for those who want to pay cashless.
Apps on smartphones have given rise to sharing instead of ownership and virtual currencies in place of bills and coins.
"We feel that there’s been a significant shift in the market, the comfort level of Filipinos. Filipinos are shopping a lot more than they’ve ever been," Lazada Philippines CEO Ray Alimurung said late last year.
During a 2017 visit to Manila, Alibaba founder Jack Ma said internet speed in the Philippines was "not good," but with so many mobile phones, the Southeast Asian nation can go cashless and make life "easier."
"You have the opportunity, so many mobile phones, mobile phone coverage anywhere," Ma told students of the De La Salle University in Manila.
"The old economy should not fear but it should change immediately," Ma said. "Please change quickly, it's not the competitor killing you, it's the future killing you."
BASIC HUMAN NEED
Grab, the dominant ride-hailing service in the Philippines, recently expanded to food and parcel delivery, overhauling its app to also include a digital wallet.
"I think when you have a very basic human need such as hunger, it can happen anytime, anywhere at any day. Generally, with the busy lifestyle of people, we'd like to think anyone can benefit from it," country head for GrabFood Philippines, Edward Joseph Dela Vega said during the launch for the service in 2018.
Grab is also looking to equip small businesses with QR payment systems, including the famed "Jollijeeps" or roadside canteens in the Makati City financial district. It is also encouraging them to use the apps suite of financial services.
"We also need to empower home business, so maybe you’re selling cookies at home, you can also use the GrabExpress platform to deliver to a wider audience," Grab vice president for Marketing Cheryl Goh said last year.
Eatigo, a restaurant discount app, described the Philippines as one of its fastest-growing markets. The platform offers discounts for those who book ahead and at off-peak hours.
"We expected good numbers but we’re completely taken aback by how Filipinos are value-centered, how Filipinos are willing to get out of their way to get a good deal, they are willing to go the extra mile for discounts,” co-founder Michael Cluzel said in 2017.
SLAYING KING CASH
At the close of 2019, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno said existing regulations were being reviewed to ensure that these adapt to the rise of app-based financial services.
Jack Ma's ANT Financial is among the investors in the Philippines' GCash, which competes against PayMaya and GrabPay.
"We want to make sure that it’s safe and so far it’s safe. Now that it’s embraced and it works, it’s a matter of applying it to other banks," Diokno said.
Filipinos need to be convinced that digital transactions are safe, said Anthony Thomas, CEO of GCash parent Mynt. "That’s how we create a virtuous flow where more money now sits electronically because it’s just safer, more convenient, cheaper and faster."
Aside from payments, loan apps have also sprouted such as JG Summit's Cashalo. Another app, BigasPh, sought to help rice farmers earn more by serving as a platform to sell their grains.
TRAFFIC JAM BUSTERS
Motorcycles for transportation and delivery have become popular options with roads growing more and more constricted for cars. Regulators are working at draft legislation to legalize motorcycle taxis.
At the forefront is Angkas, led by Singapore-born ex-Grab executive Angeline Tham.
"If you believe you’ve done all that you can, then bahala na si Batman because you’ve pushed all boundaries and you tried everything," Tham told ABS-CBN News in early 2019.
"I think that's a good saying, but I do believe you have to try. If you just sit in a room, nothing is going to happen to you," she said.
Avoiding traffic is among the top reasons Filipinos shop online, according to Lazada. For Benedicto, the chef, tapping motorcycle riders for deliveries is faster compared to cars.
Benedicto is no stranger to technology having worked in the past for Globe Telecom, Yellow Pages, Juice.ph, and Zomato. He sees a future where renewable energy will power the technologies that enable entrepreneurs.
"Also, I have stored excess energy I can sell it to my neighbor via an app that would be cool," he said.
"At the end of the day, tech is also just tech. Even if you make the stable and user friendly, human support will still be crucial especially for delivery apps," he said.