Cakes and cookies: A Pinay entrepreneur's journey

By Tricia F. Castrodes

Posted at Mar 28 2015 11:24 AM | Updated as of Mar 28 2015 07:24 PM

(Note from The Business Mentor: Born and raised in an entrepreneurial family from Marikina City, Tricia Castrodes graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines with a degree in Tourism. She also took a course on Events Management from George Washington University in the United States.
Today Tricia is the owner and COO of Aretei Foods Corporation. She is married to Marc Castrodes and mother to three lovely children Spring, Danie and Migo.)

Opening of our store in SM South Mall. From left to right, Pastor Rico Ricafort, Senior Pastor of Victory Christian Fellowship Ortigas, Tricia Castrodes, Senator Bam Aquino and Marc Castrodes.

MANILA, Philippines - My journey as an entrepreneur is unlike the many I have taken thus far.

I have always loved traveling. There is something in exploring places that excites me.

Pursuing that same passion, I graduated with a degree in Tourism from University of the Philippines. My experience and education taught me to be a meticulous planner. Before embarking I always have all my itineraries, the numbers and people to call just in case, and most importantly all necessary maps.

I began as an employee in the private sector. I handled jobs in account management, events, and admin and finance. When an opportunity came to work with government, I took it. Working with government taught me networking, project management, among many others. I learned to become an employer from being an employee.

That employee stage of my entrepreneurship ended when I decided to take a furlough from work when I got pregnant with my second child. I became a full-time homemaker for two years.

During that time I did two things: one, I invested whatever cash I had with a mutual fund and second. I rediscovered my love for baking.

The years 2005 and 2006 were excellent years for investment. The money I placed with the mutual fund company tripled. It was a blessing. I withdrew the money right before the financial crisis of 2007 hit. So, I ended up with some cash and possibilities in my head.

I considered two options: to put-up a travel agency which is something I have been educated to do, or build a business out of what I like doing which is baking.

The basis for my decision was influenced by something external to those choices. I chose the business that allowed me to stay with my children while being an entrepreneur. I chose to pursue the pastry business.

I registered a sole-proprietorship business and started at my kitchen. Friends from the corporate world helped me set-up the admin and finance systems. They strongly suggested that I do everything right from the beginning, even if the business was still very small.

I started with making cupcakes and mini-cakes. I gave it a name – Little Cakes Factory. Sensing the trend towards e-commerce, I put up a web-based cupcake in 2007 instead of opening a shop. From mini-cakes and cupcakes, we were eventually asked by clients to do art cakes and big cakes, which we obliged.

The business grew steadily. We bought the property next to our home and the commissary was built. Soon thereafter, the business outgrew the capacity of the equipment and the skills of the personnel. I needed help. I knew I needed new equipment, but I did not have the capital to buy modern machines.

So I researched for government grants. I discovered the DOST program called Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program or DOST-SETUP. This is a loan that would provide the new equipment payable in 3 years with zero (0) interest. The advice from friends to start right and do the financials well proved very helpful.

We had our supporting documents ready and the application became easy. The DOST personnel were excellent. We received the loan, which started the modernization of our production system. With the machines came a training on Good Manufacturing Processes from DOST, for free!

With higher capacity equipment, I needed to think of ways to maximize their use. Through friends, I discovered the opportunity in burger buns and pizza dough. We started making them for a burger chain and a few restaurants; buns and dough became a steady source of revenue.

After a few years of doing the cupcakes, cakes, buns, and dough though, I had a desire to develop a product that I could sell nationwide and abroad. I needed a concept and a brand. I went on research again. I consulted the National Food Research Institute of DOST. I tested several ideas from vitamin breads to packed mini cakes, among others. None of those ideas though gave me the “This is it!” feeling. They were good but not perfect. So I kept researching and praying.

There was one thing that DOST FNRI told me that lingered: if you want a product that would last without preservatives, it has to be a dry product or a product with very low water content. That would give the shelf life needed to market nationwide and abroad.

I pondered on that thought, and continued reading and praying. After pouring over many materials for months, I woke up one day with an idea – Cookie Sticks!

I loved the idea and it was something doable. So I started the process of developing the product and the brand. The idea came March of 2014 and 6 months thereafter Cookie Sticks was out in the market.

Today, a year after the idea was born, we now have stores in key malls and we are developing distribution channels. We have opened our doors to distributors and franchisees.

My desire to build the brands Cookie Sticks and Little Cakes is indeed different from the things I am used to. Here, there are no maps, there are no set itineraries, and the business weather is always hard to read.

But on second thought, it is also similar to any other in two ways:

First, it is special with the people you love. I am in with my husband Marc Castrodes who has been my supporter and encourager from the beginning.

All the sentences here written with I should actually be read as We. I am in with my children as well who are now beginning to help-out. I am in with my parents who are always there for help and support. And I am in this with all those wonderful friends who taught me finance, production, marketing, branding, among many others.

Finally, this is similar to any other; because we depend on God for good health, fair weather, knowledge, strength, and ideas. This is a story of God’s blessing and guidance from Day One. Doing this business is like seeing beautiful nature unfolds; it is always new, always exciting, always breathtaking.

Let me share and leave these 8 entrepreneurship tips I always use:

1. Know what you are good at. Mastery is a key element to motivation.
2. Choose what you love to do
3. Start right. Seek help from friends with the right expertise.
4. Avail of government and non-government entrepreneurship assistance programs.
5. Have fun but take calculated risks.
6. Make it your ambition for excellence to become a habit.
7. Keep your relationships healthy. They are some of the biggest reasons you wake up everyday.
8. Pray and seek God's guidance.