Filipina e-commerce pioneer to pay it forward as a mentor for small businesses

By Patricia Mirasol

As Kimstore, the Philippines’s first online gadget store, celebrates its 15th anniversary, founder Kim Y. Lato wishes her next act to be as a mentor of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) who need support in the digital space.

“My store’s anniversary is one of my top three business milestones,” said Ms. Lato at a Nov. 18 event celebrating the milestone. “I could finally say that I found my ikigai, which is empowering women and teaching them how to do business in e-commerce.”

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that refers to that which gives your life worth, meaning, or purpose.

“We are piloting an e-commerce academy with [Ms. Lato],” said Francisco “Jay” M. Bernardo III, chair and president of Bayan Academy, which offers entrepreneurship, management, and education training programs as a social development organization.

“She is going to be part of the She Means Business program we’ll be running with Facebook,” he told the event audience. “We at Bayan Academy found that what was needed by MSMEs is guidance on how to be successful in the digital economy.”

Ms. Lato started her business on Nov. 19, 2006, when she was a marketing undergraduate at De La Salle University. Back then, selling involved utilizing the now-defunct social media platform Multiply, as well as meeting up with buyers at the McDonald’s branch adjacent to the university to exchange orders for cash.

Her initial capital was from ampaos, which are cash-filled red envelopes that are given by godparents during special occasions.

“I never imagined this would last 15 years,” she said.

To differentiate itself from the competition, Kimstore makes it a point to focus on customer service and be an early technology adopter. Advancements in CRM (customer relationship management) and NPI (new product introduction), for example, are quickly adopted to improve how the store addresses customer needs.

“I attend forums to make sure I’m an adopter of new technologies,” Ms. Lato said. “You always have to be 10 steps ahead.”

Kimstore moreover prioritizes making its customer service a human one.

“People crave the human touch,” added Ms. Lato.