Kim Lato: How to Start and Sustain an Online Business

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Starting a business isn’t easy, and sustaining one is even harder.

How did Kimstore, an online marketplace for gadgets started by Kim Lato in 2006, grow from a humble Multiply outlet to one of the pioneers of e-commerce in the Philippines?

Kim Lato talks about the challenges of starting and sustaining a business.

Before Starting a Business

When asked if she knew from the beginning that she was going to be an entrepreneur, Kim answered, “I came from an entrepreneurial family, so it was normal for me to see my parents running their own businesses. Then when it came time to start my own, it was easy for me to welcome the idea.”

A usual roadblock when starting a business is first finding a business idea or product.

Multiply, which was where Kimstore started, was used mainly as a social networking website. So how did she think of using Multiply as a marketplace? “I had a pool of friends on Multiply, which at the time was the fastest-growing social network. Usually, people just blogged on it, but I thought, ‘Hey, I have friends on Multiply, so why not sell in this community?’

“So I started selling cameras, lenses, and other accessories. Then, people who bought cameras from me were also looking for phones and tablets, so in a way, my customers also dictated what I was going to sell. My camera store became a full-fledged online store.”

Starting an e-Commerce Business

“When I graduated in 2008, we had a financial crisis. As a marketing graduate from De La Salle University, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities, not unless I went abroad pero ayokong mag-abroad eh.

“I thought, ‘try to take a risk’. After one year, or two years, if it doesn’t work, then I can try a day job.

“That time, I was a one-man team – order processing, payment, delivery, ordering from suppliers. My market was students from La Salle first, which then grew to UP, Ateneo, and UST. From there, my customers spread the word to friends and relatives, and then the network developed itself. That’s when I saw that it was a scalable business, that Kimstore could grow at tatagal pa siya.”

There’s no questioning what happened next. Today, Kimstore not only sells cameras, phones, tablets, and accessories, but laptops, music players, and gaming consoles as well.

Challenges of an e-Commerce Business

“Filipinos are mall shoppers. Before, my problem was how to convince people to buy online, so I relied on my unique selling proposition: convenience, getting your orders via delivery or via meetup.

Today, people realize that online shopping is convenient. The new challenge now is establishing your credibility.

“People know Kimstore for its friendly customer service. In other online stores, you just check out without talking to anyone. With us, you can inquire about any type of electronics, and we will help you make a decision.”

When asked how increased competition affects her business, Kim answered, “I look at it positively. Masubukan lang nilang bumili online, and they have a good experience, we can transition mall buyers into online buyers. If other online stores can bring more people online, it’s good for all of us.”

The more people who are buying online, the more potential customers you have.

Sustaining the Business

Before Facebook and Instagram, Multiply was at the top of its game for social media. When the site closed in 2013, everyone was shocked.

“I started to worry. Everything was on Multiply: the e-commerce, the payment gateway, the customers. I started to think, ‘saan ako babahay?’ I was on Facebook and Twitter though, and I saw people were searching for Kimstore, so I knew people were still looking for me. So in 2013, I finally set up my website.”

The growth in online sales continues, so e-commerce is here to stay. So what does this mean from Kimstore in the next few years?

“We, at Kimstore, will continue to do what we do best, and that is, one, providing the latest electronics at an affordable price, and two, continuing to innovate the company. We partnered with LBCommerce so customers in the province can do cash on delivery too. Right now, I’m looking for partners who can offer installment plans to our customers, because there are those who may not have a credit card but have the cash to buy things online.”

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

To end the interview, MoneyMax.ph asked Kim what advice she could give to aspiring entrepreneurs. Her answer?

Take the risk. Keep up the faith. You won’t be on a high all the time; sometimes there’ll be highs; sometimes there’ll be lows. Everything has a risk, and it’s up to you to take that risk.

She says, “the only thing that makes me different from another person is they didn’t try and just dreamed. I tried and made it happen. If you don’t try now, kailan pa?”

Succeeding in business takes a lot of knowledge about your market, hard work to achieve your goals, and the capacity to innovate in today’s fast-changing business climate. Before you throw yourself headfirst, first ask yourself: are you ready to take the risk?

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Note: A version of this article was originally published in MoneyMax.ph.

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