July 6, 2012
She's a cereal girl!
Crissy Balatbat, entrepreneur
With her credentials, looks, and talent, Crissy Balatbat could very well be a news reporter on a major TV network, or working as an editor for a major glossy magazine. After all, she graduated with a degree in Communications at the top of her batch at the University of the Philippines. In fact, she was well on her way, as she has already snagged writing jobs at a news network, and was working as staff writer for a popular glossy, interviewing celebrities and coordinating photo shoots.
But today, she is on the other side of the fence, as the one granting interviews and getting dolled up for photo shoots and TV appearances. A lot of people are interested to learn more about her and the concept store that she launched. What started it all? Cereals.
Crissy and her friends put up what was then a small establishment at the corner of the UST Hospital parking lot, where they offered bowls of the breakfast staple, combined with several topping options that range from fruits to candy confections, served with their own Snow Milk. It was a hit with health-conscious people, particularly students and their parents who are looking for healthier options for snacking, and from there, the Cerealicious brand has grown to become a major presence in the malls and in (or around) big campuses. Soon, social networking sites were abuzz about blockbuster bowls called Jumango (cornflakes with mango, honey crumble, and strawbewrry syrup) and the Ma-Twix (Rice Krispies with twix, Choco Kisses, and Choco Syrup). Crissy says, "We got the idea from a cereal store in the US called Cereality, which served cereal with plain fresh milk. However, for the Filipino market, we decided to put a fun and exciting twist to it. We created our signature Snow Milk, our various cereal concoctions and gave them witty names which easily stuck to the minds of our customers. Currently, we have 20 branches, and are still looking to expand." Not bad for a girl in her early 30s, right?
She says despite starting a path in journalism, having a business was always in her plan. "I got interested to have a business when I saw my parents do it, which started when I was in high school. My mom had a catering business and then later on, my dad operated a restaurant then a publishing firm. Later on, I realized I also wanted to be an entrepreneur because I also had the guts, the ability, and the passion to go into business."
Of course, there were people who doubted her and thought that she was crazy for jumping ship and leaving a stable job for her own start-up. She took this challenge in stride. "They say that entrepreneurs are dreamers. They believe strongly enough in their ideas for them to take risks. But I'd like to believe that although I'm a dreamer, I don't lose touch of reality. And I examine, as objectively as I can, if the business is indeed working or not. Of course there will always be skeptics. I don't begrudge them. They are entitled to their opinions and in fact, I don't easily dismiss them. I listen to what they have to say and take it as constructive criticism and a challenge to prove that our business can prosper!" This, of course, is no surprise from a gutsy girl who has no qualms about scolding an MMDA crossing guard for inappropriate name-calling.
At the beginning, her age was also a factor. She recalls, "I started Cerealicious with friends when I was just 23 years old. People who knew me had confidence in me and my capabilities. But people who did not know me did not take me seriously in the beginning. I was a young lady presenting an out-of-the-box idea to leasing managers, investors, companies whose support we needed, potential partners, etc. Even some of our franchise applicants were surprised upon meeting me and finding out that I was just 23. Maybe some people thought I was just experimenting and that this unusual concept of a stand-alone cereal store will not even materialize, much more succeed." But she trucked on, strong with her belief that the business will fly, and she can laugh about it today. "After some time, I got used to it and through the many times I negotiated with various people, I developed a sense of self-assurance. Of course I was also aging in that span of seven years that I've been doing the Cerealicious business so that helped!"
Running a business is no cakewalk, she adds. "Whoever will tell you it's easy is lying!" she laughs. "Entrepreneurship is not for the weak-hearted because there will be countless times when you'll feel you're being put in the wringer. There were times when we had to close some non-earning outlets and during those times, I felt like a failure. So yes, I questioned the success of the business several times before. But any kind of failure, big or small, only prompted me to think what else we can do to make things better. And fortunately, we're able to rise above each trial that came our way. Now, by God's grace, we're still alive and kicking!" she's not resting on her laurels though. "I know that success isn't absolute, especially in the food industry where there is cutthroat competition. I believe that Cerealicious is a work in progress and as long as our customers appreciate what we offer, we'll continue serving them," she grins. "There are many challenges that you have to deal with on a daily basis and that's part of the life you signed up for as an entrepreneur. You just learn to roll with the punches. In the end, there's still joy in seeing your business thrive."
She shares that she misses writing sometimes. "Although I still do some PR writing on the side, what I miss the most is writing profile articles in particular, because I genuinely enjoy learning about other people's life experiences. It inspires me. In business though, it also helps if you're a good writer and communicator in general because you need to be able to clearly and effectively convey your thoughts to so many people. For Cerealicious, I handle Business Development, Franchising, PR/Media Relations, and I help a lot in Marketing. I find that writing well helps me achieve my business goals."
Just a girl
For all the moxie and innate business sense, Crissy remains a girl who enjoys simpler things in life—if she can find the time. "I just like having dinner and movie dates with friends. I go out of town when I want to really unwind and catch up on sleep. I sometimes go with my family to our Batangas farm where it's really quiet, signal is bad—which is good for me so I can detach from my cellphone. The weather is cold and everything is so relaxing."
Still very much single, she also has her own stories about bad dates, just like any other girl. One factor is that these guys are very easy to weed out, especially the ones who are intimidated by girls who have found their own groove. "I only feel that way when all these men talk about are themselves, their work and their achievements, without asking much about what I do. I like to feel a sense of equality when dealing with men but some seem to have a need to brag and try to compete. It's disappointing and funny at the same time. What I want to say to guys like that is "Go take a hike!" but I don't say it out loud. I show it through my actions!" she laughs.
Words from the wise
A few decades ago, it may have been weird for older people to get business advice from members of a younger generation, but the game has changed dramatically. Crissy has enough solid experience to share her thoughts about entrepreneurship, and as proof, here's how the business stands now. "Our 'cereal blockbusters' still remain to be our star products. These are cereal bowl concoctions that we created. The bestselling flavors are Jumango, Pirates of the Cadbury-ean, Harry Popper & the Deathly Mallows, and BreaKit Dawn. We have just launched The Amazing S-Pie-derman as blockbuster of the month. We see to it that there are 30 flavors at any given time, adding new ones regularly and taking out the old ones when we see they are not in demand anymore. We've gone a long way considering that we started with only 10 variations back in 2006. We want to continue expanding here and possibly abroad. That is why we are going to add more people to take care of franchising in order for us to expand in a sustainable manner. Our organization is definitely growing as we come closer to our 8th year in business. We have lots of plans in terms of brand-building."
She then gives ladies who want to start their own business a thumbs up—and a heads up. "If you feel that being an entrepreneur is your calling, go for it! Just be sure of what you really want, and be prepared for the challenges along the way. Plan well and execute well. Do your due diligence on the product or service that you want to offer to the market and above all, know your customers! Your focus must be on how you can make them happy so they will support your business and come back for more!"