2 Feb 2021, 14:04 — 9 min read
“There is a time for everything; a time to leave, and a time to start something new.”
This is what Marie Frances Macabenta has always believed.
So at 55, she took a leap of faith to pursue what makes her happy: starting a business that she’s passionate about. She founded Balai Cacao in 2017 offering cacao products specially handcrafted by Boholano women.
In conversation with GlobalLinker (GL), Marie Frances Macabenta (MM) shares her business journey on how she decided to pursue her business after spending over two decades in the academe.
GL: Tell us a little bit about your business journey. What motivated and excited you to start it?
MM: I was a professor for 21 years at University of Bohol. I was teaching business but I didn’t have a business. But while I was teaching, I had an interest to start a business. I started selling cacao or tablea with my friends in Manila. I used to buy tablea and my husband used to bring it to Manila. Later on, I realized that I can make this as a business. So I bought a lot of cocoa to my neighbor, then while she was making cocoa, I was observing, and deep within me, I felt that I can also do this. Later on, I asked my neighbor if she can teach me how to make tablea.
I continued teaching while making tablea on the side. For example, if I had time to make tablea at night, I would do it and sell it to my friends and in school. In 2014, we were able to buy a lot in Tagbilaran and my husband decided to plant cacao because there’s always a cacao tree in every household here in Bohol.
Then we started making tablea for production with the mothers within the community to help them. My husband got also interested and I was also interested since I love chocolates. The fathers in the community got also interested and we gave them cacao seedlings. Later on, the road (where our lot is located) was called Cacao Road.
I registered the business as sole proprietorship here in Tagbilaran. I was so passionate that I was enjoying making tablea more than teaching.
GL: By the time you registered your business, were you still teaching?
MM: I’m still teaching. But it came to the point that it became stressful because we were doing community work every weekend, while our orders for tablea were growing, and I also have side projects. I thought of retiring, but there’s no early retirement in our school (where I am teaching). I am allowed to resign and they can provide a separation pay. I felt like this is the answer because I got burned out and I felt that I’m done with my role as a teacher in the university. I already had a sense of fulfillment. And I believe that there is a time for everything, a time to live, and a time to start something new.
I resigned from my job and shifted my focused in tablea making for my business. I employed three mothers from the community we are working with.
GL: Was it difficult for you to decide about quitting your job?
MM: I was ready to resign because my only son had already graduated. God prepared me in a sense that I no longer have responsibilities to shoulder. I took a calculated risk. I told myself that as long as I’m earning and at least achieve breakeven (then I can be able to continue my business), employ the parents in the community and do my community outreach. Eventually, DTI helped me with my business through providing training.
GL: Was there any fears or doubts when you quit your job and started your venture?
MM: Yes. I had fears but I took a calculated risk. My starting capital was not that big, so for me, it was not too disappointing in case it fails. What was on my mind at that time was that there’s no harm in trying.
GL: How much was your capital when you started?
MM: I started with around Php30,000 but later on I was able to buy additional machine and raw materials when I received my separation pay from work. I started my production in the kitchen at home. Now, we’re building my manufacturing factory and (the construction) is about to finish.
GL: How was your first year of being a full-time entrepreneur?
MM: The challenge was how to sell my products as the usual tableas (that are in the market) do not have a good packaging. It looks cheap. So the question was: how do I improve my product? Another challenge was how to present my brand. I also started with manual process because I had limited equipment.
GL: During your early years as an entrepreneur, how did you overcome your business challenges?
MM: With the assistance of DTI, they provided experts that helped me with the packaging of my products.
GL: What program from DTI did you attend? Can you tell us something more about it?
MM: I joined Great Women Project. They funded it to help women entrepreneurs. It helped me a lot in terms of packaging my products. They helped me elevate my brand and trade fairs by DTI have also helped to make Balai Cacao known.
GL: How were you able to grow your business eventually?
MM: While my earnings are increasing little by little, I retained it and maintained a simple lifestyle. I saved the profit until my working capital grew which I used to buy machines that I needed for the business. It also helped that I managed to set a target. I created a business plan and attended KMME program of DTI. I followed my business plan and I was able to hit my target every month.
GL: Often times, when you are close to your retirement, you just usually wait for it. But in your case, it was different. You decided to resign even though you had only a few years left before retirement. Tell me more about it.
MM: I didn’t want to wait for my retirement. I saw a post on Facebook that says retire at 60 and die at 75. Retire at 55 and die at 85. So I’d rather retire at 55 so I can still enjoy my venture and continue creating and innovating.
During this time of the pandemic, my way of coping is by innovating. I’m now also making a chilled chocolate drink and we were able to give it to the frontliners and health workers. I received good feedback, but I’m still developing it.
GL: Your story is truly inspiring. You didn’t think that you are too old to start a business. Did it come up to your mind or are there people who discouraged you to start a business?
MM: My husband and child are very supportive. I didn’t think that I’m too old to do business. In fact, I told myself that I’ve done so much in my profession as a teacher. I have a lot of students who have become professionals already. It’s now my time to do something that I’m happy about. And through my business, I was able to express my creativity and be my own boss.
GL: What have you learned from your experience as an entrepreneur?
MM: Linkages are really important. You have to tap the whole value chain because the opportunities are always there. If you don’t tap them, you won’t get anything. Organizations like DTI have helped me a lot. It’s not just about what you know, but it also about who you know in business. You should also never give up even there are a lot of challenges, because I always believe that it will also come to pass.
I also learned to really take care of your customers. So, in difficult times like this one (pandemic), my loyal customers who are patronizing my products have helped me sustain my business.
To get to know more about Marie Frances’ products, you can visit her online store at balaicacao.linker.store
To explore business opportunities, link with Marie Frances Macabenta by clicking on the 'Connect' button on her profile.
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