Imagine Metro Manila without Seattle’s famous coffee chain. Messy Bessy founder and CEO Kristina “Krie” Lopez-Reyes remembers it vividly. In fact, she was part of the team that brought the international chain in Philippine waters.
“I was the financial analyst. For years under them, I did almost everything, merchandising, marketing… I wouldn’t have built this [business] without that experience. I wouldn’t have had the confidence,” Reyes told Entrepreneur.com.ph.
Before leaving the company for good, Reyes served as its corporate social responsibility (CSR) head, not knowing it would be her last under them, more so, not knowing it will mold her role to change lives for the rest of her life.
The early years
“I was the CSR head so I thought, that was it. That’s my dream, it’s kind of combining this bleeding heart and business,” Reyes shared. “I didn’t really enjoy relying on other people’s money to get the job done. So I said, there has to be a way of doing it.”
Equipped with a “bleeding heart,” guts, creativity and a capital of Php 50,000, Reyes set up Messy Bessy in 2007. The social entrepreneur designed the brand logo, mixed her own recipes (which were all available online) and introduced nine products mostly for home needs.
“I got it (capital) from my savings and literally only bought the inventory out of it: ingredients and bottles. I printed my own labels,” Reyes said. “I first sold my items online, on the now-defunct Multiply. But I will usually get orders from emails, so usually word-of-mouth.”
Thanks to its strong branding, the brand’s vintage appeal got the market hooked. Bessy—the plump, smiling blonde— that promises a non-toxic and all-natural household and personal care line, has found a steady following.
Some customers, even up to this day, mistake the brand as imported, largely taken as a compliment by Reyes but also as a challenge.
“That only means our product looks good enough to be known as imported, but at the same time, it’s a marketing hindrance since people think it’s expensive when it’s not. Still, I’m glad for such comments,” Reyes added.
Since the beginning, this is how Reyes wanted the brand to stand: on its own feet. Sustainability was the goal, compassion its fuel; the children, its champions. What Messy Bessy was doing behind the scenes was unknown to most—50 to 60 percent of its workforce are “learners” or out-of-school youth selected from different non-profit organizations and depressed areas, given a new lease in life through a special scholarship program.
“They [scholars] are working in all the departments of the company. They are in logistics, inventory, sales, marketing and finance and HR, production—name it,” Reyes said. “The idea is they are placed where they are interested in and where we feel we can develop them the most. While they are working in those departments, they are earning money and paying for their scholarships.”
The 29-year-old Angiela Mae Deligiero was the first graduate of the company’s program, after finishing college in October last year. As a way of paying it forward, Deligiero opted to stay in the company and is now part of its operations management.
“I graduated valedictorian in high school, but I was only able to study until first year college since my father had to quit his job due to health problems,” Deligiero shared to Entrepreneur.com.ph. “By 18, I started working. I was a saleslady, a cashier girl, factory worker… I did odd jobs.”
Through her cousin, Deligiero discovered Messy Bessy’s program in 2011 and joined it immediately. The now cum laude graduate still remembers how she was the oldest among her batch, unfortunately, she was also the only one who finished the whole program.
“It was difficult of course, since you have to maintain a grade in all aspects, for work and for academics, even for work ethics. But I also wanted to persevere for the company and for Ms. Krie,” Deligiero said. “I want to show that the program works, that when new kids come, people will see that ‘hey, if she can graduate [from] college, I can do the same.’”
Foundation of trust
The new kids weren’t always cooperative, as expected, like how teenagers would react. Reyes said in her first few months in business, the children she tapped from different organizations would go in and out of the program, clouded with skepticism and distrust.
“They didn’t see that it would help them, but just overtime, I had to build their trust. Reyes said. “You have to understand [that] these kids have a lot of distrust. They don’t trust anybody, not even their parents, but when they saw that we were really sincere in empowering them, then, they stayed.”
The social entrepreneur credits much of the company’s success to its strong workplace culture. When one enters Messy Bessy’s headquarters, identifying who the learners are would be a challenge with its open workplace and organization.
Every morning, the team huddles for a 15-minute core-value workshop, where the human resources department discusses a certain value and engages with the team. A wall in its office shows a tally of workplace offenses of every member of the team, even non-learners. While another wall is dedicated for notes of gratitude, sometimes of empowerment for oneself.
“This really is not just my work, this is [the] work of everybody here. It really feels great especially to see the stark difference of how our first graduates were when they first entered the office and how they are now,” Reyes said. “It makes us motivated to keep doing what we do.”
Paying it forward
But of course, there will be no internal affairs to keep in check without a product line to maintain and sell. Today, Messy Bessy is distributed in over 200 stores nationwide with seven company-owned kiosks in Metro Manila. From nine products on its first year, the list has gone as far as 70 items, with a new line called Messy Baby, dedicated for infant care.
“Of course, when the kids see they are part of an awesome brand, they’d feel motivated to be part of it. They’d feel proud,” Reyes said. “We never made products that we thought would sell because of what we’re doing in the social side. The people in my team are highly competent people, highly experienced in the business world. All of us here are business managers more than social workers.”
With such successes, it’s only fitting for Reyes to be awarded as PLDT’s #BeTheBoss for Social Entrepreneurship for her almost decade-long cause. In February, she was tapped as one of the ambassadors of the Make It Big campaign for the enterprise arm of the telecom company.
“To be given that stage is of course, humbling. It gave us double digit revenue growth,” Reyes said.
But more than profits, the Messy Bessy CEO is also now eager to spread its wings further this time, tapping other companies to emulate the program she has long developed.
“With our social organization, HOUSE (Helping Ourselves Through Sustainable Enterprises), we will help other companies to take in young adults in their companies the way we have,” Reyes said.
Currently, Starbucks Philippines has four of the organization’s kids serving as its baristas and Reyes’ eyes already brighten to the possibilities it can bring.
“Imagine if all Starbucks in the country—300 of them—will take in at least one kid. That will make a huge impact,” Reyes said. “I really dream for social entrepreneurship to evolve as a concept, that it will focus more on the impact it’s creating through business.”
With such strides, Reyes will have no problem in getting that part of the work done.
Elyssa Christine Lopez is Entrepreneur.com.ph's staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz.