Business smarts for the bottom of the pyramid

Sari Software’s Ibba Rasul Bernardo uses tech to empower local microentrepreneurs

It’s the norm for tech startups to release a working product as soon as possible, then pivot or fix any bugs later. But Sari Software Solutions flew in the face of convention, spending more than a year to perfect its first outing, SariLoad, a mobile inventory app for sari-sari store owners.

Why the long wait? "You have to have a vision, but there are many ways of getting there," explains founder and CEO Ibrahim Rasul Bernardo. "You have to have an objective. Ours was to create financial and digital literacy tools that help people who have never used a computer or a smartphone." The software development company has a specific, if not underserved, market: It creates technology for the base of the pyramid, especially microentrepreneurs—many of them women and mothers, affectionately referred to as Nanays by the Sari team.

Sari Software’s Ibba Rasul Bernardo

The business was inspired, in large part, by his experience years ago with Ride For Light, a mission to power far-flung, isolated areas using solar energy. The trip lasted 19 days, during which Bernardo rode his motorcycle to visit over 70 communities. It was then he came to see the universal presence of sari-sari stores. "It was a figure-eight around the country, and every day I was in at least three sari-sari stores," he recalls. "In every single offline and off-grid community I would go to, there would be one."

SariLoad has already been deployed to hundreds of sari-sari stores across the Philippines. The app enables Nanays to sell and monitor telco top-ups for mobile phones, but the end of the day, SariLoad was designed to be a teaching tool. "What we're trying to do is make their business measurable," he says. "Once you're able to measure it and see if it’s getting better, you'll learn what needs improvement."

Sari Software’s Ibba Rasul Bernardo

What makes it so intuitive, Bernardo says, is a thorough understanding of user behavior. He and his team studied raw footage of Nanays testing and struggling with the early versions of the app at the Sari Software offices. "We watched literally hours and hours of our mistakes," he recalls. "With every version, we adjusted our course, getting a little more information, making the app better. I can give you a tool and a goal, but if those two don't match, and your work isn't driven by research, then nothing is going to grow." It was hard-going at first: It took the Nanays over three and a half hours to carry out seven steps on SariLoad. But 30 iterations later, its interface had become so user-friendly that the Nanays were able to accomplish 12 steps in under eight minutes out in the field.

The success of SariLoad eventually served as the blueprint for MyShopkeeper, an automated system that organizes inventory and keeps track of sales on a bigger scale. Bernardo was already using a working prototype to manage some of his other businesses when he decided to offer the tool to other enterprises as well. "We've got this SME solution that's Filipino, that's made for this country—how do we get it out there?" he asked himself. "The natural partner was Globe, primarily because of their reach and their high postpaid user base." In collaboration with the major telco, Sari Solutions was able to launch MyShopkeeper in 2014.

Profits from MyShopkeeper also go towards funding their work to develop more products for microentrepreneurs, such as SariScan, a smartphone app lets Nanays better manage their stores—it’s equipped to project sales targets, make discounts, and record sale and debt transactions, among other functions. "The revenue we generate goes back into technology for Nanays," he explains. In turn, the tech they develop for microentrepreneurs becomes the backbone that their SME and enterprise solutions are built on—a novel, but effective, business model that’s built for long-term sustainability.

"It helps that we made technology for Nanays, as opposed to making technology for big businesses," he says. "It's a lot easier to start with the basics and add bit by bit, as opposed to being a big enterprise solutions provider with all of these functionalities, and having to rip it down to its core and still maintain the same process, the same UI and UX."

MyShopkepper is a mobile inventory system that allows entrepreneurs to keep tabs on their store’s products and sales, and analyze accurate sales reports, to better manage their operations. Find out more about MyShopKeeper and Globe’s mobile bundles at https://mybusiness.globe.com.ph/solutions/myshopkeeper.