Lito German – Filipino Entrepreneur

Introduce yourself. Tell us about yourself, what you do, and your business.

I’m Lito German, CEO of SandBox Middle East. I was born, raised, and educated in the Philippines, but since then, my career has taken me all over the world and I’ve been working overseas for over 15 years.

I’m heading SandBox Middle East, the largest Filipino-owned import marketing and distribution company in the GCC. We are the authorized distributors of globally recognized brands such as Delimondo, Arce Dairy, B Coffee, La Lola, Veega (from San Miguel Foods), Lola Remedios, and more.     

At the same time, we are the marketing and distribution partner of PLDT Global Corporation for its bills payment and mobile top up services, which we’ve established as BayaDIRECT.

As an entrepreneur, please explain what your business is about (what you provide, how you do it or how it works).

We have two business pillars namely, (1) food importation and distribution and (2) Bills Payment and Mobile Top-ups.  

On the food distribution side, our business model is quite simple. We secure the rights to distribute brands that have potential in the Middle East region, then we invest heavily in creating awareness and appreciation for these products while wholesaling them across various channels.  

With BayaDIRECT on the other hand, we offer Filipinos in the UAE the opportunity to pay for their Philippine based bills, top up their Philippine mobile subscriptions, or even purchase gift vouchers for their loved ones back home – conveniently over the counter at their nearest Filipino supermarket across the Emirates.

What was the goal you have for your business? Did you see a need in the market to be addressed? Or was it a labor of love? What problem do you intend to solve?

Our first goal is to expand the range of Philippine-made products available in the Middle East. When I first arrived in the region, I was surprised by the limited options Filipino expats had to choose from among Philippine brands and products. I was even more shocked to learn that majority of the Philippine products in the Middle East were being distributed by non-Filipinos. It seemed that most of these traders only viewed our products as commodities to be sold, with no regard to brand building.

Our second goal is to expand the customer profile for our products. Philippine-made products are not for Filipinos only. We have world class, premium products that all nationalities can enjoy.

And finally, our third goal is to empower Filipino expats – not only with products that give them an authentic taste of the Philippines, but also with services that connect them directly to their families back home.

What is a typical day in your life like as an entrepreneur?

Majority of my job revolves around people – making certain that my team has the right resources to allow them to excel at what they do, connecting with business partners to align, and most importantly, coming up with ways to serve our customers better. The rest of my time is spent on strategy – to keep our business on track for growth.

Each day passes by rather quickly. I try to have less meetings and more casual conversations and interactions. And I make sure that I have enough quiet time to think and strategize.  

What makes entrepreneur life different from that of an employee? What do you do differently and what sacrifices/compromises did you have to make?

The main differences between an entrepreneur and employee revolve around Culture, Responsibility and Separation. First, the culture of an organization is determined foremost by the business owner. Second, as an entrepreneur, one is responsible not only for one’s employees, but their families and loved ones as well.  And finally, it’s more difficult for an entrepreneur to separate himself or herself from the office, as the work-life line gets blurred completely.

Do you have any interesting anecdotes as an entrepreneur? Any memorable moments?

There are far too many to recall. There was that time we danced and sang around the office when we landed a huge contract, as well as the time we launched a product in front of thousands of people. There was the time we were all so frustrated when our warehouses were near empty due to shipping delays, and equally the time we were afraid when our stocks arrived, and our shelves were full.

What are some of the learnings you’ve had as an entrepreneur? What advice and wisdom can you share?

I suppose it’s all about ‘give and take’.

  • Give credit and take the blame. After all, the buck stops with you as the owner.
    • Give courage and take risks. Inspire confidence, even though you’re shaking inside.
    • Give comfort and take the hits. The journey is never easy, and an entrepreneur should act as a shock absorber on bumpy roads.

What are some of the things you do to manage being an entrepreneur? Do you rest, unwind, pursue a side hustle, etc. What keeps you motivated and moving forward?

I enjoy what I do. This is already such a blessing. As such, motivation, passion, and dedication all come naturally.

I insist on unwinding – and Ditas, my endlessly energetic wife, ensures that I’m always jumping, diving, kicking, racing, swimming etc. She adds the ‘ing’ to my life.

What advice can you give to Filipinos looking to become entrepreneurs abroad?

Make sure this is the life you want. It’s not easy, but the rewards can be awesome to behold if you do it right.

What’s your hope for Filipinos as a business owner moving forward?

We need more Filipinos establishing and running businesses globally. The facets that make Filipinos the most wanted employees across the world would also make them great business owners as well.