The KISS from the King of Balls

The drive to succeed is important in starting a business, but success sometimes comes to the least expecting entrepreneurs. In the case of Mel Flores, owner of popular food cart franchise KISS King of Balls, he just started his business with the thought of having something better to do after he left the corporate world and finding a source of income to hoist him up from the pit of bankruptcy.

Starting with a loan of P150,000, Flores professionally registered KISS King of Balls and created two attractively designed squid balls/kikiam carts which he first stationed at EDSA Central on January 20, 2000. By May of the same year, franchise offers started coming in and after merely a year of operation, KISS King of Balls had a total of 45 carts all over Metro Manila. Flores was also able to pay off his loan and even its skyrocketing interest after only six months of operation.

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Today, KISS King of Balls has over 200 carts all over the Philippines, with franchises reaching as far as Baguio, General Santos and Cagayan de Oro. Flores admits that he never expected his business to grow this big, that he initially dreamed of having only a maximum of 25 carts, a goal he thought was already too far-fetched given the kind of business he chose to venture into - for who would have thought that a creative spin-off of the local street squid balls and kikiam would become a booming franchise business nationwide?

Looks like Flores did get a kiss of success with his KISS King of Balls. Below is an excerpt from an interview with the squid ball magnate wherein he shares the humble beginnings of his business venture and its amazing rise to success.

How did KISS King of Balls come about?
"We started in January 20, 2000. It came about because, first of all, I had to think of something where I could make money. I worked 16 years for a multinational pharmaceutical company where I was head of business development. After that I spent 3 years manning the operations of Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Philippines, and then our company bought Mister Donut. I came to a point where I was fed up with the corporate life, spending 25 years in the corporate boardroom for so long. Ironically, I had nothing then; I practically had no money, no savings, and I was neck-deep in debts.

"The biggest motivation for me was that I could not reconcile the fact that I was working very hard but practically I had no savings and had a lot of debts. I resigned from the company I was working for, hoping that I could find another job. But I was no longer very young at that time, I was 45 years old. So I just thought of starting a small business, a business that I could afford. But the thing is, I didn't have the necessary capital.

"Then, during the time I used to pick up my wife who was working as a bank manager, I would always eat squid balls from a street vendor there while waiting. Sometimes I would buy more and bring them to the bank for my wife's co-workers. Then one day my wife jokingly said, ‘Why don't you put up something like that?' To which I reacted rather indignantly. I was the boss of the KFC across her bank, and I was also the boss in Mister Donut - why would I stoop to the level of selling squid balls? But later on I thought about it. Why not? If it was going to give me the earning I needed, maybe I should try it.

"So I did my preliminary computations. I thought that if I could do something on the streets that would set me apart from the other vendors, I might be successful. But the problem was, I did not have any capital to start the business. So I pawned my car. And that's how it started."

What was it that set you apart from the other vendors?
"I saw at that time that the only carts existing in the streets were the rickety type. So I said to myself, if I can have a beautiful cart that is branded and my crew would be trained the way I did it in the fastfood business like KFC and Mister Donut, then if I have very good quality food, that should set me apart. With KISS, I hoped to change the landscape of the street food business because at that time there were no branded street foods. The first thing I did, of course, was to professionally register the company."

How did you come up with the name KISS King of Balls?
"At that time, we were only selling two products: kikiam and squid balls. I took the KI from kikiam and the S from squid balls and the special sauce that we developed - because at that time the street vendors only used brown sauce. In our logo where there's a smiley face with a crown, the eyes are actually the squid balls, the mouth is the kikiam, and the crown represents the king of balls. The term King of Balls, it was just a dream. When I went to the Securities and Exchange Commission to register the name KISS, I was told that the name was too common. So I just asked them to add King of Balls because I remembered the line from the movie Titanic where the lead character screamed ‘I'm the king of the world!' So I said King of Balls, thinking that someday I could become the king of squid balls. So that's how it came about. That was just a dream of mine."

Did you ever expect that this business would be this big?
"God has been very good to me. You see, the only thing that I wanted to happen was to pay my debts. But I have paid all my debts, and it has gone beyond my imagination. I was featured in CNN in 2005. I've been featured in newspapers, even gracing the front page of a business section. I was featured in many major newspapers and practically in all TV stations."

What remains to be your driving force in continuing this business?
"It's providing livelihood now to a lot of people. My driving force is also my family. I have a two-year-old daughter from my second wife that I adore so much. I have two children from my first wife who are already secured. One is the head of marketing for Greenwich and has a very good salary, the other one has his own business. So my daughter is my number one driving force and also the employees working for KISS. Here in the office, we directly provide employment to about 50 people. Indirectly, we give work to about 400 to 500 people, the crew of the over 200 franchisees all over the country. I would be very happy - I would say I could consider retiring already - maybe when I see that the company is stable enough to provide a future for the employees and their families."

What are your other plans? How do you envision this business 5-10 years from now?
"What I envision is for us to be diversifying to other food businesses that can provide quality food yet also at a very reasonable price. Hopefully we can diversify by using KISS as the base to jump to other businesses."

What kind of advice can you give to people who are thinking of starting their own business?
"First of all, study the business that you'll get involved in. It's very difficult if you get into a business that you do not know. At least for me, when I started KISS, I knew the food business, having run the operation of KFC and Mister Donut. Second, be fair to your employees. When I say fair, treat them properly.

Third, do not spend more than what you earn. And then, last but not least, pray a lot. I sincerely believe that if God doesn't give you the blessing, you cannot go anywhere with whatever you are doing. He's been so good to me, not only rewarding me financially but also personally. I never imagined that I would be featured in CNN and in newspapers, making me a little famous in my own way.

Now, people see KISS and they know it. It was very hard to imagine, especially with a business of squid balls and kikiam. Who in his right mind would ever think that he can grow a business this big with just street food?"
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