Their Drive to Deliver: Jonathan So and Carlito Macadangdang Unfold the History of Toktok - Lifestyle Asia

Business magnates Jonathan So and Carlito Macadangdang prove that their long-standing friendship and an “eyes on the prize” mindset are the foundation of their rise in the industry, as well as the unstoppable growth of their service-based app, toktok

March 2020—the period in time where it seemed like the Philippines stood still. It was the beginning of the country’s first official lockdown period that quite literally put everything to an abrupt halt. Eateries and restaurants, entertainment and leisure establishments, and even everyone’s usual service providers had no choice but to either pause operations for the foreseeable future or close up shop entirely.

On Jonathan: Jacket and pants, LOUIS VUITTON; Black shirt, ZARA; On Carlito: Jacket and pants, DIOR; Black shirt, MASSIMO DUTTI

While it’s an understatement to describe all of it as a horrific phenomenon, Jonathan So and Carlito Macadangdang took advantage of the situation. The friends-turned-business-partners eventually came up with the idea of a delivery-service app to alleviate at least some of the regular struggles brought about by the pandemic.

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Last December 2020, another joint brainchild of theirs was released to the public, and it was named toktok.

The power of friendship

Teaming up with one of your closest friends for something as big and important as business may turn into a sticky situation for a lot of people. It can be the beginning of the end, and you just don’t know it yet. But if you’re a duo that ultimately trusts and respects each other, and have been doing so since you were young kids, then it may just be an adventure that goes nowhere but up

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On Carlito: Jacket and pants, DIOR; White shirt, ZARA; On Jonathan: Jacket and pants, LOUIS VUITTON; Black shirt, ZARA

To put it simply, So and Macadangdang are childhood friends. They have known each other since they were little rascals running around the school in kindergarten. Out of sheer luck, they found themselves classmates in elementary and high school before being separated in college, but still students from neighboring universities along Taft Avenue, Manila. After being friends for more than half their lives, adding an extra layer onto their friendship through a joint business venture just made sense. They’re on the same wavelength, and as what So mentioned, “We trust each other. [We don’t fight]. We complement each other. [It’s obvious].” And he’s right—their personalities and skill sets definitely balance out their overall dynamic, which is an enviable contributing factor when it comes to doing business with anyone, whether a new partner or a life-long pal.

Going from friends to business partners is usually considered a risk, but both So and Macadangdang thought differently. According to the latter, who’s the Vice President of the JC conglomerate, “We became mature enough to understand we had to take things seriously. We didn’t focus on [the possibility of] damaging the friendship. [There’s two of us, and our skill sets are very different. And another amazing thing about our partnership is that for the past 16 years, our passion to do more hasn’t dwindled]. Every single day, we motivate each other, [and as time passes, we’re just enjoying what we’re doing together].” With a mix of luck and effort, their compatibility just made their business partnership work. It is actually through their joint ventures that their personal and business relationship strengthened. He even joked that thankfully, their brain cells are still in sync. With such a tight-knit relationship that can inevitably cross boundaries, President So remains confident in their mutual respect. “We meet in the middle [so that business remains strictly business. This is us now], so it works.”

The beginning of a booming business

About 14 years after their very first collaboration in Siomai King came what they never would have expected—the global pandemic. From going through life and getting used to daily routines, it’s safe to say that no one really knew what would happen the next morning when the situation was starting to get worse and worse. A multitude of businesses started closing down due to the questionable future they were facing. While they didn’t exactly do what others did, So and Macadangdang both thought that they could come up with a different solution instead of totally shutting their businesses down.

“Now and within the next few months, [toktok’s main goal] is to be a part of every Filipino’s daily life.”

Carlito Macadangdang shares what he and his team are looking forward to achieving with toktok

From selling food at various Siomai King branches, they eventually transitioned to an online platform. However, given the high demand of orders and lack of delivery services at the time, it came to no surprise that they were experiencing hardships transporting deliveries. This made them think of creating one for their own company. According to Macadangdang, this idea was never part of the plan, even admitting that when the pandemic started, they were far from ready. He added, “Around June 2020, when the online sales were pulling in, [we had a hard time with the demand of the deliveries].”

So also shared that they went the delivery courier service route to help everyone in their team, making it an app for their sister companies. “At that point in time, we were having [difficulties in terms of the delivery of Siomai King], so we created our own in-house delivery services to cater to everyone.” They did so by maximizing one of the first few businesses they have together, which is an IT company called Cloud Panda. Through this, they were able to rapidly build another enterprise, their first service-based business that is mixed with tech, which is now known by every Filipino as toktok to signify the sound that one makes when knocking on the door.

After some time, they were able to observe the increase in demand for same-day delivery courier services, which is why they deemed it necessary to expand their newest venture. The JC President mentioned, “As a businessman, [we saw the potential to grow beyond our early ideas. However, even if there’s big potential, but no riders, then what’s the point]?” In spite of the difficulty in hiring new people at the start, the business steadily grew to help thousands of Filipinos, which is who the business is really for. “[Within just three months, we were able to acquire at least 20,000 motorcycle riders, and have also helped online sellers to survive during the pandemic].” He emphasized that while toktok is a “For Filipino” service, it was also built and made by Filipinos, because who better to help one another if not our fellow countrymen?

Gratefulness in all its glory

Towards the latter part of 2020, both So and Macadangdang were getting ready to finally launch the latest delivery courier service for an abundance of people to utilize during and even after these extraordinary times. When they officially launched it in December, the toktok founders were only expecting around one to two thousand users, especially since there were already quite a few services of the same nature that were more popular. However, what caught them off-guard was the incredible amount of downloads that went well beyond their goal. In a matter of six months, toktok even became one of the most downloaded apps in the Philippines. Perhaps it was because of the high demand and lower rates, but no matter what the reason behind it was, it got Macadangdang to share: “We’re really, very blessed. [The return that has been provided by toktok has been mindblowing]. We’re so grateful for all the things that toktok gave [because it was] more than what we asked for.”

Meanwhile, it was So who explained that their first advantage was none other than the beauty of the perfect timing. “It was [good] timing because of the demand, [and also because a lot of people were trying to find ways on how to earn money, which caused the influx of riders].” This combination practically made everything smooth sailing for the both of them, which prompted him to add, “Based on the results that we received, I can’t say [that what happened was difficult]. Because of the overwhelming outcome, [it became easy].”

Onward and upward

Shortly after establishing toktok as one of the go-to delivery courier services in the country, the company’s founders added more features to it, including toktokwallet. This simple e-wallet is one that everyone can sign up for, making it easier for the regular Filipino to conduct cashless transactions when needed. With this newest addition to the app, So naturally described the product of their creativity and intuitiveness as a “Super app that’s proudly Pinoy.”

“Toktok—it’s limitless. It’s the most promising tech company in the Philippines.”

Jonathan So on what the future holds for toktok

While they already have a staggering amount of users and customers, the end is nowhere near So and Macadangdang. The proudly competitive overachievers still have one thing—the same thing, which confirms that they really are on the same wavelength when it comes to their goals and ideas—that they want to prove with their service-based app. Both of them aim to put the Philippines on a higher pedestal through toktok, showcasing their drive to prove that while other countries have created their own daily apps that their people use, we can too. Macadangdang simply said, “It’s timely, and about time we have our own.”

On Carlito: Jacket, DIOR; Pants, MASSIMO DUTTI; On Jonathan: Pullover, LOUIS VUITTON; Pants, MASSIMO DUTTI

Text PEACHES GARCIA
Photographer XANDER ANGELES, assisted and edited by KEVIN CAYUCA, with crew ROBB FELIPE & GERALD GURPIDO
Creative Direction PEACHES GARCIA & NIEL JHED IBAY
Art Direction MARC YELLOW
Stylist RYAN VILORIA, assisted by ROWEL T. TAPANG
Makeup Artist CANDICE NOCOM TAN
Shoot Coordination ERICA LUNA, LOUIS ESGUERRA, MAE TALAID, MJ ALMERO & MAVIC VEDANA
Shot on Location at 8 CENTURY EVENTS AND CATERING

This story was originally published in the March 2022 Issue of Lifestyle Asia.

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