Right away you’ll notice the ultra-long dreadlocks—he hasn’t cut it in 15 years and has no plans of chopping them off. Thirty-something Ian Sekong, drummer of the band Powerspoonz, might be channeling Samson with his locks. He’s a successful entrepreneur with Sound Balloon (a sound system rental business), apart from the gigs he gets with his band. He also designs message shirts for Skills and Bones. And recently, the dude whipped up a cool concept of mainstreaming one distinct street food into al fresco dining here at the heart of the metro. Tuslob-buwa, in case you haven’t heard, is the latest food craze in Cebu.
Yes, people troop to this place called Azul along Gorordo Avenue from 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. to feast on this brain-goo-bubble-dip in a wok. Actually, Ian’s brilliant idea has been replicated in other places, but nothing beats the Azul experience—what with the funky piped-in music that could bring in a party high after a food coma. It’s like a mini-Sinulog here all the time—festive, filling, and fun!
The Play! pool stood in line (there’s a long queue most of the time), ordered tuslob-buwa for just P100, and ended up chatting with Ian. Here’s a carefree spirit and and a high-caliber entrepreneur who knows too well that the shortest route to the Cebuano’s heart is through the tummy.
We heard that you were in your early 20s when you had your first million with Sound Balloon, that you were just a student and didn’t have any training in management. How did you learn how to run a company?
Grabe! It wasn’t a million uy! Maybe if you sum it up, it would amount to that, but it went to all the suppliers. Mura ra kog bridge from my client to my suppliers, igo ra ko pakupton nya pasa dayun… bayad utang. Experience gyud for me is the best teacher. I tried businesses before nga naka teach jud nako… open-close to siya. Hahaha! Inig open nimo og business naa kay ma learn, ‘nya lugi man, so
ma-close siya, but wala nimo gi- close imong learning. Sayang sad ang na-invest, pero mura sad to’g tuition ang nagasto, nga ni ‘skwela ko and straight jud sa application, business diretso. Usa sad, akong
father and mother were running a business without formal business education. It’s all from experience. Or maybe it runs in the blood.
Sound Balloon is a huge success. You went public with all the accolades. So what’s it like to be rich?
Sus! Maybe rich sa love, but not monetary. I’m just happy with what I do. It’s like I never worked a day in my life gyud.
How did tuslob-buwa come about? What a transition—from audio business to food!
Well, I am a foodie. I’m very adventurous when it comes to food. Everywhere I go, I tend to check out what the locals eat. I’ll try anything even though it won’t please my taste buds. I’m really a fan of food… and that made me think of opening a food business.
I proposed to my friends to partner with me, but they were all busy. Meanwhile, Azul was already there as a convenience store. It was opened to “lighten” the rental cost of the T-shirt company Skills and Bones, which is the main reason why we got that space. One day, tuslob-buwa popped in my mind. But the trick is how to make it more consumer-friendly… as you know, in Pasil and Duljo, it was just one wok for everybody. So I thought of allotting a burner for each group, give them their porkbrain stock and a set of puso, then add more ingredients and dishes to enhance the dining experience.
How was tuslob-buwa during its initial serving to the public?
Daghan na ihas uy! Hehehe. It’s like people know it, but never bothered to try or were afraid to. So mao ni ako gibuhat, gi-bother sila para mo-try.
When did you see that tuslob-buwa was becoming a craze?
At first gyud, I thought na it’s gonna be something, kay it’s an authentic Cebuano style of eating. Mura bag if the Koreans have Samgyupsal, the Japanese have Yakiniku, the Chinese have Shabu- shabu, the Cebuanos have Tuslob- buwa. O, di ba? Pang international!
What’s your passion? What drives you?
Music and food are my passions, and it all boils down to one word … mixing. Sa music mag mix ko og different instruments. Sa food kay different ingredients. Duol ra gamay.
What’s your normal day like?
I wake up around 8:30 or 9 a.m. Usahay kaabot pa ko sa kids nga akong samukon while mag breakfast sila. Then I water my plants, then breakfast, ligo, then adto office sa Sound Balloon, ‘nya after lunch adto dayun sa Gorordo to check sa mga tawo, ‘nya tuyok-tuyok sa gi-construct, ’nya panihapon, then mga 12 or 1 a.m., uli.
How do you know that you are in the right direction?
Ang right direction no kay ma-feel ra jud nimo.
How are you as a father?
I spend time with my kids. Most Sundays I see to it nga magka-bonding mi … mag dungan mi og luto.
Like they help me make noodles from scratch or pizza dough. Malingaw man sila kay mura man og clay. Sometimes my kids want to learn how to play some instruments, so I teach them the basics. Basta, for me, support what they want and find common interests.
Who do you look up to?
First, my parents, and then Henry Sy. Hahaha. They started from scratch. Ang difference lang kay si Henry Sy datu, kami kontento.
What’s your advice to young entrepreneurs?
Aw, abi kog advice for the young at heart. Hahaha! For young entrepreneurs diay. Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” And Vince Lombardi said, “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” Two powerful quotes nga akong gi- panaminan. Mao sad na siyay motto sa Skills and Bones, the clothing company ba. Skills is for talent and bones for hardwork.
So how do you unwind?
Banda! The stress and the pressures are released when I’m playing the drums.
In entrepreneurship where hits and misses thrive, when do you move forward and when do you pull the plug on a specific venture?
Pull the plug when you’re not happy.
You’ve hit a spot in terms of getting the pulse of the Cebuano market. How do you define the local taste?
Cebuanos are very hard to please. They don’t believe in theories, so you don’t have to tell them what this is, why this is so, etc. They only want what they want—nothing more, nothing less.
What’s in the pipeline for you?
Secret lang sa kay daghan mag sunod-sunod.
Do you have a dream venture?
A small resort, maybe on a mountain or by the beach, with an herb garden, facing the sunset, just a few rooms para walay samok.
Do you have any regrets knowing that you’re just three subjects shy of a college degree from USC?
No regrets at all. I stopped because they wanted to cut my hair! And now they have uniforms, too. As a Fine Arts student, dali ra kaayo mamantsahan imo shirt, ‘nya pa uniform-on ka? And to think the College of Fine Arts building is located far on the hill. Alimuot kaayo ilang uniform, luoy kaayo ang mga students. Pabaktason kung walay pampliti sa jeep. Paet. But because of their instructors, I learned. I am still proud to be a Carolinian bisag wala ko ka graduate, but not their rules.
Did the thought of cutting your hair ever occur to you?
No. Not even in my dreams.
What is so cool about being an entrepreneur these days?
One of the things that I learned from being an entrepreneur… never think of making money by yourself. Rather, think of yourself making money with your community, like mga employees, your
neighbors. etc. Happy all ba. Mao na’y importante.
What’s next after tuslob-buwa?
I’m planning on another food business.
If you were an ingredient in tuslob-buwa, what would you be?
I’m the hipon. Medyo off siya nga ingredient sa tanan, but mo-blend well ra siya if used the right way. Ang uban allergic na ko. Hahaha!