Some people say there is actually no formula to success except an acceptance of what life brings. Filipino-Canadian Macario “Tobi” Reyes definitely held on to that quote. As an entrepreneur at heart, he daringly ventured out and grabbed opportunities along the way until he finally found the career path that boosted him to exemplary success.
And life surely did bring a lot to Tobi. He had to learn and relearn, struggle and take huge risks. He had to undergo trial and error process as he had no formal education on entrepreneurship. But Tobi had the best teacher – experience. And he had the best instruments – instinct and guts. The young entrepreneur learned and applied firsthand what business students studied and practiced in the classroom. And his numerous experiences and bold undertakings were what made him one of the master realtors of our time.
On being Filipino-Canadian
Tobi was born in Manila in 1974 but eventually moved with his parents to Vancouver, Canada in 1979. Though Tobi only lived in the Philippines for a short period of time, he never forgot his roots.
“Moving here (Canada) at a really young age, I guess I didn’t know any better. But eventually, you want to maintain the connection with the Philippines. There are things about it that you don’t forget,” he said, mentioning that he can still speak Tagalog.
“My parents spoke Tagalog at home all the time so we never forgot it. When I go back there (Philippines), I try to just speak Tagalog as much as I can,” he added.
Tobi, however, lived somewhat disconnected from other Filipino immigrants in Vancouver.
“I lived downtown for the first 35 years of my life. We crossed the bridge to go to school and then I go back home. I think we were a little bit disconnected to the local Pinoy community. But we ate at Goldilock’s, you know?,” he recalled.
He also maintained ties with relatives in the Philippines.
“There’s always a connection. We were here (Vancouver). But then, everyone else was back home. So every Christmas, every summer, from elementary to high school, we go back to Manila,” he said. “We’ve spent three months a year in the Philippines: two months in the summer, one month during Christmas.”
First business endeavors
After earning his degree in Psychology and History from Queen’s University, Tobi seemed to have a different calling. When he went back to the Philippines with his mother, the calling seemed to be clearer – he wanted to become a businessman. Tobi then set up Impact Internet (Impact Digital Media Group), a dial-up Internet service provider.
“I travelled to the Philippines quite a bit after college and started an Internet company there,” he shared. “I think it was the thing to do… The dot-com revolution was happening and the Philippines was a little bit behind to where North America was. I didn’t have a lot of money but technology allowed me to do things with ideas.”
This was Tobi’s first attempt as an entrepreneur.
“Eventually, I moved to content which is MyPhilippines.com and tried to apply North American model to the Philippines which didn’t have a large enough online population. So it wasn’t, from a business model sampling, it wasn’t right yet. It wasn’t the right application which I learned eventually,” he said, deciding to move on from internet services.
Realizing that Manila was not yet ready for the product he offered, Tobi was compelled to rethink his ambitions and go back to Vancouver. He decided to try his luck there instead.
‘Accidentally’ falling into real estate
Coming back to the Great White North, Tobi’s game plan changed. Since he did not see career growth in the technology sector, he then decided to enter a different industry.
“Honestly, I did not know what to do. Technology was very idea-based, knowledge-based. It wasn’t something I could touch,” he recounted.
Wanting to be in an industry that he could work on and develop, Tobi found his way to real estate as he was also attracted to the idea of a regular cash flow.
“I just felt, I wanted to do something that I could touch. I thought of real estate because I’ve heard it was safe. And I said, ‘Okay. Maybe it’s not for business but maybe I could put some money into real estate and just learn,’” he said.
“I researched quite a bit for about a year. And then, I looked at condominiums,” he added.
This started the idea of working in commercial real estate. Then, an opportunity to buy a warehouse came. But before Tobi could delve into the business, he first needed to secure a big investment as real estate entailed huge start-up cost.
“I asked other classmates from high school and friends who would perhaps join me in real estate. So, three other friends joined me and then they said, ‘Okay, sure.’ We raised about $80,000 each and we bought a warehouse for about $800,000. And I thought, ‘This is a great location. It’s near downtown,’” he disclosed.
Cementing his ground in the industry
Tobi eventually ended his contract with their first warehouse, but followed his instinct to continue his journey in real estate. He later founded PortLiving, a renowned real estate company in Canada, focusing on property investment and project development.
“Our first property taught us what to do next. We found an opportunity. We took it,” he said.
“The start of PortLiving was with our purchase of our warehouse. I was a partner, so, I think I was the one out of our partnership that really focused more on the commercial real estate side,” he added.
PortLiving was initially named Port Capital. The name change was to make the company appear more consumer friendly, with appeal. But even with naming the company, Tobi never forgot to consider his hometown.
“Port was my first choice. Because it was a short word and it represented both Vancouver and Manila, ‘cause both have port operations. And fortunately, the business name was available online. And, we registered,” he recalled.
After forming the real estate company, Tobi had plans lined up. PortLiving was envisioned to be successful and innovative, benefitting its customers with both practical and refined business and living.
“We looked at quickly adding to the portfolio. Like maybe, bring more friends in, raise more money, or go to the bank and ask them for more money or get approved for another mortgage so that we could then add to the portfolio,” he said.
“And, that happened. And I started to do more, work with more partners as well and focused on land and transitions,” he added. “And, there were neighborhoods in Vancouver that were quite exciting. Gastown was a neighborhood in transition. Mount Pleasant was currently a neighborhood in transition.”
Tobi believed that there was indeed plenty of growth ahead of Vancouver. He then bought his first commercial condominium in Mount Pleasant. True enough, his purchase not only brought back huge profits but also gave him direct experience with what happened in a community, in a neighborhood that underwent change both with regards to demographics and infrastructure.
“We felt like we were onto something. And, realized more and more about what it was like in Vancouver and realizing what drivers there were that pushed land value. So, most of our first five years were spent finding land, either flipping it or refurbishing it to have better rents,” he recounted.
A different approach to difficulties
During the economic struggle in 2008 and 2009, Tobi strived to continue in the industry.
“It was very difficult to sell land at the time because banks were lending money, and that’s when we realized that we may have been good at finding land but we weren’t learning how to add much value to it, other than rental,” he said.
“So, I thought of development as a skill that we wanted to develop as it grew. And, that’s when our first project was conceptualized and that is now a hundred percent sold out, it’s a hundred percent leased at a land price that’s significantly higher than its neighboring buildings and has been twice recognized by Vancouver City planners and by two different heads of planning as a significant contribution to the city in terms of architecture,” he added.
Truly, Tobi made the most even out of the tough times in the company. With his drive and passion, he directed the business to a new path that further advanced them to greater success.
“That made us feel that we were on the right track, that we could be competitive as a developer. And so, our portfolio today consists of both income property and property for development,” he shared.
At present, PortLiving has properties and projects in Gastown and Mount Pleasant, Vancouver. They will soon complete a development at the south foot of the Cambie Street Bridge overlooking False Creek. They will also start construction at 150 East Cordova Street and on Broadway at Carolina Street.
Thriving in a competitive market
With very strong, stable and competent real estate companies already present in Vancouver, PortLiving sought to provide something new in one of the country’s most competitive markets.
“We feel that there’s a lot of potential. It’s quite exciting to be in the real estate business in Vancouver,” Tobi said. “We think we bring some sort of a younger outlook. What we bring is a little bit different.”
“We have such a strong concentration in our locations. So, we’re able to sort of understand our demographic and our market a bit better. At the same time, survive and thrive with relatively smaller projects than most of our competition,” he added.
Returning to his first love
Tobi is definitely not a man with limited dreams. He always has these ideas and plans for the company. Despite already establishing a name in the city’s development industry, Tobi believed that there was no time to waste, no time to be complacent. This brought him back to his first business venture.
“I’d like to integrate. I have a very strong opinion about how we manage our digital strategy with the real estate. And, technology and real estate are things that are consistent in almost every industry. You need both, mostly,” he disclosed.
In Tobi’s mindset, the companies who knew how to manage their information best were the ones who succeeded the most.
Giving back to the Filipinos
Genuinely a Filipino at heart, Tobi also sought to help his countrymen in the best way he could – providing a community center for the Filipino communities in Canada.
“One thing that I’ve noticed is that the Filipino community is fragmented. Part of that is because we don’t have coordinated leadership and we don’t have land,” he said.
“I think that’s an area that I can bring some expertise on or contribute one way or another. So, if I can assist the community and integrate some form of community center in one of our projects or provide a base for communication, for future commerce and for a way to establish the Canadian-Filipino identity, I think it’s going to be good longer term oath,” he added.
Tobi believed that the center would help strengthen the ties of Filipino communities in Vancouver. He also hoped other great benefits would come out of it.
However, the realtor confessed that he could not accomplish the project alone. He needed volunteers to help manage the operations of the place once it is built.
“I’m probably not the best person to manage the facility. But if I can work with a team that can undertake the operational side, that I can commit to, I can help,” he disclosed.
Aside from planning for a community center, Tobi is also active in different advocacy groups. He joined One Earth Initiative, supported Lifeline Society, and helped Canada’s Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry.
Words of advice
For aspiring Filipino entrepreneurs, Tobi only pointed out one thing: the most important thing to remember in business is to never be afraid to try.
“You have to try. You have to put in the effort every day. And, just have faith,” he ardently said. “So, don’t be afraid to try and have faith that what you put in will come back to you, one way or another.”
Tobi is the man who daringly took tremendous steps to be where he is now. And, he never plans to stop climbing but to continue mastering his craft.
There is definitely more to come to this master realtor.
With files from Peter Mitham (Business in Vancouver)