Profiles, Stories

Mayora Frances Lim Cabtuando: How the Home Buddies Founder Found Her Calling in Life

Home Buddies, a Facebook group that started during the pandemic, was founded with a single objective: to inspire and empower Filipinos with ideas on how to live and work properly while confined at home. Home Buddies has been and continues to be a huge success, with a community of 3 million online neighbors, and is currently the largest Facebook Community in the APAC area (excluding India). Meta’s Facebook’s 2021 Community Accelerator Program has also granted it over $80,000USD in financing.

In our interview with Mayora Frances Lim Cabatuando, the founder of  Home Buddies, she talked about how the Facebook group came to life, its impact on its community, and how her Chinoy roots have contributed to her becoming the person that she is today.  

Her family life

Although Frances studied at Chiang Kai-shek college for 13 years (from nursery to high school), she notes that she is just ¼ Chinese. She explains that her mother is half Filipino, and half Chinese while her father is full Filipino, however, she adds that he (her father) ‘looks Chinese.’ Frances shares that her friends would often joke about her being a ‘fake pinoy’, stating that she is actually Chinese. They’d even jokingly comment that they simply bought their last name, however, she said that is not the case. She declared that she is proud to be part of the Chinoy community, which is why she always uses the name “Frances Lim Cabatuando” on all of her social media sites. She wanted to showcase both of her cultures as they define who she is. 

Frances noted that her parents are very conservative due to the many rules and restrictions that they placed on her growing up. She added that she wasn’t allowed to make noise at home, sleep over at another person’s house, or even wear black. She also talked about how her parents taught her to act in another person’s home. “Even like kunwari pupunta ka sa bahay ng friends mo dapat uupo ka lang, tapos dapat maghe-hello ka lagi sa auntie, uncle.” 

She even shared her parent’s dream for her, which is to become a doctor or an engineer. Although she did not follow her parent’s rules and regulations for her religiously, she later explained that this has made her become the person she is now. 

Her thirst for adventure

Frances’ college experience opened her world up and exposed her to new things that the ‘box’ she once lived in did not have. “I guess when I got to college, para akong na-open, parang  may Pandora’s box, in a good way, na-open sa akin. I was in a very Chinese Community before. So when I got to college, I met a lot of other people, and that’s when I realized I’d been living in a bubble. So, it’s not a bad thing. It’s more like, dun pa lang ako nag-go-grow up.” 

She also shared that as a Chinoy, she thinks she’s a very late bloomer: “Late to everything, late to knowing pop culture, Pinoy pop culture, yung mga memes, and everything. When I got into that, sobrang na-geek out ako and that’s what got me into social media because when I understood now that there are so many other things that are happening around me. Dun ako na-geek out sa internet. Ano nga ba yung mga bagay na hindi ko alam.” 

Through her friends and peers in college, she became more adventurous and open-minded to trying out new things. “That’s what I tried to learn. And even with friends now I’m super open-minded. Whoever wants to be friends with me, I want to be friends with them because it’s been a long time that I was like stuck in that circle, which is I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but also it’s like I guess it’s prepared me because I didn’t know a lot of things. Now I’m so open to learning so much about the world and that made me who I am today.”

Frances noted that this aspect of her is not “very Chinoy.” Her parents were policemen in Manila — her father monitored the Tondo area, while her mother was assigned to Binondo. She shared that because of their unorthodox career paths, it has helped her adopt a more modern way of thinking.So, she [Frances’ mother] was head of a PCP before so very unorthodox din yung career path ng parents ko. So, somehow all those influences talaga made me a very modern Chinoy in terms of thinking, especially growing up. Parang all those experiences talaga made me different, I guess.”

Her desire to be different

Growing up, Frances shared that she often struggled with choosing which career path to take: “My dream growing up was very magulo. I don’t know what I wanted. I just knew that if I would stick to the career path that was being told to all the other kids in my school,  I will not excel, or I will not become successful. And I guess people would think kapag Chinoy mayaman.” 

Despite this, Frances’ parents have taught her to become resourceful. She knew that since she did not come from a rich family, she had to work harder to live a comfortable life. “I saw my classmates, they had di ba, may driver, may bodyguard, laging hatid sundo right. So, it taught me to dream na parang not to be inggit but it taught me to dream if I want a very comfortable life like the rest of the people around me or most of my classmates na I’m close to, I have to strive harder. So yun yung value of hard work na talaga in-imbibe ko.”

As a result, she aimed to become different from her classmates by getting into a creative career, which eventually led her to get into advertising. “Siguro sa class namin may sampung doktor and then the rest are businessmen. Just kidding. I mean, it’s not na hindi naman siya parang stereotype, pero may sampung doktor. So sa sampung doktor na yun, ayoko na magdoktor, right. Lahat na sila doktor. Pag business naman, wala naman akong money to start my own business, right. So, sabi ko na lang, siguro walang magiging creative dito and that’s when I said, I want to try advertising.”

How she dealt with change 

Frances shared that she felt a bit lost when she first got into De La Salle University. It was a completely different world — there were not many Chinoy students, and the way she spoke Filipino was different from the rest. However, this helped her to speak Filipino more fluently to adapt to the new environment that she found herself in. “Even how I spoke in Filipino, they would say, bakit ganyan ka magsalita. Bakit parang may hinto? Now, I can speak Filipino more fluently because, you know, I tried to learn how to remove that pero na-culture shock ako parang, huh, anong iba sa akin, ganun. And then, of course, mahirap din yung support system because others would probably share notes during lunch break kase same same sila accountancy. Magsasama-sama sila but me I had to find my own, I guess classmates kase wala akong babalikan from my highschool.”

She was still able to meet with her high school friends while she was in college, however, it was a struggle due to the different schedules. “So if ever man na I would catch up with my highschool friends, we have to plan it because the schedules are different. So it was really hard getting into that. So it’s a lot of adjustments, pakiramdaman trying to just get by with what I have at that moment, but I would still go to my high school friends na ngayon super ka-close ko pa rin.” 

Frances often looked forward to her reunions with high school friends — they would often catch up and talk about their lives, which she found exciting and comforting at the same time. “Sila pa rin talaga yung binabalik-balikan kong friends. So we just have to set it so yun yung things to look forward to. But what’s nice is when we meet together, they have things to share with me in that are not present in my life, say, their schooling. How hectic it is and then may ma-she share din ako sa kanila na hindi nila alam kase, it’s more creative naman. So laging exciting when I have a reunion with them.”

Her constant battles trying to prove herself

Frances’ work life was no different. She experienced culture shock as she met various people from different backgrounds. She noted that she had to work extra hard to prove herself and show that she is just as capable of providing excellent work as other experienced employees. “So kahit na nag-graduate na ako ng college, tapos in creatives pa, halos lahat may tattoo, I mean, I’m not stereotyping, pero when I entered talaga advertising, ganun eh. Iba-ibang karakter, iba yung, may mas matanda sayo 20 years and then parang ang tingin nila sa akin sino ka na Chinese na magsusulat ka ng Filipino na commercial at Filipino na humor tapos ang bata-bata mo so there was a lot of proving myself.” 

It was a constant struggle for Frances of constantly trying to prove herself even outside of home. “I guess history natin yun eh, na we always had to prove ourselves kase tayo yung dayo, dayo daw di ba. But then, now we are Filipinos, I guess that’s part of the culture passed on from our angkong, ama pass sa mama, ipapasa sa atin so ganun na talaga siya. Nasanay na nga ako na I always have to prove myself and then when they understand naman na not because you’re singkit, not because you’re young, you have nothing na ibubuga.” 

Despite this, she noted that sometimes what makes one different is the “mixture of two cultures.” She even added, “You’re young, you don’t know anything. So that’s the time that you put something into the table and say, uy bago yan ah. That’s what we’re looking for. That’s the freshness that we’re looking for, yun yung magva-viral, yun yung papatok.”

Her journey to becoming more independent

Frances shared that the advertising industry is very stressful due to its numerous deadlines. However, as a creative, Frances noted that it has become an outlet for herself. “Parang sometimes kase when you keep pouring from your own cup, there’s nothing in your cup anymore to pour out or for yourself. So, I always try to look for other things to do, just so I feel fulfilled. Now, I’m still myself. I’m still doing something for myself.”

It was from this point that she aimed to live independently. Although she loves her parents and enjoys their presence, she wanted to experience living alone. She wanted to understand her workmates more, who seem to often have crazy adventures all the time. “I want to experience it for myself, kase I can’t be a kid forever. I can’t be sheltered kahit nga I’m working already but you  know, when you come home, you have all these things pa rin na sinasabi ng parents mo so it’s still the same thing right.”

At the age of 28, Frances got her first condo in Binondo. She eventually saw it as a passion project — she took pictures of every item she brought into her condo and would document it on Instagram. It was through this simple passion project that Nobi home was born. “It was pre-pandemic 2019 and then the pandemic happened so quickly. That’s when people started discovering my account. That’s when they started asking, uy san mo nabili, paano mo ginawa, some people would send me photos of their condos thinking na designer ako and then magpapadesign sila sa akin. At that time ang saya, coz like you know, may magsend sa akin, sige ito yung mga balak kung gawin for your house if I were living there and I made friends there.”

However, she noted that it was a struggle on Instagram as there is a requirement of at least 10,000 followers to utilize the swipe-up feature for the link. It eventually became difficult for her because she constantly had to copy-paste and send to each person messaging her individually about the products she posted. 

She also talked about her online persona — they didn’t know her as Frances, but Ms. Nobi. “Another, is that apart from people asking me marami na ring nagsusuggest sa akin na parang, hindi pa nila alam na name ko is Frances kase I didn’t show my face before. So it was just, Ms. Nobi, I found this item, feeling ko parang bagay to sa condo mo or Ms. Nobi, I saw this condo and akala ko sayo, sa Korea pala. So things like that. So all those things, parang sabi ko it’s unfair kung ako lang ang nakakakita because these are valuable information that would be fun if shared to a community. And at that time there were other communities that are thriving.”

This prompted her to search for Facebook groups online to share this information. However, she realized that there wasn’t any available. As such, she took matters into her own hands and created her own. “So I thought creating it was just gonna be a small group pero 3 million followers later or members or kapitbahays later.”

The growth of the Facebook group, Home Buddies 

When the Facebook group finally reached 100k members, she decided to celebrate it by doing a live stream. She eventually decided to learn how to do it on her own, which excited her as she has always craved gaining more skills and knowledge. After all, it was just another adventure for her on this journey she has embarked on. “For me, it’s always just another thing for me to learn. So I learned how to do OBS mga ganyan, yung camera ko pa nakatutok sa akin, naka-2 cam setup.”

Later on, numerous brands reached out to partner and collaborate with her. Many group members even messaged her, thanking her for creating such a helpful community. “For some reason, even my mobile number they got na and that was like for me, seryoso ba kayo na  you want to partner with me, like I’m just having fun here ha. Parang, ako yung nape-pressure. Nao-overwhelm ako because offers are coming from everywhere. Messages are coming in like thanking me. ‘Thank you sa group na-inspire ako,’ ‘Ito yung nagawa ko sa bahay ko’ and [to me] that’s like parang ah okay meron nang ibang taong involve, like may na-a-affect na akong buhay, may napapasaya na ako.”

Although it was difficult, she pushed through and created more programs for the community members. “So, I started doing more parang public service-oriented programs like Monday Market, where we allow small businesses to sell to Home Buddies, we do Buwan ng Bayan, we just like allowing locally made products only to be highlighted, spotlighted. We also have Laborangay, where, kase during the pandemic maraming nawalan ng trabaho so we highlighted yung mga laborers, skilled workers to find job in Home Buddies. So when people love those, we started to think what else can we do. So, expanded it to more home related talaga na programs like Sigurado Sabado, where we interview architects, interior designers, even contractors so that people understand how to make their home, their dream homes.”

Frances noted that she always makes sure to put her community first and makes sure that they are able to have a fun experience in the group. “And then when Brands came in every time, say, there’s a brand, I always ask them what’s in it for my community. So they would say okay we can provide air con 101 so lahat ng aircon questions mo sagot na. We have how to paint the house. So yung step-by-step process and with all these parang ako yung number one beneficiary ng learnings kase everytime there’s a talk, I have to host it. I have to listen to them. So kahit hindi ako expert, parang with all these information lagi kong nasheshare din siya, ako din natututo so that’s I guess yung reason or my motivation why I keep doing it because I’m learning I’m helping other people and you know it’s rewarding talaga especially now with all these opportunities that are laid out in front of me.”

How the ‘Mayora’ persona came to life

Frances eventually quit her job in advertising, noting that it was becoming difficult for her to manage Home Buddies and her main job at the same time. In the Facebook group, Home Buddies, she adopted the Mayora persona, which was different from what she was used to. She has always been behind the scenes, so doing something like this was definitely outside of her comfort zone. “But then, when I was at Home Buddies parang Mayora became my Persona. So, I can’t say no, because if I say no that Home Buddies will not be shown in front of the camera and I feel like that’s a disservice really unfair for the community trip when they want to be recognized so parang I used the mayora persona. Na when I am mayora, I should be mayora Like I should be confident. I should. It’s not me when I represent Home Buddies, I represent my community and I guess that gives me the courage, na okay When I am mayora. Kapal mukha dapat kasi it’s for them. It’s not for me. So yun, but behind, when the lights are out, you know, the makeup is off, I’m back to being, just me.”

Frances would often thank her online community as she is grateful for all the opportunities that it has provided her and how it managed to change her life, along with the other people in the group, for the better. “It’s so lucky for us to create this community during a pandemic. Sinasabi ko na I’m so lucky also that I’ve made the most friends during a pandemic, then the rest of the 20 plus years of my life. And so lagi akong may reminders be the kapitbahay you wish to have and  I use that analogy because it’s easier. Kasi in social media, if you treat, every person is just a follower or it just, you know, a name there mag aaway at mag aaway yung mga tao.” 

To her, the people that are part of the Facebook group are more than just followers — they’re one big family in this community, or in this case, close-knit neighbors in one big barangay. 

The power of social media

Frances noted the incredible power of social media and how it was able to connect so many people from different backgrounds to create their dream homes. “So before I thought si Frances lang ako I’m just an advertising creative. This is my life, you know, but with social media suddenly si, Frances pala kayang magpaganda ng bahay ng ibang tao indirectly but still, you know, because I did this, this happened to another person, maraming mag memessage sakin, everyday may email may inbox would just  say ma’am thank you.” 

The simple thank you messages that she would receive from the online community members was enough to put a smile on her face and motivate her to keep going. “Kasi dahil sa Home Buddies yung business ko nagkaroon ng sale may isa parang naiiyak sya sabi nya Ma’am alam mo ba dahil nag allow ka ng business to  promote Home Buddies for buwan ng bayan . Nagkaroon ako ng highest sale ko  in a day which is like 10  and I was just like iniisip ko tuwang tuwa sya na 10 yung sales nya highest for a day. So you know, san kaya sya nang galing for her to feel that way. So yung ganung bagay parang to me na ta touch ako kasi may na affect akong buhay and yung buhay nung seller na yon, buhay ng pamilya nya.”

Frances recognizes the impact that social media has on others, and she wants to continue helping many people achieve their dreams, just as it helped her achieve hers. “So when you recognize yung impact, how it impacts others, yun talaga yung kikiligin ka. Gugustuhin mo pang gawin sya and also like marami din na even the influence of Home Buddies, now, affects classrooms with the recent Brigada Eskwela, there were teachers from provinces.”

Everything is possible, after all, and through the help of the online community members, everybody is able to achieve what they can even with the small budget that they have. “Kahit mahirap ka kahit wala kang pera you just have to create a concept and have to stick to it. And when you keep doing it enough and pure yung heart mo whatever you intend for it to happen or to do. As in malaki yung mache- change nya overnight pwede, possible everything is possible.”

Finding the best travel accommodations for others

Frances talked about the potential plans that she has for the Home Buddies brand. “I guess kasi I’m always the kind of person what’s the next thing, you know, but I always plans. My steps ahead. But and then, you know, parang there’s so many things to do after Home Buddies, you know, people are saying,pwede tayo mag food, travel anything else. What’s the next thing? Logical? Step, I guess, and that is also near to me. Something that I can talk about and yun yung revenge travel era.”

With the ease of restrictions, she wants to help people find the best travel accommodations. “So in Home Buddies, hang out it’s still a travel group or any topic and still be talked about. But the primary focus is on accommodation there. You can find our vacation home rentals, hidden gems, new airbnb’s, and Little Gems talaga na very aesthetic. So still very true to the DNA of Home Buddies. I guess it’s, you know, comfortable, beautiful spaces. But translated to travel.”

Facebook Accelerator Program

As the hype for Home Buddies continued to increase, she knew that she needed to get more funding to help continue its growth. “So you can shoot things when you hire people, to also help moderate or like trade events for you, graphic designers, all these are paid, I need to get funding. So I applied to meta the mother company Facebook, they have this program, but Facebook Community accelerator program and I applied to it. There were a series of interviews and luckily I got in.”

Luckily, Home Buddies made it to the final round, getting top 4 out of hundreds of groups from different countries. “So I think 4 kami na final from the Philippines, bounce back, Home Buddies, Scoliosis Philippines and Bic Scouts. Proud naman ako, kami Home Buddies to be representing the Philippines, of course, across all countries where Facebook and meta express it.”

Her experience with NYMA

Frances expressed that NYMA was like a ‘blessing’ from the Lord. “A talent management agency would approach me and then they presented like a deck. They just message me and they said we want to talk we are talent management agency. There’s something that you want to share with you and I attended a meeting like, just, you know, better, okay. I want to listen to it, but I never saw myself as a celebrity or a talent or anything.”

Despite her doubts, they believed in her and wished to unlock the potential that she has. This excited her — the unknown — and this is what kept her going, despite the difficulties of running the successful Facebook group. “Someone who says they believe in you and for me if you believe in me then I should believe in you. Kasi diba why would you believe in me first? So sabi ko game and then from there. Everything happened. I have, you know, a TV show, who knew?, they’re brand deals where I have the talent and then there’s so much more that we’re cooking and it’s just a very exciting Journey. Cause like every week. I don’t know what’s gonna happen and that excites me. And what keeps me going.”

Pursuing further studies

Frances is determined to learn more about homes and become an expert in the field to help more people. “So I do plan to study further, I’ve already designed furniture and during this pandemic because of Home Buddies. But you know, I want to be serious about learning, something about home that I can be an expert in.”

Apart from that, she noted that she wishes to continue living life to the fullest and exploring all the possibilities that await her. “I continue being a TV host. If I do get other tasks to do maybe podcast, maybe something else will see, but I’m always open to anything, I guess, that’s who I am. I really like to learn.”

She shared that it was because she grew up in these two cultures that she’s so determined to learn more and continue trying new things. “And that was the thing that also, that makes me different is just like, parang I grew up with a culture that is always half and half. Parang half pinoy half chinese, you know, half kailangan prim and proper but half bakya bakya because of all the things that I want to do. So it’s always half and half a mixture of everything. So that’s I guess what I want to continue moving forward.”

Her advice to other people trying to build their dream home

Frances also shared advice to anyone who is wishing to create their dream home. “Declutter first, like, get rid of everything that you’re really not happy about because sometimes it’s not the lack of something but it’s the abundance of the things that you don’t like. So when you remove all that, that’s when you see sometimes meron pala ako neto gift pala ito ni someone that looks nice. Just the way it is. That’s also when you see with the space that you have now.”

She stressed that you shouldn’t buy from the first store you see — always look for other options that may be better in terms of price or quality. “Maybe try also Japan Surplus like my thrift shops, marami na yan now and online about an Instagram, or even, go, Facebook Marketplace or even ukay ukay, it works. The web.”

She also suggests to DIY things, as it is something that she personally enjoys doing. “Go to Pinterest or go look for other houses through Youtube. Look for inspiration and then try to recreate it with whatever you have. If you don’t have it, try to find materials so you can do it on your own. And if not try to ask someone to do it for you, I find Value. And bespoke pieces have meaning ikaw lang meron, I really like you my unique things ganun.”

She also said to keep searching for the best deals to make the most out of your budget. “I like looking for a good deal. So spot all the discounts, you know, online shopping.” 

Her message to aspiring content creators

“It’s never about the gear,” Frances stated. “It’s never about the expertise or the technical skill in creating content, but it’s about the unique idea that they bring to the feed of people diba, if you’re doing what’s already being done, the bar, if you want to be funny, but your humor is the same humorous, as other people, if you want to do home content, but the whole design that you’re featuring is already being done by some other content creator, you won’t be seen as something fresh.”

She suggested that you must understand yourself first — what is interesting or unique about you? When you have an idea, that will help propel you to create something that other people would enjoy. Take advantage of whatever makes you different as it will help you stand out from the rest. 

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