Young entrepreneurs share what it takes to make it

According to Hays Asia’s Towards A Digitised And Flexible Future: Understanding Asia’s Rapidly Evolving Recruitment Trends, Malaysian employees are the least satisfied with their salaries among other countries polled in Asia. 

The survey reveals the primary (62 percent) drivers for employees looking for new roles with better salary or benefit packages have remained unchanged for four years. 

On the other hand, the Department of Statistics Malaysia reports that the number of self-employed continued to increase by 0.7 percent to register 2.43 million entrepreneurs as of September.

Bracing through challenges 

According to the Special Survey ‘Effects of Covid-19 on the Economy and Companies/Business Firms’ by the Department of Statistics Malaysia, 67.8 percent of companies/business firms informed that they had no source of income or revenue during the Movement Control Order (MCO) period.

Chan Tze Hing, Subtle Asian Treats

Chan Tze Hing, Co-Founder of Subtle Asian Treats, a dropship organisation that supplies high quality hand-picked kawaii merchandise said his profit margins decreased drastically during the period. 

“I launched my line of bubble tea plushies at the peak of Covid-19 at the end of April 2020. On the second day of selling them, shipping costs had doubled due to restrictions on flights between the US and China.”

Another business owner who had difficulties with the production of her herbal tea during the MCO was Ramya Sarrani Rathnakumar, Founder of Ritz Enchantress.

“I had a tough time importing raw materials from overseas and shipment of our products to other countries was delayed as they were stuck in customs due to the pandemic,” the 27-year old LLB graduate cum entrepreneur expresses. 

Despite the MCO and other restrictions, some managed to utilise the time they had to come up with new ideas and businesses to make ends meet.

For example, Aida Balqis, a 24-year old, started her cacti business (Cactibyda) during the pandemic and was inspired through DIY and gardening videos. 

“During the lockdown, I pass my time watching DIY and gardening related videos. In May, my parents brought home four boxes of cactus and succulents from Cameron Highland. I started making a few arrangements and my friends told me they were beautiful and I should sell them. That’s how it all started,” Aida shares.

Based on a research done by USM, titled The Role Of Support On Start-up Success, startups face challenges and difficulties in sustaining and surviving as the failure rate ranges between 50 to 95 percent, especially in emerging countries such as Malaysia.

Chan had to spend weeks on YouTube to learn the basics. “I had to learn everything from scratch – setting up and running a website, design skills (Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere Pro), running Facebook and Google Advertisements (copywriting, keyword, demographic, trend research),” he expresses.

Ramya Sarrani, Ritz Enchantress

On the other hand, Ramya had difficulties when it came to investments. Fortunately, with the support of her parents and a bank loan, she was able to overcome the financial challenges. She had to make sure her herbal tea was certified and qualified to be in the market.

Whereas for Aida, it was about time management as she is in the final year of her Accounting degree. 

“I had to juggle my time for classes and also my business. I handle the orders, cactus arrangements, postage of items, and at times does delivery around Selangor and Kuala Lumpur,” she explains.

Social media to the rescue

Aida Balqis, Cactibyda

“Social media was my main method of acquiring customers. I ran advertisements on Facebook and Instagram which allowed me to scale up and sell my products internationally,” Chan says. 

To gain visibility is a different thing and to retain customers is a different ball game. It takes post-sales engagement and a good customer experience to ensure customers repeat orders.

Ramya on the other hand says, “With business groups (FB and WhatsApp) created by the government, I got the guidance to get KKM approval for products, to create customer trust, and for them to know the authenticity of the product they are purchasing.” 

Aida also states that social media has boosted her business visibility among potential customers, and letting her business reach a wide audience. “I only pay for the Instagram ads and I’ve gathered more than 500 followers on Instagram. From June until November, to achieve this figure could have been tough without social media.”

When the customer comes first, the customer will last

“Most emails come in after dinner and since most of my customers are in the US, I get up early in the morning just to reply to emails. 

Moreover, I also provide as much transparency as I can to my customers. More than that, I’m always honest about where my products come from, how long it takes to reach their destination and completely authentic reviews. 

Transparency is key in building trust, which increases the retention rate. I feature customers on our social media accounts, which helps develop a sense of community, which in turn increases trust,” adds Chan. 

On a similar sentiment, Ramya shares that she creates excellent customer satisfaction towards the products by providing after-sales service. 

“I have never compromised when it comes to the quality of my products which ensure the value for the money. On top of that, I keep track of customers’ progress and regularly communicate with them on feedback,” Ramya says.

On the other end, Aida ensures customer retention by charging only RM5 up to RM15 for deliveries around Kuala Lumpur and Selangor depending on their location. She also allows customers to customise their arrangement by choosing the type of cactus and succulents.  

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